Thursday, 31 October 2013

Coming down from the top of the mountain

Last week I climbed up Helvellyn in the Lake District - it's the third highest mountain in England. We went up the steep way, because striding edge is a bit scary and because the steep way is shorter. I haven't climbed a mountain the last few years of being in the Lake District for our annual autumn holiday because I haven't felt fit enough. This year I was fit enough (mainly due to strange dance exercise classes) and was able to climb..... at my own pace... but climb. 

I got to the top and I felt my left knee do that thing where it doesn't want to bend any more.... where it doesn't want to play ball and work in the way it normally does. As we put our coats on as the clouds descended on the top I wondered whether it was going to last on the way down.... and it didn't. The descent was painful, mostly sidewards and accompanied at every step with loud shouts of 'ow' as my knee complained. I even got strange looks from the woman who had stopped near the bottom as her companions went up who said to me 'that's why I haven't gone any further'. 

I'm glad I did go further. I am glad I did get to the top.... but the descent made me question whether it was worth it. With hindsight it is and next year I am going to try and train my knees up to deal with mountain climbing, perhaps buy myself a couple of sticks and maybe try a different mountain. 

When you are at the top of the mountain it is awesome. You can see for miles. You feel like you've achieved something. But, at some point you need to get down as you wouldn't be able to survive up there for a very long time despite the awesome views. 

I'm now over half way through my ministerial training (can you believe it?) and it hit me a few months ago that the feeling of elation and excitement at doing what I am meant to be doing had gone away... that I was beginning to have to face the gritty reality of what this life can be like. I needed to begin to slowly descend that mountain where everything was awesome (I am sure I annoyed everyone by telling them how brilliant it was) to a place of balance where I can survive long term. 

The trouble is, on that descent, the knee problem sets in. It starts with a niggle, a moment of oh this could be difficult and then at times makes you cry out in pain. As you hit the reality of life in the descent there are times of blessing but there are also times of wrestling where you ask 'can I still do this?'. 

When you read testimonies of people in different forms of church leadership and ministry, one that stays at the summit of the mountain sounds glorious, but is it truthful? I've read honest accounts of real wrestling with God from people like Pete Grieg (God on Mute is a brilliant book) and heard stories of and seen people who behind the public face struggle with stress and depression. 

The reality is fantastically awesome on the mountain top (which is why I want to climb another one) but is painfully difficult when you are walking sidewards down a seemingly endless path of rocks.  

I was reminded yesterday of the poem 'If' by Rudyard Kipling where it talks about how if you can keep everything together when everyone else is not that that is the thing to aim for. It talks of being strong in adversity, of not being overcome by weakness. As I thought about it, I couldn't help but question that Kipling got it wrong. I think that a lot of people might see the role of the minister as being that person who holds it together - and perhaps there are times when that is true and only right. But.... 

2 Corinthians 2:19 says: "My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak"

Being strong isn't all it's cracked up to be. Admitting you need God is. When we are at our weakest then God's power is at it's greatest. At the moment I can't expand on that further, but as I am descending the mountain and embracing the reality of ministry I need to admit that my knees hurt, and I need to remember that God is beside me, knees hurting too. 

"For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you. Do not fear; I will help you."                      Isaiah 41:13 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Busy, Busy, STOP, Busy.....?

I love my diary. I don't go for the cheap one because it's... well..... cheap any more. I have a moleskin diary. It flops nicely when you open it, it feels nice and it smells good. It has a page for the dates and a page for notes. I love it when it looks full - when each day has something written on it - when I look like I know what I am doing perhaps. 

However, I know that the better weeks are the weeks when I don't have something written down in my diary - when it doesn't look full.... not because I have nothing to do, but it is a sign that I am getting it right... that I am not busy. Busyness is a badge that we are happy to wear - it's become the norm to be busy, to have to consult our diaries, to only be able to book people in 3 months in advance to visit (or wait until last minute just in case something better comes up). We become addicted to doing one thing after the other with no down time - no time just to be..... no time to be with God. 

The problem with busyness is that it distorts our perception on things, it makes us feel self important (I'm too busy for anyone else), it makes you rude, it's an excuse for impatience, it's an excuse for not getting stuff done, it's addictive (you have to keep yourself busy otherwise what else would you do?), it burns you out and it's just lazy (there is no time to think about prioritising what is important if you do everything). And.... it pushes out the things that really matter.... like time with God. 

On Sunday we looked in the service at Mark 1:29-39. Jesus is busy busy busy, being pulled in all directions and as soon as he can he stops........ and he spends time with God..... however much it inconveniences others, however many pressing matters are in hand.... he stops. 

At the first opportunity he has, even at an unearthly hour.... Jesus goes to talk to his Father.... he prioritises space to pray. He knows that he must rely on God for his strength to keep going in a life that his unavoidably busy - otherwise he could get caught up in the moment. Withdrawing to pray is vital. Prayer is recognising that we aren't independent - that we can't do it all ourselves. 

The problem is that when you are busy you can know all there is to know about prayer, but you don't practice it. It's like being knowledgeable about a sport but never seeing it, never playing it. But... when we take time to pray we walk to the rhythm of God's heartbeat. 

Even the saviour of the world needs quiet time, alone... with God. 

I've been challenged in the last couple of weeks about what is important... this story right near the beginning of Jesus ministry shows what is important. I shouldn't have to make time to pray as interacting with God should be integral to my life. Everything else needs time made for it but time with God should always be there. It's OK if stuff falls off the list, it's OK to say no.....  but in prayer we learn how to walk to the rhythm of God's heart beat.... and that is transforming, enabling, and so much more......

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint".      Isaiah 40:28-31