We got creative in collective worship at school today. Our theme this half term is ‘aspiring’ and today we looked at Ephesians 2.10 (God has created us to do good things). We explored it by making things out of salt dough – one person made a thumb pot, another made a person, someone else made a pair of angel wings, and another made a round ball to be world in God’s hands. We thought about how we are all works in progress, still being created by God, still able to be shaped and changed for good. Were our models great works of art? Not really! But were they about celebrating our own creativity, and ourselves as fruits of God’s creation? Absolutely!
Deciding to give your small change to charity is a great way to kickstart or boost your charitable giving.
Small change may seem like only a drop in the ocean, but as it has been pointed out, an ocean is made up of many drops, and when many people all do the same simple thing, such as the 5p rule (ie coins worth 5p or under go to charity) it can really mount up. In my village quite a lot of people keep collection boxes for The Children’s Society, and every year they hand them in and all that small change is counted. I think last time my own box total was about £14 – not hugely impressive – but I was astonished to read in the village magazine that all the boxes together that year, just from our village, had raised a whopping £1500!
That’s one good reason already for adopting the 5p rule, but there’s another reason, too.
Lent is a great time for learning to sit more lightly to material things, our possessions and our money – the things that make this life good, but don’t last for ever. In preparation for our Big Move in the summer (we’re leaving the country, for a year!) we’ve been getting rid of a lot of stuff, and it’s been strangely liberating to consider what we actually need, and what we can quite happily live without. The process has made me look at the things I own in a different light, and I find that the things I really do value, I appreciate all the more, and when I consider the things that are just ‘there’, I now find I am happier to distribute them (to friends, to charity shops etc). Admittedly, is a sad reality for increasing numbers of people in the UK, that 1p, 2p and 5p coins are, genuinely making the difference between being able to afford to eat properly or not. But for those of us for whom those smaller coins are not a matter of life and death, we probably don’t value them all that much. We may own them, we may have earned them, but they should be really easy to let go of and give away. And as I know from my own life at the moment, stripping down the stuff we own and the clutter around us (and even small change can feel like clutter) can be immensely liberating.
Today’s task is about learning to give away freely that which we own, but do not really value. It’s a good thing to do in itself, and helps us sit more lightly to the things we own. But it’s also a good step towards the much harder challenge of giving away and sharing that which we really do value and depend on.
It’s possible that I apologise too much. People sometimes say that to me. Maybe they even think that I don’t have anything to apologise for. Maybe they think that someone in my position ought to put on a stronger face, not admit to weakness or failure. Maybe they’ve just pre-forgiven me for whatever it was I did (or, more usually, failed to do) and don’t feel a need for me to do my bit….
But you know what? I’m not going to stop.
I’m also not going to stop, because while I am profoundly grateful for the people who forgive me for the same things again and again and again, the moment I take their forgiveness for granted, I’ve started to take them for granted too. My missed deadlines mean someone else has to work later, or longer, or has to do their bit at the last minute when they (unlike me) are not natural last-minute people. My ‘sorry’ is an acknowledgement that my failure hurts other people, even if only in minor ways. It’s an act of empathy, and I don’t ever want to lose that.
I’m not going to stop, because as long as I’m in the habit of being apologetic, then hopefully when it comes to the big things – you know, the things that are actually really really hard to own up to, the things I want to hide, and hope nobody ever finds out about – I’ll be all nicely warmed up and the repentance will flow easily from my heart right out of my mouth.
I’m not going to stop, because although sometimes I repent and repent and the bridge remains broken, other times, by the grace of God, the person I realise ages ago that I’d hurt and finally pluck up courage to visit not only accepts my apology, but also sits down with me over a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits, and shows me that I can be promoted to the rank of ‘friend’. Real forgiveness is too wonderful an experience to risk missing out on.
And I’m not going to stop, because saying sorry and meaning it is a way of just starting the process of cleaning out the dark and dirty corners of the soul. If my soul is a dark and cluttered cupboard, the ‘Sorry’ is that moment when I have the courage to open the cupboard door, with God standing next to me, so that he can turn to me and say, ‘Can I give you a hand clearing this lot up?’
When I was at theological college, we had a workshop on personality type, based not on Myers-Briggs or enneagrams (though we did that, too), but on recipes for Pumpkin soup. It was very revealing. The handout we were given provided four sets of instructions for pumpkin soup: at one end of the spectrum was a highly scientific method, with every ingredient specified, weighed and measured, and each part of the process timed to the second; at the other end of the spectrum was a vague description including the line “don’t worry if you don’t have any pumpkins, you can use pretty much any vegetable…. throw it all in the pan…. etc”. We were told to go and stand in groups, based on which version of the instructions most appealed to us. Those of us in the ‘vague and improvisatory’ corner looked with horror at those in the ‘scientific and precise’ corner (and they looked back at us with equal horror), and the other two groups simply laughed at both of us! It was a quite wonderful illustration of the reality that we may think we’re looking at something in a completely ‘normal’ way, but that doesn’t mean we’re seeing the same thing as the person next to us, and we may think that our way of doing things is perfectly good, but that doesn’t mean that others will be able to work with us in the same way.
So, why the sudden interest in Pumpkin soup? Because one can approach pancake batter in a similar way. I once read a recipe for pancake batter, and the first time I made it, I even used my kitchen scales. Thereafter, I’ve reverted to type and estimated everything (and no, I don’t even consistently use the same flour each time – sometimes it’s self-raising, sometimes plain, and sometimes I put butter in the batter and sometimes I don’t – on a whim – and yes, that would drive some of you mad….). To be honest, I make a pretty good pancake – my children have endorsed my skills in this area, and they don’t really care about the method as long as the end result tastes good with honey, or chocolate sauce.
Reflecting on the pumpkin soup and pancake batter, though, is a great way of reminding ourselves that just as we each have a slightly different ‘default’ setting when it comes to cooking, we also have our own comfort zone when it comes to our spirituality, our prayer life, our style of worship, the way that we express our lives as followers of Jesus, and the way that we approach the season of Lent. There are those who have a set discipline and follow it every year, and there are those who pick something different each time and explore new things; there are those who give things up and those who take things on; there are those whose Lenten journey is reflective and those for whom an active approach is more fruitful. There is no single right or wrong answer for how to keep Lent, because we are each unique.
Lent can be a time to get out of our comfort zone, especially if we’ve got stuck in a rut in our spiritual lives. But it can also be a time for finding what’s at the heart of our real comfort zone, and learning to root ourselves in God, becoming more truly who we are.
Remember that when Jesus went out into the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days and nights, he went out with the sound of encouragement and love and affirmation ringing in his ears from the day of his baptism: “You are my son, I love you, and I am pleased with you.” Jesus was able to take that ‘comfort zone’ with him into the discomfort of hunger, loneliness and temptation.
May this Lent be a time for all of us to work out what is at the heart of us. A time for becoming more and more who we are, and finding that when our roots are deep, the walls that prevent us seeing things from others’ points of view will crumble and fall.
Yes! It’s time to spring-clean the soul, work out what really matters, and do some things that bring heaven and earth a little closer for you and for everyone around you.
If you haven’t managed to pick up a Love Life Live Lent booklet, you can find out each daily action by following @livelent on twitter – the Love Life Live Lent website also offers a range of additional free resources for churches and schools and at home.
You can also check in here, where I’ll have another go at doing a daily blog, based on the action of the day – last year I got about half way through Lent before I fell asleep and missed a day; this year I’m hoping to be a little more lively and make it all the way through to Easter!
It all starts tomorrow, Shrove Tuesday, with the very pleasant first task of having a pancake party! Here’s to a Lent that has prayer and parties, kindness and calm, activity and reflection in equal measure.