Being a Christian Shouldn’t Be Hard

When my friend wrote a blog post titled “Being a Christian is Hard” my immediate thought was “Is it? Or do we just make it hard?”

Part way through the post, my friend said the same thing, but only to ask the question. These were my thoughts in response, which I added as a comment, but I thought were worth putting down here too.

We do try too hard, even if we only focus on those key actions of love, obey and forgive.

Remember: the law is beyond us. The sermon on the mount is beyond us. “Love as I love you” is beyond us.

We all (and of course I include myself) need to relax, trust God, and trust ourselves. Trust our instincts because we are made in God’s image. Trust our conscience because it is the voice of the Holy Spirit. Trust our wisdom which is a gift from God. If we trust in those things with humility, then we are not leaning on our own understanding but we are leaning on God with us. And when we lean on God with us we can relax and trust what He said:

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

Matthew 11:28‭-‬30 NIVUK

It’s all so much easier said than done. We want to do our best, we want to please the Lord, we want to try. And if we realise we’re trying too hard, we try not to try. Being a Christian can be very trying!

I’m learning to trust more than I try. I’m learning to be more than I do. I think it’s a lifelong lesson though, and I’m just grateful any time I manage to rest in God.

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Daily Reflection – Conclusion

I made it! I succeeded in posting every day for two weeks, and my timing only slipped at the end of the period.

The discipline of regular writing, as well as the subject matter, has given me a lot to think about in itself.

First, I sometimes felt uncomfortable with what I was sharing on what is supposed to be a Christian blog. If I recognised biblical echoes I would share references or scripture fragments, but to some extent it felt like I was indulging myself.

Is that such a bad thing? Isn’t that one purpose of a blog – to reveal yourself and your ideas to the world? Isn’t it everyone’s right to respectfully express themselves? And isn’t God interested in every aspect of our lives – so there shouldn’t really be a sacred/secular divide? I think the answer to all three of those questions is yes, but I still worry.

Second, I opened myself up in a lot more detail than I am used to doing, even with most friends and family. I think it was time to do it, but it wasn’t easy. On the other hand, censoring myself would have been even harder, and would have bled the authenticity out of my words. I don’t expect all my future posts to be quite so revealing, but now that a door has been unlocked I should feel able to talk more freely in the future whenever necessary.

Third, I think there were times when I reached the limit of my mental energy during this exercise.

It might seem strange, when I typically wrote just a few paragraphs, but I would often finish writing simply because I couldn’t summon the energy to continue developing the thoughts I’d embarked on. It was frustrating because I would often know there was much more I wanted to say, to expand or clarify on my reflections, but I knew that if I carried on I would lose structure and my words would turn into some kind of stream of consciousness, which might have been interesting on some level, but would have weakened the points I was trying to get across.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m still fragile.

Fourth, despite these struggles and concerns, I feel liberated by the experience of the last fortnight. I’ve known for a long time that I want to write more, one way or another, and this has confirmed that desire. I don’t know what form my writing will take in the future, but it will develop.

Looking to the future of this blog in particular, I can only continue to represent Christ as well as I’m able, and to share my thoughts on Him, and how He shapes me, and how He carries me through the storms of life.

I feel a great responsibility whenever I write. My readership may number in the dozens or low hundreds, compared to the millions influenced by some in this world, but every one of my readers matters to me. I want to be true to myself and my God. I want to be a friend and a comfort to some, and a thought-provoking challenge to others. None of us have all the answers, but hopefully I can at least ask some of the right questions.

Thank you for sharing this leg of my journey. You’ll be hearing from me again, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of my life.

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’

Exodus 14:14 NIVUK

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’

John 16:33 NIVUK

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1‭-‬4‭, ‬6 NIVUK

Daily Reflection – Endings

I’ve never been good at goodbyes. When ending a meeting or conversation I usually try to have the last word, not because of my big ego, the opposite in fact, as I want to be sure the other person knows that I’ve acknowledged their last words.

More seriously, I have the issue I described in my “attachment” post a few days ago. Letting go of relationships, even when I see the harm they are doing me, is very hard.

I’ve also been prone to avoiding some relationships altogether because of the inevitable end. I’m think of pets, which I’ve not wanted to share my life because I don’t want to see them die. For the same reason I’ve resisted getting too close to people who are old or very ill. I’ve missed out on so many opportunities to experience precious moments, and I’ve robbed others of such moments because of my fear, or should I call it my selfishness?

I think I had this fear even before the death of my father. He passed away suddenly, and much too soon, when I was in my late twenties. I had moved away from my hometown so I wasn’t there when he left us. I remember seeing him at the funeral home and kissing him goodbye. I don’t remember what I felt. I probably just felt emptiness. It’s strange (or is it?) that I don’t fear my own death so much as the death of others.

Accepting that everything ends is so important. It’s the only way to truly appreciate what we have now, and now is all we have in this world. Sometimes I think I’ve learned to accept it, but more often I know I have a long way to go.

All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalms 90:9‭-‬12 NIVUK

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no-one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 3:9‭-‬13 NIVUK

Daily Reflection – Promises

As a Christian I’m not sure if I’m supposed to have heroes, except for Jesus of course, and the “heroes of the faith.” Well I had an earlier life in which I picked up a few heroes, and one of them, for better or worse, was Frank Sinatra.

Yesterday evening one of his lesser known albums came to mind, and this morning I lay in bed and listened to it. I just want to talk about it, so I’m not sure exactly where this will go.

The album is “A Man Alone”. It’s quite extraordinary, and if all you know of Sinatra is the Rat Pack, Las Vegas or the Bobby-soxers, it should challenge some of your assumptions about his work. Its subtitle is “The words & music of McKuen” referring to the poet Rod McKuen. It’s a gentle album of songs and poetry reflecting on a life free from the encumbrance of a lasting relationship.

When I discovered the album, as a man alone in my early twenties, it spoke to me on two levels. First I would fantasise about being the protagonist in songs such as “Love’s Been Good To Me” and “The Beautiful Strangers”. I would imagine that in thirty years time I would be able to sing those songs having lived that life.

And I would contrast this with my own life at that time, perfectly exemplified in a poem/song such as “Empty Is.” Sinatra and McKuen were telling me they understood where I am, but hang in there because they also knew where I was going, and it would be a great ride.

As I listened this morning I heard something subtly but profoundly different. I heard the story of a man who had started his adult life with high hopes but who had been let down by broken promises. As a result of this he made a decision not to rely on anyone but himself. He would be kind and loving to others but he would always protect himself from hurt. He would enjoy the freedom of singleness to the full, and not allow himself to fall for promises or commitments that could too easily be broken.

And yes, he enjoyed his life, liaising with different women in different cities. Not tied down, he could live his life on his own terms.

But the good times were not fulfilling. They were a shallow façade, and not far under the surface was an emptiness that would come to haunt him in his solitary times. The man is looking back with a mixture of appreciation and regret. I feel that he’s trying to justify his decisions while in his heart he knows that he missed out on something deeply special because he couldn’t trust another promise.

He makes the distinction between being “alone” and “lonely” more than once. It’s true that they are not the same thing, but it’s clear from the narrative of the album that one has led to the other.

“A Man Alone” was recorded one year before I was born, when Sinatra was just a few years older than I am now. His voice has started to lose its power, and the fragility of his singing at times accentuates the poignancy of the message. At the same time, as an Academy Award winning actor, he brings real emotion and clarity to the spoken passages.

One of the tracks that persisted in my mind yesterday was the poem “From Promise to Promise.” A short piece, which as I’ve suggested, triggers a fateful decision by the narrator, it got me pondering the nature of promises.

As usual, there is far more to be considered than I can write here. Maybe that’s good, as you can take these thoughts and apply them to your own experiences, rather than getting too entangled in mine. My thoughts, my questions, are

  • Who has hurt me most with broken promises?
  • Was it their fault, or did circumstances get in the way?
  • Did I respond with grace?
  • Which promises have I broken over the years?
  • What would I promise now, or in the future, and which promises would I avoid making?
  • How will I respond to the promises of others from now on?
  • What promises have I made to myself, and how many have I broken?
  • What has God promised me?

From Promise to Promise

I sometimes wonder why people make promises they never intend to keep
Not in big things, like love or elections, but in the things that count –
The newspaper boy who says he will save an extra paper, and doesn’t
The laundry that tells you your suit will be ready on Thursday and it isn’t
Love, well yes, but like everything else, we go from day to day
We move from promise to promise
I’ve had a good many promises now, so I can wait for the harvest
And some of them, they come about

Rod McKuen

Daily Reflection – Distractions

I’ve been very fond of my brain over the years. I’ve always enjoyed the things it can do. Its ability to think outside the box and look at things from a different angle. Its talent for logic and mental arithmetic and seeing mathematical patterns. Its creativity.

My brain can’t do everything that some people’s can. Well, not without training. But I’m happy with the things it can do. It’s brought me a long way.

There are two issues I have with my brain, though. One is my memory. I do hold on to a lot of trivial facts, especially when it comes to 20th century music. But my memory of life events, conversations and other important moments is very poor. I recall my feelings, but not the details of the circumstances that brought them about.

The other issue is distractions, and this is the one that frustrates me the most. While there are times that I can become engrossed in a conversation, performance or activity, I find that far too much of the time my brain is overactive, running through past or future scenarios, not allowing me to live in the moment and enjoy now.

I’ve been practising daily meditation sessions for nearly six months, but if anything, distractions are becoming more frequent.

But what feels even worse is distracted prayer. I’m talking to the Creator of the universe about what’s most important to me, and trying to discern what’s most important to Him, and I suddenly find myself wondering if I need to go shopping today. That’s a mild example. I realise what’s happening, and bring myself back to prayer, apologise, and continue until the next diversion of my train of thought.

God knows me and understands and forgives me, but I find it so hard to forgive myself. I wouldn’t mind if I was distracted by an external factor like a car horn. But when it’s internal it just feels so disrespectful. I’m annoyed, and almost ashamed of myself.

Once or twice I’ve experienced what I thought was a distraction, but then realised was a response to my prayer. I’ve been asking what should I do, and then imagined myself doing what God would want. Sadly most of the time my brain is taking me on a fruitless and/or fanciful road of retrospection or speculation.

I’m not sure how to solve this, or if it will solve itself in time. For now, the best I can do is be kind to myself and remain friends with my brain. We do have some good times together!

Daily Reflection – Identity

“You’ve changed.”

When I recall hearing those words, admittedly mostly on screen, I can only ever recall them being delivered in a negative context. An accusation. A disappointment. A betrayal.

It’s a cliché, but very true, that many of us are fearful of change. There’s a reason why we need to push ourselves outside our “comfort zone.”

And God forbid that we should change our minds about anything. That we should be so weak-minded. A turncoat. Fickle and unreliable.

Change has so many negative connotations, and yet it is the most natural, and most vital thing that there is. From the moment we are conceived until our bodies crumble into dust, we are changing, every second of every day.

Changing our minds. Such a complex notion. We go to school to have our minds changed in the most overt fashion. We are taught facts, and techniques, and disciplines. But before, during and after that we are also being moulded by the people around us, especially in our family. These are people who in turn were moulded by the people around them.

We come to a point where we settle into our moulded minds. “This is me.” This is the music I like. These are my political ideas. These are my desires for my life. This is my worldview. At different moments we unconsciously arrive at our conclusions on these and other matters, so that we can be confident for the rest of our lives that “this is who I am.”

And when these views are challenged it can sometimes be a painful experience, depending on how fundamental we feel they are to our identity. It’s easy to become defensive, or alternatively to go on the attack. Why is it so difficult sometimes to just accept that we have each been moulded in different ways? It’s far too early in the morning for me to go down that road.

So we find ourselves in the world, moulded by the world, and to some extent conformed to the world. And then we hear:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 NIVUK

So challenging. So difficult. And even when we take it to heart, we will spend the rest of our lives reaching for, but never attaining, that concept of God’s perfect will.

I mentioned a word earlier. A very important word. Identity. I’ve come to realise that my own view of my identity may be wrong. That it has been clouded and distorted through my life experiences. When people tell me the good qualities they see in me, I struggle to receive their words, because I don’t recognise those qualities in myself. I don’t see myself as others do, and I always thought it’s because I’m right and they’re wrong. I thought no one could ever understand me like I understand myself.

I’m finally starting to realise that I was wrong, and that is a painful, terribly sad realisation, because my false view of my identity has affected the way I’ve treated myself and others, mainly myself, over many, many years, and as a result I’ve lived a life far away from the abundant one that Christ came to give me.

I didn’t see myself as others saw me. I didn’t see myself as God saw me. I didn’t value myself. I didn’t love myself. In fact, I thought that to love myself was selfish, and I resisted the temptation to do so. Instead I searched for that love in other places, in other people. And while some of them could give me a part of what I needed, none could fulfil my needs in the way that I could myself, if I just trusted that God knew what He was doing when He made me.

Now I’m in the process of learning to accept, value and love myself. It’s a frightening process at times, because my old idea of my identity still feels comfortable and right, even though it did me so much harm. But in a very real sense, this is the best time of my life.

I’m changing.

Daily Reflection – Introduction

Soon after starting this blog I made a commitment to myself to make at least one post every month. I’ve more or less kept to that discipline. If you look through my history I don’t think you’ll see any gaps, although, as I think I’ve confessed before, there have been a couple of occasions when I was a bit late and had to massage the publication time to keep my perfect record.

Over the last couple of years it’s become increasingly difficult for me to maintain a regular output, and this is frustrating for me because if anything the amount I want to say has increased. I certainly have a head full of ideas that I want to discuss. Lots of questions, few, if any, answers. It’s funny how answers seem to become less important as I grow older.

But if there is so much I want to say, why am I finding it so difficult to write?

There are several reasons, including my failure to make time for this between my other activities, and my strong desire to fully think and pray through some of the more controversial subjects that interest me before committing those thoughts to publication.

But the biggest reason is a loss of energy and motivation as I’ve found myself battling through a season of anxiety and depression.

The battle started in early 2017, as a result of circumstances I can’t discuss here. When I realised what I was facing I sought professional and pastoral help, and eventually felt that I was starting to turn the corner. But at the end of February this year I was struck down harder than ever, and as a result I haven’t been able to work since then.

I’m continuing to fight. In terms of health services I have a combination of medication and talking therapy to lean on. Spiritually I have a loving God who has placed key people in my life and opened my eyes to recognise and value them as they stand beside me in this battle.

I believe the antidepressants I’m taking (and now trying to wean myself off) are the main reason for my energy and motivation issues. I’ve had disrupted sleep and struggled to get out of bed before the afternoon unless I have an appointment to force me into action. But while it’s easy (and maybe accurate) to blame pills or circumstances for the state of my mind and body, I also have a responsibility to make choices and take actions to change my situation as far as I’m able.

That’s why I’m making a new, short-term commitment to this blog. For the next two weeks I will make a morning entry every day, aiming to post it before 10am local time. I’m not going to get legalistic about this. If I’m late, or even miss a day, I won’t beat myself up. If writing doesn’t actually get me out of bed, at least it will be waking my mind up and giving me a push in the right direction. I doubt that any of my daily posts will be as long as this one, maybe I’ll only manage a sentence or two some days, and I don’t know how ‘Christian’ my posts will be either, they will simply reflect my thought processes as I wake up.

This is an experiment. A challenge. I don’t know what I will get out of it. I don’t know if it will have any value to you. But I will put my trust in the Lord and take this step of faith.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. ‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord , ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.’

Psalm 91 NIVUK