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I have always been encouraged to live with Jesus from an early age and was given a great example by my parents. Throughout my life I suppose there have been times when I have had a closer relationship with Jesus and times when I have allowed myself to be distracted by other things and drifted away. I believe our relationship with God is a journey and there is always something new to see and learn as we travel with Him. I know some people experience exciting and earth-shattering conversion moments on their journeys, like Paul on the road to Damascus, but I cannot say that has ever happened to me, my journey has been steady and one that has gradually become deeper and more meaningful from my start on it as a young child, though I have certainly encountered times when I have felt direct contact with God.
Before I retired four years ago I was a Head Teacher in a small Church of England primary school and feel I did a good job then in inspiring pupils and their parents to know Jesus better and was very lucky to work with staff who were good Christians, who made my own journey with Christ much easier. I also had great relationships with the local church and clergy, particularly Tony Tucker.
However it is since retiring that I have walked even closer with Jesus. Perhaps it’s having a slower pace of life and more time to be still, something I have reflected on more and more during the enforced lockdown and general restrictions we have all been facing for the last year and a half. It seems to me that God has been working steadily in my life since retirement and has brought various elements together to hold me in the wonderful place I now find myself in.
Firstly I took up running just over two years ago, not something I had done before and now I am running longer distances (averaging about 10km each run three times a week) I have plenty of time for prayer, inspired initially by appreciating God’s beautiful and varied creation in the countryside I was passing through. This then led to realising how useful this time was for praying and listening to God and remembering that Jesus often took himself off to be alone and pray. Recently the importance of meeting God in His creation has been confirmed by reading The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr as recommended by Rev Lou.
The importance of prayer was then reiterated for me during the weekend Cursillo course which I experienced in May 2019. This also inspired me to do a daily scripture reading programme and these two aspects combined to add a formal structure and time each day for me to draw closer and spend more time with God.
This was all developing quite well, when the vicar asked if I would lead our Advent Course, which was centred around prayer, again fitting in with the overall theme of prayer being important. It was whilst planning these sessions and during the weekly discussions that I realised the significance of making time to be still and open and simply listening to God and that He does respond to our prayers, but not always in the way we might expect or indeed want. Louise also encouraged to me to give some talks in services on the weekly readings and these also sharpened my insight into being with Jesus and being like him as a true disciple as I reflected more deeply on the scriptures.
I said earlier that I believed God had inspired several elements all working separately but coming together to bring me closer to Jesus and in understanding the benefit this brings to one’s life. Another element of this came in the form of the Real LIFE course run over 30 weeks during the academic year 2019/20 by Southwell and Nottingham Diocese.
The course centred around Discipleship and was based on the teaching and examples of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel Ch 9 and dealt with 10 core qualities:
Following Sent Announcing Giving Suffering Healing Transforming Welcoming Changing Deciding
Each term took the same 10 themes but went deeper into the theology each time it was revisited. The talks by three different presenters were all interesting and challenging (some more than others!). Following the talks we discussed them, and questions were posed to us. These took place in groups and I was very grateful for the group I chose to sit with on the first week (we were encouraged to stay with the same group throughout the course) as, although from different church backgrounds, genders and ages, we soon formed trusting friendships where we felt comfortable with each other and able to discuss openly the different topics and questions we were set. It was beneficial having these discussions and hearing different views and experiences.
I have learnt that it is not always easy to be a real follower of Jesus and we certainly cannot do it alone, but only by the grace and power of God. We need to take time in prayer and receive the Holy Spirit to help change us so that we can achieve the three goals of real discipleship
1. Be with Jesus
2. Become like Jesus
3. Do what Jesus did
I think the final element linking my closer journey with Jesus has been the lockdowns due to the Coronavirus pandemic (you see it has had some positive effect!) It has helped me find even more time for prayer and study of the scriptures and contemplation of how I can have a Real LIFE with Jesus. It has also given us time to reassess our lives in general and to look for new ways of doing things and not just to carry on with lives in the ways they were just because that is the way it is always done and so it’s exciting to think differently. Obviously one negative drawback of the current situation is having to be socially distant from others and therefore having less opportunity to develop other disciples, though I have contributed to online resources, services and reflections for our benefice. I know that my quiet example of studying and praying in a more structured manner has been noticed by family and those close to me, though I have not, as yet, discussed this in any detail with them.
I know what I have said has not been dramatic in any way and probably I have only just caught up with a more formal and structured routine of praying and reading scripture that many of you have been doing for a long time, but for me this making time and communicating and listening to God is, with the help of the Holy Spirit, transforming me into having an even closer relationship with Him and making me a better disciple. As with anything that has true value and lasts well, it has firm foundations and I realise that is what God has been encouraging me to do, build up a firm, deep and long-lasting relationship with Him.
During Lent this last year I read even more widely and was particularly encouraged in a reflection by Cardinal Basil Hume which resonated with me. He was saying: “Some people spend a lot of time looking back on their lives, others spend time daydreaming about the future, but the important moment is “now”. In any present moment we can meet God, just think about Him and send a quick message up to Him. It may be a fleeting thought or a spoken word. For instance I can just say “I’m trying to love you” or “please help me” or “I’m sorry about this or that”. The present moment is always precious. I find that very reassuring and although my journey so far has obviously shaped me and my faith and what is yet to come will be important, it is vital that I recognise the now and enjoy it for what it is and what I am and what I’m doing in this moment.
So whilst being grateful for my past journey of faith and how this has shaped me today and how I can enjoy my present relationship with God, I am also excited about the next stage of my journey when I start a two-year course this September in Licensed Lay Ministry. I have felt called to this for some time, but now acknowledge that I can resist it no longer and that this is where my journey is now heading.
I’d like to finish with a prayer from the Little Book of Lent:
Thank you for your presence with me;
For your guidance and encouragement in the past.
Thank you for taking me into the future,
Unknown and uncertain.
But above all,
Thank you for being with me now,
Today at this present moment,
When we can meet together-
For this is heaven on earth.