Have you ever wanted to just hide away and not go to church? That’s how I felt on Saturday evening. The thought of getting up early in the morning and speaking to dozens of people, of worshipping God even (yes, it was a low moment) and of feeling the responsibility of needing to be stood next to my husband in the front row all weighed heavily on me.
I just needed a break.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this – and I know it is right to take time out at times.
But one of the burdens of leadership is living by example. And just hiding under my duvet when I don’t feel 100 per cent is not setting a good example. So I shot up a quick prayer asking that God would refresh me and I was immediately reminded of the Sunday before.
On that day, I was suffering from such severe back pain that I hadn’t slept all night. I was playing the main instrument in the worship team and we had a visiting speaker from Nigeria, who we were hosting a lunch for after the service. On that particular Sunday the whole of me was screaming “It isn’t fair! Why should I have to carry on? Why can’t someone else do it?”
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Yet again there’s been a good few weeks between my posts. Before Christmas I was frantically trying to finish work off so that I could take a complete break, and since the kids went back to school I’ve been busy again catching up with work. But I look back to the Christmas period with really fond memories. It was a time of relaxation in which I purposefully stayed away from my computer. The way that was kickstarted is funny really – a friend’s daughter slept in a travel cot in my office just before Christmas and she asked whether the cot could stay up until the New Year’s Eve party we were hosting. So the cot became a welcome barrier between me and my computer, forcing me not to turn it on! I’ve always made sure I don’t have emails coming through to my phone, as when I’m away from my desk I’m with my kids so I don’t want the lure of work emails distracting me from them. The result: I was free of social media for the entire Christmas holiday period!
I think I’d worked so hard last year that I was quite burned out, and having time away from everything – emails, Facebook, twitter, blogs – was really welcome. It also made me realise anew the wisdom behind God’s ordering and the taking of a day of rest each week. We were explaining to the kids at the weekend that mummy and daddy aren’t quite like other mummies and daddies they know from school – our weekends aren’t just full of fun and relaxation as part of our jobs are to lead the church – me with worship and my husband as an elder and preacher. So Sundays can be quite stressful. While my husband should have a day off in the week that often doesn’t materialise, and it is hard to keep it family focused anyway as the kids are at school Monday to Friday. So we find we end up with less time to ourselves. That’s the nature of things – but that doesn’t mean it’s always right.
Since coming back to work, and being in meetings where we’ve focused on our goals for the year and how we’d like to develop, I was really struck by how one woman prayed for me. She said, ‘God you’ve heard all the ways Claire wants to develop her worship ministry, but she has just said how her highlights of last year were when she had time with her family away from it all. Help her to remember to take those rest times, and to realise that you only expect her to do what she has time to do. Stop her from worrying about those things she can’t do.’ That prayer made its way into my journal, as I realised my tendency is to forget rest in the busy-ness of life. I love being busy, and I find it difficult to relax until everything on my ‘to do’ list is ticked off but what I’m holding on to in these first few weeks of January is that it is so important to take time out.
So my exaltation to you is also to take some time off regularly – and don’t worry about whether stepping back to rest will mean you are no longer ‘in the loop’. This is something that I can get anxious about – particularly regarding social media networking for work purposes. I think if I take any time off it will be detrimental to the career I’m building. I’m now reminding myself that my spiritual health is the most important priority and time off is vital. God has told me many times that I can’t help others and give out to the best of my ability if I’m burned out myself – I guess I need to start listening! I’ll let you know in a few months whether I’ve managed to take regular time off – bearing in mind that it’s only a few weeks before my husband becomes lead elder/pastor of our church so I know that will have a huge impact on our lives! :)
Those of us who live in the UK have experienced a deluge of rain this week. It seems bizarre that in our country we have suddenly taken by surprise by the rain but, after such a long time without significant rainfall, it has been a bit of a shock. I’ve found it particularly difficult because my son’s bedroom has a flat roof, which makes the rain seem really noisy and he gets scared and doesn’t sleep well at night. So this week I’ve been getting more and more tired.
This all culminated in me feeling rather miserable yesterday – it seemed that every time I had to go out the rain intensified. Where my son attends pre-school is literally at the end of our road, simply a minute’s walk away, but on our way back the heavens literally opened and we were saturated. Thursday is the afternoon that we are in and out constantly – to playgroup, school pick up, his sister’s ballet lessons etc so I gave up and thought there was no point in changing us after each soaking as we were just going to get drenched again.
Then, as I stomped around in a bad mood, I felt a small tug in my spirit. I knew what it was about as I’d felt it in the biggest downfall I’d been caught in – but now I paid attention. And my heart leapt in agreement with what it was hearing – and I realised I didn’t need the rain to stop – I wanted to shout ‘Let it rain more! Let my soul be saturated!’ It was a sudden realisation that, like our land desperately needs the rain, my spirit needs more of His Spirit. I’m tired, not sleeping well, busy catching up on work after the holiday, preparing to lead worship this Sunday and now also preparing to speak alongside my husband when he preaches. I can’t do any of this in my own strength – God I need a soaking! I need to remain wet day in day out!
I am so grateful for days like yesterday – yes it was hard work but when God breaks in and reminds me (in a highly practical demonstration!) of my need for Him it makes me realise how over-busy and un-reliant on Him I can be. The challenge is not to lose that sense of dependency and to tackle the tasks with Him alongside me, guiding me by His Spirit.
Last week’s sermon included the passage that was my favourite when I was growing up – John 15, the vine and the branches. One phrase kept cropping up on Sunday – ‘Abide in me’. I haven’t been able to shake it so far this week, and I think it may be because it is a lesson I need to relearn. So what does it mean to abide? I looked up some online dictionary definitions and I really like some of the words Brainy Quote uses to describe ‘abide':
‘To wait; to pause; to delay. To stay; to continue in a place; to have one’s abode; to dwell; to sojourn; to remain stable or fixed in some state or condition; to continue; to remain; to wait for; to be prepared for; to await; to watch for; to endure; to sustain; to submit to.’
Wow. There’s a lot to digest in there. And I think the overriding sense is of taking your time, making space and waiting to hear from God. To linger with Him rather than ticking off time spent with Him as another job done successfully before rushing onto the next one. To truly abide in Him, which is how the Scriptures say we bear fruit as Christians, we need to open ourselves up to Him constantly – wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Now, as a mum of two small kids I have certainly learned the art of talking to God while doing a hundred and one other things. And I think that’s what He likes – He wants to interact with us in all our ‘daily doings’. But I also think it is important to draw aside and come before Him quietly each day. Our lives are so full of ‘noise’ and ‘stuff’ that we can be totally distracted even when we are supposedly communing with God! And He very rarely shouts at us – His is that still, small voice. How are we supposed to hear it when it is being crowded out by everything else? When did you last hear it? I have been really challenged by the fact that I am now writing and editing for Christian publications, so am spending more time in the Word and studying than I have done since the kids were born, and yet the craziness of my schedule means I don’t feel like I have connected with God intimately for a little while. I think the words ‘Abide in me’ are a gentle nudge to me that He’s missing me. How about you? Is He missing you too?
This is the first time I’ve had a chance to sit down and reflect on what I learned at the Newfrontiers Together on a Mission conference last week (the reason for that will, in part, be the subject of another blog soon!) It truly was a privilege to be at the bulk of what was the last international conference of its kind. Right from the start there was a sense of expectancy, and God had specific things to say to us as a movement that came through time and time again, through various different speakers.
I always feel so blessed at these events because it reminds me of the wider Newfrontiers family we are part of. I am always struck by the humility of the leaders and speakers, particularly Terry. Indeed that was the main reason we were first attracted to Newfrontiers. And it is great to see how other guys have come through into maturity and authority and are now heading up works within the various continents, but there is still a sense of family across the board. I loved the mixture of both honouring our roots, and founders, but also pressing forward to take new ground.
I was both caught up with and slightly apprehensive of the way that we seemed to hit the ground running. Words came thick and fast about being courageous and having courage as a leader. The natural worrier in me started to wonder what is coming Lord?! But it is so true that as a movement the ‘boys have become men’ and I also felt that challenge me personally. Yes we have stepped up into leadership roles, and my husband has proved he is capable of pastoring the church. I am mentoring and meeting with various younger women… AND YET. Life is going at such a pace am I taking the time to feed myself spiritually? Am I looking after myself and allowing God to speak to me clearly and have that vital input in my life enough? He graciously seems to speak through me when I am ministering to people, but I wonder how much more effective I could be if I carved out a bit more just me and him time…
We were travelling up and down to Brighton each day so usually left at the end of the afternoon session – it meant we could see the kids before bedtime and not get overtired ourselves. But when we heard PJ was to speak on the wed eve we decided to say. And what a great decision that was! I have said in a previous entry that the whole issue of healing is one I can struggle with because of the way my mum suffers, but he gave one of the clearest messages I’ve ever heard on suffering, sickness and healing. Where does sickness come from and where does healing come from were two of the questions he pondered during his own battle in the last year. And God gave him great revelation. Hearing the simplicity with which he explained the relationship between the atonement and healing was refreshing. His talk gave me fresh vision and hope and went some way to lift off the frustration I can often feel when people look at my mum and make a judgement call as to why she hasn’t been healed yet. Definitely a recommendation I have already made to my mum to listen to!
There is so much more I could talk about here but I think there will be plenty more future posts as I manage to grab odd moments to dwell upon my notes.