dweller by the river

sojourner of earth attempting to understand the journey home

Category: Spirituality

Embracing A Fresh Start

So… the husband and I are getting Confirmed as Anglicans in our new church of choice this Sunday. It’s a major milestone, a fresh start, a new commitment, the first official step of a brand new journey, the next chapter in the story of our lives.

So it’s nice that while taking a few minutes’ break to rest my brain a little while working on stuff in the office, I came across these sites/pages that I thoroughly appreciated:

Right Reason: The Blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy and Social Issues

The Diocese of Singapore

Anglicans Online

Anglican Communion

The Anglican Catholic Church

I’ve also resolved to keep more up-to-date with The Rabbit Room.

Look Around, Look Ahead, Now What?

So we’re supposed to have been pondering these questions for discussion tonight: Where am I in my spiritual journey? Which area in my spiritual journey do I think God wants me to focus on in 2018?

Where am I? The short (and safe) answer would probably be: At the start of a completely new phase but having to get back to the basics and relearn some things I’ve forgotten in the past couple of years.

I can’t really see how else to sum it up. The long answer requires elaboration of historical context, and the listing of a truly complex web of factors including relationship/marital issues, emotional and mental health concerns (possibly mild clinical depression), stress and fatigue. It’s not that I’m denying culpability in the decline of my own spiritual health – I’m saying that I’m probably a classic specimen of a woman who’s had to (or took it upon herself to?) carry both hers and her husband’s responsibilities for some time, and crumbled under the weight of it all.

I’m not supposed to be the leader of the household, I shouldn’t be the one pushing for a lifestyle that integrates more with what we say we believe. I’m not supposed to have to be the spiritual barometer in the household, I’m not supposed to be the one pushing for some sort of regular family prayer or scripture reading time.

I shouldn’t feel awkward singing worship songs to or praying over my child. I shouldn’t feel out of my depth and anxious about wanting to pray as a couple or a family over anything, good or bad. I shouldn’t have to feel left out and lacking, wishing that my husband would pray over me like I know other men pray over their wives. I shouldn’t be battling tension and anxiety and insecurity about whether or not I actually married a Christian in the first place, or whether being Christian really means anything real to him at all, and whether that is grounds for divorce.

But I do. All of it. And I’ve spent much of the last few years pitying myself and letting my anxiety and frustration grow to a point where I’m having trouble with resentment and bitterness and finding it hard to give him the benefit of the doubt in anything. And it was probably definitely and obviously a stupid move but I deliberately let my own spiritual discipline slide in the process, thinking that if he realised how absolutely shitty things were getting, he’d finally wake up and get his act together.

I’m struggling to reconcile the need – and the scriptural command – to submit to him (and to the grace and mercy of God), and the staring-me-in-the-face-screaming-me-in-the-ear need to hold up the crumbling foundations of what should be a God-centred, Spiritually-led household. At least, what I think makes a household a God-centreed, Spiritually-led one. I think that what we are now, is not… I don’t really think I’m wrong?

I’m struggling to reconcile “wait”, “rest”, “trust”, “hope”, and “submit” with the physical situation staring me in the face – the fact that in a lot of the ways that matter, we’re really no different from a family of atheists or agnostics.

So… what does God want me to focus on this year?

I think it means something that we’ve made the decision to settle the family in this church. I think it means something that all the signs are pointing to it being the right move to quit my job despite the risks and uncertainty. I think it means something that we feel this is the right cell to stick with. I think it means something that the cell mainly comprises families that are a little older and more experienced than us. I think it means something that we both feel a connection with the cell leaders, a sense that it is safe to trust them. I think it means something that he’s been willing to attend a 7.30am men’s meeting.

I think the sense I’m getting is this phrase: Hold on.

You’ve come so far. There’s no turning back. Hold on.

And there’s this part of a song (Eyes On The Prize) by Sara Groves that’s coming back to me now:

I got my hand on the gospel plough
Won’t take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Ain’t no man on earth control
The weight of glory on a human soul
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The wait is slow, and we’ve so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

When you see a man walk free
It makes you dream of jubilee

When you see a child walk free
It makes you dream of jubilee

When you see a family free
It makes you dream of jubilee

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.

Undersides of Unfinished Tapestries

Where to start? I don’t even know where to start taking stock of my own life, it’s like looking at the underside of a tapestry (or an unfinished piece of crochet with hundreds of loose ends to weave in). But it’s amazing how just one encounter can be a pivot between frustrated despair and awakening hope. Perhaps that in itself is a sign – as close to a shout, I suppose, from a God who hasn’t been listened to for some time.

A month and a half ago I was forcibly transferred to a senior position at my current workplace. There were no direct threats, of course, but when one is taken out into the office corridor in mid-May and told, “Management has decided that you will be going upstairs to XX department from 1 July,” and when one’s queries to the HR department about a new contract with terms and compensation commensurate to the new position are met with evasive refusals to discuss, and finally a dismissive, “This is normal, it doesn’t count as a promotion and it doesn’t merit any change of contract, you didn’t request or apply for the job, we are just redeploying staff; it’s just the way it is here,” a mere five days before the official move, it’s quite obvious what the company’s view of you as a person and an employee is.

Barely four and a half weeks into the job, an additional account is thrown into my lap. And then, last week, just as I was starting to get into the swing of things and preparing to officially take the reins of this third assignment, I’m told that management is considering handing my current favourite account to a colleague because one of her accounts has been cancelled – and I might need to “help out” with another, particularly annoying, account in order to continue “justifying my employability”.

Wow.

Friends and colleagues have advised me to stick it out until the end of the year so that I at least have six months’ worth of official experience in the role on my resume, and also so that I have something to show for my pains (a few issues with my name in the credits). My rational side totally agrees, of course – I mean, I’m pretty much the sole breadwinner now and we have a kid to raise – but that old feeling of being sickened by the thought of continuing in this particular work environment that I last felt in 2009 is back. It’s not the disgusted frustration I felt when I decided to leave my second workplace, or the exasperated fatigue I experienced in my last weeks at my previous workplace. It’s that creeping sense of illness, of wrong, that drove me to leave what I had initially thought was my life’s calling – except that this time, I’m under no illusions about my current employer’s suitability as a long-term career partner.

Yesterday, during our third visit to a church we’re considering attending, we asked for prayer with one of the pastors. He said a lot of things that stunned me, both before and during his prayer. He asked if I’d taken any practical steps to ascertain my position and options while waiting for a clear direction from God, whether I’ve heard from God about whether to stay, and if yes, for how much longer, and prayed that I would not make decisions out of fear that I will not have/find another job.

Frankly, I’ve not been listening much, so even if God has been speaking, I’ve not heard. I’ve been angry and discouraged and not asked for His input. I have been afraid of making the wrong decisions financially. And when the pastor said those words about God’s direction and call for my career, I had a flashback of a church camp prayer/ministry session from years ago – I can’t remember if it was 2003 or 2004 – when I was fully convicted of a full time ministry call on my life. It was also the first time I experienced being “slain” as the charismatics like to call it – I prefer to simply call it falling under the power of the Spirit. I have not thought about that session for more than eight years now. The last time was when I was leaving my full-time position in that church (my first job) for a secular job and feeling like everything had been a lie, or that I had misheard God terribly and brought disaster upon myself.

I realise I really don’t quite recognise myself any more. Where is the woman who told her husband to go ahead and take a sabbatical to decide what it was he really wanted to do, when it was clear he was miserable in the IT industry? Where is the woman who was unafraid to confront company management over unfair or unethical practices, even to the point of being willing to leave if they refused to capitulate? Where is the woman who supported her husband’s unorthodox and seemingly impractical – even foolish – decision to go into massage/acupressure therapy, because she believed God gifted him with that skill, bent and interest for a reason?

Where is the woman who did all these things because she was entirely convicted that God would provide, so long as we were serving Him and doing our best to remain in the centre of His will? Where is the woman who fearlessly met every disapproving or discouraging word with, “It is written, ‘I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.’ Psalm 37:25,” and, “It is written, ‘Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.’ Philippians 4:6?”

I must find her. She must still be there, somewhere, half asleep, waiting to be woken. She has to return to the surface. She must.

Here I am… to Worship

In the past months I realised something that was both distressing and worrying – I could not for the life of me seem to recall any of the songs of praise and worship that I’d spent more than 75% of my life singing. I would suddenly look up from something else I’d been doing, think, “Wow, it’s been a long time since I sang anything,” and try to think of a line, a title, a melody… and nothing would come to mind.

For many years I had a reputation for being a walking song directory – anybody anytime could randomly hum me a tune, throw me a title or a phrase of half-remembered lyrics, and I’d immediately pull the entire song out from the prodigious reservoir in my head. I could even provide the alto harmony line for about half of them. So you can see why I have been feeling quite disturbed by my recent inability to bring anything up from the deep!

Mostly I could drag up the same old few tunes: Jesus Loves Me (This I Know), As The Deer, Here I Am To Worship. That being all I had, I just sheepishly mumbled them to my nursing toddler and stopped within a few minutes.

I had some theories about this “selective amnesia”. None were good. My memory was failing prematurely. My memory had been permanently crippled somehow by some freak hormonal imbalance following Z’s birth. I had some sort of debilitating disease. I had so displeased God that He had wiped my source of pride from me as a punishment. God was so disgusted with me that He no longer wanted me to sing. Not like I’d been doing it anyway. Could I even sing any more? Should I? Was it that I no longer believed, and so my subconscious had purged my mental records? What did that mean or entail, and was it even true? …did I still believe? What did I now believe?

I half-heartedly went through my computer archive in search of tracks I’d recorded. As if hearing myself sing would trigger some sort of recovery. It didn’t. I just felt like a fraud, somehow, listening to myself… so I stopped. I felt like I had lost my faith and my God… that He had abandoned me in disgust. I had no church, no community, nothing. I was outcast.

Then, about two months ago, a few more songs came back to mind: There Is None Like You, I Stand In Awe, Here In My Life. I sang them quietly to myself, in the bath, in the kitchen, while walking or riding the bus/train… but always only for a few minutes, and sheepishly, half reluctant, afraid that somehow I had lost the right to sing such things. But then, of all things, Disney’s God Help The Outcasts (from The Hunchback of Notre Dame) suddenly came to me and wouldn’t get out of my head for an entire week. The lines that really got me?

I don’t know if You can hear me
Or if You’re even there
I don’t know if You would listen
To a gypsy’s prayer
Yes I know I’m just an outcast
I shouldn’t speak to You
Still I see Your face and wonder
Were You once an outcast too?

And I wept because I knew, I know, that He was. It gave me hope somehow that if even Disney songwriters could get it right, there must still be hope for me. But I didn’t push, didn’t really try any harder than I had been… I just couldn’t find the motivation.

But over the past week I’ve felt small stirrings within. The urge to look up at the sunset and smile, or whisper praise. A sudden desire to sing again. And a few days ago I had two of my old favourites pop back into my head on the way home from work – You Are My World and Overwhelmed.

Do I feel like I’m worthy once more? No. But it’s returning to my awareness that it really isn’t about my being worthy or unworthy, but about having a sacrifice that avails for me. And that, I do have.

So while I can’t mean every word of You Are My World, not yet, I’ll still sing, because I have reason to. And someday the understanding and conviction will come. Back.

I sing this praise for You alone
And once again I worship at Your throne
I lift You up, You cover me
Safe and sound, sheltered by Your wings

I gaze upon Your glory now
Redeeming love satisfies my soul
You summon angels all around
This joy of salvation I have found

I exalt You, I will come
With shouts of joy into Your presence
Faithful God, my heart is overwhelmed by You
In spirit and in truth I stand
To worship You with all I am
I’m Yours, Lord; I am Yours, Lord
Jesus, my heart is overwhelmed

Turmoil

Like the dove in Genesis, who though freed from her long confinement within the Ark could find no place on which to rest her feet and so returned to its endless drift upon the Floodwaters, I’ve retreated back into literary silence while waiting for the thought cascade in my brain to subside.

I don’t know if it’s a sign that I’m growing up or growing old or what, but I no longer really see the point of hashing things out in cyberspace. I feel like things have to at least be a little bit certain, if not crystallised, before I put them out there for the world to see. But who knows? With all the things that have been changing, that might change, too.