Last week I was away with a fantastic group of church leaders on the Arrow Leadership Programme run by CPAS - in my opinion, quite simply the best training course on leadership that exists. It was immensely challenging, hugely encouraging, deeply stretching, and a whole heap of fun. However it was also, at times, incredibly emotional, as I had some time and space which I don't always take time to find, and really met with God.
Very often during these encounters there were an awful lot of tears! As an optimist, I gamely put on mascara each morning, but inevitably by about 9am it was running down my face in rivers! As a rule, I don't cry in front of other people. I cry a lot, but it's either on my own at home, in the loo, watching a film, or during church (generally when I'm a 'participant' rather than leading something). I think people's reactions to someone crying are really interesting. Some people are clearly embarrassed and don't quite know what to do, and really want it to stop as soon as possible! Some are very empathetic and themselves get upset if someone else is crying. Some have the ability to simply be present and offer sympathy. Someone told me recently that counsellors are trained not to offer tissues if someone cries, since it can make them feel that they are expected to stop!
Anyway, whatever the case, I certainly went through more than my fair share of tissues last week. But does that mean it was a terrible week? Not at all! They were (mostly!) 'good' tears, in the sense of being to do with healing and refreshing and growing.
I can point to so many times like this in my life - times when it's been clear that God has had something that he has wanted to challenge me on, or there was something that I needed to repent of, or simply something that God had been trying for ages to get into my (sometimes a bit fuzzy) head. In these times there is the joy that comes from feeling God so close, and there is the pain that comes from knowing that I need to grow and change.
For me, one of the main ways I connect with God is during times of sung worship. That's one of the reasons I love New Wine so much - thousands of people all singing praises to God together lifts my soul and feels like a foretaste of heaven. And yet, again, when I'm singing worship to God, or listening to worship CDs, I often find myself in tears as I connect with God.
As I thought about all this the phrase 'growing pains' was going round and round my head. I think this sums up pretty well what happens in these times when we really do business with God. They're times to be grateful for because they're times of growth, when God is shaping and moulding us to become more like Jesus, and more like the people he knows we can be. And yet they can also be times of pain because growth isn't generally easy or straight forward.
God never makes us feel small or silly, and he never wants us to beat ourselves up or do ourselves down. When he reminds us of things in our lives that we need to change, he does so because he knows that we are capable of so much more. And he always uses times of pain and difficulty to teach us lessons that we need to learn, and to grow us in character and grace.
The Bible reminds us time and time again that in the difficult times of our lives God is beside us. In the book of Joshua in the Old Testament we read these words - "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
Recently there's a song by Brian Doerksen which has been cropping up all over the place and has been in my mind as I've mulled all this over. It has this line in it - "In your name, there is strength to remain, to stand in spite of pain, in your holy name."
I'm so grateful to know a God who made me, who loves me just as I am, but who also knows that I can be better than this - that there is a 'me' I can continue to become, with his help. I'm OK with a few growing pains along the way if they help me to become the me Jesus intends me to be.
Just because it's pretty...!