Well, it’s over. My ‘year in God’s time’* is up, and we’ve been commissioned by Archbishop Justin (/Bob Geldof) to go and “feed the world”.
There’s so much I already want to say as I reflect on the last 10 months, and I’m certain that I’ll only go on to discover more of the significance of the experience in the months and even years ahead.
But I was glad to be given the chance, at our commissioning service to formally mark the end of the year, to sum up in three minutes what God has done in me over this time. And among all the thoughts and reflections that will be still to come, I wanted to share this first – my attempt at distilling the core of what I’ve experienced. It’s all very internal – I didn’t have time to detail any practical out-workings of what I said, though perhaps in future posts.
For now, and for my own record as much as anything, here is the testimony I shared at that event.
What God has done in my Year in God’s Time:
Testimony given at Community of St Anselm Commissioning Service,
The Great Hall, Lambeth Palace, 20 June 2016.
A year ago, most people I knew were asking me why on earth I was signing up to spend a year giving up my freedom, joining a community of people I’d never met, living by a rule of life I hadn’t chosen – and if you’d have asked me that question, I would have told you that I needed to have my character sorted out.
I’ve been a Christian for many years, and I’ve started to recognise the gifts and skills that God has given me to use in serving him. I’ve always been confident in what I can do for God. But I’ve never been happy about who I am. For a long time, I’ve believed there to be something broken, something wrong about my character, that would need sorting out, disciplining before I could really give myself to a lifetime of ministry. I saw myself as a servant of God, but an unruly servant; a child of God but a wayward child; a friend of God, but a flaky friend.
So I became part of the Community of St Anselm asking God to rein me in, to get me under control.
But what he’s actually done is to set me free, more liberated than I had ever imagined.
My experience this year has been one of growing in nearness to God. I thought we’d mostly spend our time looking at the various disciplines of the rule of life, confessing where we’d failed and urging one another to do better. But much more than that, we’ve spent time growing in intimacy with God, learning from Jesus, listening to the Holy Spirit.
And as we’ve done that, the first thing God did with me was to shatter that lie I believed. Powerfully, clearly and undeniably, he set me free from the belief that who I am is bad, and he spoke over me truth about who he says I am – that he’s made me, loves me, delights in me, and invites me to adventure with him, no qualifications, no buts.
This freedom from shame means that I can live in nearness to God, in each moment of each day. In the past I might have rolled my eyes at the sort of people who say, “God said to me”, but now it’s a part of my daily vocabulary – it turns out that if I’m ready to listen, God rarely stops speaking – in ideas that come to me in the shower, in gentle nudges in my conversations with others. From my work life to my relationships to my plans for the future, I don’t think there’s anything that hasn’t been transformed by living hour by hour, minute by minute in communion with God.
If I’ve found myself calmed down and seen my character grow, it’s because I’ve come to know the beautiful character of God better, and to see how he delights in sharing my life with me – how he laughs with me, how he comforts me, how he never says ‘I told you so’, how he loves to see me open every good gift he gives. There have been hugely difficult parts to this year, both inside and outside of community life – and even there, God has been showing me the opportunity to come near to the sufferings of Christ, to know his grief and pain as well as his joy.
I thought that what I needed to set me up for a life of ministry and service was a better character, more integrity, a life more tightly under control. What God has offered me, as I step out now to begin that life of ministry and service, is a new and growing nearness to him, being rooted and anchored in his unflinching love – and it’s a true freedom that I will spend the rest of my life being thankful for.
*While a day is like a thousand years to the Lord, a year in his time is in fact only 10 months.
To compare this testimony to what I wrote just before I started the year, see Why I’m becoming a part-time nun (sort of) – and note numbers 2 and 3 on the list in particular!