Into Our Locked Rooms He Comes

Moira Shanks shares with us something she wrote in response to a picture she had while reflecting on a recent passage in 24-7 Prayer’s Lectio 365 daily devotional app. In it, Jesus meets the disciples in a locked room.
We think you will be encouraged by Moira’s writing as much as we have been.

Where no one else can come,
Even our closest friends and family
Kept at a safe and isolating distance,
Where we are locked down, locked in by fear,
The fear of this virus,
The fear of living in uncertain, changing times.
Into our lockdown,
Lord, you come.

You come into our lockdown,
As you came to your disciples,
Locked in for fear of the authorities,
Living in uncertain, changing times.
You came to them,
Where they were,
Into their locked room,
Into the midst of their fears.

Lord, you stand with us in our lockdown,
And, in your unchanging mercy
You offer now, as you offered then,
Your presence, your peace
In the midst of fears,
Renewed hope,
Restored joy,
Recalibrated purpose.

Come, Lord Jesus,
Reveal yourself in locked down rooms,
To locked down hearts.
In every corner of your world,
Breathe
Your
Life.

Moira lives and works as an EAL teacher in North Ayrshire. She is married to Gordon, part of a pretty amazing family and passionate about worship, creative communication and good coffee!

Staring Fear in the Face Part Three : Fixing Your Feet

This is the third and final part of our series on ‘Staring Fear in the Face’ where Hannah shares some wisdom gleaned from her own journey through fear and anxiety.

Fix your feet

By which I just mean, find some solid ground. Sure, a lot of things have changed. The ground beneath our feet is in many ways shaking. Some days it feels like there will be a world pre-corona and post-corona. But there are things you can still do to ground your feet, to sustain your soul. Work out what those things are. Dealing with fear and anxiety is a marathon, not a sprint. Invest in some good training practices now and they will pay off. Here are mine, for what it’s worth.

Breathe. Breathing has become something of a spiritual discipline for me. I try and practice this everyday. I basically try and slow my breathing down. Physiologically it makes sense as you’re trying to increase the oxygen in your body to take you out of a state of adrenalin and panic. You can find this technique here. The game changer for me has been combining this breathing with prayer. Very simply, as I breath in, I say ‘Abba‘ (which means ‘Daddy/Father’ in Aramaic, the words Jesus would have used) and then on the breath out, I say ‘I belong to you‘. I find it helps me be aware of God’s presence with me in the panic, like I’m speaking it over my body and spirit. **

Talk. Find somebody you can trust who will listen to you. Talk to them, out loud. Sometimes we can only access our pain (that lies underneath our fear) when we have a witness to it. Ask them just to sit and listen, not to ‘fix’ whatever you share, or rationalise it immediately (you can do that together afterwards.) If you don’t feel comfortable doing that with a person, try talking out loud to a chair, or writing a letter.

Thank. I continue to be surprised by how much an attitude of gratitude can change my day. It’s such a basic spiritual lesson you’d think I would have it nailed by now! But again and again I find myself coming up short, empty of appreciation, thinking only of what I don’t have. The witness of scripture shows us that God is a good God. He is! Covid-19 has not changed that. So we can still thank Him, we can still worship Him, we can still thank him for the mercies in our lives. So today, how could you celebrate the life you do have? Could you list the things you love, or you’re grateful for today? Emotionally healthy spirituality means that we can embrace both being ‘sorrowful yet always rejoicing’ at the same time (2 Cor 6.10). It is not just ok – it is right – that we do both.

Focus. Put your energy into the things you can be responsible for. All the helpful stuff you’ll already know about having a routine, doing exercise, finding time to do something that brings you life every day, putting clear boundaries around your consumption of the news and social media… This stuff can make a big difference. Take a look at your day and make a plan.

Try again. A while back, a lovely friend sent me a card. It said this: ‘Some days I amaze myself. Other days, I put my car keys in the fridge.’ After the eye roll and initial chuckle, I placed it on the shelf. I didn’t need the reassurance that day. But a week later when I, for various reasons, had a wobble, the card caught my eye again. ‘A fridge day,‘ I thought. That’s ok. Tomorrow is a new day.

Have a little grace for yourself. This is perhaps the most life-altering global circumstance you have seen in your lifetime. Some days you’ll amaze yourself. Other days, you’ll put your keys in the fridge. Fix your feet. I reckon that Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends, had a lot of fridge days. He went on to be a founding apostle for thousands of churches. He messed it up, he got stuff wrong, but God’s grace was sufficient for him – even in the middle of his fear. And so, I think, with you.

Feel your fear. Find your faith. Fix your feet.
And may God’s peace be with you.

Hannah Montgomery is wife to Tom, mother to Charlie and Grace, mentor, friend, leader… But most importantly, she is a woman who seeks to know personally the deep heart of God. Her pilgrimage into that deep heart of God has not always been easy, but along the way she has discovered some beautiful truths that provide nourishment to others on their journeys.

** If you would like to learn more about how to combine breathing and prayer, check out the ‘Toolshed’ at prayercourse.org and look for ‘Breath Prayer’.

Staring Fear in the Face Part Two : Finding Faith

In the second part of this series ‘Staring Fear in the Face’, Hannah shares wisdom gleaned from her own journey through fear.

Find your faith

Wherever fear has found us – however corona has come crumbling into your life and schedule – faith is still findable. I don’t know where you’re at with faith right now, reading this. Maybe you’ve been really close to Jesus the last few months, and a daily intake of scripture, worship and prayer is feeding your soul so that you’re already in tip top condition, ready to go. Or maybe that’s really not you – maybe you’re utterly disappointed with the church but this crisis has left you asking questions and you’ve found yourself here in this blog wondering if faith could have any relevance for you again. I don’t think fear really cares where your faith is, actually. Fear can rush in like an avalanche and leave even the strongest person shaking. But God is not perturbed by shaking. The wonderful thing about faith – whether we think we have a lot, none at all, or just a smidgen of something that might resemble a squished and rather sceptical gnat – is that faith is no respecter of circumstance. Faith is God’s gift to us regardless of circumstance, despite circumstance. It’s on Him, not on us. And I say that because I can testify that in my deepest, darkest points of fear, there has been no place so deep and dark that God was not underneath it all already, present and at work. ‘Underneath are the everlasting arms.’ Faith in a moment of fear is very much about what He does and not what we do. It’s His word to us, his stooping to wrap arms of loving kindness around us.

As I wrote this piece, I was sat waiting for a zoom call from a dear friend. (Who knew it would take a pandemic to fill our social calendars so full!) This friend then texted me to apologise she wasn’t going to make it to the call. Her two year old was having a hard time accepting the inevitability of bedtime that evening and she was therefore “sat in a dark room holding a tiny hand.” What a beautiful picture of the Father’s love for us. He’s the Dad who takes us by the hand, comes close to us in the dark, and sits with us till we sleep. Daybreak will come again; we can trust Him.

I guess what I’m really saying here in ‘find your faith’ is quite simply – let Christ find you. He’s already there, already present, already with you. We can trust Him. There is a peace beyond fear, in the midst of fear, that only He can give us. So why don’t you just talk to him? Ask him to help you. Begin to share with him how you feel, what’s bothering you. Invite him into your home, like you would a good mate. You are not alone in your fear. He’s sat in the dark with you.

And if you’ve been walking this Jesus thing for a long time, how about asking Holy Spirit for the spiritual gift of faith? I have not known a better time in my lifetime for the church to eagerly desire and move in this spiritual gift. Who wants the ability to see with the eyes of God the opportunities and landscape before us? I do.

Hannah Montgomery is wife to Tom, mother to Charlie and Grace, mentor, friend, leader… But most importantly, she is a woman who seeks to know personally the deep heart of God. Her pilgrimage into that deep heart of God has not always been easy, but along the way she has discovered some beautiful truths that provide nourishment to others on their journeys.

Staring Fear in the Face: Part One

Hannah Montgomery shares from her own journey with fear some keys to not being overcome by it. This will be a three part series, with one post this week and two posts next week.
We hope you find it as helpful as we did!

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry has a ‘regroup’ moment with his friend Professor Lupin. Trying to get to the bottom of why a particular magical creature always turned into a ‘dementor’ for him, Lupin suggests this might be because ‘what you fear most of all, is fear itself.’ And then he adds – ‘This is very wise.

I’ve thought about it a bit, and I reckon in most part, I agree. Wisdom from JK Rowling actually peppers itself through all the series. The truth is that fear is a formidable opponent. It can squash even the strongest, fiercest, most resilient individual. Nobody is beyond its reach. And if we have not already, many of us will make acquaintance with fear in these days. Fear is a human condition, a normal physiological response to threat. The fact you have a ‘fear’ based emotional response shows that you’re actually engaging with rather than burying the reality of the situation we face.

But left unchecked – allowed to wander and multiply, mutate and move into our neighbourhood – fear will take over. Fear will dictate our decisions, our relationships, our future. Fear will not lead us to good places. This is what Lupin foresaw. And fundamentally important to this article – I think Jesus foresaw it first. Possibly this is why ‘do not fear’ occurs as a phrase in the Bible 365 times – more than any other command.

Many of us will make acquaintance with fear in these days. But we do not need to befriend it. ‘Do not fear’ does not have to be a hard to follow command that offers no help in your hour of need. Allow me to level with you – these are a few of my hard-won gleanings from some of my own grapples with fear.

Feel your fear
That anxious knot churning in your stomach. The slightly nauseous throat. The lack of moisture in your mouth. The thumping in your chest. It’s easy (oh believe me I know it!) to be swept up by our physical response to fear, conscious or unconscious. But we need to move from physically feeling our fear to really feeling our fear.

If you’re more of a thinking type than a feeling person… stick with me here. There is good science behind this. Firstly, accept that this is how you’re feeling. Fear is a normal and natural response to what is happening in the world right now.

Secondly, we need to learn to ‘feel’ our way all the way down to the pain that fear so often sits on top of. What I mean is – try to talk it out. Verbalise your fear. De-root it, pull it up, examine it for what it really is. What are you afraid of? Why? What other pains does that fear pull up with it? What memories does it bring up? The pain needs to be felt, to be heard, to be listened to – and then it will quieten down. (It’s ok to cry.)

I really rate Pete Scazzero and his ministry Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. He has talked for years about our need to recover a more healthy theology of grief and loss in the church. We need to relearn that Jesus was a man just like us who suffered and knew pain, and this wasn’t an embarrassment to him – he embraced his vulnerability and fear before the Father as a model for us to follow after.

This pandemic is a big loss – we don’t have to have lost somebody to the virus to be experiencing loss. The truth is you still have lost your basic concept of freedom, your ability to walk down the street carefree and unconsciously present. Many of us have lost jobs, or the ability to do our jobs the way we normally would. Finances. Stability. We’ve lost our normal state of connection, our ability to hug, to reach out and touch a friend, to physically respond to other people’s needs and pains and joys. We’ve lost what we thought we had but actually never did – control. We are so clearly not in control. (We never were, but we like to live with this illusion in the west. I think that some of our most painful realisation in this pandemic will be how vulnerable we truly are.)

Losses need grieving. Grieving takes time, and guts, and courage. Feel your fear – feel it all the way down because only when you’ve done that have you really grieved what you’ve lost and are losing. Don’t be afraid to stare fear in the face, it’s the only way through. We’ve been pretty good as a culture at papering over the loss, putting on the brave face, putting our heads into the metaphorical sand – you pick your image. This isn’t what we see Jesus do in the gospels. He felt his emotions, he lived his story, he loved people deeply and so he therefore felt pain. The pain served a purpose – it led him to a cross, a grave, and ultimately out again. Don’t be afraid to walk with him into the crucifixion. Resurrection always happens afterwards.

My one caveat here is that there are points when it’s not a good idea to feel your fear. Believe me when I tell you that trying to turn off my inner catastrophising is far easier at midday than midnight. There is something that happens for me about the hours of 9pm where my rational thinking takes a vacation till daylight breaks again the next morning. So as much as you can, (and I know it’s not always that easy), avoid letting your brain go off down horrendous rabbit holes after dark. Wait until the morning to seriously consider and work through the fear or worry that your brain has just conceived.

Hannah Montgomery is wife to Tom, mother to Charlie and Grace, mentor, friend, leader… But most importantly, she is a woman who seeks to know personally the deep heart of God. Her pilgrimage into that deep heart of God has not always been easy, but along the way she has discovered some beautiful truths that provide nourishment to others on their journeys.