The leaves lying pulped on the roads to my son’s school serve as a warning sign that I need to drive more carefully at the moment. God decided to send me two warning signs to make sure I am equally careful on the journey ahead.
Trying to fit in reading the Northumbria Community’s Daily Office liturgy and scripture into my daily life, as suggested by the DDO, has been a challenge this week. A challenge I haven’t succeed at. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s been like trying to break a habit.
The Daily Office is a set of liturgy, sometimes with Bible readings, that takes place 4 times a day: morning, midday, evening and bedtime (the Compline). I try to start each day with a quiet time but don’t always manage it. If my children wake before or soon after me, which is fairly frequent, the chance for a quiet time is gone. Instead it’s straight into the breakfast and nursery/school routine. On those days I have to fit in my Bible readings into my time on the bus or my lunch break.
Weekends should be easier, but they are the noisiest days of the week in a household like mine, populated with two young children who are thankfully eager to enjoy the extra time with their parents and each other. It is somewhat difficult to read and pray as children climb on top of you or giggle in delight as they play together, and it feels painful separating myself off from them in order to be with God.
I had the bright ideas of using Nicky Gumbel’s ‘Bible in One Year’ readings and commentary in place of the Northumbria Community’s selection for the Daily Office, but still I didn’t manage to fit everything in. For one thing I feel devoid of energy right now and I need to take a step back. I need to understand the Daily Office before I can apply it. Incorporating it into my life will happen but it will take time, good things never come that easy!
It all reminds me of the time when I briefly worked for a church. Then prayer was part of the working day and even then I realised what a privilege it was. It brought God into focus at the start and helped me be conscious of him throughout the day, just as my snatched quiet times with God do.
As my home-group discussed this week, we can feel guilty when we don’t measure up to the example given by those who manage to find quiet time to spend with God each day. We might try our best to do likewise and set our alarms to wake a little bit earlier but, like my home-group said in unison, can simply end up exhausted. When that happens, like it has for me this week, even the few minutes we snatch from the day to spend with God can end up being ineffectual.
It all served as a warning should I find myself once again in a privileged position where prayer, study and time with God is considered part of my job. Not only will I need to remember how difficult it can be for those not in such a position but I will need to be watchful that I don’t make people feel guilty for not achieving regular and substantial quiet times with God. Part of my job will be helping people to achieve the seemingly impossible, perhaps that is what God is teaching me right now.
God chose to warn me of another thing to avoid whether I am to become a church leader or not, cliques.
There are cliques everywhere. They are a natural phenomena. I see them at the school gate, in work, and at church. To me a clique is much more than a simple grouping of like minded people. To me they are groups which give off the signal of exclusivity that make it plain whether you are in or out. They look inwards, turning their backs to others and making it clear that they are most definitely an outsider and not part of the group.
A church leader I knew had his inner circle of friends, something I recognise the importance of. However, in some of those friends communicated a sense of pride that they were part of this exclusive club. The appearance of exclusivity that cliques can suggest also signals to others that there is no place in the group for them. It is the same signal I have seen given out to some newcomers or visitors to churches, to the ones that didn’t quite fit with the image a congregation had for the church they belonged to. If I’m brutally honest I have been guilty of giving that impression to others myself and I feel broken by the memory of it. Yet the very people I didn’t welcome in as I should were the very people Jesus actively sought out.
Watching Monsters University with my family this past weekend brought home another unpleasant side effect of cliques.
Some of the monsters starting their first year at university are desperate to impress and be accepted by the various fraternities and sororities. They do what they can to impress them, to earn worthiness and to be accepted into the group. In the background of the story we witness the growth of pride in one character, Randall Bloggs, as he succeeds in that quest and is accepted into the most successful and popular fraternity on campus. Ironically the least popular fraternity, the one featuring the monsters that are looked down upon and laughed at by others is the one in which the main characters find themselves joining by default. It is the love of the monsters of Oozma Kappa that, though rejected by many, is ultimately triumphant. They are monsters that Jesus would be proud of.
I caught myself trying to impress someone this week. I was outside a conversation that I wanted in on. Topics of interest were being discussed in which I had points of view and experiences that I wanted to share. More importantly I saw an opportunity to thrash out some issues with other likeminded people and get some answers to questions I held in my head. The signals transmitted back to me however was that I was that my contribution was not worthy of acceptance, that my experiences were not important, that I was not valued.
You could easily argue that I was being far too sensitive, and you would probably be right. Irrespective of that though, it served as a warning sign to me.
I have a passion for those who are overlooked or forgotten about, for the silent ones whose self-esteem tells them that they are worthless and could never be used by God. I was that person before I met Jesus on a train, and to some extent I always will be that person. I often feel like a perpetual outsider but it is a feeling that brings perspectives on life that God wants to make use of.
The truth is not only does God love and value those who feel worthless, God wants to use them. God wants them to know what He knows, that they are royalty like us, princes and princesses of the eternal King. God wants to release the potential within them for their benefit and to bring more back into His fold.
God doesn’t have cliques or favourites. Cliques put up barriers and shut people out, God wants to knock those barriers down and invite people in.
The monsters of laughed at by the majority in Monsters University are inadvertently helped to realise that they have skills, talents and characteristics that are important and valuable. Their potential is realised and they triumph by being themselves; they become the ones others want to hang out with. Jesus would have hung out with Oozma Kappa.