When it was not what we hoped... 

annie-spratt-MYa0tyV2DYM-unsplPhoto by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Last night and this morning I have been surprisingly emotional.

Like so many, I was watching our Prime Minister's announcement yesterday evening. Perhaps what Boris said was what you were expecting. But it left me … well… I don’t quite know.

At the very least, there is a complex mixture of emotions.

The end of last week things seemed quite positive. The papers on Thursday seeming to announce the end of lock down (irresponsibly now it seems). The C of E announced the four phases towards normal services being resumed. With excitement and with expectation I started to make plans for those.

Some of us were looking forward to the children going back to school. Life starting to look a bit more “normal.” 
Our hopes had a focus - and it was Boris’ announcement on Sunday evening.

And now…

Well now, we’re flat. We’re emotional. We’re lost (again). Some of us can return to work. We can all go out lots and sit in the park. But the weather is cold and windy. It hardly seems worth it… 

So… what are we feeling and thinking?

There is sadness, even grief. Some of us knew what we were hoping for. Others, like me, are not quite sure what we were hoping for. Just… not that. We feel bereaved (again) and can’t quite say why.

There is resignation: more weeks of lock-down with a few minor changes.

There is frustration.

There is realisation: this really is big. Six weeks in lock-down are not going to fix this. In my head I know this is a massive challenge. But as the weeks drag into months the magnitude of controlling Covid-19 hits home emotionally and in reality.

What do we do?

In all this we come back to key truths of our faith that remind us where our hope and faith lies:

- the Lord God is sovereign. As we are told repeatedly in the book of Daniel: - the Lord God is the one who changes times and seasons.  As someone said to me, "He has got this." He was not taken by surprise last night. And he is not taken by surprise by how you are feeling today.

- the Lord is a firm foundation.  As we saw yesterday, impressive kingdoms and empires rise and fall (is this a shaking of western civilisation?), but the word of the Lord endures for ever. We might feel thrown about, but “underneath are the everlasting arms."

- the Lord is always good. The Lord God knows what he is doing. He loves you. He won’t let you go. No situation is so bad that he cannot bring great good out of it. The cross and blood of Jesus declare that: to the world and over you.

- the Lord is with us. It might not always feel like it. But he has promised to be with his people. He is close. Cast your burdens on him because he cares for you. Turn to him, tell him how you are feeling. Draw it. Shout it. Sing it. Write it [I’ve found it helpful writing this]. He already knows, but we bring it all to him because he knows we cannot carry this. Really, we can’t. But he can.

Whatever the next few weeks and months hold, we come back to Psalm 46, words that were so precious at the start of lock-down a long 6 weeks ago: 

God is our refuge and strength 
    An ever present help in times of trouble
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea


Who am I? 

Siora Photography on Unsplash

Hello me luvvers ow bin yer?   …translates …(Hello my friends how are you?)

This is a good question to ask our families and friends at this time, and as we know, and we have heard it said through some of our on line services, there are many answers to the question.  Our answers will vary from day to day and sometimes even hour to hour, as we continue to live though “lockdown”. 

Some of our answers may go like this…

  • I ay tew bad ( I am not too bad )
  • I’m bostin ta  (I am doing very well thank you)
  • I’m goin nuts cos cor gew ahrt (I am going crazy because I can’t go out)
  • I’m gutted cos I cor see me babbys (I am really upset because I cant see my children)
  • I cor cope no mewer (I can’t cope any longer)
  • I cor even gew shapping (I can’t even go out shopping)
  • I doe arf miss me mates and gewin to church (I really miss my friends and going to church)
  • Me ‘airs that lung I’m startin to look like an oss (My hair is so long I am starting to look like a horse)

I am sure being in lockdown as raised so many different emotions in all of us and possibly when anyone asked you or me “how are you” we may have responded with one of the above answers, but I feel lockdown has raised in us many more questions than just “how are you”, I know for me it certainly has.

Earlier this week a Christian brother and mentor asked me “how I was” and followed through with “because you don’t seem to be yourself”

On the same day Nick G asked me if I felt I could write something for this Blog, my immediate answer was to say I didn’t think I could do it as well as others have….Nick then said “Just be yourself”!

As I thought about this and pondered on the two phrases that had been used about me…”You don’t seem to be yourself” and “Just be yourself”…. it caused me to reflect on one of those deeper questions that sometimes the Holy Spirit asks you to ask yourself…..so I began reflect on just who is “myself” or “who am I ”?

Well, as you may have guessed,  I am a Black country wench” and like most of us I have many other  “titles”, wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, retired nurse/lecturer, Reader (Lay-minister) and a few others….all good titles some requiring harder work than others, but I am truly blessed by God to have been given all the family, friendships, love and opportunities to serve Him that these various titles have given me over many years.

I started to write this blog on day 36 of the governments lockdown, its day 42 for my husband and I because we started a little earlier than Boris told us to. During that time I have not been able to wholly fulfil, in the way that I normally would, any of my roles other than perhaps the “wife” one??…..  the Bible says of a good wife “When she speaks her words are wise and kindness is the rule when she gives instructions” (Proverbs 31:26)  so you had better check out my claim on that front with my husband, for I know there are “Rats in my cellar “  too (see Nick’s last blog).

It’s been hard facing up to not being able to be as involved with family/friends/church life as I usually am, and some days I have felt more than a bit useless. Lockdown has stripped us back and laid us bare in so many ways that we have never had to think about before and it would be all too easy to fall in to the “slough of despond” (the swamp of despair) that “Pilgrim” speaks of (see Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan), or with the writer of Ecclesiastes  to say “It’s all meaningless” !  So I am grateful to the Holy Spirit who led me to “get real” with myself before God and ask the deep question “Who am I?” and then, blessed, very blessed, that He further led me, through a walk in some local fields playing worship songs through headphones, to remember that my true identity is not in the many titles the world bestows upon us no matter how good they are, but that our true identity as Christians is in the title He willingly and graciously freely bestows upon each us.  God reminded me on that walk and through a worship song, and he wants to remind all of us in this time and always, that I am, and you are….WHO YOU (God) SAY I AM.  I am a child of God.

This is a song I heard a couple of years ago and one I have played much but am daily playing it now as it has come to mean so much to me. So I share it with you.  Find it on you tube here or just read the words available on that same link.

A final thought taken from my daily studies in Lectio 365 (put together by 24/7 prayer movement and available as a free app on your phone).

Covid-19 has stripped us of many “façades and defences.”  In Luke 18:9-14 The tax collector “kept it real” when talking to Jesus. Jill Weber writes

“As I reflect on this passage I think God’s invitation is to bring our real, unvarnished selves into his presence."

Anne Lammott in her book called “Help, thanks and Wow – the 3 essentials of prayer” writes:

"It takes much courage to get real, really real with God…”

But when we do He always, but always finds ways to show us, even in lockdown, we are not forsaken, but are chosen and loved and valued by Him for “just who I am”.   Let’s go on using this lockdown time to “get real” with God who longs for us to do just that, for our benefit and for His Glory.
Love and miss seeing you all.  Yvonne

Yvonne Binder, 05/05/2020


Habits to help your soul thrive part 6: Name those rats! 

 Photo by Oxana Kuznetsova on Unsplash

Can I let you into two secrets.
I have discovered rats in my cellar.

That’s the first secret.

The second secret is this: I suspect you have them too.
No, I haven’t gone mad. And you are right, the Vicarage does not have a cellar.
I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’ excellent “Mere Christianity”.
In one of the chapters C.S.Lewis uses this illustration:

If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in suddenly.  But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man :  it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.
(C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity, (London: Fontana, 1960), p. 161)

Lock-down is exposing my rats.
C.S.Lewis uses the rat illustration to make a simple point:

Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth?
(ibid. p. 161)

Where am I most off guard? – at home, with my children, my family.
Where are many of us at the moment? At home!
You see, I am very good at putting on my work persona. It is quite a nice Vicarly one. If I am honest, I’ve got quite good at that persona. As I leave the house I put it on and then go to visit people, lead services, preach and look reasonably godly. All the while, I keep my less godly bits reasonably well hidden from the rest of the world.
And now, I get do the same thing on youtube each week. Which is even better, because I don’t even have to be anywhere near you and I have a whole load of time to get my persona ready.
But really I am at home all the time. Lots of my usual distractions and ways of coping are not there. And lots of things I was hoping for are not happening. Then one of my children walks into my office and I snap at them.
As C.S.Lewis, observes

the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so unexpected: I was caught off guard
(p. 161)

We might try to say that lock-down is extenuating circumstances.
But no! The rats were always in the cellar. They’ve just been exposed.
Lock-down is exposing that I have an infestation. I have such an infestation that some of them have got names. Impatience. Lack of love. Anger… They are pretty ugly to be honest.
And if you are honest, you may have some of their close relatives in your cellar too.
But here’s the thing, if you want to deal with your infestation, there is no point in spending more time preparing not to be caught off guard, or plotting a change of circumstances, or shouting a bit louder. There is no point keeping the rats hidden.
Actually, the first thing you need to do is name those rats.

But then what?
Despair? Give up?
C.S.Lewis goes on to  allude to one of Jesus’ saying. You can tell a tree by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit. A bad tree bears bad fruit.  (See Matthew 12:33)
So, although I may, to some extent control what I do, I “have no direct control over my temperament.”

 “What we are matters even more than what we do.”

So we do despair then? After all if I am a bad tree, how do I change?
C.S.Lewis then explains, in characteristically eloquent style (take time to read this slowly):

it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about.
And this applies to my good actions too. How many of them were done for the right motive? How many for fear of public opinion, or a desire to show off? How many from a sort of obstinacy or sense of superiority which, in different circumstances, might equally have led to some very bad act? But I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives.
After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.
(ibid. p.161)

That is such a crucial last line.

...everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.

I cannot get rid of the rats. You cannot get rid of the rats.
Jesus said

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
(Mark 2:17)

If I am allowed to say this, Jesus is the great rat catcher.
And he doesn’t do it by showing us how to hide the rats, or tame them. And he definitely doesn’t do it by showing us how to kill them.
The Apostle Paul writes:

We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18)

In short, you get rid of the rats by spending time with the Lord.
As C.S.Lewis goes on to say, God the Father relates to us as if we had no rats at all. He accepts us as if we were Jesus himself. We are loved and completely accepted, despite our infestation.
Which means, to misquote Steve Brown, we can name those rats and kiss them on the mouth.
But more than that, Jesus stands besides us to first of all blind those rats, and then at least tame them with his presence in us.
As the aforementioned Steve Brown (who, by the way, is one of my favourite Christian writers) says, 

So the truth of the matter is, I’m better [than I was] because I’m closer to him;

The key is spending time with Jesus.
But there is a sting in the tale here, and it is so important. Steve says more:

So the truth of the matter is, I’m better [than I was] because I’m closer to him; but the closer I am to him, the less I feel I’m getting better. It may sound crazy, but it’s true. If I knew I was getting better, I would feel quite self-sufficient; and before I knew it, I would be offering to help God out a bit, then I would start helping others get better the way I did.
But in reality, making others better is God’s job, not mine.
(Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom (Howard Books, 2004), p. 72)

So I have rats. And without all the usual distractions that keep the rats at bay, I am discovering what I really needed to know all along:
I need a closer walk with the Lord.
Which brings us back to the habits that we need to be cultivating in lock-down, and the chief one – quality time with the Lord.

As part of that most important of habits I need to be naming those rats and bringing them into the light of the Lord's presence. Both at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day.

And perhaps, with the Lord, the rats will shrink to mice, and then voles, or... well, maybe, just perhaps be a whole lot less ugly.
William Cowper wrote:

O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!