Tag Archives: wilderness

Loss, Wilderness and Hope

There are moments in grief that can overwhelm us, where it seems that everything else moves out of focus, except for perhaps one thing. For me one the focus is one person or to be precise the lack of their presence.

The impact of this moment is not so much the length of its duration, but the power it has over you, to make simple things harder. Basic things like choosing what to eat or drink, or whether or not to reply to all the messages. Weariness is your companion yet sleeping for any decent length without waking up in between, seems impossible.

As you navigate the world in the bubble, of the moment people going about their business, seemingly oblivious that things are not quite right, colour is slightly desaturated, regular objects seem slightly out of focus.

How are people not panicking or looking bewilderedly at each other, is not quite clear!! Truth is, you realise, it is only you that is inhabiting this space. They do not share at this moment this parallel universe in space and time. They pass through it untouched and oblivious. For them, there are no visual clues. There are no flags at half-mast, no headlines in newspapers or breaking news on tv.

We watched her being taken away for the final time. We watched them load and unload her coffin, we heard tributes, and prayers we sang her favourite songs, we remembered her. We saw her take her last curtain call in the plain coloured walls of the crematorium. The blue velvet separated us from her, as eternity now does.

In what way will we meet again I am not sure, there is a concrete finality at this moment, and the beginnings of a journey into the wilderness.

The wilderness can be scary, it can be a place where you can rest, can refresh, can heal. The unhurried wilderness can be what is needed, though not always wanted. In this wild place, you can find others who too have journeyed into the wilderness and are making their way, charting their course.

In this emotional universe, you won’t pass out, or grow hungry, those things are taken care off. For our job is to remember, to mourn, to find our way back to gratitude and emotionally breath again, as we journey through the door of acceptance into the light of new beginnings.

Previous post in the theme of grief can be found at: https://godlifechurch.wordpress.com/2020/01/09/traveling-the-valley-of-shadows/

Surviving Your Sabbatical

Spoiler: I survived, and am still here!

The Task

The goal of my sabbatical was to document new forms of discipleship visually. But in short, my plans worked out how God wanted them too rather than how I had hoped they would! See beyond the pew for more.

Ministry as a church leader is unique with its pressures, and joys. But putting down the dumbbells of ministry is hard, accepting you are not in control, and someone else may or may not pick up that dumbbell, is not easy.

But it is necessary if the sabbatical has a chance of resourcing you and your churches. Before the start date of the sabbatical, I remember sitting in five guys Restaurant with a minister friend who offered some sage wisdom, they said:

At some point, (during the sabbatical) you will probably seriously wonder whether you should stay in ministry or not… conversation over a lovely burger at 5guys!

Mental Health

I have already had such thoughts so didn’t think that would happen to me again, but they did. You see not being in the flow of church-based ministry means you have space to think, and questions bubble up, doubts surface and old insecurities attempt to hijack your journey.

Now I was in a rough place emotionally and so for me and my family, the sabbatical came at the right moment. Around mid-way through the sabbatical, I felt able to produce the following video about my struggles with depression and the journey to wellness. 

“Sabbatical helped me slay some demons, and heal as well as face yo to some hard realities.”

Spiritual Health

That’s where the decisions you made about what to do on your sabbatical help, to focus you, steady your path through a sabbatical. Not all my plans worked out as I had hoped, meetings and promises made before sabbatical didn’t flourish.

I never found a church to journey with over the time as I had hoped, I didn’t feel very close to God throughout either. But here is the rub, God was there. Looking back God used what I saw as failures and opportunities dissipating to create space, to force me to be still and know God is God.

Lobecphotography.com

I followed the Northumbria community daily office which has steadied this spiritual ship of mine, giving me a rhythm to my day which was so important. I will share some wisdom my sister in law gave me, (she is a nun in the Anglican church) In responding to doing a daily office, she replied:

“Just do what you can” -she said, “don’t worry if you don’t do it all, just do what your schedule allows. “

This was such a relief to me and has probably meant that the pattern I am in now has stuck and been maintained. I also went to the cairngorms to pray and take photos which was such a wonderful time of refreshing and photography.

Physical health:

Be careful, within the first month of sabbatical as I got a chest infection (haven’t had one in years) and the week after coming back from sabbatical I got a nasty cold which stopped me doing regular workouts because I feared I was to get another chest infection! So make sure you look after yourself.

One of my aims was to receive personal training for 10 sessions, which by the end of, I expected I would be ripped and be fit enough to do the SAS selection process. (yes I do have an overactive imagination). Left is real me and right is alternate me (badly) reimagined through the power of photoshop!

  • A classic before and after image, altered with photoshop and not remotely true to life. 🙂

I did, however, do my ten sessions and apart from surprising the instructor at my lack of weight loss, I got a lot fitter and happier, I now do four workouts a week as a priority and set my apple watch for calories I should burn in a day. All this has brought my cholesterol down to normal, which it has not been for years. Plus I am noticeably quicker on my bike and have more energy for the day so time well spent.

The Greatest Gift

Image by Maciej Szewczyk from Pixabay

Image by Maciej Szewczyk from Pixabay

Chocolate, Jesus, friends and family, having Christmas off, to one side for a moment. A sabbatical is a gift, though it doesn’t always feel like it at the time, looking back it is. It’s an unconditional gift of love. It is in my case the church reminding me that I am, under God cherished and loved. 

It doesn’t matter I didn’t get everything done, but I was able to be unencumbered by the guilt of there is always something more to do, or there is always something that doesn’t get done.

That freedom, that love, has helped me untangle myself, to some degree, from things I had become a slave of the things that kept me awake at night. 

My Spiritual Desert

As I walked into the desert, there was nothing but sand beneath my feet and few trees, and nothing but a loud silence! To be away from the noise and bustle of life felt good, and I hadn’t even taken my phone with me! The worry did cross my mind however, that no one knew where I was, and if I was to get lost this could be problematic.

Along time before that desert experience, I had, had another, it was not dissimilar. There was what felt to be a large expanse, and there was a silence, deep and penetrating.

This was not a physical desert, there was no sand beneath my feet or hard rock. There were no trees or anything to speak off. For this desert was spiritual, internal, truly lonely. You could be in a crowd and yet alone. What was worse, was that I could not see, hear or feel God. It felt like he was distant, absent, uncaring.

When God is gone from your life it’s like there is a limb missing, another dimension to your life ceases to be. So you carry on the best you can, going through the motion of life, the rituals or church. Looking at others who seem to have it altogether in terms of their spiritual life, and wondering why you have been left behind. Or perhaps asking the question what have I done wrong?

I read various books about people in similar experiences, I read the book of Job in the bible, and discovered that he knew the similar isolation. That even though there were others like me, it didn’t ease my sense of spiritual isolation, because  for no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get back to where I was with God. I didn’t know how to, I had lost my way, I had taken a wrong turn and now found myself lost without a compass.

From my reading, I learnt that sometimes people go through these experiences of isolation. Jesus did in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights when he was tempted in every way, Job as a whole book written about his spiritual desert. Yet for these and so many others they kept believing, hoping, trusting in God. They didn’t walk away, they didn’t give up.

I’m not sure at what point things started to change for me? But the burden of the desert began to become lighter, and slowly I became more aware once again of Gods presence around me and within. I even during prayer near the end of this time received a picture of Jesus standing waiting for me on the desert edge.

The first desert I spoke of at the beginning of this post is one in Australia in the outback of New South Wales, is the tradition for the aborigines to go walkabout, to go into the desert for a period of self-discovery. Perhaps my desert was mine, perhaps God was testing me, testing my metal, my perseverance, my trust in him.

Sometimes it is only through silence we make such discoveries, sometimes it’s only through personal loss we discover who our friends are, sometimes it’s through our brokenness we discover the quality of the Christian community that’s surrounds us.

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Over the coming few weeks of Lent, these posts are going to be focused on personal experiences of God and my journey with him, the joys and sorrows leading us to the wonder of Resurrection day. Hope you enjoy them feel free to comment and or click the like button.

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