Course correction

Sigh. The more things change…

Months ago I described my epiphany with a declaration of intent to go into full-time ministry. Life took on a new, excited urgency while I waited to see what God would do with my generous offer of myself. I applied for and got a job with a Christian organisation running outreach courses. It’s been a steep curve, both stretching and affirming. Naturally enough this has filled my vision and my head for the last six months.

Then my manager asked me what I was doing about pursuing my vocation.  I was surprised to find myself reacting negatively, trotting out the same old excuses, feeling the same tug of conflicting emotions. The peace I had experienced before had been superseded by the busyness of my new role, its possibilities and opportunities. This Christian life is supposed to be all about dying to self and living for Christ. It turns out my self is still very much alive and kicking. Hard.

A few sleepless nights and painful conversations later, I gave in, again. Told God that he can place me wherever he wants to, hoping for the peace of before. Instead I felt flat and foolish. Unimpressed now with my years of acrobatic twists and turns away from God’s embrace, keeping close enough to feel his warmth, but just beyond the range of his all-consuming fire. I was exhausted by the struggle to keep my head above the waters, to avoid full immersion.

My internal critic pounded me with condemnation but then God sent a mature Christian to remind me that God is neither surprised nor disappointed by the time I have taken. Every experience is useful, even the wandering, the wondering, the downright disobeying and the genuine questioning. He loves me the same whether I say yes or no. Grace, the gift of love, was given in Christ because God is love, not in response to any input from me. I am God’s child and his love for me is an unchanging fact of eternity. He still and always loves me.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I may even find out that I enjoy this ministry lark. It may not be the thing that I must do to sacrifice my fulfilment to the demands of the almighty, but it may actually be the fulfilment I was made for.

My son announced recently that he now loves reading. It’s really fun, he tells me. Small thing you may say. But after 2 or more years of tears and tantrums about reading, it was quite a speech. Over and over we had all assured him it would get easier and he would come to enjoy it like the rest of his bookish family but he couldn’t see it. Now he’s got it, he gets it. It’s great.

I trust that I will too. I dare to believe that after some 8 years of refusal, God may share my feeling of delight that his child has finally caught on and is ready to engage in some learning she might actually enjoy.

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Peace

More than the absence of conflict. A settledness. A sense of stability, whatever the circumstances. Because it is possible to experience and enjoy peace even within conflict, within adversity, change and uncertainty. Life is too unpredictable to lean too heavily on what seems solid but can change in an instant. The peace of God keeps me strong, rooted, it steadies me when the waves of circumstances or negativity or fear threaten to overwhelm.

There is a story of a man who slept through a storm so fierce that the experienced sailors with him in the boat feared for their lives. When they shook him awake, he simply spoke to the wind and the waves and told them to be still. And they were. (Mark 8 v 22 – 25)

This is not a story Jesus told, but a story Jesus was in. He was the man able to sleep through the storm, experience the same elements as his companions in the boat and yet, until they woke him, abandon himself to the peace of sleep.

There are times when I find myself shouting Jesus awake. Why aren’t you doing something? Are you even there? Don’t you care that I’m drowning?

And then he wakes up and with a word makes all calm again. The situation may remain as it was, yet the storm has ceased.

I often wondered about this story. What if they hadn’t woken him up? Would they have drowned? Would he have brought them all back to life? Would they have been swallowed by a big fish? So many questions…more questions than answers, as they say. But the point is that Jesus wasn’t worried by the storm. He’s not fazed by anything that happens in my life; no problem is too big or small for him to deal with. It’s when I remember that I’m not in this by myself and that my travelling companion is perfectly unflappable that I reach that peace that is so very powerful.

I need to remember this more often.