Listen. Notice. Appreciate. Enjoy.

Like every new year, this one has started without asking my permission, checking my readiness, or waiting for me to complete my do-list.

The words come as I walk along a hot Melbourne street with half of the family. It feels uneven. As the eldest emerges into adulthood and the youngest out of infancy, the two in the middle are on their own adventure, reconnecting with wider family overseas. Our never-tidy life, unpacked and repacked in moves large and small, planned and unplanned, is re-reconfiguring. It always feels strange, although this time it’s the most predictable. In all families eras pass quickly, but each one seems more decisive. As we move awkwardly through the new year crowds at Flinders street four words parachute into my mind.

Listen. Notice. Appreciate. Enjoy.

I can stress with the best. Strain towards whatever I imagine passes for the ideal. I tend to imagine that I just have to flap really hard to fly, forgetting that part about being seated in heavenly places with Christ. So I immediately start trying to apply these four words to the family members I’m with. There are only two of them, how hard can it be. I try to listen to, notice, appreciate and enjoy them in a very deliberate and let me just say exhausting fashion. No surprise that I end the day on my last nerve. The following day I realise my mishtake.

You meant me to apply these words to You.

Listen to what You are saying. Notice what You are doing. Appreciate who You are. Enjoy You.

I no longer expect to know when You are saying new things to me. A quirky memory and shrinking attention span makes everything new. Whatever their vintage, these words land noiselessly from elsewhere, like raindrops on parched earth, come to refresh. Or commandos, come to do a stealth job on the enemy. Either way, they are not for punishment or correction. This is not a setting straight. This is a place setting. At a feast. In the presence of my enemies.

The performer in me is frustrated by this but also challenged to do the best listening, noticing, appreciating and enjoying that I can. But these words invite contemplation, not action. They assume Your sovereignty, Your activity and Your permission to engage not in doing, but in being. An invitation to receive who You are and give You the attention that is due to You not just in dutiful Bible study or prayer but in a delightful search for Your footprints, the traces You leave in the world You made and love and came to re-engage.

Handing over

My last post spoke about the new adventure I was on, training for the priesthood. You could call it chickens coming home to roost as many years of church nerdery made the pathway plain. When near–strangers started telling me they thought I was already a priest it was time to face reality.

Been a messy old time since then. Have to admit that saying yes to God has unleashed a new level of internal chaos, a sometimes harrowing reality check, as my ‘stuff’, my weaknesses and hangups and the like, has decided to parade through my mind, out of my mouth and into my behaviour like my own personal mardi gras, leaving trash, debris and hangovers in its wake. Old weaknesses have taken on new energy, former issues long buried turn out to be alive and kicking, and people I considered forgiven have been discovered still residing in the dark places of my heart.

So much for my yes to God. I clearly need a priest.

I also lost my innocence during this last year. I considered myself a woman of the world, with my carry-on bag of carefully-remembered slights, petty misdemeanours and immature actions of others against me. I had travelled a bit, and read a bit, and thought I knew a bit. Then God brought me up close with the results of deliberate cruelty, wilful brutality and calculated damage in a human life.

It took my breath away. Shut me down.

My words were too flimsy and brittle for the weight of it. I could not trust them to betray my own impotence. So I stopped writing altogether.

I was right. My words could do nothing. But God’s word? That was different. And that was his gift to me. To see God’s word salve, bring hope and give a measure of peace to abject grief and profound sorrow. To see my own words distract and confuse where God’s word invariably comforted, encouraged and embraced. Whether received or not.

So as John the Baptist said, I must decrease and God increase. Not to play-act piety, but to get out of the way so that he may be clearly seen and heard. To let others experience the word that brings life. That is life.

 

 

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.

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.