For the last few weeks I’ve been attending a series of Life in the Spirit seminars at our local Catholic church in Flitwick. It’s not something I thought I’d ever do. But I was invited, I felt it was a good thing to do, so I went along. I should have known that God was on my case…
I’ll be honest with you, I have issues with the Roman Catholic church and they boil down to not having a clue about why they do what they do. I’m a Baptist, my faith is a very plain and simple thing. I have a Saviour, I have a Bible and that’s pretty much it. There are no added extras; there’s no grace through the sacraments, there’s no (earthly) priest wanting to hear my confession, no purgatory, no rosary and no Pope. At the crux of it both Baptist and Catholics have the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, prayer and communion and for the rest of it we take different paths. A fear of what I don’t understand has kept me from engaging with the Roman Catholic way of doing things. That would be why I was an ideal candidate to be pushed out of my comfort zone into an RC Church to a series of seminars about the Holy Spirit.
I’ve been spiritually wandering in the desert for a while. Freewheeling, coasting, call it what you will. I really haven’t engaged with it or allowed it much room in my life. That latter point is the crux of the problem. I’ve known it for a long time. I was certainly aware of it back in February when I wrote about my difficulties with prayer, although I’ve not done anything about it. I didn’t really know what to do about it, or understood why it was so important that I did do something about it.
The truth is that I have never given God all of myself. I have never truly trusted him. As a result, I’ve created a version of Christianity that I’m comfortable with and which fits with how I want to be. Do you see the problem? If you’re a Christian you’ll see it straight away in one letter. I. I’m still in the driving seat of my life. I’m still captain of the good ship Rachel Lewis. Yes, she’s sinking, but hey… more wine anyone?
The thing that’s different now is that I want the Holy Spirit in my life. I’ve begun to see that what I have and what other people have is a different measure. I want what they’ve got, but if I don’t address some fundamental issues and open up to God then I’m never going to have what they have, because my issues will put blocks in the way of the Spirit getting through.
God is good and has given me some of it. I’ve had a taste, a shot, a side-order of the Spirit if you like. He’s given me as much as I have given him. I’ve given him all the bits of myself that I’m quite happy to part with, but I haven’t given him everything. In return he’s given me a portion, but not the entire banquet that more obedient people are feasting on.
I don’t trust God and I realise that it’s because I’m fearful of him making changes that would cause people to not like me. If no one likes me then I will be back to being the lonely 8 year old girl that I was, wandering around in a school playground while everyone around her plays with their friends and has fun.
As a family we moved three times between me being 7 and 10 years old. In that time I had four new schools and four new sets of people to get to know. I struggled to make friends because, for a different reason, I’d lost my confidence and I didn’t think I was worth being friends with. Every Friday during the academic year 1976-77, when I was 7, we’d have a maths test and every Friday I wouldn’t get a high-enough mark to go and do P.E. afterwards. I would be sat in the classroom, on my own, repeating a maths test that I couldn’t do, while the rest of the class was in the hall having fun. From where I sat in the classroom I could see them. So, for a year I had it reinforced weekly that I wasn’t good enough to do the nice things that other people could do. Try as I might I couldn’t do the maths, so let’s just extrapolate that and assume that if I try at anything I will fail. Maths and I have had a lifelong battle ever since and that mindset has affected every other part of my life. Don’t try Rachel, you’ll fail. Success is for other people. You’ll never be good at anything. It’s a little voice that I have never managed to successfully kill off. It’s why I can play around writing FanFiction where I am not judged, but struggle to get my writing in front of someone who matters – an editor or an agent – because I might be rejected. Because I will fail. You’re not good enough to do that, Rachel. Save yourself even more pain, don’t even try.
So here I am. I don’t feel I deserve to have what other people have and I fear rejection if I try, so I hold back and I don’t achieve anything. If I try with God, will he mark me down too? Will I fail at the end because I didn’t do something well enough to make the grade? I’ll be investing a lifetime here, it’s not just a maths test or a story. I’m unwilling to trust God, to let him have control for that reason and also because I’m frightened that if I do, he’ll change me so much that I won’t have any friends left. Friends are important to me (see the lonely 8 year old girl). These days I’m a social chameleon, able to fit myself into pretty much anywhere. I show people the pieces of me that I want them to see, so that I fit in and so they will like me. But if I let the Holy Spirit in that will have to stop. Perhaps they won’t like me anymore and I’ll be back to being the very lonely and unhappy little girl that I was.
And then last night in the car park as I was leaving the church, one of the people in my small group was loading his car. I deliberately avoided him because he was a proper Christian, a worship leader, on fire for God and a scary Catholic to boot (see Rachel’s inferiority complex at work!). Out of the blue he called out to me and said “Rachel, next week don’t hold back. You don’t like yourself, do you? But God likes you, he likes your purity,” and and he gave me a scripture.
“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty saviour. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3: 17
This man doesn’t really know me, but either he was perceptive enough to pick up in the space of 3 weeks that I don’t feel worthy of God and struggle with anyone saying anything nice about me, or God had prompted him to speak to me. My purity? well ha! But actually, no, he has a point. All God sees when he sees me is Jesus and Jesus is wholly pure, without sin and is the only reason that I can come back to God at all, raging mess or not.
I have a huge challenge to find a way of pushing aside this block so the Holy Spirit can get into my life. At the moment I don’t truly trust God so I don’t truly obey him. Again my obedience is given to him in a small portion. I obey the bits that I want to obey him in – the easy bits. I’m scared of letting go, but if I do then I can sit at the banquet table with everyone else. I will no longer be a little spiritual Oliver Twist, impoverished and holding up my meagre bowl saying ‘Please Sir, I want some more.’ God is no Mr Bumble. There won’t be an imperious roar of “More?!” There’ll simply be a guesture of ‘help yourself, Rachel.’
What upsets me is that I don’t know how to remove the block. Is there a process? Do I need specialist lifting equipment? What do I need to say? What do I need to do? I fear prayer may be involved and you know how rubbish I am at that. Help!
Can I do it? Can I let the Holy Spirit in? Can I bear to listen to God singing to me? (let’s hope he has a good voice!). I was listening to someone else singing this morning. A woman who has the capacity to reduce me to tears… good tears, on a regular basis. These words of hers struck me today:
“Hearing means believing means accepting what we find.
Even when the truth is of a difficult kind.”
Yvonne Lyon, A Difficult Kind.
From the album More Than Mine.
Stay tuned to see if I manage it.