This post is a follow up to this post which explains why I can’t reconcile a gender hierarchy in the church with the nature of God displayed at the cross. It address the most common point raised when I talked about gender hierarchies – ‘but different doesn’t mean unequal,’ and ‘women who want equality just want glory for themselves.’
Different doesn’t mean unequal, I think we can all agree. We all play different roles in our church family, and all are important. When I advocate for egalitarian theology, and an approach to church that sees men and women as equal, I am not advocating for a free for all in who gets to do what. I strongly believe in putting the right people in the right roles in how we do church and ministry together.
I just don’t think a prerequisite for any role should be your gender.
If you do think that some roles in church are only for males or only for females, and you genuinely, after thought and consideration, believe this is biblical and God’s plan, I can respect your convictions, even though we disagree.
But you cannot say it is equality. You cannot say it is equal but different.
Definition of Equal: (of people) having the same status, rights, or opportunities.
Definition of Gender Equality: the state in which access to rights or opportunities is unaffected by gender.
If you are barring roles in the church, whether it’s leadership, preaching, teaching or anything else, based solely on gender, you can’t claim to be treating everyone as equal. If you are passing over qualified women purely because they are women, you are discriminating, plain and simple. Even if you think it’s biblical or right, you can’t say it’s equality.
The different by equal argument might work better if there wasn’t a ongoing trend – anything visible, anything with authority or power, anything that represents the church to the world, is given to men. Women are left without a voice, invisible in the background.
When you walk into church as a women and see all the people preaching, leading and teaching are male, it sends a message. Whoever speaks up the front is speaking on behalf of the church, and when it’s only men speaking, it tells women that their voices aren’t wanted or valued.
If we truly are a church of male and female working together, then it’s important our services and ‘public face’ represents that, or we aren’t representing God’s church accurately. We send the message to the world that we are okay with inequality.
Personally, the character of God as I see him in the bible and especially at the cross doesn’t seem to me a God who would be okay with inequality. As my previous post outlined, I can’t reconcile a God who pours out love freely and without hesitation with a God who would install a system of discrimination in his Church.
Then there’s the second issue: that women who argue for equality want the power and equality for themselves. They want attention and authority. I know a lot of women who have stopped talking about this topic because of this. When they say ‘we should have a women leading the service’ people assume they were signing up for the job. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am speaking up and arguing for inclusion and equality because I see so many talented women around me with amazing gifts that are being overlooked by everyone – including themselves!
I see women who think that using their God-given gifts to tell people about him is an act of disobedience and it breaks my heart – especially when we need their gifts so badly! When women are silent and believe their ideas and opinions are worth less than a man’s, the whole church misses out and the mission of God suffers a setback. I don’t want that to happen.
So many women struggle with this issue – and I am all about opening up spaces for women to talk and discuss and wrestle it out. I’m not about argument for the sake of argument or controversy for the sake of controversy. I’ve heard men tell women that this is a ‘side issue’ distracting them from Jesus – well, it might be a side issue if you’re a man. If you’re a women, it’s your whole life, your whole faith and your whole purpose that’s being debated. It’s pretty hard for me to see that as a side issue.
If you know me at all or have even glanced back through this blog, you’ll know that I’ve been thinking and reading about the role of women in the church and how equality and theology collide. I tentatively hold egalitarian theology, though I am still trying to figure out what that means.
There are lots of complicated reasons women go looking for answers on this subject, but the truth behind my search is a bit simpler. Essentially: I can’t reconcile a gender hierarchy in the church with the nature and character of God as seen on the cross and through scripture.
I can’t reconcile a God who loved us so much that he let Jesus die for men and women with a Church where anyone is less valued, less included, less wanted because of their gender.
I can’t reconcile equal-but-different or different-but-equal with the God who poured out grace indiscriminately, the Jesus who valued women so much that they were the first to see him after he was resurrected, and who tore down barriers between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, male and female.
As Kelly Ladd Bishop put it in this article: the basic idea that God ordains a gender hierarchy is completely counter to God’s character, and the entire message of redemption in scripture.
Patriarchy is an imperfect and broken system. It is a result of sin and the fall. You simply need to look at patriarchal societies in our world today to see that. A system or structure that treats humans as less than other humans isn’t in line with God’s vision for humanity. He made us in his image, to be male and female in relationship, not to be seller and sold, owner and slave.
Jesus came to destroy sin and to destroy all the effects it has on our world – including broken systems like the patriarchy. Jesus. didn’t settle for making sinful systems nicer or injustices kinder or cloaked in nicer language. He came to abolish them.
God tears down broken systems. He frees us from sin and all of our brokenness. We are now called to live in God’s family, where sinful structures have no place. We are called to model redemption to the world. Inequality, oppression and hierarchies have no place here.
Why then would the good God who intervened wholeheartedly by stepping into our world and dying on a cross install a gender hierarchy in the church? I don’t think he did.
I don’t think the church is meant to work like that. I don’t think the family of God is meant to work like that. I think when you trust Jesus you follow him with your whole heart and life and you serve him how you can. I don’t think there’s time or room to be worrying about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ and who is allowed to do what and what counts as preaching and who can be taught by who and who can say what. I don’t think we have time or energy to waste.
God has set us on a mission to bring light to a dark world and we’re bickering about who gets to hold the candles. We all do. We’re all in. We have to be, or we will never get it done.
Whatever your thoughts on this, can we agree we have wasted enough time? Can we agree it’s consistently humiliating for Christian women when we become an ‘issue’ to be debated? Can we agree it is beyond insulting that books have to be written and conferences have to be held and people have to voice their opinions, hurtful or not, before we are permitted to get on with the job of serving Jesus?
I’m sick of being an issue. I’m sick of people arguing that this is equality while women are barred from positions and left out of discussions. I’m sick of us all being caught up in this dangerous distraction. We’re all in. We’re on mission together. Let’s act like it.
The more I think and write and read about God, the more I discover beautiful paradoxes. But I think I have found my favourite paradox. Here it is:
When we look at God we can see his goodness and holiness. This makes our sin and mess look worse and worse. This helps us realise how offensive and wrong it is to treat God as anything less than God. God has shown us nothing but love and mercy and we treated him as nothing. But now we can look at our own sin and mess in the knowledge that God has loved and forgiven us. This shows us more and more the holy and good nature of God. This in turn makes us realize that though our continued mess is bad, we are no longer stuck in it. Which again helps us realize how good and holy God is…
It’s not so much a paradox as a tension between our nature and God’s nature. Or maybe it’s a tension between the two parts of our nature: made in God’s image but fallen and broken. Or maybe it’s a tension between the two parts of God’s nature: perfect and just, but gracious and merciful.
Often we embrace one part of this paradox without seeing the full picture. For example, we become increasingly aware of our own mess and sinfulness, and fixate and dwell on it until it consumes us. But when we do this, we have forgotten the other half of the equation: that while our mess goes deep, God’s goodness and mercy go deeper still. God’s goodness knows no bounds. Our capacity for sin cannot beat God’s capacity for forgiveness. His capacity for love cannot be beaten by our capacity for mess.
Or we know and delight in God’s goodness, celebrate and luxuriate in his mercy, but forget that goodness and light always show up the darkness and sin in our lives. We eagerly follow God’s promise of forgive without examining what we need to be forgiven of, and so continue in the sin and mess. Acknowledging God’s goodness in its full extent can only come when we acknowledge our sin and mess in its full extent.
This isn’t easy or straightforward at all (paradoxes usually aren’t). Finding the balance of viewing our own sin and God’s goodness with total honesty might be the work of a lifetime. More and more I’m realizing that though yes, we are here on earth to share God’s forgiveness with those who don’t know it, there’s also an element of growing and wrestling with God’s nature and the complexity of the Gospel that takes a lifetime. But the more we understand and know God, the more we can show him to others clearly and honestly.
But there are days when I feel defeated by my mess. Though I know I am not stuck in it any longer, it is also very real and very present with me day to day. Sometimes it seems all consuming. These are the days when I need to look to God and look to his goodness and holiness and perfection. I don’t want to be caught in introspection and self examination. I want to look to God more and more, and focus on him in all his goodness and know there’s nothing I can do to lessen his love and forgiveness for me.
Since I was about 8, I knew the answer to want I was going to be when I grow up. That was easy. I was going to be a teacher.
I wasn’t going to be a teacher because I loved school. No. I did not love school. In fact, I suffered through much of the social and ritualistic parts of primary school, never quite knowing how everyone else knew how to fit in automatically, without trying (or so it seemed). At some point, I simply gave up trying to conform and got used to happy solitude.
So no, I didn’t want to be a teacher because I loved school. I wanted to be a teacher because so many of my own teachers didn’t like their jobs. They all seemed exasperated to find children in their classroom, messing up their plans. They all seemed frustrated that we talked and thought like children instead of like mini-adults. None of them seem enthusiastic about learning and discovery.
I very clearly remember, maybe age 10, sitting in my grade 4/5/6 classroom and thinking ‘I wouldn’t do it like that…’
Of course this seems very arrogant that a grade 5 would be sitting there critiquing their fully trained and qualified teacher’s technique. But people ask me when I decided to become a teacher. It was then.
That’s not still the reason I want to be a teacher of course. There are a lot of reasons, and the three years of my degree so far have only given me more. But at the heart of it: I have seen too many teachers, in my own schooling and on placements since, who just don’t care. They aren’t engaged, they aren’t passionate and they just don’t care.
Sidenote: this is not all teachers. I have also seen amazingly engaged and passionate teachers. I also grew up in a ‘regional centre,’ not a city, which may have contributed to the calibre of teachers.
So I am going to teach. I am going to be engaged and passionate and I am going to care. I am going to be excited about learning new things and new discoveries because then my students are more likely to be excited as well.
But when I stop liking my job, when I start disengaging, if I ever dread getting up for work, I will stop. I owe it to myself and I owe it to my students. I will not because like my teachers from primary school, aged sixty and still teaching because it was the only thing they ever learnt to do.
Of course I want to do it for at least a few years because I’ve put a fair amount of work into studying for it, but hopefully I will enjoy it longer than that. Even if I never get sick of teaching though, I don’t think it will be want I do forever. I don’t think I am the type of person to have one career, one workplace, one profession.
I don’t think this degree will be my last. I don’t know what’s next. Maybe studying a Masters in Education or Counselling will be next. Maybe learning more about the brain and how it changes and shapes as we learn and grow is next. Maybe theological studies, going to Bible College will happen at some point. I really don’t know.
But if I was to describe my ideal job, this would be it:
I want to take the best educational theories, all the research that has been done on how we learn and retain information, everything we know about the brain and how it works, and I want to use all that information to help people who have message to convey to the world. It might be charities, businesses, volunteer groups: but especially, I want to help churches.
I see churches trying to teach people the Gospel and it’s like watching them try to re-invent the wheel. We know how people learn best. We know how to speak so they will listen, how to engage and make it relevant. Educational theory has done that. But the word ‘school’ is like poison.
Too many people have had learning experiences like mine – disengaged and uninterested teachers who treat learning like a chore. No wonder the word school sends people running. No wonder people roll their eyes when the word learning comes up. No wonder I hear again and again that we don’t want church (or kids church or youth group) to become like school, despite the fact that we are in fact trying to help people learn about God.
Studying isn’t an intellectual exercise for me – though I love knowledge, I love how it changes me most of all. I love how it changes how I see the world and how I think, and changes my attitudes and actions. I want to show people that learning, true, good, deep learning about God, is the best way to know him. Not just theological theories and biblical facts, but truly knowing him, his character and his heart.
I want to help churches teach that. My ideal job is helping people learn about God in the best way possible and to help church teach people about God in the best way possible.
I just don’t have the experience, knowledge or any idea how to yet.
Early next year, I will be flying to Austria, spending a week in Vienna by myself and then going to Graz for three weeks to study Inclusive Education at the university there. All by myself.
I’m excited and very grateful I have this opportunity. I can’t wait to see what studying at university is like in Europe and to see snow and to explore new cities and to wander in museums and practice a new language. But it’s a little overwhelming as well.
I have never travelled anywhere by myself. I’ve never caught a plane by myself, I’ve never stayed overnight somewhere by myself. I spend a lot of time alone and I’m pretty confident getting around my own city, but I’m worried that I will be in over my head.
I don’t like flying. I get stressed about directions easily. I find it hard to be assertive and ask what I need to know even in a society where I speak the predominant language. I worry about making decisions. I worry about running out of money.
I’ll be a young woman travelling alone. That may sound brave, but I don’t feel brave. I just feel like I’m taking a huge risk.
These are all reasons to be afraid of travelling alone. But they are all also reasons I am going to do this and go travel alone. Though there are times my head gets full of all my fears – some valid, some not – I won’t even for a second consider not going.
I want this trip to be a chance to grow in myself and in my own confidence and ability to look after myself. I’m hoping that if I survive this trip, the idea of going out on my own when I graduate university and become a teacher in about a year and a half won’t seem so overwhelming and terrifying.
So I’m planning. I’m practicing. I am using Duolingo, a language app, to teach myself some German. I am researching what will be open in Vienna during the winter, what clothes I need and how much the things I want to do will cost. I’m saving and saving and saving so I will have money to eat food and get trains and still do some fun things.
When I start worrying about something, I do something about it. For example, the other day I suddenly got overwhelmed by the idea of being lost in Dubai Airport on my own, so I googled it. I looked up reviews from people who had been there and looked at lists of suggestions of what to do there.
I’m very lucky. I have a university who is letting me use this course for credit in my degree. I live in a country where the government will let me take a loan out on top of my student loans to fund studying overseas. I have supportive parents who love me and are helping me. I have a job where I can earn and save money towards my trip. I have friends who are excited to hear about my trip. I’m excited. I’m excited to travel, and I’m even excited to travel alone.
I’m just a little scared as well.
P.S. You might notice the pictures I use in my blogs getting more frequent and, well, better. I’ve started using Death To Stock, an amazing group who want good stock photos to be available, free. If you sign up, they will send you awesome photos to use in whatever you like every week.
Today I’m taking a break from introspective, theological, decision making writing and instead I’ve decided to do something a bit more fun.
I’m going to share some books/writers with you.
It’s a list of ten, though not every point is a separate book – some are author recommendations, some are series recommendations. It’s not an all encompassing list, but it is a list that has shaped me (for worse or for better). I’d love to hear what’s on your top ten list!
1. Anne of Green Gables
Anyone who has encountered Anne through L.M. Montgomery’s books will know what I mean when I say Anne has helped shape me as a person. If you haven’t read them or only have a vague picture of a girl with red hair in your head, I’m begging you to give them a go, whether you are old or young, male or female, a reader or a writer. It’s a story about finding a home and growing up and changing and learning. It’s about friendship and mistakes and nature and people. It has everything – from schoolyard stories to family tales to the adventures of a group of girls studying at university and sharing a house, to a brand new teacher out in the world dealing with being an outsider, to marriage to family to war to heartbreak to loss and sorrow and joy and love. Read it.
2. Sarah Bessey (Out of Sorts/Jesus Feminist)
Without Sarah Bessey this blog might not exist and I might not be still trusting Jesus. I encountered her blog and her first book, Jesus Feminist at a time when I had a lot of questions I felt no one wanted to hear. I thought I’d never find the answers or that the answers might destroy me. Instead Sarah Bessey’s words picked me up and sat me down for a chat and showed me how God is big enough and good enough to handle all our questions and doubts. I had the privilege of being included in the launch team for her most recent book, Out of Sorts. I found a group of kindred spirits, all asking questions and trusting Jesus and in the book I found it was okay to be still sorting yourself out and changing your mind.
3. C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis is the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, but was also a leading Christian writer and thinker. All his books show a very rare and true insight into the human heart and mind and our profound need for God. I loved Narnia as a kid and The Last Battle still has me in joyful tears at the end every time, but particularly The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce and A Grief Observed are my favourite re-reads from C.S. Lewis’ vast collection.
4. Harry Potter
To say I like Harry Potter doesn’t quite describe it – it often doesn’t occur to me to put the series by J.K. Rowling on lists like these because of course I’ve read Harry Potter and of course I loved it and of course it’s simply one of those things that were a key part of my childhood. It’s the ultimate coming of age story, in many ways not unlike Anne of Green Gables, as we see friendship and truth and bravery prevail in a world that’s often too dark. I can revisit the pages anytime and feel like I’m coming home. I’m a true Hufflepuff at heart, because I firmly believe Hufflepuff is the house of just doing your best.
5. Half the Church
This book was inspired by a secular book called Half the Sky, which explores the economic, political and social ramifications of women living lives under oppression. Carolyn Custis James’ takes this concept and explores what it would mean for the church if men and women joined together in the mission God’s has set us on, to take the Gospel to his world. This book was also the inspiration behind my longest ‘series’ here on the blog, which you can start reading here.
6. Innocent Traitor
Historical fiction is what I read the most these days, and Innocent Traitor is my favourite. By Alison Weir (and really, you should check out all her work), it looks at the life of Lady Jane Grey, the doomed ‘Nine Days Queen’ of England, from the perspectives of everyone involved in the tragedy. It’s brilliant, and my favourite part is the portrayal of Jane’s faith, which we see evolve throughout the story.
7. The Little Princess
While The Secret Garden, also by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is more popular, The Little Princess was her book that impacted me the most. Set in London, Sara Crewe starts with the life most of us have dreamed of at one point or another – loved and surrounded by luxury. When tragedy takes away everything that made her special, Sara is faced with challenges she’s never had before and tries desperately to hold on to her true self through it all.
8. Emily Rodda
My main diet of reading growing up were Emily Rodda’s various fantasy series. Deltora Quest, Finders Keepers, Raven Hill, Rondo, and my favourite, favourite favourite; Rowan of Rin. Emily Rodda’s writing and world creating is magical. Her characters are funny and real and lifelike. When I’m a teacher it’s fairly possible I’ll make my students fall in love with the fantasy worlds like I did by reading her books to them over and over again.
9. Mozart’s Sister
Back to historical fiction. When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a small boy, he was part of a duo with his older sister Nannerl. Nancy Moser brings Nannerl’s story to life, and explores what life would have been life, first as a travelling child prodigy, and then as a young woman left behind. I re-read this book after visiting Salzburg and Vienna earlier this year, and I can’t wait to go back to Austria early next year. In this book Nannerl feels like a kindred spirit waiting for a friend.
10. Introverts in the Church
Okay, for a long time I wasn’t 100% certain whether I was an introvert or an extrovert. I got tired with people, I got anxious alone. I’m a weird mix. But I do know that large groups of people and social settings are overwhelming and I never feel comfortable in them. There are parts of church I will always struggle with, particularly as society as a whole and therefore churches are wired for extroverts and the socially confident. Anyway, while I could write a whole blog post on this topic, I probably don’t need to because Adam S. McHugh has written a book on it. Introverts, read this book and begin healing from all the times we’ve been made to feel other, not good enough or out of place.
If you are interested in any of these books, you can find any of them on Book Depository (free shipping)! Or, if like me you consume so many books buying them is impractical, most public libraries will have them. Let’s all stop and appreciate public libraries for a second. What a beautiful, wonderful thing they are.
So, which of these books are on your top ten list? Which ones do you want to read? Please share your list with me – I’m fascinated by how our reading shapes us!
I used to think I was the only one who felt The Sadness – at least, I felt it more than other people. ‘How,’ I reasoned, ‘could people walk around with all this inside them and not say something? How could they not scream?’
But we don’t. We just walk around with The Sadness inside, like a huge parasite monster and we politely ignore. We don’t bother anyone. We don’t rock the boat.
So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about The Sadness.
When I started, slowly, tentatively, cautiously and hesitatingly talking about The Sadness, I found that almost everyone lives with it. All the people I know, who I study with and work with and talk with and worship with, is carrying The Sadness around within them.
What does your Sadness look like? Where does it come from? Because I’ve found out two important things about The Sadness: everyone’s Sadness looks different. But everyone’s Sadness is also the same.
The Sadness wasn’t there in the beginning. When God created the world, there was nothing bad or evil or broken. Nothing was wrong and everything was right.
Even with the whole world to and play in and work in and live in, we wanted more. So we rejected God and his good world and let sin in. When sin entered, so did The Sadness.
From now on, people walked around carrying this burden. People lived knowing that the world wasn’t right and that something was missing. The Sadness became a fatal inheritance, passed down from generation to generation.
But there was a turning point. A victory. Jesus came into the world to intervene. He came and he lived and walked and breathed as a human. The amazing part is, because he was fully human, he felt everything we felt. Jesus felt The Sadness. He lived through it’s agonizing grip, even in the face of death. But more than living through it, he beat it. Jesus came and he died and he rose again to prove sin and death and The Sadness do not have the last word and will not reign supreme in the world forever.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is a gap. An overlap. A delay between Jesus’ victory and when he will come again and The Sadness will be felt no more. This might seem like an error or mistake but it’s not. It’s intentional – it’s so as many people can know the good news, the joy and the victory of Jesus before the world is undone and made right.
That’s the future. But what about now? Living with The Sadness? That’s the other thing I have learnt about The Sadness: when you talk about it, it shrinks. Or at least, it hurts less. It’s like a huge big shadow: when you shine a light on it it can’t survive.
So here I am. Talking about The Sadness. Finding people you trust and can be honest with is the key. You don’t need to bare the dark details of your Sadness to everyone, but you can’t keep it locked inside either. It will destroy you if you do that.
While we are here, waiting for The Sadness to be overturned, we can’t wait alone. Sharing The Sadness helps, because your own Sadness shrinks, but more importantly because you can help other people with their Sadness. Hearing all the ways The Sadness presents can help put your own Sadness into perspective, and it can help you feel less alone.
The Sadness has not won and can not win, because Jesus has already won. The Sadness is not shameful or to be hidden – that is where it finds it strength. The Sadness is something we all live with, while we wait for Jesus to return.
This is a topic I wrote about in relation to gender and my thoughts while reading ‘Half the Church,’ by Carolyn Custis James in Part 2 (Image Bearing) and Part 3 (the Trinity). But it’s such an interesting topic that I felt I could write a whole other post on it.
The Trinity. If you’re vague on theological terminology or need a reminder, the Trinity is the concept that God as God exists in three separate parts (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) that are also one being and inseparable from each other. It’s a paradox, it’s complicated and people far smarter than me struggle to explain it so I won’t try. For now, let’s accept the paradox and embrace the unique nature of our God and explore what is means for us in our ‘image bearing’ in his world.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:26-7 (NIV).
We were created in God’s image, to reflect his nature, his likeness, his qualities: his essence. We were to be all that God is and nothing that he isn’t: we were to rule his world, the world he created for us, in his place, as his representatives. We were to be blessed caretakers who would never lack for anything.
Well that didn’t quite work out. If you’re familiar with the bible story you will know that when humanity was tempted by the false promise of more, it didn’t resist for long. When it turned out the promise was false (of course it was false – who can offer anything but God? What more could humanity be given when God had given them everything?) we hid from God in shame. We had forfeited the right to represent him.
Let’s skip ahead through the story to the cross. The cross is where everything that went wrong in the beginning was made right. God, three in one, used his nature to save us. The Son, Jesus came to earth as fully God and fully man (another paradox – for another day). He submitted to the Father’s will and at the cross he took the price for our shame and he restored us as image bearers and children of God. Then the Father stepped in and raised Jesus to life – proving not even death is too much for God to handle. Jesus left the earth and his friends with the promise of the Spirit – the presence of God with us here on earth and in our hearts. Then he gave God’s representatives a new command.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
We are called to make image bearers, representatives of God. We are called to show God’s likeness in the world, to show people from all nations and all places who God is and what he is life.
On our own though, we can’t. How can we reflect a threefold God individually? How can we show the constant self-sacrificing and relationships dynamics of the Trinity on our own? We can’t.
When we live out God’s image in relationships and community with each other though, we can. When we constantly self sacrifice and give up and put ourselves last for the people in our church and our lives, we can. When we practice mutual submission – giving up our rights because we know each person in our community will also give up their rights for us – we can.
The Trinity is a mutual, giving, sacrificial force. When we love and serve each other we can fully reflect the nature of God. When we try to live life on our own or maintain our faith on our own, we can’t reflect God truly or do his amazingly complex nature justice.
Life can easily become cluttered, busy and stressful. Some people like living fast paced, but not me. I like things clean, clear and organized. I like having time to sit in my clean room with sun coming through the windows. I like things to be simple and relaxed. Because for me, sometimes simple decisions can feel overwhelmingly paralyzing. Little things can unbalance my heart and my life. So where I can, I simplify.
Recently I moved house. I love my new home, with it’s big beautiful deck and tall trees in the backyard. I even love my new tiny room with beautiful windows and just enough space to breathe. But there is a catch: my wardrobe and storage space have significantly downsized from the last place I lived. My collection of clothing and books and things and stuff did not.
Every time I looked into my wardrobe to find something to wear, it seemed crowded with options and choices to make. I felt I had to dig and search to see all my options and choosing became an ordeal. I started stressing about what to wear each day.
Then I discovered the concept of a capsule wardrobe through Nina Kardia‘s blog. A capsule wardrobe is simple: excluding exercise, sleeping and sitting at home clothing, you have a specific and small repertoire of clothing items you choose from each day. Most people go for three months with each set before swapping for variety and seasonal changes.
Most of the sites I looked at used 33 or 37 items – so I chose 35. From now until January 21st, when I leave to go overseas to study for a month, I have 5 dresses, 4 skirts, 3 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of three-quarter length leggings, 12 tops, 7 pairs of shoes and 2 cardigans to choose from each day. 35 items for the rest of spring and summer.
All these items are clothes that fit well, I feel comfortable in and are practical for my day to day activities of uni classes, nannying and seeing friends. I now have a small but familiar wardrobe of outfits I can wear happily and without feeling self conscious or anxious about my choices. Choosing what to wear is no longer an insurmountable task. It’s simple. Easy.
If only everything could be so easy.
I keep a detailed, ever changing to do list. I used to have lots of lists but I needed to simplify. Now I have one list. Everything goes on there – everything. If I think ‘I need to send this email,’ it goes on the list. If I think ‘I would like to do a puzzle sometime again,’ it goes on the list. If someone asks me to do something, I do it straight away or it goes on the list. If I want to think or read or research something, it goes on the list. Anything I will have to remember or come back to, it goes on the list.
Maybe I’m a little addicted to my list. I love crossing things off the list – well, deleting the line of text on my phone – and I love adding things to the list. I love knowing what I am doing next. I love having a plan and system. I love that I am not relying on my own memory or head space for important things or unimportant things or big things or little things.
I’ve been trying to simplify my life in other ways too. For example, I used to try to maximize each hour in each day by cramming in whatever I could – doing more is better, right? I would feel guilty for having a day at home being unproductive. I’d accept nannying or babysitting jobs even if it meant being exhausted, late or completely missing other things. It wasn’t working.
So I cleared my calendar. I spread out the appointments and activities. I started putting ‘buffer hours’ in my schedule. Why rush straight from a class to a doctor’s appointment? Why be late and stressed because I thought I could get from the city to Carindale in 15 minutes in peak hour?
I found that with these ‘buffer hours’ I was starting to enjoy my time more. I could choose to take the longer walking route if it was nicer – and I had the time to. When my calendar and life were less crowded, my head was less crowded as well. When I wasn’t accepting every invitation to every single thing I could possibly be doing, I started looking forward to the ones I did say yes to more.
Some of the things I did to clear my life and mind were somewhat selfish. There are commitments I quit. There are relationships I no longer forced myself to maintain. From outside in, it may have looked like I was shutting down. Actually, I was finally waking up.
Rather than auto-piloting through the expectations of me, I started taking control. Auto-pilot was the easy option when my mental health was fragile. It meant not making decisions and not upsetting people and not rocking the boat. But in the meantime my life had become too complicated and messy. So I did some spring cleaning.
I designed my mental health plan – it’s very simple. Medication, exercise, writing and animals. Medication keeps my brain balanced. Exercise keeps my body healthy and the endorphins flowing. Writing gives me a release and a chance to get it all out of my head. Animals, my cat and my dog, give me a routine and responsibilities, which keep me sane, as well as making me feel less alone and giving me joy and laughter in the things they do.
That’s my plan. Simple. There’s other things good things that fill my life and make it better – family and friends and work and books and church – but these are the things that keep me balanced. It’s working for me. It’s helpful to identify which four things keep you balanced – even if you don’t particularly struggle with your mental health. What keeps you balanced?
So now my life is simpler. I have 35 items of clothing. I have a 4 part mental health plan. I have friends I see and exercise classes I go to and uni assignments to do and a growth group and church I love and a nannying job I like. I keep things simple where I can. I have a continuously evolving to do list. I keep my calendar empty where I can. I do all my best work in the blank spaces in my calendar.
Of course life can’t always be simple. Life is rarely simple. Even now – especially now – my life is far from simple. But when things are messy and complicated, who has time to choose an outfit from an overflowing wardrobe? I’ve decided to control and simplify what I can, to reduce what stress and decision making I can. So when I do have to deal with the not simple things, I don’t have all the other stuff crowding my head.
The not simple things will come. We face them when they do. We trust God and do our best. But in the meantime, let’s not make life more complicated than it needs to be.
Earlier this year, I got to go to Europe for the first time, for a whole month with my family. While I was there I had the chance to see many, many, many churches. Though they looked different from country to country, they were absolutely everywhere. A lot were Catholic, some were Protestant, all were old – very, very old.
Walking into a building like Westminster Abbey, packed with history and built with grandeur is a feeling I can’t quite describe. The first Cathedral I saw was the one at Koln (Cologne). It is a huge, ancient Gothic Cathedral from the 11th Century. It took my breathe away and when we walked in I spent much of the time just in awe.
I saw a wide variety of churches – from Milton Abbey in Dorset, England, to Notre-Dame in Paris, to St Mark’s Basilica in Venice to the Duomo, St Stephen’s in Vienna (I even climbed the bell tower of that one), to the Basilica di Santa Croce and the San Lorenzo (the family chapel of the de Medici family) in Florence, as well as St Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. Some were ornately decorated (the ones at the Vatican were decorated and draped and gilded and scented to the point of excess) and some were filled with memorials and burial monuments.
In some we were herded as tourists to obediently look around at the memorials and move on, in some we were hushed for the daily mass and in others we were invited to join in the prayers. The phenomenon of churches as a tourist spot was entirely alien to my Australian self who has worshiped more frequently in school halls and modern auditoriums and theatres than a building that is heritage listed.
But to be in those places – to stand in a spot where generations of rulers and royalty, men and women, priests and pastors and laypeople and sinners and the redeemed have stood and to hear the prayers they have prayed for a millennium – was something I’d never felt before.
I’ve recently become somewhat attached to the Book of Common Prayer. I bought a copy of it online a few years ago on a whim, in a time when I was finding praying with my own words very difficult. To have familiar, gospel soaked words to repeat and pray when I couldn’t summon the words myself was so comforting and faith-saving for me in that time. There was something special about reading the words of prayers written by believers so many years and centuries before me, words that have been repeated and echoed and adapted down through the years since.
It’s a similar feeling to what I experienced when I walked into those chapels and cathedrals and churches. In these buildings made to last, made to declare God’s glory, I stood before God, but also before the legacy of believers, of reformers, writers, readers and preachers. All these people entrusted with the gospel; and it’s passed on to me.
At one point in my trip, I found myself inside the Milton Abbey chapel, entirely alone. It was cold inside and calm and silent – and I found myself thinking how nice it must have been to come to a silent, empty chapel in a beautiful old building everyday to pray and think. Sometimes I can’t help wishing this was life God called us to. Wouldn’t it be simpler? Always using the same words, the same prayers, at the same hours everyday. No people. No mess. So simple.
We don’t build buildings like that anymore. A life of religious seclusion has gone out of fashion. Both of these things are good – the buildings we are building are a lot more functional, for one thing. But more importantly, we are called to a life in a family – God’s family, newly created of all the people he is adopting to himself. It’s hard to be a family when we’re all isolated in beautiful cathedrals. We aren’t called to a life of solitude, as much as us introverts might sometimes wish we were.
Church is the people, not the place or the building, and I see that so clearly when I gather with my jumbled mix of a church family who meets at a theatre company every Sunday morning. That feeling I get when I walk into a chapel or read the words of the Common Book of Prayer – that unity with the family of believers – that’s the feeling that echos back when as a church family we sing words, some written long ago and some written recently, of God’s glory together. When I get up to pray in my own words and then read God’s word aloud I feel that trust of speaking the words of truth, spoken aloud so many times, in so many languages and places and situations, to my own church family.
Visiting those churches helped me clear my head and heart and reconnect to the history of my faith – the priesthood of all believers, passing the gospel from generation to generation. Beautiful buildings are beautiful. But the family of God, no matter where it meets, is even more beautiful.