I met with the DDO for the third time last week. Previously I had time to collect my thoughts as I drove and waited for the meeting to start, this time it was very different!
I was in the midst of a frantic and pressurised week at work. It followed me as I left to start travelling to see the DDO. My colleagues were on soon the phone to me asking for help in sorting out some problems. Arriving home to pick up the car there were failed parcel deliveries to sort out, a phone call to my son to celebrate his success at school, and a quick change before heading into the autumnal wind and rain, albeit cosseted in a dry and cosy car. Busy, busy, busy. It was hardly the ingredients for a peaceful preparation for the meeting.
Arriving at my destination, I was at least able to grab a moment to stare in wonder at the cathedral and appreciate the loving way in which a verger swept a footpath, lit by the lights flooding out from the cathedral porch. It was the moment of peace I needed because as I entered the building to meet the DDO she was there waiting for me.
Our conversation was focused around my thoughts on Gerard Hughes book (see last week’s post The God of Surprises is calling) and, as a result, on prayer within my life. My delight in the book was clear, I referenced it often in my answers . The DDO took kindly to my reaction, she later gave the book to keep. Yet, the book wasn’t the only thing that threw up some surprises that day.
Into our conversation came fear. Fear of man. Fear of failure. One surprised me, the other was all too familiar.
We are built to love and to be loved. God offers that love in an abundance but we still seek love from people too, and naturally so – it’s much nicer being loved than hated. Maybe I’m too sensitive but it hurts when something I do leads to that love being rejected or withdrawn; too often I have let the fear of that happening stop me from making certain decisions or taking certain actions.
Within a society seemingly increasingly turning away from God, being a mouthpiece for God in the world is a vulnerable position to be in. It has been like that from the start and the more I travel towards ordination the more I am in awe of the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah who was a lone voice amongst people rebelling against God. He obeyed God and we recognise them for it today but in doing so offended and punished for it.
As the DDO and I discussed, leaders will offend and they will have people letting them know just how offended they are. Not that it is just those outside the fellowship of believers that we will offend, a church congregation can be all so easy to offend and they certainly let it be known when they are! Word spreads too and gone is the time when that is limited to the local community or press, social media carries a message, good or bad, across a nation and the world in minutes.
I have seen the fear of the church family prevent leaders from doing what they felt God was unequivocally asking them to do. It was frustrating when I saw that happen but, now that I am finding God challenge me in this area, all too understandable. God is preparing me for leadership and is encouraging me to not let fear of people from obeying Him (see No sex please, we’re Christians!) but I’m finding developing a thick skin hard and wished I didn’t have to. Perhaps I don’t.
Fear of failure can be a form or paralysis too.
I was asked if I had ever been on a retreat. I haven’t, though the idea of one appeals tremendously and the more I explore ordination the more I can see the need for Christian leaders to go on them. What I said next surprised me somewhat because it didn’t surprise me, instead it was the revealing of a truth I knew even though I hadn’t thought about it before.
I fear going on a retreat because I fear failing to hear from God.
Finding some peace, ensuring the line to God is clear, that the spiritual compass is true and then hearing Him speak some wisdom into our lives, that feels like the purpose of a retreat. Coming to the end of a retreat feeling lost, disconnected, or deaf to His voice feels scary. It feels like it would be a failure.
I have learnt from Gerard Hughes that ending a retreat in such a state would be anything but a failure. It would be the sign of something God was trying to work on with me, the start of unpealing my subconsciousness to something bigger than could be handled in a single retreat. Now that feels really scary!
I will go on a retreat but the timing will be important, practically speaking at the very least. Time is precious and days away from work are a finite resource, most of which are needed to look after my children. A retreat before a major decision or event seems appropriate and a BAP would be just such an event. I’m confident that a BAP will be coming my way sometime next year, until then going on a retreat is ‘on hold’.
For now though I have plenty to address, the DDO has gave me a glimpse at what is ahead for me and it includes forms to fill in. I hate filling in forms!
I’ve been told to be preparing to tell more people my journey of faith (I was warned about this – see my post Hazardous interpretations), to improve my ability to articulate my understanding of ordination and my need to be ordained (see Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!), and then there’s the simple thing of my vision for the church!
It doesn’t stop there! I’ve been encouraged to follow the Northumbia Community’s Office of Prayer, to ensure that I am familiar with the more Anglo-catholic side of the Church of England and am able to articulate what communion means to me.
None of this even includes what the DDO and I will be working on together. She’s coming to visit me and my wife next month, and has said that we will be covering leadership (can I rehash my piece for Vocations Chaplain, Take me to your leader?), character and more theology.
It’s all a bit overwhelming!