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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Every silver lining has its cloud - by Helen Murray

I wrote in my journal:

'Morning, Lord.'

...and that's where I left it. For nearly a month.

I know that God is with me always. I know that He's with me through thick and thin and I know that He have given me gifts, and that He wants me to use them. I know that He has a Plan for my life and I know that His timing is perfect.

So, I reckon that God is used to me panicking when things go wrong; I moan and I complain and I cling onto Him harder. Indeed I am there every time He turns round and if He does, He's likely to trip over me, I'm so clingy. I need Him and I know it. But what's surprised me recently is how I panic when it looks as if things might go right.

Let me explain.

I have been writing a blog for a few years and it's a place where I write about my faith and my life; all the ups and downs and downs and 'yippee!'s and 'oh-no-not-again's. I've learned a lot and occasionally heard His voice loud and clear and understood something new. Over and over again I've found myself beginning a post in one frame of mind and finishing in quite another. It's been a precious thing and has helped me enormously.

It's been my habit now to log in, have a waffle with God and then press a small orange button that says, 'Publish' and give other people the opportunity to peruse my meanderings should they stumble upon them. Sometimes there's a deathly silence and the stats tell me that my profound thoughts and earth-shattering insights have been swallowed whole by the Internet never to be seen again. Tumbleweed blows past. Other times people respond - a comment, an email, a link or a retweet indicate that my words struck a chord. My heart swells when someone messages me to say that my words moved them, or made them laugh. The best thing of all is when someone says, 'Oh, me too!' Then I know that we are encouraging each other, my reader and me. It's about communicating, inspiring, cheering each other on. At moments like that there is nothing I'd rather be doing than writing this thing.

Of course, amongst the words of encouragement there have been occasional nasty moments. Someone has been unkind, angry or offended at my talk about God and faith they have left hurtful comments or unhelpful criticism. I have worried about such things, debated how to handle them and moved on past them a few times now. I don't doubt that there will be more. I know that not everyone will agree with me, or accepts what I believe. It's the way it works.

So, then, for a few years my audience has ebbed and flowed into something undramatic but steady. Nothing that would attract attention or constitute a 'platform', but people have joined in the conversation and we've got to know one another. I like it; I can do it.

It's been going well, and, buoyed up by this feeling of pleasant familiarity,  I struck out bravely on a new project; a much bigger one.  And therein lies a problem only I could have.

I know where God is when I'm in trouble, but when things go well, I somehow lose sight of Him.

I don't mean that I'm off doing my thing, basking in the sweetness of success, thinking that I can do it all alone; no. It's not that.

It's as if it was so much easier when there were only a handful of people listening, and I knew almost all of them. I remember when I pressed the 'publish' button for the very first time. I wrote in my journal, 'Will anyone read what I've written? Will anyone care?' and it was such a quiet, intimate thing.

It was just me and God.

In that first post-publish journal entry I told God that it was all up to Him. Up to Him whether anyone came by or not. Up to Him whether I found the right words and put them in the right order or not. Up to Him whether the blog was an end in itself or learning process or a stepping stone to something else.

Nothing has changed. Except I had an idea for a novel, and I showed it to a few people expecting them to say 'Stick to what you know,' or 'I like your other stuff better,'  but instead they said,  'Looks good. Go on, write it.'

Agh.

I once had a friend who was always there for me when my life was in a mess. Broken up with a boyfriend? There she was with tissues and a bottle of wine. Struggling with exams or lamenting about the failure of the latest diet? She was there with sympathy and a listening ear and a bag of marshmallows.

But when things were going right? Nowhere to be seen.

She was my Rainy Weather Friend and she didn't like to see me when I was happy. She didn't like things to be going well. I never really got to the bottom of why, as we drifted apart during a phase of my life when I was doing ok. She didn't return my calls and didn't come to drink coffee when there were no tears involved.

I feel as if I'm a bit like that right now. When it feels as if it's me and God against the world  I am pestering Him all the time and I stay close, but when things start to go right - not so much. When I'm hammering on a door and it won't budge I am right there, asking Him why and when and how, and then when the door swings open a little way - I find myself incapable of stepping through. Things are trundling along nicely, it appears that there might be an opportunity to go after something that I've been wanting for ages, but I run away and hide.

Chicken.
Maybe it's safer to stay where things are familiar, anonymous. When I imagine that more people might read what I write, I begin to worry about it. It's not even happened yet!

I get a wonderful idea that wakes me up at night with excitement and then I can't get back to sleep for fear that it might actually work.

Every silver lining has its cloud, doesn't it?

What do I want, if not for people to read what I write? I firmly believe that if I have been given a gift, I should use it. If God wants me to write, then perhaps He might want people to read what I put down on paper. So I should be pleased when people do, shouldn't I? I should be encouraged and enthused instead of filled with anxiety.

I have often wondered where I'm heading with all this writing stuff, and I've chafed at what I perceive to be slow progress. I think I now understand why the brakes have been on. It's clearly for my own protection.  When God takes them off, even a little bit, I get so rattled that forward progress becomes impossible.

So, I picked up my journal and laid all this in front of God; all the what-ifs and maybes and so on, and I think He smiled that slightly amused, indulgent smile that He has for occasions like this, and He said, 'It's alright'. He knows what I'm like, and He takes that into account when He plans things for me.

He found a handful of His best encouragers and He placed them where I'd find them. He linked me up with a few people that I may never meet in this life, but who have nevertheless become friends in the most meaningful sense of the word. Wise people whose words lift up.  People who are open and honest about the ups and downs of life, and to say, 'Poor thing,' and 'Pull yourself together' when necessary.

I now know that I am capable of talking myself out of the wonder and pleasure of any experience. I have an impulse to stay crouched down low, hiding, than take the risk of A New Thing, even if I know that there's a chance that the air might be cleaner and the view so much better in the new place.

CS Lewis once said in his book, 'The Weight of Glory'*:
'It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about ... when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased.'
Maybe I'm too easily pleased. I know where I am with my mud pies. What do you mean, the seaside? That sounds very open and exposed to me. I think I'll stay where I am, if you don't mind.  Except nothing is forever and I'll never find out what's next if I stay huddled in my comfort zone. Yes, I want it, but how much do I want it? Enough to step over the line of least resistance?

Half-hearted creature indeed.

I want to stretch and grow and I want to try new things (she says, nervously). I want to find out what I can do, and I can't do that from here, doing the same old thing. Maybe it's time to stop playing it safe. Time to believe in that novel I'm writing and get stuck in, instead of constantly wondering if I'm up to the job. Maybe all progress is progress, no matter how slow and uncertain.

So once again, thank you, God, for your endless patience. I may have cold feet, but I guess if I step out firmly after you and keep walking, they might well warm up.





* CS Lewis, 'The Weight of Glory' was originally an address given at Oxford University Church of St Mary the Virgin on 8 June 1941. Published as one of a series of essays as 'The Weight of Glory and other addresses', 1949, Macmillan, New York



Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

Having spent time as a Researcher, Pastoral Worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently working on her first novel. 

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims and collects ceramic penguins.

She has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. 

You can also find her on:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01

12 comments:

  1. Hit the spot, Helen! Oh, how fickle we are. And how well I know the feeling of panic when something goes right. Am I up to it? Can I deliver on expectation? Will I fall foul? Will I fail? Why is it so much easier to relax in the everlasting arms when things go wrong. You've nailed it, Helen. Now get on with that novel :) xx

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    1. Thanks, Mel. I wrote this and read it back a few times and wasn't even sure that it made sense - and if it did, I thought that people might shake their heads and think I was quite mad. Thanks so much for understanding!

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  2. I love this and am right there with you - go for it - trust in God xx

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    1. Thanks, Tania. Look what you and God have been doing together! You're an inspiration. x

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  3. I so identify with this. It's really hard to let ourselves believe that succeeding isn't wrong - and yet it isn't hard to pray for success when things are going wrong! I know this is a bit of a diversion - but re your rainy weather friend. I was praying and worrying a bit about this in my own case recently. I know a much younger woman who had a terrible tragedy, and I was so glad that she said I helped her get through it. When she was crying and needed someone to listen to her I was always there. But I have not seen much of her now her life is better - and I realised through prayer that part of that is me keeping away through shyness on my part and a fear that I now have nothing to offer in the friendship - that she is so much more glamorous and has a different, , younger social circle and doesn't need me. So your post has spurred me on to be brave, to believe that I have got worth apart from being a shoulder to cry on, and ask her if we can go for a coffee some day - thank you. I wonder if that friend could have been feeling similarly inadequate and shy? She must have loved you. Re your writing - go for it! Have you seen the writers' weekend at Penhurst Retreat Centre this November?

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    1. Thanks, Anne. I wonder what went on in the head of my rainy weather friend. Perhaps you're right; you've got me thinking. I bet your young friend says yes to the invitation for coffee sometime; I hope that you get to know each other better now that things are happier. I bet she says yes.
      Thanks for the encouragement with the writing; struggling at the moment! I would love to come to Penhurst but it's quite a long way from Derbyshire. I am signed up for Scargill in September, though. Looking forward to it.
      Thanks again. x

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  4. Helen, I love the honesty here. You write so well about things we all experience and feel alone with. Our minds try to convince us that we're failures and everyone else is doing things right, having success and feeling confident. And gaining 'success' in small ways can alarm us that we'll never be able to meet expectations, be able to keep it up or not fall at the next hurdle.
    My friend, you are reassuringly human and normal with your doubts and fears. They can stop us in our tracks if we let them. It helps to let faith answer the door when fear comes knocking! I also echo the thoughts shared here. Go for it girl!! You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by pressing on with the novel and any other creative work your soul seeks its fulfilment in. God has given you gifts to be shared and received and we're all rooting for you too! Xx

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    1. Thank you, Joy. You're so generous with your encouragement. It means a lot. xx

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  5. I so identify with this Helen. Thank you for sharing this. I think I am coming to the conclusion I am more fearful of success than failure. Reading this post has spurred me onwards.

    Thank you.

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    1. It's a complicated one, isn't it, Lynda? I think I fear pretty much everything, which puts me in a state of constant paralysis. Sometimes I see that things might be different if I can only silence the voice that insists that I can't do it... maybe I'm afraid of hard work?! Agh!
      Glad it's spurred you on. Go Lynda!

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  6. Oh my goodness, I totally get this. "Anticipate failure" has been my motto so often that potential success is paralyzing. So I'll say, write that book, girlfriend, and it's okay if it takes forever and gets done in fits and starts. Just send me a copy across the sea. :).

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    1. Thanks so much, Ginger. That means a lot to me. Be sure that I'll send you a copy! x

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