We have entered the season of Petertide ordinations, where those who have been training for the past two or three years in colleges and parishes across the country, finally reach that point that they have been working towards.
But there are a small number who won’t have what they have been working towards realised today, or indeed in the future. There are those who were not recommended for training and those who have been called to a different path during training, and I am sure there are many others who will find this time of year hard.
I have just completed three years of training, I studied part-time and continued working. It has been hard work but also an absolute pleasure. I have met some amazing friends…and some not so amazing people – it’s okay to say that, we can’t like or get along with everyone!
I am one of those who was due to be ordained next weekend but won’t be and I realised that there is little or even nothing written about not being ordained at the end of training. So, I hope that this might help towards dispelling the feeling of failure and the fear of the future.
One of the largest misunderstandings, I believe, is that the discernment of your calling stops at the point of recommendation for training. That the path is clear, you will train for two or three years and at the end you will enter the cathedral, take your charge and be ordained. What I want to say, is that, discernment never stops. It continues. It is ongoing, and that is how it should be. To stop, is to stop listening to God. And, in that listening, you may find you are called to something other than ordination – that’s okay! You are in training for a reason, it doesn’t just have to end with a collar.
As someone who falls into the latter of those two options, I have been told ‘well, you chose not to be ordained’. That’s like telling someone who is ordained and having a hard time in parish ‘well you chose to be ordained’. This shows at best a distinct lack of understanding of what calling is. Yes, there is choice, but that comes from listening, from prayer, from making really hard decisions, and is not a comment on what you are doing! People will assume that because you aren’t doing something the same way as them, then you are saying that what they are doing is wrong.
To try and explain what your ‘calling’ is, is hard at the best of times, but it is even harder to explain that the call on your life has changed, and that ordination isn’t where God may be calling you; I have found that those who are due to be ordained imminently have had a really hard time understanding this.
There is, and will be, whether conscious or unconscious, an assumption that you have just made this difficult and often painful decision, out of the air! That you woke up one morning and decided that you couldn’t be bothered. Well, I can assure you that for me, there were many tears, shouting and anxiety. There were endless discussions with my spiritual director, with my tutor, with family and friends for more than a year – there was no plucking out of the air, and the feeling of judgement from those who are part of your support network is as painful as the decision that was finally come to.
To our friends being ordained, we have walked with you through this journey, we have prayed with and for you, we have supported you when there have been doubts along the way; because we know that the essay that feels like it might tip you over the edge will get done, we know how hard the last two or three years have been on your families, friends and forget a social life! We know, because we have had the privilege of calling you friend, of being with you and hopefully, for many many years to come. The only thing we ask of you now, is to be kind, ask how we are doing, to be aware that in the decisions we have made there is pain, it hasn’t been easy and we are grieving.
What I am certain of is that whether you are ordained or not, God has a path for you. Being ordained isn’t the be all and end all. You are no less sacred or holy, no less worthy – you are a child of God, your sacredness is intrinsic to your very being. Being true and authentic in how you engage with the world is realising what is being asked of you by God – not you’re your DDO, vocations adviser, your training college, or friends.
Remember, ordination is not the only way to be fruitful, to serve, or to minister to your community – how ever that is made up and wherever it is. What is important, is that you listen to and trust in God. They have a plan for you. It might feel like you have been cut loose and are in a whirlwind. I believe that you are firmly tethered to the divine creator, the one who will guide you, the one who holds onto you. One of the things that I struggled with, was the lack of clarity on what it is I was supposed to be doing – that is because I like to know what I am doing and when. What I would say is this, it will become clearer, and it will be in the most unexpected way; through a conversation, through something you read or see as you walk to the shop to pick up a pint of milk…but you will be shown, you will feel it. Trust in God.
This weekend, there will be WhatsApp chats, social media posts, live streamed services from cathedrals and churches of ordinations to both the diaconate and priesthood. If you find that hard to see, to talk about or to watch, it’s okay not to engage with it directly. If you are invited to an ordination service, in actual person (I know, the very thought!) and you would find that too painful or difficult, you don’t have to go. Talk to the person who has invited you, they have done so because they want you at a really important event in their life, you must mean a great deal to them. But it is okay to decline, but let them know you will be praying for them. It may be that it is just the day itself that you can’t face, and if that is the case, maybe arrange a celebration catch up in the following weeks.
I have amazing friends being ordained this weekend and next weekend, and I love them deeply and I will be praying for them. However, I have chosen to retreat from the world for a couple of weeks. Not because I don’t wish them well or that I don’t support them, but because it is too much for me.
For those who are to be ordained this Petertide or later in the year at Michaelmas, please spare a thought for your friends and for anyone who might find this time of year difficult. Believe me when I say, we are praying for you and your future ministry, we are genuinely happy for you – you will be amazing, I am sure. Go well, be amazing and we will see you on the other side.
Yes, it’s still Christmas! I’m not getting into the annual discussion about how the Christmas season doesn’t finish until Epiphany, or if you really want, Candlemas. For those who have had the tree up since October you’re probably, and quite understandably, sick of the sight of it and the need for clear surfaces and the ability to walk around your home without getting covered in glitter/standing on tree pines or the ever-penetrating smell of cloves and oranges is all too much.
So, all of that aside, I have been thinking about the year ahead. Mainly, I think, because 2020 was…tricky to say the least. I want to take control of some of things that I do. The biggest thing that is due to happen in 2021 for me is that I am to be ordained deacon into the Church of England. I have spent the last three years training for ordination, whilst continuing to work. Nowhere in all that was the idea that there would be a pandemic, marriage breakdown, moving or fighting for my voice to be heard. I am emotionally exhausted and spiritually empty.
When I say I am exhausted, it is not the same way in which our frontline workers are exhausted. I have been able to work from home, not had to put my health and that of my loved ones on the line, isolate from family, watch friends and colleagues die from Covid-19 or be at the mercy of our incompetent government. For those who don’t believe the pandemic is real take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror. I digress…
So, 2021 will be a little different, we don’t know how long we will continue to be lockdowns or restrictions. The distribution of the vaccine is wonderful news and whilst the virus will be with us for some time, this feels like a good start in finding hope for a less restricted 2021.
I am not one for making New Year’s resolutions – to give up drinking, to lose weight, to start a project etc – as I know that I will have either broken the first two by the end of January or give no more attention to the third. That’s not to say I don’t have things that I want to do, I do…lots of things! I just don’t put a time limit on them in that way. And so, at a time when there is so much already planned for me, I am taking back (some) of the control.
First up – I will be taking a break once my academic training has completed in June. There will be no ordination in 2021. For many that would inflict such fear and terror, that it wouldn’t even be a small thought in a very wide horizon. For me, it brings relief and a sense of wellbeing that I haven’t felt in a long time. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t something I have just thought up or pulled out of the blue, this has been a process of discernment over many months with a raft of emotions to go with it – fear, tears, elation, uncertainty…but ultimately, I have come to a place of peace and knowing that this is the right decision for me.
This seems, and quite frankly is, a very simple request. However, as with all institutions the paperwork and justifications needed to do this has become somewhat tiresome and so it has not been without its frustrations. It took me a while to realise that the main reason for my frustration, was that I wasn’t being listened to.
People were, and still are hell bent on projecting how they feel about this, onto me. I don’t doubt for a second they have the best of intentions and without offence being meant, and I love them for their concern. However, to have to justify decisions I have spent a long time discerning, time and time again is hugely frustrating. You have the same conversations over and over again, and all I want to do is shout ‘please listen to me!’. The fear of making such a big decision paralyses people and their ability to just listen, vanishes. I am not looking for something to be fixed, there is nothing broken. What I do know, is that if I don’t have the time out, there will be a very broken me.
I have plans for my time out, things that will help me to reset my sense of self, to strengthen my relationship with God – believe it or not, training has distorted that relationship – and with the church as a whole. It would be very easy to walk away from the church entirely, at the moment, but I don’t believe that is what I am being called to do. However, I do believe that I am being called to establish a different relationship with it, one that is spiritually nourishing and where I can be authentically me, where my ministry (either ordained or Lay) is carried out with integrity, truth and respect.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have a sense of fear. I did – what if it is more than time out? What if I am never offered a title post again? What if I am refused ordination? It’s a scary thought that after all of your discernment (in some cases years at the point you attend a selection panel) and then training, all of the emotion and time that you have put into each assignment, each placement; that actually ordination may not be where your journey, thus far, will take you, that there is something else that you are being called to. It is something that has to be faced, although it makes the Bishops twitchy when you speak in these terms! But so be it. For as hard as it is to start this process, it is much better to give these throughs space, to discuss and possibly change direction, than to follow a path just because it’s easier than stopping and taking a moment to listen to what God might actually be saying and doing.
It feels like there is an unspoken fear amongst ordinands, that if you aren’t ordained at the end of your training, then in some way you have failed. I am not talking about all ordinands, some are clear of their vocation and calling, but there will be some in each training college that aren’t so certain that ordination is the natural conclusion of training. I hope that in some way, my writing openly about this ongoing discernment, helpful.
I would also encourage you to find people you trust, to talk to and a good spiritual director (if you don’t already have one). There are many clergy who have taken time out, it’s not as unusual as you might think. I am very lucky that I have an excellent spiritual director, friends and family that I can have very frank conversations with, without judgement. It is absolutely possible to have time and space for thought and discussion about this, be kind to yourself and let God lead you.
So, on to the other things that I would like to give some time to. A long retreat – obviously this is pandemic allowing. I have gone on retreat many times, usually for a few days, sometimes a week. But the one thing I am always left feeling is ‘I wish I could spend more time’. Maybe 2021 is the year that I take a sabbatical and actually go on that retreat. I want to read more than theology. Whilst this is edifying and helps me to think about my faith, it isn’t always what I need. Sometimes, all I want, in fact all I need in that moment is a good historical crime novel or do something craft based or baking or walking…
My relationship with God is really rather straight forward, when you strip away all of the ‘stuff’ that we are told that we should be doing, which in a lot of ways distracts me from that very relationship.
I have come to realise over the last year, actually, I don’t have the need to ‘be in church’ to worship God, I find that I give and receive more from being in nature on a long walk, or doing something meditative, rather than being in a church at 8am on a Sunday morning. For many people, this won’t be any kind of revelation, but for me this is quite new, and slightly left field. I have been in church every Sunday for years and many a week night, and I have wanted to, even needed to be there. When I think back on that, that was right for that time, but this is a new time.
Liturgy gives us the words to voice our praise for God and Prayers for our world, in a uniform and consistent way. But sometimes there are just too many words and not enough time for listening and just being – for instance I have never been one who ‘bonded’ with morning prayer as set by the Church, it is far to wordy for first thing in the morning. Give me silence, maybe a poem or a piece of music that shows me the love of God and my day with God gets off to a cracking start. Compline, now we’re talking, it’s a beautifully simple service at the end of the day. As I get older, I want more simplicity and silence. I think this is my inner Quaker trying to come to the surface.
Now, I love a beautifully ornate chasuble, lots of incense and a proper epiclesis but I don’t need that all of the time. There was a time when I would have baulked at the idea of anything other than all of the bells and whistles of a full Mass. Now that isn’t to say I don’t gravitate towards this type of service, but it is no longer the be all and end all. When I have thought about why, its actually quite simple, the one and only thing I have truly missed, more than anything over the last year, is being able to take the sacrament. Now, it could be part of a simple 20-minute service with two readings and prayers, a full Mass or anything in-between – I don’t actually believe God concerns themself with the length of, or how intricate the service itself is.
I’m not going to argue the merits of online services. All I will say is that I think they are massively important. However, for me personally they leave me a little cold. I don’t feel as though I have worshipped or praised God through my laptop screen, and I wish that I could feel the sense of connection that I know so many do. Online worship has without doubt come into its own over the last year, especially for those who find going into a church hard for whatever reason – all reasons are valid and I support them all. God meets us where we are, not where it is deemed valid or expected, and that may well be at the kitchen table with our slippers on and a cup of tea.
So, it would appear I am between a rock and a hard place about where I place myself for worship. Now, that has the potential to be troublesome, however, I am taking this as an opportunity to find a new place – field or cathedral, church or chapel. Either way, I am looking forward to having the time to explore this.
I want to give more time to the things that bring me joy and a sense of peace. This seems like an odd thing to have to be explicit about, but I often find myself sticking with the things that are not joyful in the least, but because I have started, I need to finish or complete. I am going to apply this not only to doing things, but also the relationships that I choose to have.
I am constantly told to love everyone, no matter what the cost to me may be, that I should turn the other cheek when treated badly, and if I don’t, I am not a ‘proper’ Christian – whatever that means. Yes, I agree that we should love one another, but that doesn’t mean we have to put up with bad behaviour. I love people because they are part of Gods plan and made in the image of God, but do I like all of them, absolutely not. I believe to cut ties is sometimes the most ‘loving’ thing to do. You don’t have to make room for people who cause you pain or make you feel small, bully, devalue your existence or harm you. Where there is a consistent disregard for your feelings, an ignoring of your boundaries, and a continuation of harmful treatment in any way, they need to go. I’m not talking about minor fallings out or disagreements, that is part of being human and part of being in relation with each other. There is always room for good disagreement, but to still like and respect each other.
Moving on to things that bring me joy. I have become interested in lino printing over a number of months, watching videos, looking at peoples work, even having some of that work – it is still yet to be framed and hung! I hadn’t even heard of this until recently. The beauty and simplicity of the lines really appeal to me. So, this year, I am going to learn how to do this. My main aim of learning something new, is to find new ways of meditation and prayer. If you’re at all interested, I’ll be posting the end results on my Instagram page as I go. I know I said I don’t make resolutions, but I make an exception here and say that I resolve to come out of this year with all my fingers!
If 2020 teaches us anything, and there are many take aways, one thing I have become very aware of is that, whilst online stuff is extremely useful, fun and interactive, what I crave is some real experiences again, and on occasion some human interaction – but only on high days and holidays, we don’t want to overdo it! I jest. Actually, getting to see people in real-life in the flesh and everything, rather than through my laptop or phone screen is something that I am looking forward to immensely.
I realise that I am immensely lucky in that I have some of the very best people in my life. They are supportive and loving, they are diverse and beautiful, they are inspiring and I love them all.
As a side note, I should have been writing an essay and a sermon today, and it turns out that the word count I should have been using for both those things I’ve used for this post…this has been peak procrastination, and I don’t regret a thing!
It’s been a strange 7 days, death, a trip to A&E and yet another hate filled piece of publicity from the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC). I would say go and watch it for yourself, but I wouldn’t want to inflict this poorly disguised piece of discriminatory propaganda (and that is what it is), on anyone. This sort of thing serves no purpose except to fuel the fire of hatred and violence against the LGBTQIA+ Community.
What I have taken comfort and just pure joy in, is that the hashtag #beautifulstory, which the CEEC I am sure, had hoped would help them in promoting their propaganda, has actually been taken over by LGBTQIA+ peeps of Twitter – CEEC are going to be livid and I couldn’t be more delighted! These are stories of love and faithfulness, of commitment and respect.
The CEEC and its members will tell you that same sex relationships are wrong, that if you are gay, you go against God and the Church. It’s almost like they’ve never heard of Jesus Christ! I know of people who have had ‘the gay prayed away’ – let me tell you something, the ‘gay’ is never prayed away. They are still gay, whether they want to accept it or not.
I pass no judgement on how people wish to live their lives, you can marry who you want, live with who you want and sleep with who you want. However, I do have a problem when living the life that you want, means that you feel you have a right to inflict pain, suffering and judgement on others.
It is all very well saying we have to have mutual flourishing, but it seems that it only applies one way. If a conservative condemns people to hell because of their sexuality then those who have been condemned should suck it up and ‘listen’ to difference, embrace their brother or sister in Christ, and find common ground. However, when we say, actually what you are saying is damaging, hurtful and we don’t want to engage in this hatred anymore, we are told that we are not engaging or promoting a wider conversation. We are being difficult, a problem to be solved. Guess what? We are not a ‘problem’ to be solved and we don’t have to listen to people who are in no way interested in listening to us. Do you remember Jesus in the temple with the moneylenders? Well, take this as an overturning of the tables and saying no more!
We don’t have to listen to your vitriolic hate speech and we don’t have to engage with it. There are those who I respect immensely who are far more patient than me and will try to engage and have meaningful conversations with you. They are far more tolerant and understanding of your views/theology than I am. You are lucky that they give you their time. They are good people and want to work with you. Don’t waste this opportunity.
I have spent decades, like so many others defending who I am in one way or another. I am done with that. If you don’t like me, don’t speak to me. If you question my value as a human, I don’t care about your opinion, you’re wrong, this is not up for debate. If you believe that I don’t live a godly life, good for you, move on.
What I will continue to do, is call you and your pernicious ideologies out, and challenge you to be better. If you believe you live a godly life already, show it by living it.
For now, though, I will continue to read through the beautiful stories of God given, blessed relationships, people and communities. This is where life is to be found, where love and joy is a gift from God and is celebrated in the heavens with Jesus as the officiant!
I am livid, and ashamed at the levels of hypocrisy of the Church of England. I am part of a Church that allows the most dangerous in our churches continue to abuse the most vulnerable in our society. This has been going on for years, let’s not pretend that it isn’t the worst kept secret of the Church today. Don’t let what the PR Svengalis tell you fool you.
Time and again, the ‘powers that be’ have been warned of the abuse that is inflicted by clergy on those who trust them. I have come to realise over the years, that there is a distinct Messiah complex that runs deeply through the upper echelons of the Church of England which filters its way down to the more vulnerable clergy who see that as a way to ‘get on’.
As an ordinand training for the priesthood, the last few days has solidified for me something that has been bugging me for some time. How can I, with my integrity intact, be a part of an institution that behaves in this way? An institution which allows this behaviour with no accountability by its Bishops. You can already hear the wagons circling, ready to excuse its behaviour, but not before the empty platitudes and fake repentance. Because, believe me, whatever you see on social media from the Bishops and the clergy and laity that suck up to them say, this won’t be all there is. There will be more who have suffered at the hands of those who believe they can do whatever they want, to whomever they want, whenever they want. And the punishment – nothing more than a slap on the wrist from their Bishop; if anything at all.
The IICSA Report published this week – which every member of Clergy and Laity should read- names a number of clergy who not only allowed this to happen but were complicit in what I can only describe as a cover up. They allowed systematic abuse to flourish and caused (in some cases) irreparable damage. They won’t be the only ones by any stretch. The abuse by clergy is the worst kept secret both in and outside the church. I know some of those named, and I am relieved that they have been named publicly, because from my interactions with them, they are Teflon – nothing sticks! The attitude of these clergy, and their responses to the those who had been abused, is, and was quite frankly abhorrent, and as my grandfather would have said, ‘they should be horsewhipped!’. Now whilst I don’t condone the use of violence against anyone, it is easy to understand the anger and thought that goes behind that that statement. You see my grandfather was educated by the Church, Nuns to be precise and I can tell you that by the time he left school, he had had his faith beaten out of him; literally!
If he were alive, my grandfather would be well into his 90’s, and so you can see how far back the abuse of the church has been tolerated and explained away. Some will say, ‘oh well, that was a long time ago, its different now’. No, its not, and it is shocking that with everything that we know and have seen – from the latest IICSA report and other reports into abuse by the Church – that not enough has actually changed.
It’s all very well showing a picture of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, lighting a candle with a look of sadness, even repentance (although perhaps that picture should be described as smug). That look comes from a man who is notoriously petulant, and I can only assume that the only thing he is sorry about, is that his incompetence and complicity thus far has been found out and made public. He hasn’t learnt a thing from his predecessor ++Careys behaviour with the Peter Ball case. In the real world, withholding information from a police enquiry is an offence, however Carey made up some spurious excuses as to why he did that, and it wasn’t until 2017 that he apologised to Balls victims; an apology that no doubt was less than gracious or meant. I can see the same pattern of behaviour in Welby. There are many who like Welby, but I have neither faith in, or respect for, him or his circle of sycophants; the sooner they depart the church all the better.
Safeguarding responsibility must be taken away from the Bishops. They have proved time and time again that they are at best ill-equipped to fulfil this vital role, and at worst they don’t care and knowingly allow the worst behaviour to be meted out, without consequence to the perpetrators. Safeguarding needs independent handling, by those trained and equipped to take it seriously. That, I don’t believe is possible within the current church structures.
Whilst I am angry, I am also sad. Sad that this was allowed to happen at all, and for the effect on those who have been abused. To those who were brave and spoke up, and to those who are unable too; I am sorry. I am sorry that you weren’t believed. I am sorry that you were made to feel less than you are. The effect of having to relive those traumatic events, only to be fobbed off for so long, I can only imagine.
The Church is a place in which everyone should feel welcome and safe. But the reality is that it is a place of darkness and despair for many, and so we have to ask ourselves: How has this been allowed to happen? This isn’t of Gods making, this is most definately of human making. The God whom I love doesn’t abuse, or lie, or cover up. The God whom I love, is not the one you see on social media making excuses for bad behaviour, covering up for colleagues who stretch and break the rules of morality. My God is not one who hunts the vulnerable and exploits that vulnerabilty, for his own personal gratification. God was incarnate in Jesus Christ, who came to show his love for us, to care for us and each other – I am failing to see that love, the love for which Christ died, shown by the Church.
We are taught about ethics and Christian living as part of our training, what a joke! This is a church that tells its clergy how to order their households, who they can and can’t marry, who you should be in order to protect THEIR reputation. But if you want to abuse a child or a vulnerable person, then go ahead, they’ll cover that up for you just to keep that reputation intact. Appalling isn’t it. And so, I return to my question: How can I, with my integrity intact, be a part of an institution that behaves in this way?
The truth is, I don’t know that I can. I choose to continue training because I love the people I am training with. They are amazing and loving and will be the priests and deacons who you can trust and find God with. But that isn’t enough to be ordained. Ordination is a gift of Gods grace and love. I don’t doubt that God has called me, I don’t doubt that I am supposed to be exactly where I am, doing exactly what I am doing. However, I have to be able to look God in the eye and account for the things I have done and the decisions I have made throughout my life. I believe God is calling me to ministry, but maybe not within the institution that is the Church.
You know when you come up with a bright idea, like doing a blog, and then you realise you have to actually write something for that blog, but have no idea what it is that you want to say? Well, I am there right about now. So, I thought maybe a good starting place would be for me to tell you a little about how I engage with the world day to day, and how I keep myself relatively balanced.
There are many ways in which we can try and figure out what is going on in our lives; good, bad and indifferent. But we have to find the best ways for us as individuals to do that.
For a kick off, I don’t get on with journaling or keeping a diary – the irony of saying that whilst writing this, does not pass me by. For a lot of people, the action of writing (and I mean writing with a pen and not typing on a keyboard) is part of the process of reflection and engagement, the movement of the pen and the time to think adds to the process I am told. And then there is me. Possibly one of very few people who just doesn’t get on with this way of reflection or engagement. The discipline that is needed for this feels far too needy! I love to write, but on my own terms. I am sure that this daily ritual works well for the Queen, but not for me.
Unfortunately, a lot of church ‘stuff’ is about ritual and routine, so it is always a surprise to me and possibly others, that I find myself training for Ordination. There is much I love about ritual and routine, but there is also much I don’t like. Potential offense may occur here – I don’t like Morning Prayer. There I said it. It’s far too wordy for that time of day, and I much prefer to give thanks and start my day with less words and more silence. I’m about to go off on a tangent, so I shall say no more about my relationship with the offices of the Church for now, but will no doubt return to them at some point.
So, I guess the question is, as a person of faith, but more importantly someone who is just trying to be the best person I can be, what is it that I do to engage with the world and my own experiences, without writing tomes of poetic or blessed thoughts?
Well, there are lots of things I like to do – write, paint, sew, cook, walking in wide open spaces, photography – and I do all of these things as an when the mood takes me, and to varying degrees of success. But I don’t believe that doing these things in order to perfect them, isn’t the point. I have found things that I enjoy, things that I can immerse myself in, things that help me to relax, to reflect and to be still. I realise that I am not shedding any great light on the ways in which we can engage in the world, or how you should do it. However, all of these things involve silence, and that for me is a good habit to have, as I have found it to be what helps good mental wellbeing.
There will be people who find times of silence difficult or even pointless, and will dismiss it for varying reasons. From conversations that I have had over the years, there is a feeling, for a small number, that unless you are writing great tomes of insightful thought, then how are you really engaging with life, people and the world around you. I don’t agree with that; in fact, I am allergic to black and white responses to anything. Life is a kaleidoscope of colour and experiences. To say that silence – however you may find it – is a waste of time is to deny yourself a true encounter with yourself, your God, the universe or whatever it is you are trying to discern – it may be that you just want to connect with your deeper being. Whatever it is, it is yours and you really don’t need anyone elses approval.
I have come to a point in my life where I realise that I am not here to please everyone, that would be impossible. I try to be the best person I can be; I am by no means perfect – I hold grudges, I shout and swear, and I have days where the effort to ‘be nice’ is quite frankly beyond me. The key for me, is to recognise the warning signs. I know as soon as I wake up whether it is going to be ‘one of those days’, this could be because I’m stressed, overtired, running on empty or it could be for absolutely no reason at all.
The thing that I have learnt to do is to accept all of these things about myself. I haven’t always been happy or accepted them; they are traditionally thought of as ‘bad’ or ‘not very Christian’. It has taken a long time to get to a point of acceptance. A large part of that was letting go of the expectations of outside influences and demands. Those which informed my view of myself and subsequently how I allowed people to treated me and me them in return.
Doing something for our own wellbeing, is not only good for us but for the people around us. It helps with both our mental and physical health. I always feel that having that time gives me the opportunity to be still, and in a way that helps me to hear and see more clearly where God might be working in my life, and how I might respond to that. Equally, it can just be a time of rest, nothing more nothing less. That’s not to say that you will feel the same things that I feel in these moments of stillness, or what I have come to know as sacred idleness – our individuality is one of the many beautiful things about our humanity.
So, let’s talk about sacred idleness. This has been one of the singularly most important things that I have learnt during my training. To know when to do nothing, and to not feel guilty about it. When I say nothing, nothing can be anything that you want it to be. It could be doing absolutely nothing, it could be reading a book that you want to read rather than something required, it could be watching a film/tv series. The ‘nothing’ is yours to decide. The key here, is to not feel guilty about taking this time for yourself. It can be tricky to get used to, especially if you are a person who needs to be ‘doing’ all the time, but I thoroughly recommend giving it a go.
One thing that I do – amongst the many that I turn to – is the Ignatian Examen (you can find out more about it HERE). This is a technique that helps me to prayerful reflect on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for me. The Examen has few rules attached to it, and so it is flexible in its use, but of the few rules that St Ignatius set was the requirement to practice the Examen twice daily—at noon and at the end of the day. Given that i am not one for rules, as such, I tend to use this as an addition rather than a firm fixture in my day. Nonetheless, it is a helpful resource to have in your armour and it can be used in a secular way as well.
I don’t mean to sound all ‘holier than thou’ or to be one of the pompous prigs, who tells you that “all you need to do is Xand everything will become clear”. No. that is far from what I am saying. Our individual needs are vast, and how we process things happening in our lives is complex. I guess, what I am trying to say is we all need time out, space for ourselves away from other people, from work, from the kids, from life in general and not feel guilty about that. Easier said than done sometimes, I know.
My point here is, find something that is authentic to you, not what is dictated as the ‘right way’ (including my ramblings). If you are someone who loves to write pages and pages, then absolutely do it. There is no one way for all, just as there is no one size fits all. My rebellious side raises her head when I am restricted in this way, and she is a nightmare to control when she is awakened.
Be you. Find what is good for you. Look after your mental wellbeing and most of all, be kind to yourself.