Children friends

Dear Friends,

Would you like to be a child again? Would you like to return to a time when you are young, with the world before you?

As we all know, the world is a different place from what it was ten, twenty, fifty years ago. Children today face significant challenges – perhaps the most debilitating of these challenges are those that arise from issues around obesity, social media and the culture of testing in our education environment. All of these can engender anxiety levels which if we are not careful may prove to be incessant and utterly counter to living life well. Anxiety and fear rob all the generations of so much – so it is imperative we discover life where confidence and grace are nurtured.

Jesus invites ‘let all the children come to me’. Come to be blessed, to be made whole, to be the person you were meant to be. Coming to Jesus means being loved completely, being given confidence to be who we are, being guided to enjoy life in every circumstance. When society today invites the children – it seems it is almost the exact reverse of these Jesus invitations – rather it is to over-eat and indulge, to be subsumed by the approval of others, and to be subjected to anxiety levels driven by relentless testing programmes.

The message of Jesus is pertinent to each of these elements. Jesus is described over and again eating in the company of others. We are to teach our children the value of the shared meal, gathering across the generations, where so much more than food is given and received. Jesus teaches us very directly to look to our Father in heaven for direction, forgiveness and value… ‘follow me and be my disciple’. And Jesus teaches us ‘not to worry…let tomorrow take care of itself’.

To be part of a community which accepts us simply as we are – without any prejudice or judgment, but simply in love and mercy – is integral to living life well. The context of family has the golden opportunity to provide this  – and ‘family’ today can take many forms. No family will be perfect, no family will get everything right…but a family committed to the flourishing of each member is a unit where growth and confidence are guaranteed. The extended relationships of family are incredibly important as the different generations provide wisdom, experience and an energy for what is new – all of which helps both young and old to find and re-find perspective. Relationships, family relationships, are never a one way passage – there is always to and fro, backwards and forwards from one member to another.

The ministry of church is centred very much on this family grouping – in the many baptisms we host, in the comfort and hope provided in times of grief and in the joyous yet reverent celebration of marriage…to have and to hold. In all of these contexts the gathering together of family – to support, be-friend and just simply to be there – are central to the celebration or memorial. Children who grow up within a framework of relationships – relationships which bless and strengthen – have such an advantage.

In these really challenging times for our children we must remember to pray – for our own families and for those whose family is under pressure. And as we pray, we can choose to be the person who brings people together in ways of blessing and peace – to sit around the table, laugh and cry with each other, and share life together.

Friendship

Friendship

A recent study, taking in 4,619 people,  concluded that three-quarters of people in the UK have felt ‘overwhelmed or unable to cope’ during the past year. Young people are most likely to be stressed with 83% of 18-24 year olds saying this, compared with 65% of 55 years old and over. There was also a gender divide, with 81% of women feeling this way, compared with 67% of men.

The reasons for this feeling of ‘not coping’ were described in the study as being  long term health conditions, work, money, technology and social media.

The sensation of things getting out of control is one we can all identify with – as resources become stretched and expectations become ever more functional – we are left vulnerable to being overrun both physically and mentally.

So much of life appears out of our control, so escalating the feeling of ‘not coping’. But there are things which are in our control – and these things need to be activated in order to safeguard ourselves from ‘burn-out’.

When people go through challenging times, the one ingredient which pops up almost every time in what helped the person ‘get through’ is the benefit of loyal friends. Having people around us who know us, like us and are not reticent in encouraging us – is vital to overcoming the harshest of circumstances. We need to be really careful in choosing who it is we listen to, whose advice we look for, and who can be trusted with the off-loading of anxiety and worry. This company of friends is important beyond words – and because of this it is equally important to ensure we do not allow the toxic voices to infiltrate our thinking and direction. These ‘toxic’ voices do not really listen to our situation, and they are not really for us.

But when we live in the midst of a community of friendship which encourages and shapes our thinking in a good, healthy way, then it is as though we are being carried along – especially when life is not easy. The imagery which the bible uses is that of a river. A river which flows from the altar of heaven, teeming with life and vibrancy, blessing every place and channel it flows into. This river is a pictorial description of the blessing of God’s friendship – a friendship we enjoy as we worship, praise and give thanks – and a a friendship we share with one another as we live in fellowship. We can read of this in Ezekiel chapter 47 – it is a truly wonderful, inspiring chapter of scripture.

The blessings of friendship means we have an urgent dynamic to ensure we meet with others in friendship – it might be in the pilates class we attend, it might be drinking coffee (or a glass of sherry!) after a church service, it might be walking in the forest with friends – whatever the context it is as though we take ourselves to the river and experience the life affirming energy we receive from being accepted simply for who we are and not what we do. This needs to be our dominant experience – and this enables us to give time, when required, to the ‘marshlands’ of life where the toxicity of blame, accusation and mean heartedness can be challenged and re-directed into channels of grace and love (the river  of life).

‘Not coping’ is a very real experience. It can make everything seem hopeless. Friendship – such a simple and uncomplicated thing – is the antidote we cannot afford to ignore. When those friendships stretch across the generations we really are in a good place – a river which ‘makes glad the city of our God’ (Psalm 46).