Trust

 

Trust clings to the belief that whatever happens in our lives is designed to teach us holiness. The love of Christ inspires trust to thank God for the nagging headache, the arthritis that is so painful, the spiritual darkness that envelops us, to say with Job ‘if we take happiness from God’s hands, must we not take sorrow too?’ 

 ~ from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

Saying Goodbye to Joy

When he had finished speaking, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 

Luke 5:4-6 (NRSVA)

There are two lessons here. The first is that the abundance of God happens unexpectedly. The second is that doing what God desires sometimes seems to make no sense, but after the act of trust, i.e. doing what we think God wants us to do, we will see what the reason was. I suspect that some acts of obedience are only fully understood once we’re with God.

My friend, Joy, lived around 200 miles away with her husband, Caleb. About 18 months ago I sensed a strong ‘God prompt’ to call her. I was tired. I didn’t want to do it. Also, I really don’t like phone calls very much, unless it’s close family. I prefer to talk face to face. But the God prompt was strong. I knew I couldn’t not do it. So I called.

Joy and Caleb were in the middle of watching telly and it was apparent that I was interrupting (not that they said anything other than that it was nice to hear from me). I  think I told them that God had prompted me to phone. They, being believers themselves, were happy enough with this, although they couldn’t figure out why, either, and so after a few minutes of chit-chat we hung up. During the call, Joy mentioned some abnormalities in her latest blood test. She had undergone a kidney transplant several months before. She said the doctors wondered if they needed to adjust her medications.

A couple of weeks later Joy was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of cancer. Caleb was distraught as the days and weeks ticked by and Joy did not respond to any treatment. Two months after the phone call Caleb texted me with the news of Joy’s death.

A week later I travelled the 200 miles to the funeral and was so glad I did. It was clear that Joy had touched the lives of so many people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to canonise her. She had her faults, same as everyone. But as my husband and I often agreed, Caleb and Joy were two of the loveliest people we’d ever known. Their quiet humility was the loudest shout for the presence of Christ. Joy didn’t suddenly become a saint because she wasn’t there any more. She was already genuinely lovely. It was a heart-wrenching joy to be at her funeral, because she had been the same lovely person to every single person she ever met.

I don’t know why God took her so early. I don’t know why dear Caleb had to say goodbye so soon. I can understand why God would want to keep her and I know Joy is truly home. That brings such comfort. I also know now that God graciously allowed me to say goodbye to my friend, even though, at the time of the phone call, it made no sense.

Limiting Beliefs

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Self-preservation is an understandable human instinct. My sister once jumped out of an aeroplane. I don’t think she will ever repeat the experience, but it gave her something far longer lasting.

Sometimes I test your faith, daughter, because it develops perseverance in you, which you need to be mature and complete, not lacking in anything… I know how much you hurt for these children. I hurt for them more. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world… 

~ from  Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

It takes courage to trust God with everything. It’s so simple, yet so unbelievably difficult. But take heart: God is good, and God never changes.

I have been listening to a self-hypnosis mp3 aimed at discovering and overcoming self-limiting beliefs. A self-limiting belief is one where you, consciously or unconsciously, tell yourself you cannot do something that you can, in fact, do. The narrator puts it like this: it is truthful to say ‘I can’t speak Japanese’, but if I say I can’t learn Japanese, that would be a self-limiting belief.

“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you may face persecution, but take courage; I have conquered the world!”

John 16:33 (NRSVA)

As I wrote last week, I use hypnosis as a tool, and I use it prayerfully. One thing that has struck me after listening to yesterday’s session, and after hearing Katie’s words above, is that often I have what could be called God-limiting beliefs. My faith, and my opinion of myself, is such that I can accept – or perhaps gloss over – self-limiting beliefs, but God-limiting beliefs? That’s not good.

What self-limiting or God-limiting beliefs have you had?

 

Grace Now, Consequences Now

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2 (NRSVA)

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…our decisions do have consequences and meaning in eternity…

Threat and fear is not transformation. [Christianity has become] a soul-saving society for the next world instead of a healing of body, soul and society now and, therefore, forever.

 

All of Jesus’ healings, touchings and salvations… were clearly about now. He never once said, “Be good now and I will give you a reward later.” [There is not] one prerequisite that Jesus ever has for a single one of His healings. The healing… [is] an end in itself and has nothing to do with earning it. For Jesus, all rewards are inherent to the action itself and all punishments are inherent to the action itself, but we largely pushed off all rewards and punishments into the future. I sometimes wonder if we clergy and preachers do not have an unconscious but a vested interest in keeping people co-dependent on us by holding [the] carrot [of heaven] always out in front of them. It is clearly ‘now and forever’ talk in Jesus, but we’ve made it into ‘not now, but perhaps forever if you play the game right’.

~ from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality by Richard Rohr

 

I can’t decide whether it’s stupid, wicked or just plain sad that for so many (especially we evangelicals) Christianity is about life after death instead of Life now. If Faith was just about ‘salvation’ (i.e. what happens after we die) then Jesus would not have spent several years preaching and teaching and healing and revealing the very nature of God.

I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture [i.e. NOW, not just after death] I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 from John 10:9,10

 

Also, for some this Life is misinterpreted as legalism, e.g. if I follow the list of rules I’m ok. This is understandable, especially when we’re young or have a new faith. We all think if we can be told what to do, we’ll be different. Sorted.

But grace isn’t about rules. First, there isn’t a list long enough that it could hold all of the ‘rules’ if they existed. Second, you haven’t got a hope of following all the rules if they were all written down (did a single person manage to keep the Laws of the Old Testament?). Third, Jesus made it simple. He broke it down:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34,35

 

Legalism is a replacement for grace and one that, I sense, makes God sad, because we can never live up to it. It becomes all about what’s on the outside rather than changing what’s on the inside. Legalism results in shame and guilt, or a wrongful sense of pride (see Matthew 23:27-28).

Fourth, rules allow us to feel in control. It is scary to give everything over to God and to trust Him with every aspect of our lives! But we must relinquish our desire for control (whether of ourselves or others) when we follow Jesus, because grace is free.

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Trusting God is a bit like jumping out of an aeroplane wearing a parachute. Only you haven’t seen the parachute – you’ve just been told it’s there. It is scary! But the views are astounding. And you’ll never be the same again. (image from idpinthat.com)

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 10:27,28

 

Let All Our Strivings Cease

“…a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”

Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be clean.”

Matthew 8:2&3 (The Message)

 

“Save us, Lord!” they said. “We are about to die!”

“Why are you so frightened?” Jesus answered. “What little faith you have!” Then he got up and ordered the winds and the waves to stop, and there was a great calm.

“What kind of man is this?” they said. “Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Matthew 8:27 (GNT)

On my Way Home

“‘My daughter, I’m afraid you’ve got to live in this room for a long time. Now there’s one thing I want you to do for my sake.’ “‘What’s that?’ she asked, surprised to hear there was anything left which she could do for anybody. “‘I want you to turn out all these physic bottles, and make your room pleasant and pretty for me to come and sit in. You see, I shall spend a good deal of my time here! Now I don’t like dust and darkness. I like to see flowers on the table, and sunshine in at the window. Will you do this to please me?’

From What Katy Did

by Susan Coolidge

‘With the help of divine grace we must renounce our own will. We already have grace from God, therefore we need not wish for more, for its chief value lies in its resignation of our will to that of God.’

From The Interior Castle

by St. Teresa of Jesus

(paraphrased by me)

How are these two passages related? How can the words of a 16th century Spanish Roman Catholic nun and a 19th century American protestant children’s author be related? Answers on a postcard, please.

All joking aside, actually it turns out they are, because when we stop trying to prove ourselves to God (by ‘serving’ him or by sticking to all the ‘rules’, etc.) we leave room for grace. And the only effort we have to make is to ‘keep ourselves nice’. God may ask us to do something, or to do little, but whatever he asks we must do it gladly, willingly, obediently. In the novel What Katy Did, Katy is badly injured and unable to leave her bed, but she still has something to offer to God, and through this small act of obedience she retains the ability to be open, and receptive, to his grace. This is not to say that we have to do what God wants or else… (cue dramatic music) but we must make the choice to follow God, and this choice happens repeatedly. I am not talking about a re-committal, but more of a repeated (daily) recognition of where I have gone wrong, or where I could go wrong, and a repeated surrender of self  because self continually tries to get in the way of God.

So what do we do? How do we do this? Turns out it’s simple – we must rest in him. All we have to do is what he tells us to do. For me, at this stage of my life (and this came as a shock – a genuine jaw-dropping revelation) all I have to do is to be me.

Same goes for you, and for all of us. Trust. Surrender. Rest. Abide in Him.

‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]’

Matthew 11:28 (Amplified)

Anyone who confesses (acknowledges, owns) that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides (lives, makes His home) in him and he [abides, lives, makes his home] in God.

1 John 4:15 (Amplified)

This beautiful song by Rumer so reminds me of our earthly journey.

Abundance and Forgiveness

We have moved house a lot over the past few years, for one reason or another. This has meant a change of schools, too. When we moved in 2012 the local education authority took nearly two months to put Prince into school. Apparently they had to decide that he needed a special school (despite his previously having been in a special school since Year 1). Initially they even suggested I go and look round the local secondary school(!). Four months after Prince started school, Frank’s job fell through and we realised we had to move. It was good timing and God timing because we moved closer to Frank’s parents and within a month or two Frank’s dad began the cycle of hospital admissions and discharges, and we had to arrange care for Frank’s mum, whose dementia was severe enough to warrant 24-hour supervision. So we moved here, which meant another school change for poor Prince. This was a very difficult thing for him to do. People with autism find change difficult to cope with and he spent the next 11 months detesting his new special school and trying to think of ways to leave. This included, he confessed, trying to be so naughty that he would be permanently excluded. Being autistic, his idea of ‘very naughty’ was actually very mild, bless him, and as I was going through yesterday’s reading from The Little Way of Lent I recalled what Prince had said.

I wonder if sometimes we too do the same as young Prince, especially when we’re hurting or damaged by life? Do we push the boundaries to get God’s attention?

Why is my life so awful if you really love me, God?

Do you love me now, even after I’ve done that?

I’ve been there. I even did my own version of Prince’s ‘trying to do something very bad’ because I had such little sense of self-worth and didn’t believe I was worthy of love. In hindsight, it wasn’t ‘very bad’, it was probably something which happens fairly regularly, fallen as we all are, but I thought at the time that it was dreadful. I saw myself as the same as Peter, denying knowledge of Christ when he’d sworn his love just hours before.

I think this is probably a similar thought process to self-harming, in whichever medium that manifests itself. I know from Celebrate Recovery that self-harm occurs in as many different ways as there are different people. There’s the obvious physical act of cutting or hurting oneself, and then there are addictions and alcoholism, but hurting oneself can also present as bad relationships (or a string of them), eating too much, eating too little, self-sabotage (wanting to achieve something but doing things that prevent you from achieving it), even poor hygiene. We can become so distressed that the reasons we do things are not clear even to ourselves and we continue the destructive cycles that make us miserable. Sometimes we hurt those around us too, either deliberately or as a non-intentional effect. Sometimes, when we have been badly hurt, we even push people away, never letting anyone close. We push them away before they get the chance to hurt us, or we deliberately hurt them because we are confirming how horrible we are and how unworthy of love. Sometimes it’s all so complex that we don’t know where the pain begins and we end, or the other way round. It’s like that quote, attributed to Einstein, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. The cycle of pain and hurting is insanity.

But there can be different results. Healing can and does take place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m rather wary of those who claim to have been ‘healed from addiction’ instantaneously, as addiction is much more complicated than just the physicality of it (although I have never met anyone who claims to have been healed in this way). For the vast majority of us, healing takes time. Years. Decades. Maybe we never fully reach the place of healing until we reach heaven? I don’t know. But I do know that if we’re prepared to be open to God, He can and will use the years of destruction and change our ashes into beauty, give us resurrection joy in place of suffering and death. It takes courage – more courage than anyone who has not been through it can imagine. The courage to get out of bed in the morning and put one foot in front of the other is enormous.

Then there’s forgiveness. What if you, like me, know that you could never and will never do anything anywhere near as awful as that which has been done to you? I mean, we know that all sin separates us from God, don’t we? But what if what you have experienced has been so, so awful that you don’t know how you can ever get over it, or how to even begin to forgive?

It has taken me years to get my head around this, because I thought that God ought to keep a tally card or something… Doesn’t justice mean that ‘bad people’ get punished? I grew up being taught that the criminal justice system was there to protect the ‘goodies’ from the ‘baddies’ and that if someone was guilty of a crime they would be sent to prison. But it doesn’t mean that. ‘Not guilty’ is not the same as ‘innocent’. There are so many, many victims of crime, like me, who will never see earthly justice. But is our earthly justice the same as God’s justice?

Is this grace?

The answer, if I’m not afraid of looking at the truth, is no. Horrible things happen every day to people who never deserved them and there are no straightforward answers. No easy answers. No answers at all, really, just choices; choices we make every day, step by step. My choice – only by grace – has been to seek healing, to live in a manner which searches for God in all things, and to share His abundant grace. This is the narrow road. It ain’t easy.  I make mistakes. I fall. God picks me up. Forgiveness is something I have to do repeatedly. Each time I ask God to take care of it because the hurt is too big. I cling to Him like I’d cling to a lifebelt in a stormy sea. Crumbs those waves are big! Without Him I might drown. So I cling all the harder. And, with Jesus, I’m ok. I hope you can say the same. As I write I pray for those who are finding it hard to find the value in anything any more. Maybe you feel like you want to give up. Maybe you’re so, so angry at all the injustice – all the pain, all the hurt, all the fighting, all the tears. I won’t tell you ‘if you just trust Jesus everything will be fine’. I won’t because that’s a lie. But, one step at a time, you can learn to walk again. He will be your guide for each step. He will be a light in the darkness. He will be your hope.

 

‘Of everything Jesus taught, the admonition to “forgive your brother from your heart” is perhaps the most complex. The pain of injustice and the feelings evoked by being wronged touch the depths of our humanity… Feeding resentment makes forgiveness difficult…

‘When God’s mercy reigns in us we can acknowledge wrongdoing for what it is without becoming a slave to its effects. Forgiveness from the heart does not overlook accountability and it does not require that I let someone who has wronged me back into my life. Jesus doesn’t expect me to open myself to repeated injury or ongoing injustices, but He does ask that I forgive, that I pray for those who hurt me… Forgiveness from the heart is freeing because the pain of the wrong no longer controls my life and no longer suffocates my relationship with God and neighbour.’

‘Humility and hunger for God are synonymous.’

From The Little Way of Lent

by Fr. Gary Caster

‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all day long.’

Psalm 25:4-5 (NRSVA)