More Time-Gardening Thoughts

Garden

I’ve had some really lovely and thoughtful responses to last week’s blog. They came from people who actually garden (unlike me) and therefore they had insights that I didn’t have. It’s amazing what some actual knowledge will do to a metaphor! So I thought I’d share their wisdom with you.

One friend had been weeding her garden just before she read the blog. She wrote, ‘… as I pulled out big weeds I also started to pull out a “wanted” plant that I had forgotten was there (hidden under many weeds for quite some time!). This made me think about the things that restore me and bring me pleasure that sometimes get hidden, or pulled out because I forget I enjoy them.’

I agree with her. Some seasons in our lives are so busy that good and fun activities just get pushed out, or hidden. Sometimes we have to leave them for a time. When the busy season passes and we find we are able to clear our schedule a bit, it’s often tempting to continue to leave the good things out too. We start looking for clear time with nothing in it.

But I find that often clear time isn’t really what we need. If we have ‘free time’ we can fill it with TV, or surfing the web, or scrolling through social media. All good activities in moderation, but often these activities don’t leave us feeling refreshed. What we need instead is rejuvenating time. Activities that are creative, refreshing, enjoyable. Time spent playing an instrument, or going for a bush walk, or reading, or painting.  These activities may take a little effort to get started but they are more refreshing in the long run.

Do you have a hidden activity that you need to clear space around so that it has time to flourish in your time garden? Is there something you used to enjoy that you’ve almost forgotten about, that you would like to start doing again?

Another long-standing friend has sent me a list of thoughtful questions:

What if you COULD have a substantially set-and-forget garden/life where you built up the soil, the substrate, then applied, first aged compost, then fresh mulch?

Firstly, the odd weed would appear instantly out of place, green chickweed against brown pine-bark, for example.

  • What would that look like in life?  What would be the aged compost?  The mulch?
  • What areas of your “garden” need deeper mulch … perhaps some shade-cloth during the withering summer?
  • What areas are going to need additional fertilisation or water to fully enable the growth of what you’ve already planted?
  • Would attending to this thoughtful preparation mean that the “weeds” would be so easy to identify that they never even took root?

My friend says that the ‘aged compost and the mulch’ in our time garden is provided by identifying our core values, and our vocation or calling. If we are aware of these deeper intentions in our lives then we can measure tasks and possibilities against them.

He says:

Anything that comes along “looking” good and worthwhile, can instantly be measured against these priorities: 

  • Would letting this demand on my time bring me closer to my true self/ vocation/ calling… or take me away? 
  • Does this offer/ request really relate to who I really am… or is it something merely “worthwhile” – but not for me?
  • What have I planted in my garden previously… that has never prospered, never grown, and is merely surviving unproductively?  Does it need removal?

These are great questions, really worth thinking about. I’m going to take some time to consider them and I hope that you will be able to do so also.

I would love for you to join the conversation and let me know your thoughts as well. You can email me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or tweet me @aquietlifeblog or find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author.

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succulent garden

Weeding Your Time Garden

succulent garden
This is my succulent garden. Ironically I had to remove a large weed before I took the photo.

I have a new metaphor for time management, and I’m not sure if I’m going to use the metaphor very well, but I’ll give it a go.

Time management is like gardening.

Now, if you’ve read my short story The Useful Plants then you might know just how much I like (or rather don’t like) gardening. But I have a little bed of succulents near my front door that I take care of so I know something about it.

The thing I’ve noticed about gardens is that you can spend time on them, pull them into shape, prune and weed and tidy, and they look wonderful. But if you then think, ‘The job is done’ and leave them alone, the weeds creep in, the plants get overgrown, and the garden becomes messy again and require a lot of work.

This is the gardening cycle that I have experienced in my lifetime. But I know that the frustration is my own fault. Because the better way to deal with a garden is to work in it regularly. Head out there every week. Pull the weeds while they are small. Tidy up a little. And then, and this is important, spend time out there enjoying the beauty of what you’ve created.

So I hear, anyway.

But I know for sure that the same principle applies to our calendars, to our time management. You can set up the best system in the world, but it is not a set-and-forget situation. Over time little bits creep in. Extra jobs appear. Worthy activities find space. And suddenly you’re living in an overgrown mess, running from one thing to the next, head spinning, feeling really busy.

And I think the main point of this metaphor is not to be surprised that this happens. It’s just the second law of thermodynamics in action: The entropy of the universe is always increasing. Things tend towards disorder and randomness. It’s the way it is.

So we should not be surprised that the schedule we planned in January is now out of control in March (as mine was). Instead, maybe it’s easier to accept that and then deal with it, than to worry about it getting out of control again. Like the weeds in the garden, it’s just going to happen. We just need to be prepared.

We need to regularly head into our time garden and weed. We need to check where we’re at and make sure that our priorities are being taken care of first. We need to make sure there’s space in the schedule for rest, and space for time with those we love, and space for time with God.

And then, and this is important, once we’ve tidied out time garden, we need to take the time to enjoy its beauty. To rest in the rest. To appreciate the calm. As Eugene Peterson says, ‘Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time’.  We can have a totally clear schedule and still feel busy. It’s better to enjoy the restful activities that we’ve built in, to really be present when we go for an evening walk, to actually concentrate on the book that we’re reading, rather than to be always thinking about our incomplete to-do list, having the worry whir away in the back of our minds even when we’re supposed to be resting.

I garnered this metaphor from an excellent book I read last week — Off The Clock by Laura Vanderkam. This is the most people-centred time-management book I think I have ever read. It doesn’t tell you how to structure your life to shut people out so that you’ll get more work done, instead it suggests ways of making the most of the time that you have so that you feel less busy (and still get the work done). I cannot recommend it more highly.

So happy gardening everyone! If you’re in Australia I hope you enjoy and make good use of your 8-hour day holiday, especially if the good use is resting. And if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere I hope that the advent of spring helps you to think about your time garden and how you can make it just as beautiful as the blossoms that no doubt are coming out now.

Do you like gardening? Are you surprised by the creeping disorder of the universe? What do you do to keep your time schedule under control?

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

The Story of Your Life

Corrections

I’ve been doing a lot of editing lately, of my own work, not of others’. I am preparing a book of short stories for publication, I’m preparing a book of transcripts of my podcast, and I am also working through the first draft of my new novel and making it stronger and better.

I don’t really like editing, going back over my work, figuring out what to cut out and what to leave in, changing this, adding new things here, removing whole paragraphs there. I would like everything I write to be perfect the first time. To make a decision and for that to be absolutely the best one. To not have to change anything.

Ridiculous, right? Writing doesn’t work that way (oh the irony, I had to rewrite this very sentence). Everyone’s first draft is messy.

My devotion today asked, ‘If your life was a book, what would you need to edit?’

When I think about the themes I want my life to convey, the story I want to tell, are there things I need to cut out, or things I need to add to communicate that story better? Are there decisions I made that were right at the time but that need to change now? Are there hangovers I’m holding on to because I really loved them five or ten years ago but they don’t apply to my life now?

One of the big editing tips in writing is, ‘kill your darlings.’ In writing our novels we often love certain scenes, conversations, or even characters. They are our darlings. But the truth of the matter may be that those things are weaknesses in the overall tale, they need to go, they need to be cut out.

I’m wondering if there are ‘darlings’ in my life that I’m hanging on to that are making me weaker. Attitudes or decisions, or even material goods or activities that need to go now to bring the story of my life to a stronger place.

Is it the same for you?

Often authors can’t see for ourselves what these things are. That’s why it is so important to employ an editor to look over our work. The editor is not emotionally involved in the situation and can be a bit more ruthless when it comes to cutting out deadwood. Sometimes it can be difficult to hear the editor’s advice. But you know that they are working with you towards the same goal – a stronger piece of work, better able to convey the story, the theme.

And the same applies to our lives. Sometimes it is helpful to have a mentor or a coach, or a good friend, who can help you look over your life and see where things could change to make you stronger.

If you think of your life as a book, what is the story you are telling? And is there editing that needs to happen to make your life tell its important tale in a stronger way? Do you have an ‘editor’ that can help you make the hard decisions?

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Celebrate Life

I have used my sister’s photos because they are lovely and because I don’t have enough photos of Mum! I need to fix that. So thanks Cath 🙂

On Saturday my mother turned 75, and I think that deserves a celebratory blog post.

There are so many things that I could say about Mum.

She is a concert pianist and we could go into how much work that requires, and how she sacrificed for it, and how she managed to look after us children while still doing the practice and playing the concerts. How by doing so she set an example to us that we could work hard and achieve our dreams.

She has a heart for others and is always reaching out, not just to people who can give back to her or make her feel good, but she also sacrificially gives her time to reach out to the unloveable. Sometimes it drives us crazy as a family but at the same time, what an example!

She is full of wisdom and I love to meet with her for coffee once a week and just pour out whatever I’m going through and get her listening ear and her excellent advice.

All these things are good. But the thing I want to concentrate on today is the joy with which Mum approaches her birthdays.

Mum is almost exactly 30 years older than me so I must have been ten years old when Mum turned 40. But I can remember distinctly the way she almost danced around the house. ‘Life begins!’ she crowed, ‘Life begins!’ She refused to let that milestone get her down. There was no grumbling about being over the hill or about life being over now. She chose to embrace her age. To celebrate it.

And it’s been the same with every milestone birthday. This year’s 75 is no different. ‘I think it’s worth celebrating being on earth for this length of time,’ she said to me. And I agree, it is totally worth celebrating.

We live in a culture that idolises youth. We want to look young, we dye our hair to remove greys, we undergo plastic surgery to get rid of wrinkles. We get concerned about thickening waistlines, about slowing bodies, about failing memories.

I remember being down on my 27th birthday. I realised as the day approached that I was definitely closer to 30 than to 21 and I didn’t like the feeling. That was a while ago now and I look back at my 27 year old self and laugh at her worries.

What is that magic youthful age? Are we all trying to look and act like we’re in our twenties? Is it acceptable to be 35? Is 40 the birthday when we realise that we’re old, on the way out?

Isn’t it ridiculous? We are all living longer and longer. If we write ourselves off once we pass 30 then we will spend 70 years of our life, and maybe longer, thinking we are less-than. Putting ourselves down for something we have no control over.

Let’s change it up. Let’s do what Mum does and celebrate every birthday, every milestone. As we go on in this world we have the chance to experience more, to learn more, to enjoy more. We have the chance to let go of the things that hold us back, the bitterness, the unforgiveness, the anger. We can grow in wisdom. We can give more to others. We can enjoy who we are, and love who we are becoming.

So I’m really celebrating Mum’s birthday. I’m so glad she’s my mother and so grateful for the joy and wisdom that she pours into my life. And I’m so glad that she’s celebrating too.

I hope that when I’m turning 75 that I follow her example and approach my birthday with the same joy and confidence.

 

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Preparing for Success

This is the blog post I was thinking of writing when the fires got intense here in Tasmania and I chose to write about that instead. I’m glad I’m finally getting it out now. It’s a bit late because I completely exhausted myself on the weekend helping to cut down the trees that were overhanging our house and I took a day to recover. I’m all recovered now, so here it is!

A couple of weeks ago I was the guest on a podcast. It’s a writing podcast called The Prolific Writer and I was interviewed about my writing life, my methods, my influences and so on. You can hear it here if you’re interested.

The host, Ryan J Pelton, lives in the centre of the USA and it was fun to line up times and dates and find something that suited both of us. I got up a bit early; he was interviewing me from mid-afternoon the day before.

I listen to Ryan’s podcast all the time. It’s one of the podcasts on my list for inspiration and advice for my writing life. I was incredibly excited, as you can imagine, to be a part of it. And I was a bit hopeful that I would find a new audience for my writing as well. An audience in the USA. I was hopeful that maybe I’d make some sales through it. That maybe I’d become ‘successful’.

Now, this brings up a whole swag of ideas. What is success? What does that word mean? What does it mean to me? What does it mean in different circumstances?

In one way I am already successful. I’ve written and published two novels and a self-help/memoir, and I have another three books on the way. If finishing a book equals success (and in my mind it does) then I’m successful. I have also successfully published a blog for four years and I have successfully produced a podcast. This counts. It really does.

But I’m afraid I want more than that. I actually want a large audience. I want to make a living from my writing. That has been my goal since 2010 and it is still my overarching goal. And I am not near that yet, folks. Not nearly there.

So I went on the podcast with Ryan, I answered his questions (some I answered well, some poorly) and at the end he told me that the interview would be live on the Saturday and I suddenly got butterflies in my stomach.

I suddenly realised what my idea of ‘success’ would mean in my life.

When we look at successful people, whether they be authors, sportspeople, movie stars, politicians, or celebrities of any kind, I think that most of us feel we have the right to judge them. We have the right to criticise their words, their clothing choices, their mistakes from 30 years ago, their life choices now.

I realised that if I get the viral audience that I think I want, it will give people the right to discuss (with me or with each other) what I should have said, what I should have written, what I should have done. People will feel a certain ownership of me and will see my flaws so clearly and wonder why I am not dealing with them myself when they are so obvious.

Now people will hopefully see good things as well, and be blessed and uplifted by my words. But I know that I can easily find myself being more critical of famous people than I am of ‘normal’ people and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that to happen to me.

Because I am still me. And no matter how many people follow my blog, and how many buy my books, I will still be me. Still stuck in the fog of figuring out who I am. Still unable to clearly see my own path. Still unable to see the splinter for the plank, the wood for the trees. Sure, I have some bright rays of insight, but each day I just go through the day like any other person, and selling more books or having more followers will not make my life any easier to live.

I thought through this for a while, then I had a chat with Moz and things became a bit clearer for me. Firstly, I realised that in a way I am already there. I already live parts of my life in public on Facebook, Twitter, and on this blog. I like to do that. I like interacting by text. I like writing deeply about my life here, and in my books. People read my work and feel like they know me. And to an extent they really do. And so far, people have been very kind.

So in one way I can’t ask, ‘Do I want to live in public?’ because I already live in public. I’m already there.

Secondly, the people who read my books now are mostly people who live near me. My friends and family and church family are reading my stuff and talking with me about it. If they feel like they know me better, then that’s good. If someone over in the USA feels like they know me better, it’s not going to lead to more awkward conversations in the supermarket. I already have those 🙂 I don’t think it’s going to get worse with a larger audience.

And finally, I can choose to inflate or to mitigate the problem. I can choose to write something controversial that will attract a viral audience, but will also attract strong criticism, and attract the trolls. Or I can choose to quietly write whatever small wisdom has been given me, and slowly grow an audience that is kind and gentle, my tribe. And that is the path I choose. I want to be friendly, comforting, a big sister to talk with. I don’t need success at the cost of losing what I believe in.

It’s two weeks now since the podcast interview went up, and unfortunately massive success has not yet come my way. So all these thoughts, in one way, look a bit foolish now. But I keep hearing from my mentors that being prepared for success is just as important as being prepared for failure, and I’m glad I went through the thought exercise.

We’ll see what comes my way in the future.

If you’re undertaking a project, or starting a business, or even just in your life, have you thought about what success is? Have you defined what it is that will make you feel successful? Have you prepared yourself for what you’d do if that actually happened? I’d love to hear about it.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

My delicate emotional state

Prayer

Yes, I admit to feeling a bit delicate this morning. A bit emotionally spent.

It’s just an introvert thing, and there are a few of you out there who will think I’m being ridiculous, and maybe I am. But in my devotion this morning I was given a new tool to use when I find myself to be completely empty and I thought I’d share it with you too.

Maybe you want to know why I feel empty?

Well, I went to a great birthday party on Saturday night and caught up with some awesome people. Really good conversations. Absolutely delicious wood-fired pizza. Did you know that you can make rhubarb and custard wood-fired dessert pizza? How about apricot crumble pizza? You can, they’re delicious.

Then I led church on Sunday, was the MC if you like, up the front. It was a really brilliant service and I love leading. I enjoyed myself, had fun, and then there were deep times, and heart wrenching prayers for rain so that we can get through this fire season.

Then we had a couple of friends for lunch. It was so good to have that deep conversation. To share from the heart. And to see friends that I hadn’t seen in months. And my 6-year-old friend drew me a picture with a note that said ‘Thanks Roof for leting us staing your house’ and that was just precious.

And after that I needed time alone so I decide to go for a walk on the beach. But it was full of people. Lots of people on my beach! Of course, it was a 30 degree day and school goes back today so people were to be expected. And as much as I like to think it, I really don’t own any shares in Kingston Beach.

Still, it was delicious to hear the waves and to just walk along and …

I tried to think, I tried to pray, I even tried to listen to a podcast. But by that stage I was done. Really finished. I had nothing left inside. I was not sad, not angry, not upset in any way, not even down. I really want to make it clear that I enjoyed all the things I did on the weekend, I’m grateful for them. I wouldn’t want to change a single thing. It just meant that I used up every last bit in my tank. I was just tired. Just empty. And I didn’t know what to do. I never know what to do in those times. I usually just hang on until the evening when I can sleep and reset.

Last year a friend lent me a devotion book called Coffee with God by Sarah Arthur. This morning’s devotion reminded me of a tool that I can maybe use to get through times like that.

Sarah and I share a favourite author, Elizabeth Goudge, and in one of her books she spells out a simple three-fold prayer:

Lord have mercy.

Thee I adore.

Into Thy hands.

It’s a prayer that I knew, but that I had forgotten about. But I found that it said everything that I wanted to say. It’s a simple meditation that I hope I’ll remember to use next time that I run out of my own words, next time I run out of energy.

I hope it can be useful to you too.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

A burning state

smoky sunset
The sunset from our house the other night. No filter at all. Just a pink, smoky sky.

I have things to say. I have a blog post that’s been percolating in my brain for the whole weekend. But it all feels a bit ridiculous to pontificate about my delicate emotional state when I know that there are bushfires burning all over the state, houses and properties at risk, and people evacuating left, right, and centre.

It has been a dry summer here. The days have been gorgeous. For the most part we have had weather that is just right – not too hot, not too cold. And I’ve enjoyed it so much. I’ve gone for swims (yes, multiple swims) even though the water is still reasonably cool. I’ve worn shorts and T-shirts and sandals and sat out on the balcony with cool drinks and really done the summer thing.

It’s been beautiful.

But the weeks have gone on and we’ve had no rain to speak of, and the fire that started in the wilderness has not stopped burning despite the best efforts of our fire fighters.

And then we had that thunderstorm. The amazing lightning that just kept going and going. Again, no rain, just lightning and thunder. It was incredible to watch. I hadn’t seen anything like it here in Tasmania before. It was like our own fireworks show. The beauty of nature.

But the beauty came at a cost. Dry lightning plus dry bushland equals fire. And we have a lot of it now.

The fire front is now over 1000 km. The fire fighters are fighting 72 fires. The smoke swirls around our house, then the wind changes and the skies clear up, but the fires are still there.

The fire fighters are doing an incredible job. There has been no loss of life so far, and only one property has been burned, to the best of my knowledge. Our house is very unlikely to be affected, though others have been evacuated at different times.

I usually tell visitors to this state that summer doesn’t really start here until February, when the kids go back to school. So there’s a long way to go before we’ll get milder weather to help get the fires under control.

I am praying for the fire fighters, praying for unseasonal rain to come on our land, praying for those evacuating and those with properties at risk. It’s so real, it’s so close.

One of the things about the internet is that we are always aware of these real tragedies happening. I mean, there are fires here, yes, but there’s also that dam that burst in Brazil, and the fuel line that exploded in Mexico, and on, and on. There are tragedies everywhere, all over the world.

Does this mean that we don’t explore the more nebulous things? That we stop thinking about reaching our dreams and just live in a constant state of grief over the state of the world?

I think this is another one of those things where there has to be balance. Or rather, not balance, but rhythm. Some days it is good to concentrate on our families, our dreams, our work, the things that bring us joy. Some days we need to spend in grief, in prayer, and in sacrifice to help out those who are suffering. It’s another seesaw. Up and down. We need both.

And for me today, the seesaw is coming down on the side of concern and prayer for those who are involved in this bushfire. Next week you might get the post about the perils of success that is wandering around the back of my brain right now.

Stay safe everyone, wherever you are, and especially if you are anywhere near the fires.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

It’s the little things.

This Wednesday Moz and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We were both 19 years old when we married, high school sweethearts.

Now I know that not all marriages that start out that young can hold together. It’s quite a difficult thing. I wouldn’t say that we knew who we were when we got married. I have learned quite a bit about myself since then. And we have learned a lot of lessons together.

I thought I’d tell you one lesson we learned early on. I don’t think it applies just to marriage either, so I’ll tell you how I think it applies to the rest of life.

It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek lesson. Not to be taken too seriously. But at the same time, there’s a little bit of truth in it.

So, are you ready? Here it is:

Everything is worth one point.

It mostly applies to what Moz does for me, rather than the other way around. Here’s how it works:

If Moz buys me flowers, that’s one point.

If he does the washing up – one point.

If he buys me a new car – one point.

If he books us on a cruise – zero points, he should know by now that that’s not the holiday I would choose. (I just put that one in to throw you off.)

Chocolate – one point.

And so on.

The size or value of the gift doesn’t matter, I just need a steady stream of little things to feel loved.

If Moz chose not to show me his love in little ways, but instead bought something big like a house or car and then thought his job was done, the marriage wouldn’t last very long. It’s the little things that really matter.

Sometimes we think that we need to do something really big to make our lives matter. We need to start a non-profit organisation, do some research that once-and-for-all-time cures cancer, write a best-selling and life-changing book, win the gold medal at the olympic games. We think that if we don’t manage something big like that, that we are not worth very much.

I wonder whether life works more like our one-point rule. It’s the little things, the constant little choices that we make that add up to who we are, that give our lives value.

It’s the smiling at the check-out-chick, even if she’s super slow and packs our eggs on the bottom. It’s the choosing to put our rubbish in the bin. It’s remembering birthdays and sending a little card. It’s holding back on our hurtful comments even though someone in the internet is wrong.

The Good Book puts it like this:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.

(1 Corinthians 13 The Message)

I hope that Moz and I remember to show love in the little ways this year. And I hope you do too.

The best way to pray

Stockings

What type of prayer is best?

There are so many possibilities. I’ve been in a couple of situations lately where one type of prayer has been insulted and another given as the ‘right kind’ so I thought I’d share my thoughts about prayer with you.

Christianity is a relationship with God the Father, through Christ the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Christ. And when we think about prayer, these titles are important.

Because what is prayer? It’s a conversation. It’s a way that we build relationship with God. It’s a two-way thing. Time spent.

When my children were babies I had an epiphany. You see, I would often pray as I fell asleep at night and I would feel guilty for falling asleep in the middle of conversation with God. But then, have you ever had a baby fall asleep while you were holding them? It is the best feeling. If you could bottle it, you could make millions. I realised that God the Father doesn’t mind if we are relaxed enough to fall asleep while talking to him. We are his children and he loves us more than I loved my little babies. My love for my children was just a poor reflection of his love for us.

So those prayers you pray when you don’t have the words, when you sigh and groan, or cry, or just smile and then fall asleep, those are good prayers. In fact, the scripture says that the Spirit prays for us when we don’t know what to pray for (Romans 8:26). So this is a good biblical way to pray.

How about the stream of consciousness prayers? You know, you’re walking along the street and you start lifting all of your day to Jesus. ‘Oh Jesus, I’m not sure how I’m going to get through the list of things today. Thank you for the sunshine. Annabelle really needs your help right now. Man, my legs are hurting from climbing this hill. Thank you for the exercise…’ and so on.

I was praying that way one day and I found myself saying, ‘I’m sorry Jesus, you probably don’t need to be bothered by my petty problems.’ And immediately the verse popped into my mind, ‘in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ (Phil 4:6) You see God wants us to be in constant contact with him through the days. Jesus loves to hear our every thought. Again, it’s a bit like having a toddler around. They just chat. When they’re really small they often chat in a language that you can’t understand. Is that a problem? No. We love their conversation, we love that our children want to be with us and communicating. It’s great. It’s biblical. It’s a good way to pray.

So how about those prayers you pray in public? Like when there’s an end of year function and you’ve been asked to pray on stage. So you carefully write down all you want to say in the prayer. You might even prayerfully write down what you want to pray. You are praying on behalf of others, after all, and you want the prayer to be right. Is this prayer as worthy as the prayer that spontaneously arises from the thanksgiving in your heart? Yes I think it is.

Again, if you think of children it becomes clear. Maybe they’ve written a poem, or rehearsed a piece, and they want to show it to you. At a school camp recently the grade 9 class sat around the campfire and made up a song of thanksgiving to their head of year teacher. Do you think he said, ‘Look thanks guys, but I’d feel like we had a stronger relationship if you just said the words off-the-cuff instead.’ No he didn’t. He loved it. He was raving about it days later. I think it will be a memory that stays in his heart for the rest of his life.

So yes, I believe God loves our prepared prayers. He loves the effort we put in to make it great both for him and for his children who are listening.

And then there are the prayers that are hundreds of years old.

I usually attend an Anglican church. In our service we sometimes pray prayers that come from the liturgy. The language has been changed a little to make them more accessible but the words have been said by millions of people over hundreds of years. ‘Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open’ ‘Father, we offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice’ ‘Eternal God and Father by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed’ and so on.

It’s true that we can put our minds into a holding pattern and just say the prayers on automatic but it doesn’t have to be that way. Sometimes the prayers written by others are a gateway into meditation. Sometimes the words are just the thing to jolt you out of yourself, to make you think on your life in a new way. Sometimes they are a reminder of just who God is. I think that God loves to hear us pray these kinds of prayers too.

It’s not just the church prayers. These prayers can be found in all kinds of prayer and devotion books. The Spirit prays for us when we don’t know what to pray, but I believe also that the Spirit has inspired some of these written prayers so that we can use the words of others when we don’t have words for ourselves. And after all, Jesus himself taught us to pray ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name’ (Matt 6:9, Luke 11:2). No, I believe that these prayers are also loved by God.

And then let’s go back to silence. To just sitting in God’s presence with no words at all. To listening to him and giving him space to speak to us if he wants to.  It’s a special kind of relationship that doesn’t need any words. Comfortable silence. What a joy to meet with God that way.

I don’t have room to write about the shouting prayers, the ‘why?’ prayers, the real connection with God in the ugly parts of life. I’m sure that he can cope with that too, he’s big enough to deal with our anger and sadness.

So however you pray, whatever words you use or don’t use, whether you are shut away in your prayer closet or on display for the whole church to see, I believe that God loves it all. There is no ‘one right way to pray’. As long as your heart is for connection with him, that’s all that matters.

I pray for you that you will connect with God in a special way this Christmas. That somewhere, whether it be saying grace for your Christmas dinner, or over a candle at the midnight service, or surrounded by screwed up wrapping paper in your lounge room, you will make a space to build relationship with the God of the universe who humbled himself as a baby and came to earth for us all those years ago.

Have a wonderful and very blessed Christmas. If you want to see more from me you can head to http://www.ruthamos.com.au and you can sign up there to receive this blog weekly. I look forward to sharing more with you in the new year.

A good and Godly man

Johns 70th BDay 2018 60 copy

My Dad is pretty wise. One of the things he’s wise about is this thing of saying nice things about people. Before they die.

We often wait until after people pass away to say what we think about them. We stand up at the funeral and we say how great the person was, and what a huge impact they had on our lives. And that’s great, a good way to remember them.

But what if we said these lovely things to them? Before they died. So that they could be encouraged too.

This Saturday we had the chance to do that for my Dad. It was his 70th birthday party so we all got together and said nice things about him, and I want to share my nice things with you.

My Dad has shown me what a real man, a good man, a Godly man is.

I’ve been thinking back through my memories.

I think my earliest is Dad cooking dinner for my brother Anthony and myself while Mum was in hospital with my younger sister. Scrambled eggs on toast with tomato sauce has a special place in my memory, as does sausages and toast. (His cooking skills have improved over time and I’d like to say that his roast dinner with apple pie for dessert was a highlight when my sister Catherine was visiting this year.)

I remember driving with Dad and listening to *gasp* rock music on 7HO FM, or more commonly AM or PM the ABC talk radio shows.

I remember making bricks out of wet newspaper in a special brick making machine. They were dried afterwards in the sun and were burned in our wood heater.

I remember going on a family biking holiday around Brunie Island and how Dad convinced Catherine that there was a bunyip in the dam over the fence. And another trip to Brunie where we fished off the pier and caught a squid.

I remember the laundry being turned into a photography dark room, black plastic on the windows, the smell of the photography chemicals, the wonder that was the enlarging machine.

I remember microphones being set up all around our lounge room as Dad prepared to record Mum’s music. And I remember being soundly told off for eating popping candy at a concert that Dad was recording. (Sorry Dad).

One of my greatest childhood memories is Dad reading to us. All kinds of books. He read the whole of The Lord of the Rings to us as a family. I tried that with my kids, it didn’t work, there was no chance they’d sit through it. But for me, Dad reading to our family, all of us sat up in their double bed, or maybe around a picnic in the park, these are some of my fondest memories.

Dad’s career path wasn’t straightforward. But when people tell me that I am so brave to quit uni and try something new, I know I’m just doing what was modelled for me by this brave man who quit his job as a telecom technician to work with addicts, then moved on to be the administrator of a children’s home, then joined Youth With A Mission, worked in a radio station, moved to the USA with Christian Performing Arts Fellowship, and came home to get ordained and work as a minister in a church. Sometimes the reason for the change was because Dad needed something new, sometimes it was to give Mum the chance to live her dreams. Each of them in the partnership was valued equally, each putting the others interests before their own. Dad and Mum have modelled a Godly marriage.

Recently Dad has battled with physical injuries from his fall when he was renovating, and with mental illness – years of deep depression. He is uncomplaining, he perseveres, he gets up every morning and gets on with it. And at the same time he is vulnerable, letting people in, telling them where he is at. Dad has shown me that you can be vulnerable and strong at the same time.

Dad’s love and care for those around him has sometimes been a detriment to his own health or energy but he doesn’t stop putting others first. He is a true servant leader. He has great skill in taking a mess of an organisation and sorting it out, looking after people first along the way. He is a diplomat and a pastor.

I am so very proud of my father. And so very grateful to God for putting me in this wonderful family. I hope that I can live up to his example, in my own way.

Thanks Dad for being you.

I hope you don’t mind this very personal blog post. Next week’s will be personal too 🙂 

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