If, like me you were raised in a fundamentalist church, you learn to try very hard from the very beginning. Try hard to be good. Try hard to earn the right to have your name written in the Book of Life. Try hard to win others to Christ because that is your bounden duty and your eternal destination may depend on it, which is a real worry when you haven’t hit your target.
Being a Christian meant trying hard.
And if you felt that God didn’t love you, then that was your fault because you simply weren’t trying hard enough. God’s love was there for the redeemed and the saved and the ransomed, and if you couldn’t with any certainty name yourself in that merry little band then that was your lookout.
It’s not surprising then that the tendency to try hard has dogged me throughout my life and made any requirement or obligation into something of a challenge. Homework? I spent every night from age eleven to eighteen in pursuit of perfection. Clergy wife? One I failed at miserably what with not being comfortable in church and all, but I did give it my best shot even if I skipped services and hid under the table instead. Single parent? Okay, I sometimes shut myself in my bedroom to avoid actually throttling the kids, but I never missed a parent’s evening. Grandmother? Ha! Test me on the intricate plot of ‘Moon and Me’ or ‘In the Night Garden’ and I’ll give you a run for your money.
God loves a trier.
Now in the Third Order there are quite a few requirements, as you would expect. You don’t just rock up and say ‘I want to join’, and sign on the dotted line. Well – you do – in a way, but it’s a process of discernment whereby you explore with God if this is the right path for you. (Which aren’t words which would have dropped easily from my lips during my stand-off years with God.)
To be honest I’ve never had any neon signs from God pointing me the right way. I’ve never had any megaphones in my ear, or doves on a gatepost, or voices of prophecy. If I hear the voice of God it tends to be still and small and right in the pit of my gut.
It tells me I’m loved.
Now, I’ll let you into a secret. I’ve been trying too hard lately. I’ve just swapped one straitjacket for another.
Isn’t the Third Order meant to be ‘my chains fell off’, not ‘let’s make the locks tighter??’
I listened to my priest friend and my Novice Guardian (or Angel Guardian as my husband calls her, and that’s about right) on this one, and they told me to stop. Just stop. And rest. And sit with Jesus. And find, y'know, that Jesus is okay with that and is well happy to just sit down with me whenever, and do nothing.
So that’s what I’ve been doing – or not doing.
And I’ve stopped writing. I came over all mardy and said to my priest-friend that I had nothing new to say, and she said that most people have only one message and they need to keep saying it. And, as to further reinforce this idea, the preacher in the Sunday service that week, a lovely prayerful man, said that when he was training for the priesthood, his mentor told him that most clergy only had one sermon in them and they needed to keep preaching it.
So the message is - carry on with your message.
And my message is that the God I grew up with ISNT’T GOD AT ALL. The God I know now is full of compassion and loves me totally and absolutely unconditionally, and wants to hold me tightly now and forever, and tell me I really am safe, even when I frequently mess up.
That’s what I’ll keep saying.
And as I sit with Jesus, saying nothing, three words play unbidden on a loop in my head. Encircle us. Heal us. Protect us. And I let the tape run, holding in my heart all those dear to me, all my friends who are sick and struggling, my brothers and sisters in the Third Order, and especially Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine and its hurting, beleaguered, terrified people.
And the Russian soldiers wanting their mums.
Encircle. Heal. Protect.
That’s what I’ll keep saying.
Without even trying.
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