Questions

The mark of an intelligent child is their inquisitive nature – their constant quest for the answers to life.

We educate them by providing a series of questions for them to answer at various stages in their educational life. The exams that shape their futures are rooted in questions – testing their ability to answer.

And we’re continually told on training courses, or any other opportunities in life that “there are no silly questions” – guaranteed, if you’ve thought of the question needing answered, someone else has too.

So, why. Why do we see the questioning of our faith as weakness? The constant quest for answers indicates an inability to comprehend the deeper ‘stuff’ or to convey the message it carries.

We encourage children to answer questions like ‘does God exist?‘ and, ‘who was Jesus?
By showing them the teachings that the Bible has to offer. And then later, there’s deeper questions to answer; ‘how can you say there’s a God when there’s so much suffering?‘, ‘Your God can see everything, so why can’t he see the needs in the world and provide for them?‘, ‘If your God can create the world, why would you make it like this?‘ or, the great one ‘how can you believe in something that causes nothing but conflict through divisions based on hatred?

So, at various points, I’ve been hit with those questions. And my answers probably wouldn’t be textbook ones, and at various points I’ve probably asked those very questions myself – but that’s part of deepening my faith. If I’m not prepared to be inquisitive of it, I’m probably not invested in it. I’ve not been brought up to just accept things as they are. I’ve been brought up to argue and right injustices, to use my voice for good, to equip those I walk beside to be the best that they can be and to include at every opportunity (even if I don’t like the person). I’ve been brought up to love people wholeheartedly, whether I like them or not. I’ve been brought up to be the reliable person that you can always turn to because, even if I don’t want to do it, I’ll find a way of getting it done. Sometimes I’ve stuck at things for too long when I should have walked away, but rarely have I walked away when I probably shouldn’t. I’ve been brought up to give all of myself in all that I do – more often than not to my own detriment. I’ve been brought up to be ready to say yes, and to always be careful when thinking of saying no. I’ve been brought up to question – to question others and most importantly, myself.

So, I always ask questions. Always. Even though I may know the reason behind it, I always want to know why (or, how if you’re from the Lanarkshire area!). The searching for confirmation of knowledge will continue for the rest of my life, I know I will live a life of questions – most of which may not actually provide any concrete answers. And, even though I know this, I still want to know why.

And that is why, for me, its the most natural thing in the world to continue to question my Call. The search for those answers will probably never end. With new answers come new questions. Does this continual cycle of questioning equate to weakness?
Some mistake it for doubt and therefore plant the seed of doubt in my mind.
And that’s been the most dangerous thing, because from that seed, my incessant questions help that dirty weed to grow.
I’ve never been very good at gardening (concrete ftw!) – it isn’t in my skill set.

How do you get past that? And, why does God put those obstacles in your way!?
And the answer is… jigsaws!
People enjoy jigsaws. Jigsaws, and life, would be easier if it already came completed in the box – but where’s the fun in that? What’s the point in a puzzle that comes already solved?

So this whole Call game isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be a search through the puzzle – the continual cycle of discerning what is God-led, what is self-led and is there potential for those to be one in the same?

Therefore confusion is easy = doubt is inevitable.
And there hangs the difference; doubt, for me, stems from me questioning my ability. Questions of enquiry, for me, are learning tools I use to deepen my faith and, as a by-product, strengthen my call.
Unfortunately both sound similar.

And that brings me to the current questions I have.. the ones I continue to pray over:
– what next?
– where does the challenge lie?
– will You guide me through the puzzle I crave?
– will there be a puzzle to solve?
– have I solved it and I’m simply not happy with the outcome?

And still, I know that with the eventual revelation of those answers will come more questions. Thankfully, the difference now is, I’m not afraid to talk about it.
Questioning is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength; being unafraid of finding answers. It’s a constant learning tool – enabling the development of ideas and the deepening of faith.

So, asking questions, it’s ok. Right!?

Recognising Windows

Before I can crawl, I’m trying to walk strong.
Before I fall, I’m looking for somewhere to jump without having a place to land.
When I find a new place to land, I run. I run towards the familiar, to find the path that I know. Or, at least the path that I think I know.

As a child, I lived in books. I lived through Katie Morag, Enid Blyton, Judy Bloom and Harry Potter. As a teenager, I lived in music. I lived through Lulu. As a young adult, I live in Church. I live through my home congregation, National Youth Assembly, Church and Society and Priority Areas.
And now, I find myself at a turning point. As of August, I’ll no longer be considered a young person – a status I’ve been so fiercely protective of since I first had the opportunity to ‘make a difference’ in 2009. And it’s an experience I rarely talk of because of how it came to an end. Around the same time, I ran for the first time.
I thought I wanted to be an RE teacher, so went to university to pursue it. The theory appealed to me, and the practical didn’t. I ended up being ill, swine flu was doing the rounds and because I had one date where my absence couldn’t be accounted for, I failed.
I had the opportunity to resit during summer school but I made the choice to run. This is the one thing I have never regretted.
This is when I first told someone that I knew I was called to something different. What I understood to be Ministry. They didn’t agree and I let it affect the next 4 years of my life.
During this time I had the occasional opportunity to preach, and grew to have such an intense love for it.
Then I found the first place where I didn’t need to conform to fit it. I didn’t need to not talk about faith, Lulu or call. I found the National Youth Assembly – the family I didn’t know I needed, and the minute I found it, I knew I couldn’t let it go. So, I grabbed with both hands and I still haven’t let go. Until then, I didn’t understand what it meant to feel welcome. Until then, I didn’t understand what life could be.
And then came an opportunity to volunteer. The way I see serving, for me, is that if I was Roman Catholic, I’d become a Nun. I’d give all that I am, and all that I had, to do what’s needed.
Then Volunteering Vocations materialised and it sounded like the perfect experience for me – giving me a practical opportunity to take a year to explore a potential call. So, I applied and I fought for the programme to be run. And they didn’t.
But, the opportunity came back around the following year and I went for it again. And I got placed. I got Glasgow, when I desperately wanted Arbroath.
But I rallied, and was energised by the prospect of being able to challenge myself – for me, it would have been the year to confirm a call I already felt.
It all felt pretty real, and I ran. Except this wasn’t my usual run and hide – I ran towards what I thought I hadn’t been facing up to. I chose to apply for Ministry.
The rational side to where I was at was – I felt called. People who feel called apply for Ministry. Other people who feel called don’t take a year to try before you buy. Sure, there were other factors. How could I leave my sister? My parents? Things weren’t great. And then, how could I give up the things I had just found? Like NYA? Church and Society?
Everything I felt I had to leave, or I was being asked to leave, I had fought for. So, the easy option was to run. And, boy, did I run.
I ran, hurtling towards Discernment at such a speed. At the time, it felt like time was going by so slowly. Now, one year on, it’s a blur. Speed is the best word I can use for my Discernment experience, and that was my fault. I ran at things, and tried to prove I was ready. I loved my placement, and wholeheartedly value the experience and everything I gained – so please don’t let what I’m saying make you think otherwise. My placement facilitated me being in a space of feeling ready and equipped. They empowered me to be able to do things I didn’t think I could and come to enjoy the things I dreaded.
It finished on a high, but what came next blindsided me.
I had spent the last 10-11 months running towards the destination I saw God hurtling me towards, and suddenly it was gone. The light at the end of the tunnel disappeared.
And I still had to go to an Assessment Conference and convince strangers that I was called to Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

I’ve never been a good liar. When you can’t explain what makes you called – there’s something wrong. And there was.. there is.

So, by this point, I was invested in pursuing the evening course I had to do to be able to get into university to study to Theology (a requirement for Candidates). The commitment meant that the ideal scenario would be finding a part time job – after all, one day I would wake up and find the path again, wouldn’t I? I had to be ready.
So, the job wasn’t really important because it would be temporary. This only had to tide me over until the course was over.
I applied for a few jobs and almost resigned myself to having to struggle with a full time job and studying part time.
Then I got a wee email from the Church of Scotland inviting me to an interview for a job I had applied for in Priority Areas. The application had been a speed effort, submitted approx 20 mins before the deadline but it must have been ok.
Then I saw who was interviewing, and I wanted the ground to swallow me up.

Part of the Volunteering Vocations programme is that you have a, what they call, House Chaplain and mine would have been the person interviewing me for this job. At no point had I had the intelligence level to make the connection.. which I realise is the stupidest thing now! Like legit, idiot.
To be fair, had I known I probably wouldn’t have applied for the job. I’d have ran in ANY other direction because… AWKWARD.

At this point, the job was still a means to an end.
Then I got it.
Bam.
I got to leave the job that was dragging me down. It’s amazing how you don’t realise how unhappy you were until you actually feel it – that whole smiling for no reason thing.
Until I started this job, I wasn’t a smiling for no reason kind of person. I started, and I got chucked in at the deep end – the best way to start! Legit. It spoke to my inner all-or-nothing personality.

So I went from one week working in a quarry looking forward to me-time when I got to do ‘Church stuff’, to the next week getting to do the ‘Church stuff’ I loved AND getting paid to do it.

I didn’t particularly want that job – and by that, I mean that it was wanted as a by-product of something else. What I didn’t know was that it was what I needed.
And by need, I mean NEED.

Within days there was a total difference in my mental health and general outlook. I had a renewed purpose. And I realised pretty quickly that what I didn’t think I wanted, I now wanted more than anything. I wanted more than anything to stay in Priority Areas for as long as I could.
Which, along with some other things, led me to postpone the evening course. If I didn’t know when I wanted to apply to university, it became apparent that there wasn’t much point in doing something that I might have to then re-do.

And that leads me to today. Today I live in the realisation that all of my running away from things has led me right back to where God has been calling me.
I’m a big fan of The Sound of Music and could, at one point, provide the film script before the actors on screen could. There’s a line in that film that keeps coming back to haunt me; “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.
When a door closes, it’s easy to take refuge in the darkness rather than searching for a window. For me, I’ve always been a window searcher. In this case, the door closing for me was, for the moment, Ministry of Word and Sacrament but I couldn’t see the window. And that’s where the absolute beauty comes.. sometimes we can’t see the window until it’s flooded your darkened room with Light.
For me, the window I couldn’t see was Priority Areas and with that, I come full circle. I closed the door on Priority Areas initially by walking away from Volunteering Vocations but God made me a window. He pulled me back. He Called.

Within church settings, we don’t talk enough about call outside of a formal Ministry setting. I live life knowing I am called. I’m enjoying life far more than I ever have, or even thought possible, knowing I’m called to Priority Areas.
And, that’s ok. In fact, it’s not. It’s the best thing that’s happened to me.
I don’t have to be what people tell me I should be, or head in directions they think will be good for me, because at the end of the day, God will lead me where I need to be for whatever reason He needs me to be there.
He needs me to be in Priority Areas.
Maybe, for the moment He needs me to be there for me – for me to realise things, to learn and grow.. all of which I’m doing but I have a long way to go and that is ok. Because, when I’ve learnt these lessons – when I’ve finally learned to learn, He’ll reveal my true purpose. He will reveal the good I’m intended to do… and maybe the learning will lead me to that fact that I’ve been fulfilling it all along.

And, that is ok – Priority Areas is reality for me. Everything else is just imaginary…
If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it.
… I’m looking at paradise..

 

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”‘ – Isaiah 6:8

Communication

So, this isn’t what I thought I would be writing.. but it is, what it is.

I’m not one of those people that can put their phone in their bag and forget about it – I’m the person that carries it in their back pocket, usually rapidly responding to every text, tweet or email.

But, now I’m realising that’s all a bit vapid. Gone are the days of phoning someone – there’s text, Facebook messenger, email etc. And it’s why we’re all a little bit worse off with direct communication. It’s so much easier to hide behind an email or a message that the recipient will eventually pick up and answer, than it is to phone or visit them to ask the questions we need answers to. It’s much easier to have those difficult conversations with the social media barrier already in place, than it is to be assertive enough to have those conversations in person. It’s much easier to type negativity than saying it – saying it makes it real, writing it doesn’t feel as real.

There’s a few people that would be hefty surprised I would say that, because I’m the first to hide behind those forms of communication – they’re easily managed. BUT. They’re not personal. And I, in particular, am reaching a stage where that is much more important than hiding. Intentional communication with people that matters should mean something… it shouldn’t be confined to words on a screen.

After Lent, I’m going to try and give social media up for a while. (or at least as much as I can – I’m not sure how that’ll work when a chunk of my job relates to this… but I’m sure we can work that out)

So, I’m setting myself a challenge – to work on verbal communication. To become more confident with that form of communication, and realise that sometimes it’s ok to not have my phone in my pocket.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:6