I was scrolling through the blogosphere when an advert came up for the British Army. I’m pretty open to their cause and have a strange affinity because I grew up with a parent serving in the British Army. But something in me winced at this advert.
You see, their advertising has always been targeted but now it’s reaching into the hearts of the many people who have a sense of missing something. It reaches into the heart of the person who feels as though they don’t belong by offering them the one thing they want: a place to belong.
What does it mean to truly belong?
Often people allow fitting in and belonging to become interchangeable, when they actually sit opposite to one another. Fitting in is about changing yourself to be accepted – to fit in you can’t necessarily be yourself. On the other hand, belonging is about being yourself and being accepted and embraced anyway.
It’s because of this distinction, I think, that so many of us have felt that sense of not belonging at some point in our lives. And, oh what sweet relief, when we finally find people we can be real with, be entirely ourselves with. The joy of true friendship has been when I’ve completely messed up. That sounds strange, but it is so freeing to have people who we can turn to and say, “I seriously screwed up here,” and know that they’ll stand by us anyway. And yet, the problem with finding belonging in the people around us, or in our jobs, or our homes, is that these things inevitably shift and change. I know that I’ve loved moving house and yet, I’ve struggled with the shift in relationships. My friends are still my friends, even 100 miles away, but it isn’t the same. I don’t belong in that place anymore and that is uncomfortable.
For me (and for millions of others around the world), the truest belonging is found in relationship with Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter how badly I screw up, I can always turn to Him. It’s not without challenge, as we constantly reflect on our lives and little by little try to live better. My relationship with Jesus has changed so much over the last 30 years, but not because he has changed. Rather, he’s changed me. I’ve shifted and grown, and yet Jesus has stayed the same. His constant unchanging presence and truth has enabled me to find a deep sense of belonging that isn’t on offer anywhere else.
At the heart of belonging is Jesus’ offering of grace. It is this grace which allows us the space to be imperfect, to love and live imperfectly and yet to somehow belong at the same time. The world is full of imperfect people, living imperfectly and yet trying to mask their imperfections through literal or digital filters. This is dangerous, not least because filters lead to a lack of grace for ourselves, but also towards others. It’s dangerous because we slowly view ourselves through that lens of judgement and shame.
“If only they knew what you were really like…”
“If everyone knew what you did…”
“If only they knew who you really were…”
When we view ourselves through this lens, there isn’t a lot of room for grace… and there isn’t a lot of room for belonging either. This is fitting in, holding up the filter, hoping it never falls. Brene Brown says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.” Today, it truly is an act of courage to openly be imperfect… but to do so requires the truest sense of belonging.
Belonging in community
The other thing about finding true belonging in Jesus, abundantly surrounded by grace, is that it roots itself in community. The church doesn’t always get it right, but at its best it is trying to create that grace-filled space for people to enter into and to belong. Unfortunately, many Christians are the harshest judges, refusing to extend even the slightest amount of grace they themselves have received. But my hope is we can do better.
My hope is that we might be people who accept Jesus’ invitation into relationship with him because, when we do, we accept his invitation for grace and love; we accept his invitation to find an eternal belonging. A belonging that doesn’t shift. A belonging that isn’t dependent upon life’s circumstances.
My prayer is that we might be people who extend that grace to other people so they might also find belonging, and learn to drop the mask.
Welcome. Please, come in. You won’t find perfect people here, but we hope you will find belonging.
A whole year ago I wrote in my diary one question: Will I make it to one year?
This was because I had already begun to struggle with the cost of unpaid ordained ministry juggled with my paid job (teaching) and wider family life too. I sat with one of our bishops and shared that the pattern wasn’t sustainable and that I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to the end of my first ordained year, never mind to the end of my curacy.
Well, I made it to one year… but in a way unimaginable this time last year.
I had hoped there might be a stipend (paid role) for me, an investment in me, an imaginative solution to the problem of the ever-increasing over-stretching of self.
Did I think I’d find it in rural Shropshire?
I’d never visited the place, not even for a day trip – though I came dangerously close on a road trip once upon a time.
But an invitation was extended… to follow Jesus to Shropshire, that I might find space to grow into myself as a minister, wife and mum.
“But I heard less of the crazy talk and a lot more of the wise talk and I was hopeful enough to keep listening until the day I found myself transformed into an entire garden of roses.” Mary Oliver, Rumi
The poet, Mary Oliver, expresses the kind of total life transformation that somehow takes us completely by surprise. As the protagonist follows the famous fellow with “long beard and dusty feet”, they linger on, listening with hope.
There is no indication of time lapsed between this hopeful following and the transformation, and yet we know that time must have lapsed. A garden of roses takes time. A garden of roses requires patience and imagination. It requires careful pruning and a skilled gardener. It requires love.
The same too for our lives, as we accept the invitation to follow Jesus. It will bring transformation, some of which may be sudden and immediately noticeable, much of which we will only notice when we’re surrounded by the roses.
A whole year ago I couldn’t have imagined much of how the 12 months would unfold. There was a lot of pain, as the pruning and cutting back has taken place. But there’s also been joy and laughter in abundance. That’s life, I suppose. A mixture of painful thorns amongst beautiful roses. I am just so very thankful for the patient gardener working in my life.
The most loving gardener.
His name is Jesus and he invites you to follow him into hope.
Let’s be honest… when we hear about prophecies, visions and strange murmurings, we either think of Bruno or we are reminded of the series of seemingly strange men in the Old Testament. If you’ve got a child under 18, are a Disney fan, or perhaps have even just looked at music charts in the last few weeks, you’ll no doubt have picked up on this (very) catchy song from Disney’s newest offering: Encanto. Bruno is introduced as a strange family member who can’t help but apparently ruin the lives of those around him… or so they say.
In case you haven’t seen the film, it centres on a family who have each been given as children. Each of these gifts helps the family and the community. Most of the gifts are pretty cool (super human strength, for example), but Bruno’s gift – the gift of prophesy and truth telling – appears to be more of a curse. So much so, he spends most of the film missing in action and has an entire song dedicated to telling us all why they don’t even talk about him. Despite their best efforts to paint this picture of Bruno as a mad-man, in reality he is no more mad than the rest, with their strange ways and powers. He is, put simply, a truth teller. And, for some, the truth is scary.
Bruno isn’t, though, the first truth teller to have ever existed. There have been many truth tellers in the past, and many exist today. In the church, we call them prophets. Prophets are people who speak truth into situations, pointing people back to God even in the most difficult of times. In the Bible, we meet many prophets who speak truth about certain situations, often to their own great danger. For example, we see Daniel literally fed to the lions because he refuses to bow down to a different god. We meet Moses, who tells Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people leave their bondage in Egypt, chased by a ferocious army. John the Baptist comes and warns people that the Kingdom of God is coming and they must repent, turn back to God and be baptised. Eventually, he ends up being beheaded and his head being served on a silver platter.
To be a prophet is dangerous work. It is to face the wind head on, and point to Jesus, no matter what’s happening. It is to stand up and tell the truth, even if you know the people hearing your message aren’t going to like it. It is to challenge and to hold both mirror and window up to society: a mirror so people can see the reality of their actions; a window so people can glimpse something of the goodness of God in their situation. As I said previously, people don’t often like the truth. It rocks the boat and disempowers the status quo.
Each year, in Lent, I think of the prophets who came before Jesus, who gave up everything to point people towards his coming. I think of the people who I’ve met in my lifetime, who bear the cost of pointing others towards Jesus, challenging behaviour and demanding better of the people around them. This Lent, let us pray for more prophets and truth tellers; for more people who point us towards Jesus, no matter the cost. May we raise up children who are fierce in pursuit of the truth, and fervent in their love for Christ. Amen.
Notes for talking to children: many of the short reflections I am releasing over Lent use songs that children will likely know well. Please feel free to use them to talk to your child/ren about Jesus and faith. Prophets is particularly tricky, as they may have questions about whether the prophets in the Old Testament had eyes that glowed green and could they tell if someone’s fish was about to die – as in Encanto. However, the focus, I think, is on a) the keeping close to God and developing that listening ear to hear what God is saying and b) the speaking of truth, even when that might be really hard. As ever, honesty, openness and authenticity is key with our child/ren. They often teach us more than we teach them.
This week we hear from Hilary Hopwood, a retired French teacher in the North of England. Her school was one of the first nationally to gain the International Schools Award, and she was invited by the British Council to help pioneer this award in India, and to serve on their adjudication panels for both the international School Award and the Global Curriculum Award. Locally, Hilary has served as chair and now co-chair of East Meets West – Women of Faith Together. Formed in 2006, East meets West aims to bring together women living in the Lancaster area who have different faiths and cultural backgrounds, mostly Christian and Moslem, but welcome participation from all faiths. Their current programme includes Healthy Living Project, swimming sessions and many other activities to enjoy together.
Q1. How do you pray? Silently, or out loud, mostly as part of my devotional rhythm which involves liturgy, Bible reading, reading reflections and meditations, and intercessions. If I have a particular person or issue on my mind I will shoot up ‘arrow prayers’ at regular intervals throughout the day. I like both set prayers and to pray spontaneously.
Q2. How do you read the Bible? It depends on what I have chosen as a structure. For a few years I followed the lectionary which included daily readings from Old and New Testaments and the psalms around a theme. If it was the OT I often carried on reading beyond the prescribed passage because I wanted to follow the story! Also I have often found that the set readings leave out the gory bits or sections that appear to conflict with modern mores and I like to read them too. I don’t want a sanitized version of the Bible. I rarely use a commentary but wish I knew Greek and Hebrew so that I could have a better understanding of the original text. My current structure, a new one that I like very much, only gives one or two verses from OT and NT and psalms which don’t provide the context so I frequently read the verses before and after to get a better idea.
Q3. What’s your favourite Bible verse for this season? I don’t have one, and the notion of favourite verses doesn’t mean much to me either. Of course many verses are well known and were learned in my childhood, and I do feel a certain affection for them but I am aware that there is plenty in the Bible I have not yet read. But knowing some verses by heart is useful as they offer inspiration and guidance.
Q4. What songs are you singing at the moment? The songs I sing with my choir, especially as we have a zoom rehearsal every week. I have also played and sung songs I wrote years ago. Sometimes old choruses from my youth and hymns come to mind and I sing them in my head. We exercise to music and the range is everything from classical to rock, folk, pop and jazz.
Q5. What is bringing you joy in lockdown? Simple pleasures! Everything from gardening to cooking, cycling, Netflix, Whatsapp calls and texts, Zoom conferences with my family, community group (East Meets West), and choir, and reconnecting with our former church in London online. I am more in touch with old friends from childhood than ever before. In fact thinking about these questions is making me realise how much the past is feeding me during lockdown!
I also enjoy my daily video chats with the asylum seeker I support. The relationships within our community group have further developed through the lockdown and that is a real source of mutual joy and blessing. I would say the same about my weekly calls to my aged aunt, and occasional calls to a cousin who lives alone and whom I rarely had contact with prior to the lockdown. Generally it is the peace and quiet, the regular rhythm of life, the increased contact with nature and the wonderful weather that I am enjoying.
How about you? I love that idea of the past feeding us in the present. I’m not sure I’d been aware of it. Who could you reconnect with at this time? I’m going to make sure I ring my grandma more regularly.
Today About Her goes overseas to Mombasa, Kenya to hear from Brenda Kanyasi. Brenda is the admin office manager at Tumaini School (set up by Education for Life) , and lives in the community nearby. Brenda is involved in school and her church activities. She loves kids and has tremendous compassion for families in need. Brenda is hugely knowledgeable and wise, she is also very humble and loves to see people succeed.
Q1. How do you pray? I do find a silent place where I can’t get interrupted, that is either lock myself in the room, sit or sometimes kneel down,sometimes a too lazy and when lying down I do pray too. I always do a thanks giving prayer or a request prayer. Sometimes, I do it silently in my heart either when at work or just busy with work.
Q2. How do you read the Bible? Honestly I have someone from church that sends me every days reading on my WhatsApp so that helps me easily each day to get the reading or either like now sometimes I get also from different friends sharing the reading of every Sunday on WhatsApp and this helps me easily to read the Bible.
Sometimes I read books or motivational stories where people share testimonies and bible verses, I use different types of methods to read the Bible.
Q3. What’s your favourite Bible verse for this season? Psalm 23.
Q4. What songs are you singing at the moment? Praise and worship songs eg a song called I have no other God than you. You have done what no man has done, you will do what no man can by Nathaniel Bassey.
Q5. What is bringing you joy in lockdown? I can still get my salary which helps me put food on my table and support the family and I am still safe and believe I will be safe from the virus.
Being able to support at least one poor family during this season despite the little I provide but seeing the smile on their face makes me feel happy and blessed.
I am trying to keep in touch with friends, trying to spend most of my time with children at the orphanage: working together, chatting, praying together and watching games that they do during free time and join in where I can.
I also do some work (job duties) to help me feel normal.
Massive thanks to Brenda for sharing her everyday faith in this time. A wonderful reminder that the church of God is not bound by country borders. Perhaps today you can spend some time reading Psalm 23 – by yourself, or with a friend – and asking God to remind you of how he shepherds you. Or widen your playlist and listen to more from Nathaniel Bassey here.
I call this An Ordinand’s Sermon Part 2, because it follows on from a sermon I preached to my formation group at college in February last year. It’s funny, because whilst this sermon is not on the same passage of scripture, it seems (to me, anyway) to be the perfect part 2. God’s funny like that, isn’t he?
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21: 1-19)
“I’m going fishing,” says Peter, utterly fed up and craving normality. Life has not turned out the way he had thought, when he said ‘yes’ to following Jesus 3 years earlier. He had said ‘yes’ to becoming a fisher of men, ‘yes’ to being taught, ‘yes’ to an adventure with Jesus. And yet, here he was, despondent. “I’m going fishing.” Peter’s urge is to get back to normality, back to reality. So, he goes back to what he knows best. Fishing.
But God has other plans. As they are fishing on the boat, having caught nothing all night, someone calls out from the shore, “Put your nets out on the other side.” They do. And the fish fill the nets. And then it comes. The whisper. “It’s Jesus.” Overjoyed at the sight of his friend, his teacher, his saviour, Peter jumps out of the boat and rushes to meet Jesus on the beach. The others follow as quickly as they can. They drag their enormous catch ashore, but there’s no need… Jesus has already prepared some for them. He smiles and says, “Alright lads… fancy some breakfast?”
They sit and eat, and then we see the remarkable encounter between Peter and Jesus, with Peter’s reinstatement mirroring his denial of his friend. It is beautiful to see Jesus once again stretch out a hand and ask Peter to follow him. And nerving, no doubt, as Peter is told that one day he will go where he is led, and not where he wishes. Still, it’s clear. In the person of Jesus, Peter encounters God on that beach. And in that encounter he is transformed once more, before being sent out.
But this isn’t the first time. If we look back at John 20: 21-22, Peter encounters the risen Jesus and he transforms him with God’s peace and with the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Encountered. Transformed. Sent.
When I preached previously from Luke 5: 1-11, we saw how Peter had an encounter with Jesus, that led to his transformation and a sending out. There is no doubt, that Peter has already been called out of his old life, into a new one. It’s like an old pair of boots that have been worn out and are no longer wearable. We get a new pair of boots. But we can’t put the new boots on over the top of our old boots, nor can we put the old boots on instead of the new boots. They might feel comfortable at first, because we’ve worn them in, but our old boots are no longer fit for the purpose for which they were made. They’re broken. Our new boots, as strange as they might feel, these are the boots which are fit for purpose. Peter went back to the old, back to the comfortable, the fishing. But he is no longer a fisherman. His old life is no longer fit for the purpose for which he has been transformed.
Encountered. Transformed. Sent.
Of course, the same goes for us here today. We were all called to St Mellitus in September 2018. We could have gone to countless other colleges, or put training on hold a few more years. But we didn’t. God called us to train together at the same time as each other. And in that training he has been forming us. Of course, the forming and transforming continues, but this time together has been key to forming us for ordained ministry in the Church of England. The late night bar chats, the 2am McDonalds runs, the worship, the prayer, the tears and snot, the dodgy vegetarian options and the mind-melting bogglement of theological education have all formed us. And if just 1 of us hadn’t been here for the journey, it wouldn’t have quite been the same. We were called together for this time, we have been transformed, and now you are being sent.
So, as you leave college – some of us have another year, because we need that extra bit of formation – and step out into your new lives as ordained disciples of Jesus Christ, shake off your old boots and slip into the new ones. Your old lives are no longer fit for the purpose for which you have been called. And when the discomfort hits, as it usually does with a new pair of shoes, remember Jesus’ words to Peter: “Someone else will take you where you don’t want to go. Follow me.”
I would want a boat, if I wanted a boat, that bounded hard on the waves, that didn’t know starboard from port and wouldn’t learn, that welcomed dolphins and headed straight for the whales, that, when rocks were close, would slide in for a touch or two, that wouldn’t keep land in sight and went fast, that leaped into the spray. What kind of life is it always to plan and do, to promise and finish, to wish for the near and the safe? Yes, by the heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want a boat I couldn’t steer. (Mary Oliver, If I Wanted A Boat)
That is my prayer for us all. As we encounter God, he transforms us and sends us out. May we follow him, even to the rocks. May we get into that boat that is his alone to steer.
Here we are… our next instalment! I hope you’re all feeling encouraged and inspired by these stories of everyday faith. I’ll let B introduce herself…
Hi! I’m B. My real name is Bethany but I only ever get called that at work, which I still hate. I’m a social worker and mum to two absolute babes Annabelle 5 and Florence 3. Whenever I get asked where I’m from I never know what to say. I moved around roughly every three years of my childhood (vicars daughter problems). When I was 18 I moved out and started a ‘Christian gap year’ which I swiftly gave up on. I then moved to York where I worked as a youth worker and after that ended up going to uni. At some point in the York years, I got married to Ben and we moved to the tiny land of Burscough where we still live 7 years later, the longest I’ve lived anywhere! After 6 years of planting and leading a church called Red Ben started training to be a vicar, so I guess that makes me an almost vicars wife, although I feel like I’ve been one forever. Outside of social work, being a mum and vicar wife-ing you will find me working on some sort of creative project, normally party based (any excuse) taking long lush baths or doing something with people – my extrovertedness just craves the company of others which I’m finding particularly difficult under our current lockdown life. I am going to be completely honest with you, I feel a little like I’m the wrong person to be answering these questions Olivia has asked me. Although I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember and to be fair I’m pretty into God, I don’t feel like I’ve got a lot of these things ‘sorted’. But, if I have learnt anything in my almost 32 years of life it is that actually none of us feels like we have things ‘sorted’ and reading other people’s truth is actually really helpful so here we go…
Q1. How do you pray? Sporadically. There have been different times in my life where I have had routine and rhythm to my prayer life but since having children I have never got back into one. I mostly connect with God through music and being in nature. I can’t help but have an internal, and often external, “WOW isn’t God flipping amazing” moment when surrounded by God’s beautiful creation, which leads to a moment of thanks in his presence. My absolute favourite thing to do, and where I hear God most clearly, is by blaring out a Christian playlist, getting lost in the music and taking time to tune into the lyrics. I also enjoy a guided meditation. I really struggle to be still, make my mind stop and tune in to God. I find that through guided meditation I have something to focus on while stilling my mind. I’m hoping longer term it will help me hear God more clearly.
Q2. How do you read the Bible? Again, full disclosure here, I do not do this regularly. This is something I have struggled with forever. I have never found reading the bible easy and will often use my hate of reading (like, I really hate it!) as an excuse. In an attempt to change this, I have recently bought myself a colouring in journaling Bible. I have found that by having space and freedom to draw all over it, write notes, questions and use colour has been really helpful. I also like re-writing bits of the Bible, I find this helps my brain take it in.
Q3. What’s your favourite Bible verse for this season? I’m not sure what my favourite Bible verse for this season is, but my favourite Bible verse of all time has to be Acts 2:44-47.
This speaks so powerfully to me about the church and how the church should be. I guess in our current situation, living under coronavirus, this still has a lot to teach us. If us doing church is knowing our community, its joys, its pain and its needs then we can be intentionally and actively trying to meet these needs. This could be through prayer, giving to each other financially, through sharing what we have – our lives and our hearts. All those things can still exist even while we can’t be with each other. I think in some ways the world has been doing a good job of being community under lockdown. Thousands of people signing up to volunteer, neighbourhood WhatsApp groups starting, street bingo from your front garden (this genuinely happened on my street today), people delivering food to shielding relatives/friends/neighbours, people being far more intentional in their relationships. This, for me anyway, is what the church should look like all the time!
Q4. What songs are you singing at the moment? So many! About 3 weeks ago I had a real God moment while driving back from work. I was listening to Lauren Daigle “Love like this” (told you most of my God moments happen via music). The lyrics go “what have I done to deserve love like this.” Now I know that for a lot of us we have heard about God’s love a lot – like a lot a lot. It’s kind of a big deal, the pinnacle of the Christian faith, but I felt it afresh. I really have done nothing to deserve it, yet here it is overwhelmingly outpoured on me. After coming out of that I remembered life right now, lockdown life. But rather than feel sad about it, I almost gained a new perspective. Even with how life is right now, with all it’s restrictions, frustrations, worry and loneliness, that does not change the overwhelming love of God. We can often let our situation or circumstance dictate how we feel or think and that can then affect our relationship with God. But the way God thinks about us does not change. The truth of his sacrifice does not change. His goodness does not change. I honestly felt, there in that moment, that if the worst were to happen and one of my babies were to die, I would still be thankful for God’s love, his sacrifice, that has saved me.
Q5. What is bringing you joy in lockdown? My girls. However much they drive me bonkers they have equally saved me. As mentioned above I am an extrovert, full-on 100% extrovert who happens to be married to an introvert. The girls have given me company, routine, a mission to make lockdown life fun and of course an excuse for a creative project – school. That alongside working means there is no time to let myself dwell on the parts of life that are really tough (I desperately want to see my family, squeeze my sisters and go to soft play with my mummy friends). I know I am biased but those little babes are joy bringers and I am blumming thankful for them!
I hope and pray that wherever you are and however you are experiencing lockdown that you wholeheartedly know the love of God. That you can separate your external circumstances from your eternal worth and that you can cling to the truth that God is good!
Thanks B! Why not follow the above link to listen to Love Like This and let God’s love wash over you?See you all again next week for more encouragement and everyday faith from awesome women.
Abi is a student worker based in Lancashire, who loves to drink tea and gin (though not at the same time). She’s a brilliant writer, loves to read and has a love for all things Disney. Over it all, Abi is passionate about Jesus and sharing his love with whoever she meets.
Q. How do you pray? During lockdown, I’ve been on furlough which has given me time to try a few new things – a couple of books which have really helped me here have been Paul Miller ‘A Praying Life’ and currently reading through Pete Greig ‘How to Pray’. Some things I love are keeping an encouragement prayer journal where I can record prayers, words, quotes and answers to prayer to look back on, particularly in harder times, and remember how faithful God has been. Another thing (from ‘A Praying Life’) is making prayer cards – this started mostly out of my love of pretty stationery! I have a few nice cards for people I am praying for regularly (one for each person) with lines of scripture that I think really relate to them or a situation they are in and pray these things for them. I often find it hard to sit in silence in prayer but this is something I’m trying to do more in order to listen as well as just speak! My church has also been doing daily prayer meetings in lockdown, going through the Lectio 365 app, which I have found a really great start to the day and also just praying where I can throughout the day as situations arise or on long walks in the countryside!
I must say though that not all of these are by any means regular or frequent but also like I said I have been blessed with time in this season to at least try them!
Q2. How do you read the Bible? Normally just in the mornings when I wake up sat in bed. I usually go through a book at a time (have just been enjoying the psalms) but again, there are lots of different ways that I’d like to try to shake things up a bit. I did a Bible in a Year plan last year for the first time which I really enjoyed and really appreciated the structure of not having to decide what to read next but this year some other things I’d like to try in my quiet times:
Reading through books of the Bible with commentaries.
Reading through larger chunks of narrative and just enjoying the stories (I studied literature!)
In an internship I studied a very small amount of New Testament Greek (with incredibly limited knowledge) but a Greek Bible and a dictionary, reading very small amounts, maybe a verse a day spending longer over each word, meditating on the words in their original language.
Reading through smaller sections, maybe a couple of times and perhaps even out loud, probably psalms or a couple of verses from a letter, praying them through or just reflecting and thinking about them (and hopefully those bits might come back later in the day!)
Q3. What’s your favourite Bible verse for this season? For the last few years one of my favourite books in the bible has actually been Lamentations – it sounds like a curveball but the literature student in me just loves the structure and language and my favourite thing would have to be the centre point of Hope punching through all the dark right in the middle: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘the LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him’”. (Lamentations 3:22-24). For the full affect, I would highly recommend just sitting and reading through Lamentations or even just chapter 3 to really feel the power of such hope in difficult times.
Q4. What songs are you singing at the moment? There are lots of really great worship songs I’m enjoying at the moment and am blessed to be part of groups who have put together various worship playlists for this time but a couple of the potentially slightly more quirky things I like: I’ve been loving listening to kids worship songs recently because I’ve found they are just the best for dancing round the kitchen to (and also just contain some really profound but simple truth). A favourite in that regard at the moment would be ‘Ask, Seek, Knock’ by Hillsong Kids, recently introduced to me, a real banger.
I’ve also been enjoying listening to some Spanish worship songs. I have very limited Spanish knowledge but I find the language beautiful and I also think there is something beautiful about worship that goes beyond words and language. Some of these are songs I actually know (in English) and so can follow along but both of these remind me that the gospel goes so far beyond my own life context, is for everyone and is bigger than I can imagine. I sometimes feel like these can give me just the tiniest glimpse into what the party in Heaven will look like.
Q5. What is bringing you joy in lockdown? So many things! I’ve enjoyed get stuck into our new ‘online’ way of doing church including helping to run a kids holiday club, enjoying quizzes and fun times with our life group and starting an alpha course this week. But mostly I’ve enjoyed relaxing and really learning the meaning of rest so we’ve got Disney+ which is a real win, I’ve been reading a lot more, tackling a jigsaw puzzle, very much enjoying the sun when I can and mostly have really loved discovering new places on longer walks with beautiful views and finding lots of fun wildlife on my way. I’ve also been able to get involved helping a little bit behind the scenes for a city support line which has been good. I think this time has taught me an awful lot about how really blessed I actually am, I have been seeing how lucky I am to have so many good gifts in my life and the chance to really enjoy them.
Thank you, Abi! I absolutely LOVE the idea of worshipping with songs in another language: a true taste of that no language barrier worship of heaven. Stay tuned for more encouraging stories of everyday faith next week with About Her.
About Her is my new regular blog feature, where I’ve asked many different women from all sorts of different backgrounds about their faith. I hope it’ll give you food for thought, encourage you in your own faith journey and maybe even inspire you to try something new.
It’s me, Olivia! I’m the creator of this blog, so it felt right that I’d be the first to undergo the questions. I’m a wife, mum of 1 pre-schooler and training to be a priest in the Church of England. I live in Lancashire, and I love to run. I’m not particularly fast, but it’s great for the mind so I keep plodding on. I am passionate about the sharing of stories – I think we understand so much more when we’ve heard some of the story behind a person. Stories give us insight and encouragement; they can move us to laughter or tears; they can create community and a shared identity. Stories are brilliant!
Q1. How do you pray? In all sorts of different ways, mainly sporadically throughout the day. I’ll be walking somewhere and spot something and it prompts a prayer in me. If I hear an ambulance siren (which I do quite a lot, because of our proximity to a hospital) I pray for protection over that life and for strength and peace for those treating the patient. I love to pray in bed, before I go to sleep. For me there is no better way to end the day than to run through it all again and let God know where I struggled and where my heart soared. Sometimes I even let God get a word in edgeways and he shows me where he was at work.
Pre-lockdown, I had my routine of dropping the 4yo at pre-school each morning and praying over her before she went in. Then, as I was driving home I would turn on my Bible audio to listen before getting home for some silence. However, that routine has disappeared, with pre-school closed. Instead, I’ve been praying with the 4yo. Sometimes she joins in, sometimes she doesn’t. We always say the Lord’s Prayer together – because she knows its rhythm – and then I’ll just start praying out loud and sometimes she will just start praying her own prayers over mine. Most of the time she just picks her nose and climbs over me, but sometimes we have these magical moments. In fact, this reminds me that I need to ask her more what does she think God’s saying to her / us.
Final bit on prayer with a small person, I promise. About 18 months ago we were walking through town. Well, I was walking, and carrying a rather heavy and lazy 2.5 year old. She closed her eyes and then said amen. I asked her why she’d said amen, and she told me that the man we had just passed was sad so she prayed for him. Children – even tiny ones – can pray. Sometimes we just need to help them.
Q2. How do you read the Bible? If you’d asked me this question 18 months ago, I’d have said not very well. I think one of the only ways to read the Bible badly is if you just don’t read it consistently. I was a dipper. Dip in, dip out. I followed study plans which jumped around different parts of scripture. And then that all changed.
I was inspired to read the overarching story from beginning to end, which meant going deep into the Old Testament. I’d largely avoided anything tricky or heavy because I just didn’t have the stomach for it. But one lecture on Deuteronomy changed all of that, and so in June last year I began following a Bible in One Year plan and I’m not just a month away from completing it. Sometimes it has been heavy, but the overwhelming feeling I have from it is that the more I read God’s word, the more I hear God speaking to me about my life and the lives of others around me. And the more I read God’s word, the more I can see my life and character changing (for the better). And the more I see that… the more I want to read the Bible.
So, I read it. I read a portion of the Old Testament and then a portion of the New Testament, and sometimes a Psalm or Proverb too. I have missed my old plans which were more devotional in content and included questions and reflections, but I have enjoyed reading through the entire Bible in one year with 2 other people. It’s kept us accountable, and it’s been good to share questions and thoughts.
The best advice I’ve ever had on reading the Bible is: read your Bible, read it all, read it slowly, read it again.
Q3. What’s your favourite Bible verse for this season? I’ve had a few that I’m clinging to in this time. One in particular is from Habbakuk 3, where the writer is saying even though there are no grapes on the vines, the fields produce no food, calamity is at our door, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” Lockdown has been hard for many reasons – even though all in our family are well and safe. There have been days where I’ve wept and this verse has helped me to lift my eyes up to my saviour Jesus, to remember that, even in these calamitous times, I can rejoice in Him.
Q4. What songs are you singing at the moment? I’ve been listening to Elevation Worship’s The Blessing since they premiered it on March 6th this year. You may have seen it’s been turned into various covers by churches across the world, and when I heard it for the first time I just knew that this was an anointed song which would minister in this time. I cannot stop listening to it and singing it out over the streets I run down.
I’m also listening to a lot of Disney because we subscribed to Disney+ at the beginning of lockdown. I love how much Christian truth we can find in what the world would call secular.
Q5. How are you seeking joy in lockdown? I’ve been seeking joy by giving myself permission to “fail”. By that I mean what society expects of us, or what we expect of ourselves. It just isn’t possible for me at this time to do life at the sort of pace I would normally. I’ve had to slow down and God has hard wrestled much of the busy-ness and distraction out of my head, hands and heart.
As such I’ve been spending much more concentrated time with the 4yo. She starts school in September (hopefully!) so it has been a real joy and privilege to get this extra time to enjoy with her. As soon as I’d relinquished control and stopped beating myself up about all the things I couldn’t do now with her on top of me 24/7, I breathed easier and the joy became easier to find.
So, we bake, we go for bike rides, we sing and read stories, we watch films and have lazy mornings and breakfast in bed. We fall out with each other, we have strops and we even cry together. But above it all I look at her and in her eyes of wonder I find the joy of the everyday, the joy of stripped back living, the joy of an unhurried life.
Tune in next week for the next instalment of About Her. Do get in touch if you’d like to answer the 5 questions. You don’t need to be a mum, but you do have to be a woman.