I love the beginning of a new year because there’s such potential to hope for what the year ahead will bring – and perhaps more to the point to hope for what I might bring to the new year. But the opposite of not fulfilling the resolutions and maybes of the new year isn’t, for me, disappointment but realism! I come up with all sorts of ways I’d love to change and improve as the new year chimes its beginning but fortunately God seems to accept the me I am more readily than I do, and though I’m sure he sees change along the way, he doesn’t expect wild improvements overnight! But what’s good about these ambititions is that even when I’ve managed to trip up by the 3rd of January and not become that mix of Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, John Sentamu, St. Peter and Jesus that I was aiming for – there have been little victories*! Perhaps more connection with my God, perhaps a literary book read, or some more theology studied, perhaps some little unseen kindnesses or a bit more generosity achieved. Perhaps a bit more order from the unfiled chaos, creativity in preaching, some letters written to friends or good time spent with Teenson? I know I can’t change overnight, but as the new year gets underway I can have a little look at how God sees me already and then aim high and hope in him. Little victories – because he’s already won the big one!
*Fletcher of ‘Porridge’ fame was heard to advise new inmates to the fictional Slade prison not to try and beat the system but look for “little victories” to get them through their time – a great expression!
I have had an ‘interesting’ week! I had the week off; I was looking forward to my week off; I had made some vague plans for my week off (you know, really exciting things like wander round the garden centre and spend a whole afternoon in Waterstones!). But then last Monday came, day 1, and I woke up with a rotten migraine. Monday really went out of the window, as did Tuesday. That’s ok, I knew I’d been worn out, I resigned myself to a proper start to holiday time on Wednesday. But on Wednesday I just felt peculiar and utterly exhausted, and by then just a little bit fed up too. On Thursday I still hadn’t moved far away from the chair and the computer (thank the Lord for online friends who I could talk to without having to move!). And on Thursday I had to miss going to be with a friend for a special occassion. On Friday the end of the holiday was looming fast and I’d only been as far as the postbox all week. But on Saturday I woke and knew that something had changed – there was a bit of energy and motivation back again. At least on Saturday evening I could get back to old hometown and old friends and then my parents’ house to keep the plans I’d made for that day. And those plans were so important because moving three times in the last six years has meant that friends aren’t always as close by as they once were. It’s a journey I’ve been willing to make as I follow where I’ve felt (and others have confirmed) God wants me to be. But it can be hard. I do give thanks that the places we’ve arrived at have had wonderful church communities and I love the ministry I’ve been given. I love the people I live among and serve with here and I thank God for the new friends among them, but I know I need to feed a bit more balance into my life. I need to not only try and do my job to the best of my (God enabling) ability, but also to be the best mum I can be, to feed us properly and get the rest I need, to be a taxi-driver and housekeeper (I won’t mention the garden!), to find time for those friends who refresh me and remind me that I’m not ploughing along on my own, to read and pray and keep my own spiritual life fresh and alive… and doing all of that is very hard when the job, which is so rewarding, is also without end. However full I make my days there are always so many more needs or situations or opportunities that could go on the ‘to do’ list – even when those things are for the equipping of others to share the mission of the church.
So, I’ve decided to be a failure! Now that’s not as bad as it sounds! If I think about the things that motivate me to press on and sometimes not get a proper balance I’d say they are 1) a strong desire to please God and try and discover, do and be all that he wills for me; 2) not to let down the people who trust a stipend to me, and to justify receiving it; 3) to try and meet the expectations of those alongside me and produce measurable results (even though God’s view of results may be quite different); 4) a desire to make God and his love known to people who are searching or lost or sad or without purpose and help to strengthen the faith of those who are on the path. Those I’d say are my most pressing motivators day by day, and they’re very difficult to measure. So I’m going to stop trying, keep serving with a measure of that balance thrown in and hope (and pray) for the best! I might find myself one day hearing “well done good and faithful servant”, or I might prove to be a huge disappointment to my God. I might end up getting the clerical equivalent of the sack for not growing a big enough church or filling the coffers or having enough programmes in place or doing what his people can’t see me doing. I might make no difference to the kingdom of God (though I pray I will).
So I’m going to assume the worst while hoping and praying for the best and try not to get to a point again resembling last Monday, because what good will I be to God or anyone?
Let’s see how I do when the demands start rolling in again. It feels quite a relief to accept the possibility of failure – some of the most inspiring characters in the Bible failed, but look what they did for God!
I’ve just been randomly wandering through the archives of this blog and came across a ‘poem’* I wrote over a year and a half ago. Other than the fact that it’s Tuesday afternoon rather than Monday morning – not much has changed! Well, I am in a different church and town now, and I didn’t bring blessing to anyone yesterday – it was the first day of my week off and I felt rough. Maybe there was a bit of blessing on Sunday in all my efforts instead? Interesting looking back, isn’t it.
It’s Monday morn
and I’m sitting with tea,
the radio’s on
and I’m thinking with glee…
that though I get ratty
when I can’t change the world,
yesterday brought blessing
for one I upheld.
I wonder what God thinks
when I’m carried away,
with Razorlight singing
and chocolate; he’d say?
“It might not be worship,
in wonder and praise
but that stuff does bring joy
to most of your days!”
I do get quite knackered
but I musn’t say that!
My mum doesn’t like it
and would give me a slap;
I drive myself potty
with chaos and mess,
preferring things sorted
and then I don’t stress.
But I’ve never quite managed
to be all I could be…
perhaps I will look back
and see what God sees?
Recognition of good things, pleased with my days?
But it might take a long time
knowing me and my ways!
*Poem in inverted commas as I’m not sure I have the nerve to call my strings of words poems!
Have you ever had one of those laughing fits that threatens to come at such an inappropriate time or place that you have to pretty much stuff your fist in your mouth and try with all your strength to keep it in?
I can remember a good few years ago when I was a table leader on an Alpha course, and my table was for the teenagers doing the course. We were all in the big hall, lots of groups, and our table was right by the speaker. Unfortunately something that was said just hit a nerve and I grinned and it made me chuckle – but then I caught someone’s eye and the hysterics threatened to hit. I was supposed to be there to facilitate the post-talk discussion of course, but also to keep the yoof in good order while we were with everyone else! But through at least 10 minutes of talk I was having to sit with my fist in my mouth, looking at the floor and shoulders shaking to try and contain the laughter. I can’t even remember what set me off on that occassion.
Then there was the time at my friend’s wedding. I was sitting in the middle of a packed church in a row of friends and another friend was preaching the sermon. And one simple line set me off – the passage was Ecclesiastes and my preacher friend was talking about the bride and groom and cleaving together – that kind of thing – and once the image of them as cleavage hit my mind, that was it – fist in mouth – eyes wide in the panic of trying desperately to get control of myself and not disrupt their special service. I saw H next to me with her shoulders shaking too and that just made it worse – look anywhere else but DON’T let yourself see her laughing!!
And then last week, not me this time, but a girl from TeenSon’s college and her mum! We were there for an evening meeting about the UCAS application process, sitting right at the back of the lecture hall when towards the end of the presentation came the sound of muffled noises. I thought someone was crying but it turned out to be this girl having an absolute fit of the giggles and trying to keep it in! I’ve got no idea what hit the funny nerve for her.
And this week. I was taking the communion service, just a little group of us, and we got to the Sanctus – the Holy, holy, holies – and one person just responded in such a way (the nearest I can get to describe it is as if an Irishman started the response a second before everyone else, said “holy, holy, holy” very fast and loud – see, not even that funny!) and it just made me smile as we carried on. But then the thought stayed there and the giggles threatened – at that most reverent moment I had to contain the grin and giggles. Well, I always focus very clearly on the words I’m praying in the Eucharistic prayer, but never more so than that day as I tried to stop playing the voice back in my head. I wonder if God would have forgiven me for suggesting it was ‘the joy of the Lord’ if the laughter had hit?
Hmmm, I’m sure all my laughter doesn’t happen in church, but these ones certainly stick – whatever was God thinking about, calling me to be a vicar?! You have to laugh!