Come on Over

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Did you have a wedding gift list?  Oh the joy.  It’s particularly satisfying if you haven’t got two pennies to rub together.  You get to go round a department store with one of those bar code guns (they’re probably not called guns) and scan to your heart’s content.  You choose plates and bowls and pots and pans, and look forward to all the entertaining you’re going to do when you have a home that’s just yours.  I remember hoping and praying that we’d have a really welcoming home, showing hospitality and blessing our community.

And this sort of happened.  I’ve certainly got better at it over the years.  And as I’ve learnt how to cook, and how to tidy up, I’ve also learnt that what really matters in hospitality is that you love people.  That can be costly, but not in a monetary sense.

We are, as Christians, commanded to be hospitable.  It’s one way we show God’s love to others.  Since God is love and we are his ambassadors, it’s pretty important that we show hospitality.  But you don’t have to take it from me:

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality. (Romans 12: 12-13)

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:8-9)

It seems from these verses that hospitality isn’t an optional extra, for those who are really good at cooking and into that sort of thing.  I don’t think, by the way, that you need your own home or your own kitchen or a dinner table to show hospitality, but since this is a parenting blog I’m assuming you do have somewhere to cook and eat food.

So going back to my enthusiasm as a newlywed – life has changed more than a little since then.  Life got busy.  My home got smaller, and the number of inhabitants got bigger.  Now when people come through the front door, they have to trample past my children’s bedroom door.  I can’t really expect them to come through the living room window (no… I really shouldn’t).

Plus, you know, I’m tired from feeding and looking after my children all day every day.  Doesn’t that count as hospitality?

No. It doesn’t.

I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad, but I’ve noticed something about hospitality.  We all find reasons not to do it.  We all seem to think that we would do it under more suitable circumstances.  When the children are older.  Once we move that wall.  When we get an oven*.  Once I’ve had big clear-out.  My home just isn’t welcoming enough. Nobody would enjoy coming here.

Can I suggest that we should all remember that we’re in a spiritual battle?  Since we’re commanded to be hospitable, we can be sure that the Lord will use it for his glory.  And therefore we can also expect that we’ll be tempted not to do it.  So let’s fight that battle, instead of just surrendering to the inconveniences.  It might be that you’ve had some hospitality disasters.  In fact, this is pretty likely.  But that’s OK.  We pick ourselves up and fight on.

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Also I’ve noticed that people on the receiving end of hospitality are rarely aware of our alleged shortcomings.  If you think your house is too dark or too messy or too small or too full, it’s unlikely that the person coming round for a cuppa will think so too.

I was amazed to hear from a friend recently that she’s never thought that my living room was not very conducive to hospitality.  I mean, really amazed.  It just shows that my perception of my home is not the same as my guests’. (My living room, by the way, has nine walls.)

I remember another friend saying to me, “I either need to keep my flat tidier, or lower my standards of how tidy it needs to be before I invite my neighbour in.” I think she put it better than that but hopefully you see the point.  If your house is too messy, then tidy it.  If you can’t tidy it, then invite people over anyway.

Maybe you think your own family will feel neglected if you have people over.  But let’s not underestimate how much our children will learn from seeing us love people, especially people who aren’t like us.

The Lord doesn’t make commands and then add, ‘when it’s convenient.’ He himself invites us to a feast – was it easy for him to make that happen?  Was it convenient for Jesus to leave his home in heaven to come down into our neighbourhood and invite us to his party? Were we grateful guests? Were we attractive guests? Did that stop him?

What a blessing we’ll be to our communities if we pray to God and ask him to help us to be more hospitable.  Maybe we need to pile everything into the kitchen sink before the school run so we’re able to invite someone in for a cuppa.  Maybe we could start by inviting someone for lunch after church.  Tinned soup and supermarket bread goes down a treat, in my experience.

Let’s not think that, if we’re parents, we’re exempt from showing hospitality.  It might be really hard for us, but the Lord sees that even if nobody else does.  And remember that if your guests don’t have a family, your family will most probably be a blessing to them. By God’s grace, the family home is a powerful thing.

I do believe that God wants to help us grow in hospitality. Who knows what blessings he has in store?  And when it goes wrong, let’s laugh it off, dust ourselves down and try again soon.  Grace be with you!

For more on this, I’d love to recommend ‘The Ministry of a Messy House’ by Amanda Robbie.

(If the title of this blog post made you think of Shania Twain, then we are on the smart wavelengh my friend. Ah – ah – aoooh…)

*we did once spend some time in a very big house with no oven. We used a microwave.

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Go the Distance

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After a run in the snow.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12.)

I’ve been doing a bit of running.  I started with the Couch to 5k app about a year ago, and now I try to go to my local parkrun* when I can.  I’m very slow, but it turns out that even if you’re slow, it still counts. It’s better than not running.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to watch a marathon, or any other long distance race.  About ten years ago my parents, husband and I went to watch the Great North Run (a half-marathon) because my brother and his wife were running it.  It’s such a fantastic day out.

There’s something very moving about watching people run and cheering them on.  Many people wear their name on their vest so you can call it out as they run by.  We discovered that one of the best things to shout is, “Keep going, [Dave]!  You’re looking really good!”  It usually made people smile.

We positioned ourselves quite near the end of the race, so some people we saw were really flagging.  And of course, what do you do when you see someone who looks half dead?  You cheer all the louder!  “Come on, keep going!  Don’t give up! You can do this! Not much further!”

I think one of the reasons I got so choked up about all of this was that it brought to mind the fact that the Christian life is like a race.  Scripture mentions this several times.  It’s a race in which everyone who crosses the finish line receives their reward, whether they were elites at the front or power-walkers at the back.

Sometimes we go through seasons in our Christian life when we’re flagging.  We look like we might not even finish.  Sometimes this happens because of big life events, like the birth of our first child, or an illness in the family, or the death of a loved one.  Sometimes it’s caused by other factors.  But at those times, we need encouragement to keep going.  We need our friends to cheer us on and remind us why we’re in this race and what the prize is at the end.

At my local parkrun on Saturday, there was a group who all knew each other from a running club.  Some of them finished fifteen or twenty minutes after others.  But the last ones to finish got the biggest cheer, because in some ways it’s more magnificent when someone who’s struggled more crosses the line.

Think of your friends who have struggled in this Christian race.  The ones who need reminding to come to Bible study, or who need persuading to come to church.  The ones who you’ve spent so much time with explaining the simple gospel over and over again, because that’s what they’ve needed.  The ones who you weren’t sure were going to finish.  How overjoyed will you be to see them cross the finish line!  When you see them in the new creation, won’t you be thrilled that they made it?  And won’t they be thrilled that you didn’t stop cheering them on?

To God be the glory – it’s by His grace we’re saved and begin the race, and by His grace we make it to the Finish.  However, we do also have a responsibility to make it to the finish line, and to help our brothers and sisters to get there, too.  Paul tells us, Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.”  It won’t be easy, but the prize is disproportionately rewarding.

Thinking of his death, Paul wrote: For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

I want to be able to say that at the end: that I’ve kept fighting; kept running; kept believing.  I want to receive that crown, so that I can cast it down before Him, lost in wonder, love and praise.

Let’s not get distracted or held back, by babies or wealth or sin.  Let’s remember that we’re not running aimlessly, but we’re heading for a goal.  Let’s remember that we’re in this race together, and we don’t want anyone to give up.

Keep going, sister.  You’re looking really good.

No Babyccino

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A belated Happy New Year to you all! I’m not sure what happened to January. Let’s move on.

We live in Chelsea. It’s strange but it’s true. I grew up in an industrial town in the North East of England. Occasionally my children say things now which make me shudder slightly, such as:

“Mummy can we get some avocados?”

“Mummy can I have a babyccino?”

“I’m going for Chelsea FC.”

“Look, we’re nearly at Raffles!”

(If you’re not sure what Raffles is, it’s just a fancy night club which celebrities frequent. We went there once, but that’s a story for another day.)

Babyccinos are the sort of thing I would scoff and roll my eyes at before my children started drinking them. How pretentious! But one day I just gave in. Although they are just another way of trying to make children look like absurdly small grown-ups, they do have this going for them – they’re free. In some places, anyway. They’re also just frothy milk, so it’s not doing anyone any harm, unless you count my pride.

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Now the thing about a babyccino is, it’s not actually a small cappuccino. It looks like one, so the kiddywinks feel grown up, but it doesn’t taste like one. It won’t make them like cappuccinos when they’re older. It’ll have no bearing on their taste for coffee. And that’s fine, because I have no desire to instill in them a love for coffee.

Sometimes, the Christian input children get can be a bit like a babyccino. It looks like discipleship, so it can make them look like Christians, but when they get older they’ll have no taste for the real Jesus.

For example, when I was at my CofE Primary School, we learnt to say “grace” before lunch. The prayer was “For these, and all Thy many gifts, we give Thee thanks our Lord, Amen.” Nothing wrong with that, although why the “thee” and “thy” I’ve no idea. I wasn’t at Primary School in the 19th Century.  But I never, not once, actually thought about what I was saying. I used to say, “FORTHESEANDALLTHYMANYGIFTSWEGIVETHEETHANKSOURLORDAMEN!” The faster the better. I may as well have prayed it in Latin for all the meaning it had to me. It was a babyccino prayer. Once I grew out of saying it, I did not thank God for my food because I wasn’t thankful to Him.

Sometimes at church we can fall into the trap of making it look like the children have learnt something in crèche or Sunday School, when in fact nothing has gone in. They emerge with a beautiful craft about how Jesus Loves Me, or I’m a sheep, or A fish swallowed Jonah, but it’s just froth. The children haven’t actually heard God speak to them through his Word, by the Holy Spirit. But the parents are happy (for now), because their children look like Christians. (I’m really thankful that my children emerge from Sunday School usually craftless, having gotten to know God better through his Word.)

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At home, we parents should be the ones bringing up our children in the training and instruction of the Lord. This is hard work, long term and messy. It requires prayer and huge dependence on God. Often it’s so tempting to settle for making them look and act like Chrisitans, rather than actually discipling them. Of course, only the Holy Spirit can give them new life and change their hearts, so we need to depend on His grace. But if I’m not looking at the attitudes of my children’s hearts, and instead simply dealing with their behaviour and habits, then when they’re older they’re no more likely to love Jesus than if they’d never had the babyccino Christianity I’ve been serving them for 16 years. In fact, I might have put them off him forever. They might be able to rattle off the Ten Commandments, or the Lord’s Prayer, and they might be on the serving rota at church. But hand them a cappuccino and they’ll say it just tastes bitter. They’ll opt for something else instead.

I do (really, really) want my children to behave nicely in church. I want them to know the right answers in Sunday School. I want them to be kind and have good manners. If you met them, you might not be able to tell any of that, by the way. However, what I want more than those things is that they would genuinely love the Lord Jesus Christ, and that they’d know how desperately they need God’s grace. Sometimes they won’t look like little Christians, because real discipleship is messy. But I’ll keep trying to remember not to opt for the easier, neater, babyccino version of bringing them up in the training and discipline of the Lord.

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Dear Santa

I’m just kidding, I don’t write to Santa.  That’s because he’s a big fat lie who drinks sherry.

At this time of year everyone asks what you want for Christmas, and for some that’s lovely and for others it’s really stressful.  If you’re in the latter group, here are some ideas from me:

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In no particular order:

  1. None Like Him  – this is a book about God, with short chapters and big truths, explained brilliantly by Jen Wilkin.  She is really good at writing, and I don’t say that about many people.  She has a gift and she’s using it to teach us how we are not like God, and that’s a good thing!  I highly recommend this – get your best friend a copy too and read it together.
  2. Prayer – Timothy Keller.  The book absolutely blew my mind.  The only trouble with it was that I wanted to read it about five times, but it took me a year to read (on and off) so there wasn’t much chance of that.  You know I love Tim Keller – he’s fantastic.  What a blessing he is to so many people.  This book will inspire you to pray and then give you practical advice for daily prayer.  Here’s some inspiration from the book about how the Lord Jesus sets us an example:
    Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a “house of prayer”), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer.  He prayed often and regularly with fervant cries and tears (Heb 5:7), and sometimes all night.  The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21-22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29).  When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer.  We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1-26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Finally, he died praying. 
  3. The Plausibility Problem – Ed Shaw.  This book isn’t hot off the press (none of these books are), but I think this should be compulsory reading for any Christian who’s serious about obeying Jesus’ command to love one another.  However, it’s not my job to set compulsory reading for Christians, so I’ll jus say it comes very highly recommended.  It’s not just a book about loving people who are same-sex attracted*, it’s about how to love people and live as church family, as we’re called to do.  It’s fascinating, it’s challenging, it’s very moving.  Thank you, Ed.
  4. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson.  Oh my goodness, I read this a couple of months ago and it’s a book I didn’t want to finish.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, which yes means I am very, very behind on life.  It’s the memoire of a mid-twentieth Century pastor in rural Iowa, and if you like good writing and a good character piece, and especially (but not necessarily) if you’re a Christian, you’ll love this.  She’s written other books too, which I should probably read…
  5. Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan.  Right, so I’ll come clean.  I haven’t actually read Pilgrim’s Progress.  If you think that’s bad, then wait till I tell you that I think it was required reading for my English degree.  It’s not on my Christmas list because I know exactly where it is on my bookshelf.  You know when you’re in a Bible study and someone says, “This reminds me of Pilgrim’s Progress when..” and then gives a really poignant and relevant example?  And you have to smile and nod because you’ve never read it?  Well I plan, by the end of 2018, to be able to smile and nod sincerely, because I will have read it.  Hey, I might even be the one with the insightful Bunyan anecdote.  Maybe we could read it together – so to speak – next year?

If you’d like other ideas, click on the “Books” category and you should see my previous posts about books I recommend.

 

*This is how Ed Shaw describes himself.  It’s all explained in the book!

How to fear God and love children

Does it really matter what children do in Sunday School?

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This week we’re celebrating 500 years since the Reformation in Europe – a time when big changes occurred in the church in order to get vernacular Bibles into the hands of people who’d never understood the Bible before.  They’d been going to church all their lives without understanding a word of what was said, and they’d hoped they were good enough because they’d tried to follow the rules the church had set out for them, and they’d picked up on some Bible themes from the stained glass windows.  Their actions gave them a Christian appearance, regardless of any understanding of the gospel.  This is a very brief and inadequate description but this isn’t actually a post about the Reformation.

I’ve been thinking about children’s work in churches (although most of what I will write also applies to teaching our children at home).  I’ve noticed that sometimes the way children’s work is done bears some resemblance to this pre-Reformation religion.  Sometimes children’s work is done more for appearances than for any actual spiritual benefit.  Children hear a story and/or do an activity, and probably come away with tangible evidence, e.g. a craft.  But this is mostly done to show others that the children are participating in the church service, and they’re learning Christian stuff.

These children come out of creche or Sunday school with a lovely craft, but with no relationship with God.  They have learnt some Christian morals, but they have no knowledge of the Word of God.  They have been shown role models, but they haven’t encountered the gracious God of the Bible.  (I think the role model topic might be another blog post in itself.)

Why does this happen? Maybe it’s because it’s the easy option.  But I can also think of two beliefs behind this way of doing things:

  1. Christian children are nice and well behaved.  Therefore, it’s good if children come to church every week, because we all want nice and well behaved children in our community, don’t we?
  2. Children can’t really get to know the living God who’s revealed himself to us through his Word.  After all, they’re only little.  They can’t even tie their shoelaces!  How can they be expected to understand doctrine? Let’s be realistic.

I guess there are many ways I could argue against these two points.  As usual, I’ll come back to Deuteronomy 6.  You need to read the whole chapter really but here’s one extract:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 

The Lord has always commanded his people to teach their children about him, so that they’ll know who they are and what the Lord has done for his people.  For us New Covenant believers, we don’t just need to teach them about a rescue from slavery in Egypt, but also (and ultimately) about our rescue from slavery to sin, through our Saviour Jesus Christ.  And a Saviour is what we all need:

“And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (Deut 6 v25)

Like the Israelites, we are unable to keep the law, and so we need a righteousness from God that is by faith from first to last. (Romans 1:17).  We desperately need Christ’s righteousness, and to stop trying to rely on our own good behaviour.  So why on earth would we think that what children really need most is to be well behaved?

And why would we think that they can’t have a relationship with the Lord?  In order to think that, you need to ignore all of the commands God gives to teach children his word (e.g. Psalm 74:5-6) plus what Jesus commanded about letting children come to him, plus just common sense.  Does a child know his/her mum and dad?  Do they know their siblings, their grandma, their neighbour?  Do they know their Sunday school teacher?  So why can’t they know Jesus?  Is he not real? Knowing the Lord is what they were made for.  Of course I know that their understanding of things will be different to ours (although don’t forget Jesus told us to learn from them (Matthew 18:3), but teach a group of children for a period of time and you’ll see some of them relating to their God.  Hopefully this relationship will lead to good behaviour (that’s certainly what I’m praying for my children!), but good behaviour without a changed heart is just a veneer.  Let our creche not be a Pharisee factory, because I’m quite sure Jesus wasn’t impressed by the Pharisees.

If you’re teaching creche or Sunday School, your responsibility is not to churn out well-mannered children who can tell you who Moses and Jonah are: it’s to faithfully teach God’s word to them, and to pray for their souls.  Don’t underestimate that responsibility.  These people are made in God’s image, and their precious.  If we fear God, we should teach his word with reverence to him.  And if your church isn’t doing this, then I would urge you to remedy that, even if it means you have to take charge of it (I know, as if you haven’t got enough to do).

Can I just say that I help run the creche in my church, and we do want the children to behave well, plus they do crafts, so I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying those things aren’t good.  But they’re really not the point of us all being there.  If we really believe in the power of God to speak to us by his Spirit through His word, regarding his Son our Saviour, then we’ll believe that for our children, too.  I hope you can see how this links to what I wrote at the top about the Reformation. Let’s do children’s work the great Reformers would be pleased to see.  We have the Bible in their language, so let’s not just show the kids some pictures and send them away thinking that all they need to do is try their best to be good.

And if you read this and feel encouraged that the children’s work in your church is good, maybe you could encourage the leaders this week, and thank them for faithfully doing the Lord’s work.

 

This reminds me of a post I wrote a long time ago called Hearts Not Garments.  

The Power of “Goodbye”

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What’s the hardest thing about raising young children in the city?

I wonder what you think. The traffic, the rent, cramped living, the lack of grass? The noisy neighbours, the hit-and-miss schools, the on-street (and not even your own street) parking? How about the hours spent commuting, or the polluted air, or the lack of like-minded Christian families?   These are all relevant – some more than others. (Grass is overrated, friends. Heaven is a garden CITY.)

For me, not one of these things is the hardest thing about raising my children in the city. The hardest thing is this: people leave. I’m trying to nurture a stable family in a transient city, which feels a bit like trying to make friends in the middle of Kings Cross station. Some people do stop, they say hello, they might even invest a little. But then they have to rush – they have a train to catch.

People leave for good reasons. They take the gospel to undesirable places, or their job moves them, or they go to Bible college, or they move nearer to sick parents. (Some people don’t leave for good reasons, by the way, but I’m not here to judge.) And I can cope with that – ish. I miss them, and I cry when they leave, but I can see the bigger picture. The West Country needs youth workers: I get it.

But it’s harder for children to see the bigger picture. My daughter doesn’t even know how long an hour is; my son doesn’t quite know the difference between London and Longnewton (my parents’ village). So how are they meant to understand that it’s actually a good thing that we’re waving goodbye (yet again) to another precious friend, because they’re meeting a need somewhere in South East Asia? My heart aches in a way it never used to before I had children, because I don’t like to see them sad. It’s as simple as that.

It’s not just church family members, either. It’s the teachers, the support staff, and the classmates. They can be here one day, and gone the next. And each time this happens, I feel like my child’s foundations are crumbling away, bit by bit.

But I need to learn some things. I spent last night and this morning in tears about this issue, by the way, so please don’t assume I have this figured out!

The more people leave us, the more we rely on the Lord. He’s my rock and my foundation. He will never leave me. Time and again the Lord reminds his people of this fact: ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’* Sweet, sweet words. (This is what I told my daughter the day her nursery teacher was dismissed without notice.) And of course, Jesus himself comforted his disciples with these words: ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matt 28:20). When friends leave, we’re forced to lean more on the One who never does. So if our weak foundations do crumble, by God’s grace they can be replaced by the true Rock.

When people leave to serve in God’s Kingdom elsewhere, it does help the children to have a more global perspective. This is hard for them, but it is possible. We’ve found that showing them maps and praying for people in other countries has helped them with this. And, similarly, they are learning that we all suffer for the advance of the gospel – those who go, and those who stay behind. These are hard but character-building lessons to learn, and I pray that by learning them my children will be blessed, and will be a blessing to the Kingdom as they grow up.

Also, waving goodbye to people makes us long for Jesus to return soon. I can tell my children that in the new creation, in the garden city, there’ll be no more goodbyes. There’ll be no unreached people groups, no sick relatives, no war zones, no more tears. It would be nice if my church family could be together forever, and that nobody would have to leave, but then we wouldn’t look forward to heaven enough. And one day, we will be with our brothers and sisters for eternity. In the words of that great Australian theologian of our time, Colin Buchanan: ‘Hooley Dooley Wop Bam Boom! Jesus Christ is coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on this.  Click on the speech bubble, top right.

*Deut 31:6-8; Joshua 1:5; 1 Kings 8: 57.

Enjoy yourself (Just not in the same way you used to before)!

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I used to look forward to, and enjoy, weekends away with church. Now I brace myself for them, and often feel I’m the worst version of ‘me’ when I’m there. Sad, I know. But I believe that through prayer and practical wisdom this, the “time away with church family, with a family,” can be conquered!

I’m going away today, so I thought I’d offer some tips on how to get through, I mean enjoy, your time away (it’s more fun than packing). I’m in no way the expert, but I thought I’d share what I’ve come up with thus far – you’ll see I’m learning from my mistakes.

Things NOT to expect:

Sleep – Time and again I make the mistake of arriving on a conference/camp/ weekend away already tired, and hoping for some rest. Go on, point and laugh, I deserve it. You won’t get much sleep. Things will prevent you from sleeping: probably your children. But while you can do everything in your power to encourage your children to have a good night’s sleep (blackouts, familiar bedding, nightlight etc.), there are always things you can’t control. Even if your children sleep wonderfully, you are still likely to be woken up by something else, e.g. someone else’s child; a fire alarm; a 5am delivery van; a 3am Pentecostal prayer gathering (this has been my experience, anyway).

Catching up with good friends – this is unlikely, because you will be busy with your brood and also there may be other people who need you more. You don’t want to end up resenting your children or anyone else who gets in the way of your nice long chat with so-and-so. Maybe think of this as an opportunity to arrange to meet up with that friend in the next couple of weeks! Then, if you do end up having a good chat: bonus!

Taking part in everything that’s going on – it might be the teaching you look forward to, or the social aspect, or praying together. But it’s likely you’ll miss out on something you’d really like to have been at. You might get trapped in your room with a clingy baby and no phone signal to beckon help, while everyone else is having a whale of a time doing “organised fun.” You might miss all of the talks because your 3-year-old is terrified of the unfamiliar surroundings, or you might have to take someone to A&E. Hopefully none of these will happen, but I’m just saying it’s good to be emotionally prepared to miss out.

Things to DO:

Be thankful. Sorry everything above is so negative. I think that if we “manage our expectations” (fancy phrase) then we’re more likely to be thankful for any fun/teaching/sleeping/encouragements that we do receive. I need to remember to be thankful, because I just won’t be otherwise. I’m like that, me.

Forget yourself. I find that at these intense, emotionally draining times I get too focused on my own “problems” (e.g. lack of sleep/missed the seminar), which is just a recipe for disaster. If I try to focus on making sure other people are OK, I’ll actually start to forget what I was so narked off about in the first place. Get over yourself, Catherine (or, you know, something less harsh).

Research – if you haven’t been to the venue before, try to find out what you need to take with you from someone who has been or from the venue itself. You don’t want to arrive and realise you were meant to bring bedding. Almost equally you don’t want to stuff five duvets into your boot (trunk) and then discover you didn’t need them. Especially if you don’t have a driveway, so loading the car is tricky, and you bought the duvets especially. Just saying.

I’ve now noticed that (maybe apart from the final one) these are quite good tips for life in general. Maybe that’s because time away with church is really just a more intense version of normal life. And I need to remember, too, what an AMAZING privilege it is to have the resources, the community, and the freedom to be able to do this. Would my North Korean sister be grumbling about missing the Saturday night karaoke if she were here? No, I’m pretty sure she’d think she’d died and gone to heaven.

Have a good weekend, folks!