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Advent Reflections Week Four: Love

If I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure how to write this last Advent reflection in the wake of the news of Tier 4 and tightened restrictions.

We are weary, aren’t we?

And we might not feel like rejoicing.

But I have a feeling that’s the reason we must rejoice – not to escape what is happening – but to lament – to rail at God for the injustice, poverty and isolation that the pandemic has highlighted and worsened.

The words of Mary’s song, the Magnificat; are a cry of justice, worship, power, promise and love.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of the Almighty’s servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name.
God’s mercy is for those who fear God from generation to generation.
God has shown strength with God’s arm;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
God has helped servant Israel, in remembrance of God’s mercy, according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary speaks of the power, love and justice of God.

Love that remembers the poor, the weak and the lonely.

Love that reached from the heights of heaven to the womb of a young woman and all the way to the cross at Golgotha.

As author Scott Erikson writes:

“The risk of incarnation is the risk of love.”

Love is the reason our weary world can rejoice – even during this strange Christmas.

And it’s a love which meets us in our deepest despair, our anger, our fear.

Best Books of 2020

What a strange year! But amidst there have been some incredible books launched. I’ve actually read more this year than last, partly due to lockdown and partly in preparation for writing my second book which comes out in 2021! These are a snapshot of some of the best – but there are many more so do check out my Instagram if you want to see what I’m reading and recommending at the moment.

So in no particular order, here are my twelve best books of the year – and a few honourable mentions with a quote from each one to whet your appetite!

This Too Shall Last, K.J Ramsey*

“When the church amplifies stories of healing and overcoming without also elevating stories of sustaining grace, she is not adequately forming souls to hold on to hope.”

Wintering, Katherine May

“Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”

Where is God in all the Suffering? Amy Orr-Ewing

“The Messiah would bring an end to the brokenness of the world by being broken to bits himself.”

God Among the Ruins, Mags Duggan

“I wonder if we sometimes miss how God might want to minister to us because we are too eager to move on, too quick to relieve the ache we feel with the analgesic of activity.”

Finding Jesus in the Storm, John Swinton

“Life in all its fullness is not life without tears but life with the one who dries our tears and moves us onward to fresh pastures.”

God on Mute, Pete Grieg

“the incomparable story of Christ’s agony, abandonment and eventual resurrection – that story remain the greatest hope for a hurting world.”

Salt Water and Honey, Lizzie Lowrie

“Redemption isn’t about happy endings… [it] acknowledges pain, then invites it into a bigger story, giving it purpose.”

Almost Everything, Anne Lamott

“Tears will bathe, baptise, and hydrate you and the seeds beneath the surface of the ground on which you walk.”

Ready to Rise, Jo Saxton

“We need people who will not only clear the rubble of old ideologies and mindsets but also tend to those who have been broken and damaged by them.”

Women in a Patriarchal World, Elaine Storkey

“When we are left by love rather than fear, we gain more courage, and God often empowers us to be stronger and to see things more clearly.”

Dear Reader, Cathy Rentzenbrink

“Every book holds a memory. When you hold a book in your hand, you access not only the contents of that book but the fragments of the previous selves that you were the you read it.”

The Cure for Sorrow, Jan Richardson

“A blessings does not explain away our loss or justify devastation. It does not make light of grief or provide a simple fix for the rending, It does not compel us to “move on”. Instead a blessings meets us in the place of our deepest loss.”

Honourable Mentions

Lights for the Path, Madeleine Davies: A great book for young people navigating grief and mourning, one I’d have so valued in my teens.

Joseph, Meg Warner: A fascinating look at the story of Joseph through the lens of trauma and trauma studies.

Coming Undone, Terri White: A visceral memoir of the author’s mental illness – far from an easy read but so brilliantly written.

If Only, Jennie Pollock: A lovely book on contentment and hope – encouraging and engaging.

Endorsement

I was thrilled to endorse Liz Carter’s stunning book “Treasure in Dark Places” – as I said in my endorsement:

“Liz writes beautifully, and Treasure in Dark Places weaves theologically rich poetry with prose which faithfully echoes the tradition of lament with honesty and hope. A gorgeous companion in dark times.”

What have been your best books of 2020?

*Please note that some links are affiliate.

Advent Reflections Week Three: Joy

“Joy is nurtured, not by pretending everything is fine, but by holding our hope together with our grief, the good news with our sorrow, and naming both as reality. We practice joy because we are clear-eyed about our realities.”
Sarah Bessey

Advent is a strange time which both waits for joy expectantly and seeks the joy which pours through the cracks in our ordinary lives.  The shepherds had a dangerous and often unattractive job. They were most likely priests as well as shepherds, caring for the lambs which would be sacrificed at the temple. They lived in the space between the priesthood and the ceremonially unclean; and then God broke through their ordinary lives with an extraordinary angelic vision. 

Their words, as recounted in Luke 2:10 proclaim:

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Their joy when they met Jesus and later became the first evangelists as they shared their wonder, did not air lift them from their difficult circumstances (They most probably still had to return to the fields to watch their flocks the next nightbut their encounter with Jesus changed their perspective.

Going forward they would hold the memory of the night God broke through the skies – and we do the same. The joy evoked from our encounters with Jesus doesn’t necessarily change the specifics of our lives – but it changes us. 

We need the clarity of joy which is honest about our happiness and our grief but keeps our eyes fixed on our Saviour, the man of sorrows who is the source of our joy.

And we need joy more than every this year. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“We can, and should also, celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us.

“The joy Jesus’ birth is our reason to celebrate – despite the ruins of 2020. 

We need the clarity of joy which is honest about our happiness and our grief but keeps our eyes fixed on our Saviour, the man of sorrows who is the source of our joy.

Advent Reflections Week Two: Peace

“Advent recognises the absence of peace, yet the exquisite certainty of its coming.” Kate Bowler

I sometimes think that peace is one of those words we’ve got wrong.

It is deeper and wider than the images of still waters or pure white doves, it is not meekness – it is shalom – wholeness in mind body and spirit and being reconciled to God through Jesus.

Advent reminds us that the Messiah was called “Prince of Peace” in Isaiah; when the angels visited the shepherds they proclaimed peace over God’s people: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14)

And yet the peace the angels bring, the peace Jesus brings doesn’t look how we might imagine it to.

For the shepherds it looked first like fear at the sights of the angelic hosts; and Jesus disrupted the lives everyone he met. When Mary and Joseph take the infant Jesus to the Temple, they meet the elderly Anna and Simeon who have been waiting for the Messiah for their whole lives, but Simeon’s words aren’t what we might call comforting.

“Behold, this Child is appointed to cause the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your soul as well.”

Simeon is warning Mary of the sorrow and anguish that will come with being Jesus’ mother – and the disruption He will bring to the whole world.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace came sometimes to disrupt the equilibrium whilst promising the hope of ultimate peace.

Advent, as Kate Bowler notes in the quote above, recognises that peace doesn’t reign – but it also reminds us that it is promised.

John’s gospel records Jesus’ words:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.”

Jesus didn’t say that we would have no trouble (in fact he said quite the opposite!) but he promises His peace in the midst of the world’s lack of peace.

He sent the Holy Spirit to bring peace to our hearts when the world rages around us.

He gives peace of heart and mind whilst we wait for peace to reign – and this is part of the comfort we find in the heart of Advent.

Faith, Strength and Weakness: Guest Blog by YouBelong

(Please note: I have used the term ‘He’ to describe God because this is a pronoun I am comfortable using but please replace it with whatever pronoun/s you feel more comfortable with when reading it that enables you understand God in all their fullness). 

When Rachael asked me to write something for the blog, she asked that I write something on the topic of faith and strength/ weakness. At first, this felt impossible because strength and weakness are opposites. 

You might be familiar with the words of 2 Corinthians 12:10 which say, ‘That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and the troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong’. This reminds us that although there might be times we feel strong, for example after a good gym session, or when we are able to overcome a mental challenge, we are only truly strong enough to overcome the hard things that life throws at us when we acknowledge our weakness. When we do this, we allow God to step in and be our strength and even the world’s strongest person cannot compete with God!

When I became unwell back in Spring 2014, I was unable to eat or drink and lost lots of weight which eventually led to me becoming too weak to stay awake more than a couple of hours at a time or walk up and down the stairs in my house without being exhausted! At the time, I was spending all my free time being involved and serving in my local church and this meant that my faith was filled to the brim and overflowing which enabled me to give my weakness to God. Although my body remained physically weak, my faith never failed and even during the worst of tests, procedures and operations, I felt God with me and felt His strength working in and through me. 

Thankfully, I had an operation in the December of that same year which enabled me to gain weight back and start to become a bit stronger. A few months on and I still wasn’t back to where I had been before becoming unwell but every doctor I saw told me it would just take time. Almost 5 years on, I have faced more medical issues and spend more time in bed and resting or asleep than I have ever done before. As someone who loves ticking off items on a to do list and puts a huge amount of my worth into productivity and getting things done, I really struggle to work out my purpose and love myself as I am on days when I can’t do things I need or want to do.

 I am reliant on those around me to deal with a lot of the household chores and to cover the financial costs of the household as I am unable to do those things which as someone in their late 20s, is really hard to deal with. I am heavily reliant on other people and even if I really wanted to, there are some things I just can’t do anymore. The Free Dictionary defines ‘weak’ as ‘lacking’ – lacking in physical strength, emotional strength, mental strength, spiritual strength etc.

In Psalm 23 we read, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul.’ Worldly speaking, I lack quite a lot. I lack relationships, independence and freedom (from pain, to choose what I eat, to go out and do what I want, when I want and more), but I know that when I put my faith and trust in God and follow Him, He leads me into a life of fullness, peace, provision, protection and more. 

When we depend on God, we do not lack. I reckon you know this all already though. I knew this before I became chronically ill but it’s not very easy to put into practise.

So how do we go about trusting God and allowing His strength to become ours in our weakness?

YouBelong, which I have founded and manage, as a community are currently doing a bible study which is taking us through the Psalms in chronological order (as close to it as we can anyway). Some of the earlier Psalms are written by David and tell us about his time running away from Saul and other dangerous people. David felt weak in those moments. He knew there was nothing he could do to save himself but God could. He recognised his weakness and God’s strength, he recalled scripture, worshipped God in his victories, connected and shared with other believers and asked God to help and save him… and God showed up. God gave David the strength to get through those times because David accepted he was weak and leaned into God. 

Nehemiah 8:10 reads, ‘The joy of the Lord is our strength’. Happiness is something that we feel when we receive a nice gift, eat something tasty, spend time with good friends or watch our favourite film but joy is different. Joy isn’t circumstantial – it is a choice. We can choose to be joyful even when life is full of difficult things. When we feel unwell, when we are upset, sad or angry, when the year doesn’t turn out the way we wanted (hello 2020!), we can still choose joy when our joy comes from knowing Jesus. I could never say that I feel happy Jesus endured great suffering and died a horrendous death but I am joyful because He did it for me to give me eternal life. Life can be very hard and there’s no denying that, even Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…”. Becoming a follower of Jesus doesn’t make life easy but we have something that unbelievers don’t have and it is through knowing God that we can find joy and through the joy of our relationship with Him that we can find strength in our human weaknesses.

There have been many times that I have felt weak, physically, emotionally and mentally, but each time that I recognise I am weak and that God is strong, read my bible, pray, worship and lean on Him, I can feel God’s strength seeping in. I know it’s His and not mine because it happens at times when I have no strength left. Sometimes in those moments God gives me physical strength but more often, it’s a mental, emotional or spiritual strength that enables me to get through the times of physical weakness rather than overcome it. 

As I said before, this is easier said than done. It takes time to get to know and trust God and to remember (and choose) to go to God straight away rather than rely on our own strength (or more often than not, lack of).

Today might be a day that you are feeling particularly weak. Perhaps your physical strength is gone, or you feel mentally and emotional unable to deal with the day ahead. That’s okay. I said at the start of this post that I wasn’t sure how to talk about weakness and strength because they are opposites but God’s kingdom is a place of opposites; give to receive, serve to be served, to live means to give your life and the last will be first. Being weak is often viewed as a bad thing in this world but we need to remind ourselves that in God’s kingdom everything is upside down and back to front. A weakness given to God is a great strength because in God’s kingdom, when we are weak, then we are strong, because of Him. 

Laura is the Director and Blogger for YouBelong

We Are Satellites – An Interview with Martin Saunders

Ok, obvious one to start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you wrote We Are Satellites?

I enjoy an obvious question. I’m Martin, and I’ve been involved in youth ministry for the last 20 years. I guess I have dedicated my entire working life to helping young people connect with Jesus, and to resourcing the amazing people who work with teenagers up-and-down the country. I work for an organisation called Youthscape, and I’m the youth minister at my church in Surrey. I’m also a parent of two teenagers (and two younger boys) and so I am massively invested – on a lot of levels – in helping young people understand that there really is a God who loves them and wants to be in relationship with them. I suppose this book is the obvious outworking of that passion.


And why is it called We Are Satellites?

The book has a single clear metaphor at its heart. It’s the same metaphor that we are using in the Satellites youth event (www.wearesatellites.com), which is launching next summer at the East of England Showground (taking some of the place of Soul Survivor). Here’s the idea in its simplest form: we tend as humans to put ourselves at the centre of our lives, and we think the world revolves around us. But ultimately we all know that that approach to life is flawed, and fails you in the end. Life in all its fullness is only ever found when we put God at the centre of our lives – and understand that we revolve around him, not the other way around. So the metaphor is about orbit and priorities, and then the book looks at what that means in practice.


What is your dream for young people?

I actually wrote this book with an individual in mind. My daughter is almost 13 years old, and had got to a point in her life where she was asking some big questions. Even though she has grown up in church, she admitted that she just didn’t really understand what this ‘God stuff’ was all about. So I asked her one day, if I wrote it down in a book, would she read it? She said that she would, and so I spent the next six months writing We Are Satellites. My dream for young people is encapsulated in my dream for my daughter: I hope that (and the book will only make a small contribution to this) they would know that God loves them just as they are, and that the meaning of life is found in knowing God and building everything around him. That’s the secret to true contentment – and so much of what I see in young people right now is discontent.

What were you like as a young person and what would you tell your younger self about coping with adolescence?

There is a fair amount of teenage Martin in the book actually! There’s no denying that I had a pretty tough time, particularly with bullying and self esteem issues. I guess if I could talk to that poor (somewhat attention-seeking) young lad right now, I’d try to convince him that honestly, God (and often other people) accepted him just as he was. I knew that as ‘head knowledge’ back then, but it took me years to be comfortable in my own skin. Oh, and I would tell myself that you don’t always have to make a joke out of absolutely everything.


We’ve heard a lot in the news lately seeming to blame young people for rising covid rates, what’s your response to that?

In a word: Grrr (I know that’s not a word). I take no pleasure in saying that I knew this would happen (and predicted it in an article months earlier). And I only knew that because I’ve been around long enough to know that history always repeats with the demonisation of young people. Every generation of youths since the 1950s have faced it (not that I was around that long ago) – as teenagers, they are no longer innocent little darlings, and not yet contributing fully to the economy; they’re everybody’s scapegoats. Sure, some young people have been irresponsible in their disregard for restrictions. But the beaches haven’t been full of teenage holidaymakers, and the pubs and restaurants (mostly) haven’t been full of young people. Young people are the easy target.

What do you think has been the effect of 2020 on young people, and how can we go forward?I honestly don’t think we know the full effects yet, and in the future we may be dealing with issues like PTSD when it comes to COVID-19. But right now I know that young people have serious emotional well-being needs which need to be on everybody’s agenda. Young people already felt betrayed by Brexit and hung out to dry by climate change – they are growing up believing they’re a forgotten generation. Everyone needs to be investing in our young people right now.


Out of your 13 books – which is your favourite?

I don’t want to be that guy, but ahem, it’s 15. But maybe you’re letting me forget my pre-evangelistic football novel, England’s Messiah. I feel pretty proud of the new book, but apart from that it’s probably my previous one – The Man You’re Made to Be, which is all about facing extended adolescence as a young man. I’ve had a lot of lovely messages about that over the past year – I think it connects with people who don’t identify with traditional masculine stereotypes. It’s also got more jokes in it. Maybe I haven’t grown up quite as much as I’d thought. 

Martin Saunders is the Director of Satellites, a new event for young people launching August 2021, and Director of Innovation at Youthscape. You can buy Martin’s book from all good christian bookshops, amazon and if you buy it from BookshopUK I get a tiny percentage!

A copy of the book "Deborah and Jael' on a shelf

How Do You Teach ‘difficult’ Bible Stories to Children? Guest Post by Lucy Rycroft

“She put WHAT through his forehead?!”

“The FAT closed over the SWORD??!!

The Bible is full of colourful stories. Some of them seem to have ended up in a sort of ‘children’s canon’, a repertoire we are happy to teach to our kids, stories which publishers are eager to bring to life again and again and again.

But some of them have not.

I wonder who decided which stories made acceptable reading for children? And who decided that certain stories should Absolutely Never Ever Be Told?

I’m sure that part of the answer is blood and guts. 

Stories like Jael putting a tent peg through Sisera’s forehead, or Ehud plunging a sword into the belly of Fat King Eglon (that’s how the Bible describes him, anyway) are likely to induce nightmares in sensitive children.

But I think there’s another reason. Many of the most interesting and lesser-known stories in the Bible raise questions which are difficult for adults to comprehend, let alone children.

  • Why does God kill Uzzah, simply for steadying the ark of the covenant on its journey back to Jerusalem? Is He a cruel and vengeful God?
  • Why does God command Joshua and his army to kill, destroy and plunder those who are living in the land God has set aside for the Israelites? Does God have favourites?
  • Why is the servant who hides his one talent thrown ‘into the darkness’ with ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’? Does God value risky investment over safe stewardship?
  • Why does Jesus send demons into the pigs, which cause them to fall into water and drown? Does God not care for the animals He has created?

Let’s be honest – when do busy parents have time to wrestle with these questions for themselves, let alone with their children? As an exhausted, time-starved mum of four, I can tell you it’s not an appealing prospect.

And yet I wonder whether we’re missing a trick with sticking to the ‘safe’ stories? I wonder whether our children need to hear a fuller story of God’s movements through history, in order to grow in their love for, and relationship with, Him?

With that in mind, here are some thoughts about how we can approach the teaching of difficult Bible stories:

  1. Get to know them yourself

It’s slowly dawned on me that most Bible reading notes or devotional books focus on the New Testament, or well-known passages of the Old Testament like Psalms and Isaiah. Fair enough – these are more easily applied to our lives.

But if we never expose ourselves to the difficult historical books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, we’re not going to be able to share these stories with our children. So: read some different parts of the Bible. Learn a new story or two. Share with your kids what you’ve been reading.

  1. Seek out books which tell these stories

Of course, when family busyness and parent fatigue kick in (like, when do they not kick in?), it’s helpful just to have a few ‘go-to’ Bible story books which can do the heavy lifting for us.

So deliberately look for children’s books which tell the hard, or lesser known, stories! My book, Deborah and Jael, is a retelling of this heroic and exciting story from Judges, written in rhyme with beautiful illustrations. It’s not the only book you could get to redress the balance, but it’s a start.

  1. Go with your kids’ interests and personalities

Sometimes we assume that children are super-sensitive. But children are just like adults – they have varying trigger levels when it comes to graphic scenes.

I was persuaded, when writing Deborah and Jael, to gloss over the tent-peg scene, and I think this was a good call. After all, I don’t want any child to be excluded from enjoying this story, and parents can decide whether or not to share more detail. But my kids love a bit of gruesome; their eyes light up whenever we share with them a particularly yucky bit of Scripture!

  1. Edits are OK

Likewise, it is fine to edit out the more extreme details of a difficult Bible story if you know it will upset your child. It’s better than not telling a story at all!

Remember, your children probably have plenty of years ahead of them to revisit Bible stories, going deeper each time. They don’t need to know all the details now. Focus on the main facts of the story, gloss over any details which they might find traumatic, and share instead what we learn about God from the passage in question.

  1. It’s OK not to have the ‘answer’

As parents, we get used to answering every question, from “Why is grass green?” to “Do starfish have eyes?”. We’re expected to just know the answers. When I tell my kids I can’t explain why the tide goes in and out because I was never very good at science or geography, and my degree was in music, they look at me like I’ve been washed up in said tide. Thank goodness for Auntie Google.

But when it comes to sharing the Bible with our kids, it’s perfectly OK not to know the answer to a difficult question. We can turn it around by saying, “What do you think?” or “Maybe we should think about this over the next few days” or “Shall we chat to God about that and see if He helps us to understand?”

It’s healthy for our children to know, even from a young age, that some questions are big and don’t have easy answers. And that we, their grown-ups, are on a journey of faith too.

***

Teaching difficult Bible stories to children is not going to be easy – the clue is in the word ‘difficult’! But it’s also not something to be afraid of. 

As we explore the full richness of Scripture for ourselves – yes, even if that’s in a snatched 5 minutes, once a month – we can know God’s favour as we share these stories naturally with the next generation.

“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:7

Lucy blogs at The Hope-Filled Family and is the author of Redeeming Advent and Deborah and Jael. She lives in York with her husband and four children.

This is the Time to Grieve Our Losses

As a christian writer, the temptation when disaster hits, is to get to the illustration.

I want to be able to write not only “hard and clear about what hurts” as Hemingway so powerfully suggests, but I also want to write about the redemption of that hurt. I want to be able to write the beginning, the middle and the end – making sure that the end has a message, that it shows that the pain endured had some meaning. Ideally, I’d like to be summed up neatly with three points (with a bonus for including alliteration!)

However, as the coronavirus has raged through the world, leaving lives and livelihoods destroyed, we cannot rush the redemption.

There are wounds to be tended, losses to grieve and rubble to be sorted through before we get to that point.

Everyone, to a greater or lesser extent is living with loss in these strange days. But our grief is not just for ourselves: but for those losing loved ones without the chance for goodbyes, those enduring illnesses alone, those shielded but separated from the world.

We are writing from the middle of the story; we don’t know when it will end or what that ending will look like – all we have is the hope that “this too shall pass”.

And in this hinterland, we are living in a Holy Saturday, not knowing when Easter will dawn, but living with the realities of darkness.

The challenge for today, is described beautifully by Beth Allen Slevecove in her book Broken Hallelujahs.

“How can I honour the reality of brokenness without losing the memory and hope of wholeness?”

Honouring brokenness is important, but done without holding the memory of God’s redemption and the hope of seeing wholeness leaves us languishing in grief without a way forward.

It is when we honour our brokenness alongside holding our hope in Jesus, that we are able to enter into lament.


And this is the time.

This is the time for grieving

For raging against the dying of the light 

This is the time for tears

Which cleanse our souls and bring release

This is the time for anger

At the injustice pulled into sharp focus

This is the time for honesty

An end to false smiles and ‘I’m fine’

This is the time for reorientation 

For hearts fixed high

And knees bent low

This is the time for lamenting

For the thousand little losses

And the hearts broken open

This is the time

Not to rush redemption

 

Sacrifice in a Strange New Land – Guest Post by Karen Costa

We all may consider that we know what it is to sacrifice something of worth. Those of us with children and vulnerable family members make sacrifices each day, including sacrificing sleep and giving up time to ourselves to meet their care needs. During Lent we may decide to sacrifice our love of chocolate or crisps, or commit ourselves to a new activity that we feel will improve our minds. Young people in education sacrifice their usual social activities to study hard for the exams that will lead them into adult life and the career of which they dream. Many people sacrifice significant portions of their own earnings to support charities or members of their wider family living far away or in impoverished circumstances. 

But perhaps we are not as used to sacrifice as we like to think. The concept of sacrifice in today’s world of instant gratification, with many of us fortunate enough to have easy access to basic needs such as food and drink, as well as material possessions, gym memberships and regular holidays abroad, is not something we truly think about on a daily basis. 

In these troubling and uncertain times we are being asked to sacrifice in a way most of us have never had to contemplate. Forgoing the pleasures of eating out and spending time with friends. Isolating ourselves from others to protect them and ourselves from potential infection. And hardest of all, keeping away from beloved family members and friends who are most vulnerable to the silent enemy we are facing in Covid-19. 

As Christians we are familiar with the greatest sacrifice of all – Jesus taking our sins on His holy shoulders to death, then rising again to give us the opportunity of a life free from the burden of our own failings and the promise of eternal life with Him.

There are many other examples of sacrifice in the Bible; one of my favourites is the story of Ruth. This wonderful young woman had sacrificed much in her young life. She married into Naomi’s family sacrificing the life she lived with her own. She moved to another country with Naomi after her father-in-law died, only to lose her own husband in that strange new land. And when Naomi decided to return to her home country and offered to release Ruth from any obligation to go with her, Ruth sacrificed that opportunity and chose to remain with her mother-in-law. She travelled with her back to a land where she may not have been welcomed, to a life of uncertainty and little prospect of another marriage to secure her future, because she loved Naomi. And because she loved Naomi’s God.

Can we be more like Ruth in these unprecedented times? Not just by adhering to the government recommendations that are limiting our usual activities, but by going that little bit farther. Maybe we could we give away some of our hoard of toilet rolls and hand soap and pasta to those in greater need than us? Or perhaps we could drop a note in to a neighbour and offer to get some shopping for them? Or simply spend some time chatting on the phone to someone who is self-isolating?

Who knows what lessons we will learn from this unwanted experience?

Whatever we do, and however we are affected, we can only be enriched from remaining in contact with each other by whatever alternative means we can, being creative in protecting our mental and physical health and most especially, by keeping hold of the one who sacrificed His all for us – and who will continue to journey with us through this strange new land we find ourselves in.

 

Karen works in HR, currently with the NHS and has been involved in variety of roles within church. She also happens to be Rachael’s Mum!