Time and resources: our two biggest preoccupations and why we should never worry about them

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?

time and resources snip

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’.

faith 4 the_lion-normal

” 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.

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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:

piechart 1

But this had far too big a segment for WORK and no SLEEP at all – how does that work?

or this: piechart1



this one at least allows for sleep but is not close enough to my ideal which has bigger segments for food and fun:

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Where as, in fact, this is closer to reality:  (a Dave Walker cartoon)

piechart3

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.

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 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.

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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.

Patience attains

all that it strives for.

He who has God

finds he lacks nothing.

Can a ‘bad’ feeling lead you to a ‘good’ action?

Christians have a hard time admitting ‘bad’ feelings.

Mention ‘anger’, ‘sadness’, ‘fear’, ‘worry’ or ‘envy’ and eyes start to glaze over with a readiness to deny all.  Fearful of sin, many have believed that it is better to deny these feelings any place in our lives. So instead of acknowledging them, confessing them or allowing them to lead us to improved self-awareness, we have been trained to ‘stuff them’: keep them well below the surface of our lives and definitely hidden from public view.

This week I attended a day conference on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality lead by Pete Scazzero whose books I have previously recommended on this blog : ‘Look below the surface’  November 20th 2011

He had a room full of about 400 church leaders. He led us in a little exercise in emotional self-examination. He asked us four simple questions and gave us two minutes of silence to jot down answers to each question. Here are the questions:

What are you angry about?

What are you sad about?

What are you worrying about?

What are you glad about?

At the end of the exercise, he didn’t ask us to share our private revelations but he did ask us to say how we felt about the exercise.

A woman tentatively raised her hand to reply, I couldn’t believe my ears at what she said, my jaw just about hit the floor.

‘It felt a little bit naughty’ 

What???? You’re kidding me? Do you seriously mean that Christians are supposed to maintain a jolly game of ‘let’s pretend’ in front of an all-knowing God? If we can’t be real with God, then who can we be real with?

But she wasn’t alone. At least 10 other people articulated similar feelings of discomfort as well as awareness that this exercise was a new idea to them.

‘I was afraid that once I lifted the lid on these feelings, I might unleash something I couldn’t control’

‘It felt like I was complaining’    

‘It felt like a relief’ 

What is the matter with these people? Don’t they know that well over half the Psalms are full people venting anger, despair, confusion and pain? There is a whole book called ‘Lamentations’ for goodness sake. And what about Jesus – he was so angry about the temple traders, he went in and threw all their tables over. He was so sad when his friend Lazarus died; he stood outside his tomb and wept. He was so worried the night before the cross, he prayed ‘Father if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me’

I’m not aware that Jesus ‘stuffed’ his emotions down below the surface.

(On re-reading this post I’m aware that I sound angry at my fellow Christians and I apologise for that. I’m not angry AT them, but I am angry FOR them. Of course it took courage and honesty from them to express how the exercise made them feel and I respect that. I guess I’m just angry at the evidence that they and many others are still believing a lie which is that ‘God doesn’t like our negative feelings’)

Elsewhere I have written and reflected on my own childhood experience and the limited range of emotions I was permitted to express as a child growing up in a ‘godly Christian home’: ‘too sad’ and you were not ‘trusting God’ (and definitely not ‘counting your blessings’). ‘Too happy’ and you were veering towards ‘counting chickens before they hatched’. (Neither of these ‘counting’ instructions are actually in the Bible but the implication of the second one was that if you were too joyful something might go wrong and then you’d be sorry so best not to be ‘too happy’). Keeping in emotional neutral was almost akin to keeping your head down, stray too far in either direction and God might wake up and notice you, he might either zap you for having ‘no faith’ or slap you down for having ‘too good a time’!

When I reached my thirties I became aware that this dynamic had existed in my past and I committed myself to embracing the further ends of the emotional spectrum. I learnt that actually you don’t really ‘taste’ joy properly until you have allowed yourself to ‘sit in the ashes’ and feel desperately undone.  I may be naïve (obviously I was) but I kind of thought I had learnt something that was already obvious to other people. Judging from the reactions I heard at Tuesdays’ conference, clearly not so.

Christians it seems are the world’s best ‘stuffers’. We behave like it’s a religious duty to maintain an off-putting cheeriness, a refusal to admit that actually for most people (yes, even for us) life is a mixture of good and bad and probably more bad than good.

So to answer my original question: Yes, a bad feeling CAN lead to good action. Today is Action Sunday for Poverty and Homelessness. Here is a prayer from their website that expresses eloquently how listening to our negative feelings need not be a negative thing. Look out for the strongly negative feeling in the first line of each stanza and look where it can take you.

A Franciscan Blessing

 

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,

So that we may live deep in the heart of God

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,

So that we may work for justice, freedom and peace

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,

So that we may reach out our hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world,

So that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

 

 
Pete Scazerro's book