Sat at home, alone, on a Friday night, John Humphrys’ voice echoing general knowledge questions around my living room, it seems inevitable that I would start writing my blog. I come to the keyboard somewhat tentatively in repentance for my lack of blogging of late. As it often does, life has taken precedence over my musings and I have instead been camping in a Somerset field, and sipping water at a seemingly infinite number of weddings. Nonetheless, in light of Durham University’s impending Freshers’ Week, I felt inspired to write something.
If I think back over my Freshers’ Week at Durham, I recall a lot of conversations that all pretty much went in the same direction and culminated in the inevitable statement, ‘oh, so you study English?’ Ever since first expressing my interest in studying English Literature, this admission has generally resulted in one of the following responses:
Don’t you already speak English?
Thanks for wasting tax-payers’ money.
Are you looking forward to unemployment?
Did you not think to study a real degree?
Whenever I confessed that I was an English student, I felt an overwhelming need to apologise. But after a year, I’ve come to realise that I don’t need to do that anymore. I’m not sorry that I study English.
For some reason, we live in a culture that is obsessed with making money and being successful. Everything that we do centres on this goal. We pick degrees that will result in careers that get us a lot of money. Our society is awash with power-hungry twenty-somethings that just want success. Now, I’m not saying that success or money are intrinsically wrong. Far from it. But I want you to imagine a different world.
I want you to imagine a world where people don’t study Medicine just because their parents told them it’d be a good degree. People don’t avoid studying Art just because it has a higher rate of unemployment. People don’t shy away from being a housewife or house husband just because society has told them they can do better. I want you to imagine a world where people do what they love just because they love doing it.
I’ve been inordinately blessed to have grown up with parents who encouraged my love of reading and English. Ever since first reading a book called ‘Chrysanthemum’ with my mum, and writing short stories that must have been utterly dreadful, my parents have encouraged me to pursue my love of the English language. They never told me that in order for me to amount to something, I’d have to be earning over 30 grand a year. And I’m so glad that they didn’t.
It sounds like a cliché, or like I’m rewriting my UCAS personal statement, but I genuinely love what I study. I relish in the fact that I get to read the words of amazing people or pretentiously discuss the merits of Andrew Marvell over John Donne. No, I don’t love the essays or the mammoth pile of books beside my bed which will seemingly never diminish. But I’m doing what I enjoy.
I just think that this world would be a vastly different place if people did what they loved doing instead of acting out of obligation. If you want to become a scientist, become one. If you want to be an artist, become one. If you want to be a housewife, become one. Don’t let anyone belittle that which you love doing.
If you think of all the people that have made a difference in this world, who have shaped history and changed something, how many of them were dispassionate about what they were doing? How many of them picked to do something just because it would pay the bills? The answer would be very few, if any at all. The people who change things are those who are passionately excited, not those who act out of societal pressure or obligation. The people who change things are those that recognise their God-given gifts and use them.
So no, I’m not sorry that I study English. Because that’s how I’ve been created. I was made to be sad and geeky, to read books and stay at home on a Friday night to watch Mastermind.
But as St. Catherine of Siena once famously said ‘be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’
So, it’s that dreaded time of the year again: A Level Results Day. Thousands of young people across the country flock to various schools around the country to pick up that one small piece of paper with a list of grades on it which they believe will define everything.
And trust me when I say, I was one of those people.
It was this time two years ago when I headed in to Sixth Form to anxiously pick up my envelope, a nauseated feeling growing in my stomach. It was this time a year and a half ago when I finally got an offer to read English Literature at Durham University. And it has been an on-going process for me to realise that my achievements do not define me.
Education is extremely important, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s one of the key aspects of each society and the foundation upon which everything should be built. And I guess for that moment, it is all that matters in the world. But should that be the case?
I’ve spent near enough my whole life thinking that my education is more important than anything else in the whole world. Selfish, huh? Sure, I understood that being a kind and generous person was important but as long as I got the grades I needed and got into a good university and ended up doing the right career and earning a lot of money, that didn’t really matter, did it?
A lot of my secondary school experience was a competition; sometimes I was competing against other people but often, it was just against myself. When I didn’t get the grades I thought I deserved, I would get angry and frustrated.
Now, I’m not saying all this because I failed all of my exams and have now seen the light of my ways. I didn’t fail my exams. I just learnt that there are things in life that are far more important.
Two years ago, when I opened that envelope, I thought that the world would begin and end with whatever it said inside. But it hasn’t.
When I went on my gap year, the people I met in Malawi didn’t ask me ‘what did you get in A Level French?’ or ‘so, which university are you going to?’ Nobody cared that I got rejected from Oxford. Nobody cared that I didn’t get the grade that I wanted in German. It was then that I started to realise that the only person I was competing against was me.
The world isn’t going to like me anymore or any less because of my education.
And yes, I’m well aware that having a decent education can put you in great standing for life and it is so terribly important that you try your hardest and really attempt to succeed in education.
Give everything that you have in your exams. Pursue excellence. Challenge yourself.
But please remember that you are not defined by a university place or whether you got a ‘B’ in Physics. Who you are as a person is so much more than your results.
this has been on my mind all day.
Just as the sun has decided to hide behind some clouds, I’ve sauntered my way inside on this beautiful July afternoon to watch the Wimbledon Women’s Semi-Finals.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and pretend that I know anything about tennis. Or sport in general for that matter.
Something that strikes me whenever I watch these matches is how much I underestimate the women who play in them. I’ll often write off a women’s tennis match, even with the very best players, in favour of a men’s match with some relatively unknown players. Women’s tennis just seems to be less exciting. But watching this match, I’m seeing how strong these women are; they’re playing for hours at a time, in extremely high temperatures, with thousands of people watching their every move. They’re proving that women’s tennis is not the same as men’s tennis, but it’s still worth watching.
Therein lays the tacky link to what I actually want to talk about. This is a blog post that I have been meaning to write for quite some time but, through a combination of my insecurities, perfectionism, and desire to placate everyone, it hasn’t been written. Or rather, it’s been written multiple times and been met with the backspace key on every occasion. But, as a result of seemingly endless pestering, and the realisation that I actually do need to say this, here I go.
Whenever I talk to people about their objections to Christianity or the church, ‘sexist’ is a word that’s often bandied about. As a Christian woman, I think it’s pretty important to address this issue. Is the church sexist? How can I possibly be a Christian with the way that the Bible talks about women?
If I were to ask a selection of people, I feel that few would argue that there is a more divisive passage of Scripture than that of Ephesians 5, particularly verses 22 and 23:
‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbandsas you do to the Lord.For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church,his body, of which he is the Saviour’.
Now, before I begin discussing this verse, and the issue of headship that goes along with it, I will face the elephant in the room: no, I am not married. Well done for noticing. However, I feel that this isn’t an issue that we should wait until we’re married to discuss. Ignoring a verse in the Bible just because it doesn’t apply to you right now is not how we’re supposed to read Scripture. It’s with that in mind that I tentatively write this blog post.
Living in a society where anarchy and rebellion are admirable traits, and the ‘self’ is venerated above everything else, the word ‘submit’ is almost taboo. Submission is a sign of weakness, surely? If a wife is to submit to her husband, isn’t she saying that he is superior to her?
These are all valid questions and, a year ago, I would have been asking them myself, as well. I had always thought that submission was akin to weakness; I thought that if one submitted to somebody else, they would then be subordinated by them.
It’s through understanding a bit more of the role of Jesus as the Son within the Trinity that I’ve come closer to understanding what Paul actually meant here. Jesus says in John 10:17-18 that ‘the reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’ Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Christ submitting to the Father here? And this is far from an image of weakness. The purest image of strength and love that I can think of in the Bible is the submission and humility that Christ displays in laying down his life upon the cross.
As women, we need to start truly understanding what Paul meant and recognising what our role is in the church. Another instance in which the Bible lays this down for us is in Genesis with Adam and Eve. The Bible tells us that God created both men and women in his image and likeness; they are equal. But equal does not mean identical. Genesis 2 goes some way further to explaining the role of women: ‘it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (Genesis 2:18). The last time I checked, you didn’t need a helper unless you weren’t entirely capable of doing the job yourself. Women are necessary. Men need women. Women need men. It might be helpful here if we compare this relationship to the image of a ballroom dance. In a ballroom dance, it’s not possible for both people to lead; one person will lead and the other will follow. Does this mean one role is less important than the other? No. But it’s only when each person fulfils their own role that one can see the beauty of the dance.
I totally understand the division that has come from reading Ephesians 5; it has been misinterpreted countless times which has resulted in hurt, pain, and abuse for many women in the past. I am in no way condoning that. What Paul says here is addressed specifically to ‘wives’. Not to their husbands, nor any other men. This submission is the mandate of a wife to her husband; a man has no right to force his wife, nor any other woman to submit to him, in any circumstance.
As women, it can be easy to focus on this part of the Scripture and dwell on the hardship that it seemingly inflicts upon us. But it’s also important to consider the verses that follow it. Verse 25 says ‘husbands, love your wives,just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’ Have you ever considered what that command means? Not only is Paul telling men to love their wives but he is also telling them to lay down their lives for them. To give absolutely everything in order to love her. That’s huge! A man has to be willing to give everything for his wife. Everything. And yet we moan about our mandate to submit in reverence to our husbands.
Men and women are not the same. But we are equally valuable, equally worthy, and equally mandated to sacrifice everything to put it at the foot of the cross.
Our faith is a paradox. We are told to lose our lives that we may find them and give everything that we have so that we may receive. It is the paradox of faith that God encourages in relationships as well; it is only through patterns of authority and submission that we are able to foster true unity and mutuality.
Growing up with two older brothers, I’ve never been a girly girl. Much to my mother’s disappointment, it seemed that her tom-boy nature was something of a hereditary issue. Throughout my childhood, I have distinct memories of refusing to wear dresses, crying when my mum attempted to fix my hair, and ultimately wishing that I wasn’t a girl. Despite my sincere and complete love of all things Disney, I’ve never signed up to the idea that was presented to me of what it meant to be a woman.
As I reached my teenage years, not much really changed. I still refused to wear pink and my hair still looked like it was dragged through a hedge backwards.
But it was then that I actually began to care. Before, it had been merely frustrating that my mum had attempted to make me like the daughter she’d always wanted. As I grew older, my inability to fit into the ideals of femininity became a problem, particularly for my self-esteem.
I would read books about what it meant to be a woman of God. I would attend Christian events that would attempt to affirm who I was. But I never really understood it all. I believed that I was some kind of anomaly. I would see girls in pretty dresses, hair immaculately coiffed, and compare them to myself. I would read magazines that told me that I needed to lose weight, and I would believe them. I would inwardly yell at God for not making me like one of these women.
That’s the problem. Today, as women, society bombards us with ideals about what we should be like. We should have a face like Mila Kunis, but a body like Michelle Keegan. But then we should have a quirky personality like Jennifer Lawrence. We should lose weight because we’re too fat. We should gain weight because we’re too skinny. We should wear make-up to hide our spots. But, we shouldn’t wear make-up because we look unnatural. We should try to look like what certain men think is attractive. We should try to be ‘beautiful’.
We live in a world full of paradoxes about who we should be and what we should look like.
And I’ve been a victim to it as well.
It’s not something that changes overnight. I still look in the mirror sometimes and wish that I didn’t look the way I did. I wish that I could lose a bit of weight. Or that my hair was different. Or that my nose was smaller.
But I’m beginning to understand that what I look like doesn’t make me who I am. It doesn’t matter that I don’t like wearing dresses all the time. It doesn’t matter that I hate being called a princess. It doesn’t matter that I don’t sign up to what society says is beautiful all the time. What does matter is what God says about me.
I found that I was reading magazines and books about this stuff but I wasn’t really asking God about anything. I was just being perpetually angry at him for the way that he had made me. So I started to look in the Bible and what I found wasn’t what I had expected.
The Bible is littered with real truths about beauty that you would never find anywhere else. God is truly enthralled by beauty throughout the whole of his Word.
But I’ll simply refer to what is said in the first chapter of the first book: ‘so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:27).
Take a moment to grasp the gravity of that. We are made in the image of an awesome, powerful, creative, loving, humble, beautiful, magnificent God. And yet still, we don’t believe that we are beautiful.
Women, I want to tell you that everything this society tells you is a load of rubbish. I want to tell you that comparison is the thief of joy. I want to tell you that you are beautiful. Not because I say so. Not because some guy has told you so. Not because a magazine has said so.
But because God says so.
I know that my saying this in a blog post is going to come anywhere near to helping you to grasp the truth of your identity in Christ. But it’s my prayer that you’ll learn to take your anxieties and your fears and place them at the foot of the cross.
The King of all Creation has called you by name. You are his daughter. And cheesy as it may sound, you are precious. You are beautiful.
During WWII, Irena got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist. She had an ulterior motive.
Irena smuggled Jewish infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried. She also carried a burlap sack in the back of her truck, for larger kids.
Irena kept a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers, of course, wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.
During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants. Ultimately, she was caught, however, and the Nazi’s broke both of her legs and arms and beat her severely.
Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she had smuggled out, In a glass jar that she buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived and tried to reunite the family. Most had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.
In 2007 Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize.
She was not selected.
Al Gore won, for a slide show on Global Warming.
What do you like about yourself?
Blank stares. Eyes looking at the ground. I don’t know.
What do you like about [insert name here]?
Eyes lit up. Where do I begin?
The amount of times I’ve had a conversation that went something like the one above is staggering; it would be impossible for me to count. I think people have had a fair few conversations like that with me as well.
I spend a lot of my life comparing myself to other people. I ask myself questions on an almost daily basis like ‘why is she prettier than me?’ or ‘why did he get a higher mark on that essay?’ or just plain ‘why can’t I be like them?’
Comparisons are everywhere in the society that we live in. Whenever I walk into a shop, I see magazine articles telling me How To Get That Perfect Beach Bod or How To Get That Boy To Like You. It’s infectious. And much more than that, it’s dangerous.
How can it be a good thing to spend your life not liking who you are?
My problem with comparing myself to other people started a very long time ago.
I’ve always been a bit of a geek. Anybody who knows me reasonably well would be able to tell you that. I love Lord of the Rings. I read for pleasure. I correct people’s grammar. And along with that, I obsess over my work.
When I was still at school, I’d get angry if someone got a higher mark than me. Legitimately.
I spent most of my teenage years (of which I’m now in the last four months) comparing how intelligent I was in comparison to somebody else. I’d constantly ask people how well they’d done in tests just so that I could make sure I was good enough. And if I wasn’t, I’d try and be better. I’d try to be the absolute best.
This constant desire to better myself and compare myself to other people just started to spread across into other areas of my life.
I’d start to notice that other people were much nicer than me. Or much funnier than me. Or much prettier than me. Or had more friends than I did. Or had more money than I did. And the list could go on for about three pages.
I was infected with this disease of comparison. And trust me when I say that the word ‘disease’ is not an over-reaction.
It consumed me.
All I could think about was a way that I could be somebody other than myself.
It was in year thirteen that this way of thinking started to change for me.
After I got lower AS grades than I had hoped for and got rejected from the two universities I really wanted to go to, I realised that life wasn’t over. That sounds like an exaggeration, and hey, maybe it is a bit, but I genuinely thought that I would be nothing were I not known as ‘the clever one’. I thought that Bekah wouldn’t be Bekah unless she had x amount of A stars and everyone noticing her intelligence.
I thought that if I failed, I wouldn’t be good enough. I thought I’d amount to nothing.
But it was in my complete breakdown that I finally let God in. He showed me this verse in Isaiah 43:4 – ‘you are precious in my eyes,and honoured, and I love you’. Simple as that.
It was when I allowed God to break in that I started to realise that you can’t live life constantly comparing yourself to other people. I started to realise that I was just Bekah. And you know what, Bekah was enough.
With all my insecurities and my doubts, with my failings and shortcomings (of which there are too many to count), I was still enough.
Because I am made in the image of God. I am precious. God loves me.
I’m not one for all the cheesy, slightly Americanised version of identity; I hate being called God’s beautiful little princess. But we, as a church, rarely affirm who we are in Christ.
God thinks we’re awesome so…we are awesome. This doesn’t mean that I have to be some princess that has to go around wearing dresses, singing cutesy songs and talking about how God thinks ‘I’m totally beautiful and precious’.
But it does mean that I have to recognise that I am made in the image of an awesome, powerful, creative, loving, generous, amazing God. It means that I have to recognise that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. It means that I have to recognise that God has made me for a purpose. It means I have to recognise that God has made me Bekah, and not somebody else for a reason.
I am by no means saying that I’ve stopped comparing myself to other people. I still do it on a daily basis.
But what I am saying is: wouldn’t it be absolutely incredible if we were a people who recognised who we are and how incredible that is? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could find a cure for this disease of comparison? Wouldn’t it be great if we stopped trying to be somebody else?
Because, as Catherine of Siena said: ‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’
Living in the UK means we have a lot of freedom, right? We have freedom to say whatever we want, do whatever we want (within reason) and believe whatever we want. What if I told you that this isn’t the case for many people around the world? What if I said that were you to practice what you believe you would be persecuted, arrested or even executed?
Shocking? I think we’d all agree on that. Grossly unjust? I think we’d all agree on that too.
But this is the reality for Christians living across the globe. North Korea, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, The Maldives, Libya, Nigeria, and Ethiopia are just a few of the many countries on the World Watch List where persecution is most extreme; people living in these places are running the risk of being arrested or killed just for being Christians.
I live in the UK. Though we have a knack for complaining about near enough everything, I live a relatively free life. I am able to say what I want and practice my faith as freely as I so choose. I am extremely blessed.
But I don’t want to live a cushy and easy life.
It’s for this reason that I’ve decided to take on a year long challenge. Originally an attempt to ‘pay it forward’, I had planned to give up drinking tea for an entire year so as to serve other people instead. Difficult as that would have been, I decided that it wasn’t enough of a challenge.
So instead, in an attempt understand something of what it means to have something taken from me, I’m going to drink nothing but water for an entire year. No tea. No coffee. No alcoholic drinks. Nothing.
I will be spending the money that I save on hopefully serving others but there’s something else too. Here’s where you come in.
Open Doors is a Christian organisation that works across the world with people that are vulnerable to these extreme cases of persecution. They provide Bibles, pray for people, offer emotional and financial support, speak out in advocacy and attempt to drum up support from people in countries like the UK in order to help alleviate the persecution for people at risk. Their work is truly inspiring.
My challenge will not only be a personal one but I also wish to fundraise for the Open Doors charity to, more than anything, raise awareness of people that are suffering around the world. I am hoping to create a JustGiving page nearer the time to do just that.
These people are not just far off Christians who are suffering but they are part of the body of Christ and part of my church family. God’s heart is breaking for each one who has to suffer under the injustice of persecution; 1 Corinthians 12:26 tells us of the body of Christ that ‘if one part suffers, every part suffers with it’.
So a week from today, from February 14th 2014 until February 14th 2015, please join me in thinking, supporting and praying for our brothers and sisters who live in these places who have to suffer hardship every single day for what they believe.
And let us hope that one day soon, Amos 5:24 may come true:
‘But let justice roll on like a river,righteousnesslike a never-failing stream!’
As some of you may already be aware, today is Holocaust Memorial Day. Across the world, people are commemorating the freedom and liberation from Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau and those who experienced the tragedies that occurred there. It’s been about five years since I visited this concentration camp; I was only fourteen but the memories are just as clear as they were then.
I had been told before my arrival in Poland of a strange phenomenon whereby birds didn’t fly over the camp and so was glancing up to determine whether this was true; all I could see was grey. Grey skies, empty of life; apt, I thought, for the solemnity of this visit. Other than the constant flurry of tourists, there was no life at Auschwitz. From the cold metal sign above the entrance reading the lie, ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ to the obnoxious barbed wire fence enveloping Auschwitz, all that I could feel was the heavy claustrophobia of death. Walking through the museum was like a graveyard of memories, a morgue of joy; we could see the children’s shoes and toys piled high upon each other. Beside this was a case filled with the hair removed from the prisoners as they entered the camp, sat alongside the treasures that they were forced to leave behind. Going to Auschwitz allowed me to see the depths of depravity to which humanity could fall and left me with a heavy weight on my shoulders.
That evening, as we returned to where we were staying, conversation was sparse. Though we had merely glanced through the gates and looked around, the thought that people actually spent their lives caged in that hell-on-earth was more than many of us could handle. All at once, I felt confused, angry and shocked, but also empty. It was hard to stomach the idea that actual human beings, like me, had both been victims, and those responsible for what had gone on in this, and the many other camps that existed just like it. In an attempt to vent that anger, I wrote a poem, which has become a work in progress ever since and, hopefully, goes some way to expressing my response to this atrocity I had glimpsed
‘Sent to a better life, they told us. They lied.
Packed to go, our lives in a suitcase.
Forced on a train, sardines in a tin.
We’ll be there soon, they told us. They lied.
Half of us dead, most of us dying.
We arrived, our lives thrust into Nazi fists.
Families separated, people alone.
You’ll see them again, they told us. They lied.
They picked us out, worthy from useless.
Was this just a sick game?
Who were they to say? Who were they to judge?
It’ll be over in a while, they told us. They lied.
Fear for our lives.
People left and never came back.
Our backs broken, our bodies broken, our hearts broken.
“Heil Hitler, he will save the world,” they told us. They lied.
No bravery in our eyes anymore.
Sore from weeping, sore from sleeping.
“Work will set you free, harder,” they told us. They lied.
The innocent forsaken.
The faithful destroyed.
How so uncompassionate? How so empty? How so cold?
You are all bad Jews, they told us. They lied.
I am God’s child, I told them.
I am a light in the darkness, I told them
It’s just a shower, they told me.
They lied. They lied. They lied.’
Witnessing the injustices that were brought upon innocent people saddened me beyond belief. And it distresses me even more to know that such atrocities still exist in the world today.
Millions upon millions of people live in poverty across the world; women are being domestically abused in their homes every single day; children as young as three are being trafficked to the UK for sexual exploitation and prostitution; boys who can barely speak are being given guns and made to be child soldiers. These are just a few examples; injustice is rife in our world.
A few years ago, I was attending a summer camp when one of my favourite songs began to play. It features the lines:
Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity
I decided that I was going to make this my prayer. I wanted God to change me. I wanted Him to break my heart for everything that was breaking His. I fell to my knees in tears and agony as God answered my prayer and it was then that I truly understood the gravity of these injustices.
For every child that cries out in pain, every person who feels empty, alone, hurt, God’s heart breaks. The God that I serve is not a distant God. He is a God who is weeping for the broken and the lost. He is a God with a heart to see people know love, truth and mercy. I serve the God of Isaiah 61:8 that says ‘I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing’.
God wants us to fight against injustice. He wants us to bring freedom to the captives, sight to the blind, a voice to the voiceless and love to the unlovable and He has given us His Spirit so that we may do it.
My prayer is that whatever you may do in life, you ask God to fulfil Ezekiel 36:26 in your life; ask God to give you a new heart and a new spirit. Ask Him to take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ask Him to break your heart for what is breaking His. Ask Him to help you weep for injustice. Ask Him to give you righteous anger against the wrongs of this world
You may think that we are unable to make a difference, but, to close, I recall one of my favourite quotes:
‘Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.’ – Robert Kennedy
I pray that we may be this force of hope and change in a world that is lost, broken and hurting.
As I write this, I am becoming increasingly more aware that I am capitulating to a stereotype. I’m sat in my room, perched on the edge of my bed, cup of tea growing cold beside me, searching for something about which I can write in order to avoid wading through the reading that I really should have already finished. Thankfully, I’m still writing this blog post from behind a closed door (metaphorically speaking, my door is wide open in actuality) and have not yet succumbed to typing with my laptop on full display in a coffee shop, begging someone to approach so that I can say that I am actually a writer.
In the hopes of overcoming what seems to be a chronic bout of writer’s block, I thought I’d write a post on something that’s been on my heart a lot recently: love. This is going to get pretty cheesy, I imagine, so brace yourselves.
‘Love’ is a word that seems to be thrown around a lot. People will casually throw it into their conversations without even truly thinking about the meaning. I’m guilty of it too. I’d barely go a day without saying ‘I love tea’ or ‘I love chocolate’ or ‘I love pizza’ (there seems to be a pattern emerging here…). Our culture has become one where the word ‘love’ seems to have lost its meaning.
It saddens me that many people are still yet to experience the true meaning of what love is. Growing up, I was always assured that I was loved and valued. I was inordinately blessed to have been surrounded by people who loved me and whom I was able to love in return. But I think the idea of love has been so warped in my mind. We use the word so frivolously that it has entirely lost its meaning.
For me, the word that sums up the truest expression of love is sacrifice. Only through sacrifice can one truly demonstrate love. When you look at the relationships in your life, where is it that you can see the most love? It’s in those hours that your parents sacrificed to help you with your homework. It’s in the money that someone sacrificed so that they could buy you a coffee. It’s in the giving of oneself that we are truly able to see the extent of our love for one another.
There has only ever been one person who epitomises this love: Jesus. John 15:13 tells us ‘greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ Jesus is the truest expression of love that we can ever see because he literally sacrificed everything in order to have relationship with us. His love is so vast that he died the most painful death just so that we may be raised with Him.
That is what love is about.
Love isn’t about buying people presents. Or telling someone that they’re attractive. Love isn’t about sex. The truest expression of love is total and complete sacrifice. It’s only when we come to others in total humility, having died to ourselves, that we are able to fully express the love that we possess.
So, no. I don’t ‘love’ tea. I don’t ‘love’ pizza. And yes, I am devastatingly guilty of downplaying the importance of the word.
And no, it is not easy. It is extremely difficult. It means living against that which society has told us we ought to do. It means putting ourselves last and putting other people first. It means humility instead of pride. It means not always getting your own way. Love means sacrifice.
But in light of a Saviour who has laid down his whole life, EVERYTHING, so that we may experience the fullness of His love, how can we do anything but fall to our knees and offer everything in return?!
If I were to go into detail about all the things about which God is challenging me in my life, this post would probably be extremely long. Over the past few years, God has challenged and changed me in ways of which I can merely scratch the surface; I’m beginning to understand the gravity of Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:6 – ‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’.
That being said, it’s true that transformation is still occurring in a massive way in my life, particularly with regard to who I am and where I find my worth and identity.
Growing up in a Christian family, I’ve always been told about God’s love for me though the magnitude of that truth never really sank in. The Bible constantly reminds us of Christ’s sufficiency and of how we are identified as his children but my identity was firmly planted elsewhere. For the beginning of my teenage years, my identity was found in my educational ability, the opinions of other people and my relationship status. Though each of them still remain to some extent, the main point through which God has been shaping me over the past few years is my relationship status.
It’s well known amongst Christians that the Christmas period is the time for Facebook news. Us single girls prepare ourselves mentally to be inundated with the news of various proposals and marriages to which we must comment the obligatory ‘congratulations!’ while we inwardly curse our singleness and recite 1 Corinthians 7 under our breath.
Marriage is a gift from God but I, like many other women my age, have spent my life putting more emphasis on my relationship status than anything else. I will shamefully admit that I’ve written a list of requirements for my future husband in the past ranging from such things as ‘taller than me’ to ‘prefers dogs to cats’. My identity has been planted in whether I was worth something to someone else rather than whether I was worth anything to God. I’d go to Christian events and look around thinking that my potential husband could be sitting in the room; I’d glance around hoping for some divine intervention when God announces in my ear ‘yep, this one, you’ve found him’.
Suffice to say, this never happened. I just continued to note how my other friends were happily in relationships, or singleness, and I had never been comfortable with my own relationship status. I’d always believed that I would be nothing were I single and begged God never to call me to that end.
Just over a year ago, I left for my gap year, doing a Discipleship Training School with YWAM in Malawi. I had taken a massive step in leaving England behind and was determined to dedicate my whole year to God. But, once again, my relationship status got in the way. Being called to be a missionary and being around so many wonderful examples of missionary families just got me further in obsessing over who, if anyone, may one day join me in sharing God to the nations.
I was treating my relationship status above God; it was becoming an idol in my life. With that in mind, it was November 11th 2012 when I decided that I would take a year out from relationships. No thinking about it at all. My life belongs to God and I decided that my year should be His as well. I told my best friend what I had planned to do and she prayed for me and kept me accountable. What happened over that year was entirely different to what I had anticipated.
I expected God to change something in me. He continually does so and whenever I ask Him to do something in my life, He always obliges. Whether it is in tears on my knees or as a passing comment, God takes everything I say seriously.
I will admit that this year was not easy. It’s hard to completely change the way that you think about things and put a stop to something like talking of relationships cold turkey. Especially as it’s such a common topic in our Christian community culture.
But the year of singleness has, without a doubt, been the best year of my life. Other life events aside, God transformed me and my heart in ways that this will only begin to touch upon. It’s been two months since that year ended and I feel like my identity has indubitably and irrevocably changed.
Will I ever use my relationship status as an idol again? Unfortunately, the answer is absolutely.
But at the same time, I now KNOW for definite who I am:
I am a daughter of the King.
I am a co-heir with Christ.
I am a warrior for the Gospel.
I am the crown of creation.
I am the apple of God’s eye.
I am not defined by whether or not I’m in a relationship.
I am defined by the Christ that I serve.
If I never find a husband, that’s fine. I know now that I am completely enveloped in the unending and everlasting grace and love of God. I know that I will often fall short but the ONLY thing that will ever catch me is the open arms of my King.
I know now that the only person that will ever satisfy me is Christ. And I’m beginning to learn what was really meant by 2 Corinthians 12:9 – ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
My plan is to seek God whole-heartedly and see what follows. I believe that this quote from Maya Angelou goes some way to some up how I feel:
I’m still learning about my own heart, and God’s but pray that He will continue to transform me until that day when I see Him face to face. Until then, I will try my best to put Him first knowing that a life devoted to God is better than anything else this earth can offer.