In one of the few moments recently when I stopped worrying I found myself thinking about what kind of things I mostly worry about and I realised that almost all of them fall in to one of two categories. I either worry about time or resources.
How often do you find yourself saying or thinking one of the following phrases?
See what I mean?
Time and resources are possibly our greatest obsessions: we think about ways to spend them, save them, organise them as if they belonged to us and were not what they actually are: gifts that are unpredictable and often refuse to be marshalled and organised in the way we would prefer.
We are, at this moment in time (May 19th 2015), poised half way between celebrating the story of Ascension day and the Story of Pentecost. These stories are in Acts 1 and 2 respectively but they are 9 nine days apart in the Christian calendar.
In the first story Jesus leaves his disciples in a sudden, somewhat dramatic way. After 40 days of post resurrection appearances during which they have probably been lulled into a sense of ‘this is how thins will be from now on’, he returns to Heaven and hands on the work of bringing in the Kingdom to his followers. I imagine some very sceptical angelic expressions greeting him on his return. ‘You left them to do what?!’ ‘Is that a good idea?’ ‘Is there a plan B when they screw up?‘
No Plan B. We are ‘it’ – Plan A – Jesus left us to continue his work of bringing in the kingdom. And ever since then, in spite of his final instructions we have spent a great deal of time worrying about ‘time’ and ‘resources’.
” I can’t bear to look”!
Before he left Jesus said two things: ‘Go into the city and wait for power’ – an instruction about resources.
And, secondly, ‘it is not for you to know times’ – an instruction about time.
I find it very difficult not knowing when things are going to happen, especially if they are things I’d like to happen or I’ve worked towards or prayed about. I’d like to be in on God’s diary – but ‘It’s not for me to know the times’. I also find it very difficult not knowing how things are going to happen (how will we afford to…/how can I do such and such…/how will this situation ever change. You can call me a control freak but I don’t think I’m alone in these obsessions.
We are time bound beings: we are born and we die, we have so many days, months, weeks and years, so many heartbeats.
So here’s a clock face that represents my life (ignore the gardening gloves for a minute, I’ll explain them later). I started to think about how I use every day, I did some research:
There was this:
But this had far too big a segment for WORK and no SLEEP at all – how does that work?
Where as, in fact, this is closer to reality: (a Dave Walker cartoon)
We cannot control 24 hours let alone our whole lives – we might think a life falls into neat segments but some people stay teenagers for much longer than others and who of us know how long retirement will be be, when it will arrive or how much of it we will be able to enjoy.
It was a conversation with a teenage guest staying with us that sparked my final clock face illustration. This last one (below) doesn’t actually represent ‘periods of time’, it represents ‘states of mind’. Pip mentioned Mrs Weasley’s clock in her kitchen in the Harry Potter stories. This clock is no ordinary clock, instead each hand tells her what every member of her beloved family are up to at any one moment: travelling/in school/at work/sleeping and most significantly ‘in danger’ or even ‘in mortal danger’!
Mrs Weasely is not really much interested in the what her family are up to but, like any good parent, cares mostly about those final two categories.
God is, I think, not overly interested in what we are up to: we might be peeling potatoes, writing a sermon or walking the dog. What primarily interests him is our state of mind. And there are only two states of mind that matter: ‘listening’ and ‘not listening’. I’ve colour coded these in this final pie chart. Red is for ‘not listening’ states of mind and blue is for ‘listening’ states of mind.
The segments don’t represent all possible states of mind. I have not mentioned ‘in pain’ for example – often a very difficult state of mind in which to listen. ‘In danger’ is a state of mind that can go either way, we can become acutely sensitive to God’s presence with us or feel a deafening silence (which doesn’t mean to say he’s not with us, just that we can’t hear him). With Jesus risen and ascended and in the control room of Heaven, his main concern is ‘are my followers listening?‘ After all, he left us with the Holy Spirit who ‘speaks’ to our hearts and minds. Are we expecting to hear God’s directions?
Not all states of mind that close our ears are bad: being ‘in love’ is an example of something overwhelming, powerful and usually positive in which we temporarily lose our senses and ability to listen to wise divine advice for ourselves so it’s not a bad idea to either practise listening especially diligently or seek a second opinion (ie ask others to listen for you).
Contentment and gratitude are both states of mind that hugely improved our spiritual hearing. When we are not fretful or striving for something out of reach, when we appreciate simple daily blessings we cultivate an attitude of mind that keeps us anchored to the present moment. And it is only in the present moment that God speaks to us. When we get lost in worrying over the past or planning the future, guilt or anxiety can become overwhelmingly loud. Being in the now is about accepting, embracing what is now, just how it is now and trusting that whatever our desires, there is one who knows our needs and hopes and who says to us ‘Your times are in my hands‘ (Psalm 31:15)
Hence the gardening gloves. One never knows when a stuffed pair of gardening gloves might come in handy as a sermon illustration!
God is a gardener. The Bible depicts him planting a seed in our hearts, nurturing us, pruning us, being interested in our growth and our fruitfulness as human beings. We need to trust and rest in that process.
There are many things we cannot chose about how we divide up our days but we can choose our state of mind. Being in a listening state of mind does not mean inactivity, it just means cultivating listening in the midst of activity. We can practise by taking time daily to put ourselves consciously in God’s presence, remembering you are a loved child, a human being, not a human doing. God desires our presence more than our activity. We are to listen, wait and receive. Left to our own resources, there will NOT be enough time and there will NOT be enough power. But resting and trusting and waiting on God – there will enough time for what we are called to do and there will be the resources (energy, gift, ability, money) to be able to accomplish whatever it is. That’s the whole point of the twin stories of Ascension and Pentecost: wait… receive. Don’t worry about time and don’t worry about resources. Those are God’s concerns.
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing dismay you.
All things pass.
all that it strives for.
He who has God
finds he lacks nothing.