Forgive and remember

I attend an Anglican Church at the moment. I also work in one. For all intents and purposes I have become fully Anglicanised, but there are still things about Anglicanism that baffle me. The Prayer Book is one of those things – I’ve never actually understood why they bother with it when they have other resources. Like… you know… the Bible. I’ve since come to appreciate the Prayer Book – as much as a Presbyterian can, I imagine – and I was happy to learn that it’s not used as a replacement for the Bible. (Well, it might be in some churches. Not in mine, and not in the church where I work – and as that’s the sum total of my Anglican experience, I’m satisfied that the Prayer Book is used appropriately in the Anglican Church.)

There have been a few variations of the Prayer Book. One of the first authorised versions was the Book of Common Prayer, or BCP, written in 1662. At my work the BCP is used at the traditional service whenever there is a fifth Sunday in the month. To save the predominantly elderly parishioners from squinting at the teeny, tiny, squished-together print, we created a booklet containing just the text of the communion service. I had to retype this the other day (long story) and thus had my first exposure to the BCP. It’s archaic in language and contains things like prayer for the ruling monarch, which means when you’re in a British colony you get to pray for the Queen but not your own government. Anyway, I was typing away, not all that interested in what I was typing, when I came to the General Confession. You can read the whole thing here, but the part that brought me up short was this:

We do earnestly repent,
And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
The remembrance of them is grievous unto us;
The burden of them is intolerable.

Compare this with the confession used in most services today:

Heavenly Father,
you have loved us with an everlasting love,
but we have broken your holy laws
and have left undone what we ought to have done.
We are sorry for our sins and turn away from them.
For the sake of your Son who died for us,
forgive us, cleanse us and change us.
By your Holy Spirit, enable us to live for you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the modern confession. I’m happy to say it, and I think it helpfully highlights the seriousness of sin, our need for forgiveness and the fact that God freely forgives us. But compared with the BCP confession, it seems to miss something. It doesn’t say anything about the consequences of sin.

Sometimes I think we treat forgiveness as ‘forgive and forget’; as though, once we’ve been forgiven, the memory of sin, along with any consequences, just goes away. But I don’t think it works that way. What if your sin is something that lands you in gaol? Sure, God forgives you, but you’re still in gaol. The consequences don’t disappear. What if the remembrance of your sin continues to cause you pain and heartache? What if, indeed, the remembrance of them is grievous and the burden is intolerable? That doesn’t sound like forgive and forget. That sounds like forgive and remember.

I like the BCP confession because it is honest about sin. Yes, God forgives us, but there will probably still be consequences, and we have to live with them. And that’s hard, and painful. But you know, I think that’s what’s so fantastic about grace. God does NOT forget our sin. He remembers. He remembers everything, even the things that we push down and try to forget. He not only remembers, he can see the much bigger picture of the consequences. He knows who was hurt by our sin and how that continued to affect them. He knows and he remembers… yet he still forgives.

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.
(Colossians 1:11-14)

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
(Psalm 103:12)

 

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A gentle whisper

God is pretty terrifying.

When I was a child, that’s mostly all I knew of God. From a variety of Scripture lessons at school and a brief time in Sunday School, I learned that God is very, very powerful. He made the world. He could destroy the world in a second if he wanted – I mean, he once destroyed all the people on the earth; destroying the earth itself would be no big deal for him. God is big, and loud, and powerful. He deals with his people through big pronouncements, and big events like parting the sea and drowning all his enemies, or making the sun stand still, or tearing temple curtains in two, or rolling away huge stones so his raised-from-the-dead Son can emerge from his tomb.

God is terrifying.

This view of God has coloured much of my life, and sometimes it’s hard to see anything but this big, loud, earth-shaking God. But that is not all God is. Here’s what I read today:

“Go and stand before me on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hid the mountain. It was such a terrifying blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

A gentle whisper. God is infinitely powerful, and he sent a windstorm, an earthquake and a fire to remind Elijah of his power. But how did he deal with Elijah? The same way he deals with us, his children.

Gently.

Intimately.

With a whisper.

Rediscovering the dream

What do you want to do with your life?

Whoa, yes. That’s a huge question, isn’t it? It’s huge and a little intimidating and, I would suspect for most of us, impossible to answer. And when you get to my age (um… closer to 40 than 50, but nowhere near 30) it becomes a hugely loaded question. What do you mean what do I want to do? Shouldn’t I have worked that out by now? Shouldn’t I be already doing it, not talking about it? Am I a failure? Has life and opportunity passed me by?

I ask myself that question, or a variation of it, on a regular basis. It’s usually when I’ve had a bad day or I’m feeling down on myself, so I don’t so much ask ‘what do I want to do with my life?’ as ‘why haven’t I done anything with my life?’ In case you’re wondering, it’s not a helpful line of enquiry, and thus far it has never ended with me saying, “That’s it! That’s the thing I’ve always wanted to do, and I know exactly how I’m going to get there!”

Recently, in one of those ‘what the hell are you doing with your life, you big loser?’ moments I purchased a book. You know, in case the answer is out there and neatly summed up in this one little book. That could happen, right? Ahem. Quite. Anyway, the book I purchased was Quitter by Jon Acuff (author of the rather hilarious Stuff Christians Like blog). And it had all the answers! I’ve started my dream life!

Okay, that last bit may not be exactly true. I’m about halfway through the book and to be honest I’m really no closer to a ‘dream job’ than I was before I bought it. What I am closer to is honesty… which is not what I was expecting to get out of this book.

In an early chapter, the author talks about dreams and the way we discount them, sometimes because we think we’re not good enough, but often because life gets in the way and we forget the dreams even exist. We forget, but the dreams are still there in one way or another; we just continue to discount them. There are things we enjoy doing, and maybe we’re good at them, but we dismiss them as frivolous. Let me quote from the book:

In a contrarian version of “the grass is always greener”, we tend to discount the value, importance and urgency of our own dreams. In a subtle form of self-preservation, we find ourselves rejecting compliments people give us for doing what we love. When someone notices we’re good at something, we respond: “Oh that, that’s nothing. It’s just something I like to do in my spare time.”

The soundtrack we play in our minds is that our gift is nothing. Our dream really isn’t that meaningful. It is just a bit of gossamer we play with sometimes. Don’t think twice about it.

The longer you play this soundtrack, the easier it is to believe it, especially if someone who matters to you tells you that your dream doesn’t matter. Teachers, bosses, sometimes even parents will tell you that you’re not good enough to pursue a particular dream. The more we develop the muscle of doubt, the stronger it becomes. But the doubt is still a deception.

…Don’t buy into the nothing lie. You wound yourself when someone compliments your gift and you reply, “Oh, that’s nothing.” Your gift is never nothing. Regardless of what it can be, it’s always something.

He goes on to talk about finding our dreams as an act of recovery – that is, recovering something we once had and knew intimately, but have lost along the way. Asking, “What do I want to do with my life?” is not the right question. It’s overwhelmingly huge and we don’t even know where to start to find an answer. A better question to ask is, “What have I done in my life that I loved doing?” It’s about looking to the past for clues, not to the bottomless, unknown future.

All of this resonated deeply with me. And for now, it’s not even about a dream job. I’m looking for the things that I love to do; the things that once brought me joy but I dismissed them because I needed an income more than I needed joy. The things that I would keep doing even if I had an iron-clad guarantee that I would never make any money doing them. It’s about welcoming the dream as an old friend, not rushing off to find a new one.

Once I’d rejected the question, “What do I want to do with my life?” it was easier to ask what I have loved doing in the past. I can ask that question without the pressure of needing to make it a career, and without rejecting it because it might not be viable as a career anyway. Without those pressures, I am free to think, “Oh yeah, there’s that thing. I loved that. I like how I felt when I was doing that. It felt right.”

Do you remember the things that made you feel that way? Maybe it’s time to go back and reconnect with an old friend.

What do you want?

A couple of weeks ago someone said to me, “So, in the evenings… say you finish dinner at 7pm and you don’t go to bed until 10pm… what do you actually DO during that three hours?” The person who asked happens to be an extravert who hates being alone and gets bored very quickly, so he honestly couldn’t imagine what someone could possibly do for three hours, in a house on their own. He couldn’t imagine it for one night, let alone most nights. The question made me laugh, because I could see the confusion and horror in his face. Alone? No one to talk to? Who could live like that??

Still, the question lingered. Because lately, I haven’t been doing much of anything at all. There have been many nights when I’ve planned to clean the kitchen or do some cooking before settling down to read a book or something… and then I realise it’s 10.30pm and I’ve spent three hours standing at my kitchen bench, staring at my laptop and chatting on Facebook or playing games or idly reading blog posts and articles. The kitchen isn’t clean, no cooking has been done and I have a headache. I mentioned this when I was chatting with someone the other week. “I feel like every night is wasted. Days – weeks – are just slipping by and I’m doing nothing at all.” This person replied, “Well, what do you want to be doing in those evenings?”

Um. Right. Interesting question. What do I want to do?

There are times when I know there’s something I should be doing but I don’t really want to, so I potter around doing anything else BUT that thing. We all do that, right? But other times, evenings and weekends just seem to slip away in an endless stream of little tasks. Washing, cooking, answering emails, feeding cats, shopping, tidying, ‘winding down’ by playing computer games… these, and a thousand other things, suck up my minutes and hours and days. And suddenly it’s October and I’m thinking, “Wait, wasn’t it Easter just a week or two ago?”

Here’s the thing, though. Until I ask the question “what do I want to do?” those things will suck up my time. And your time. Because there is always something else that needs to be done. ALWAYS. I can’t think of any time in the last couple of decades where I’ve thought to myself, “There is not one single thing I could be doing right now… how on earth shall I fill in the time?” I don’t need to ask ‘what needs doing?’ because the answer is obvious. It’s right there in front of me in my dirty kitchen, my washing basket, my inbox, my voicemail, my day to day stuff that screams at me for attention every minute of the day. So I never get around to asking, ‘what do I WANT to do?’ And worse, I don’t have an answer to the question.

If I don’t have an answer then I will always get caught up in the time-sucking minutiae of life. And before I know it I’ll be 85 and I still won’t know the answer to the question. What do I want to DO with my time? I need to know that. I think we all need to know it. Because if we don’t know, we’ll never make the time for it and we’ll spend years with the vaguely unsettled feeling that taking care of the ‘to do’ list really isn’t quite enough.

Olympic toilet photos

I haven’t yet seen one second of the Olympics, so I imagine this will be my only Olympic-themed post. Today’s event: toilet paper.

No, really. So here’s a first – today I took out my phone to take a photo in a public toilet cubicle. Well, it’s a first for ME. I suspect there may be certain types of people who wouldn’t find it at all unusual, but this is not that type of blog. (I probably could have made some sort of pun there with ‘bog’ but I’m quite tired and not really up to sophisticated toilet humour.)

ANYWAY, the photo. You’re kind of worried now, aren’t you? Haha.

Behold:

Surely that is the world’s thinnest toilet paper. (Unused. I promise.)  It’s so thin that when I tried to pull some off the roll it just broke off instantly – it wasn’t strong enough to stay in one piece and turn the roll around. I had to manually turn the roll with my other hand. I mean, I know the quality of loo paper in shopping centre toilets is never high, but that must be Olympic-record-breakingly cheap and nasty. Go Team!