A Graceful Lent

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not a girl who does moderation very easily. I love a regime, a program, a plan to follow because that’s what helps me to have any semblance of discipline in my life. (For the most recent evidence of this see my last post on my new week resolutions, which I have to say are going pretty well so far.)

And so Lent is a gift to me. A substantial chunk of time to get my teeth into a helpful routine of some sort. Yes I like to cut something out most years (crisps be gone!) but I also like to take something on, a daily practice that has some physical and/or spiritual benefit.

This year I’ve decided to say grace. Every day before every single meal. For some of you this is a regular occurrence anyway and so may not seem out of the ordinary, but I didn’t grow up in a house where we said grace and so it never became an ingrained part of my life. Many times before I’ve thought about how I would like to start having that moment of thanksgiving at every meal time, but it has always remained a nice idea, done once or twice but never enough to become habit.

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But this isn’t simply about saying a short prayer. There is a much deeper spiritual, and I hope physical, benefit behind this plan. Giving up a food that is bad for you for Lent is, for many of us, just a way to do a mini diet for a while. I have often found a replacement food to help ease my way through so that it hasn’t felt very costly at all. Food is a habitual comfort to me and I think to many others. I eat mindlessly, out of boredom, not paying attention to what I’m putting in my mouth and what it cost the planet and her people for it to reach my hand in the first place, not concerned about whether or not this food is really beneficial for my body which has been fearfully and wonderfully made. I want to be truly mindful of each bite, thankful for the flavours and textures, grateful for the energy and benefit it will supply for me, and humbled by how easily available it was to me because of how very blessed I am. I want to be more thankful not just for the food in front of me, but for the great chain of people who brought it to my door. I want to pray more meaningfully for those who are struggling to feed themselves and their families, and for the work of those who serve them.

So for the next six and a half weeks that’s what I’m going to do. A Lent full of grace.

But just to make a little bit interesting, and hopefully to keep it very intentional throughout the entire time, I’m going to use a different grace every day. At first I thought about writing my own each time but after about three seconds realised that this was the path to madness – and certain failure. And so, as well as writing a few of my own, I’m going to try and gather graces from other people and places and post one each day on both my Instagram feed and on the Facebook page for the blog. If you have a prayer that you said before eating when you were younger, a current favourite, or any that you know of from around the world, do please share them with me – I have a lot of days to fill!

And if you should happen to find this helpful then please do join me and use these prayers each day. Apart from today’s which will come a little later this afternoon, I will aim to post the daily grace first thing in the morning so that I, and anyone else who cares to, can use it throughout the entire day.

Whatever you choose to do (or not) this Lent, I hope that it is a time of meaning and joy.

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Pay Attention

Just before the turn of the year I wrote about how I was asking God to speak into this year ahead and if there was anything he wanted to say to me as I entered 2016. Among a couple of other things, the words I received were Pay Attention! And in true God-style, he then set about backing up that message in other places in my life.

Shortly after the New Year began, I read this quote by Lysa TerKeurst which stopped me in my tracks:

“We want big direction signs from God – God just wants us to pay attention.”

For the last few years, my husband and I have had some fairly major, ongoing prayer requests concerning big future life stuff and difficult circumstances. What I’ve come to realise is, when you’re in that place of having huge imposing situations dominate your prayer life, and your eyes are always on the horizon of what you’re praying to come into being, you can so easily take your eyes off today and what God would have you do in the now.

The truth is, I don’t know if I have tomorrow, let alone next week or next year. None of us do. We have been gifted today, crammed full of moments when God wants to speak to us, use us, show us things about himself, ourselves and the wonderful world around us. But if our eyes are always gazing into the distance, our prayers always asking about the things that are not yet, we miss the opportunities that God has set before us each and every day.

God had clearly already been trying to get my attention about this even before I had this revelation in December. A few weeks ago I found a piece of paper that I had tucked away in a Bible or a diary, as a prompt and reminder to myself for each day. Can you guess what it said?

“Father show me your priorities for what I should do today. Spirit prompt me to leave things undone so that I can pay attention to the things you want me to do.”

So it seems that I am someone who regularly takes their eye off the ball and needs many reminders about the same message before it really starts to sink in! In fact only this morning, I read these words from the gospel of Matthew in the Message translation:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Message received (pardon the pun).

Listening-Ear

It makes me wonder about how much I might have missed. How many times have I been so focussed on things I cannot change that I’ve missed the thing right in front of me where I could have made a difference? How many times has God tried to say to me, “That thing you’re praying about for three months times, I’ve got it covered – but there’s something I’d like you to do today.” How many times have I been so busy talking to God about the concerns of my heart that I haven’t kept quiet long enough to hear the concerns of his?

 

For someone who is a future-thinker, day-dreamer and a bit of an internal processor, my mind can so easily be anywhere but the here and now. But the here and now is where God has placed me. In this home, this community, this workplace and surrounded by these family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues. He has given me today, rich in Kingdom potential and possibility, if I choose to pay attention and see it.

There are still big prayer requests in my life, and of course I’m going to keep talking to God about them, but I’m more determined than ever to trust him with tomorrow so that I can pay attention to today.

Away in a Manger

This is a reflection that I have written for Tearfund Scotland’s resource Safe Refuge at Christmas . It includes some beautiful films, prayer ideas and ways to give to the Middle East Appeal.

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A mother’s instinct, the same throughout the centuries – to protect her child.

To give him the best that she can.

How did Mary feel, laying her precious one in the rough wood of a cattle manger?

No extended family for comfort, support or advice.

“No room here. Nor here. You’ll have to move on. Try over there.”

As she gazed at her son sleeping in the hay, did she whisper an apology to him; that she had hoped for something different?

When Joseph told her of his dream, and urged her to gather the child and come quickly, what fears filled her heart?

The stars in the bright sky shone as they fled across borders into foreign lands, looking over their shoulders, wondering when they would see home again.

This Son of God, born into the most humble of circumstances.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

A father’s instinct, the same throughout the centuries – to protect his child.

To give him the best he can.

How did Abdullah Kurdi feel, watching his young sons sleep in war torn Damascus?

As they fled to Turkey with no extended family for comfort, support or advice.

Trying to find a way to support his family.

“No room here. Nor here. You’ll have to move on. Try over there.”

As he gazed at little Aylan, sleeping in a makeshift bed, did he whisper an apology to him; that he had hoped for something different?

When he told his wife to gather the children and together they boarded a boat for Greece, what fears filled his heart?

The stars in the bright sky shone as they tried to flee across borders and oceans, looking over their shoulders, wondering when they would see home again. Hoping they might reach land again.

These children of God, born into the most humble and difficult of circumstances.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

You had nowhere to lay your head Lord, and neither did they.

Neither do so many.

Be near them, Lord Jesus, we ask you to stay close by them.

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and grant that we might do the same.

 

Safe Refuge at Christmas

Someone answered my prayer this week.

I mean, obviously God answered my prayers – but he used a person to do it.

My secret heart’s cry to my heavenly Father was heard and he offered another the chance to be part of the solution. She felt that nudge of the Spirit and responded by kindness and generosity, not only in the gesture but in the words accompanying it, reminding us that we are not forgotten, that God is still with us, for us, blessing us.

I was, am, so very grateful.

And also challenged.

You see a couple of weeks ago a different friend had been on my heart, someone for whom life has brought some significant challenges over the last while. I prayed for her and thought of a practical way in which I could offer some help, using the free time I had that coming weekend. I told myself I’d be in touch during the week to see how she was and reach out to her, but the days passed and I decided to paint the hallway that weekend and before I knew it the free time was gone along with my good intentions. I felt pretty sure that I hadn’t just missed an opportunity to be kind but something much more significant.

You see, as my own prayer had been answered, the friend that did so reminded me that sometimes, perhaps even often, God uses us his people to be the means by which he responds to meet our needs. Which leads me to ask, how many times have I been the answer to someone else’s prayer – and how many times have I missed it? It’s no good to pray, as I often like to do, ‘Lord help me to keep listening for your voice today, for the whispers of your Spirit’ if I’m not going to do what he asks. Am I really prepared to pray that and mean it? Because that will mean some action and probably some significant sacrifice on my part.

But what an extraordinary privilege.

That the maker of heaven and earth, having listened to the longings and desires of one of his precious children, would ask me to respond on his behalf. Why would I ever say I’m too busy for that? Sorry it’s really not convenient just now. I have a hallway to paint! Imagine.

Oh Lord let me never be too busy for your purposes. Let me begin each day putting all that I am and all that I have at your disposal. Give me ears to hear, hands that are willing to be open and feet that are ready to move. And as I see a person or circumstance laid upon my heart, as well as lifting them to you in prayer, help me to ask if I might be part of the answer.

Honouring the Honesty

In my last job as a Christian schools worker we occasionally came together as staff within a region for a day of training and teaching. Because we met infrequently and were spread over a wide area, we didn’t know each other very well – enough to chat over coffee, share assembly ideas and frustrations with management but not much more than that. I remember an occasion when we gathered for a few minutes at the end of the day to pray with and for one another before heading our separate ways. We were a small group of around 8 and stood together in a loose circle. The person leading us asked if anyone had anything for prayer. There was a pause.And then one of the guys spoke up. It wasn’t anything to do with work, it was personal.

And painful.

Things that he and his wife were walking through that he said he’d like us to lift before God. His vulnerability was so brave, so bold. And it gave permission for raw honesty in a group where a professional veneer was the norm. As a result two other people in the group opened up about some very difficult and distressing things that were happening within their families. We were able to stand together as family and have a beautiful and intimate time with God, carrying each other’s burdens, if only for a short while. We went home that day having shared something precious.

What if he had kept quiet? Decided that to share so openly was too much of a risk? That we weren’t a group who did that kind of thing? Then not only he, but probably others in that group would have walked away still carrying the weight of all their troubles. And we as their brothers and sisters would not have had the privilege of bringing them before our Father and asking Him to pour all of heaven’s resources into their lives and circumstances.

But here’s what really bothers me. How many other times have I been in prayer with friends or colleagues, house group members or fellow kids workers, where people have had such need of prayer and comfort but have decided to keep quiet? It’s too personal to share this, it isn’t really the time or place. What will they all think? Can I trust them to pray and then keep it to themselves? Friends we are told to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn for a reason – because we cannot do this journey alone. We need people to pray for us when we cannot pray for ourselves, and people to help carry our pain when it is too much to bear.

And we also need to be those who can be depended upon to hold those sacred moments only before the Lord, without the need to share them for further prayer with others who haven’t been told. I like to think of myself as a person who can be trusted, but when I take a long hard look at myself there have definitely been times where prayer has been the smokescreen to share something that has not been mine to tell. And that’s an ugly truth to admit.

In order to cultivate a space in all of our relationships where honesty is encouraged and practised, we need to honour that honesty as a fragile gift. We need to be bold enough to speak it, and gentle enough to nurture it. We need to be willing to share what is raw, and disciplined enough to guard what has been entrusted to us.

I feel deeply challenged to hold honesty with a new level of respect and care. Will you join me?