Something that I think the pandemic has taught us all is how fast things can change. Within a government press conference, the state of the nation can change; shops, cafes, and restaurants close, faces are covered by masks, travel and social interaction is restricted, what we saw as every day life becomes restricted. What 'normal' means changes so fast. Many of us have had experience of how fast our jobs, relationships, mental and physical health can change as a result of the pandemic.
Outside of the pandemic, life can change so fast too. At high school, I spent five years with the same eighteen people in my year group. But as soon as I left after completing my GCEs, that changed. Not only did my social circles change, but my whole routine changed. I studied A-Levels from home, and I did an internship at a church. Then at age eighteen, things changed again as I moved out of the family home. I’m sure that you have similar experiences; when you changed jobs, when you moved house, when you had a child, when your physical or mental health changes - everything changes so fast.
This time of year makes me feel particularly reflective. Rather than doing New Years Resolutions, I prefer to explore these questions. I’ve created them as an Instagram template, and attached them below. I encourage you to work through it too at some point over the new year.
As I look back to January 2021, I can see how much things have changed. I finished uni, which means I’m not travelling up and down to Nottingham every other week, I don’t have assignments to do, and my relationship with my classmates have changed.
I was a part time youth worker in a church, but I am now a full time digital communications coordinator in an office, which has completely changed my weekdays, headspace, and social circles. I'm working with and becoming friends with a completely new bunch of people.
Last year I attend a different church, which again changes my relationships with people in the old and new church, and it changes my Sunday routine.
Looking back to this time last year, my relationships with my family, and with my now fiance, and my friends, have both changed noticeably within just 12 months.
Encompassed in all of these visible, noticeable changes, there are also certainly changes within my goals, passions, priorities, interests, skills, as well as struggles, limits, and difficulties too.
That is all within one year. Granted, perhaps people in my age group are more likely to experience many vast changes within short periods of time, but I don't think this is an experience limited to one generation or season.
When storms rage and everything surrounding us is dark and heavy, it can feel too difficult to say “it is well”. Whilst I understand the story and meaning of this phrase (see here), instead, I am learning to say “it isn’t well, but it will be”. I acknowledge that in the current circumstances, for whatever reason, things are not going well. But I also recognise that things change so fast, so it will one day be well again.
I recently spent the weekend in the Peak District with my boyfriend and a couple of friends, and we had the most beautiful time. It was the first time we had all spent time together since finishing uni a couple of months ago, and it was so lovely to be together again. We all fell back into our usual roles, laughing together, sharing stories.
Camping at a site next to cows and sheep, we adventured around little towns, drove along winding roads, ate fish and chips, cooked up burgers on the barbeque, and bought a bakewell tart from Bakewell. We also went on walks where we came across landmarks such as Peter's Stone, Chee Tor Tunnel, and Buxton Lime Kilns.
These landmarks appeared on Google Maps; they were marked out places of significance. Sometimes when we reached the landmark, there would be a sign informing us about them. We stood under a canopy of trees, reading about how in the 1800s, the big brick kilns before us would produce over 50 tonnes of quicklime per day, meeting the increasing needs of the steel, chemical, and agricultural industries.
But another time, we journeyed up a hill, past the cows, across the rocks, through the stinging nettles, to see Peter's Rock. We had seen it on the map, we had read it was only 0.8miles from the campsite, but we hadn't realised we could actually see it already from our tent! We had probably seen it already many times, but we hadn't realised it was anything different from the rest of the rocks nearby.
As we approached it, we didn't have the best reviews, and we decided that it was less rubbish the closer you got. There were no signs for us to read and learn about who Peter was or how this rock was formed, so we found somewhere to perch and we googled it ourselves. Honestly, I'm still not completely sure.
On another walk, we had planned to see what was marked on the map as 'Stepping Stones'. Not having any more information on it other than this title, where it was, and a picture or two, we followed what we thought was the right route. However, when we came to the place marked on the map, we found we were about 100ft above this babbling brook, and there was no way to get down. Instead, we lent over bridge walls or carefully stepped to the edge of the hills to see Stepping Stones, and watched. As theology graduates, we half jokingly/ironically discussed Bible passages relating to water.
This experience got me thinking about landmarks as a metaphor. I wonder whether there are things in your life, big events, traumas, celebrations, that are your landmarks.
If you were to map out your life story, I wonder what landmarks would feature. I wonder whether they would be things you'd tell others about on large signs like the Lime Kilns. I wonder whether your landmarks would be photographed, whether they would be visiting sites. Or I wonder whether, like Peter's Rock, although they're mapped, they could be easily missed, there's less information on them, they blend into the rest of the scenery, or it's a bit of a trek to get to. I wonder which of your landmarks would people say, "woahh" reverently, and which landmarks people would raise an eyebrow and say, "huh? Tell me more".
The landmarks we experienced on our weekend away were all hundreds, if not thousands of years old. But I wonder what landmarks are a work in progress, and which are still to come.
what a difference three years makes....
My final assignment has been submitted, and I have now finished my degree! A ‘Leavers Day’ is in the calendar for the end of June, but after that I will be completely finished. It feels very strange; as though I should be reading and searching for quotes, or writing an essay, preparing for the next deadline. It’s been a journey with some difficulties: the pandemic moving all learning online, wobbles in faith are particularly difficult when doing a Key Themes of Theology module, and sometimes deadlines were overwhelming. However, the good times far outweigh the difficulties, and I wouldn’t exchange this experience. Many of the best times come from sitting with friends in the common room catching up, discussions in lectures, and little phrases and illustrations lecturers have used — little things that I hope I remember for a long time.
Earlier this week I had an ‘exit interview’ with my tutor, and we walked through a questionnaire that explored the trials and challenges, as well as the celebrations and highlights. One of the questions looked at what advice I would give to students beginning their first year, second year, and their final third year. I enjoyed reflecting, and thought I’d write a blog post on my learnings, which I hope will be helpful for all students, and perhaps also transferable to those in different context, not studying.
1. Remind yourself that you are a person who can achieve things. In my first year, this was a phrase one of my lecturer used and it has stuck with me. When you are finding an assignment difficult and it feels like you can’t do it, go and do something you can do, such as baking, gaming, or running. Remind yourself that you are a person who can achieve things, and then return to your essay.
2. Learn how you work best. This point is similar to the previous. I find it really difficult to wake up early and get started on an essay. If I woke up at 7, ready to start at 8, I would probably sit starring at my laptop until lunch time, questioning why I can’t even write a plan. I would then break for lunch, but I would then be in the mindset that I can’t do it, so my afternoon would be unproductive too. However, if I were to do something else in the morning — do some Church work, go food shopping — and then begin essay writing after lunch, I can probably work all afternoon, and perhaps into the evening too. I also have learnt that I find it best to write an essay plan, find lots of quotes, put them into a document with sub headings so they’re easy to find, and then begin writing my essay. For others, they might like to write their essay and find quotes as they go. In lectures, you might find it best to type notes, hand write notes, or even doodle. Personally, I find handwriting notes and making them pretty helps me to concentrate and stay focussed, and I know that if I miss anything I can go back to the slides on the e:learning site, Blackboard.
3. Be organised. I find calm in being organised — I don’t work well working right up to the deadline. My last essay was due on a Tuesday, and on the previous Friday I sat for 10 hours writing it because I was stressed that I couldn’t do it in time. I like to be organised, have things together and prepared, but I recognise that’s not how everyone works best. Organisation for you might be putting all the deadlines in your calendar as soon as you get them, sorting out the files on your computer so that you can easily find handbooks, or having a bag packed ready for lectures with all the stationary and snacks you could ever need.
4. Ask for help. I have the blessing of having brilliant, helpful lecturers, so I recognise I might be rubbing salt in a wound here if that’s not your experience. But if you need a quote on a topic but don’t know where to look, ask. If you can’t find a handbook, ask. If you’re going on a trip relating to your studies and you need funding, ask whether there are grants available. If you need extra support, for example you’re dyslexic or you’re struggling with your mental health, ask what support is available.
5. Create community with your class. I really think class relationships can make a uni experience brilliant, or it can make it an uphill struggle. You can give and receive so much when you have good relationship with your class; encouragement, direction, help finding resources, reminders for deadlines, book recommendations, as well as hopefully lasting friendship.
6. Finally, learn to filter the noise. This tip is particularly for those in first or second year. You might find there are people in year groups above you that give you great book recommendations and help you use the library, they’ll show you their portfolio so you have an idea of what it’s meant to look like, and they’ll listen to your struggles. You might also find that there are people in the years above you that tell you second year was the hardest thing ever - they almost dropped out, and that tell you ‘horror stories’ about essay titles, and on your first day tell you to get preparing for dissertation. You will need to learn to filter the noise so that you don’t get overwhelmed and scared before you’ve even started.
I write all this whilst acknowledging that I too am still learning, and that I’ve gathered these tips through trial and error. I don’t write this blog post thinking that I’ve got it all sorted. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I sent the following meme to a lecturer, saying that I have accidentally deleted year 1 and 2 timesheets that I needed. That wasn’t very organised of me.
If you'd like to find out more information on the course I've just completed, or you're interested in something similar, go to https://cym.ac.uk
Take notice of your posture right now. Are you comfortable? Is your spine curved? Is your neck tilted? Are your shoulders tense? Our physical posture is important. We’ve perhaps become more aware of this during the pandemic, as many of us swapped our office, swivel chair for a wooden dining chair, or perhaps the sofa. There are YouTube workouts for posture, routines of head titles and downward dogs, as well as many products online available to buy.
But what about our spiritual posture? What about both the physical position that we come to God, as well as the approach or attitude.
The Bible has much to say about our spiritual posture. Philippians 4:1 says, “my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord”. Similarly, in Ephesians 6:10-18 we are invited to put on the full armour of God so that we can be strong and stand our ground against the devil’s schemes.
Another posture we see in the Bible is sitting. In Luke 10:38-42 we read about two sisters, Mary and Martha, who welcome Jesus into their homes. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His teachings, “but Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” To this, Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed - or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her””.
How often do we busy ourselves with all the things that ned to be done, growing more and more anxious and upset, when instead we can be more like Mary and sit at Jesus’ feet.
In prayer and worship, many people find it useful to hold out their hands to illustrate their openness to receive from God. Other people may bow and kneel on the floor, maybe illustrating their respect and reverence to the King, or perhaps to portray their exhaustion and need for God to take over. There’s a popular quote that says, “when life gets too hard to stand, then kneel”. Sometimes we change our posture in the presence of God.
In practical situations, perhaps in families, workplaces, friendships, ministry, even reading the news, our posture affects our gesture. The posture of confrontation or condemnation limits the gestures of love, grace, acceptance that are open to us. The posture of accompanying opens up the gestures of love and grace.
What is your posture in difficult situations? (Yarhouse, 2018)
In the past year of doing Church differently, I’ve become more aware of my posture - that is, my approach or attitude.
I best engage with worship when I’m surrounded by people, even more so if they’re raising their hands and moving about. I best engage with worship when there’s lots of loud instruments, and when we sing songs I like. I best engage with sermons when there’s teaching that clearly applies to my life; my studying, my working, my relationships, my spending, my consuming. I best engage with sermons when there’s something to look at, like a video or pictures, and when there’s stories, not just from the Bible but from the speaker’s life.
I have recently written my dissertation on how some churches successfully engage emerging adults (18-25s), and found that these ways of engaging with church are common for my age group. I think that part of this is to do with personal preference. Just as we each have different learning styles in the classroom, or you might prefer watching IT whilst I’d like to watch Notting Hill for the billionth time, I think we each have different worship and teaching styles. However, whilst there are styles of teaching and worship I engage best in, my posture is often what actually limits me meeting with God. If I go into Church (or log onto Church these days) with my journalling Bible, pens, my notebook, and with a posture of “I’m ready to hear from God”, then I am more likely to learn & receive. Sometimes, I think our posture gets in the way of us meeting with God, similar to Martha’s posture when meeting with Jesus. She welcomed Jesus into her home, but her posture was closed, whereas Mary’s was open.
So I finish with a challenge to you: what is your spiritual posture? Are you standing firm, equipped with the armour of God? Are you busying yourself, worrying and upset, or are you kneeling at Jesus' feet? When it comes to Church, particularly during Holy Week, are you closed or are you open?
At the beginning of the first Lockdown, I posted a resource I had made called "Isolation Survival Pack", which included all sorts of activities for children and young people to do during isolation. Almost 1 year later, our youth group is still online and I'm still trying to come up with fresh ideas. For me, it's not so much a struggle thinking of series and teaching plans, it's playing games without the crafts cupboard, without Jenga or cards. So, I've made a list of some games we have played online that have really worked, if, like me, 2 Truths and Lie is boring now and doesn't really work with youth who are besties and/or siblings.
I recently binge-watched a show called Hypothetical, where a panel of comedians have to answer what they would do in hypothetical scenarios, and they are awarded points. For example, you have 1 week to convince the world that you are Banksy.
I’ve made it into a game to play with young people, and created a script/rules document for you to use.
Based on the long-running BBC quiz show, this version followed the same layout; a round of general knowledge, then their chosen subjects which I asked for beforehand. We used the sound clip, & I even photoshopped by face onto John Humphrys’. It worked really well, but took a lot of prep time.
Jackbox are online games available on Steam. You can pick a game from the 'party pack' &, like Kahoot, you all sign into a private room to play. Quiplash, Fibbage & Drawful are our favourites. Side note: they do cost but there are regular sales, and you must turn on family friendly mode when playing with young people.
We’ve all tried Scavenger Hunts, right? But have you tried a mindful scavenger hunt? This game works well when discussing topics such as self care and mental health. Here’s some objects for them to find:
Minute to Win It:
These games work best in person, but are possible online. Most games use household objects, but you could create a pack for your young people, deliver/post them, and play as a special games night/social. https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL967E5FC0F16FCD6D
"Who said that?!"
This is a quiz that works really well as a stand-alone bit of fun, or it could link to a series about speaking truth/kindness. Find a bunch of quotes, think of 2 other people that could have said that to make it multi choice, and then put it together into a powerpoint. (Kayne West, Trump, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Clarkson, and Homer Simpson work really well)
What games have you played with groups that have worked well on Zoom?
Along the way, I have learnt a few things that push me forward and keep me going that I would like to share. Whatever your situation, student, or not, I hope that these tips are handy.
1. Study with me videos
These are a relatively new trend, in which a ‘studytuber’ (a person who creates study-related content on YouTube) films themselves studying. Some videos have music in the background, others have white noise, some are silent. Most videos have a timer in the corner, which I have found helpful for accountability and motivation; watching 2 hours slowly tick down to 00:00. I have enjoyed this virtual company, as I live on my own. I have enjoyed looking up for a minute or two, watching someone else read their book, or watch their background; perhaps people coming and going from a library. My favourite videos have lo-fi music in the background.
Friends who knew me whilst I did my A-Levels may remember that I liked listening to coffee-shop noises, however, every so often I would jump when a door slammed, or I would get distracted by overhearing someone’s conversation.
2. Know how you work best.
Just as I like to work with background noise, others may find that distracting. I’ve recently written my literature review for my dissertation, and I went through each book, highlighting different phrases with a colour code system. Then I wrote up all my quotes into a document, placing them in a table so I could easily see the key themes. To some, that may seem genius [*takes a bow*] and to others that may seem unnecessarily tedious. But I know that it works for me.
Some people work best and find motivation in waking early. I am not one of those people, especially during lockdown. However, I know that I can be productive in other ways in the morning, and I can essay-write from midday, almost non-stop, until evening.
3. Similarly, remind yourself that you are a person who can achieve things.
I had a lecturer in first year that said this as the class asked questions about how to write our first essay. “You need to remind yourself that you are a person who can achieve things”. If you’re struggling to study, then go and do something that will remind yourself that you can achieve things. Perhaps for you, that’s playing a video game, playing the guitar, drawing, baking a cake, gardening. Just because you’re struggling to study/work now in this moment, does not mean you cannot achieve things.
4. Treat yourself like a friend.
Would you tell your friend that they are so slow, so stupid, a failure? Would you tell your friend they aren’t good enough, aren’t working hard enough? Would you push your friend harder, despite the fact we’re in a pandemic and there’s so much heaviness around? Almost certainly not. Treat yourself like a friend. We’re in a pandemic, it’s understandable to have a lack of motivation, to feel more stressed. If, like me, you’re spending a lot of time in your own company, it’s easy to talk down on yourself, since there is nobody else there to say, “hey, that’s not true!” Perhaps in this season, you need to be your own friend, your own cheerleader.
I acknowledge that many people are unable to not work until 2pm, and they cannot stop what they’re doing to bake a cake, and that sometimes treating yourself as a friend is just too hard. I hope that the message of this blog is still relevant, and perhaps some of the ideas can be adapted for your situation.
A couple of weeks ago I felt a mixture of tired, despite having eight hours of sleep, and generally fed up; it was just one of those days. I got up out of bed fifteen minutes before my 9 o’clock lecture to find out that it actually started at 10 o’clock, so I took my coffee and breakfast biscuit bar back to bed. At 9:50, after so much groaning so that my cat came to sit on me and find out what all the drama was about, I got out of bed, taking my weighted blanket with me to my zoom class, still wearing my pyjamas.
In the lunch break I thought, “maybe I would feel better if I actually got up properly”.
I had a wash & changed into clothes that I know make me feel good. I ate lunch (my new favourite — chipotle, spinach, halloumi, and guacamole bagel) and I started to feel better. I learnt the art of getting up, and celebrated this as a little win.
Normally, I would argue the same as what you are probably thinking, “getting up isn’t an art”. But these are not normal times we live in.
We aren't programmed to celebrate our own small successes, and often not other's either. We cheer on those who get married, get their dream job, create something incredible -- but during a pandemic, these huge things are happening less frequently. Living in lockdown means we should be celebrating tiny wins of the day.
Research by a Harvard professor found that celebrating small wins positively affects our motivation and self-esteem, boosting us forward to achieve the bigger things. It was suggested that work places would be more productive if employers celebrated small achievements that paved the way for the big successes.
We’re also limited to ways that we can make ourselves feel better. Spending time with friends in coffee shops and in each other's houses, exploring new places, shopping, going to the cinema, are all things that are off the cards for the time being. Therefore, we’ve got to notice the small things that make us feel better and celebrate that. Although it may be shallow, getting changed into clothes that fit me well, are warm for this cold weather, and are comfortable enough to sit in front of a computer in for the rest of the day makes me feel better than staying in my jogging bottoms, and oversized hoodie. Getting up has become an art and it's a small success that boosts me to the bigger things, such as writing a dissertation.
I wonder what small things you can begin to celebrate. During a lockdown, no task is insignificant. Things that once were simple, routine, easy, now sometimes take more brain power, more effort, more convincing yourself that it will make you feel better. You got out of pyjamas? Congrats! You ate breakfast? Have a gold star! You did the food shopping?! Woohoo, #adultinggoals!
President Harry Truman once said that “all leaders are readers”, and this phrase has been commonly used amongst Christian circles.
Writing assignments for a Youth, Communities and Theology degree, whilst leading a group of young people and a team of volunteers, means that I ‘read’ a lot of books. The reason I write ‘read’ in inverted commas is because generally, I flick through the books to find the quote I need. I use Google Books to access free previews, and I search for a key word. I skim through the chapters to find what I need, and then I put the book back.
Three years ago, a youth work mentor of mine recommended ‘Seven Checkpoints for Student Leaders’, and I devoured it. My mentor showed me his planning spreadsheet; outlining dates, series, session topics, and which of the 7 checkpoints it covers. I learnt from this, and now every year I do the same.
I mainly read (no inverted commas) fiction books, and have completed 19 this year... mainly thanks to a long flight to Africa, followed by a pandemic! ‘The Break’ by Marian Keyes, ‘Conversations with Friends’ by Sally Rooney, and ‘The One’ by John Marrs were amongst my favourites of the year; I wish I could read them for the first time again. I read ‘Pretending’ by Holly Bourne in April, often siting at my balcony in the Spring Sun, and it was the first book ever to make me cry. I don’t think that leaders are limited to non fiction, academic or biographical reading.
I agree that generally, leaders are readers, mainly because we learn so much through reading.
But I think that saying “all leaders are readers” implies that those who don’t read or struggle to read are somehow less of a leader. Whilst just focussing on ‘reading’ is limiting; leaders are so much more. Perhaps a more inclusive and realistic phrase is “leaders are learners”.
Of course 'leaders are learners' includes reading. Leaders can learn through reading; books, articles, journals and blogs about their area of leadership, as well as fiction to be able to learn rest and unwind, as well as learning by ‘experiencing’ a different world.
Leaders learn from Ted Talks, podcasts and vlogs. Leaders learn by listening, watching, and taking notice.
Leaders learn from meeting with those they lead, being mentored by those above them, and being cheered on by colleagues in their field. Leaders learn from community.
Leaders learn by doing, having a go, testing the waters, making mistakes, and trying again. Leaders learn from persevering with projects, as well as letting other things go.
Similarly, leaders learn through reflection, whether that be in appraisal forms or in therapy. Leaders learn through looking back and sorting through difficulties, whilst creating road maps for the future.
Leaders learn by resting. Whether that be through sports, watching Netflix, meeting friends, or sleeping, leaders learn rest, and from rest comes growth, new ideas, an understanding of self, and strength.
Not all leaders are readers, but all leaders are learners.
If you would like to learn through reading, here are some books I recommend:
If you would like to learn through watching or listening, here are some resources I recommend:
What is your favourite Christmas Carol, I wonder. I prefer the quieter ones myself, such as O Come O Come Emmanuel, and Silent Night. It wasn't until a few days ago, listening to Classic FM as I drove to work, that I really heard the words of O Little Town of Bethlehem. There are two lyrics in particular that I'd like to share with you.
Firstly, "the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight” stands out after the year that we have had. So much hope and fear in just the space of 12 months. Hope of better days to come, hope to see friends and family again, hope to hug, hope for a vaccine, hope for numbers of cases to drop, hope in the government. Fear of job losses, fear of losing loved ones, fear of loneliness and isolation, fear of the affects in relationships and mental health, financial fears, existential fears, even. Looking with a wider perspective than just this year, looking generally at our lives, yours and mine, and universally too. We hope for peace; peace of mind, peaceful lives, world peace. When anxiety takes hold, we fear the little things, as well as huge ‘what ifs’. When real fear kicks in, it needs to be met with real peace. This hope is met in Jesus, as the “prince of Peace”.
We hope to have enough; enough money, enough food, enough work, enough friends. We hope to be enough. We fear that won’t. This hope of enough was met in Jesus. In Matthew He speaks about worry, saying to look at the birds of the air. They don’t worry about food, they don’t sow or reap, or store away in barns. Jesus asks, “are you not more valuable to God, than the birds?” Jesus says “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:25-34) This hope to have enough, this fear that we won’t, is met in Jesus.
We have a hope to be loved. We have a fear that we are not. This is met in Jesus when He made the biggest sacrifice of all, laying down his life to save us. That cross He carried was mine too, that cross He carried was yours. The crown of thorns He wore for us. There’s a quote that says, “I asked Jesus, how much do you love me? And he stretched out his arms, and died. Our hope to be loved is met in Jesus.
But on this night in Bethlehem ‘one of the small clans of Judah’, as Micah had prophesied hundreds of years before, all our hopes and fears are met. Hopes are met with fulfilment, and fears are crushed.
The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight.
'The second lyric that stands out to me is “come to us, abide with us, O Lord Emmanuel”. Emmanuel means God with us, but this lyric is more than saying the same thing three times. It’s not “be with us, be with us, O Lord of the God who is with us”. 'Come', 'abide', and 'with' are three different things.
Come is a movement, it’s to go from one place to another. If I say to you, “come here”, you don’t just turn your head to listen, you intentionally and purposefully move to me. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, ‘ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you”. We ask God to come, and He will come. But I think there’s also something we need to do too, sometimes we need to make intentional and purposeful movement. There’s an analogy I love, and it goes like this…
If you’re at a theme park and you’re looking at a map, you find the ride that you want to go on. But it’s no use knowing where the ride is, if you don’t know where you are in relation to it. You need to find the red pin that says “you are here”. Where are you in relation to God? If God is near, where are you? God will come to you. But you can also come to Him.
Abide with us, is different too. Abide is a much stronger word, again I think it is intentional and purposeful, but instead it’s not a movement like ‘to come’ is. It means to be stable and fixed, to be so close in relationship that it’s like you are one. Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me”
And finally, Emmanuel, God with us. I think Emmanuel sort of encapsulates it all. Come, intentionally and purposefully come closer. Abide; stay close, become in relationship. With, let’s go onwards together.
There’s this great blessing that I love, often prayed at Christmas time:
“May you be filled with the wonder of Mary, the obedience of Joseph, the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the determination of the Magi, and the peace of the Christ child”
Maybe you've heard it already this advent, or maybe it is new to you. I'd like to journey and see what each characteristic means for us.
“.....Filled with the wonder of Mary…”
I wonder what words you would use to describe Mary, and whether ‘wonder’ would be in your list.
In Luke 1:46-56, Mary has been to see Elizabeth, whose baby jumped for joy when greeted by Mary, and now she’s singing a song of wonder at God’s goodness and faithfulness.
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me--
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
When we discuss how Mary must have felt, we often choose words like scared, worried, confused. We sometimes forget that here, after visiting Elizabeth, Mary sang a song of praise and wonder.
A song by Bethel repeats, “may we never loose our wonder, wide eyed and mystified, may we be just like a child, starring at the beauty of our king. May we never loose our wonder”
What does it look like to have wonder at Christmas time?
“....filled with the obedience of Joseph....”
Joseph was obedient and followed what the angel had told him. Staying with Mary and trusting in God put Joseph (and Mary) at risk. Joseph could have ran away and said he would have nothing to do with this… although knowing what happened to Jonah, that probably wouldn’t have gone down well either! Instead, Joseph trusts in God, for God is faithful to His promises. Joseph accepts that he has been chosen, and journeys in obedience.
What does it look like for you to be obedient to God? Perhaps for you too, it is saying 'yes' to God and going on a journey, or perhaps it's staying in a place God has called you to be in. Maybe God has called you to love a difficult person, or give to a charity.
“...filled with the joy of angels”
Think of a time that you told someone some good news; remember how joyful that was!
Imagine the joy the angels must have felt, being the ones to share this exciting news with Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. Perhaps that is why they were so loud and excited about their message, they knew that God was going to come down to earth as a baby, perform incredible miracles and would save the world of their sins!
What does it look like for you to be joyful?
“....filled with the eagerness of the shepherds”.
Isn’t it incredible that God chose shepherds to be some of the first people to hear the news that the Saviour of the world would be born; no wonder they were eager! This baby, that hundred of years ago before, Isaiah had said would be a ruler, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. The shepherds eagerly journeyed to see this mighty, royal, king baby.
What does it look like for you to be eager this Christmas? Not just eager for the presents under the tree, but eager for the presence of Jesus.
“... filled with the determination of the Magi”.
It’s not known how far exactly the Magi travelled. Some scholars say a few hundred, whilst others estimate it’s a few thousand! Either way, it takes some determination to travel any amount of distance to follow the star and see the Messiah. I guess that’s where their determination came from; knowing that at the end of their journey they would see the Saviour of the World. Their determination was pushed by trust and by hope.
What does it look like for you to have determination?
“....filled with the peace of the Christ child”
In Isaiah, it was prophesied that Jesus would be Prince of Peace. Peace crushes fears and anxiety, peace has the power to settle restlessness and stormy weather.
What does it look like for you to have peace this Christmas?
This Christmas, “May you be filled with the wonder of Mary, the obedience of Joseph, the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the determination of the Magi, and the peace of the Christ child”