Tag Archives: god

Doubt: when the clouds roll in

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Tonight I watched a film called Doubt . It begins with a priest telling this story:

 A cargo ship sank one night. It caught fire and went down and only this one sailor survived. He found a life boat, rigged a sail, and being of a nautical discipline turned his eyes to the heavens and read the stars. He set a course for his home and exhausted, fell asleep. Clouds rolled in, and for the next twenty nights he could no longer see the stars. He thought he was on course but there was no way to be certain. As the days rolled on and the sailor wasted away he began to have doubts. Had he set his course right, was he still going on towards home or horribly lost and doomed to a terrible death? There was no way to know. The message of the constellations: had he imagined it because of his desperate circumstances or had he seen truth once and now had to hold onto it without further reassurance?

 This week for me, the clouds have rolled in. There have been occasional breaks in the clouds where I get a glimpse of the stars but most of the it feels like dense fog has descended. All that I thought was secure in my theology and psychology has been blown away. Issues I thought were resolved have come back to haunt me and I know longer am certain about what I believe about God. Worst of all, my biggest question, the one about how can a God of love allow all this suffering has risen its head again to the point of consuming me.

 The question I am faced with is what do I do? How do I proceed?

 Once I read that in times of crisis when faith flees, the thing to do is to act as if your faith is still there until it returns.

 I trust that this is true.

To watch the film clip click here and start at 4mins 20 secs.

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Accepting life as a cracked pot

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cracked_pot

The Tale of the Water Bearer and the Cracked Pot

In India, there was once a water bearer.  Every day he would walk down to the river with a pole across his shoulders, carrying a water pot on either end.  One pot was seamlessly round and proudly carried its load all the way back to the village.  The other had a crack and water dripped from it so that by the time the water bearer reached the village the pot was only half full.  This pot became increasingly upset as it watched the precious water leak away each day.  One day, the distraught pot could bear it no longer and spoke to the water carrier.

 “Oh master, I am so sorry that I am not able to carry all my water back for you.  Every day I waste so much.  The other pot does a so much better job than me.  I am so sorry.”

At these words the water bearer gently replied, “as we walk along each day have you seen the flowers that grow by the side of the path?”

“Why of course,” exclaimed the pot, “how could you fail to notice them?  They are beautiful.”

“Quite so,” continued the water bearer, “but have you observed that they only grow on your side of the path?”

“No,” said the pot, “I had never considered that.  But now that you mention it, that is so.  How very strange.”

“It is not strange at all,” responded the water bearer.  “I knew all along about the crack in your pot and so sowed seeds along that side of the path.  As you have dripped water each day you have watered those seeds and enabled them to grow in healthy, beautiful flowers that everyone admires.  Without your leak there would have been no flowers.”

 ~*~

 I have spent most of my life looking at other apparently ‘perfect’ pots, comparing my cracks and chips with their supposed flawlessness.  Many of those that I know seem so ‘together’, striding through life, able to weather life’s storms, whereas I am easily knocked off balance.  I do not have their capacity to ‘just get on with it’.  Often I feel like the cracked pot, not only letting others down but God as well.

 Yet time and again God is so incredibly gracious, gently reminding me that God looks at us with different eyes: 

 The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7b (New Living Translation)

 I struggle with fatigue, and easily become emotional and overwhelmed by circumstances.   After years of trying to fit in with what I thought I should be – tough, buoyant and resilient – it seems that my role is not to be dynamic but instead to reach out to others who struggle.  My own limitations allow me to empathise with them in a way that would not be possible if I was ‘strong’.

 God’s criteria for valuing our worth has nothing to do with how we look, by what we earn or even how much stamina we have.  He has a totally different perspective:

 But God chose the foolish things of this world to put the wise to shame. He chose the weak things of this world to put the powerful to shame.What the world thinks is worthless, useless, and nothing at all is what God has used to destroy what the world considers important.

1 Corinthians 1:27-28 (Contemporary English Version)

 I am slowly realising that just because I cannot work full time and do some high powered job or ministry does not make me less of a person in God’s eyes.  I have been created for a different purpose altogether.  Much of what I do as a mother, home maker, work colleague and volunteer is on the sidelines unseen and unpaid and therefore seen as less significant.  But my role is often to look out for and listen to others, especially those who have cracks and flaws too, and support them in their journey to become into whatever God had created them to be. 

 God created diversity and we are all made to be different.  He creates different pots for different purposes.  

 I need to remember: I am not less because of what I do.  I am just different.

 

It’s not about doing great things, but about doing small things with great love.

~Mother Teresa~

 

 

All my life I have been throwing small pebbles into a large pond and

I’ve no idea whether I made even the slightest ripple. 

I don’t need to worry about that.  My responsibility was the effort.

~Martha Gellhorn~

 

If you too are a cracked pot, let me know how you deal with it.  It would be good to know that I am not alone in this.

Jo

The elephantness of God

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elephant and blind menThere is a tale from India about six blind men who wish to discover what an elephant is. Since none of then could see the animal, each one was given a different part to touch. The first man holds onto a leg and says an elephant is like a tree trunk. The second touches its tail and thinks an elephant is like a rope. The third holds its trunk and so says a snake; the fourth says a fan because he is touching an ear, the fifth feels the animal’s side and says a wall and the sixth likens the elephant’s tusk to a spear.

The moral of the story is clear: each one of the men only hold a small part of the truth about an elephant and therefore in order to get a larger and more accurate perspective they needed to share that knowledge and listen to one another.

From a Christian point of view it is easy to translate that into our perspective on God and life. God is SO big and awesome and beyond us that we hold onto to the little bit about God that we know and are sometimes scared to take on someone else’s experience and perspective because it challenges our own. For example, I am very happy with the gentle merciful side of Jesus which:

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Matthew 9:36

Yet I am extremely uncomfortable with subjects like judgement and hell. I know they are there in the Bible and have to be addressed, so I listen to them, trying to take them on board but they don’t sit nicely with the gentle Jesus I am more at ease with. This is why we need the body of Christ. We all have our own take on God and life. None of us has it pinned down so together we have a much richer and more accurate reflection of God’s nature.

HOWEVER the main point of this post is not about that. My real point is that some of us need to hold onto those parts of God that we KNOW are true in the face of opposing viewpoints. And sometimes the heaviest opposition we face is in church itself. When week in week out I am presented with sermons about how you need to be doing more to becoming transformed like Christ or doing more to serve him it is easy to lose touch with God’s key messages to me this year:

§ Stop striving, instead relax and receive

§ Sit at my feet and listen to me, like Mary of Bethany

§ Learn to live by the unforced rhythms of grace

These are not messages of doing but of being. I ‘do’ best when I focus on ‘being’ with God and ‘being’ myself with him, often gut wrenchingly so. So many times I have come home torn between between what I have personally think I know of God and what I have been told from the front. I end up confused and generally convinced that I must be wrong somewhere, that my experience is false in some way.

Yet there is a positive side to all this: it forces me to go further into God searching for answers. Asking for truth about the matter – his truth not mine or someone else’s. Sometimes it comes quickly such as a verse which leaping out of the page. At others there is no reply and I learn to live with the ambiguity of life but safe in the knowledge that I sought to find answers which in itself gives me an element of peace about it all.

Through it all I am learning to trust the part of God that I know to be true. It is hard and there is much refining to be done and many more parts to discover – however we need to start somewhere with God, whichever part that may be for each of us.

And in the end I just come down to trusting that the God’s elephantness and grace is big enough to make amends when I am blind and deaf to truth.

So which parts of God are you hanging onto or just beginning to explore?  Which ones are you desperately trying to avoid?  Let me know

Jo x

You mean I can enjoy serving God?

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Your vocation is where your greatest bliss encounters the world’s deepest need.

 – Frederick Buechner

What beautiful words.  I assumed that my ‘calling’ or vocation for God meant doing something I hated.  I thought that all the stuff about God having a good plan for your life and all that was just hype.  I never believed till reading this that I could actually enjoy serving God.

Awesome!

So what is your vocation?  What do you get passionate about?  Where do you want to help create change?  Let me know.

Jo x

Resilience – or rather, the lack of it

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chainThis morning I was desperate to run away. I wanted to be in a place with no responsibilities and no-one making demands on me. I wanted to take myself away from the world run and ‘just’ rest.

But deep down I knew that a bit of space was not the answer.  I was too agitated to rest. I was worried and felt overwhelmed by silly little things.  Things that wouldn’t bother most people.  But I am not most people.  I worry about many things, mostly to do with change and my ability (or rather inability) to cope with situations.

Life has taught me that I am not a resilient person.  I want to run away because in my mind it is not ok to say that I can’t cope.  I have to be strong and be seen to be strong.  It is not ok to say I am tired or weak. 

Most of my fears in life are related in some way to the fear of not being able to cope.  And today was no exception. 

Being an anxious person has crippled me as a Christian for many years.  How many times have I heard that the phrase ‘Do Not Fear’ is the most repeated instruction in the Bible? 365 times – one for each day of the year.  Yet what is the thing I struggle with the most?  Fear.

For me to admit fear is to have a deep sense of shame because I am failing at one of God’s key commands.  I have tried to ‘Feel the Fear and do it anyway’ and CBT type mind mantras but neither seemed to work.  The gnawing ache inside didn’t shift one bit.  Instead it adds the sense of shame for not being strong enough to overcome my worries.

As I bumbled around the house, phaffing about in an attempt to ignore the feelings God gradually brought to mind the lessons He has been teaching me.

The only thing that works for me is to acknowledge both the fear and the shame.  Be open and honest about it all both with myself and with God.  When Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1

NIV) he wasn’t telling me off for being fearful.  The title of chapter 14 is ‘Jesus Comforts His Disciples’. Instead he is gently comforting and reminding me that I do not need to fear because he is at hand.  I am not alone in this.

Never will I leave you;
      never  will I forsake you.”

~ Hebrews 13:5 NIV

I do not need to fear: Jesus is near.

Also, I have come to realise that the toughest part is facing my fears.  Once I have acknowledged them they no longer seem so daunting.  It is like being a child and imagining monsters under my bed at night.  When someone turns on the light they are seen for what they are: figments of my imagination.  Not that all my fears are illusions.  Many of them are genuine, but kept hidden away in the dark recesses of my soul they multiply and seem insurmountable.

1 John 1:9 tells us to confess our sins, yet it is not only our sins that we need to admit to God.  He desires that we share with Him our needs and our longings and our fears too.  We are to bring it all out into God’s light because 

“God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.”

~ 1 John 1:5 NIV

It is ok to be honest with God – He knows it all anyway.  With Him we can learn to expose and deal with the darkness within.  Keeping it hidden away and festering in the dark is one of Satan’s best tricks.  He tells us that it is too dark, too terrible to share with God but that is a lie. Nothing is too awful to share.

For years when I apologised to God I would hang around with head bowed low waiting for a word of rebuke and chastisement.  Yet instead of words there was nothing but silence, total and utter silence.  At first I thought that this too was God’s way of showing me he was still angry – the silent treatment.  But slowly, ever so slowly, I realised the truth.  The silence was good; it was God’s way of saying it was gone, forgiven and forgotten.

He ‘remembers your sins no more.’ 

~ Isaiah 43:25 NIV

I will never be a resilient person who just breezes through life and bounces back but then God never created me to be self-sufficient.  His often repeated instruction to me is:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  

~  2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV

My inability to stand on my own two feet is a good thing because it makes me so dependant on Him.  When I am weak then I am strong.

 

Is resilience something that you struggle with?  What helps you to deal with your weaknesses?  Let me know.

Jo x

strength

changed by the chisel

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The other day many thoughts were running through my head (as ever) and somewhere in the background Ephesians 2:10 kept cropping up:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Often I struggle to believe that I am God’s ‘masterpiece’.  What are the good works I have been created to do?  And more to the point when do I ever get to be ready to do them, rather than keep tripping up along the way? 

One moment I am going along and life is fine and I think that I am doing fine.  Then out of the blue, whoops, I blow it somehow and rushing up to the fore come all my bad points. So, then I start feeling ashamed for ever having contemplated that I could ever do doing ok.  Mixed up in all that is the gnawing wish that God would just leave me alone and stop shaping and moulding me – can’t I just stay as I am for a little while.  It would be nice to spend more time in a comfort zone than out of it.  Yes, I can see the benefits of all this moulding in hindsight but a rest along the way to admire the view would be nice.

And then the day after I received this clip.  It is awesome.

If like me, you struggle with struggling, then watch this and be inspired to keep going.

Make the most of now

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purplegirl 

WHEN I AM AN OLD WOMAN I SHALL WEAR PURPLE
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear
purple.

Taken from the book
When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple
Editd by Sandra Martz
Papier Mache Press–Watsonville, California 1987

Like many women (if not all) I wrestle with my weight and appearance and have done for as long as I can remember.  Looking back at photos of me in my 20’s I regret I wonder why I was so unhappy about how I looked then.  NOW I would love to have the figure I had then.  In  another twenty years time I don’t want to look back with the same regrets and sense of not having made the most of things.

The following clip helped me realise this.  We need to make the most of what God has given us instead of berating him and ourselves for what we don’t have.  We are His masterpiece (Eph 2:10 NLT) which I find hard to believe at times.  And He is far more interested in what is on the inside than my BMI.

So how do you deal with being a 21st C woman?  Let me know your secret.

Jo x