Struggling Grace

StFrancis_part

No one can acquire any virtue unless he begins by dying to himself  ~ St. Francis of Assisi

…regarding your previous way of life, you put off your old self… and be continually renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh, untarnished mental and spiritual attitude], and put on the new self [the regenerated and renewed nature], created in God’s image, [godlike] in the righteousness and holiness of the truth [living in a way that expresses to God your gratitude for your salvation].

~ Ephesians 4:22-24 (AMP)

I have been crucified with Christ [that is, in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live by faith [by adhering to, relying on, and completely trusting] in the Son of God…

~ Galatians 2:20

PTSD? Depression? Grief? PMT? Who knows? All I know for sure is that I have been struggling lately. I know the death of my mother-in-law shook me up (actually, not her death – because she was a woman of faith – so much as the suffering that preceded it) and I know that the flashbacks have returned (PTSD: such fun!) but in a different form, and I know that hormones are a right bugger at certain times of the month (‘scuse me, gentlemen), but I don’t think I’m depressed. Just floundering a bit. Feeling a bit overwhelmed. Even though it’s mostly my own brain that’s doing the whelming. Mind you, Prince is poorly again and that breaks my heart because he is in pain and there’s nothing I can do and I can’t explain it to him – it’s difficult enough to explain to a neuro-typical child, let alone a young man with autism :-/ Then there’s my dear husband who is struggling with grief at the loss of his mother. I am quite inadequate at offering comfort. He hurts so I hurt. That’s what having a strong sense of empathy does. You feel other people’s feelings, especially the bad feelings. It’s good because it begets a deep compassion, but it can have a down side. I feel too much, sometimes. Other times I feel nothing at all.

So I go back to the bible, back to the words of people who followed Jesus with their whole being. The death of self that St. Francis is talking about in that first quote, above, is not just dying to the old selfish, sinful ways, it’s also about dying to the old negative thinking patterns – that I am useless, unworthy, a waste of space. These are all the feelings that have been floating around my head and the worst bit is that they stop me from being able to think straight. I have the desire to be caring for my family and looking after the house, but my head gets stuck and I can’t figure out what to do and then all I want to do (all I feel able to do) is to curl up in bed and do nothing. But then I feel bad because really I do want to be caring for my family and curating a loving, organised, fruitful family home.

Oh, sweet Jesus! The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Bring me once again to my knees as I wholly and completely put my trust in You to accomplish even the smallest of small things for Your dear name’s sake. I am quite useless without You, yet quite marvellous with You. Use me. Give me the awareness of grace – five minutes at a time if need be – and help me to share Your grace with everyone I meet. Help my poor boy to feel better. Show me what I can do for him and to encourage him. Help me to be whatever my husband needs as he comes to terms with his loss.

In Your name I pray. Thank you for this gift of prayer.

Amen.

I write all this here not as a way of seeking attention. I don’t want attention, although kindly thoughts and prayer would be an encouragement. I hope that this might help someone else going through the same sort of thing to not feel so alone, but the main reason I write this is because true testimony begins with honesty – and that includes the bad… all the while knowing that God is always good.

Weaning

 I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Even now you are still not ready. You are still worldly [controlled by ordinary impulses, the sinful capacity]. For as long as there is jealousy and strife and discord among you, are you not unspiritual, and are you not walking like ordinary men [unchanged by faith]? For when one of you says, “I am [a disciple] of Paul,” and another, “I am [a disciple] of Apollos,” are you not [proving yourselves unchanged, just] ordinary people? 

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Just servants through whom you believed [in Christ], even as the Lord appointed to each his task.

1 Corinthians 3:2-5 (AMP)

Every time – every single time – we followers of Christ disagree with one another, dismissing another person, being angry with them or disrespectful, we too prove ourselves unchanged by faith, untouched by the spirit and ‘walking like ordinary men’. It is good and right to discuss, to thrash out the core of our faith, to disagree and to agree to disagree, but when we do this without humility, without love, we may as well dismiss Christ.

What would this scripture read if instead of being either disciples of Paul or Apollos, it was paraphrased as ‘For when one of you says, “I follow John Piper,” and another, “I follow Ann Voskamp,” another, “I follow Bill Hybels”, yet another, “I follow Rachel Held Evans”, are you not proving yourselves unchanged, just ordinary people?’

Granted this analogy doesn’t quite compare because saying I like the teachings of a particular person is not the same as saying ‘I follow the teachings of this person to the exclusion of other persons’. What it does show is that we should be careful to not place ourselves, or another human being, on a pedestal. We – or they – can only fall. No one person or group or denomination has it ALL right when it comes to interpreting the bible or living out the Christian faith. We ALL get things wrong. We should expect to not have the answers to everything, all the while striving forward towards the goal of a life fully committed to Christ in heart, action and understanding.

If you have to disagree – don’t forget to be kind. I love how The Message paraphrases this same passage:

…I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then, I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way? When one of you says, “I’m on Paul’s side,” and another says, “I’m for Apollos,” aren’t you being totally infantile?

Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master.

 

Looking for Love

After a few years… you will know that your deep and insatiable desiring came from God all along, [that] you went on a bit of a detour, looked for love in all the wrong places, and now have found what you really wanted anyway.

~ Richard Rohr, ‘Breathing Under Water’

“Set your heart on the kingdom and his goodness, and all these things will come to you as a matter of course.”

Matthew 6:33 (Phillips)

Liminal Spaces: Church as Renewal

 

…[I once saw] these shocking words in chalk on the sidewalk… ‘I watch how foolishly man guards his nothing, thereby keeping Me out. Truly God is hated here.’ …I knew there was some truth in what that person wrote, especially in a country where most people are quite comfortable churchgoers and almost all of us do ‘guard our nothing’… It is a knowing that we folks inside the system are not privy to, whereas the beggars to the system see it clearly…

What Jesus and all of the prophets are trying to do is to make sure that all of us have that experience somewhere in our lives of being on the losing side, knowing how much it hurts to hurt… or being someone who has been looked down upon for any reason. That place outside of the system is a liminal space where transformation and conversion is much more likely. 

Isn’t it ironic that most of the gospel has probably been preached and taught by people who are very comfortable? 

~ Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality

I don’t live in a country where most people are churchgoers. A century ago that might have been the case. WWI saw many British people lose their faith, probably because of exactly what Rohr writes in the above extract. However, there has long been a general complacency within what’s left. Church in many cases has become (or has always been) ‘something we do on a Sunday’. It’s about committees and jumble sales and wearing nice clothes: very middle class and comfortable.

No wonder I left the church I grew up in! Thankfully I did it because I wanted more of God, not less. No wonder the young have, generation by generation, left what they knew of Christianity. Even as a child I could see the gap between what was taught by Jesus and what was actually occurring. They weren’t awful people. They were all very well-meaning, but it was all built around something which had no substance. A puff of air and it all falls apart. This is not what it means to follow Christ. ‘Love one another’ has to hurt.

‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…’

Romans 12:2a

Faster than Grace?

‘The enclosed is an answer to that which I received from ____. Please deliver it to her. She is full of good will but she would go faster than grace! One does not become holy all at once.’

~ extract from the 9th letter to a friend, Brother Lawrence, as found in ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’

Wise words! I wonder how many of us (especially mothers?) try to ‘hurry’ grace? We’re so used to being competent, to looking after those around us (we’re so used to wondering how on earth they’d cope without us) that we lack patience when it comes to godly matters. But we can’t rush God.

Two extracts from the New Testament come to mind, from The Message. The first is from Romans, chapter 12 verses 1-2:

‘So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life… and place it before God as an offering… fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.’

Secondly, the words of our dear Saviour Himself in Matthew, chapter 11 verses 28-29:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

Sparks

Thinking of Dorothy Day’s words reminded me of this post written just after Holocaust Memorial Day.

multicolouredsmartypants

Holocaust Memorial Day was commemorated on 27th January and a documentary, Touched by Auschwitz, aired by the BBC. I watch little television, but I was particularly interested in this documentary because although it focused on what happened at Auschwitz, it gave equal weight to the lasting impact that Auschwitz had on the survivors’ lives and on subsequent generations. It was clear to me that some of those filmed still suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This interests me because I can, in part, relate. Readers of this blog will know I am currently receiving treatment for PTSD. I don’t claim to know what victims of the holocaust went through, but I do know how PTSD, especially that gained through years of repeated trauma, haunts you in the here and now. I am also trying to come to terms with the impact my PTSD has had on my children and on…

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