Mags Duggan, author of the best-selling 'God Among the Ruins' and the soon to be published 'A Better Song to Sing' muses on what she's achieved during lockdown
‘I’ve completed the first module of a counselling course during this lockdown time.’… ‘I’ve lost 21 lbs since the lockdown began.’… ‘I’ve discovered that I love cooking Japanese food! I can’t believe it took a lockdown to introduce me to this style of cooking.’
These are just three examples of the many accomplishments shared with me recently by different friends who have lived through exactly the same number of days in lockdown as I have.
In contrast… I have completed the first three seasons of ‘Spooks’ on BBC iPlayer (Brilliant!)… I have gained back the 3lbs I lost after Christmas… and I have discovered that left-over chilli, steamingly nestled in Aunt Bessie’s mini Yorkshire puddings is not just food; this is… a gloriously tasty dish. Who knew?!
Over a breakfast of coffee and toasted fruit bread a couple of weeks ago, I shared with the Lord these contrasting ‘accomplishments’ and my thoughts and feelings about them.
The conversation went something like this…
‘I feel like a failure Lord… when I look at all that my friends have accomplished, I’m wondering whether I’ve wasted these Covid days; whether I could have accomplished more than clearing out the wardrobe in the back bedroom and sorting out the garage so that I can actually see the floor again? You already know that the new Rule of Life I set for myself lasted less than a week – and I’m not sure why. All I know is that on Monday it looked amazing, but by the time Saturday arrived it just looked ridiculously pious and over ambitious. And Lord, I feel so tired and I don’t really know why. And I feel ashamed for being so weak. And guilty. And a failure and…’
In Psalm 62:8 David encourages us to pour out our hearts to the Lord because he is a safe place for us. Over many years of walking with Jesus I have known him as the safest place for the outpouring of whatever is in my heart, and these Covid-riven days have been no different. Every day, in the quiet of the early morning hours, I have brought my heart to him, and I have poured out to him the contents of that heart without reservation and until there is nothing left to say. And then, after it’s all been said, and my emptied heart is still and ready to receive, he speaks and draws my attention to whatever life-sustaining truths I need to own for myself that day. For many days now, it’s been the truths of his grace and his love. Such well-worn, familiar truths, and so easily nudged into a corner by the latest newly-minted-pinging-in-our-inbox revelations of how to live as followers of Jesus.
Years ago I read a quote by Joseph R Cooke in his book ‘Celebration of Grace’; it’s a quote that found a space in my heart and settled there: ‘Grace is the face that love wears when it meets imperfection, weakness, failure, sin.’
I have come to know and to trust that this is the face that God shows to us every moment of every day because I reckon that not a day goes by in our lives when the love of God does not meet imperfection or weakness or failure or sin in us in some shape or form. I wonder if this is why God told David to continually seek his face (Psalm 27:8)? That rather than looking at our reflection in the mirror of other people’s responses to us – their approval and acceptance, their praise or their condemnation – we need instead to look up into the grace-lined, loving face of God. To see, made real there in his eyes, the ancient truth of Isaiah 43:4, where an unfailingly faithful God declares for time and eternity, ‘You are precious in my eyes… and I love you.’
Hundreds of years later his Son, the One who John declared to be ‘full of grace’ (John 1:14) laid an invitation on the doormat of every one of our hearts… ‘Make yourselves at home in my love.’ (John 15:9 Msg).* In these simple, stunning words, Jesus invites us to make his love for us the place we call home; not to go house hunting anywhere else, but to bring our world-weary, care-worn hearts home to the only place where they can know true rest – the welcoming embrace of the love of God for us.
And so, whether we feel we have accomplished great and worthy things, or whether we feel that we have done nothing noteworthy or grand – just (barely) survived these weeks – I wonder if, whenever lockdown ends, God’s message for each one of us going forward remains the same:
‘Stay home… in the warmth of my love for you.’
‘Stay home … within the walls of my inexhaustible grace towards you.’
JUST STAY HOME
*One of six invitations explored in 'A Better Song to Sing: Finding life again through the invitations of Jesus', published 24 July 2020
Mags was a missionary in Asia for over 20 years before returning to the UK and joining the faculty at Redcliffe College where she lectured on Spiritual Formation and on Soul Care. A retreat leader and spiritual director, she is passionate about helping others nurture their relationship with God in life-giving, life-sustaining ways. She is the author of God Among the Ruins. (BRF, 2018)
There has to be to be more than this... because this is no longer enough
Many sincere followers of Jesus are secretly disappointed, dissatisfied and quietly desperate for more than they are currently experiencing. That more is found as we respond to the invitations of Jesus, which hold out to us the hope of dynamic change, of a vibrant, transformed life – a better song to sing.
Each chapter explores one specific invitation, drawing out its possible implications for our lives, and suggests a spiritual practice or reflection to help us ground that invitation in our present-day reality.