Recent Ramblings

Jobs to do

  1. Clear hallway.
  2. Put books on shelves.
  3. Declutter dining room.
  4. Clean fridge.
  5. Go to post office.
  6. Read books for essay.
  7. Make tea.

And on it goes.

Do I ever reach the end of the list? No. And what would I do if I did? Stop. Rest.

No. I’d find more things that need doing. Because there’s always something else which needs doing.

So no more. I’ll come back to my list in a little while. It’ll still be there in the morning. Now though, I stop. I down tools.

I open my Bible. I open my heart. I open my mind.

And I rest.

Easter Reflections

“They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians”? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’ Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.’”
‭‭(Exodus‬ ‭14:11-14‬)

The Hebrew people are terrified. Their lives are in great danger, as the Egyptian armies close in on them. They’re supposed to be being brought out of captivity and into freedom, yet here they are, about to die in the desert. Or so they think. This reading from scripture is often read at Easter, as it marks the point when God’s goodness and faithfulness deliver his people out of captivity, through water and into freedom. What does Moses say to them? What do they need to do?

Stand firm. Be still.

Isn’t that what the women did the day after Jesus’ crucifixion? The day before Jesus’ resurrection? They stood firm in God’s faithfulness, in the story of the exodus. They were still. How could they not be? It was the Sabbath. And then? What came next? What came after standing firm and being still?

Resurrection.

Deliverance.

Freedom.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

(Matthew 28: 1-10)

In the same way that God stepped into the fear of the Hebrew people and delivered them from their captivity, so Jesus steps into the darkness of all people and delivers us from our own captivity; from our own sin. That’s what we are celebrating today.

Resurrection.

Deliverance.

Freedom.

So we have these similarities in the two pieces of scripture: an urge to stand fast in God’s faithfulness, and a need to be still. But there is a third. First Moses, then the angel, and finally Jesus say the words, “Do not be afraid.” This Easter there is so much that we could be afraid of and yet God’s faithfulness throughout scripture shows us we need not be afraid… of anything.

John Mark Comer writes, “People all over the world are looking for an escape, a way out from under the crushing weight to life this side of Eden. But there is no escaping it. The best the world can offer is a temporary distraction to delay the inevitable or deny the inescapable. That’s why Jesus doesn’t offer us an escape. He offers us something far better: a whole new way to bear the weight of our humanity, with ease. With Jesus doing the heavy lifting. At his pace. Slow, unhurried.” In his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, Comer goes on to say that the only way to have a spiritually healthy life is to “ruthlessly eliminate the hurry from your life”. This is because hurrying is at odds to a life spent with Jesus.

The angel tells the women to not be afraid, to tell the disciples. And they go. But they hurry. Matthew makes a point of telling us that it is in their hurry that Jesus stops them in their tracks and repeats what they’ve already been told: do not be afraid. Go and tell my disciples.

If we let him, Jesus stops us in our tracks. He pulls us out of the darkness, out of the hurry of the world, and into new life with him. We don’t need to be afraid. We need to stand fast in his faithfulness. We need to be still.

The Next Right Thing

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”
‭‭(Luke‬ ‭23:55-56‬, NIVUK‬‬)

They rested. But was it Sabbath rest? Or the rest of grief? The tiredness of grief that must have consumed them immediately after the brutal death of their friend and teacher, Jesus. This is the part of the story that I so want to read, and yet there’s so little detail of what they did. Is this it? Is this all they did? Rested?

Holy Saturday – Day of Sadness by Hanabella

This is the bit of the story that is scant with detail, but anyone who has ever experienced grief or loss knows what came next. The fatigue. The loss of appetite. The tears for no reason. The isolation. How could they have rested, truly rested, and worshipped at a time such as that? How could they have participated in Sabbath rest and worship?

We see this played out in Frozen 2, when Anna loses both her sister and her friend. She sinks to the floor, barely able to speak. She sits alone in the dark, a metaphor for the isolation in your mind after loss. When she sings, it is with a whisper.

I’ve seen dark before, but not like this
This is cold, this is empty, this is numb
The life I knew is over, the lights are out
Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb
I follow you around, I always have
But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone
.

“You’ve gone to a place I cannot find … you are lost, hope is gone.” Words sun by Anna in the song Do the Next Right Thing. It’s a hint given throughout the film: when all seems lost, we do the next right thing. Yet, Jesus gives the same instructions. He tells them to break bread and to do it in remembrance of him; to drink wine, remembering his blood poured out for all; to worship their God, without pretense, and with their whole hearts. Despite their loss, despite the hopelessness they find themselves inhabiting, the women, we are told, do the next right thing. They entered the Sabbath and they rested in their grief.

Can there be a day beyond this night?
I don’t know anymore what is true
I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone
The only star that guided me was you
How to rise from the floor
When it’s not you I’m rising for?

In the immediacy of losing Jesus, they must have wondered what happened next. Here was a man who’d taught them so much, proclaimed to BE the truth. The way. The life. But now he was gone. They had rooted their lives in his; where he went, they followed. Even until the end, even with the danger of being associated with this man, the women followed to the cross. And to the tomb.

In the same way, Anna’s life is rooted into that of her sister. She finds her truth and identity in being Elsa’s plucky but vulnerable younger sister. She’s not the queen, but by blood she is royalty. And when her sister is lost, Anna doesn’t know how to do the next right thing. Why? Because the one who guided her towards that thing has gone. I wonder if the women felt this despondency. How do we rest and worship when the one who guided us to rest and worship is gone?

But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing

They must have felt lost. Yet they had a deeper faith, rooted into a tradition of worship and rest found in keeping the Sabbath. They knew that Yahweh had delivered the people they belonged to out of Egypt and through the waters into new life. They had to believe that if they did the next right thing, if they stepped into the Sabbath to worship and rest, that Yahweh would deliver them out of this grief, through their tears and into new life. The life he had promised them. The life where they would no longer hunger or thirst.

Of course, this is the turning point in the song, where Anna’s voice strengthens and she starts to make a move. She becomes resolute in what she has to do next. If this were a musical about Jesus’ death and resurrection, one of the women would sing this. At this moment, though, they’d have been mourning and resting in the darkness of their own home for 2 nights and a day. They’d be getting ready to make a move out of Sabbath and into the next right thing: returning to the tomb to continue mourning.

And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing.

That first Holy Saturday wasn’t just about darkness and isolation, grief and loss. It was also about Sabbath: rest and worship. Worship that no doubt included loud cries and wailing. Rest that no doubt included both silence and noise. Today, as sit in our own social isolation, I wonder if we have lessons to learn about how we rest and worship this Easter.

It was that line which made me first thing of the crucifixion story: “What comes then? When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again.” I instantly imagined Mary and the other women yearning for yesterday, mourning not just the loss of their beloved friend, but also the loss of life as they knew it. Life as they’d hoped it would be. Yet, they made a choice: to rest into their grief and loss. They made a choice: to wait and return to the tomb after a day of Sabbath. They made a choice, to hear God’s voice. To do the next right thing.

Forsaken

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,[a] lama sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
(Matthew 27: 45-46)

Forsaken. Abandoned. Deserted. 

Jesus hangs, laid bare for all to see, broken for all to mock, dying for all to live. Jesus hangs, forsaken. First abandoned by his friends, and now his God deserts him. Our God deserts him.

Jesus cries in pain, the pain we cause in our separation from God. The pain we feel because of our own separation from God. The pain we embrace each time we sin. 

We look at the cross today. We see Jesus feel forsaken. And I wonder if, in this current time, we feel forsaken too. Jesus was never separated from the Father, he merely allowed himself to enter into the experience of sin itself. We see in these words on the cross, an entering into the human experience of separation from God. 

Just 15 weeks have passed since Christmas, when we celebrated Immanuel: God WITH us. We are a resurrection people. A people who know that ultimately God IS with us. And yet we are a Good Friday people too. Just as we have many hours of lockdown left, we have many hours of forsakenness before our resurrection celebration on Sunday morning. We have hours in which we can, as Walter Brueggeman challenges us, reflect on the fake promises of the world around us, and on the truth of our lives before the holiness of God. 

NT Wright writes, “the mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments.” We are not alone in our feelings of forsakenness and grief. God IS with us. As we dwell in abandonment until the resurrection of Easter morning, as we fix our eyes on Jesus’ forsakenness, may we see clearly our own abandonment and that of others. 

The loud cry will turn to loud praise. But before that, it is a loud cry. It is a loud cry for all the abandoned. It is a loud cry for all the sick. It is a loud cry for all those in our world who are yet to know the truth of Immanuel. 

This loud cry of forsakenness can be our cry this Easter. It tears the temple curtain in two, it is so powerful. And behind the curtain, revealed to us, is the God who turns the world the right way up. And he chooses to do this through weakness. As we sit at the cross, may we hear Jesus cry, may we be reminded of our own weakness, as we ask God’s spirit to cry within us today. 

Stepping into Freedom

Last week I wrote about freedom, which you can find here. Shortly after I’d hit the publish key, it all changed in the UK: our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, put us into lockdown. Yet, our freedom to choose remains.

Yesterday evening, after a very long day solo-parenting, I went for a walk. More precisely, I put my coat on, grabbed my earphones, plugged them into some loud worship music, shoved my trainers on and ran out of the door. Before too long I reached a railway bridge and walked underneath, just as a train shuddered across above me.

It was strange. Here I was, singing along to the lyrics:

“I am chosen, not forsaken. I am who you say I am.
You are for me, not against me. I am who you say I am.”

(Who You Say I Am, Hillsong Worship)

Yet, I’d reached the evening of a day questioning all of that. You’ve chosen me, God? Really? You’re with me, God? Really? You say who I am, but who even am I? The reply comes:

“I’m a child of God.
Yes I am.”
(Who You Say I Am, Hillsong Worship)

How could I, even for a moment, question all that I know to be true? As I walked under the bridge, with the train juddering across, I didn’t doubt for a moment that the bridge would hold and not crush me as I walked beneath. It struck me, in that moment, that I trust human engineering readily and yet in the last week have not been entirely trusting of God.

Stepping into freedom requires us to let go of whatever we are holding on to, and trusting God to hold it for us. What has struck me since my walk is that I keep saying, “I’m just about clinging on.” Clinging on to what? It certainly isn’t God, in spite of my daily prayer and study of the Bible. Perhaps I am in mourning for the things lost? Clinging on to the what could have beens and what should have beens. Perhaps I am in denial around how little control I actually have over all of this? Clinging on to the control I do have. Perhaps it is something else that I am clinging to.

This week I’ve been on virtual retreat with some friends from college and we’ve been thinking about the idea of coming home with Jesus. One of the threads which has come up for us all is this idea that Jesus breaks all that binds us, in order that we can be free. In this new rhythm of life, I need to spend some time thinking about what it is that I am holding on to. And then I need to let go of it and entrust it to God.

Just as that bridge held as the train rattled across, God’s love for us all holds even as the impact and ripples of Covid-19 are felt in our lives. However you’re feeling right now, know that God is with you and for you.

“No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.”
(Joshua 1: 5, New Living Translation)

Freedom

“Mummy, what does freedom mean?” asked my 4 year old last week.

We then had a good (long) conversation about being free. Free to do what we want. Free from people telling us what to do. Free from things that control us. She had many more questions, like can I wear what I want? Eat what I want? Do what I want?

That’s when the conversation went somewhere a bit deeper. After explaining that mostly mummy and daddy choose her food to make sure she keeps growing big and strong, I reassured her that she could mostly choose her own clothes. I then told her that soon we’d have to not leave the house. We wouldn’t be able to go to nursery, or church, or the park. Her response?

“Why aren’t we free?”

Wow. These questions have stayed with me all week. It’s tricky, isn’t it? Yet, I explained to her that we are still free. Even if we don’t go out of the house. We are free and we have freedom.

  1. Freedom of choice.
    Right now we have freedom to choose how we act as people in a society made up of the vulnerable and invulnerable. We can choose to use our freedom to gather in groups, go to work unnecessarily, travel on public transport for no reason, or spend time with friends in person. Or, we can choose to use our freedom to stay at home, play games, work from home, find ways to keep in touch with people. We can choose to use our freedom to stay at home and keep the vulnerable safe. We can choose to flatten the curve. We can choose to honour those who have no choice but to keep working in our hospitals, schools, police, energy services.

    We have freedom to choose.
  2. Freedom from fear.
    And secondly, regardless of current situation, we have freedom from fear. When he was alive and teaching on this earth, Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV) Right now, there is a lot of fear, anxiety and panic across the world. It has seeped into our homes and is the thief which Jesus refers to. This thief will steal, kill, and destroy hope. If we let it.

    We have freedom to choose. Freedom to chose hope. Freedom from fear. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us life in its fullness. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us true freedom. If we put our trust in Jesus, he will give us a hope and a peace which passes all understanding.

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.
(Philippians 4)

Mothering Sunday & Covid-19

Today it’s Mothering Sunday. It’s also the first Sunday that churches across the Church of England have been unable to meet, since Covid-19 stretched its disastrous legs over the waters to our small green island.

Mothering Sunday is, unlike in the USA, a tradition of the Church. It has no fixed date, as it falls during Lent (and Lent / Easter changes each year). Mothering Sunday was, historically, the day when everyone would visit their ‘mother church’ – either their nearest parish church, cathedral or the church where they were baptised as an infant. Later, it came to mean the day during the year when domestic servants were given the day off to visit their ‘mother church’, as well as their own mothers. On their way home, children would pick wildflowers to give as gifts to their mothers. Within time, this religious tradition became a secular one, where children across society now give presents to their mums.

So what’s Mothering Sunday got to do with Covid-19 (Coronavirus)? Well, we were called to prayer from 7-8pm today (Sunday 22nd March 2020), by the Archbishop of Canterbury. A national day of prayer where we all, across the Christian tradition, join in prayer to our faithful and good God.

Towards the end of my time of prayer I sang loudly on my own in my living room, with a candle flickering. I felt an urge to sing the song “Shout to the Lord”, so I found it on my phone and began to sing. Before I knew it, I was crying as I declared:

Shout to the Lord, all the earth let us sing
Power and majesty, praise to our King.
Mountains bow down and seas will roar at the sound of his name.

(Darlene Zschech, Shout to the Lord)

This is the power of the God who loves us: mountains bow down before him; seas roar at the sound of his name. This virus, though a mountain to us, is nothing.

And so, to Mothering Sunday: a return to our home church. Perhaps now is the time for us all to return to our home churches. The church where you were baptised. Your nearest cathedral. Your local parish church. Maybe you don’t know where yours is. You can find out here: https://www.achurchnearyou.com Maybe you’ve never been to church before. You are welcome. Maybe you’re thinking, but they’re closed. They are, but many are meeting online – via Facebook, Youtube or their own websites.

Come. Come back to church. Join us, as we pray that our God would breakthrough in this place and at this time. Come, find rest. Come, find the God who causes seas to roar and mountains to bow. Come, find Jesus.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

(Matthew 11:28-30, MSG Version)

Bullying

Short disclaimer: This is a reflection on the effects of bullying, not a witch hunt for blood. It is written about an event that happened at the tail end of 2013.

While at university I was the subject of a misplaced joke. Some might call it bullying, whilst others would just say it was a misplaced joke. I’m not sure what I call it. I want to let you in to how this ‘joke’ made me feel – immediately afterwards, and over the following weeks.

#fugly #slut

These were the words left for me on a board when I came into a study room to do exactly that: study. I had booked the room for 3 hours, with some friends, so we could work together on a presentation. As I walked into that room, I was breathless. I felt winded. And as I turned to look at my friend who was with me, I cried. This was followed by a brief lull in the emotions as we waited for the rest of our group… but when they walked in, I cried again. In fact, the afternoon was not a productive study session. It was interspersed with crying, paranoia, anxiety and great sadness from within me.

That night, at home, I sobbed down the phone to my mum. She was horrified that not only had it happened, but that it could have been written by someone who is training to be a teacher. To her it wasn’t solely about the nature of the words and how hurtful they were, but also about professional conduct. I went to sleep, feeling soothed, thinking ‘tomorrow is a new day!’ And it was. It was a Friday. I wasn’t in university, my housemate was away, I was alone. Or, at least, I felt like I was alone. I spent the entire day watching Geordie Shore (which is atrocious, but highly addictive) and eating rubbish. I just sat and let the waves of sadness, waves of anxiety and waves of inferiority wash over me. I didn’t believe the words they had used to describe me, but I felt insecure. I knew then as I know now, I am not a slut… but I felt dirty and weak.

For me, you see, the story actually began 10 years years ago. 10 years ago, I was a different person. I was insecure and weak. I was paranoid and anxious. I was depressed. Not as a result of bullying, but as a result of having the wrong priorities in my life. I had absolutely hit rock bottom, which included a brief encounter with suicidal thoughts, and an attempt on my own life. Thankfully, because of my ever-loving parents, I was able to move home and begin to fix myself. It was a very long process but, with their love and support, and the love and support of wiser friends, I was able to get back on my feet once more. Recently, I’ve been able to take the final step I need to heal: counselling. I am able to, with a supportive professional, come to terms with my angers and anxieties; my insecurities and paranoias; and start leaving it in the past, where it belongs.

If we now jump back again, into the present, you may now begin to understand why I spent a week feeling sick and crying. It wasn’t all the time. It was, like I said before, waves. I was fine, until I wasn’t. The misplaced ‘joke’ broke me in the immediate aftermath. It brought me back to my teenage years. I was insecure. I definitely didn’t think I was pretty. Those insecurities were never things that I was bullied for at school. But they were insecurities which were never dealt with. And they did control my first few years as a young adult, from 18-21 years old.

I’m done, now, with this incident at university. Obviously, I hoped there would be certain outcomes (there weren’t), but the best outcome for me would have been if the perpetrator realised that it was never about offence. If you take me out of it, it is about what is ok to say, and what isn’t. If you leave me in it, it is about this misguided thought process of the 21st Century. It is about people thinking they can say and/or write what they want, without thinking more deeply about the person they’re talking/writing about.

For me, this is the challenge. Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Michael Gove, Gavin Williamson, I know you won’t read this… but I wish you would. It isn’t about the facts which we fill children’s heads with. And it isn’t about how well people will contribute to society, economically. It is about working out what each child’s insecurities are, and tackling them. It is about teaching children to have respect and empathy. It is about guiding children and teenagers and young adults away from those feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Finally, it is about how well children today will contribute to society, emotionally and socially.

We all need to work out how we can develop children’s emotional and social intelligence; how we can nurture each child’s health and wellbeing. I used to think that began in the classroom. Many are calling for a change in the media, a change in how social media is policed. But none of that matters if we aren’t raising up children who know better and do better. None of that matters if we aren’t raising up children who know what resilience and empathy look like in equal measure. None of that matters if we aren’t raising up children who know their true worth does not lie in economics or physical attraction, but in something greater. I now know that it starts with me: mum.

Fixer Uppers

“So he’s a bit of a fixer upper, so he’s got a few flaws…
We’re not sayin’ you can change him
‘Cause people don’t really change
We’re only saying that love’s a force
That’s powerful and strange.
People make bad choices if they’re mad
Or scared, or stressed.
Throw a little love their way
And you’ll bring out their best
.”
(Fixer Upper, Frozen)

It’s funny, isn’t it? ‘Let It Go’ quickly became the defining memory and feature of Disney’s 2013 film Frozen. Yet this song, ‘Fixer Upper’, is the crux of the story and its morale. It links back to the beginning of the film, when Elsa is told by Grand Pabbie (the chief troll) that fear will be her greatest enemy. Fast forward and Anna is being told by the same trolls that people make bad choices when acting out of anger, fear or stress. On the surface the story at this point is about Anna and her quest for true love to undo the ice in her heart, yet this song points beyond that to the end of the story.

It cleverly, if you’re looking for it, points past the obvious to the underlying problem which needs solving. Above all, Elsa needs releasing from the fear of her powers, in order that she might be truly free to live as she was created. We see this in subtle ways throughout the film (and its sequel). In ‘Let It Go’ Anna delights in her new found freedom, because the truth is out. But truth only does part of the work here; freedom is short-lived because, even though everyone now knows her secret, she still exists in fear. Fear, rather than freedom, control her and her actions.

The film ends with Elsa finally realising that love is the answer. Instead of fear, she controls her power with love, and finally the eternal winter thaws and Arendelle is restored. Frozen 2, without giving too much away for those who are yet to see it, is a continuation of Elsa stepping into the freedom of knowing who you really are. Freedom, it’s safe to say, is a key theme of the Frozen duology.

Where do we find freedom? Some find freedom in exercise, relationships, work, but I’d argue we only find true freedom in Christ.

“Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there. Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”
2 Corinthians 3: 15-18 (MSG Version)

Paul makes it clear that it is Jesus alone who can rid people of the veil which previously hid God’s glory from them. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, there’s nothing behind that veil; God is a living presence, shining in our faces with all of God’s brilliance. Today the veil is all the things which stop us from seeing that Jesus is the one who brings true freedom. The veil is work, family, ambitions and goals. It is thinking that we have it within ourselves to find freedom. Elsa only realises that the solution is love because she witnesses the self-sacrificial love of her sister. So, we too must realise that the solution is love through witnessing the self-sacrificial love of God.

It is only in dropping the veil and allowing God to enter our lives that we find freedom. As God’s spirit enters our lives, we become more like him, our lives transfigured in brightness, we find freedom: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3: 17, NIV)

We are all a bit of a fixer upper. We all have something we need to be set free from. We all make bad choices, when we’re angry, stressed or scared. But throw a lot of love our way, and it’ll bring out our best.

“Jesus, you’re worth it.”

“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26: 6-13 NIV)

There is so much going on in this passage. So much. I imagine you could preach on it every year, just before Easter, and find new things to say even after 25 years. Why am I writing about it today, then? Well, it is half term, which means my daughter is off from school; it’s also reading week at college, which means I’ve potentially got space for extra studying this week. Yet, as anyone who has raised small children or knows anyone who has raised small children will know, that isn’t quite how it works.

I am not begrudging my just turned 4-year-old time with mummy, especially as quality time with mummy is actually quite hard to come by at the moment. Plus she’s about to go through all sorts of changes with starting school, then moving house some time next year, so I figure mummy time is important. Sensibly, I’ve enjoyed time with her doing different things each day, while I’ve also allowed a bit of time each day to get some work done. However, it’s now Thursday evening and I’ve spent the whole afternoon trying to do work to no avail.

At one point I had to be quite firm with her, as I had reached the limits of how many times I can be interrupted while I try to read my book. Realising that I wasn’t getting into the flow with the book (The Joshua Delusion for anyone who cares), I thought I’d spend some time on my talk for this Sunday’s All Age service. No problem, I thought foolishly. Once again, in she trots to miaow at me. Literally. She just stand next to me making cat sounds. Cute, right? Except now I have to start again. Again. So I’m cross. And actually, it’s unnecessary for all sorts of reasons but mainly because she hasn’t actually done anything wrong.

I apologise. We cuddle. She’s ok again. Yet I’m still cross. Why? Because my husband (saint in our daughter’s eyes) is sat upstairs able to just get on with doing his work. And in that moment, my heart burns with jealous anger. “Well of course daddy is beloved in this house! He never has to tell her to go away because he’s doing work!” I mutter. I’m then torn; I know I have a choice to make. I can continue to be annoyed and embittered. Or I can calm down. But how? How can I let it go (ironic, as that’s the song that’s blasting in the living room right now), when I’m feeling hard done by?

I remember, and know, that turning to God ALWAYS helps. I decide to read the Bible, largely because it means I can sit down, put my feet up and drink a cup of tea at the same time. And I don’t have to utter a word or a thought. So I open the pages of my Bible to Matthew 26, and read of Jesus being anointed in Bethany, shortly before he is betrayed, trialled and crucified.

What do I find there? This beautiful image of a woman, unnamed, willing to undergo public humiliation by doing something ‘foolish’: pouring away invaluable, expensive perfume. For what? Some man. The reaction of those present? Absolute astonishment and anger. “This could have been sold and the money put to better use!” they cry. They have a point. Jesus had spent his ministry up until this point teaching people to look after the poor. And yet, his reaction is of astonishment and anger too, but not to the woman. Instead he is dismayed by his friends’ response.

You see, in their response they say to the room, “Jesus, you’re not worth it. Jesus, you’re not worth this lavishing of perfume. Jesus, you’re not worth this anointing before your death.”

Whereas, the woman’s act says loudly and clearly, “Jesus, this is how much I think you’re worth. Jesus, you’re worth this costly perfume. Jesus, you’re worth more than what the world values. Jesus, you’re worth this act of devotion. Jesus, you’re worth me pouring away what I own.”

As I sat reading the passage, I pondered how in that moment I hadn’t only been cross with my daughter and my husband. I’d also been annoyed by my present circumstances: that I have no choice but to work from home and actively ignore my daughter, when I’d much rather say to her, “Stuff my work! I want to spend time with you.” Yet, what does this say of how I value Jesus? How I value his death? How I value his sacrifice? For a moment – just 10 minutes or so – my heart cried out loudly, “Jesus, you’re not worth it. You’re not worth the late nights and the early mornings. You’re not worth the time away from my daughter. You’re not worth this feeling of resentment towards my husband. You’re not worth it.”

Yet the woman’s actions and Jesus’ response show us that following Christ is the only option that is worth it; pouring out our whole lives for him is all we can do. So, my cup of tea is empty, but my heart is filled afresh, as I am reminded that following Jesus’ call on my life sometimes means pouring something away which the world calls valuable. Because he is worth it. And that’s worth remembering.