Archives for posts with tag: prayer

I’m in a period of limbo at the moment.

In every aspect of my life I feel as though I am waiting. In the immediate future, I am waiting for the end of term. I’m worn out, exhausted, harassed, already mentally in the vacation when I can set my own hours and dictate my own work. And sleep in a little longer in the mornings.

I am waiting for responses to applications: job applications for the summer, course applications for the autumn. On the outcome of those applications hinges my immediate and longer-term future; I want to start planning. I want to hunt for flats and know that I might really live in the ones I find. The ones I have already found, sage words of advice about counting unhatched chickens notwithstanding.

I’ve done everything possible to get onto the course in September, and now all I can do is wait and hope. After three rejections and one almost certain to come after a less-than-impressive interview, my hopes all rest on my fifth and final choice, a last-minute addition to the list. I hope and pray that the inspiration to add that fifth choice was divine.

My interview there was on Thursday, and on the short walk from the train station to the campus I passed a large, friendly-looking church. I walked its perimeter and examined the noticeboard, happy to see that it seemed to be my denomination and my distance “up the candle”. Since arriving home again I have visited their website and sent up a heartfelt prayer that this serendipitous find is another sign. Perhaps in six months that church will be my new worship-place.

I will know for sure by the end of the month. The summer jobs, too, will hopefully have replied by the time April dawns. It’s not bad timing, really. April is a good time to be looking for permanent jobs, if everything else has fallen through. It’s a good time to be looking for flats, a good time for thinking about new beginnings.

In just a few weeks I’ll know a little more certainly what the future holds. But for now, I am trying and struggling to trust that it will all be as it should. The disappointment of the most recent rejection after three months of optimistic hope has been somewhat assuaged by the new possibility of the final choice, but next time there will be no new possibility to take away the smart of an email telling me that my application has been unsuccessful. Or at least, none that I have found yet. But it’s there, somewhere. I am sure of that.

Well, here we are at (almost) the end of the first week of lent. I have to admit, I am not specifically fasting this lent, or at least not any more than I already was. In January I introduced a set of daily goals for good stewardship of my life – really basic things like eating and sleeping properly, and recognising the importance of actively cultivating my relationships with friends – and also gave up various bad habits, like unnecessary snacking, using my phone as a distraction from the world around me, and using Facebook at all. So I arrived at Ash Wednesday with no clear idea what I could actually give up or change, and the knowledge that any attempt to devote more time to charity or service would result in a total collapse of all the commitments already in my life. I would love to restart voluntary work, and in fact I’ve made enquiries about starting in the spring, but currently it’s all I can do to get through the day without napping. It’s been a fatiguey sort of month.

But lent has nonetheless so far been a time of reflection, self-examination and a concerted effort to grow in my faith. Lately, and coincidentally, I have been struggling a great deal with a particular issue and every sermon or prayer I’ve listened to has seemed to speak directly to that issue. This week in particular there have been some sermons which cut to the heart of our human struggle against sin.

As I type, I am waiting for the knock at my door which will herald the arrival of a friend to chat about our shared struggle. We were baptised together, confirmed together, and have become friends over the last year and a half, and quite by chance we discovered we were also sharing a difficulty which we are reluctant to take to the clergy for guidance. Hopefully we can thrash it out together a little, and if we can’t find a solution we may at least be able to formulate the question.

My prayers lately have all been for clarity, true understanding, freedom from delusion, and the strength to discern and follow God’s path. Whatever that may turn out to be.

I was on a train late last night, coming back from a wonderful evening with some friends, and I happened to check my facebook wall on my phone.

A girl in my year had posted a status which was unmistakable in its meaning. Her boyfriend had died.

I felt shell-shocked as soon as I realised what I was reading. She is nineteen, and she has lost the boy she thought she would marry. I don’t know how, or why, or when it happened, but from her posts it seems to have been earlier this week. She went to see him on Sunday – he was in the Forces, stationed nearby.

Incredible though it seems, I’ve managed to reach the age of twenty-one without having to deal with death very much. I have lost my grandfather and my godmother, and an internet friend was killed in a car accident around ten years ago. My friends have also lost grandparents, but never people their own age.

For a while I wondered what on earth the right thing to do was. I prayed last night and this morning that God would watch over my friend and her family, and the family of her boyfriend, and give them strength to get through this. I sent her a short email saying how sorry I was and how I would do anything she needed.

There is never a good time to lose someone close to you, but this could not have been a worse time for her. We are taking our exams this fortnight; in fact it seems he died the day before we started. I doubt she will be sitting a single one of them, which might well mean her degree is on hold or finished before she’s taken the second-year exams. Once they were over, we have three months’ vacation – and I know they had plans to spend a lot of time together.

It’s hard to get my head around, and it must be impossible for her to understand. She was prepared for the possibility that he might be killed while deployed. I don’t think she would have ever thought he might die whilst still on base.

Please pray for my friend, and for her family and friends, and for the soul of the young man who has died.

Last week, I was cycling to work along a rain-splattered cycle path. It is a route I take regularly, at least twice a week each way, and it is always changing. Some days the path is crossed by a herd of cattle who graze during the summer on the grass on each side. Sometimes a flock of geese chase each other around the meadows. Once I had to stop and wait while a pair of schoolgirls herded three ducks off the footbridge over the river, laughing hysterically as they did so.

On this particular day, none of those things were happening. The rain had driven most people away. As I wended my way along a man cycled up beside me and advised me not to sit in my highest gear. He had noticed me swerving around a lot, he said, and I would have better control in a lower gear.

He cycled away before I could respond, which is probably a good job because I was struggling to find the words to explain that I was swerving not due to lack of control, but to avoid the earthworms lying on the path.

Often people give polite, well-meaning advice without knowing the context in which they are speaking. Sometimes people give rude, less well-meaning advice. I believe that the best reaction to any form of advice, whether it be kindly meant or otherwise and whether I immediately agree or feel defensive, is to look for the truth in their message. There might be a whole bushel of it, or there might be only a tiny kernel, but it is always worth considering carefully.

I’m terrible at taking advice. My instinctive reaction whenever someone tells me to do something is to refuse, usually vocally, and do the opposite. As a result my life has been full of struggles and long scenic routes to get myself to the point I’d have reached via a shortcut had I taken the advice in the first place. I seem to have an instinct for finding the harder parth.

This is especially true when I feel as though the person is criticising me in some way, but I know in my heart that these times are the ones when it is most important to listen. It doesn’t matter who is giving the advice, or why – they might be total strangers, they might be trying to hurt me or make me anxious, but until I have considered the truth of the message in their words I shouldn’t disregard what they say.

God has led me in many different ways, and I have resisted determinedly at almost every step. I have finally begun to recognise the importance, and the benefits, of handing over the reigns. And maybe that means sometimes accepting advice when I don’t want to hear it, from people I don’t want to submit to.

Tonight’s second lesson at evensong was Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 15 to the end. It was, like many of Paul’s letters, controversial amongst the female members of the choir. We are a feminist bunch, intelligent and independent with a desire to succeed on our own merits. I brindled at the instruction that the husband is the head of the wife. I am not prepared to be subject in everything to anyone other than God.

But I need to look for the kernel of truth in his letter, and I know it is there because he was a servant of God. As in many of Paul’s readings I find myself internally yelling “socio-historical context!”, but it is important to look past the 2000-year old views on gender roles and see that kernel.

For me, the kernel lies in the sentence “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Be subject to one another. Learn to take advice, to seek guidance and to compromise and agree. Love each other and respect one another’s opinions and feelings, because we are called to respect everyone as a child of God. It isn’t about gender, although in Paul’s time the gender roles were so strong that it would have been inconceivable for anyone to suggest they should be overturned. But gender is so important in our society, even now. I am fiercely proud to be a woman, to be financially and intellectually independent and to be living alone without supervision or chaperoning. I am constantly grateful that I live in a country that allows me to be so. Perhaps the message for me tonight was not to allow my pride to overcome me and blind me to good advice, by whomsover given. My instinct is to reject anything that seems even slightly to diminish me as a woman, or particularly as a young woman. It needs to become instinctive to look for the kernel, or bushel, of truth. Because otherwise, I might well be missing just exactly the message God wants me to hear.

I spent this weekend on retreat with my chapel. It was the first time I had ever undertaken a retreat and the first time I had spent any time in contemplative silence, and it was a powerfully moving experience.

We were a group of fifteen, including the retreat leader who is a priest and prayer leader with a fascinating past, having been born in Trinidad and spending time in many African countries as well as in England. The rest of the group were split fairly evenly between people who are either ordained or working towards ordination, and students – mostly graduates. I couldn’t have found a better way to prepare for my baptism next week; every question I raised was answered by at least three people with great insight and knowledge, and the ensuing disagreements and debates were very informative.

I found it reassuring to discover that even the clergy don’t know the “correct” answer to any question, and that doubts and questions don’t impede a close relationship with God. I loved listening to people talk with such passion about something that I am only beginning to explore, and knowing that they will continue to provide support and guidance as I make my way along this path.

I wasn’t the only person who had questions or doubts. Every one of us was struggling with our own internal conflicts, and the five group sessions which were centred around inspiring poetry helped everyone in their own ways. In between sessions we attended the daily offices of morning prayer, evensong and compline. Returning to an environment where communal worship is not just weekly or daily but several times a day called to mind the way I felt last summer while on a sacred music course. It once again brought to the surface the question of whether I am called to a more spirtually centered life. I don’t feel that I have a vocation for ordination, but a life of service in a religious community is an idea that never quite goes away.

The idea puts me in a place of conflict, however, and I was helped greatly by discussions with various people over the course of the weekend. I feel as though I’m standing at a fork in the road. Down one path is the commonplace life of a job, a career, a family; commonplace but appealing. Down the other is a life less usual, of days structured around prayer and membership of a God-centred community. I am inclined to see the two as wholly incompatible and feel rooted to the spot by my inability to choose between them, but I was helped particularly by a girl slightly younger than me who was working at the retreat house during her vacation from university. She told me that she had spent a year there, working and serving the community in order to discern whether her path lay with the priesthood or elsewhere. Although still filled with questions, she felt that her year gave her the time and space to grow into a closer relationship with Christ and understand what God had planned for her.

I will attempt to hold on to some of the peace and tranquility which was so inherent in the house and our time there. I’m considering attending morning prayer at a local church, which takes place each weekday except Mondays, although the thought of getting out of bed at half past six every morning is quite alarming. I will try to remember that I don’t have to make decisions right now and set the rest of my life in stone. I simply have to keep walking along and trusting in God’s plan for me, keep myself centred in prayer and stop worrying!

I live next door to an extremely noisy girl who has a boyfriend who, whilst not actually living here, spends almost all of his time with her. The walls are very thin and the sound echoes around in the courtyard outside our windows, and also along the corridor so that any noise she makes in her room is funnelled straight into mine.

She is the noisiest person I have ever encountered. For months I was tearing my hair out over the sound of her door SLAM SLAM SLAMMING over and over again every day – it was so frequent that I started to wonder if she was just opening it and letting it fall shut for fun, or to antagonise me, and so loud that I was reminded of a gun shot. Eventually, at the end of my tether, I complained to the building’s maintenance team who came to take a look at the closing mechanism and did something to make the slamming quieter. It still happens, but it no longer sounds like a gun shot.

Sadly fixing the door didn’t stop the shrieking, the excessively loud talking, the ear-piercing laughter. Although I spend a lot of time in my room working and reading and listening to the radio, I could just about tolerate the noise during the day. But I would be kept awake until 1 or 2am and sometimes woken at 3 or 4, and it was driving me mad. Several times I went round to knock on her door and ask her to be quiet. The effect never lasted more than an hour or two.

For the last month I’ve been free of her noise, because first she and then I went away for easter. This evening heralded her return: a parade of noise down the corridor, the bangning of a door, an almost-comprehendible conversation, loud laughter, and then the sound of two people going out again.

It wasn’t really that noisy, all told – noiser than any of other five people living here, but just on the edge of acceptable for an early evening. But after so many months of being disturbed and antangonised by the situation, I’m wired for an immediate response. I just have to hear her footsteps to immediately be flooded with rage. Seeing her in the distance provokes a flicker of dislike. Any mention of her name and I have to bite my tongue not to say something rude.

I’ve fallen into an unpleasant pattern of hatred. Other than our exchanges over her noise, which have never lasted more than half a minute and always have remained civilised and polite, albeit ineffectual, we have never spoken. She has a lot of friends and I’m sure she is a pleasant, fun person. But all I know about her is how inconsiderate she is, and how unable she is to realise that her actions affect the other people around her.

I don’t like this hair-trigger response. I don’t like hating people. I don’t like being filled with anger, and I don’t like judging a person based on a tiny detail. Whenever I realise I have fallen into the trap of hatred, I immediately send up a prayer. Dear Lord, please help me to love this girl and to tolerate her noise without allowing myself to be angry. Remind me that I am just as capable of rudeness. Show me a new way to handle the problem.

I wish the prayer would come first, though. I find it very hard to love my enemy, and even harder to remember that this girl is not really my enemy at all.

I spend a lot of time online. I am a home-body at heart, and I love to be in my own room surrounded by my things and feeling safe. Sometimes I lock the door, not from fear of anyone coming in but just because I can. When I go out, it is usually to enjoy time alone in a different place. Social time is planned and spontaneous events can make me unsettled.

But I’m constantly seeking fellowship and community. I’m an active member of two web forums, I read and comment on dozens of blogs and indeed write three of my own – this one, a journal read mostly by family and friends, and a recipe blog which is seemingly not read by anyone! My heart leaps to see a comment on one of my posts or a response to a comment I left on someone else’s.

Blogging is starting to seem like both a blessing and a curse. I want to read about other people’s lives, to picture myself living in them and to figure out what I hope to achieve in mine. If you were to flick down the list of blogs I follow, you would quickly realise what my interests are: cooking, parenting, home-making, homeschooling. It is the last category which is causing me the most heartache.

Most homeschooling families are American. Most are Christian. Most American Christians, as far as I can tell, are far more vocal about their faith than British Anglican are. They don’t simply believe it over there, they live it out loud. I’m envious and admiring, but I’m also wary. A similar thing has happened to me so many times. I read about a situation or belief or view that is common in the USA and my mind boggles. I think “those people must be crazy”, or “that is so American“. Then I read a bit more, and I start to wonder whether maybe they’re on to something. And then I run around in loops inside my mind, trying to work out what I think.

This sort of cultural assimilation has led me to some views I feel are firmly founded, and some which I realise, when I shake myself to clear my head, are totally off the wall for me. For example, the conviction that I wish to educate my children at home has only grown stronger. The various methods and techniques that I have read about offer up their strengths and weaknesses to be considered and analysed over time, but I am unwavering in my hope that life will pan out in such a way that I will be a home educating mother.

Other things, however, have turned out to be passing fancies or (more dangerously, to my mind) sudden veers from the path I have been set on. For a while I considered whether I was sinning daily by choosing to wear trousers, ride a bicycle and fasten up my hair. I started to think about changing my wardrobe to be filled with ankle-length skirts and modest cardigans. And then I thought about the people who I admired most for their faith and accountability to God. They all wear trousers. They all leave their arms uncovered in warm weather. None of them have ever breathed a word to suggest that their faith is rooted in their wardrobe. And when I pray for mercy and compassion, it isn’t what I’m wearing that is at the front of my mind – it’s what I’ve done, or said, or thought. That problem, after some careful consideration, was an easy one to lay aside.

There are more complex issues though. The homeschooling blogs which I read so eagerly are almost all written by women who share a broadly similar perspective, both culturally and religiously. They believe that homeschooling is a responsibility from God, they teach creationism and God-centred science, they talk about discipleship and praying over every detail of their day. Although they debate issues such as fecundity, parenting styles and curricula, they do so with a shared assumption that there is a correct, Christian way to decide each matter. It all seems very, well, American – and I don’t feel that America has the monopoly on God.

Basically, until I began reading these blogs I had never encountered anyone who placed their faith at the centre of absolutely everything they did. Or perhaps I don’t mean quite that, because of course I have met people whose relationship with God was the root of every action they took. It is what I try to achieve, although I fail every single day. But I have somehow found myself observing and occasionally engaging with a community which constantly professes its faith to itself, and seems to tangle up issues which I would consider purely cultural with issues which are universal to Christians. I’m finding it difficult to figure out whether I am hearing God’s voice speak to me through these blogs, or whether I’m just being drawn to the bright flickering light of a reassuring hive-mind.

After all, America is a kind of strange place. Many of the faith-related issues which occupy so much of their media and attention, such as the right to choice over abortion or the teaching of evolution in schools, aren’t even on the agenda here in Britain. Over there, being a Christian is an absolute necessity for any presidential candidate. Over here, faith is seldom if ever brought into political campaigns and in fact it’s sometimes concealed for fear of alienating people. I don’t know that I think that’s a good thing – but it is the society I have lived in for more than two decades now. And it’s the society I will be raising my children in. What works in Alabama or Tennessee is not necessarily what will work in Yorkshire or Berkshire.

And really, I am jumping the gun here. Dreaming about my future is one thing but worrying over my choice of science curriculum for home educating a child who has not even been conceived yet – it sounds ridiculous even to me. Not only am I not pregnant, I’m not even in a relationship. In fact I’m probably the furthest from a relationship that I have been since my early teens. I am not dating anyone, sleeping with anyone, daydreaming about anyone, pursuing anyone or being pursued by anyone. I have made a decision, fraught with difficulty and reluctance, to accept that the right person will come into my life at the right time and that if now is not that time, I can’t hasten its arrival by making bad choices. My duty right now is to study, to look after myself, to work hard in my roles as a student, a chorister, a tutor, a volunteer and a friend, and to trust that God has it all in hand. He doesn’t need to read 36 different blogs to know where my path is leading, and I won’t find it out by reading them either.