Category Archives: Article

Fruits of the Spirit

When the deadlines were sent for submitting my two articles to New Christian Woman this year, I was pleased to see the date for this one was just after the Gathering Leaves women’s retreat to be held at Purley Chase in the UK. I had booked to attend, and thought this article would be a perfect chance to reflect on that weekend and its theme: Fruits of the spirit.

Then Covid-19 began its rapid takeover of the world. At the end of May, Gathering Leaves was postponed until August 2021. My clever plan to write up that retreat was thwarted.

Yet now, three months later, I realize that since March I have been witnessing firsthand the fruits of the spirit mentioned on the Gathering Leaves webpage (except perhaps ‘joy’ and ‘peace’). Here’s the list: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

The ‘fruits’ most visible in the village where I live have been love, kindness, goodness, gentleness. Foodbanks have been set up to tactfully help anyone struggling. People have been getting groceries and collecting medical prescriptions for neighbours and anyone self-isolating.  A dad and his two young children grew extra vegetable seedlings and put them outside their property for anyone to take. On our permitted daily exercise, strangers as well as friends have struck up friendly conversations (usually from opposite sides of the lane). For a couple of months, folk stood outside their doors clapping appreciation for the National Health Service once a week; right after the first time, a young singer stood before a microphone in her front garden singing an aria that drifted through the warm night to much of the village. One woman has made over 1,000 facemasks and given them away, hanging them on a string against her front fence. Similar things have been happening throughout the UK (and the world). People have been hungry for human connection.

And actually, huge numbers of people have discovered a newfound balm for their souls – joy and peace outside, in ‘nature’. The spring here was astonishingly beautiful, sunny and warm. Every day brought new growth and blossom. There was peacefulness even in the heart of big cities because streets had virtually no traffic for weeks. The night skies were starlit and calming. The orderly processes of creation became clear. There was time to just sit and look.

For many, though, this has been a horrendous time. For some, patience, gentleness and self-control are hard to come by. Often, I can understand why. 

I am counting my blessings more often than I usually do – including the current good health of my immediate family. That could change at any time; if it does, I hope I can hold tight to the positive ‘fruits of the spirit’ that have been so exemplified in the community around me.

‘God loves each and every human being. He cannot benefit them directly, but only indirectly by means of other people. He therefore breathes into people His love.’  True Christianity 457

The Lord Provides!

News flash: the Lord provides everything we need for us! Ok, given the aim of this blog and the likely audience reading this article, that probably isn’t news to you. (How blessed are we to already have this notion in our consciousness!)

Having grown up in the New Church, I’ve known this concept – intellectually – for much of my 45 years; it’s only within the last few, though, that I’ve paused to reflect on it, let it sink in a bit, and really see it in action in my life. I’ve been astonished by how things just work out! For example, I enjoy cooking and spend a fair bit of time in the kitchen, which probably explains why I’ve noticed a fair number of provisions there:
– I needed 1/4 cup of flour: there was exactly 1/4 cup left in the jar!
– I needed 1 1/2 cups of evaporated milk: between the frozen 1/3ish cup in one can + what’s left in the other = 1 1/2 cups!
– I needed at least 3 cups of cauliflower rice: the riced stub of cauliflower left in my produce drawer = a generous 3 cups!

These are very material, natural examples of how the Lord has provided for me; I can only imagine how He is wonderfully providing for my spirit. Seeing these tangible examples, though, encourages me that, hey, if He’s providing for these little things, presumably – hopefully! – He’s providing for the bigger, more important ones, too. (Maybe these little obvious ones are His way of pointing them out to me, to draw my attention to the fact that He really does provide all things?)

It’s easy to get bogged down in worldly things, especially in these weird times we’re experiencing in our world today. The Lord tells us repeatedly in His Word that we need not worry so long as we do His will and trust in Him. Whenever we’re in doubt, let us be encouraged by His words to us!

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-end)

“When the Lord is with someone He leads him and makes provision so that all that happens, whether sad or joyful, may bring him what is good. This is Divine Providence.” (Arcana Cœlestia 6303)

(These are but a couple such instances; if you want to read more about it, I suggest you check out Arcana Cœlestia 8478 for an explanation of this quote from Matthew; Arcana Cœlestia 8455 and Divine Providence 179 are great, too!)

I’ll leave you with this psalm, rejoicing in the Lord. Let us all remember that He is looking out for us, every moment of every day – let us rejoice in Him and His loving providence!

“I will exalt You, my God the King; I will praise Your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise You and extol Your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends Your works to another; they tell of Your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty—and I will meditate on Your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of Your awesome works—and I will proclaim Your great deeds.
They celebrate Your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. 
The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.
All Your works praise You, Lord; Your faithful people extol You.
They tell of the glory of Your kingdom and speak of Your might,
so that all people may know of Your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures through all generations. 
The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does.
The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time.
You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all His ways and faithful in all He does.
The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.
He fulfils the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.
My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise His holy name for ever and ever.”
(Psalm 145)

Mothering Given in Faith

During this lockdown time I have been spending a lot of time with my kids.  A LOT.  Schools closed in South Africa in late March, and since then my kids have only left the house for walks and hikes and the rare drive.  Schools re-opened, but we decided to homeschool for the time being as the shuffling and juggling and necessary changing of plans and approaches by the school was too much for me.  But because of this I have been the main adult my kids have seen, and huge majority of their non-sibling interactions each day are with me.  

Since my oldest was born I’ve been a full time mom.  So in many ways this isn’t a new level of involvement.  But this time has opened my eyes to so many new things about what it means to be a mom, and what my role is in the lives of these developing humans.

Under normal circumstances there are many people they encounter and interact with who fill up their sense of self.  Excitement to share their ideas and experiences can normally be spread out to many and new people, rather than just recounted back to the people who were there when it happened.  Their ideas about what is fun to do, talk about, new inspiration for what to play with and how – all of that has been limited to our immediate family for 6 months.  And it has made me confront the ways that I speak to them, what I feedback to them about what they say to me, and the ways I respond particularly to their struggles and upset.  

I used to think that my role as a parent was to correct.  If they said something mean, if they made a mess on purpose (e.g. dumping a cup of water), if they whined non-stop when they were hungry – it was my job to tell them that wasn’t how they were “supposed” to behave. What ended up was a feeling for them of being constantly told what not to do.  Not a very cheerful atmosphere. Not enough loving interactions.

Practically I was also missing the appropriate mental boundaries. I felt that if they were upset because they were hungry, it was clearly my fault and failure, and I took their whining then as a personal attack, which needed defending against. I WISHED I could have managed every person’s every need and met them all perfectly, thus any comment on their part highlighting my failure drew up a defensive and hard response in me.

But through therapy, reading, learning, and conversations with other wise women my reactions and defences have shifted.  It’s been a process of years – I’m sure partially because what it looks like changes constantly as my kids get older.  It has become much clearer that my role as a warm, soft mother is not to discipline their whining out of them;  it is NOT to be the “perfect” mother who puts aside all my needs in order to perfectly meet everyone else’s every need first; and it isn’t to get defensive when my kids are having a hard time. My role CAN be to reach out and hold my kids, to love them and pour warmth and grace over them.  So often their behaviour, and realistically even all us adults’ behaviour, is not about intentionally making things hard for someone else, it’s about the fact that they cannot cope in that moment.  “My daughter is not giving me a hard time, she is having a hard time.” I came across this quote years ago, and it is such a centring mantra at times.  This article I think may be the source of the quote and expresses the ideas around it beautifully.

These wells of warmth and love can seem to run out.  I can be on my last bits of energy and care and self composure (especially given the isolation we’re dealing with now!) and lose it with my kids and again be stuck feeling like a failure.  I read an article a few weeks ago – and I feel like it deserves it’s own whole response article, but for today this part stands out:

“Think about the feeding of the five thousand when the disciples went out and rounded up the food that was available. It wasn’t much. Some loaves. Some fish. Think of some woman pulling her fish out and handing it to one of the disciples. That had to have felt like a small offering. But the important thing about those loaves and those fish was not how big they were when they were given; it was about whose hands they were given into. In the hands of the Lord, that offering was sufficient. It was more than sufficient. There were leftovers. Given in faith, even a small offering becomes great.” (Rachel Jankovic “Motherhood as a Mission Field”)

God can take the little everyday efforts to change how I respond to my kids in their meanest, most selfish and whiney moments, and make it sufficient to change the day and our family culture, little by little.  My small offerings can be made into enough.  I can turn to prayer, to Bible quotes that reassure me, to deep meaningful concepts about what a mother can be that I feel because of my religion, to the many times that Jesus took the high road and offered love and care in response to selfishness and ugliness.  And that can fill me up to be able to turn back to my kids warmly pouring out that same grace back to them.

They can hand (or throw at) me a big whiney pile of upset impatience, and I can say, here, let me help you hold that.  It’s looking too big and too hard for you right now.

But it doesn’t have to make me hard and defensive.  This article also well describes my similar experience and progression of understanding.

 I can keep my boundaries up in the right places as I help them figure out their own better, softer, more loving ways to respond when they are feeling terrible.

In this time of isolation and mostly online interactions I’ve been thinking a lot about community.  I’ve been pondering often about the role of the church community, and what it is to be “the mother” on a church level.  If we, the church, are supposed to mother the world around us, what are the ways we can reach out to the people we see and say, “It looks like you’re carrying a lot, how can I help you hold that?”

While We Wait

I recently saw a media post about “seasons of waiting.” It got me thinking about the idea that “good things come to those who wait,” and how often I find myself waiting. 

It feels especially relevant to me lately, having just started working again after four months of social distancing. Life while work was shut down at first felt like a waiting game as I looked ahead to seeing my preschoolers again and getting back to serving my use. Waiting through the uncertainty and change brought on by Covid-19 seems to suit the topic of waiting particularly well, but I think we do a lot of waiting for other things too. For career goals to take off, for hardships to pass, for future phases of life, for peace, for time, for Christmas, for the weekend.

Waiting is a normal part of life. It’s great to value and look forward to things, and to have things we’re working for or toward. In fact, waiting that looks ahead and motivates work or patience is certainly useful. Therefore, it seems quite natural to pair the idea of waiting with the idea of patience. However, it seems that waiting patiently can sneakily and subtly turn into inaction as well. I’ve found that I’m perfectly capable of waiting lazily or selfishly, and that waiting on its own really isn’t as admirable as it can sometimes feel!

I’m not suggesting that waiting is inherently a bad thing, but it seems we’ll never find ourselves without something to wait for. There is a line that I keep finding I’ve crossed – a phase of the waiting mindset that forgets that I have important things to do now; that the Lord is calling me to action now. If a season of waiting isn’t also a season of working, we might be missing something. Perhaps, as we look forward to things, we could replace “wait” with “work.” We’ll never be without something to work for or toward. 

Something that motivates me to live more presently instead of slipping into more passive waiting is a fear of not properly valuing the things I wait for when I do have them. I remember when the job and overall life I have now would have seemed like a dream come true. Years later, I forget that I waited for this, too aware of the next things I wait for. Am I short changing myself by not fully appreciating it when I get what I have been waiting for? Do I take full advantage of my time when I reach the weekend? Do I appreciate clarity and peace of mind when I have it as much as do when I’m waiting for it? Do I love my job now as much as I missed it before? 

It seems like a waste of opportunity to be looking ahead too much. Yes, one day maybe quarantine will end; one day maybe I’ll have the family I hope for; one day certain flaws might get easier to fight; one day it will be Christmas, or the weekend. Then what? I’ll find myself waiting for new things. That’s natural as our lives change, but not a reason to take what we have for granted. If I’m not fulfilled and grateful for now, how will I know how to be fulfilled and grateful then? How can I fully deserve, be useful in, and even come to truly recognize a new good thing if I become too accustomed to a waiting mindset that pulls my heart away from my current uses? It’s okay to wait. But I think we get where we’re going if we stay present in our worlds as we move towards those things. The best way to wait is to do so while we learn to love what we have, and turn our attention to what the Lord is offering us right now.

Living more presently and gratefully even in phases of waiting has been a theme I’ve come back to a lot this year. By living presently and gratefully I can learn to better appreciate the good in the waiting phases themselves, instead of focusing so much on future hopes that I miss the paths right in front of me. While waiting through quarantine I challenged myself to find the opportunities and uses the Lord was handing me throughout. Looking back, I’m convinced that much of His leading moved me forward, making me more prepared than before to give my all and embrace finally having what I was waiting for.

“It is also a law of order that a person should love God with all his soul and all his heart, and his neighbour as himself, and not hang back waiting for God instantaneously to place either love in his mind and heart, like bread from the baker’s in the mouth.” True Christian Religion 71