Dancing in the Grey

I am a Christian, and often, I do not understand. I am made continually aware of how little I understand the God I believe in and love. The God who created me, and who sustains me day by day. I long to learn more about who He is and what He is like, and I struggle with not knowing.

I wrestle daily with my questions, my ignorance, and my doubts. I’ve spent so much of my life wishing everything about God was black and white, that it made sense, that I could put it in a neat little box, tied up with a pretty little bow, and stick it on my shelf. Sometimes, I wish my God was like that. But this is not the case. That is not who God is.

There are some things of God that I know and experience to be the absolute truth. I know Him to be creator, sustainer, saviour and Lord. I know Him to be good, holy, pure and worthy of praise. But there are other aspects which I ponder daily, unsure of how to muddle on with so many questions. A large grey area of confusion and discomfort, unanswered questions and unassuaged doubt.

I do not know how He holds justice and mercy in perfect harmony. I do not know how He hates sin but loves me, a sinner. I do not know how he brings me to my knees in fear and trembling, yet invites me into His very throne room, to sit with Him and call Him father. I do not know why He asks me to forgive when it still hurts, when the pain still burns deep inside. I do not know why He asks me to take the hard path, and walk the narrow road. I do not know why there is suffering, and why there is pain. I do not know where He is when the darkness overwhelms and the fear surrounds, when the pain is all-encompassing and the questions lie unanswered. 

For so long I have wrestled with my questions and with my doubts, convinced that I cannot be a ‘real’ Christian if I do not have all the answers. Convinced that doubt is wrong, and everything must fit together, otherwise I am foolish for believing.

But then I am approached by Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the light of the world, the word made flesh, crucified saviour and resurrected king. He comes towards me, and takes out of my hands the box of black and white in which I continually try to fit God. He takes it out of my hands, casts it aside, and asks me to dance. To dance with Him, with the freedom that He offers, and the peace that He brings. The love that spills over from His very being, and the acceptance of His leading. To dance with him in the smudges of grey that surround, that confuse and disturb. But it is there, as I am accepting the invitation to dance in the grey, that truth triumphs over uncertainty. It is in the dancing that I choose first to believe, and then come to know…

I do not know how He holds justice and mercy in perfect harmony. But I know that His ways are far above mine.

I do not know how He hates sin but loves me, a sinner. But I know that I am welcomed home with open arms the moment I turn back to Him. 

I do not know how he brings me to my knees in fear and trembling, yet invites me into His very throne room, to sit with Him and call Him father. But I know that daily I can approach Him, and He rejoices over me with singing.

I do not know why He asks me to forgive when it still hurts, when the pain still burns deep inside. But I know that every day He gives me the strength to keep going.

I do not know why He asks me to take the hard path, and walk the narrow road. But I know that He is with me, my comforter and my protector.

I do not know why there is suffering, and why there is pain. But I know that still He is good.

I do not know where He is when the darkness overwhelms and the fear surrounds, when the pain is all encompassing and the questions lie unanswered. But I know that still He remains

When the black and white answers are smudged into a thousand tones of grey, it is there that I will dance. In a place of uncertainty, but of peace. A place of questions, but of hope. A place of pain, but of healing. A place of frustration, but also of forgiveness. A place of grey, but a place of dancing.

Where there are questions, where my world view and my understanding of God are no longer black and white, no longer simple and comfortable, no longer boxed in and restricted, it is there that I will dance.

It is in the grey that I dance, but I do not dance alone. I dance a dance not of my own, but one led by my saviour, my Lord, and my best friend. By Jesus, by God, by the Holy Spirit. The grey of the questions does not bother me when I am in relationship with my God, because I know that He is bigger, He is trustworthy, and He is faithful.

As I dance in the grey, I can embrace the questions and the doubt, the unknowns and the discomfort, and trust that He is God, He is good, and He will lead me to a place of peace. Even though I do not understand, I cling to what I know to be true, that He is creator, sustainer, saviour and Lord. He is holy, pure and worthy of praise. He is faithful, and He is trustworthy. He leads me step by step, even as I am dancing in the grey.

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Without Words

What do you say when words are all you have, but words are not enough? Words that put names to your feelings but offer no respite. That give coherence to your questions but offer no answers.

What happens when you no longer have the words? The words that kept you afloat, that describe your thoughts and echo your emotions. Words that were once closer than your own skin, that came tumbling out as easy as breath, suddenly, gone. No longer will words suffice for all that you are feeling, all that you are thinking, all that you are questioning. Words cannot depict the confusion of your mind and the turmoil of your emotions. Words will not change the situation in which you find yourself. Words will speak but they will not tell. Words will cry but they will not comfort. Words will seek but they will not find.

What do you say when everything is said? What do you write when the words on which you have always relied suddenly begin to fail you? Black ink on a white page becomes a poor imitation for all that you long to portray.

For the first time, words fail you.

What now?
Where next?
Where do you go when the words have gone?
When it seems finished but it feels so incomplete?

Be quiet, for a minute. Clear your mind. Free it from the jumble of sounds, the mess of incomplete thoughts and unfinished sentences. Quiet your head and still your heart. Listen not for words, coherence, or rhetoric. Search not for a thought to ponder, or an idea to entertain. Just listen.

It is in the quiet that you find the freedom for which you have been searching. It is in the stopping, the stilling, and the silencing that you realise that you do not need words to explain who you are, how you are feeling or what you long to say. No longer must you paint a picture of words to depict your thoughts, for it is the silence that draws your soul to the surface. It is in the deep, soothing, overwhelming silence that your soul begins to sing. The peace permeates every fibre of your being as, slowly, words evaporate.

All that is left is you. No words to clothe you, no sentences to hide who you are. Silence. Sweet, golden silence. And then, a whisper. A still small voice speaking in the silence. The voice of the creator is music, for it speaks truth to your very core.

There is truth to be found in the silence. There is hope to be found when words have failed. There is an understanding beyond language, a communication far greater than that of a human tongue. There is a depth of knowledge to be found when words fail. It comes in the form of a wordless whisper, in the silence of your very being.

Clear your mind. Quiet your head. Still your heart. And just listen.

‘For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him’ – Psalm 62:5

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An Introvert’s Guide to Freshers’ Week

Freshers’ Week: A week of strangers, small talk and strange places. An extrovert’s dream. An introvert’s nightmare. 

I have a confession to make. I was in bed before midnight four out of the six nights of freshers’ week.

Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m an introvert. Most of the time, that doesn’t cause me much trouble, and as someone who isn’t shy in the slightest, I never really get scared of large groups of people. But last year, I started university. And the idea of freshers’ week positively terrified me, and as it quickly approached, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through alive.

You will undoubtedly be pleased to hear that I survived. In fact, I almost enjoyed it. And I am of the opinion that everyone should enjoy freshers’ week, whether they expect to or not. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of boundaries. So, here are a few top tips on how to be the friendly local introvert during freshers’ week, not panic, and not end up burnt out before term has even begun.

  • Don’t panic
    I don’t know about you, but my default position when faced with the prospect of a week of strangers and small talk is to curl up in the foetal position, rock back and forth quietly and then eat my body weight in chocolate. Take it from me: this doesn’t solve anything. Take a deep breath, follow these top tips, and remember that being an introvert is a blessing, not a curse. Seriously, you’re going to be okay. But maybe have some chocolate on standby just in case.
  • Take it at a sensible pace
    Freshers’ Week can be an overwhelming combination of new people, new information and unfamiliar surroundings. While some people thrive off such things, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel a little bit out of your depth. So remember to take some time every day to breathe, have a cup of tea and assess your ‘people juices’ level. If you need to take an hour out of the frivolities, do it. No-one will mind, I promise.
  • Work out your boundaries before you go
    I decided, for a number of reasons, that I wasn’t going to drink alcohol during my first year at university. Working that out before I arrived meant that I could start as I meant to go on – sober. Often when you’re nervous you drink more than you mean to in the hope that the overwhelming feelings will go away. But this really doesn’t help anything, so know your limits before you go, and stick to them from the start. It makes everything easier in the long run.
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone – Say ‘yes’ to three things you wouldn’t usually
    Don’t go into freshers’ week with the assumption that you’re going to hate every minute. You really won’t – it’s actually quite fun. If you’re not the clubbing type, that’s okay. But try and go out clubbing with your flat at least once during the week. If you don’t like playing drinking games, you don’t have to. But why not give them a shot (pun unintended) one night, and just drink water? Or if you can’t stand the idea of having your door open permanently for a week, why not just have it open for 2 hours every afternoon? You never know, you might surprise yourself.
  • Take a night off
    Seven consecutive nights of partying is a lot of nights of partying, even for an extrovert. There is absolutely no shame in taking a night off, watching a film and getting an early night. In fact, just by suggesting it you might give some other people who are feeling a bit overwhelmed an excuse to curl up in their duvets as well.
  • It’s okay to just go home
    There’s a hashtag that gets used a lot during freshers’ week: #gohardorgohome. Most people seem to take this as permission to go really really hard. Personally, I took it as permission to just go home. That’s how I managed a solid 8 hours of sleep most nights of freshers’ week. Take it from me: there is no shame in going home. If you know you’re going to be horrible company if you’re forced to be around people for a minute longer, do what’s best for everyone and go home. Have your favourite book on standby, and just go and re-charge your batteries for the next day. Trust me, you’re doing everyone a favour.
  • Invite people into your room during the day
    Some of the best conversations I had were at 3 o’clock in the afternoon drinking hot chocolate with a slightly hungover friend. At some universities, there isn’t much to do during the day apart from nurse your hangover and buy more alcohol for the evening, so use that time not only to re-charge, unpack, and get to know your new surroundings, but also to get to know people on a sober, personal level.
  • Phone a friend
    Sometimes all you really need is friendly voice at the end of the phone. So have a couple of friends from home on standby for a chat in case you need it. Also, see what the Christian Union is doing during Freshers’ Week and go along – I can guarantee that they will be friendly, and if you look hard enough, they shouldn’t be too far from free tea and cake.

And, one final tip based on my own personal experience:

If all else fails, find a friend with under-bed storage and hide out there for a little while.

On top of all these tips, I often find it helpful to have an extrovert’s perspective on these things, so here is a short message from my highly extroverted best friend:

‘Hey there Introverts.
I’m afraid that right now, we probably won’t quite understand why you’re hiding from us and don’t want to hang out 24 hours a day. But don’t worry. Give us a couple of months and we’ll cotton on that it’s nothing personal. And please don’t be offended if we keep badgering you to hang out and have no respect for your personal space. It’s just because we REALLY want to be friends with you.
Love, Extroverts x’

If you’re an extrovert reading this post, and are very confused as to what kind of people wouldn’t want to party and socialise 24/7, take a read of my ‘Dear Extroverts‘ blog, the no-fuss guide on how to love your lovely little introverted friends.

Good luck, fellow introverts, on your start at university. Remember: freshers’ week is not the be all and end all – you have three whole years to make friends. It’s not going to be the best week of your life, but you can do plenty to make sure it’s definitely not the worst. Take courage: you are not alone. Fellow introverts are closer than you might think.

Introverts...

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Out of the Ashes

You are running. Running fast, running free. Running like the wind, throwing off everything that entangles, all that inhibits. Running, the wind in your hair and smile on your face. Running with perseverance and with faith.

But then, out of nowhere, comes a rope. A trip wire. A word. A sentence. A doubt. An accusation. A memory. A flashback. A past pain, re-ignited. A former wound, re-opened. It comes charging out of the wilderness and hits you full on. Takes you down. Leaves you, winded and shocked with no idea what to do. Looking around, you are sat in the place you thought you left long ago. You are sat in the ashes of the grief of years gone by.

And the ashes are still hot. Still they burn your face and your hands as you lie, and you weep at the pain that still tears into your very being. Just one word, one memory, one conversation, one action, and you are back in the ashes. The burning ashes of past hurts. The anger of injustice. The resentment, the bitterness still burns as you sit, wailing, in the ashes.

The sun goes down, and thoughts run through your mind, sparking doubts, creating questions. Why now, God? I was doing so well. Why this? You know how much it hurts. You know that this still burns. Can you not hear my cries? Can you not see the pain, the anguish? Why, O God, did you let me fall?

The darkness has come, and all around you people are running, fast and free, but you are alone in the glowing embers, questioning, fearful, doubting. Hurt, angry and alone.

Hours pass. Days, months, maybe even years go by as you sit in the ashes of yesterday’s grief. Unsure of where to go next, dusty and dirty from the ashes that surround, it feels as if you will never be rid of the ash that clings to every part of who you are. You are helpless in the ashes. In the darkness of the night, there is only weeping, and all you can see around are the ashes of all that once was. It seems utterly hopeless.

 

But then, as you lament and question, ponder and weep, there appears a figure. Dazzling white, the brightness of His very being brings light into the darkness. Fearful, you shrink away. Is it really Him? So bright, so clean, so holy. You scoot back across the ground, trying to get away, to protect Him from the mess of your ashes. Such clean whiteness should be nowhere near such a stinking mess as the one in which you have dwelt for so long.

‘No. Stop. Please. Don’t come any closer’, You shun the brightness with words and actions in fear that your darkness, your questions, your pain and your ashes will overwhelm and overcome the pure beauty of the One who approaches.

But still He comes. He draws ever closer to the mess in which you sit, until He is standing right beside you. You look up, expecting to see judgement, disgust, anger for the way in which you have acted, the way in which you have burnt and destroyed all that was given to you to look after. But as you look up, you see Him kneeling down beside you, His pure white robe drawing close to you as He joins you in the ashes.

But there is more than that. As He kneels, he begins to sweep. With His robe, with His nail-scarred hands, He scoops up the ashes that surround. Those that are still burning, He takes without flinching. And as He does this, He looks at you in a way you cannot even begin to express. Love, joy, adoration. Forgiveness, acceptance, peace.

With the robe that He wears, He wipes the ashes from your face, from your hands and from your body, until He is filthy and you are clean. He looks away and towards the pile of ashes in front of Him, the ones He lovingly swept up at the expense of His own cleanliness. He looks at them, and gathers up in those wounded hands the dirt and the mess and the burnt up pieces in which you have been sitting, which you tried to hide, over which you lamented and questioned. In which you were angry and bitter at the very One who now takes them onto Himself.

And then, from the ashes, from the dirt and the grime, the smelly, sticky, dirty fragments of all you have done, and all that has been done to you, all the pain and the questioning, the lies, the fears and the wrongdoing, He does something incredible. From the ashes He creates a masterpiece. A crown of the utmost beauty. The utmost splendour, fit only for the best of the best.

Holding the crown before Him, He gazes upon you. You, dishevelled and snivelling. You, shaking and confused. He gazes upon you in complete and utter adoration. And gently, ever so gently, He places the crown upon your head. He places the crown upon your head, and takes another pure white, dazzling robe, and with it He covers your trembling form. The ashes of yesterday are gone, and a crown of beauty adorns your head.

Undeservedly beautiful, unjustifiably pure, you get up off the ground, and stand next to the One who took your ashes, and who gave you a crown in the place of them. Wholly and blameless, you stand with the One who came to you in your wailing, in the darkest night, and brought hope to the hopeless. He turns, and offers you His hand. And there, in the place in which you sat, dirty and alone, wailing and burning in the ashes of grief, it is there that you dance. You dance with the One who took the ashes you had made, and replaced them with a crown of beauty.

And as you dance, joy fills you. Incomparable, incomprehensible joy overwhelms your soul. You have been crowned as royalty by the King of Kings. The dirty, smelly ashes in which you thought you would remain have gone forever. Helpless and hopeless, you were met by the One who saves. The redeemer. And He redeemed what you thought was irredeemable. And not only did He redeem it, but He made it beautiful. Through His sacrifice, the dirtying of Himself with the filth of your ashes, you have been made clean, and you have become whole.

‘To provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair’ - Isaiah 61:3

‘You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy’ – Psalm 30:11

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The Art of Letting Go

It hurts. Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t tell yourself that it will be fine, that it will all be okay if you just ignore the fact that things have changed. Do not believe the lie that friendships are static, that they will always remain the same. Do not think that if you change, you will lose everything.

No matter how much it hurts, take the time to listen as they ask you, ever so gently, to set them free. Listen to the voice of the friend who intertwined their life with yours, who became as family, who laughed with you, cried with you, and who has taught you more about friendship, about love, about life, than you ever thought possible. Listen as they ask you quietly, gently, lovingly, one of the hardest questions you will ever have to answer: ‘Will you let me go?’

But this friendship, it is safe where it is. Where it is you understand it, you can make sense of it. This is how it was given to you, how it came. You have invested in it, cared for it, watched quietly as it grew into something beautiful. And you, you have loved it. Oh, how you have loved it.

But now, now you are being asked to learn to love in a different way. A way apart from yourself. One far away. One that stretches miles upon miles, one that embraces other people, one that learns to love those they have chosen to love. One no less important, no less significant, but one that hurts. Oh, how it hurts to let someone go. Oh the fear that paralyses as you clutch and grasp at what you so desperately want to keep a hold on. And yet, as you hold on, you know that the place they need to be is away from you. You know that away from you they will flourish, away from you is where, for now, they are called to be. You relinquish the control, you relinquish all that once was, all that you love, and you commit to learn to love in a new way. A way which empowers, which sees them reach their full potential. Where they will learn to be the person they have been created to be, the person they are called to be.

They will not go until you let them, you see. They care so deeply for you that they cannot bear to leave if you will not let them go, if you will not embrace the change that so needs to happen. They will leave a part of themselves with you unless you give them permission to take themselves, and begin to grow fully as they learn. You must take a deep breath, relinquish control, and trust. Trust that, just as they will leave, so they will return. Trust that as you let them go, they will one day come back and nothing will have changed. They will be the same person, but they will be a better version of themselves. They will be fulfilled, and free. Trust that as you let them go, you are not letting them fall, you are not abandoning, you are not forsaking, but you are loving. Empowering. Freeing. Trusting. For as you let them go, you know that they are safe in the everlasting arms. The God who has asked you to let them go is the same God who created them, who knows them intimately, and who loves them more than you ever could. And with that knowledge, you can trust.

It hurts to let people go. It hurts to set people free from the grasp of what you thought would remain for ever. It is hard to learn a new way to love those you care most about. And yet, as you do, you will not only see them find their true potential, their freedom, but you too will find yours.

There is, you see, a time for everything. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. And so, we must let go of those we love, for they are worth more than the love we alone can give them. They have far more potential than that which can be reached from our control over who we desire them to be. They have more lives to impact than ours alone. We must practise the art of letting go, in the knowledge that the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, but ultimately, we can only love them because He loved them first.

Girl-with-a-Balloon-by-Banksy

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Easter Sunday: Risen, Redeemed, Restored.

Good Friday, darkness reigns. Easter Eve, and there is but silence. A seemingly never-ending silence. Mourning. Weeping. Frustration. Confusion. More Darkness. And ever more silence.

But with the morning comes joy. Confusion, despair and weeping all become joy as the truth dawns. He is not here, He is risen. And so, the world is flipped upside down. Everything has changed.

Today changes everything. Death becomes life. Dark eclipsed by light. Mourning turns to dancing. Ashes into joy. Heaven victorious over hell. Captivity into freedom.

Without today, you see, everything is rendered meaningless. Without today, all who proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour are fools. For there is no point in Jesus taking the world’s sins upon Himself on the Friday if death eventually wins anyway. But that is the true beauty of today. Death has not won. For three days, we have waited in darkness. For three days, we have sat in mourning, in silence, and in agony, and we have waited.

You see, it is only when we understand the darkness of the Friday that we realise the utter jubilation of the Sunday. The contrast between the two is close to incomprehensible. It is through the Sunday that the Friday becomes Good. It is through the Sunday that the Friday makes sense. Because if it were not for the resurrection, there would be no hope. But Christ is risen. Death could not hold the author of life Himself. And therefore we have hope. One which goes further than all the world can throw at us, one which not even hell can eclipse any more. For Jesus lives.

And as He rose triumphant from the grave, He brings with Him redemption. The debt of sin, the wages of which are death and eternal separation from God Himself, has been repaid. In full. The slate has been wiped clean. Death is trampled underfoot. Darkness is eclipsed in the light of His glorious resurrection.

As Jesus collapses into death on the Friday, as He descends into utter God-forsakenness, He takes our sins with Him. Death swallows Him as He bears our sins, the very ones which have ripped Him apart, which tore Him from God and led Him to be forsaken by His own Father, His own self. But as He rises, He rises free. The debt is paid, and that which chained us no longer holds us down.

Through His death and glorious resurrection, we are restored to where we were created to be – in relationship with God. The barrier of sin which had prevented us from even coming close to the holiest of beings, to God, has been broken, smashed, obliterated, with the blood of Jesus Christ, with His death and resurrection. Atoned for. Paid in full. Accomplished. Beaten. The love of God triumphant over the power of sin, death and hell.

And so, out of the deepest darkness comes the brightest light. Still bearing the scars of the Friday, Jesus Christ rises and walks out of the tomb. He walks out of death and straight into life, inviting us to follow Him, out of the darkness and into His marvellous light.

‘My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee’
Charles Wesley

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Good Friday: Forsaken, Finished, Forgiven

I struggle to speak honestly of Good Friday. I struggle because, so often, I long to see it only in the light of Easter Sunday. And how magnificent it is, to see the darkness overcome by the light. To see death overcome by resurrection. To see sin defeated, and forgiveness prevail.

But if I look at Good Friday solely through the lens of Easter Sunday, I fear that I am missing something. I fear that if I do not sit in the darkness now, I will not fully understand the radiant light which is to come.

But I am scared. I am scared to look at the darkness of Good Friday without thinking of the hope of Easter Sunday. I am terrified to think of the pain of loss without the promise of redemption. I shy away from the uncomfortable reality of death winning, if only for a few days. I struggle to live with the knowledge that, on that first Good Friday, there was utter God-forsakenness.

I’m scared to feel the true agony of Good Friday, because I know, were I to do so, it would come close to ripping me apart. A life without God, without hope, without light, is one of which I dare not speak. The thought of even a moment without God rocks me to my very core. For all the good things in the world are from God. Anything that is good is God, for God is good. And therefore, without God, there is no good in the world. But it is that on which we must dwell for today.

It is on this day, you see, that true darkness is revealed. True darkness is experienced. The utter depravity of a world without light. Jesus Christ, fully man revealing the fullness of God Himself, hangs on a tree. Naked, and ashamed. Broken, and dying. Forsaken. The man who is Himself God, is ripped apart as He is forsaken. God Himself, cursed by God. A paradox like no other, and one which rips Him apart. Torn right down the middle, as judgement is poured out upon Him. As justice is served… to an innocent man. To God Himself.

The unfairness of it all makes me long to ignore it. It makes me want to fast-forward to Easter Sunday when I can sing ‘Thine be the Glory’ at the top of my lungs and celebrate Christ’s victory over death. But for now, it is finished. It is accomplished. Christ has done what He came to earth to do. He has looked death in the face, and embraced it with his very being. He has taken all the darkness the world could throw at Him, and swallowed it up into Himself. And it has overcome Him. Death and darkness, for now, reign victorious.

And so, in the darkness of Good Friday, we wait. For this day, we remember the darkness. We feel despair, seemingly victorious, revelling in our misery at the broken body of Jesus Christ, hanging on a tree. We hear death, gloating over the defeat of the Son of God. We sit in mourning, in silence and in agony, and we wait, quietly, for the light to dawn.

Three Crosses - Lee Abbey

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