I’m not sure I’m happy about this time of year. Just as I had the kids’ summer clothes figured out, they now need trousers and boots. I’m still tripping over toiletries and suncream and empty suitcases from our beach holiday, yet I’m stomping off to Christmas planning meetings and inappropriately sandal-clad conker-collecting expeditions. I missed my friends, groups and school gate mums over the long summer holiday, but now we are well and truly back into the swing of things, I would do anything for that hour of carefree solitude I embraced as I walked along the shore three weeks ago.
To be honest, it would be nice to hide away and not face the ‘synchronise diary’ family meetings and endless after-school clubs and church meetings. Does anyone else feel the same? I needed something to jolt me out of this grumpiness. Thankfully, a flick through August’s edition of Premier Christianity Magazine has helped me find a path through the falling leaves.
These paragraphs, from Anthony Delaney’s article*, helped me wake up to one routine I’m actually excited about:
Henri Nouwen’s short essay, Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry, has been hugely influential in my life. It is based on a passage in Luke 6 which notes Jesus’ pattern of working in the world. Nouwen calls these the “three disciplines” by which followers of Christ make space for God to move.
First, Jesus spent time in solitude on the mountain, hearing from the Father that he is the beloved.
Next, the Lord goes down, calls his friends together in community and the misfit disciples are all named.
Finally, the community goes out with him to do ministry (or more accurately, to be ministry). Power goes out from Jesus to bring healing and restoration, while demonic powers are broken by his very presence. But this only happens because of the order that Jesus pursues: solitude, community, then ministry.
When I first read the article I was struck by how often I get the order completely the wrong way round. I get busy with all my ideas and activities of ministry. When they fail and I get frazzled, I complain to the community to try to get them to help me. Finally I go to God and moan that nobody seems to care!
Delaney, the Manchester-based church leader, goes on to explain how this order helped him to respond to the recent terror attacks. Although my day-to-day life doesn’t involve the pressures he faces, the Dutch priest’s routine he refers to really struck a cord with me. Our task-orientated selves kick into overdrive in September, especially in a house where most of us are at school. Delaney talks about needing to ‘spend time with God before embarking on a day working out what tasks to do for him’. If he could do that on the first day after the terror attacks, I ought to be able to do that on a normal day in my life. His article has just helped me remember to get a few things in place as everybody jostles for a piece of me to help them with this, that or the other. So, I turned the radio off and prayed in the car on my way to the Christmas prep meeting. I left my phone downstairs when I had to sit outside my daughter’s room the other night, reading my Bible instead of scrolling through Instagram or sending WhatsApp messages fluttering back and forth.
Delaney says his next thought on the morning after the attack was community. He meets with friends and other leaders for breakfast every month, so he didn’t need to create community in the midst of the crisis, it was already there. His community gathered to pray. So lets always be looking at ways to encourage and strengthen our circles of friends and make sure we’re keeping them alongside. In times of crisis, we can be a strong team; when we need a new adventure, maybe we can serve in a new ministry together.
The article goes on to explain how, with the first two disciplines underway, Delaney was able to go into the scary places and do unusual things. He went round hugging people outside Didsbury Mosque, in the gym, in the street. This contributed to the amazing sense of unity we heard about in the media, bringing Muslims and Christians together in an extraordinary way.
To sum up…
We think September is a time for new routines, initiatives, elaborate plans and great dreams. Sometimes it is, but this year, for me, that’s been hard. Instead of going to ministry and planning meetings in a misery and resenting them, I’m resolving to go prepared – having spent time in solitude and seeking God. Valuing the community I have around me, expecting less of my own insight and capabilities and more from Jesus as He guides me, I hope I can face the new season with a better attitude. Maybe tidying my room and putting the suitcases away will help too.
*Delaney, A., How to be brave when the world is a war zone, pp.31-32 Premier Christianity Magazine, August 2017