On A Word for the Year

time-for-a-change-2015164_1280

Lots of Christians now participate in this practice, which began as a non-religious idea. The gist of the whole thing is that you pick a word, just one, that is about what you want to focus on for the year, rather than making a whole list of resolutions that get left by the wayside along with the diet. First mooted by the One Word 365 team, it was then picked up by the Church. In the Christian version, called My One Word, set up by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen, the blurb goes as follows:

The first step is to simply take some time and decide what kind of person you want to be at the end of this year… What are the qualities of the person you want to become? Once you have a list of the characteristics, simply pick a word..”

We choose a word, and use that as an intention for the year.  I’ve done this every New Year since 2015, but with the proviso that the word is chosen, not by me, but by God, and communicated to me by the act of listening prayer.

This year I wasn’t going to do it, but my word came relentlessly anyway. It is “broken.” This highlights the first inherent danger of the practice, which is that without listening in, leaning in to the word that we are given, or choosing it for ourselves, we might miss what it is really speaking to us. There was a heartsink moment with this word, I admit, until God told me that it was about being broken open, about breakthroughs, about hatching.

I’m all for anything that helps us learn to be still and listen to the Lord, and I think this aspect ought to be highlighted in the materials, rather than people choosing their own word, however prayerfully.  Because another danger is that we may well end up choosing or even hearing what we want to hear (and this can happen via our subconscious even in contemplation if we are not vigilant). We might choose a lovely, positive word like “Blessings” and not really let it lead into any soul work.

This given word can be a wonderful point of reference if we approach it with maturity, aware that another potential problem with such focus is that we can end up limiting what God wants to do, and also the time he wants to take to accomplish it. Because, let’s face it, God is rarely in a rush.  Healing and shaping and refining his loved ones often takes decades, if not a lifetime.  So, I go into this New Year knowing that the word God gave me this time last year (and probably the ones before that) goes with me. He’s not done with them yet, and probably never will be, but he understands that I’m a tiny, fairly helpless being and focus can bring good results.

For many people it is a help to have that one word to keep in mind and heart and work or struggle with. When it is done well, God-centred and prayerfully, I’ve seen it be powerful.  But we must also bear in mind that it is a very, very small part of the picture. If you are going to participate, my advice would be, if you are a Christian, to do so slowly, carefully, in prayer and knowing from the start that the focus on this word is meant to be more of an aide-memoire, a remembering of God’s promises for this year, an idea about what HE is doing, not what YOU are achieving. Because control may well be the most dangerous thing of all in this for those following Christ. If we begin to imagine that change is all down to us, as if it were an exercise program or a special diet, we will end up deluded and certainly disappointed.

I think the My One Word movement has the potential to also be an exercise in focussing so hard on one thing that it misses the ONE NECESSARY THING. And whilst I will not discourage you from participating (nor should you feel obliged to take part), I would urge that you take it for what it is, and let the Lord lead you, not despairing if you hear nothing, not being surprised if the year ahead is about more than just one issue in your life, and not limiting God in any way whatsoever. Be open to all that he has for you, but by all means, ask for a point of focus if you feel that one is needed.  If nothing else, your one word may be the conversation starter that you and he need.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, photo from Pixabay

On Endings

river-3039546_1280

As the year draws to a close, I am conscious that the Lord has been showing me over the last few months that endings are just as important as beginnings. Indeed we cannot have one without the other, just as we cannot have spring unless the winter precedes it.

Like a relationship, perhaps the old year is also something to end well, before we can begin a new one. Sometimes we have a tendency to run headlong into making resolutions and saying good riddance to the year gone by without having processed things that have happened, or examining where we stand.

Maybe it would be a good practice to keep stillness and silence for a while and look back over the year, taking it all to God in a prayer of examen, seeing what needs to continue and what may be safely left behind, learning before we leap onwards.

This is why we had 14 pieces on how we were not going to run Lakelight, before we started looking in this blog at what we are going to be doing. It is important sometimes to clear the decks, set things in readiness, dig out the foundations, and take a deep breath, before anything new can be set in motion.

This is especially true in our spiritual lives. How can we begin to love, if we have not ended hate? And how can we live peacefully, if we are still suffocating in anxiety? Of course, because the world is cyclical, love itself, along with peace, will help drive out hate and fear, but we have to begin with the (beginning of the) ending. There is no resurrection without crucifixion. I have found this palpable in my preparation for the writing ministry I believe I am coming into. I have had to let go of my intelligence, in order to receive wisdom. To loosen the hold on the strings of my ambitions, in order to begin desiring God’s will.

At the heart of all this talk of endings and beginnings is the idea of kenosis, or self-emptying, which Jesus lived out for us by taking on human form. It is another way of talking about humility, of realising who and what we are, in relation to an infinitely wonderful God, and then taking our very small place in the scheme of things.

So, 2017 has been a year of ups and downs, no doubt, for all of us. There have been beginnings and endings. Some people or animals we loved are no longer with us, this year has been the year of their passing. We will carry that heartbreak the rest of our lives. Some problems have started to show their faces, a diagnosis perhaps, or a troubling crack in a relationship, maybe even a doubt in our faith. Many things will never be the same again. Others are just beginning, a new love, a new venture, a new way of seeing.

2017 is the year that Lakelight began to take shape, becoming a website and blog alongside the vision in my mind. I don’t know what the Lord has in store for it or us in 2018, but I will trust in the God who knows our beginnings from our endings, rather than myself, who has trouble telling my elbow from, well, other anatomical parts. Thank you for being a part of this beginning. I pray that you will have a great ending to 2017 and a wonderful beginning to 2018. God bless us, every one!

Happy New Year!

On Christmas

nativity-1898554_1920

It’s Christmas Eve, and all over the house, not a creature is stirring, apart from parents desperately trying to wrap everything, get as much prepared for the feast as possible, not wake the kids and make sure everything is perfect. They might flop into bed for a few snatched hours before the children rise bright eyed and expectant, sweet for a little while, but soon to become sugar-fuelled tornadoes.

Christmas has become a sort of monster, a festive mouth yawning wide with tinselled teeth, waiting to devour all our time, money and energy. For many in the west, it has become a time when we are surrounded by abundance, and yet cannot find the peace or the joy at the heart of it all. We know it’s there somewhere, maybe it’s the present that is buried right at the back of the tree, under all the piles.

For others, there will not be enough this year. There might be fewer presents. Someone who should be here is not. A job, or an opportunity may have got lost somewhere along the year, and honestly, it’s a miracle there’s even a bag of sprouts. Others are all alone, facing another special day with only the tv for company and a ready meal for one as their feast. Still others are too ill to enjoy anything, or are in hospital or deployed in another country.

Even for those who seem to have it all sorted, no matter how bright the lights, how big the turkey, how tall the tree, something is not quite right with all this. There is an emptiness at the heart of it all. We’ve forgotten why we are doing  it, and we all feel as though we are missing out.

I think we have been got at by the spirit of Anti-Christmas, which seeks to wrap nothing very much in a swathe of santa paper and glitter, to con us with tinsel, to distract us with bargains until we are dizzy with the meaningless expense of it all.

Oh, we all know what it’s supposed to be about, the joy of the saviour’s arrival, a little baby born in a stable, we know the nativity story and we might even be singing, or watching our children sing, some of the festive carols. We bluster about keeping Christ in Christmas and we bristle when we are made to say Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings, but do we have any real idea why?

The real scandal of Christmas, the truth that the enemy cannot stand, the reason that he tries to draw our eyes away with schmaltz and sparkle, is that the Christmas story is about the upside down kingdom of God. Christmas is about the impossible made real, the scandal of God incarnate screaming his new lungs out in an animal trough, the scandal, really of God’s grace, the foolishness of giving the world his heart on a plate, the unspeakable risk of it, the audacious vulnerability of birthing himself into poverty, into a place where the world will seek almost immediately to murder him: the pouring himself forth into our poor, stricken, greedy, violent lives.

It is ludicrous, and yet it makes perfect sense. Our holy God, accepting such smallness, the infinite restricting himself to the tiny. The Word becoming a speechless child. It paves the way for the Prince of Peace to be violently killed. It tells us that we serve a self-emptying, obedient, impossibly loving God who will risk everything, suffer everything, with us. Immanuel, the incarnation, born of a poor maiden, into a world that can’t even be bothered to make room for him.

The wonder of it is too much for our hardened hearts to understand, most of the time. We never come close to grasping it. We could meditate on it all year round and still be left shaking our heads in perplexed awe.

I don’t know how we can pass up the trappings and frippery of Christmas in order to actually focus on the real gift we are being given. Maybe we don’t need to, some of them, after all, are fun, and Jesus is certainly something worth celebrating! “What about the children?” or “We are doing if for the children!” is what we cry out in defence of our traditions. Well, that’s fine. But lets’ do the right things for the right reasons, for our children. Maybe we can simplify things a little, so that there is more time. Maybe we can give gifts where they are really needed. There are a million blogs out there today that will tell you how. I’m not concerned about that. We can all celebrate how we would like to.

All I want for Christmas is for people to be released from the pressure of the fantasy of the “perfect” Christmas, and into the truth that God is with us and God is for us. God is prepared to burst screaming onto a hay-strewn floor, prepared to learn to walk and talk, prepared to spend time with us, prepared to be vulnerable, patient, loving, kind, generous, in the face of our selfishness, prepared to suffer, prepared to die for us, prepared to give himself up for love even if nobody ever notices or even thanks him. He is prepared to be the child born to a couple far from home behind a hotel. He is even prepared to be the unseen miracle at the heart of a winter feast. May we each of us catch a glimpse of his holy humility this Christmas.  God bless us, every one.

 

”In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

 

(Philippians 2: 5-11 NIV)

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, photo from Pixabay

Running a Different Race

race-941732_960_720

When I was at primary school, I was quite a good sprinter. I know that comes as quite a shock to those who know me. Sporting ability completely deserted me once puberty arrived, almost as though my body wasn’t big enough for agility and hormones. But when I was skinny and fast, I did pretty well at running.  I recall coming second a lot. Also third. And once, at a schools’ meet in Ramslye, not placed. But my primary school did a fun thing. Most of the races for Sports’ Day were bog standard. You came first, second or third, or you lost. And the same with the overall house cup.  But, right at the end, there was the Cake Race.

The house that won the Cake Race won for their house, not a trophy or a silver cup, but a piece each of slab sponge cake with butter icing the colour of the team. I remember one year that Cook (as in Captain James) had lost pretty much everything overall, coming in last despite all our best efforts. And then came the Cake Race, which was a relay race if I remember rightly (it was rather a long time ago). I remember being very motivated. Possibly also very hungry. But I was on the team, and we won. It has only just occurred to me that the icing must have been prepared right at the last minute and the correct food colouring mixed in, because minutes later, there we all were, stuffing our faces with a cake with light green icing (it’s not as gross as it sounds, honest – my American friends need to know also that in the UK our icing is what you call frosting).

And that victory snatched from the jaws of defeat was better than winning the cup. And winning cake for the whole house so that we could all enjoy it was better than a silver trophy. And being part of a team felt great.

God reminded me of this recently,  because it was a hard day. I felt dreadfully ill, which is not unusual, but very tiresome.  For a number of good reasons, I felt and still feel that life is extremely heavy. And in prayer, God showed me a piece of cake with green icing on it, and the memory of the year we won the Cake Race came flooding back. God’s encouragement is always so deeply sweet.

All my adult life, I’ve been running a different race to other people. I have not had a shot at the rat race, and most of the time I seem to come last.  The prize I’m motivated by is one that I won’t get to see in this life. Being a mystic is a rather lonely path at times. But I do know that I’m part of a team which is focussed on a different kind of winning, and who are happy to pass batons and share cake. I haven’t been able to run for 23 years as I write (and yes, I am counting), but I know that my life’s walk is no less beautiful for being slow, weary and mostly a wheeling. And I think when I sit down with my co-heirs at that banquet, there might well be slab cake with green icing on the table.

 

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24 NIV – Paul speaking)

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Photo from Pixabay