Silence is something I treasure, especially now that I am a mum of three little ones. Silence lets me attend to my soul, to the world around me, to the mysterious workings of God. Being silenced is another matter altogether and I realised that was exactly what was happening to me this week. Not the best week for it to happen when one is preparing to preach twice on Sunday for the first time in a while.
But in the silence of my evening strolls walking our youngest to sleep I have had time to see how God is at work in a painful reawakening of a season of my life through a quick comment made in all innocence on facebook with no awareness of the writer (a friend) to the very different words I would have used to describe the situation he was describing.
There are not many things I am more passionate about than the faithful teaching of God’s incredible living word and as I began to perpare for this coming Sunday on the passage of Matthew 20:1-16 I prayed as I do in preparation of teaching that God would first make His word alive and real in my heart before I share it. And He did, as I considered the question that is at then end of the parable where the landowner asks the grumbling workers if they are envious because he is generous. We were in the process of wondering where we would live and I had a deep longing to move but God was at work and we are staying in our home for the next year while we draw breathe and I can honestly say I am at peace with it. Mark might be getting slightly concerned at this level of peace and its implications for our bank balance as I appear home every so often with something new from our wonderful charity shop in the village to make it fill more like home and have plans for the garden. And once I came to this place of peace I thanked God that he had answered my prayer even if I had wrestled with him in the process wondering at times when I saw the way things were going to work out why I had offered that prayer at all and made mental notes not to in future.
But God was not done with bringing his word alive in my soul, but this week it has taken on a whole new level. I had enjoyed preparing the passage and was feeling confident about the way the sermons (same passage but two very different styled services with two different time allocations for preaching) were coming together. Then on Monday I read the aforementioned friend’s facebook comment and it immediately unsettled me and stirred up many painful memories. I tried to bat it off, it was not a comment directed at me in any way, it was simply a passing statement but their experience and mine of the same place are poles apart and the silencing came back in torrents as there was no way to respond. I also have found myself battling with my sermon preparation feeling the silence creeping into that two. That preaching was not something I could do, which has been in contradition to many other voices in my life but they too have been silenced.
Matthew 20, the parable of the workers in the vineyard speakings about God’s generous and lavish grace which he distrubutes as he chooses and the challenge to us to celebrate with others rather than begrudge them God’s blessing. But this week as I have continued to sit with this passage I have been struck by the need to trust in the goodness of God, in order to celebrate his grace, which Jesus speaks to in the proceeding passage when speaking to the rich young man who is trying to do good acts and Jesus reminds him that there is only One who is good, not because God does good things but because it is who he is.
God has been drawing me into that truth this week as I have found myself back through memories in a season of my life I would rather not remember. God has been asking me to trust that he is good alongside the reality of what took place within his church and what was supposedly done in his name and for the gospel. What happend was the work of church leaders not God. God was and is good, those men like me mess up, get things seriously wrong, need the cross, need forgiveness and need his grace. That is where the parable in Matthew 20 takes me after the statement Jesus makes to the rich young man that there is only One who is good. I need to let God be at work in those men too redeeming their stories and extending them grace.
God has been asking me to trust him and his goodness in all this this week. That has not been easy and will not be sorted and dealt with over night but healing can come for all of us if we enter into silence rather than being silenced. And God is not asking me to sort it out over night thankfully. And as I think about it God was planting the seed for this work a few weeks back when a friend on hearing my story said that I was not responsible for the way things happened. Others have said it in the past but I think this was a seed sown for this work as it has got in under my skin. Church and I have never got along well and there have been more tearing apart as I have left. I felt those times must have been my fault as I was the common denominator but Mark and this friend would not accept that as my response. The actions of others is not my responsibility and in the moments my response to walk was always the right one. Remaining in a place of harm is not an option, sadly I found myself there more times than I care, thankfully only once to the extremes I journeyed through in one church. Wrestling with passages like the one I am preaching this weekend is my responsibility and listening to God as he works His word out first also is and responding to his word is.
I would rather that spiritual abuse was not part of my journey, a litter of agonising church endings is not something I take delight in as I look back over my past. But spiritual abuse is part of my story, one that has been silenced but I am not alone and I want to be a voice for those who are still being silenced. It has taken me more than 10 years to reach this place where I can separate the actions of church leaders from the nature of the One who is good.
ps; to the church leaders I have known who are being faithful servants sorry for the mistrust I have had. It has never been my intention to mistrust or question or doubt but those of us who walk this road can often do little else if we are going to enter the doors of church at all. We come with our mistrust or we don’t come at all.