I have a very distinct memory of being absolutely beside myself as child. My mum, being concerned with my emotional outburst (and probably not knowing what else to do) asked me to write down what she could do to give me a happy life. I stopped crying and began to put pen to paper, my eyes slowly becoming alight with imagination. I still remember how she held that shoddy piece of lined paper in her hands and said, quietly bemused ‘Is that it?’. In my grand and bold quest for happiness I had requested (wait for it) a vegetable patch and a dog.
It’s funny how, as children, we don’t really set the bar very high for what will make us happy. Inevitably there will always be the girl who sulks because daddy won’t buy her the latest polly pocket set (or if she’s anything like me she will have asked for a Roboraptor and roller-skates), or the little boy who is crying is heart out for the latest power rangers figure (or whatever it is these days!). But on the whole, I remember being a very happy and joyful child, and not for any material reason. I have so so many bright and warm memories of that time in my life, and these memories aren’t of achievements, possessions, or status. But they’re of people.
I remember playing ‘mushrooms’ with my sister where we would get out of the bath and put towels over our bodies in front of the fire and pretend to be mushrooms (turns out it’s a great game). I remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders and holding me upside down, and tickling me until my stomach hurt from laughing. I even remember eating spaghetti with just my mouth because my friend dared me to (yep, childhood me had no shame). I have so many memories of always singing, dancing and having fun (except when lamenting for my vegetable patch and dog of course).
And yet – in comparison to my life now, the world might say I had very little cause to be so happy. I mean – I had no first class honours degree for a start (which is an immediate pathway to happiness and success, right? Spoiler alert: it’s not). I had no flashy gadgets, not even one of those fancy colourful leapfrog devices that came before the tablets took over. But what I did have, and what I think most children have, was a heart that recognised the intrinsic happiness and joy that comes from spending time with other people, letting your hair down and just having fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we don’t do this now. Many of you reading this will be thinking hey- I’m a student – I AM the party – I live for other people! And hey, that’s great. I’m not doubting you. But I also know that for many of us, it’s so easy to see our social lives as an ‘add on’ to the ‘real’ important stuff of life. You know, the stuff that ‘really matters’. I know for me when I’m planning my week, I often have to stop and ask myself, ‘Ok Liz, you have no social events going on this week, what are you going to do about it?’. Because in reality, I’m often a fool to the lie that fulfilment and life is primarily about doing and succeeding. But what if it’s not?
I once read a story of a man who asked his son, ‘When you’re older, and you’re looking back on your life, what would you rather have around you – your medals, achievements, and awards, or people who you love?’. While this is an extreme example, it does make you think. So often we prize money, possessions, status and job prospects at the expense of forming deep relationships and community with others – or at the expense of doing something we truly love. I challenge you to look back at the simple joys of childhood, and think ahead to how fleeting the pleasures and rewards of wealth and status will be, and ask yourself – is it worth it?
“When I was five years old, my father always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” John Lennon.
My friend and I had been discussing a topic back and forth for a while recently before we came to a conclusive agreement. The topic was the issue of pride, and whether pride- and feeling proud- can ever be good.
I had initially set out with the mind set that no, pride in itself cannot ever be good, given that in itself it means that one is thinking of themselves as superior to others. My good friend however argued that- in the face of equal circumstances and situations as other people, it is reasonable to be proud of the hard work that one has put in in order to achieve one’s goals. I eventually relented and accepted that yes, this made sense, but we both agreed that ultimately there is a measure of grace for each of us that allows us to be successful in life. It would be crazy to think that every single achievement and factor enabling our achievements in life has always been under our control, and attributable to our own actions.
To take a quick recent example, throughout this last year of working for my degree there have been so many instances when my achievements could have swung one way or another due to factors outside of my control. When I submitted a piece of coursework late for example, the result of 10 credits, and potentially the difference in my overall degree classification relied upon the grace of that lecturer. Similarly, there was another time when I had to (well I could have started earlier but that’s another story) write an essay in less than 6 hours (I started at midnight) which was due the same day as my dissertation. I had people praying for me and completely relied on God to get me through. There was no way when I found out that I got 65 (1,000 words short and with no reference section) that I feel I could take credit myself! For me it was nothing short of a miracle.
Therefore it seems that being proud is a difficult concept. For while it may be said that to feel good or proud that we have worked hard is a beneficial thing. On the other hand, it may be argued that feeling proud of our achievements can put as at risk of underestimating the contribution of favourable circumstances and situations around us, that have enabled us to succeed. In this way, it also makes us more likely to look down upon others who haven’t been so fortunate, whether due to their upbringing, circumstances or other influences. Thus, it seems to me that feelings of pride about one’s self must be taken with a large dose of thankfulness, and humility, recognising that it is by grace that we are who we are, and achieved what we have. Just think about all those little details that made your success possible that you never even considered.
That’s why for me- I’m thankful, and not proud, knowing that every good gift I have comes from the hand of God, and just as easily (although this is hard to say!) can be taken away.
Jeremiah 9:23 ‘Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches”.’
Proverbs 29:23 ‘One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor’.
Romans 12:16 ‘Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight’.
About 5 days ago I was out on my usual Saturday long run. About 4.5 miles in I had to stop because my knee was so painful! For those of you who don’t know I have been training with triathlon recently and upping the training quite a bit. I have been getting quite excited about the progress I have made so as you can imagine, getting this knee pain and feeling a potential injury coming on was not a welcome thought!
In the past I would have been tempted to run on anyway, refusing to admit that I was weak and that it would be fine. These days, after many injuries, I tend to have a more realistic view of my own capabilities. Saying this, that didn’t stop me from complaining to God… God why would you let me get injured? C’mon it was going so well, why this? Do you not want me to do well?
Then I went to read my bible notes (shout out to UCB Word for Today) and found that the message was about 1 Kings when a prophet (someone who God speaks through) called Elijah was held back his usual provisions from God. The river that had been providing him water in the desert had dried up, and the ravens who had been bringing him food stopped coming. Well that sucks, you might say. Why would God do that?
Then I realised, it was to get Elijah to move on- to get his attention and to get him to move. The story carries on to tell how God then sent him to go and see a widow ‘Zarepath’ who would provide food for him, in spite of having very little food for herself, and being in the midst of a famine! Despite these apparent setbacks, Elijah pressed on and had faith that God would show his faithfulness in the place where he had lead him.
How is this relevant to a knee injury?
Well, like Elijah I realised that this apparent set back might be God’s way of moving me into a different direction. And knowing that God is always faithful, I clung to this promise and decided to trust him with it and I prayed and asked him to give me direction.
The next morning I was walking into Loughborough town and, on the way, noticed a bright yellow sign reading ‘Osteopathic Surgery Open Day – free consultations’. I will admit I hesitated a little, but, feeling the nudge to go in, I made my way in to reception. And do you know – the physio gave me such good advice about my muscles and my training that I can now run again without pain… AND (since a follow up half priced appointment!) my muscles are being worked on such that they are getting to better condition than they even were before my knee incident.
It made me think… If I had not believed in God’s faithfulness, I probably wouldn’t be experiencing the blessing that I am now. Much like if Elijah had not took God at his word, he wouldn’t have eaten that day!
I know that a knee injury is not much in the way of a set-back really, and that many of you may be experiencing much bigger set-backs than I could even imagine. But I think that perhaps sometimes these set-backs are challenges to our faith that then propel us to ‘set-forwards’.
In searching for God’s answer and perspective on our problems, it allows us to make steps forward with a new sense of gratitude and humility, knowing that it is by God’s grace and faithfulness alone that we do all these things!
“Blessings hinge upon obedience” Bob Gass
1 Kings 17:1-15
Lamentations 3:22-24 “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
Emotional Intimacy. It’s something we all crave, right? That feeling of being known for who you are completely and fully. And being loved, cherished and adored for it. I know it’s something that I often crave. I know that God is my father and that He loves me and created me and looks upon me and smiles. And when I think upon this I do receive peace and a real sense of freedom. But I also know that intimacy, closeness and love shared between two people is something truly special in its own right… And a longing that can wreak havoc on your heartstrings in the lonely midnight hour! (Or just a mild tug, depending on who you are, we’re all different!)
Thing is, recently I’ve realised that this longing in myself is somewhat messed up. I’ve realised that, in my head, sexually attractive me = loved, valued, accepted, desired me. Obviously then this is not good… In fact I think I can blame this thought pattern for many things. One of which is my lack of assertiveness when it comes to boundaries in relationships. I’m usually pretty good at judging right from wrong, yes from no, black from white, but this is where I have come a bit unstuck in the past. And I think it’s because I am connecting physical attraction and intimacy with emotional intimacy – being deeply loved and cared for. Anyone else do this?
I didn’t realise this was particularly different until recently when I realised that actually, for many people, the physical act of being intimate with someone, doesn’t mean there is a desire to create an emotional bond with that person at all. It’s detached, emotional intimacy / physical intimacy. Unfortunately I guess this is even more common and encouraged through one night stands, watching porn etc. But this is something that I have been thinking about a lot, and I am now really trying to get my head around…
I did a little research. When talking about the highest level of physical intimacy (sex) many propose that men are more likely to find it easier to separate emotion from the physical act, given their evolutionary role as the ‘seed spreader’ (cringe!). Their goal, in this sense, is to find as many attractive mates as possible. Women on the other hand, are the ‘home-makers’ and so tend to seek out men who are going to stick around, therefore making the connection between emotional intimacy and physical intimacy more tightly tied. Makes sense I guess!
BUT I can’t help but think that physical and emotional intimacy should go together. Surely that’s why on a night out a one night stand is rarely a follow up to a sober night. Would people sleep around so much if there wasn’t alcohol to help bypass the fact that you barely know each other? Surely that’s why after watching porn or being part of a one night stand so many people will tell of ‘feeling empty’ or ‘used’. Or even, taken down a notch, why many people get hurt after being physically intimate with someone whose motivations were entirely detached from any pursuit of emotional intimacy.
Undoubtedly, the need for emotional intimacy with another person can be very strong. Often it can be so strong that it can pull people towards being physically intimate with people who may not actually care for them that deeply at all! I’m also aware that this relationship could work the opposite way, with people craving physical intimacy so much that they are willing to compromise on how much they care for the other person. I would argue that in both cases the outcome lacks wholeness and fulfillment and falls short of what God designed for us to have and enjoy. In the Bible, the committed relationship between two people is upheld as the best grounding for sex – epitomizing how the highest level of physical intimacy is matched perfectly by the highest level of emotional intimacy and commitment. Far from an out-dated concept, I’d say it was a pretty timeless and perfect concept…
The challenge, then, for each of us, is perhaps to determine in our own hearts, how we can best care for and protect ourselves, and the hearts of others, through understanding, and placing physical and emotional intimacy in their rightful places.
Proverbs 4:23 ‘Guard your heart carefully, for it determines the course of your life’
Freshers need to know that they have choices.
As my friends and I were praying for the new intake of students this year, these words really resonated with me. In amongst the world of hall rivalry and almost cult-like community, it can be hard to know this truth for yourself as a student coming to university for the first time. You arrive, having barely time to dump your stuff in your room and send your parents off with a very brisk hug, and before you know it you’re sardined into a sweaty common room being commanded to chant obscenities about people in the other halls… (people that you’ll actually probably be very good friends with in a few months time). Fast forward a few hours and you’ll find yourself among other first-years, sweaty and stinking of alcohol, and all feeling the pressure to belong to the world you’ve just been catapulted into. To embrace the excessive drinking, disregard for other peoples personal space or boundaries, and casual sex as something that ‘you just do’ when you’re a fresher.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against going out and having a great time. Some of my favourite nights out have involved yelling along to the Lion King in Fusion and dancing my little heart out to Justin Bieber. But when I see freshers just following the culture set by the students on the hall committees, seemingly without a thought, part of me just feels the need to say – you can say no! If only students would channel their rebellious nature to challenge the very ‘rebellious’ culture that they have walked into. I wish students would do this because I believe that there is a better way to live than the one set by popular student culture.
Unfortunately, it’s often the case that the things that pull you in, the excessive drinking, sleeping around, and risk-taking, aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. At the end of the night, when you have drunk your sorrows so deep in alcohol that you can barely stand, or when you wake up the next morning having given half your heart to someone who will only brush it off their shoulder as they leave- what have you really gained from it all?
In the Bible, Jesus tells us that sometimes there are people that we may follow (‘hired hands’), who disappear very quickly when everything doesn’t quite go to plan! I think this is a lot like when we are tempted to follow the ideas of the world or of a certain time period or culture and hold them as number one. We may for a time find acceptance and approval by conforming to these ideas, but fast forward a few years and what comfort can you find in them?
Instead, Jesus challenges us to hold true to the ‘true shepherd’, which is himself and his guidance. This is guidance that holds firm throughout every generation, culture or university intake- and guidance that will not leave you feeling empty in five years time- but confident that He has lead you into safety, care and a life lived to the fullest! So take courage, and don’t be pushed into fitting into the culture without even thinking about it.
It’s okay to say no!
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:11-13)
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me […] I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd”. (John 10:14-16)
Hi all! This has been quite a difficult issue to write about so bear with me.
I think it’s fair to say that we all have a desire to be known, to be loved for who we are. However because of this, I think many of us are led, sometimes, to pretend that we are something we’re not. We get trapped in, and feel a lack of freedom regarding the way we act in front of people, and in certain groups. Sometimes this is harmless, obviously you wouldn’t engage with others at a funeral in the same way you would at a birthday party. But sometimes, real issues arise when we don’t just alter the way we apply ourselves to different people and situations, but we actually change or hide important parts of ourselves-to suit the expectations of those around us. Sometimes this can be as serious as compromising on our values, morals, beliefs- and other times it may be suppressing aspects of your personality that you believe may encounter rejection or disapproval, regardless of the situation you’re in.
I know that for me the latter is something I have struggled with, as I’m sure others have too. I think that it’s not that I fear others will reject or disapprove of certain things I may say or do because they are in themselves ‘bad’. Rather, I think it’s just because they are different from what they have expected of me, based on past experiences. Let me give you a practical example. In my early teens I was always fairly quiet and introverted around other people. Thank God that over the years I have discovered more about who I am, and my unique value to him and that my confidence and sense of inner security has increased dramatically.
The way I have behaved however always seem to lag behind slightly. Even though I know that I am valued for my uniqueness, and everything that makes me “me”- sometimes it takes a lot of courage to embrace that freedom and let the real you out… To align your public self with your private self. Sometimes it means being prepared to meet others’ surprise, confusion or scepticism when they see that you’re no longer behaving in the manner that they had always expected of you.
For me, going to university has been a perfect opportunity to discover the freedom of not having people hold misled pre-conceptions about who you are. (Admittedly I think this is definitely an over generalisation) but I do think there is something freeing about being in a new environment, meeting new people and getting involved in new things. For me, it has helped me to gain the confidence to embrace my real self, closing the gap between my public self and private self.
But sometimes it’s not that easy, sometimes we have to embrace our changed selves, and defy others (sometimes year old) expectations of who we should be. I have found, for example, that I have grown and changed a lot at university, and sometimes when I return home I feel that there is a gap between who I am, and perhaps what others expect of me. Recently I came home and felt unease over the idea that people at home wouldn’t see me as the same open, fun-loving person as people do at Uni. So I prayed for opportunities to allow people to get to know me better, change and all, and felt really blessed by the time I was able to enjoy with others.
But (and there is always a but) sometimes I start to worry! This happened recently and I started to ruminate over the past. I started to define myself by how I believed other people would see me as a result of things that have happened along the road. In fact at some points I even started to see myself in this way too! Although I tried my best to “deal” with these thoughts and knew in my head that they were damaging, that didn’t make the message I received a few days later any less powerful.
I was given a message by a church leader that I have only spoken to a couple of times. He had written the message down on paper, and it had two pictures. One was of a shell being opened up to reveal a pearl inside, the other a treasure chest opening up to reveal treasure. The message said, “There is so much value and treasure in you. Both the treasure chest and the shell are opening up, revealing the beauty God has put inside you […] “the shell and chest are opening up as a result of increased freedom and confidence”. He went on to write (and this is where it gets really exciting) “There may be harmful mindsets from the past that will try to close and conceal your real self […] Allow God to free you from lies that seek to steal, kill or destroy what he has won for you…”. Isn’t that amazing!
(Side note: This happened during an evening meeting at church, where one of the leaders suggested we ask God for messages for people, or “prophecies” . I love prophecies because they remind me that God is a living God who cares for, and is interested in the lives of each one of us. Amazing!)
I think that it’s worth reminding ourselves that we don’t just change from one year to another (#new year, new me) but that we are changing all the time! Learning more about ourselves, others, and the world around us. As Christians we are called to change. We have the opportunity to learn from God’s word, to ‘renew’ the way we think, and become people who live lives that are centered in love, as modeled to us through the life of Jesus. I think it is so important to embrace what God says about you, and to constantly renew your inner self by spending time with God. Don’t shy back from embracing the person he is calling you to be. And don’t give in to the enemy’s ploys that try and make you believe that the “real” you is that person who always messes up, or who has always been known as the one who does X, Y and Z. Embrace God’s goodness, grace and faithfulness and take hold of the person he is calling you to be, both inside and out.
“This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace”.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect”.
Recently I went on a weekend away trip with OpenHeaven church. It was a really inspiring weekend and I feel privileged to have experienced such spirit-filled worship, prayer and study time. I was impacted by so much that weekend, and this blog post could easily become a book, but instead I’m going to tell you about some thoughts that I had during and following the Friday night session.
As everyone was worshipping, and the band was playing so powerfully and brilliantly, I heard to my side a young boy singing. If anyone has young children or remembers singing in school plays, you will know what I mean when I say it was the sweetest, clearest, crispest voice I could hear in that moment. It was almost angelic and it really stopped me in my tracks. It suddenly threw into view all the “baggage” that I was carrying into the worship. I love God, but as I was singing and raising my hands, this child’s voice somehow convicted me of all the self-conscious thoughts that were lurking at the back of my mind and preventing me from worshipping wholeheartedly. For example, I was now more conscious of the fact that I was making sure that my face didn’t look too weird as I was singing the passionate chorus.
Further on in the evening, the band invited people to dance in praise as people continued worshipping. Children were skipping and bouncing around, smiling and giggling as adults twirled them round and joined in the celebration. I remember the lead singer saying ‘If anyone is a dancer by trade, or just enjoys dancing, feel free to dance!’. I remember thinking ‘yes yes me me I want to dance’ and tapping my foot in a sort of half-baked attempt to do so. But in the end I didn’t!! I just continued to sing, looking engaged in the worship, whilst really inside I was deeply longing to join in. It was almost as if there was a battle going on inside my heart. On the one side I had Freddie Mercury singing “I want to break free!” and on the other side I was thinking “woah, just hold on there. Just stay right where you are, do you really want to attract all that attention?”.
I was in awe of these children (and the few adults) who appeared to completely throw off everything that hindered them. They didn’t care that they were doci-doeing in front of more than a hundred others. They allowed themselves to embrace the freedom of being accepted into God’s family. The freedom to really worship and express their gratitude and love for God in any way that pleases God their father.
As I meditated on this more I just thought – wow – how BEAUTIFUL to be able to just let go. To not care what society thinks is weird or uncool. To let your inner child out! I think sometimes it is so easy to just let ourselves be content with where we are spiritually. But unless we keep pressing forward, we miss out on some of the wonderful freedoms and blessings that God wants us to have! In this post I want to encourage you to embrace with me the challenge of letting the holy spirit rule in your hearts. Let it well up inside you and don’t try to repress it… just let it flow. Whether this be through dance, song, words or otherwise.
Where the spirit of the Lord is there is FREEDOM, so embrace it!
Matthew chapter 19 verse 14: ‘Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”‘