Made yourself comfortable?

We bought a new mattress recently. When we tried it out at the store, I was ready to go to sleep on it there and then. It seemed so comfy and supportive.

Our old mattress, in my husband’s words, had a canoe on each side where we slept. Slight exaggeration of course, but you get the picture. However, for all its faults (and old age), it was comfortable and sinking into my ‘canoe’ at the end of each day seemed bliss.

And then the new mattress arrived. Out went the old. Going to bed that night, it felt so FLAT and I wasn’t sinking into my familiar hole. As much as the mattress felt comfortable in the shop, back in our own surroundings it didn’t seem quite right.

Looking around at what is going on in our community, our society and the world can often make us uncomfortable. What we see can leave us feeling distressed, fearful, unhappy, anxious and worried about what the future might hold. 

In this place of dis-ease and of discomfort, it can be easy to seek after our own comfort. We may use alcohol, getting a bigger house or car, holidays, food, chocolate, sex. We may bury ourselves in the safety of relationships with family and friends, seeking to live in denial of the problems – like the proverbial ostrich with our heads firmly stuck in the sand, seeking only our own comfort as the answer.

Unfortunately, the promise of those things is fairly hollow. In the long run, the external ruses we use to self-comfort ourselves don’t last. Reality has a way of sneaking in on us and stealing those comforts we think we have won for ourselves. Material indicators and circumstances will always let us down at that point where they can’t give us the answers we seek.

So how do we live? When is it ok to have some comfort and when is too much?

I grew up in a family where we were regularly encouraged to think of those less fortunate than ourselves. Although there is nothing wrong with this in many ways, we can also be in a space where we deny ourselves self-care, rendering us burnt out. This line is one that I am still working out, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it is a moveable line, one that is not set in stone, and nor is it the same for each of us. I don’t think, either, that it is something we can work out on our own – we need God’s perspective as well.

So when I come to asking the question of what is ok in terms of my own comfort and what is too much, it is really difficult to measure. We can look at those around us – living in the wealthy community that many of us do – and believe that we live at a much lower standard.

On the other hand, we can look at refugees in Syria, or those living in areas ravaged by natural disasters, or those who live in countries full of poverty and corruption and feel as though we should give it all away.

Perhaps the issue is less about what we do or don’t have but our attitude to it.

A measure I like to use is “can I live without it?” If the answer is no, then it probably has a higher hold over my life than it should. I like to think about various aspects of my life, from the material goods, to relationships and experiences and ask the question of how I would cope without these. If I feel that I couldn’t, then I have to ask a further question of how much my dependence is on that object, relationship, particular food, and so on and not on God, who has promised to supply all my needs.

The truth is, too, most of our dependencies (on relationships, food, goods) have come out of negative experiences. We have either struggled without them, or we are using them to mask other, deeper needs.

At the base of these fear often resides – fear of how we would cope without whatever it is, or fear of discomfort and pain. Sometimes it takes the removal of these things to show us that we actually can cope and even live well without them.

Sometimes, it is not until we are in the place of discomfort that we realise we have been relying on the wrong things, on the wrong person. We realise we have molded circumstances and stuff around us to protect us from pain and all they have done is frozen us into a position that is neither helpful nor healthy. We have come to the point where we are immobilised for further action or even to break out – just like my comfy mattress was doing my back no favours and was really difficult to get out of in the morning!

And, of course, fear is the opposite of trust.

Do we really trust God to supply our needs? Do we really trust Him to turn up? Do we really trust He knows best and cares for us, even when it all looks wrong?

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I want to sleep like a baby...

Driving home up the hill the other night, I caught a whiff. One of those infinitesimal whiffs that leave you wondering if you actually smelled anything or not. But it was enough to take me back in time.

For many, this smell is considered unpleasant, and it must be said that it is pungent. However, for me the faintest smell of cow manure, mixed with hot, sweaty cow, mud and milk, took me back to my earliest years. And the feelings that were stimulated were of peace, comfort and freedom. I was immediately taken to a time when life was simpler, when there were few responsibilities or expectations from others. 

This experience tied in with one of those gentle nudges I have been getting from God in a number of ways. It was the reminder that being part of the Kingdom of God requires us to be childlike.

“...unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
— Matt 18:3 (NIV)

The Amplified version says: "unless you repent [that is, change your inner self—your old way of thinking, live changed lives] and become like children [trusting, humble, and forgiving], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven".

As I have thought about what it means to be childlike over the years, I often return to the idea of freedom from responsibility; the space where I can just stop and not have to do all those things I see others as expecting from me. Its a hard place to find at times when we have "adulted" for so long that we have really forgotten how to lay down all our burdens. We have long since embraced the belief that if we don't do it, no one will, or that it won't be done properly. 

Sometimes, I have to ask myself the question, "So what"? "What will happen if it is not done?" Many things I see as being vital are really not. 

And then there is that four-lettered word that keeps cropping up: REST.

We so long for it, but are generally so bad at it. Maybe that is why we are so wistful, even emotional when we look at a baby sleeping. How much we would like to sleep like that baby, without a care in the world, in complete confidence that Someone else will take care of us, Someone else will always be there. But do we really believe it?

The problem we really have with rest is trust.

To rest, I need to trust that everything will be ok if I am not rushing around sorting it.

When I make myself the answer, when I am what is required, two things happen. One is that I take way more responsibility than I was designed for, which is pretty exhausting in itself. The other is that I deny God. I deny His ability to sort it without me and I deny Him the opportunity to do it for me.

It is tough. I know. I wonder, though, if one of our biggest reasons for taking responsibility for so much is that we have been disappointed so many times in the past, either by other people or by God. And it is not that they have let us down in their promises necessarily, but in our expectations. 

Earlier this year, I went through one of those times where I was feeling a little distance between God and myself. As I asked Him about this, He showed me that I had been building a few expectations of Him around His promises and my timing. When things didn't turn out according to my expectations, I had become disappointed in Him. 

Underlying these feelings and behaviours is the belief that I know best, that I can see clearly and that God should do things my way and in my timing. As soon as it is said, or recognised, we generally realise the folly of this. It is only in living from the place of complete trust in God's goodness and faithfulness that we can rest properly and then we get to sleep like a baby.

 

 

Be careful what you wish for...

If you could be transported back in time to be with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing what He was about to go through, and you could pray with Him, what do you think you might pray?

Would you pray for His release, for His escape, for His safety or for His life to be spared? 

During our Good Friday service, two very different prayers got me thinking.

In praying for our world, we also prayed for a cessation of the violent acts, for God to intervene and prevent those thinking of further terrorism from implementing what was planned. 

As we reflected on Jesus' last hours, and His prayer in the Garden, I thought about the fact that we so often pray for what we would like to see, rather than God's purpose and will coming to fruition. If the disciples had had any real inkling of what Jesus was about to undergo, I wonder whether they would have been praying that God would prevent it, that God would change the outcome. What would have happened if they had? Would Jesus have died? Would the Christian faith as we know it exist today?

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He included the words

"Your will be done".

It is so difficult for us to see what this might look like, because we would like it to look like a 'good' outcome for us here, right now. We would like to see our will be done. And this generally means, my comfort, the comfort of my loved ones, a lack of difficulty for any of us immediately. Our prayers often boil down to "Please God, make everything nice again, for me and mine, and please do it now!" 

The problem is, if God answers those prayers, are we actually missing out on greater blessings? Are we actually missing out on what God wanted to show us, to teach us, to grow in us by taking the 'easy way'? 

Most of us know about the dangerous prayer of asking for patience: you generally get even more opportunities to practice! How many more circumstances and situations does God place before us to move us into better, more helpful, more Christlike behaviours and opportunities to demonstrate His love? And how often do we ask to be excused from those opportunities?

The problem is, we rarely know, much less understand the long term ramifications of so much we long for. Even though we might ask to be relieved from having  to go through difficulties, how do we know that our present trials are not preparing us to cope with other future challenges, not to mention the impact our experience has on other circumstances around us? The threads are all interwoven, and each impacts the other.

Personally, I have been learning a deeper way to pray for sometime now. Much of it involves the difficult task of listening, the difficult task of laying down my will, my desire, my wants, my comfort, and waiting on God to hear what He wants to do in me and through me. It is not easy. It takes time, and it takes honesty and transparency with God.

Often I find it is more helpful to be honest about my feelings and what I want before I start to seek His way. I have to get that out of the way, otherwise self keeps popping its head up again, distracting me, causing me to respond out of my emotions again. When I pull out my stuff, my emotional response first and look at it with God, through His eyes, it becomes easier to lay it down and release it to Him. Then I am (more) ready to go His way, to see His way.

Jesus' prayer in the Garden was like this: "God, I really don't want to go through this, I am really struggling", and maybe even "I'm so scared", but never-the-less, "not My will, but Your's be done".

Underlying all our struggles with prayer is a question of trust. Do we pray because we think God needs some help working out the best way forward for us and His world, or do we pray because we want to partner with Him in what He is already doing really well without our help?

In Too Deep?

One of my favourite images is the River of Life flowing from the Temple described in Ezekiel 47.

In a vision, the seer is shown the River getting progressively deeper: from ankle deep, to knee deep, to waist deep, to a River so deep no one could cross it.

There would seem to be a range of ways we can respond when we are offered the River of Life.

For some, we just want to paddle our toes in, get them a little wet, but come and go as we please.

Others might start to go in a little deeper, to explore and experience the River in a way that impacts a little more, but where we can still get out again if and when we want to.

However, there is also a place where we can jump right in, where the water is completely over our heads, where we "sink or swim", and maybe even allow the current to take us where it will.

Ever since I first "saw" it, this place of being in over my head has held a real attraction. The idea of giving myself over to God to the point of allowing Him to direct me and just "go with the flow" carried both excitement and caution in varying quantities. It presented a question:

Do I trust God enough to just jump in, no return?

While we might get used to the idea of being in deep, and even enjoy it, another question arises. It's all very well to enjoy floating down a slow moving, gentle river, but what happens when we hit the rapids, when there are submerged rocks or even looks to be a waterfall up ahead? Are we still happy to be in so deep, or do we start looking for a toe hold, or even try to get out?

Looking back at a period of my life where I felt as though I was in a whirlpool, rapidly being sucked under, I asked God where He was at that time. Although I had felt that I had been holding on to God through it, I had struggled to feel His presence or guidance in that place.

I was given a picture of a parent taking their child swimming. As the child is encouraged to "lie back, relax and float", some children go into panic and clutch their parent as though they are about to be drowned. Parents know they would never let go of their child, or leave them ,but the child doesn't understand this. They allow fear to overwhelm them.

God showed me that I had been like that child. At that time, I was clutching on to my Father, but I didn't really trust Him. I didn't have faith that He would not let me drown, even though I had experienced His goodness many times before. Rather than accepting that I was in the water, (that this was my life), I wanted Him to take me out of the River. I wanted Him to fix the problems and make the pain go away, rather than trusting Him to carry me through.

Although that experience is now far in the past, I have come to realise that at every new set of circumstances the question is asked again at a new and deeper level:

Do you trust Me?

When it seems as though nothing you do (praying, speaking, loving) is bringing about change, can you let go and trust Me, come what may?

I am coming to see that every time I feel as though I am in that deep River, and that it is far from friendly, that it is trying to drown me, my Father says, "Do you trust Me"? 

And I have to answer yes and let go. Again.