Saturday evening found me standing in my study, going through my sermon one last time for the next morning. I’d put a big pile of food and interior design magazines on top of my desk, hoisted my cookbook stand from the kitchen on top of them to create a makeshift lectern to practise with. It was dark outside and I stood preaching to the darkness by the French windows, my neighbours across the way probably wondering what on earth as I was doing.
And as I stood there I prayed, God would it be your words they hear tomorrow. Would everything of me drop away and it all be you. I’ve heard preachers pray it many times before so it sounded right.
Then I paused, and I know this is going to sound odd, but it was like I heard God cough politely, in that way that people do sometimes when they don’t quite agree with something you just said and are giving you a moment to realise it before they tell you exactly why you’re missing the point.
So I thought for a moment and then I took a deep breath and prayed again and something quite new came out. God, use me. Use my youth, use my personality, use my enthusiasm and my belief in this word you’ve given me, use my love of metaphors, use my over-enthusiasm every time there’s a woman in the passage, use the illustrations for my own life, use my courage, use my excitement to speak. Use me.
I went to bed and slept soundly that night. I did dream that we’d lost all the chairs at church which caused some minor panic amongst the dream-elders (and amusement from me who was convinced we’d cope without them). And I woke up before my alarm, emptied the dishwasher, made breakfast, tidied my side of the bedroom, lifted my hands in the kitchen to the hauntingly holy lyrics of a Josh Garrels song and whispered again and again, use me. use me. use me.
I may have lived many years outside the country of my childhood but there’s a stubborn core of Englishness still inside me, and it is no more prominent than the moment someone is complimenting me. Something in me becomes horridly awkward and uncomfortable. Goodness, don’t tell me nice things, what am I supposed to do with it? The English woman in me jumps to deny. No no no, it was nothing, it is nothing, nothing nothing nothing. Don’t say any more, heavens. And so it takes every ounce of effort in me to pronounce those two syllables: Thank You.
And yet everyone wants to talk to you when you’ve just spoken for twenty minutes in front of them. And something happened this time. I remembered my prayer, my morning mutterings, use me use me use. And I recognised an answered prayer. Felt a heavenly smile, a nudge at my back pushing me forward, the proud parent telling me, Go. Accept their words. Because I did use you.
Your youth, your personality, your enthusiasm and your belief in this word I gave you, your love of metaphors, your over-enthusiasm every time there’s a woman in the passage, your illustrations of your own life, your courage, your excitement to speak. And I used the gifts I have given to you.
I have gifts. I have strengths. I have skills, honed and practised. And to deny them is to deny the one who gave them to me. To refuse to let anyone notice them in me, to feel the need to pretend they don’t really exist, well it’s perhaps even more damaging than the pride I’m so afraid of being accused of.
And there’s this line to keep practising walking, between the boast of a prideful heart and the denial of something that’s real. And I want to walk that line, to be able to accept and celebrate the gifts that have been given to me, use them, practise them, develop them, improve them. God keep me from bragging and boasting, but keep me from denying who you have made me to be.
On Friday, I read these words on Amber Haines’ blog, and I’m pretty sure it was her words, swirling in the back of my mind for a few days, that led me through this thought process.
“I have struggled so to release the guilt of enjoying what I do. That sounds insane and shackled, I know, but I bet I’m not alone. I’m terrified that if I enjoy it, or worse – if YOU enjoy what I do, then I’ll worship it. I won’t fit my britches. I’ll turn into someone terrible and shirk my responsibilities… Well, it’s decided now. I’m allowed to find joy in the work I’m called to do, and I’m allowed to release the work to which I am not called.” – Amber Haines
Yes, to finding joy in the work I’m called to…