Category Archives: Help I’m now a pastor’s wife!

What one thing has God asked you to do today?

If you don’t know the answer to that question then perhaps, like me, you are a little too goal-orientated and focused on achieving rather than slowing down long enough to hear from God.

lady surrounded by technology

Often our priorities are not God’s, our ‘good ideas’ not ones that He’s dropped into our minds. I was really convicted by a daily devotional I read today, in which the author described herself as someone who is too busy to be interrupted. Too set on being productive and ‘useful’, she isn’t able to deal with the stress and emotions of her own life, let alone those of others.

I gulped. And then admitted to myself that she could have been describing me. So often people comment that I must be extremely busy helping others. As a pastor’s wife I do get my fair share of burdened people wanting a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on and someone willing to pray with them. And I consider that a privilege.

The problem is, I have my own ideas about what I should focus my time on, which means that the hours my kids are at school are taken up with work. Of course, the majority of us have to work in order to live, so I don’t feel that that’s a problem. What is, though, is that niggling feeling I sometimes get. The feeling that tries to tell me I don’t need to work quite so much…

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Why scrubbing loos is a good idea

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What is it about the human condition that makes us look around the people we come into contact with day to day and compare ourselves to them? It is something we have to work really hard not to do, which means the comparison culture inevitably infiltrates our church communities too.

I’m sure we’ve all had those moments: times when we’ve see others in a role that we wish we had and felt slightly jealous. Perhaps we even feel entitled to that role – or think in our minds that we could do a much better job than the person currently doing it.

 Or perhaps we end up in the mindset that thinks we have to contribute to the service each week – by bringing another word or reading another portion of scripture out. Why do we do that? A desperate need within us to connect with God, or a deep-seated desire to look more holy than those around us?

I think we need to ask ourselves those difficult questions regularly about our motivations for serving within our church communities. None of us is immune to selfish ambition and desires, but it is much easier to nip them in the bud early rather than letting ourselves get carried away with them.

Indeed, in Philippians 2 we are told: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (v3-4).

Jesus had some really harsh words to say about those people who put on a show of holiness in church: “Everything they do is for men to see” (Matthew 23:5) and “Woe to you … you hypocrites!”, which he repeats in verses 13, 15, 23, 25, 27 and 29. With that amount of repetition I think we can see Jesus really wanted to get his message across!

Speaking about the teachers of the law, it was the difference between their public show of purity and piety and their everyday lives that angered Jesus the most. Indeed, He instructed His disciples and the crowds “you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (v3).

Ouch.

Harsh words or the simple, honest truth?

To read the rest of this post, please click here – where the reason for the title will become clear ;)

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Let’s celebrate – and fight for – marriage

As we are in the middle of Marriage Week in the UK, and Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, I spent time reflecting on what marriage means to me in my latest column for Christian Today. To read the article please click here. If you enjoy it, or find it useful, please could you indicate by using the ‘like’ button on their webpage. Thanks so much.

I ended up with far too much material for that piece, so I’ve collected some of my other thoughts below. (They will make most sense read alongside the Christian Today column.) As you’ll see, I’ve learned a lot about my own weaknesses through being married: I certainly believe marriage holds up a mirror to the ugliest parts of our character. It does give us the opportunity to grow and change though, thankfully. Marriage also does not make us immune to the difficulties and trials we inevitably encounter in this life, but hopefully we learn to help one another up those mountains when they come…

couple-climbing-a-mountain

As a couple, we’ve certainly been through some crazy and difficult adventures. I’ve said before that one of the biggest surprises and challenges for me was when my husband became a pastor – I didn’t sign up for that, and really struggled to accept it to begin with. Now I view it as a privilege to be a part of his calling, as well as following my own wholeheartedly.

So here’s those points that didn’t make it into my latest column…

My husband needs me to learn to keep my mouth shut in public

I can be quite sarcastic and my humour often involves winding up people that I’m close to. But I have learned over time that my husband finds it incredibly difficult if I am sarcastic or make a joke of something he’s done or the way he’s been in front of other people.

I am also one that can’t bottle up my feelings but being angry or having an argument with my husband in public does not do our marriage any good. Keeping quiet while in public also gives me a chance to calm down and be a bit more objective – which I’ve never been that great at! ;)

Fighting for ways to feel connected is so important

There can be times when I’m at the end of myself – juggling work, looking after my kids, my roles within church and as a school governor can totally wring out me out to the point that I feel I have little left to give. I know as a busy pastor my husband can often feel wrung out by the end of a day too. And yet it is so so important to keep fighting for those moments of connection. We can work hard both separately and together. In those seasons when we are both focused on very different things, it can almost feel like we are like ships that pass in the night – roomies at best, strangers in the worst moments. But if we just stop for a few moments and check in with one another we both instantly feel like we are working towards a common goal and can support and understand where the other one is at. Somehow it lifts what can be a time of struggle, as we realise afresh that we are not alone.

We need to fight for marriage

I could make all sorts of points here about the way that society is diluting marriage, or how high the divorce rate is – but, while that’s all true, it’s not what I’m focusing on. While writing this I was reminded of a stark image I saw firsthand while visiting friends in another part of London. Right the way down a street were bits of ribbon tied to the telephone lines. I asked what they were, and was gobsmacked by the answer: each ribbon represented a Christian couple. Apparently there was a high proportion of witches in the area and they very openly shared that they cursed Christian marriages and called on powers to break them up. That really shook me, and made me realise the spiritual battle that we can be in as married couples. If we aren’t praying and fighting for our marriages then who will?

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Learning to be thankful – at all times

The new term is well under way and already I feel like I’ve been struggling to catch up. I had the most wonderful Christmas, but since then both my husband and I have been dogged with illness. New Year came and went with no let up, then the kids went back to school and life continued to seem like a blur.

Friends asked if I’d made new year’s resolutions, but I replied that I was frustrated that I hadn’t had any time or space to reflect on the previous year and pray through my goals and vision for this year (something I like to do every January). I hadn’t even got my office in order or put up a new calendar.

beach walking shot

A few days after the kids went back to school it suddenly dawned on me how down I felt. It wasn’t that anything awful had happened – and, as I’ve said, we had a lovely Christmas. But the constant pain and problems in my body, combined with a lack of sleep, were taking their toll on my emotions.

I knew I was responding negatively to people – my husband, kids, others around me – and was desperate to do something about it. But I also knew that I needed time with those who would do me good rather than just pressing through and trying in my own strength. And that meant spending time with God – and booking a lunch date with a friend who both encourages and challenges me.

Over lunch we talked and cried, and I left feeling lighter. The following morning I couldn’t get the phrase ‘For yet I will praise Him’ out of my mind as I drove back from dropping the kids off at school. I had been saying to God that I was frustrated with myself; there was so much I wanted to get done, but I still felt like I just wanted a date with my duvet.

I came home and looked up the phrase, finding it in three psalms. Here’s one from Psalm 42:5:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”

Something inside me leapt. I realised that, like the psalmist, I needed to speak to my soul and remind myself to put my hope and trust in God.

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Are you willing to let God disrupt your life?

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We are now in Advent, traditionally a time of looking forward and preparing for the coming of Christ through acts of remembrance and repentance as we get ourselves ready spiritually.

The word advent is the anglicised version of the Latin word adventus, which means ‘coming’, ‘arrival’, ‘approach’. During this time we remember the longing ancient people had for a saviour, a messiah, but also how we should be alert for His second coming.

Today, however, I’ve been pondering the consequences of one particular visit or ‘approach’ that started off the events of that first Christmas. That of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, which I’ve been looking at in Luke 1:26-38.

I was struck afresh today what a bizarre and potentially terrifying experience it must have been for a young girl to suddenly be face to face with an angel. That itself was mind-blowing enough. And yet what about his message? To be told that you, a young, unmarried virgin, would be the mother of the Son of God?!

We obviously don’t get a blow-by-blow account of the story in the Gospels, but I wonder what your response would have been if you had been given such a life-changing message?

We are told that at the start of the conversation ‘Mary was greatly troubled at his words’ (Luke 1:29). Don’t you just love the Bible’s skill at understatement? Troubled? I think I would have either frozen stiff, screamed for help or run away. And that was before he’d even told her God’s plans…

Mary was obviously someone who sought God and made following Him a priority; that must have helped her recognise that this angelic being was indeed sent from God. I admire her courage for sticking it out, for staying long enough to hear his full message.

Pondering the passage in Luke, I do believe that God’s peace must have descended on Mary when she accepted that she was listening to His messenger. How else could she stand there and listen without having a serious freak out?

But what strikes me the most is her simple trust and obedience. Just listen to what she says when Gabriel has finished his speech: ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ (v38)

Part of me wants to shout at her: ‘Come on Mary he’s just totally disrupted your wedding plans – actually, he may well have cost you your wedding. Who is going to believe that you will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit? That just sounds crazy. Do you really think Joseph will believe you?’

And yet that side of me is silenced by the piercing effect her response has. Mary was being asked to trust an angelic being who had brought her a message that would turn her life upside down but, not only that, would change the world if the boy indeed turned out to be the Messiah they were all hoping for. What a privilege … but what an enormous upheaval that necessitated her laying down her rights to all her dreams and plans.

What this passage has made me consider, is what I would do if Jesus or an angel came to me and asked me to disrupt my plans. Not my whole life – just my week’s plans.

To read the rest of this reflection, please click here.

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There’s a crack in my fishbowl

9781782641292I am delighted to welcome Gerard Kelly to my website as a guest blogger. A prolific poet/writer, he has just released his first novel, The Boy Who Loved Rain, a beautifully emotive book tackling huge issues: toxic family secrets, suicide, self-harming… As a pastor’s wife, I was intrigued to see how the central family would deal with the enormous crisis brewing in their lives – particularly as the father, a pastor, will not acknowledge their problems or seek help from outside the church. I was totally drawn into the novel, especially through the way Gerard portrayed the troubled teenager, Colom.

Politicians, entertainers, sports stars and other celebrities often talk of the pressures of living in the limelight. Work / life balance is hard to maintain and where they have families it is hard to establish any kind of normal rhythm for their children. They live in a fishbowl, visible to all. They are subject to constant judgements from those who look on – always ready to offer an opinion and all too often happy to see their idols fall.

My novel The Boy Who Loved Rain explores this fishbowl lifestyle through a different and very specific group of of people: the leaders of churches. Theirs is not a life of celebrity – it would be difficult to describe weekly sessions in the pulpit as ‘the limelight’ – but the pressures on their families are nonetheless real.

David and Fiona Dryden, church leaders and parents to the adolescent Colom, feel this pressure acutely, not least because the growth of their church has come from their acknowledged expertise in parenting. David in particular hands out advice quite publicly – saving marriages and keeping families together. All is not well, though, in the Dryden household. There are dark secrets not far below the surface, and the decision to keep them from the light only means the impending crisis will be deeper.

Renowned psychologist Paul Tournier in his book Secrets suggests that keeping a secret is the first step to becoming an individual. The second step, he says, is telling it. Colom, at fourteen, is on the cusp between the two, and the comfort that secrecy has brought him in childhood will not sustain him in his adult years. The question is whether his parents will have the courage, for the love of their son, to let light shine.

I’m intrigued by the dilemma faced by David and Fiona Dryden because this is my world. I’ve pastored churches and I’ve worked with others doing the same, and too often I’ve seen uncomfortable truths swept under the carpet. It doesn’t matter how successful your ministry is, or how well known you are for helping others: your children are your children and their needs will neither be defined nor be met by the success of your ministry. They need parents, not professionals, and if any role is a crash course in the power of truth-telling, it is parenting. I’ve made huge changes in my own life, including career decisions that on the surface seem foolish, when I’ve seen that the needs of my family are clashing with the demands of my role. My children, as they’ve grown, have become my teachers, and listening to them has been a hard-won but hugely rewarding discipline.

The Boy Who Loved Rain is about the battle to take adolescents seriously; to allow them to be the central actors in their own drama; to recognise that their journey and my journey are not one and the same. Adolescence is the period in which a child moves from being a passenger in someone else’s vehicle to learning to drive their own. Controlling parents, who love nothing more than having their hand on the wheel and assume that they will be making all the route decisions, don’t always take well to this transition. We have plans; goals; desires for our children’s lives: but it is not our job to deliver them. Only they can fight their battles; only they can live their life. Our job is to equip them; to set them on their way, but ultimately to free them to be the warriors their nature and their maker have designed them to be.

For families in the fishbowl, this process of freeing our children might mean a choice – of relationship over reputation; of family over fortune; of those we love over those we serve. In my experience, it is a choice worth making. Sometimes it is the only choice that will save our children’s lives – and our own.

The Boy Who Loved Rain is published by Lion Fiction. Thanks to them for the review copy and for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.

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Feeling restless

St Augustine wrote, “[God] you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

“Our hearts are restless”: that’s a great description of life today.

So often I feel restless. I’m rushing around making sure the kids get homework done, get to their after-school clubs, are fed and looked after.

I rush around with church activities, chatting issues through with my husband as he seeks to lead the church well, organising rehearsals and leading worship, trying to spot new people and welcome them as well as look after those who’ve been in the church for years.

I rush around with my work, meeting deadlines and thinking up new ideas for writing projects. Yes there is a bit of space for pondering within that, but too often it is pressurised, rather than restful.

I rush from one evening meeting to another – church meetings, governors’ meetings, music practices, even rushing to exercise classes.

I feel restless a lot of the time. I know the better way is to start by positioning myself at Jesus’ feet, learning from His wisdom rather than trying to do things in my own strength. But I find that so hard to do.

I wrote about finding the rhythm that works for me and my family recently; I’m still working on that if I’m honest!

I arrived at church a couple of Sundays ago totally at the end of myself, but with my keyboard ready to play. I could barely speak, let alone sing, so one of the guys helpfully suggested we prayed together before doing anything else. And what one of them prayed for me really stuck with me – here’s a summary of it:

‘Lord, Claire works so hard for you. Help her to learn to rest.

I’m one of those people who find it difficult to sit down and relax until all the jobs in the house are done. I simply can’t leave dirty dishes on the side or floors unvacuumed. That may be why our vacuum cleaner suddenly stopped working when I was midway through vacuuming one of the downstairs rooms that weekend. I still had the upstairs to do! But I simply couldn’t, which meant that, after church that Sunday, we were able to settle down and have a family film time.

I was forced to rest.

Does God ever make you stop, through circumstances or even illness? If only we’d rest more regularly without Him having to step in and force us.

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