Thursday, December 9, 2010

Getting closer- Lean not on your own understanding

Yesterday it was my son's school nativity. He was a Roman guard. I wasn't looking forward to going a) he hates people looking at him b) he hates singing c) all the Dads are there and I feel really alone. Max's one line was great but I could see that the singing and standing on stage was torment and he looked like he wished to be anywhere but there. Afterwards, I confided in a fellow Mum, my feelings of inadequacy, I didn't quite verbalise my inner feeling of failure that Pete had left me and it was all my fault. I shared that I found it hard with all the Dads there. She surprised me in her response. She said "Do you get to make all the decisions about your children?". I said "Yes, absolutely, but I always consult/ inform out of courtesy". She said "Now imagine every decision begins with a discussion and ends with a compromise at best. Maybe your life isn't so bad". Well, that was a wake up call. I could choose to be grateful for how easy I have it and how blessed I am that I get to make the decisions for my children.

This morning I was walking on the beach with one of my dogs as the sun was rising. It was a spectacular show. To the South - bright pink and to the North - bright orange with a cool blue in the middle. I returned to that "Poor me" scenario, thinking "I wish I had someone to walk with on the beach, someone to talk to". Suddenly my footsteps in the sand reminded me of that famous poem and a thought occurred - "I do have someone to walk with me and talk to me - Jesus".

Footprints in the Sand

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed
that during the low periods of my life,
when I was suffering from
anguish, sorrow or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord,
"You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during
the most trying periods of my life
there have only been one
set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most,
you have not been there for me?"
The Lord replied,
"The times when you have
seen only one set of footprints,
is when I carried you."

Mary Stevenson
Copyright © 1984 Mary Stevenson, from original 1936 text, All rights reserved

In a journey into faith I suppose there has to be a time when things get personal. I can quote the bible, I can quote believers, non-believers but ultimately I have to open up my emotions and make an emotional or rather - a spiritual - decision about belief.

Now that I attend an Anglican Church, despite being  Roman Catholic, I am learning about some evangelistic ways. One thing I had never heard of before was the "Testimony Dinner" where, basically, once someone has given their life to the Lord they then share their faith story. You can google "Christian testimonies" and read some inspiring stories although none of them speak to me but perhaps that is because each person's journey into faith is as unique as the person themselves.

A few months ago, I started to wonder, if ever I got to that stage, what would my testimony be? What would I look back upon and consider to be relevant? How far am I along that journey now? How much if any of this blog will feature in my faith journey? I still don't know the answer. I feel I may be 10% of the way there - some days more and some days less.

This is hard and very personal. I don't know who is reading this - hopefully no one - but I've come to realise that perhaps this blog is the story of my journey. I have learnt a very simple fact - for all the arguments about faith - Dawkins / Hitchens etc Versus The Bible writers et al - there is a very simple truth. The people I know who are believers seem to live happier and more fulfilled lives. Even when bad things happen they deal with them so much better. Are they deluded? Some say "Yes" and some say "No" but ultimately they lead better lives.

Rather conveniently there is a Bible quotation to fit at this point. It is one I struggle with - it feels like a cop out.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3 - verses 5 & 6)

When I'm feeling particularly atheistic it says to me "Look, I know some of this is a bit muddled and in fact some bits are just wrong and I know if you attack this logically you aren't going to get very far - so don't try to use your brain, don't try to think or you'll end up like Dawkins".

When I'm feeling more like taking that leap of faith it says to me "Stop stressing, God is much cleverer than you - there is no way you will ever figure this out - so just take it easy and relax into God's love. He knows how it all works - all you need to do is believe and good things will happen."

I'm constantly looking for evidence - but isn't the evidence right in front of me as shown in the lives of my Christian friends. The Christian life shows us a good set of rules - back to the Ten Commandments (see previous post 17 January 2010) which, if followed, enables us to lead a happy and healthy life.

I think of friends who are proudly, adamantly atheist but struggle with failed or unhappy relationships, struggle with alcohol, cigarette or even computer porn addiction and I think it's a high price to pay for non-belief when life in a moment could be so much better.

Again I have to go back to a previous post where I spoke about how effortlessly I gave up smoking after years of addiction. I really enjoyed smoking but one day I asked Jesus to take away my addiction and it was gone - in an instant my life was better. I started taking the dogs for long walks, my outlook on life improved. What was amazing was I could still hang around with smokers and not have the slightest inclination to want a puff - it was like the slate was literally wiped clean.

I wonder whether that is why we find the snow so beautiful. Is it God giving us a glimpse of a life "wiped clean". I woke up last Thursday to this wonderful sight - there is even snow on the beach.

Immediately, on writing that, the logical atheist inside me said "Yeah but when it melted the dog s**t was still there". 

But maybe it is as I said - just a glimpse, a taster, an amuse bouche, a metaphor of a life wiped clean.

Often I feel anxious about my faith situation. As I have said before, I am stuck in a horrible limbo - not a true member of either group and perhaps viewed with distrust by both sides? However, the great thing about the bible is that there is a quote for every situation. Check out Philippians 4 verses 4 to 7.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I love the line about a peace "transcends all understanding" as I certainly can't figure this out.

Even when things aren't going well, or I'm having doubts about whether I'm heading in the right direction another well thumbed verse found at Jeremiah 29 verse 11, is relevant.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Of course, as soon as I write this the doubting Thomas in me speaks up and says "Pretty convenient to pick and choose suitable verses - it's a big book and there's a lot of stuff that is irrelevant".

But then my "faith" side of my brain fights back and reminds me of John 16 verse 33.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

And so it goes on - this endless battle within.

Ultimately, we all have to make up our own minds and take the consequences.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14 verse 27)

I'll end today with a final quotation and a photo. When the snow started to melt and the children were back to school I took a detour on the way home and stopped on the North Coast of Jersey for a bacon roll and a cup of tea. How many times had I looked out to sea from that vantage point? Wow - suddenly Sark, a neighbouring Island, looked so close and so different. In a way, finding a faith is a bit like that morning,being led down a different path (or road) and seeing everything in a new light. Ezekiel 36 verse 26 seems a good place to end.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

Actually, perhaps this is the crux - thanks to Nelson Mandela - "Madiba" - who could not have put this better - 

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be fabulous, brilliant, talented and gorgeous? Actually, who are you not to be, you are a child of God and your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that others won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, like children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in every one of us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give people permission to do the same. As we are liberated by our fears, our presence automatically liberates others." 

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