I’ve had a niggling feeling for a few days, like things weren’t quite right. Then yesterday morning I read a blog (which shall remain nameless). The post outlined the writer’s ongoing revelation that through reading a particular Psalm, it all came to a head.
I realised then what that niggling feeling was: inadequacy. Inadequacy and failure.
I have to admit, there was nothing within the blog that suggested I was inadequate. Quite the opposite, in fact. But there was a lot that I said to myself as I read it. My thoughts to myself while reading the blog went something like: “See you don’t read the Bible like she does do you?” “Oh, look, she has it all sorted and look at *you*. Failing and messing up over and over again.” “She reads the Bible every day and gets all sorts of revelations and all that and, well frankly, you are a right mess.”
It’s true. I don’t read the Bible every day. I don’t even have a quiet time everyday, or a prayer time. Don’t get me wrong, I have lots of good intentions. I start with God days booked in over the year, I’ve read through the Bible a few times, and sometimes I even go for six months ticking the boxes of journalling, praying and Bible reading in a rhythm that makes sense. But inevitably it all falls apart. Maybe it’s a particularly busy time with work, or illness, or family commitments, or going on holiday, or something else. But the rhythm falls apart and I spiral back into the place of inadequacy and failing.
“Well,” I hear you say, “surely you at least do the church thing each week?”
Yes, I do the church thing. I go, I help with the youth group and where possible I even try to go to a house group. But I spend the sermons getting annoyed with how little I agree with the theology, and I don’t seem to be able to get any sort of level of community with those within the church. When we started going to the church we felt blessed to have found somewhere so multicultural, but it dawned on me the other week that although the church is diverse in terms of cultural backgrounds, it is united in the theology of conservative evangelicalism. Something I really struggle to have much unity with. So yes, I do church, but I really don’t fit in.
Depressingly, I fail at ticking the boxes of reading the Bible, praying and doing the church thing. I love being able to tick the boxes. As a high achiever, it is in the box-ticking of my walk with God that I often measure my spiritual growth.
And it works…until it doesn’t.
So after reading the blog, that although written to inspire, my own voice turned it into a reminder of my failure to tick the boxes, I pondered where to go next. My conclusion was the Quakers, of course! I’ve had it in my mind to go to a Quaker meeting for quite a while and as I didn’t need to go to church, I thought I’d pop along and experience the Quaker silence and pray and ponder and consider what to do next.
I have to say, the experience was really helpful for me. There’s no way to escape relating with God in a room full of silence for one hour (well actually 45 minutes, as I was late…). I left the meeting and went for a walk along the beach and as I walked and prayed and thought through stuff, my conclusion was that I really do love God. And as I watched the waves I was reminded again that it is not in my effort that God Is. It isn’t in how much I pray, or read the Bible or do church that God Is. He Is regardless of my efforts. Not that it’s an excuse for me to not make any effort. But I guess I’m guilty, in the weeks or sometimes months where I manage to tick all the appropriate boxes, of thinking that I am getting it “right”, maybe even that I am righteous. I mean how heretical have I got? That somehow I’ve concluded that my actions can make me even the teensiest bit righteous?
That was yesterday and not much really changed as I tried to think about what to do next. Then as I tried to write down my thoughts I realised God has still worked with me and in me and through me this year, all year, regardless of whether I was ticking the boxes or not. And although there is a place for spiritual disciplines and finding a rhythm, perhaps for a person with high achiever issues, anything that can become a tick box exercise is to be avoided?
So I’m not exactly sure what to do next. (Normally if I needed to work out what to do next I’d write a list, but I think that’s the sort of thing I probably should avoid….)
Regardless of how I go forward, the feelings of inadequacy are waning as I rediscover that basic truth that God is not dependant on my ability to tick the boxes, and my righteousness is definitely not about me getting it all right.