Losing my religion

It’s finally happened. After months of mental paralysis I have faced the fact that much of my adult life has rested on a vain, empty fantasy. I am not, actually, in charge.

I am a different person to the one who stood watching flames lick the side of the house just over seven months ago. That person trusted God, but only as far as was sensible. That person was quietly desperate for a deeper connection with God but also scared of what that might mean. That person was also very concerned with what others thought. My Christian faith was very much focused on me. How I was performing. Or not. What I was getting wrong and what right. What boxes I could tick and feel like I was okay. I was obsessed with my image, constantly adjusting things to present my best side, so to speak. Hey, look at me worshipping. Does my faith look big in this?

In this year of house-hopping, God has helped me manage my end of things, keep my sense of humour and a reasonable equilibrium. No small thing. But as well as allowing me and the family to be pushed out of the house he’s also pushed me into more overtly spiritual territory. I have had to lean in, take refuge, really truly rely on this God I have claimed to trust since I was 16 years old.

I suppose the subconscious, or as I like to call her, my spirit, knows stuff before my mind catches up. She floats stuff to the surface that in my arrogance I think is the product of my imagination. Like the title of this blog. Relocation2011. I named it for the year we left England for Tasmania, an apt title for someone who even before that momentous move has uprooted a good few times.

We lived in three houses before we found a house to buy. And then came the fire. It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that God was perhaps trying to tell us something, not by setting our house on fire (all credit to the six-year old for that) but by keeping us on the move, not letting us settle anywhere for long, showing us how much physical if not emotional baggage we accumulate whenever we stay still for too long. (The end of that particular road is almost, almost in sight. Last week I got to pick out paint colours. Yay!)

In reflecting on what the message might be, other than have a garage sale every six months, I have been drawn back to an invitation I received a couple of years before we left England. This was a call to full-time ministry. Like any reasonable person I ran like the wind of course, with many plausible objections, okay, excuses. Not unlike Jonah, the reluctant prophet. Jonah got a call to go to Nineveh and ran in the opposite direction. I didn’t run down here to the end of the world but when the door opened for us to come to Tasmania it seemed like a good opportunity to do my own version of a good but disobedient thing. I ignored what God was saying and decided that I would distract Him by focusing on being the good Christian wife and mother with a bit of extra stuff in Church at the weekends.

In the last few months I have had little reminders of this invitation to serve God full-time. To commit everything to God. And instead of finding it terrifying, I find I am now ready to say yes. I don’t know what this will look like yet. And annoyingly, the only one around me that is surprised about this is me.

Jesus says that he stands at the door and knocks and to all who open the door he will come in and eat with them. I know he’s here in my life. I have only recently realised that I have not allowed myself to be at home with him, just hovering like an anxious host, tidying up around him and leaving the room from time to time. In his last recorded prayer in John 17 he talks about this strange intimacy between himself and God. I in You and You in me, He says. I have accepted Him in me, but not myself in Him. I have preferred to hold myself aloof from Him, to confect my own life which is neither in the world nor in Him but straddled somewhere across the two. I did it my way, as ole blue eyes used to say, and found my way uncomfortable, awkward and exhausting.

So I’m relocating.

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Crumbs

I have been thinking about names recently. Mine means brave and strong. The last things I feel myself to be. But I don’t think I got my name by accident and so, in the spirit of faith, I claim those qualities, even if I can’t yet see them. In any case, Jesus is both brave and strong. And he lives here, at this dubious address, in this over-sugared, under-exercised body, if the Book is to be believed. And if my experience of company in solitude, presence in silence and audience to my thoughts holds any weight.

It is too late now to retreat into familiar hiding places. In Finding Nemo, the daddy fish Marlin is in the habit of making a number of exits and returns to his anemone each morning, before plunging out into the world. I’m out past my comfort zone now but I don’t know the way back. It’s barred to me. I can’t go back to the home I remember because it’s not there.

Sometimes I look to where we used to be and imagine us all there again. But that is impossible. Like the river flowing past, the water is constantly changing. In the old neighbourhood, buildings are pulled down and new ones are built, the single marry or move away, children grow and leave. It all changes. So this desire for home is for a snapshot in time, or a series of them I have plated into a pretty meal to feast on at moments like this.

Thankfully God tells us in his word not to replay former things and look to the future. He calls us forward, out of our inclination to circle back to what was. New memories to make, new adventures to be had. Thankfully Jesus is here with me, quietly encouraging me, lending weight to the flimsy words I dare to speak on his behalf.

A woman asks me how she can keep going to church and Bible study when she, despite being a Christian, knows she still sins. Surely God’s holiness and purity make it impossible for her to access the great love she keeps hearing about. Surely, she thinks, she’s still too wrong to qualify for it.

I take a deep breath before answering.

When I realised I have talked continuously for about four minutes I stop and check that the line hasn’t gone dead. You still there? I’m sorry I just got carried away, I say.

No, no, it’s wonderful. Just wonderful. I can hardly believe that he loves me like that, she says. Go on.

So I do. And again, after I have talked for a good while without pause, I check in with her. I can hear the relief in her voice.

And I am blessed. Why? Because earlier this morning I asked God for an opportunity to explain the hope I have in me. Because I have avoided this for so long I don’t know how to do it.

But after talking to this woman I realise I just have to express what I understand. No more, no less. No big theological concepts, just what I understand. In Bee Movie (just humour me, I have little kids), Barry gives his friend Adam a piece of cake crumb from his new human friend. That’s what they eat? Adam asks, blown away by the taste. No, Barry says, that’s what falls off what they eat.

My point? What we believers have in the word of God is so amazing, so excellent and powerful that even the tiny crumb we offer in our slightly chaotic way is powerful and satisfying.

So let’s use what we’ve got and see what God does. The harvest is great but the workers are few.

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Foghorn

It would have been early, 5 am or thereabouts, when our sleep was interrupted by a long, loud blast on a ship’s horn. My other half was not impressed, saying it was a bit antisocial. It blasted again a few times more and then stopped. Later when we got up we couldn’t see the water or the bank opposite. It looked as though a cloud had parked in front of us. The blast was probably a cruise liner or cargo ship moving out along a stretch of river also used by small boats and rowers. So the foghorn may have woken the folks along the shore, but those on the water needed it.

One of the more ridiculous lies I have wrapped my scaredy-cat self in over the years goes like this: offence is worse than warning. So the best thing to do is to say nothing and hope that by being a really super-nice person others might be intrigued enough to give me opportunities to share the hope I have in Jesus. If I was really serious about that I should have got myself one of those badges pyramid sellers used to wear. ‘I’m a Christian. Ask me how.’

But I didn’t. Because for one thing, I was not nice enough consistently enough to arouse much curiosity. Truth. For another, I didn’t really have much to tell people in response to any question they might ask me. Thinking about talking to anyone about my faith made my palms sweaty. Still does at times. But I saw a cartoon that gave me pause. It showed the devil leading a man off to hell and an angel leading another off to heaven. The condemned man is looking at the other with disbelief. The caption reads: Bob! You never told me you were a Christian!

If you’re in the dark and you’re in danger you need someone to warn you. If you choose not to believe them that’s your choice. If I see the danger but am too shy/scared to tell you, that makes me not at all nice. That makes me something else entirely. As Penn Jillette, not shy about his atheism, puts it so well here.

Always there

The fire destroyed little of our house, but it caused a huge rupture in the life of our family since we had to move out last December. Once the family were safely out of the house that day, the whole thing could have burned to the ground as far as I was concerned.

So much of our existence is spent papering over the flimsyness of our lives. As if our buildings and our soft furnishings and our decorations and stuff really matter. As if it isn’t all  just going to end up on someone’s bonfire someday. It’s hardly worth chasing, but a lot of energy goes into getting it or envying those who have it.

Five months on, the builders have started repairs ( the wheels turn slowly in this part of the world) and the end of the road is in sight.

I’m thankful.  Genuinely thankful.

That probably sounds pious. I don’t really care. It’s the truth. I’m grateful that I know who God is. That I know I am loved and cared for and provided for and that this is not all there is. I am thankful that I have family and friends through whom God has shown me what love looks like in practical and impractical ways.

I’m grateful for God’s word which tells me I can talk to God and through which, when I slow down and get quiet enough to listen, He actually talks to me. To me!

I’m delighted that I can share my victories, the days I get it all together, and my failures, when I fail altogether, with someone who knows me intimately and loves me the same always.

I am staggered that the same God who I read about in my Bible is  present in this little life of mine, my Source and my companion.

No matter what’s going on.

 

 

 

Don’t say this in church

A few weeks ago I stood up in church at the end of the service and proposed that the women take a few hours out for a break at a local spa. I didn’t notice I had used the word ‘pamper’ until I was questioned nervously about it afterwards.

I made a mental note not to say pamper in church again. It freaks people out.

Perhaps it’s because we women, daughters of that naughty Eve, well, we’re not meant to be pampered, we’re meant to work. To serve others continuously. To give and not to get. It is, after all, more blessed to give than to receive. We know how well we’re doing by how much we’re doing.

Anyway, pampering is worldly, right? Advertising assures us ‘we’re worth it’, and wallpapers our magazines and screens with luxury holidays and homes and lives.

The church should be steering clear of all that, surely. A good church woman cares, provides, supports, helps, prays, teaches, visits, organises and bakes, with endless patience, good humour, creativity and calm. Definitely no pampering.

Then again, maybe not.

Maybe when Jesus told his disciples to come aside and rest awhile, as he did in Mark 6 v 31 he meant it.

The disciples had been busy. The crowds were continuous. The demands were many. The disciples were, as we are, finite and human. Exhausted. Jesus told them to rest. And he tells us to rest too.

When I stood up at the end of the service I saw some very tired women and men. But the discomfort over the idea of pampering made me wonder how much we think God loves us. Call me crazy, but I believe He loves us enough to let us have some time to relax once in a while. He even mandated it, in fact. Rest was part of God’s design. In fact, as Joyce Meyer pointed out recently, Adam’s first day on earth after he was created was a day of rest.

In rest we drop our cares for a while, we relax, we enjoy the blessing of leisure. We take a break from the routine, we remember who we are and what it is to simply be, without the weight of responsibility. It keeps our minds healthy. It keeps us humble, not puffed up with the conceit that we can keep going without a break. It connects us back to the joy of simply being alive. It refreshes us, reinvigorates us. Makes us feel good.

So I’m off to the spa.

Hallelujah.

No prizes for busy

No, really. There are no prizes for being busy. No matter how many jobs you pack into your day, how many errands you run, tasks you complete, people you help, or laundry you get done. Sorry to burst your bubble, but there it is. We don’t get kudos for all this. We just get to do it all again tomorrow.

That said, there are blessings in it all, for all the times we moan and feel sorry for ourselves. For those of us who have families, people to care for who in turn care for us (though this may not always be obvious), there are many, many for whom this is not only not true, but seems impossible. A dream, even.

But I’m not just thinking about thankfulness, powerful as that is. I’m thinking about slowing down. Changing pace. Being in the moment. Being aware of the gift of now. Dare I say it? Relaxing. Enjoying what God has given you.

This doesn’t come easily. It has taken time and a shock to show me I had taken on more than I could reasonably achieve. I could hardly admit that to myself, because it felt wrong somehow to withdraw.

In the end, the pressure became too much. I went POP! And ended up in the emergency room.

Since then, God has kindly been reminding me of the following invitation from Jesus.

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11 vs 28 – 30

In humility I admit I am not superwoman, and Jesus does not ask that of me. So I’ve been handing back some responsibilities, and letting myself take a breath now and then.

Would-be Superheroes, there are no prizes for busy. So take some stuff off your to-do list.

Weather

In England, where I grew up, people don’t really talk about the weather despite the stereotype. In Tasmania, where I now live, we sometimes have four seasons in one hour. You’ll often see combinations like board shorts and puffer jackets and flip-flops and beanies all on the same person, all appropriate on the one day. Locals walk through showers, whether in suits or sandals, simply ignoring the rain.

Weather affects my moods and my inclinations, my energy levels and my enthusiasm. In this place, apart from anything else, I am learning to keep going whatever the weather. To enjoy the sun when it comes out but not too much (even dark skin is no match for a hole in the ozone), wrap up against a sudden Antartic snap, enjoy a light misting , or more, of rain and then get blown up the street by the wind.

And then there’s my personal weather. The competing pressures and dynamics of the aspirations and duties and people that surround and affect me. Every once in a while I find that these coalesce into a storm that throws me around and makes me feel anxious and inadequate. I worry about getting hurt. About drowning.

Then I remember the story of Jesus in the storm. It’s in Luke 8 v 22- 25.

Jesus and the disciples have set out in a boat on a calm lake, when a squall comes up and threatens to swamp the boat. The disciples are terrified. Jesus is asleep. They wake him up and he commands the wind and the waves to subside. Which they do. He asks them ‘where is your faith?’ They are amazed, seeing how powerful he is over an element that they, as fishermen, know pretty well and have a healthy fear of.

You know what’s coming. But it’s easy to ignore or forget. That same Jesus, the one in the book, the one from Sunday school, is in my boat, my life, with me. Resting. Undisturbed. Unmoved by the threats and roar of the waves, he lives his life with me. I need to be like him, unmoved, dead to the threat of these pressures. They are in fact the medium by which I move, the element through which my boat manoeuvres. I can use some winds but not all, ride some waves and avoid others. Better still, I can say to the seas and the winds, Be still. Because I can speak with the authority of Christ, who lives in me.