Back into the desert

Tuesday  marked the beginning of the season of Lent. March 1 – first day of autumn for us here in NZ, which is a nice seasonal change for the start of a period of reflection. Last year I followed the practice of Lent for the first time, even though I have been a Christian for many many years. The ‘modern’ church in NZ has only very recently begun to re-assimilate some of these practices and our current church doesn’t follow the more traditional church calendar, but I found it a very worthwhile discipline.

In doing so, I found a great app called Into the Desert. Focusing on the writings of the ancient desert fathers and mothers, I found it both challenging and enriching. I was delighted to see that they  have a 2017 version, so I am using this as my focus again this year.

I  have also taken things one step further this year and have gone off Facebook for the Lent period.  I though about cutting out all news feeds but to be honest there is too much of import going on in the world at the moment and I didn’t want to emerge in 6 weeks’ time  to find myself in a totally foreign landscape!

I thought about Instagram as well but I have a different relationship with Instagram so have decided (for this year at least)  that I will remain on that feed. Messenger is the way we communicate with our son and his girlfriend in the UK (and ironically how our worship team communicates) so that has to stay as well. Fortunately, I can go straight there without going through Facebook first. I had no idea that this would be a complicated process but I am finding there are many tendrils that spiral out from Facebook (even sharing these posts usually.) These might sound like compromises but I did think very carefully about the parameters of what I wanted to do and why.

I have read lots of blog posts and news article about how the pros and cons of, for want of a better word “fasting” social media for Lent. Turns out it’s something lots of people have  very strong opinions on. For me, it just felt like the right thing to do, and does send me into a social media desert. I definitely feel as though I am disconnected in some way form what it is going on. It has made me very aware (as opposed to saying it but not really thinking about it) of how much of our life, or more so the communication of it now seems to be conducted on social media.

Sad confession – I’m a very regular Facebook user –  it’s how I keep in touch with many people and I love seeing various posts, the news, the gossip, the silly quizzes, and to be honest the outrageously stupid things people post on a regular basis!  So it will be a challenge, but only two days in, I have noticed a difference. Having to consciously stop my  almost mindless habit of jumping onto Facebook while I am working on my computer or sitting somewhere with my phone has made me aware both of how many times I do that, and also reminds me why I am doing it. Instead of scrolling down with my brain on auto-pilot, I am forced to think and pray about various things, from personal to global.

It’s not so much about giving up, but more about making room. Room for myself to hear God speak. Room for my own thoughts without  distractions. Room for silence that would normally fill it with ‘noise’ of Facebook. Room to be much more present.

Has been surprisingly easy so far, but it’s a long way to go to Easter Sunday!

 

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Still learning to let go

I just read an article on the Washington Post -“Trying to raise a teen in a terrorized world.

Heartfelt words from a mum about  saying goodbye to her 18 year old as he goes off on a three week trip to Europe. In other generations mothers have had to say goodbye to their 18 year old for more traumatic reasons, but that doesn’t make her concerns less real. She says “I have spent these past few weeks wrestling with the question of how I am supposed to parent him toward independence at a time fraught with so much violence and fear.”

Having Christian spending three months by himself in San Francisco as a 19 year old I completely emphathise with her. I waste a lot of time worrying about things that might happen to him – and this week something did. Mind you it was something that could have happened to him anywhere.

He came off his bike cycling to his internship and banged his head and broke his finger (I did say to him a while back that maybe learning to ride on the 13898171_1389214644429271_1206160372_o.jpgother side  of the road might not be a good idea…)  Fortunately it was early in the morning so no cars were involved. Might not sound like much but when your youngest is overseas by himself and having to negotiate hospitals and health insurance (and now specialists as it is needs to be looked at further), it’s very hard to sit tight. And it’s not even as if he will come back home to get things sorted out – he will have to then negotiate the NHS once he is back in the UK.

My husband reminds me that our boy turns 20 later this month, and that in the scheme of things it’s not so bad. But this is the first time he has hurt himself without me there to help him. And he is without his girlfriend, who stayed on the phone to him from the UK the whole time he limped to the hospital (too scared to call an ambulance as he wasn’t sure of the cost).

I can’t do my normal mother hen routine. I can’t offer anything more practical than FB Messenger phone calls (thank-you Facebook for making that so easy.)  And I can pray – which I am. Fortunately we will be with him in 8 days – bringing NZ chocolate and TLC and probably some mother hen behaviour. And I finally get to see that famous bridge!

I guess now is one of those times where our attempts to parent him towards independence are put to the test. As he moves from teenager to young adult I am so proud of him and his resourcefulness.

Yet I still worry and wish he was here, not there. I need to remind myself that God is there with him and looking after him. I have to keep learning to let go. There are well-quoted words from Elizabeth Stone that I also came across today, that to parent is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

So true.

Lent musings #2

 

 

Another week of engaging with my Lent app and I am finding it a powerful way to re-focus on what is really important. The message of each daily devotion is not about me at all – no lifting me up, making me feel better about myself, no setting vision or discovering my purpose.

It’s a message that invites me to meet God in the desert places, the wilderness, the prison cell and to  linger there a while  if that is where He is speaking to me. It’s a message that  challenges me to look out, see beyond myself; to stand next to and reach out to the other, the stranger, the not-like-me.

Then as my day goes on, I am again immersed in the flow of social media, colourful, busy, exciting, enticing  me through endless memes and inspirational quotes to follow my dreams, have my best life now, believe for the impossible. I’m not sure about others but this often leaves me with a vague sense of dissatisfaction that my life is very mundane and ordinary, and that others are having much more exciting life adventures than me.

Jesus didn’t seem to say a heck of lot about personal fulfilment and I suspect at least   couple of the disciples might have had to lay their personal dreams down when making the decision to follow Him.

I saw a great tweet- “The Prosperity Gospel marketed to Millennials is not cars and money, it’s the fulfilment of personal aspirations.”(@DanielWhite). This really struck a chord with me (and I am way too old to be a Millennial). We continuously are encouraged to focus on developing ourselves: live that dream, realise our potential, take  that first step to becoming great, do something extraordinary.

Such a delicate balance between leading a life of meaning and purpose, ordinary though that might look; and  honing your life looks until it looks like the one on your Instagram account.

So I re-read the reflections for this day on my app.  And I get a glimpse of the Kingdom and the small but vital part I have to play in it. And I am content.

There may be more to learn by climbing the same mountain a hundred times than by climbing a hundred different mountains.

Richard Nelson
The Island Within

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Lent musings #1

A thought-provoking article Death, the Prosperity Doctrine and Me was sent to me by my husband yesterday, and then it popped up on my FB feed. It’s a beautiful and honest piece written by the author just after she was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer at the age of 35. I’ve read it several times  since then and it’s really challenged me.

The temptations of the world are so subtle. We might say we don’t buy into a prosperity doctrine but I am challenged almost daily at the moment as to how this has subtly leeched into my theology. There’s a fine line between  being grateful for the blessings that flow from grace and being confident as a child of God; and expecting that God will provide me with the life and opportunities I secretly think I deserve. Yes God has a plan and a purpose for our lives but it might (in fact probably won’t) be quite what we have lined up for ourselves.

Coincidentally (or not I suspect) I’m working through a 40 Days of Lent app which focuses on matters about as far away from the prosperity gospel as you can go. This is the first time I’ve really focused on Lent (I’m ashamed to say) and it is definitely changing my perspective.

“Into the Desert” is a fantastic free digital resource (available on Google Play and in the AppStore) put out by the Australian Anglican Board of Mission. consists of daily scriptures, reflections and prayers for the 40 days leading up to Easter. It explores the imagery of the desert, the words of the desert fathers and mothers, and  importance of the wilderness and emptiness at times in our journey. It’s not too late to jump into the study if you are looking for something to hone your focus at this time.

“Do not always want everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases; then you will always be undisturbed and grateful in your prayer.”
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