Life, Philosophy, Relationships

The Importance of Yes

yes-by-jose-picardo-on-flickr

Given the recent controversies in the States with the Brock Turner trial and the latest allegations against Trump – global news thanks to the media – you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m going to be writing about sexual consent; however, I’m going to assume that my readers would already understand the importance of ‘yes’ in that context(!).  Here, we’re going to examine the importance of ‘yes’ from a Christian perspective – the value of agreeing with what’s proposed; signing up; raising your hand; and being willing to both give and receive.

We’re so busy these days; we guard our schedules so closely.  Every blog, magazine, and opinion piece I’ve read lately seems to have proclaimed the necessity of learning to say ‘no’ – and here I am proclaiming the opposite!  It’s true – I agree with that other proclamation in this: we do need to be careful not to just agree to do whatever is asked of us regardless of the cost to our sanity, our dignity, and our felicity – but we also miss amazing opportunities when we’re too quick to say ‘no’ or to push aside a vision for something we’d like to be involved in.

So often, I think, something is asked of us, and our immediate instinct is to turn down the opportunity.  We think, “I’ve already got too much on!” or, “This is WAY out of my comfort zone – NO, THANKS!”  But when we resist that urge to say ‘no’ and instead jump in – boots & all – the results can be amazing.

Yesterday at church we examined the idea and practice of prayer.  At some point, around the middle of the service, we were asked to gather with those around us and pray together.  We were also encouraged to separate from our spouses for this purpose, so that we’d be a little further out of our comfort zone and meet a few more people (it’s a fairly large church).  I love to pray, but my immediate thought was, “Uh – do we have to?”  Just the idea of having to introduce myself to people I didn’t know and then pray – to share the intimacy of our hearts’ cries to God – was daunting.  But I ignored the impulse to just huddle with my hubby in a prayer-group-for-two and instead headed to a few pews ahead to pray with some people I’d never met.

I discovered through our prayers that they were a family group, and they were dealing with some tough stuff; they were a bit emotional and one of them even apologised to me, as if she felt badly that I’d ended up in the middle of what they were going through.  But I was delighted to be there.  It was my joy and my privilege to pray for healing; I was happy to share prayers for our community and our church with these godly women, even in the midst of their own trials.  God knew where he wanted me, and that’s where I ended up – but only because I said, “Yes.”

We need to be ready to say ‘yes’ in the moment – to ‘let go and let God’, as those in Christian circles are wont to say – because when we ignore our fears, push aside our doubts, and give our anxieties to God He will more than meet us in that moment.

We also need to overcome our reticence to say ‘yes’ when someone’s offering to do something for us or to share our burden.  The women I prayed with today – they did that.  They shared what they were going through; they welcomed me into prayer over their burden, delving into what really mattered to them, when they’d undoubtedly have found it easier to just stick to the script and pray some general prayer with me to get it over with.

I’ve just spent three weeks in virtual quarantine; our family’s been through a bad flu (high fevers, chills, and then colds) and conjunctivitis.  Several kind friends offered to help in some way, but I was generally inclined to just soldier on as best I could.  This was partly because there’s always someone who’s got it worse and partly because, what could they really do?  What you really need when you’re in the midst of a family-wide flu is either (a.) a housemaid with a strong constitution (so she could clean up the inevitable tsunami of mess that accompanies a family of six being cooped up in a house for several weeks without, herself, succumbing to the bugs that had laid us so low);  or (b.) a magic wand that would make me well enough to escape the confines of the infirmary (alas, with a grossly swollen eye I was fit only for the most desperate of forays into public for the purpose of gathering supplies!).  Finally, though, a friend on her way to the supermarket offered to pick something up and – light bulb moment, here – I said, “Yes!”  Well, after first saying ‘no’…  I realised that we were out of oranges – and oranges were what my feverish ones were begging for – so I texted her back and said, “Yes, please – we’d LOVE a few oranges.”  And *wow* – those oranges were such a treat (thank you, A, if you’re reading!)!

We’re so independent, most of us.  We are so reluctant to let others do something for us – so hesitant to accept help.  It’s pride, sometimes, that makes it difficult for us to say ‘yes’ to help; sometimes it’s more a sense of being undeserving of their kindness.  Whyever it is that we’re reticent to accept help, we need to overcome that instinct, because relationships are built and strengthened by this give-and-take.  I want my friends to accept an offer of a meal if it’ll make their lives easier for an evening when they’re dealing with illness, a new baby, or grief; I want them to let me fetch something when I’m doing my own shopping, or loan them something they’re short of, or collect their kids from school with mine when they’re running late for pick-up.  And I know that they want me to say ‘yes’ to their offers to do the same.  Saying ‘yes’ to involvement in the lives of those around us is key in building relationships.

I’ve got a few things going on, between our boys’ activities, church, writing work, and so forth.  There are some new opportunities for involvement at church and school, too, and I’m having to consider each one before just leaping in and finding myself swamped.  At the same time, I’m also working to avoid the trap of just saying, ‘No!’ to one more thing.  I have to fight the urge to shut down and say, “No WAY can I take on more – have you seen the state of my HOUSE??!  I can barely find energy to make lunches on school nights – how on earth will I find energy for something else?!”  Because I know – as you probably do, too, in your heart of hearts – that when I’m doing things that I love, it energises me.  When I make time for things I believe are important, I feel fulfilled; my time is reduced but my sense of accomplishment grows to more than compensate for what I’ve given up.  It’s true that we have a finite amount of time and we need to be careful what we spend it on – but it’s also true we waste a lot of the time we have; perhaps even more when we haven’t said ‘yes’ to things that demand inclusion in our schedules.

It’s so easy to get into the habit of saying ‘no’.  It can become our default method of self-preservation – but it can also prevent us from truly living up to our potential.  It can hinder us from receiving a blessing; and it can prevent us from being a blessing to those around us.

Really, what it boils down to is this:  Your ‘yes’ is important.  It’s essential, really.  So don’t be too frugal with it.  Seize those opportunities!  Bite off more than you can chew!  When we open ourselves up to opportunities for service; avail ourselves of the kindness of others; and follow our vision with passion, we realise that none of the reasons to say ‘no’ really mattered at all.

 

NB:  This post is dedicated to the memory of H.R., a wonderful brother-in-Christ who is now more than ‘resting in peace’ – he is living in Glory!  He said ‘Yes!’ to God a long time ago, and his life was a tribute to the power of that commitment.  He had a special gift for greeting and welcoming others, and I pray that I’ll always honour his memory by putting aside my shyness and greeting those around me – even those I don’t know – with warmth and compassion.

Thanks for reading!

-Trix  x

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Church, Faith, Grace

Going to the Chapel…

star by Susanne Nilsson on flickr

This may surprise you, considering that I called the Church ‘The Ugly Bride’ in my last post – but I love church.

I’ve had my share of struggles and disappointments within the church and other Christian organizations (just as I’ve had with secular groups); but throughout, God has ultimately blessed me through these fellowships of faith.  During the past three months, our family has been travelling, and although we’ve attended church when we could, we have missed the regular communion with other believers.  We’ve missed the worship.  We’ve missed the encouragement.  We have missed the growth.  Now that we’re getting settled again, at the top of our list of priorities is finding a new church home.

In my life, I have seen people fall away from the church with any number of excuses, and I’ve seen more stay away for plenty of other reasons.

My own grandparents were irregular attendees at their local church – I don’t quite know the history there, but I know that my Grandpa’s choice was often to go fishing on a Sunday morning.  West’s grandmother (currently 94 years old and going strong) was memorably given an ultimatum by her church minister: lawn bowls or church.  Her bowling scores improved immeasurably.

Good friends of ours were involved in the church and our cell group until they had their first child.  Their baby girl’s naptimes coincided with the first service – and they were very particular about scheduling – so they stayed home with her instead of taking her to church.  As she grew, they set aside Sunday mornings for family activities.  And, just like that, they became people who used to go to church.  They still believe in God, but it has become a distant belief, and their girls have grown up entirely outside of the church and its nurture.  Family Time has become their new god.

Other friends were raised in strict Catholic households, where church and Christianity were so bound by rigour and rules that these things eclipsed the heart of Christian practice.  Growing up they felt, alternately, not good enough for the church and that it was not good enough for them.  As they grew up they were denied the opportunity to know God’s heart because the people around them represented it so poorly.  Some of the most committed atheists I’ve met are products of unloving Christian education or upbringing.

For all of these people, choices were made by them or by others (or both) to alienate them from the church.  Some possibly reasoned that these choices were best; some probably didn’t even realize that they were making a choice at all – it just worked out that way, that now they’re just not church-goers.  It doesn’t make them worse than me, or me better than them – but it does leave them worse off (and if you read on, I hope you’ll see how that is).

There is no one-size-fits-all church format, and you may well find that a church works for you well in one phase of life but that you need something different as time goes on (I know of families who have moved from one beloved church to another when their teens have been drawn to a congregation that affords them more opportunities for fellowship and growth; our own family has felt very much at home in one church but then felt called to go and serve in another – and we have been blessed beyond our imaginings in doing so).  That’s not to say that it’s all about what you can get from church involvement, though – there are plenty of opportunities to give (lots of ways of using your own particular gifts and talents) as well.

‘As for me and my household, we choose to serve the Lord’ – and for our family, that includes being part of His fellowship through regularly attending church.


It’s important to recognize the benefits and the limitations of being part of a body of believers (i.e. the church).  There are a lot of misconceptions about what church provides (and what it doesn’t), so to begin with let’s just whittle these down to a few bullet-points – and then I’ll look at (and respond to) some of the reasons people give for not going to church.

Church doesn’t offer:

  • Perfection
  • Homogeneity
  • A golden ticket to virtue
  • All the answers

Church does provide:

  • Fellowship
  • Fulfillment
  • Worship
  • Growth
  • Authenticity
  • Communion
  • Service

If we value what church does and is in our lives then we have to be intentional about going there.  We have to be committed to participating in Christian fellowship. 

If you’ve never been to church, you have to give it a try – there is a world of warmth that you have yet to discover.

 If you have been upset or disappointed by your church experiences, you have to try again – God wants you to seek His heart within the fellowship of other seekers.

The Top Three Reasons People Give for Not Going to Church (and my responses)

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I Don’t Need Church to Be a Christian

People claim that they don’t believe it’s necessary to be part of a formal community of believers to grow or flourish spiritually.  And they may be right – but I have never seen any proof of it.  In fact, I find quite the opposite; the more disconnected a person becomes from a formal fellowship of believers, the more likely there will be a disconnect between themselves and their Christian faith.

When people who believe in God and crave spiritual enlightenment sever their connections with the church and then claim to have grown as a result of the separation, I believe that (without being patronising) it is a human-centric ‘spirituality’ and not a God-centred faith that gives them a sense of increase.  This is like someone who seeks to grow physically healthier and more robust by eschewing vegetables and substituting bread, and who offers his weight gain as proof of the success of this endeavour.  That he has grown as a result of his dietary regimen will be obvious – the bread diet will have made him feel full, and it will have helped pad his body with fat – but without vegetables he will not have been sufficiently nourished.

Bread on its own is nutritionally deficient.  People on their own can become spiritually deficient.

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Church is Ritual, Not ‘Spiritual’

There are plenty of people who feel that attending church and being truly spiritual are mutually exclusive.  They consider it spiritually restrictive to be bound to expressions of worship and liturgy they determine to be prescribed rather than inspired… Instead, they figure that they can do more soul-searching by removing themselves from all formalities and throwing the doors open (as it were) for all kinds of ‘spiritual’ experiences.  Often they’re drawn to New Age philosophies and Eastern religions, which seem just exotic and mysterious enough to be beyond the staid exterior of the traditional Christian church.

They seek to be enlightened, but they are often looking in the wrong direction: these philosophies tend to direct meditation inwards, instructing us to ‘empty our minds’; Christianity lifts us to gaze on God’s glory, fills us with His spirit, and opens our eyes to the humanity around us.

People who seek a generic ‘spirituality’ often end up following a philosophy of self.  But navel gazing should not be confused with soul searching.

Navel gazing focuses on self; own feelings, own subjective outlook; own happiness.  Soul searching means seeking to grow; to serve; to represent God better; to more clearly shine our lights in the darkness of the world.

As far as the accusation of spiritual restriction goes, there are indeed churches in which ceremony and ritual can threaten to overshadow authentic communion with God. For some, the predictability of prayers by rote and a prescribed service order is restrictive and inhibiting; but for others it is comforting and meditative.

There’s a wide spectrum of churches out there – tiny churches, mega-churches, Pentecostal, High Anglican and Catholic, and everything in between – who all do things a bit differently from one another – and who thus appeal to different people.  What matters is that they serve the needs of those around them generously; that their leaders preach the Bible faithfully; that they love God wholeheartedly.

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Church is Full of Hypocrites

Critics accuse church-going Christians of talking the talk without walking the walk – and it certainly may be true that there are hypocrites in the church, just as there are those outside the church who pay lip-service to philosophies without engaging in practices that lend credence to their words.

If you’re expecting to find perfect people in the church, you may need to adjust those expectations.  I, personally, can be lazy, self-indulgent, bitter, envious, greedy, impatient, and unkind – and I’m one of the nice ones*!

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*NB This is a biased opinion, supported only by the few who love me too well to admit how entirely my flaws eclipse my virtues.

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In truth, most churches contain all the types of people exhibiting all the types of idiosyncrasies you’ll find in wider society.  Being a Christian doesn’t make you exempt from the frailties and failures of the flesh.  Our faith helps us guard against these flaws, and the Holy Spirit guides us towards right choices – but we all fall short of the ideal.

People who attend church generally understand that doing so doesn’t make them perfect.  They ‘get’ that we’re all sinners and undeserving of God’s grace, but that we receive it anyway.  Avoiding church doesn’t help you avoid difficult people.

Removing ourselves from difficult people perpetuates the cycle of hurt and hostility that has likely caused them to become unhappy and unlovely in the first place, anyway.  And loving people – even unlikeable people –  is Christ’s most heartfelt command:

Love your neighbour as yourself.”

“Feed my sheep.”

“What you do for the least of these…”

So embrace the sinners in your life.  You’re one of them, and so am I.  And we’re all offered the same gift of grace.

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Anyone who knows me well will have no trouble believing that, not only do I make New Year’s Resolutions for myself, but I also make them for those around me as well.  So, with that in mind, please would you allow me to add one to your list for the year ahead?

If you’re not currently attending a church, could you try out a service sometime between now and the end of January?

If you are attending a church but you’re not really involved, could you look for an area of service that would allow you to use your God-given talents; could you make a commitment to being fully present in the life and work of the church?

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A little over two thousand years ago, the Christ child was coming – but there was no room at the inn…

Will you make room for Him?

Will you clear space in the busyness of your life to connect with His people?

Will you let the star guide you to the manger and will you welcome the One you find there?

Merry Christmas to all my readers, and thank you for the gift of your time!

xo

– Trix

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Church, Faith, Grace

Loving the Ugly Bride

St.Thomas Chapel by Josh on flickr

It’s not done – it contravenes the most fundamental social conventions – to criticise the bride. Whatever her dress looks like; whatever way she wears her hair; whatever lipstick colour she chooses; whatever a ‘bridezilla’ she may have been in the days or weeks leading up to the ceremony – the bride is generally understood to be above reproach.

It would be in extremely poor taste to point out any faults you might spot or otherwise speak negatively about the woman in white.

The bride is generally supposed to outshine all others present at a wedding (including, sadly for him, the groom). Indeed, there is almost always some special magic that happens to a girl on her wedding-day; there is a particular radiance exuded by a bride. And this shouldn’t be surprising. Her wedding a pinnacle of keen and joyous emotion in a woman’s life; it is also a celebration for which she has usually prepared herself diligently – ask any bride of her regimen in the weeks and months before the nuptials, and you will be treated to a litany of careful grooming procedures, dress selection and fittings, and the like. The bride puts forth great effort to be at her very best for that momentous occasion.

But what about the ugly bride?

Ah!” you cry, “It’s not possible! Every bride is beautiful on her wedding day!”

But I’ll tell you that there is one bride to whom you and I probably haven’t extended that same generous courtesy. There is one bride whose faults are seldom overlooked and whose beauty is rarely celebrated.

The Church is the bride of Christ.

Oh, we are quick to malign this bride! Critics of the Church scoff at her traditions and values; they scorn the idea that there is anything different about those within versus those outside the embrace of her fellowship (excepting, perhaps, a more general air of piety and judgementalism); they reject the rituals, the ‘religion’ – those things that they deem to be relics of an archaic belief system.

The Church is an anachronism, some argue. The Church is for the weak. The Church is full of hypocrites. Even those who belong to her membership must admit that the Church has her flaws and her weaknesses.

Nevertheless. The Church is the chosen bride of Christ.

The Church was chosen by Jesus himself to be his partner in bringing people to faith in God and nurturing them in that faith.

As much as we swoon over an ideal partnership and gush that it was ‘meant to be’, we must understand that this relationship, more than any other on earth, was truly ‘divine destiny’ – ordained by a God who is, above all, about loving relationship.

The Church is the beloved bride of Christ.

Beloved by the world, most certainly not – but loved by God? Undoubtedly.

Why is this – does this mean that God loves committees? Does he love watching us engage in the politics and practice of church life? Well – perhaps not always. And maybe he doesn’t love everything about how we do what we do – church politics, in particular, can occasionally become mired in human sinfulness (arrogance, ungentle thoughts, selfish motives) – but nevertheless…

I believe that God blesses the messy machinations of his Church as a means to a beautiful ending.

God’s work needs to be done in the world – by Him, through us – and he loves to partner with the Church (in all her imperfections) in this effort. Christ loves the Church in spite of her many flaws, as a loving husband overlooks the faults of his bride.

The Church is the holy (sacred) bride of Christ.

The Bible uses the Greek word hágios for those in the church; this word means holy or sacred – literally, ‘set apart’ or, more elaborately, ‘made different by association with God’. The Church is the holy bride of Christ – sanctified by God as his partner. Perfected in spite of her imperfections, the Church can move boldly to do the work of Christ in the world: loving the unloveable; healing the hurting; breathing life into parched souls by teaching and living the Word of God. Noble work, performed by shaky, feeble, but committed hands.


One of the most cutting things you could say of a bride is that her husband ‘could do better’ – implying, of course, that the bride is vastly inferior to her groom.

Well in this case, to be blunt – it’s true. This perfect groom could ‘do better’ than this ugly bride, with all her flaws and weaknesses. He could do better. He could have made membership in the Church somehow exclusive; He could have required everyone to pass rigorous tests to prove their merit; He could have weeded out the weaklings and the self-interested and the gossip-mongers and the lazy. He could do far better than us.

But he doesn’t.

He makes strength of the weakness and champions the interests of others over our own selfish needs; he gives us better things to talk about and noble work to do. He does better with the Church than the sum of her parts would suggest – he makes beautiful a bride who possesses few aesthetic merits of her own.

This bride is privileged to stand firmly beside her holy groom. She is chosen. She is beloved. She is sacred.

The Church has been chosen by Christ as his partner; she is beloved by Him in spite of her flaws; she is set apart by her relationship with the groom, and made holy by her union with Him.

So who are we calling ugly??

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