What if…we haven’t got the grades?

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I hope you’ve achieved what you wanted this month – and I celebrate with you if you have! – so that you can go on to do whatever you passionately want to do, but if you haven’t got what you had hoped for I know that you may feel disappointed.

It’s truly a shame that society so often looks at the A’s and the B’s and 1’s and the 9’s ahead of who a person is. I want to encourage you to look beyond the grades!

We can so easily get dragged down in disappointment if we haven’t quite hit the marks that were expected of us or that had been hoped for. Here’s a thing though. What you bring to the world is more than the marks on paper. The marks you make on people’s lives matter more. The way you make people feel matters more. Your determination to help those weaker than yourself; your sense of humour that makes friends feel good; a hand held and a word of encouragement are all so much more important. Your gifts to the world matter!

Your significance in the world is about who you are and what you offer to people in the world.

I love this picture.

It says so much about the person in the middle especially. In this picture I see kindness, a sense of protection, the acceptance of responsibility and also a gentleness. I know the child in this photo and he may well achieve ‘high standards’ but what he brings to those around him will always, for me, outweigh any grades.

I hope you do have the grades you want, but if you don’t, don’t settle on thinking that that is the sum total of your work. Your identity isn’t dependent on grades.

Prayer or reflection

Lord, help me to be strong in who I am. Help me to know that my identity in the world is about who I am and how I am with those around me. Let me grasp that the marks I leave through kindness, boldness and a willingness to care matter so, so much more than any immediate disappointment. Thank you Lord that my identity is in you! Amen

What if… we managed our disappointments better?

IMG_3646Exam results; pressures of work; the weather; illness instead of that lovely planned holiday (me over Christmas and New Year); we’ve probably all experienced disappointments during our lives. Some will be much more draining and go deeper than others. Sadly, some of our disappointments can leave their mark and effect our behavior for a long time.

According to the dictionary, disappointment is ‘Something or someone that is …  not as good as you had hoped” (Collins English Dictionary). The key issue is right there. It’s not simply about something not being like we had planned or hoped for but it’s the very fact that we had placed our intended satisfaction or happiness on a thing or a person. Things and people will often turn out to be not as good as we had planned for. ‘Things’ and ‘people’ aren’t dependable or reliable.

God is though.

If we look to Moses again, trying to carry out God’s mission of freeing his people from slavery, Moses must have experienced massive disappointment. When he spoke the words of God to the Israelites, that God would free them from their slavery, they didn’t believe him. (Exodus 6:6-9). Their discouragement and subsequent disbelief caused Moses to be disappointed in their reaction and also his abilities and so when God asked him to then go and speak to Pharaoh he was really unsure of himself. How could he possibly do that if his own people didn’t even listen to him?

Disappointment is a little like fear itself; it leads us into inaction and looking inwards, at ourselves, rather than looking outwards beyond our own circumstances.

God wanted Moses to look beyond his own abilities and look to him. His ‘faltering’ voice was of no consequence to God. God knew all about his voice and his questionable skills and abilities. It would, after all, be God’s action and not Moses’ that would bring God’s people out of Egypt.

If we imagine disappointment in a child, we can see their little shoulders go down, their heads hang. What good are we in God’s mission if we are spiritually and physically turned in on ourselves? We aren’t ready to partner and neither will we be ready to see what’s needed beyond our own diminished world. We’re not going to change the world by dragging our heels and looking at the floor.

We are called to rise above the immediate satisfaction in our circumstances and to look to God and to rely on him for our contentment. Disappointment dulls us, causes us to doubt ourselves and to question our calling, but God knows what his plans are. Let’s not allow disappointments to dull any of God’s plans for us.

Prayer or reflection

Please help me to see the bigger picture. Let me rise above the disappointments in my circumstances and find contentment in you.  Help me to look up and stand straight, and not to be weighed down by people or things that might distract me from God’s purposes.

What if… we gave up criticising others?

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It’s such an easy thing to do isn’t it, to find fault with the behaviour of other people? Not ourselves of course, because we are fine, it’s just everyone else! We might be in the supermarket and criticise or judge the woman who raises her voice at her child having a tantrum (been there, on both sides) or be quick to criticise someone for driving really, really slowly when you’re on a road which is showing the national speed limit.

In a recent morning prayer, we read the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). The woman is brought before Jesus, in another attempt by the ruling priests and teachers to trap him into blasphemy, and Jesus bends down and writes in the dust. (Was this change of focus an example of how to calm down a crowd baying for blood?). He eventually stands up and says to them that anyone without sin may cast the first rock. No one does; they drop their stones and leave the scene.

Jesus asks her a question, “does anyone condemn you?” to which she replies “no one Lord”; “then neither do I”. This is the heart of God that Jesus is wanting us to know and understand, that God does not condemn. He has a heart of love, because God is love. And love transforms.

Jesus loves and we are accepted. That is an amazing thing, which we are called to know for ourselves and which we are called to model. He didn’t offer any judgement on Zacchaeus’ stealing and fraudulent past either and yet Zacchaeus totally changed his ways (Luke 19:1-10). Getting alongside him is all that Jesus did. He literally met him where he was and spent time with him in his home. Being with Jesus is what changed him, not any critical comments or judgement. I wonder if the lack of criticism made his heart burn with guilt? Did he feel so unworthy of hosting such an honoured guest that he had to do something about it? We can’t be sure of all these things, but we do know that it was purely the presence of Jesus that transformed his ways. The presence of love itself.

We are wholly loved and wholly accepted and it’s love that is the transforming thing. Tim Keller puts it like this;

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Timothy Keller (2011). “The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God”, p.31, Penguin

If we criticise and judge others we invite God to judge us too, and that – on a daily basis – probably means that we are found to be falling short on many occasions. But if we extend compassion, love and a willingness to be with people regardless of their past, then we might help them to know the love of God. After all, if I am extended constant love then why shouldn’t I reflect it? We might, with God’s guidance, be able to reach a hope or longing for acceptance that’s been well buried and hidden by rocks of criticism and judgement.

Perhaps I’ll just stand next to the mum or dad in the supermarket next time I notice that horrible experience. Just stand there, and see what God leads me to do to show them understanding.

Prayer and reflection

Lord, help me to move that rock of criticism and judgement, to accept others the way that God accepts me every day. I’m not perfect Lord, so help me to stop expecting perfection in others. Help me to be the means whereby others know they’re accepted and loved.

 

What if… we moved the rock of fear?

IMG_3615It seems to have become more and more popular in recent years for teenagers to take a gap year, to go and explore the world a bit, to travel and perhaps break up the years of education with a time of self-discovery and adventure. My daughter is on her second one and I truly don’t worry about her. If she was to make poor choices I might worry, but I don’t see any reason to be fearful right now. When I was in my late teens I remember being excited at the thought of doing Camp America (BUNAC as it was known back then). As I shared this idea with my family I was bombarded with many ‘what ifs’; ‘what if you don’t like it?”; ‘what if there’s no one to meet you at the airport?’. There were so many ‘what ifs’ presented to me that my enthusiasm to go was pretty much wiped out.

Those ‘what ifs’ of life are the things that lead us to inaction. Fear destroys our ability to witness, to partner with God in any work at all, and our fears play into the hands of the devil. God calls us into action (most of the time), calling us to step out into new places, to try out a new voice, to witness to his power and love and to shine for him, but the devil is just waiting to feed our fears. The voice of doubt and fear that leads us into inaction is just what he wants. I visualise him waiting to pounce so that we don’t witness, so that we don’t take risks and – sadly – so that we don’t shine at all in this world where there is much darkness.

Walter Bruegemann explains the effect of inaction like this; “the truth is that frightened people will never turn the world, because they use too much energy on protection of self” (Brueggemann, A way other than our own: Devotions for Lent). The fears and ‘what ifs’ of life can overtake our willingness to sojourn with God and we are immobilised, frozen and prevented from being effective in the world. We will be like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights, paralysed and frozen. It’s not the life that we are called to. Rather, we are called by a God who transforms and changes lives and situations and he wants us to be part of that dynamic work, changing the world, challenging injustice and defending the weak.

When Joshua is called by God to take over the work that Moses started, of taking his people across the River Jordan and into the Promised Land, God says to him “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9). God is with us. We don’t need to be afraid when we do the work he calls us to.

We need to move the rock that is the biggest; the rock of fear. We are called to shine and to transform lives and we can’t do that if we are paralysed by ‘what if’s’. Resist them and know that God is with you wherever you go.

Prayer or Reflection

Lord God, help me to move the rock of fear, to push away the ‘what ifs’ and to be willing to trust you in the adventure that I am called into. I don’t want to be full of fear Lord, so help me to trust in that promise that you will be with me wherever I go. Amen.

 

What if… we stopped doubting our abilities.

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When my children were younger I so enjoyed (mostly!) accompanying them to school, sometimes reciting the times tables and on other days speeding alongside them on their scooters. I waited until they were about ten or eleven before setting them off on their own. I didn’t want to let them go on their own until I felt they were capable or old enough; I made the journey with them.

I think it’s the same with God. He doesn’t set off us on a journey unless he knows we are ready for it, but too often we don’t acknowledge his greater wisdom and we think we know better than God. When God was sending Moses to Egypt it took some negotiation and we see Moses full of ‘what ifs’. What if they won’t trust me, or what if they won’t listen to me? He clearly found it so hard to accept that he had the abilities that God required for the task. God knew who he needed and he called Moses to do the work, of going to Egypt and bringing his people out of slavery.

We may not have exactly the same doubts as Moses expressed, but I hear many people say “I’m not sure I can do that” or something similar. Too often we doubt our abilities and we are fearful of not being able to fulfil the tasks that we are entrusted with or called to.

After telling Moses about hearing the cry of his people, the oppression they were under, and that he was sending him to them, Moses answered God, “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)

“I’ll be with you,” God says, in answer.

 And that is all we need to hold on to, that God will be with us. He will journey with us and give us the necessary resources, wisdom or particular skills needed at any given time. We might go through something really uncomfortable but that doesn’t mean we should question our abilities to get a job done. The rock of self-doubt is one that needs to be moved out of the way. After all, we may not have the privilege of a lengthy negotiation with God and his gracious reassurance; we might just have to get on with it.

Prayer or reflection

I sometimes doubt myself. I doubt that I have the right skills to complete a task that I am called to do. Help me to move the rock of self-doubt and rely on God’s call and on his wisdom. Lord, I don’t want to miss out on being a blessing somewhere or journeying with you if you want me for a particular task. Help me to trust that you will be with me all the way and help me to say yes.

we were to embrace death in order to find life?

Over six weeks of Lent I will be reflecting on different ‘rocks’ that we could be moving away for ourselves. The rock being moved away from the tomb on Easter day points to a life of freedom and to life itself.

IMG_3662I wonder if you have given up anything for Lent? Some of us do give up something and some of us take something up, like the 40 acts of kindness, as a small reminder of the big sacrifice that was made for us. There are some who say that they don’t really engage with Lent at all and that it’s all too uncomfortable to truly embrace. The reason that is offered is that they consider themselves ‘Easter people’ and so there is no need to journey through the discomfort of Lent. They already know ‘life’.

How can we be Easter people though without engaging with the journey that leads us to the Cross and to death? There is no resurrection if there is no death. We can’t have one without the other.

Lent – if we choose to embrace it – is a time to be unsettled and a time of preparation and spiritual openness. We may not be called into the desert and to a forty day fast, but we are called to be open to God’s spirit. And that’s the real problem, the ‘openness’. What if we, during these forty days, feel God speaking to us and calling us for something more challenging? Too often we want the settled feeling of knowing where we are at and where we are going. If we truly stop and allow ourselves to journey with Jesus through Lent, we might be tested and found unwilling. Best to avoid that and get on with our own journey!

When Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law and saw the burning bush he had to turn to go to it. He moved from his intended path; “So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” (NIV Exodus 3:3) and similarly the Good News states “I will go closer and see”. Moses made an active decision to change his path and to ‘go and see’. He was open to God’s spirit and calling.

We need to be open to be drawn by God and God needs people who are willing to be drawn towards him. I have a friend who feels God’s call but he’s simply not willing yet to change his (very comfortable) lifestyle and ‘go and see’. He is not willing to live an unsettled life and leave the pathway that he has chosen for himself. Perhaps one day.

We may well enjoy calling ourselves ‘Easter people’ but if we are not willing to go to the Cross and to travel an unsettling and unsettled journey, open to God’s voice, he will not be able to call on us to do the work he has in mind – and we might miss out on an amazing blessing. Being Easter people is a great blessing, but we risk so much if we are unwilling to experience the little deaths –  and the deeper challenges – on our journey with God.

Prayer or reflection

Help me Lord to embrace all that the journey to the cross means, even including the little deaths of my own will, being open to being tested, unsettled, and found willing. Give me a heart willing to be drawn away from the things that comfort me, to the joys of embracing whatever you have in store.

 

The rock that I hold tightly to

 

Over six weeks of Lent I will be reflecting on different ‘rocks’ that we could be moving away for ourselves. The rock being moved away from the tomb on Easter day points to a life of freedom and to life itself. There are rocks in our own lives that we can move for ourselves and sometimes it is fear that prevents us from moving it.img_3644.jpg

Lent is traditionally a time of giving up something so I’m starting with that thought. Maybe not something like chocolate or alcohol or sugar, but a really testing thing, something that we hold on too tightly to?

There’s a well-known story of a monkey who puts his hand in a jar to take some food but because it’s now made a fist he can’t pull out his fist as well as what he is holding.  He finds he is trapped. We sometimes have our hand in the jar and we are not prepared to let go of what we are holding.

What if I give up something that is precious to me?

We probably have no idea of the blessings that are prepared ahead of us for the time when we are willing to let go. But if our hands are empty we are ready to receive something new. That new thing may be totally surprising and it may scare us to let go of what is in our hands for it to be replaced by something that we can’t anticipate or know nothing of.

What are we holding too tightly to? Perhaps we can stop grasping for things that stop us receiving the blessing? What are those things? Power, control, status, money, security or recognition? They are common things for us to hold on to too tightly.

We think we need these things, whereas they’re actually stopping us from receiving a better gift.

A grasping hand cannot be open to receive. The rock that we know can be blocking a better plan, blocking our freedom to receive.

Are we prepared to lose something to receive something else? Maybe the new thing won’t be as significant as what we thought we needed or wanted, but we can never second guess God’s plans. And I generally find that they are better than my own.

He is the ultimate gift giver.

Prayer or Reflection

Lord God, please help me to stop grasping on too tightly to things. Help me to trust, to let go and have hands open to receive your blessing. I want to move that rock that prevents me from receiving from you. Help me not to be fearful of what I might lose, but rather look to you and trust you for what I might gain. Amen