Encountering God: Part One

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I nearly didn’t stay to chapel at college last Saturday. I didn’t really want to but something inside me said, “Come on– a bit of personal worship will do you good.” So we went in and sat on the back row: where I didn’t feel looked at and could opt out if I wanted to.

The day before I had written:

“The other day, for a moment, I grasped it. I saw what has always been there…freedom. What did it feel like?  No condemnation and no subtitles; a place where I make goals as an affirmation that I am fully interested in living life to the full; somewhere I’m not scared to fail; a place where I have changed my beliefs about how I deserve to be treated. It’s getting clearer. I’m not quite sure what it feels like to stand firm on it yet but I can see it! I’ve caught a glimpse. And one day I’m going to stand on it and in it and the ground beneath my feet will feel a whole lot firmer. It’s no longer fantasy or wishful thinking. I can see it.”

That day as I was writing, I realised that much of my mental recovery from all I have experienced was coming to a natural conclusion (perhaps a pause?) Faithful companions on the journey (dare I say prophets?) had started to say, “Caroline, look at your present. It’s so full of hope. God has redeemed so much for you. When your future is this bright, why look at the past?”

Oh I wanted to, believe me I did, and I had done everything in my power to get me there. And that’s probably the point. The last leap wasn’t really down to me. It wasn’t something I could study for or go through a twelve step plan for (although those sorts of things had massively helped me get to where I was.) This was different.  It was something I needed to grasp and accept into my heart but I just didn’t seem able to. It was like having a pair of sunglasses on: I knew there was hope ahead but I couldn’t see it quite as clearly as they all did…until that moment in chapel.

And when it happened, it came out of the blue; totally unexpected.  Something happened in that worship time; something mysterious and beyond my capability to manufacture.

A song I had learnt in the depths of my depressive teenage years and had continued to sing at church through the ups and downs of the years since, suddenly took on a new meaning. Oh I knew those words so well; but never had they opened up to such depth of meaning as they did that day. Suddenly I understood what it felt like to know this stuff in the depth of my being not just my head. The dark glasses were lifted off. Something like scales fell from the eyes of my heart, and I could see!

We were there, maybe half an hour, singing, listening to readings and joining in prayers. And I revelled in it! Ephesians 3 was one of the readings that day and it sums up my time in chapel really well:

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!”              (Ephesians 3:14-19 The Message)

God was no longer someone I admired, quoted or followed, He was someone I’d encountered!

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New Years Resolutions?

I wonder whether you plan to make any New Year’s resolutions for 2014. Here’s some that I’ve made in the past: play more games with Hannah; use my legs more often than my car; finish writing my book; speak to distant friends more regularly; get up earlier to pray and read my Bible. Having a strong tendency towards perfectionism, it suited me well to set goals. I thought I’d be a better person for achieving them. But guess what? I don’t think I’ve ever kept a single resolution longer than a week!

Oh I had a good go at some of them: we played Uno a few times; we walked to school (the first three days of term); I wrote another chapter (into the early hours of one morning); I telephoned one of my friends in January (and again in about September); I got up early (once) and read (through my heavy eyelids) and prayed (when my mind wasn’t wandering elsewhere or dozing off!) So for 2014 I have set just one resolution: No more unachievable New Year’s Resolutions! Thanks to an article by Claire De Boer I realised that,

“all of these goals are rooted in feeling like I’m not enough—not writing enough, not spiritual enough, not fit enough, not a good enough friend or mum…My underlying message seemed to be, “you have to do better, because who you are right now isn’t making the cut.” But a new year doesn’t change those thought patterns—at least not long-term.”

(http://shelovesmagazine.com/2013/ring-new-year-one-word/)

OneWord365.com encourages us to choose one word to focus on for the year that sums up who we want to be or how we want to live. So this year I’ve ditched the to-do list and I’m going for just one word.

The word I’ve chosen is EMBRACE. Seeing it in front of me every day helps me to remember to embrace the present moment; to embrace those around me; to embrace interruptions; to embrace possibilities; and to allow myself to be embraced by the love of God and the people he sends to show me that love. What a relief! No more pressure to be more and much less emphasis on duty than ever before.

So why not join me and pick a word for 2014. Your word doesn’t have to be meaningful to anyone else. It could be something as simple as “no,” or “yes.” It could be an action, a thought or an emotion. Think of some of the challenges you faced last year, or that may be facing you this year. Is there a word that could be relevant for you? If you’re stuck there are plenty of ideas at OneWord365.com:

So go ahead and think about it, pray, or ask for help. Then, if you’re comfortable sharing, let us know your word in the comments box so we can encourage each other through the year.