Stripped back, we are aware of our dependence, our need. We turn again.
Reflections written by Rev. Alison Sampson and Amanda Viviers.
By Alison Sampson
If 2020 taught us anything, it is that we are not in control. Fires burn; viruses spread; demagogues parade their power. And while there are things we can do to mitigate these effects (climate action; hand-washing, shutdown and face masks; political protest), we cannot control the outcomes or the effects on our lives. Some of us spent 2020 glued to our phones, constantly updating newsfeeds and analysing statistics; others of us chose bigger screens, binge-watching endless series on Netflix; most of us did a bit of both.
We were caught between two lies. First, that we are masters of our own destiny and should be able to do something, fix something, change something radically and quickly through our own efforts. We receive constant messaging that we must be amazing and effective: but the world is so big, and events so overwhelming, that bringing about real change feels impossible. So we scroll through newsfeeds and worry ourselves sick, but end up doing nothing.
The second lie is that we have no real power and we may as well give up. So we escape by scrolling through different screens, and again we end up doing nothing.
The truth sits between these lies; and the truth is that, through Christ, God has already brought about healing and reconciliation, and we are already living in a new creation. We don’t have to bring it about ourselves. We just need to participate in what God has already done and continues to do through Christ. And as people made new in Christ, we are Christ’s ambassadors; we are empowered to proclaim the good news that God has reconciled all things to Godself.
We were caught between two lies. First, that we are masters of our own destiny and should be able to do something... through our own efforts.... [Second] is that we have no real power and we may as well give up. The truth is that, through Christ, God has already brought about healing and reconciliation, and we are already living in a new creation. We don’t have to bring it about ourselves.
As long as we try to fix things or bring about change through our own efforts, we will be exhausted. As long as we think things are our responsibility, we will be constantly sucking in information we cannot use, or avoiding our responsibility on Netflix; fatigue and depression are inevitable. But when we give up the illusion that we have the power to change things, and when we instead invite God to take over and guide our lives, then everything changes. We may find ourselves heading in unexpected directions; we may find ourselves doing things we never anticipated: but, if God is in charge, we will certainly discover that our powers are more than equal to our tasks. Even better, we will be relieved of the sense of either overwhelming responsibility or hopeless passivity: because our confidence is in Christ alone.
The first step towards letting God set the agenda is relinquishing the illusion of control, and this means rejecting the urgent need to be across everything. If God’s in control, we don’t need to know everything, and we certainly don’t need to know everything about events which are well outside our circle of influence. For example, Trump’s behaviour after the US election has been gripping. But ultimately, he’s nothing more than a clanging gong clamouring for attention, diverting our time and energy from the small good work of the kingdom unfolding around us.
What, then, would it be like to turn off the news and entertainment industry? To say, I know nothing about what is happening in a foreign election or an international argument over tariffs and trade; nor can I tell you the plot of every Marvel movie: but I have sat in the quiet and prayed. And as I asked God to set my priorities, I saw the family down the street who could use some soup; and the acre of community green-space which needs rehabilitation and a garden; and the face of a local MP who is undecided on an issue which is important to our church—and in freedom I decided to act.
In this spirit, I invite you to take a weekly tech Sabbath: to turn off all devices and sit in the quiet with me, and wonder: What do I need to let go of? What are God’s priorities? What is God calling me to now? And as you wonder, be open to new possibilities and to the current of freedom and joy: for these are the hallmarks of the Holy Spirit.
See more about the tech sabbath below.
By Amanda Viviers
Breathe in and breathe out – emptying oneself.
Over summer, my son decided he wanted to join a swimming team. It was an unusual request that we spent time reflecting on as a family. When we realised that it was a great choice of sport for his school year, we did all the things needed to sign him up.
Suddenly we were all spending a lot of time sitting alongside our local pool. As I watched the families, week in and week out, gather around this community space, I decided to dive in the deep end and train myself.
I am not naturally a sporty kind of person, so this new beginning meant much physical resistance. Swimming up and down the soft aqua lanes showed me many things about discipline. It allowed me the solitude needed to find a focus for the coming season.
The simplicity of breathing showed me the power of emptying oneself and resetting our focus.
Breathe in and breathe out.
Arms, moving, heart beating.
Breathe in and breathe out.
Follow the line along the bottom of the pool.
Breathe in and breathe out.
Kick my legs, don’t stop moving.
This practice reminded me of the power of small things to bring significant change into our spiritual disciples and life. As I swam under the water, the clarity of what I was focusing on became evident.
What became apparent was how important the art of exhaling is, in comparison to inhaling, yet I believe we often focus a lot on the latter.
We thrive when we have the same exhale in our spiritual lives as in our physical ones. Without the practice of spiritual disciplines to release that which we are holding, we cannot make space and room for the new.
Breathe in and exhale.
The year 2020 was a clarifying year of exhale for my family. It became more apparent what we needed to let go of, even more than what we added into our family culture – the art of emptying oneself. Our popular culture tells us that we need to do more and be more, but our Christian faith implores us to surrender in humility and to empty ourselves of selfish ambition.
Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians, asked the community to consider what is old and needs to go. This is resetting our faith. This is the importance of emptying oneself. We cannot lean into the promise of the new without releasing what no longer belongs.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here
— 2 Corinthians 5:17
It is our nature often in our humanity to seek out the new. We want the refreshing moments of God’s presence; to see the answers to prayer, and seeking out solutions for the coming season. However, without the exhale of the old, it is difficult to find the space for the new.
A reset of my faith often looks like coming back to the simple things in my everyday spiritual walk with Jesus to seek out the surrender of what no longer belongs.
The way that I do this regularly is through moments of solitude, allowing God’s voice to be louder than the crowd. Also, times across the year when I take the time to fast, reminding myself of what it feels like to hunger and thirst, the awkward response to discomfort. And a reminder of the importance of rest and the beauty of the sabbath, by turning off social media and being intentionally silent.
These spiritual disciplines are the exhale that my body needs, just like the rhythm of swimming laps in my community pool. As I empty myself of the expectations of others and focus on Christ, I remember his ultimate sacrifice in the way he surrendered all.
The greatest act of abandonment was the way with which Christ emptied himself on the cross of Calvary, extending a bridge of redemption, with a final breath out*. This sacrifice was so that we could breathe in the promise of a future with Him eternally.
It is essential, in a world that is so focused on the external things, that we take time to press reset on the internal. We cannot make space for the new unless we empty ourselves first of that which no longer belongs.
* Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
—Philippians 2: 1-4
By Rev. Alison Sampson
you emptied yourself,
taking the form of a slave
and humbling yourself even unto death.
Empty us of our pride,
strip us of our self-importance,
and recall us to our limits.
Reconcile our circles of concern
with our circles of influence,
that we may stop loudly panicking
and start quietly working
towards your new creation
of reconciliation, justice and peace.
For we cannot solve everything:
but you resolve all things;
and it is not in grand gestures
but in humble service
that you are made known.
In the name of Christ, we pray:
This week's Reset Faith practice is exploring a weekly tech Sabbath: a time during the week when you turn off all devices and sit in the quiet and wonder:
Ideas for Small Groups and sharing the Reset Faith journey with others.
Transformation happens in community. Share the Reset Faith journey with friends, your small group, your tribe. Share a meal, speak honestly, pray together. Be changed together.
Rev. Alison Sampson is the pastor to Sanctuary Baptist church, Warrnambool, Victoria.
Amanda Viviers is the Narrative Lead at Compassion and author of 12 books on creativity, faith, and the power of your stories (https://amandaviviers.com). The co-founder of Kinwomen (https://kinwomen.com), a radio program that starts conversations that matter. Wife of Charl and Mum of Maximus and Liberty, she loves to help people find their voice.