Habits to help your soul thrive, part 5: Confession 

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Image by VintageBlue from Pixabay.  Bible Version: NIVUK

Before you panic about that word “confession”, let me tell you what happened to me this morning.
The sun is shining. The birds are singing.  It is Tuesday. It is spring and it is beautiful. I’ve had a good Monday (in stark contrast to last week).  I briefly check the news (to see how Boris is getting on – (concerning)). And I settle down to praise with a couple of great praise songs. I spend some time in God’s word. I pray for some of our beloved church family. By God’s grace, I am putting into practice what I know I and all of us need. The day is going well.
I go through into the kitchen. One of my daughters has so kindly set up breakfast for us all. Everything is ready. Literally, everything.
And I have a go at her for something very minor she says. The whole family watches.
Something glorious has just turned into something ugly.
This lock-down is having profound effects on us. Some days, like yesterday, I am largely accepting of it. Today, I have a deep subconscious discomfort. I cannot just go out when I like. I can’t do what I want. I can’t be on my own.  Whether I would do those things or not is besides the point. The fact is that I can’t. And it is affecting me. It is affecting how I relate to others.
Jesus says

‘What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come…
Mark 7:20-21 (NIVUK)

Someone has said that we are like sponges. We only see what is in us when we are squeezed.  The squeeze is on right now. I am squeezed into a situation I wouldn’t choose. I am squeezed into a house 24-7. I am squeezed and out comes some very ugly thoughts, behaviour and words.
If you are like me, it is very tempting to excuse it all. Blame it on circumstances. Blame it on stress. Blame it on health (mental or physical). Blame it on others.
We are naturally self-justifying. Our default mode is to assume we are in the right. That said, there is a dark-side of this called inverted pride. We can rapidly descend from self-justifying behaviour through avoidance to self-condemnation.
I did that this morning. God’s Spirit quickly convicted me I had done the wrong thing. But instead of apologising quickly and publicly, I descended into a gloom. I didn’t want to say sorry. I didn’t want to lose face and be ashamed, although I had shamed my daughter.  Avoidance was quickly spiralling. I was a sullen presence through breakfast.
At that point there is a spiritual conflict going on.
The Apostle Paul writes:

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other,
Galatians 5:17 (NIVUK)

My flesh wants me to be right, to keep quiet, to not be shamed. The Spirit wants me… well what does the Spirit want from me?
The Apostle John writes:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:8-9

The word for “confess” originally meant publicly acknowledge. Over time it has been turned into something private between us and God. But that is not what it meant in these verses.
Now, I don’t think John means to stand outside your house one evening and loudly declare all your transgressions, though your neighbours might appreciate it (they are probably already aware and wouldn’t mind you openly admitting it!). But at the least, it means I confess to those I have wronged.
And notice, John writes “sins”. He is not talking about sin in generally, but what we’ve actually specifically done wrong.
This is so important. The Spirit convicts us of specific sins. The devil condemns us with general unworthiness.  The Spirit leads us to repentance and restoration. The devil wants to plunge us into distance and despair.
So this breakfast there was a spiritual war going on. It was a war in my mind and heart. Would I confess my sin to my daughter or would I pretend everything is ok? Would I bring restoration or would I descend towards distance and darkness.
One of the hardest things to say is “I am sorry. I was wrong to be angry with you. I shouldn’t have said that to you. Please forgive me.”
It is so hard, because we want to excuse ourselves. It so hard, because we want to obtain a particular response from the other person. It is so hard, because we so easily slip into self-pity and manipulation (“I am such a bad father”) wanting the other person to say “no you are not that bad.” It is so hard, because, well, I am the parent and...
But we have to offer the confession without reservation, without self-pity, and without expectation.
And the wonderful truth is, when we confess it, both to the person and to our heavenly Father (and I believe both are needed), we are doing what the Spirit wants us to do.
And the Holy Spirit reassures us again that our heavenly Father is faithful and just, full of compassion and mercy. He will never let us go.
This is one of the hardest things to do, especially to those closest to us: with our spouse; with our parents; with our children, whatever age they are. But parents, if our children see us apologising for specific things to them, you may discover that they start copying you.  Sadly, we can’t really expect them to apologise to others if they never see us confessing and apologising.
And my friends, if the transgression is public, try to make sure the confession and apology are equally public, so that those who watched you realise you realise. After all, these bystanders in their spirit will probably know you were wrong!
After the end of breakfast when we had prayed for various people, I finally apologised to my daughter (I often find spending time with the Lord leads me to do what he wants me to do. The flip side: when I don’t want to do what he wants, I will avoid time with him. But I couldn’t avoid our breakfast prayer time).
I also had to apologise to my other daughter, because when I am avoiding apologising to one person I tend to leave a trail of sullen destruction. The debt of apologies mounts up.
So, can I encourage you to get into this most hard of habits: confessing and apologising for our errors, mistakes and sins.

Do you remember those things called tea-towels? My parents have a large collection with all sorts of pictures on. They had one with the picture of a couple holding hands. On it were the words "Love is... being able to say 'I am sorry'"

As the days of lock-down merge into weeks this habit is essential. It is tough. But we are not on our own. The risen Jesus is with you by his Spirit. So pray for the Spirit’s resurrection power strength to help. After all:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 
Galatians 5:22-24 (Emphasis added)

Over to you:

  • To whom do you find it hardest to admit your errors and faults?
  • What is your temptation: Denial? Avoidance? Self-pity? Manipulation? Despair?
  • Is there anyone to whom you need to confess and apologise?
  • Look again at 1 John 1:8-9. What encouragement is there? 


Habits to help your soul thrive, part 4: Routine 

Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash. Bible verses from NIVUK.

We are well into the second week of lock-down and now is the time to be thinking about routines.
Why now?
Chances are, the novelty (or fear/anxiety/excitement – delete as appropriate) of home education / home working / home alone / home stuck with the family (-delete as appropriate!) is wearing off.
I am finding that life BCC (Before Covid Crisis) is rapidly fading from memory. I am also discovering how many aspects of that distant way-of-life I relied on to keep me sane.
As creatures of habit, I realise I am falling into a new routine. But I don’t just want to fall into a routine. Neither do I want a routine that means I limp out of lock-down. I want a routine that means I thrive, spiritually, emotionally and physically.
So, now is the time to review your routine.

Come and join me…

First up, get right the beginning and the night.
Left to myself, my default thing in the morning is to switch on the phone and check the news or check social media.
When I finally got to the Bible yesterday, I read Psalm 1. It begins like this:

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.

3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither –
    whatever they do prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3 (NIVUK, emphasis added)

We will flourish when we begin and end the day with God’s word.
I’ve talked in previous posts about the importance of praise and honest prayer. We need to combine that with a healthy diet in God’s word: not just reading it, but chewing over it, saying it out loud (in fact the Hebrew word for “meditate” in verse 2 means murmuring).
What we put in our minds at the beginning and the end of the day has a big impact on our day and our sleep.
I am now making an effort in the morning to switch on my phone,  play a couple of praise songs (priority of praise – CityAlight are my current go to), read my Bible. I find saying the Bible out loud really helps me think on it.
I admit it is hard not to check the news and the social media and email. But when the one who is the Beginning and the End is my priority at the beginning and end of the day, it is so worth it. My soul is fed, my gaze is lifted, my mind encouraged.
I just need to work on the end of the day. When I finish with prayer and some words of Scripture, it is much better than a final post/email/whatsapp/news update.
(On this, we are physical creatures. We are made for routine and rhythm. Regular bed-times and rising-times are good for us, but so easy to let slip when stuck at home.)

So, let me ask, what is your morning and evening routine so that your day can begin and end with the Lord?

Second, what are we thinking about during the day?
Two people I spoke to yesterday talked about the news. One has it on all the time. Another now just checks it once a day.
Jesus teaches:

The eye is the lamp of the body
Matthew 6:22

The Apostle Paul writes:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Philippians 4:8-9

This is in the context of rejoicing always. Our joy is intimately connected with what we feed our minds.
Covid-19 news is addictive: An unfolding crisis; daily government briefings; steadily rising death toll; pictures of nightingale hospitals being built. We need information. But we can have far too much.
So, what routines can we build into our week and day so that Paul’s words are true for us: "whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things." For me, I am now rarely checking the news, some days not at all, except for the odd occasion in case of significant announcements.  And I am listening to praise songs, reading encouraging blogs. What works for you? How do you build that into your routine?
Third, together time

We’re realising a household routine helps break the day up: Morning prayer times individually all at the same time. Meal times together. Video-exercise together. Music time after lunch. These set times help to break up the day and provide boundaries between work and not working, between school and not school. Oh, and I'm trying not to bring work to the meal table and vice-versa.
The monks of old realised the benefit of this. Everyone in the monastery stopped work for times of prayer and for meals. Perhaps have a bell for breaks and meals? Seriously!
On this, one of the key things for home education is realising that it is not the same as doing school at home. (See our article here) Likewise, it is nigh impossibly simply to transpose working in an office to working at home. The boundaries and distance and head-clearing travel time is not there.  You have to create different boundaries. A routine enables that.  You may also find that the way you respond emotionally and your energy levels differ through the day when working from home. If possible, we have to adapt our working practices accordingly.

So how can you build together time into your household routine?
Fourth, physical exercise

God made us physical creatures. We need our exercise.

If I don’t plan it in and prioritise it, I don’t do it.  Which is why doing it together as a family as part of our daily routine is vital for me. How can you prioritise it? It will be good for you, your company and your household. You will work better, sleep better, relate better. 

As I mentioned above, as physical creatures our bodies need regular bed-times and meal-times. With working and schooling at home it is easy to let those slip.

How does your routine recognise that we are physical creatures?

Fifth,  do something new, pick something back up

Why not set a goal for lock-down? See it as an opportunity to try something new or pick up something from the past. After all, God made us creative, in his image. 

I know of one person learning the piano. Someone else is re-discovering board games. Build it in to your daily routine.

I’ve picked back up a hobby I had when I was younger and am doing it for ten minutes each day after lunch.  Don’t just wait for life to go back to normal.  Achieve something in this time that you perhaps couldn’t otherwise have done.  What might it be for you?

Fifth, hope

We are made for hope.

Have some things you are looking forwards to, and not just the end of lock-down. For us it is Easter. How can we make Easter Sunday a day of huge celebration? Plan and then bake an Easter cake (I don’t know what one is, so we’re going to make it up). Get out the party poppers. Egg treasure hunt. Decorate the house.

And then we need the next goal. Weekly? Monthly?

Sixth, be kind to yourself and others

We are going through trauma – as individuals, as a culture and as a world. As the experts quoted in a previous post explain, that will affect us physically, emotionally, mentally… and spiritually. We will have less energy. Things will take longer. We will get annoyed more easily. Our capacity for coping with life will be reduced. Combine that with the absence of our usual coping mechanisms and… well, you are probably experiencing it, just like me. So we mustn’t try and fit as much in nor expect as much of others.
Saying that, a number of people I have spoken to have said that work is far busier working from home.  In which case, the seventh bit of advice is vital…

Seventh, spend more time with the Lord, not less

Monday was a bad day for me. A very bad day. I was missing so many of my usual props. I was grumpy. Crotchety. Frustrated.

Thankfully the Lord doesn’t give up on us.
By the end of the day, I felt the Lord saying to me, “Nick, I am enough.” He directed me to Skye Jethani's book called “With” which is all about doing life with our heavenly Father, rather than living for God, under God, from God or over God. 
Then on Tuesday I had a very encouraging conversation with a friend who said “Nick, God has got this". And he said all God wants from me is just time with him. That was when the penny dropped.
What I need most is not those other props, but the Lord. This is what he has been trying to teach me for a long time ( I am a very slow learner).  So, I don't need replacement props. I need to be spending more quality time with the Lord – in praise, in his word, in honest prayer. It is him I need. He is our refuge and strength an ever present help in times of trouble!

My friends, the single most important thing we can build into our routine is more quality time with the Lord. Do the day with him. We will then discover the truth of the oft-quoted phrase:

You may never know that Jesus is all you need, until Jesus is all you have 

So, don’t just fall into a routine. Create a routine for your household that enables your souls to thrive.

What will it look like for you? Over to you.


Habits to help your soul thrive Part 3: Honest sharing. 

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Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

My confession today is simply this: I am normal.

(Yes, you read that right!)
This week I received a very helpful email from a colleague. Attached to it was a document for clergy explaining that we are going through a period of trauma, individually, corporately and nationally.
One paragraph particularly stood out:

"Community responses to disaster typically show a ‘heroic phase’, full of energy and self-sacrifice, which burns itself out and is followed by a ‘disillusionment phase’, which may contain much mutual blame and suspicion. Only as the disillusionment phase loses its force can realistic, hopeful re-making take place."
[Christopher Southgate, Carla Grosch-Miller and Hilary Ison
Tragedies and Christian Congregations Project

 I was chatting to someone about this on a phone call today. They said this is very much like the change-cycle and grief-cycle (do a google image search for either of those – they are very helpful).
Many of us are familiar with the different feelings we often go through in change or grief: activity, numbness, anger, depression, acceptance, hope.

Well, here we are facing change and grief on a huge scale: This is trauma – for us, for our church and for our nation.
The authors of that helpful article write: In trauma...

"people’s whole selves are affected – they may feel all sorts of strange symptoms because the body is reacting to the fact that they are not safe. Emotions will be all over the place in surprising ways. Concentration may be difficult. … it is normal to be up, down, energetic, exhausted, afraid."

I had to read that paragraph twice. It brought such relief. I am normal. (I really am). If it fits you too, welcome to the club.   
So, let’s be normal together!  What does that look like? I think it means honest sharing about how we’re feeling. That’s why I am so enjoying Chris and Rachel’s “view from the inside” blog posts – that combination of beautiful honesty and heart-felt faith. [You can catch up here]
After all, we are in this together. So, my friends, lets be honest in our households and in our church family.  
As I say this, we mustn’t forget our children and young people. They also are going through trauma. But they, unlike adults, may be even less able to process it all. Instead, it will be manifested in their behaviour or internalised for a later date (oh joy!).

So this evening, my wife and I with our children spent some time as a family each sharing our feelings from today: how we are missing seeing people; how we thought lock-down would give us more time but has actually made us more busy; how we had things we were really looking forwards to but now we don’t even know what the next week looks like; the feelings of anger, sadness, loss…
We all needed that time.
Now, this ties into our talks from our service today.  We might be tempted to be the strong person. We might be tempted to say “come on, we can do it!” In reality, we just need to be honest. If we are feeling it, others are feeling it to.
As a family we have never shared like that before. Then we did something else we’ve never done before. We prayed prayers to our loving heavenly Father that were just saying how we were feeling. It was very moving.
As we saw today, God knows we can’t get through this in our own strength. But with Jesus we can. One day at a time.
I suspect this next week is going to be harder than last week.  So decide now to begin and end each day with praise and honest prayer.  And decide now to share honestly about how you are feeling with your family, your close friends and your church family.  As the weeks go on, it will be a habit that will be vital to enable us to support one another in being normal (well, more or less).

“Emotions will be all over the place in surprising ways. Concentration may be difficult. … it is normal to be up, down, energetic, exhausted, afraid.”

How have you seen that

  • In yourself?
  • In your family or household or work?

How might we be able honestly to talk about these things? And with who?