I love how Catherine brings each Bible story to life in her book. She discusses 7 different Bible characters in depth, using an almost Ignatian style, where you can imagine yourself in each scene, immersed in the sights, smells and sounds of those times, interacting with the people there. She helps you to better understand each character’s circumstances and the challenges they face.
As someone who can struggle with concentration whilst reading sometimes, I was surprised at the depth of detail she goes into as she explores how the story is relevant to us in our own individual lives. I tried to use this as a daily devotional but concluded this would work better in a group setting where there was more time to prepare and read the suggested connected Bible passages in the study questions. There would be more time to discuss the themes Catherine brings to light.
However the encouragement her writing brings, in turning around characters’ difficulties and sometimes their self-inflicted situations, is palpable. It shows how God can work through our failures and is an inspiration and hope for all of us in using these shortcomings for His glory.
This book will delight those who can identify with the difficulties each character endures Seeing the transformation of its characters to demonstrate how God moves in our broken lives. Those low times that aren’t the end of the story. It’s also for those looking for more in-depth study of the some less known characters in the Bible.
I’m grateful to SPCK who kindly allowed me to read a pre-publication of this book. This is my own honest opinion of the book.
Recently I’ve been contemplating the impact of my time spent on screens , particularly my social media use.
A few weeks ago, it felt like I was drowning in all of my screen time. Having to think of new content to write for Instagram was especially weighing down on me and I know I was becoming mentally exhausted from all the impacts of lockdown on and off screen. A poignant aspect to note is that lockdown forced us to use video calls more, for work and socially. As well as being a way of staying in touch with others and continuing to get our work done, there is a draining aspect to it all, physically and mentally.
I felt particularly for our younger son, who had online lessons for the 2 months of the 3rd lockdown, all via video call lessons, for roughly 5 and a half hours per day. I noticed that it made him more mentally tired. However I believe that as most of us continue to be online or using our electronic devices more, it mentally and physically tires us out more too.
After realising that I was swamped in the demands of posting and keeping up with Instagram, I decided I needed to take a break from all social media for a while. So along with Facebook, I took a social media fast for a week as part of Lent, where Christians either give up something or take something up to help them focus more on God in that period. The hope was that it would give my eyes and brain a break from the overwhelm that often comes from being on social media and would give me space to pray or do other activities away from screens.
Worldwide the daily average amount of time spent on social media is 145 minutes (2 hours 25 minutes).
[Source: Statistica, 2021]
The first day was difficult, and I admit to giving in to the temptation of scrolling on both Insta and Facebook . It did get easier from there on and I was able to step back from looking at either one. I noticed I felt calmer and less mentally tired. I got to the end of the week without having done any sneaky peeking at either app.
Revelation came to me, though, when I jumped back onto Insta. The first post I saw, I found myself comparing myself to the person concerned and almost immediately that muddle-headed mental tiredness caught me again. I almost completely decided to stop then and there but because I was composing a post for work, I kept going. In fact, 30 minutes later, I was still umming and erring about a photo to use and almost gave up on it! I hated what this app was doing to me mentally and how it was slowing down my mental performance. In that moment, I just wished I could stop using social media altogether but I knew that wasn’t going to be completely possible as I use it for work. I chatted with my elder son about how going back on social media had made me feel and he also suggested coming off it completely!
Since then my motivation to use Insta or Facebook has been much lower, particularly after having a lot of online meetings the following week. I could see the detrimental impact this had on my already dwindling concentration and the mental exhaustion grew!
Now, I have reduced my number of social media posts per week and am looking for ways to stay off my screens as much as practically possible!
Don’t get me wrong, social media does have some positives though. At a time when it’s not easy to see loved ones, work colleagues nor friends face-to-face, social media does offer that opportunity to connect online. Sharing some thoughts or reading others’ comments can help us feel and stay socially connected. We may read someone’s positive words and be encouraged or enjoy a beautiful photograph that some has shared on Instagram. I’m thankful that writing this blog enables me to engage with you, the reader, wherever you may be in the world.
How do you feel whilst on social media? What are the benefits it brings you? What are the pitfalls to be aware of? Do you need some boundaries and limits to help manage your screen time better? I’d love to hear your thought and comments below.
I just wanted to end the year by sending you my new poem , partly on a Christmas theme. It’s been such an odd year, no one could have predicted what was to come.
But I’d like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas, whatever that looks like for you. I pray you’ll be able to take the day as it comes and remember the good things, no matter how small and simple they are.
I look forward to greeting you again in the New Year, and just wanted to make you aware that I’ll be running an online Winter Wellness workshop on Thursday 21 January in the evening. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest. More details to follow…
As we draw closer to Christmas, how are you feeling? Do you feel prepared and have a plan ? Or are you filled with anxiety or worry or even dreading it?
A few weeks back I attended my local Recovery College ‘s “Coping with Christmas” online course. This has helped me to think about how practically I want us as a family to do Christmas this year & in a way that brings some joy rather than mainly stress.
Some tips to manage stress :
Breaking tasks down into small steps, e.g. cooking Christmas dinner.
Make a Christmas budget so that you don’t overspend. Include presents, food, travel, trips, donations, etc. & any extra costs you may have over the Christmas period.
Think about the things you find most difficult over the Christmas period., e.g. finances, relationship, emotions, health wise). Write them down. For each one, come up with how you can overcome this difficulty.
What are the good things you enjoy about Christmas? List them. Look at them when you feel stressed, overwhelmed or anxious to remember the positives.
Boundaries : Think about what is manageable & what’s not. Be clear with family/ friends and stick to these.
Self care: What activities will relax & recharge you ? Diarise time to do them, e.g. exercise, quiet time, have a hot chocolate or chat to a friend.
When you start to feel stressed, what helps you to destress? For me, doing some deep breathing or mindfulness really helps in the moment.
Be kind to yourself. How is your self-talk in your head? Is it negative or self-critical? Stop yourself if you notice unhelpful thinking and write it down. Would you speak to a friend like this? What’s a more kind way to speak to yourself? Say this to yourself instead. If you notice these negative thoughts are constant or your mood has been low for more than 2 weeks, this is the time to get help. Make an appointment with your doctor. Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) may help.
As a Christian, I also find reminding myself that what we’re really celebrating here is the birth of Jesus. He came down to earth, fully God, yet fully human, to restore our relationship with Him. Putting my focus back on God can put all the other tasks into perspective.
Reflecting on what you’d like Christmas to be like this year, after such a different 2020 to what we expected, how are you going to prepare for Christmas? How can you put your focus back on God?
Whilst reading Dr Kate Middleton’s Refuel book about managing stress and avoiding burnout, one piece of advice really stood out. She talked about taking some time out, even a few days, to rest and recover.
Fortunately, I’d been watching an online retreat from the Royal Foundation of St. Katharine’s and discovered that they were open for overnight stays. Swiftly I decided to book a two-day retreat for the following week. I couldn’t wait! After several months of being unable to find any respite, (I am a carer to one of my sons with special needs), I had become quite desperate for some space to myself. It gave me something to look forward to, kept me motivated for the wait I had to endure.
I was quite busy beforehand and didn’t really have time to plan ahead as to what I’d do whilst there. I started packing the day before but kept it to a minimum so that I could practise some simplicity whilst there. However, I include some items to pamper myself with, such as nail varnish, a face pack and an uplifting shower gel (to name but a few items!)
On the spiritual front, I also packed some Christian books to help me to destress and focus more on God. I was able to finish ‘If Not Now, When?’ by Fernando de Paula: a really helpful book, showing me how to better live in the moment and value each day that God has given me. I started reading this during lockdown but wasn’t in the best place to receive it. Over time my improved mood has meant that I have been more motivated and hence more open to completing the activities at the end of each chapter. On some level I’ve been able to let go of the past, feeling more positive and looking forward to what God has in store for me.
I have continued with Refuel and the chapter on staying calm that discussed practising mindfulness and introduced an exercise to try out really stood out. Previous chapters had looked at 1 Kings 19: where Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal and was experiencing a low period after the adrenaline rush of this event. I reread this passage and contemplated how God refuelled him – Kate made the point before there was any healing for Elijah God made him rest, eat and drink. I was thankful to be in the tranquillity of St Katharine’s that was already providing these things. The food there was amazing, not having to cook, having healthy, gourmet dishes, really helped my mood and physical body. I felt challenged to be more mindful of making healthier and appetising meals on arriving home, increasing my fruit and vegetable intake that I’m sure my family will appreciate the more appetising bit!
Slowing down my daily pace also helped and I’m aiming to maintain this in even small ways, now too. I was kind to myself about relaxing my quiet time in the mornings so that it didn’t feel so rushed or a tick box exercise. The first morning I attended Morning Prayer in the Chapel and focussed on the liturgy and just being present in the moment. It felt so good to just breathe and ‘be’ a bit. No agenda, no plans apart from breakfast, lunch and dinner! I decided to do some writing for my mental health memoir around the theme of retreats!
The weather was beautiful, so I could sit out in their garden in the afternoon to eat lunch or read a book. I loved just enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face. I found journaling my thoughts really helpful, sometimes turning these into prayers for the issues I was grappling with.
I’d planned to meet up with an old friend living nearby and we met over a coffee at the Yurt Café, also run by the Foundation. It was a glorious sunny day to be sitting outside. It was wonderful to catch up on the past 2 years or so and how our kids were doing. In fact, it was a Spirit-filled time where we were able to share and pray for each other, picking up our friendship where we’d left off.
From the library I’d borrowed a few books: a meditation with art book by Sr Wendy and Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis, the first part of his autobiography. It was interesting to read about his childhood and where his Christian beliefs had started from. It was useful to see his writing style to feed into my own memoir writing too.
There was also plenty of time for solitude too: I woke early each day and took a walk down to the River Thames, a short walk from the Royal Foundation. One day I walked via Shadwell Basin to Wapping, whilst the next day I walked in the opposite direction to Canary Wharf , giving me the space to enjoy God’s natural and manmade creations which were awesome and quite overwhelming with the towering buildings! I saw the sunrise on Day 2 and caught some great light for my photos, including views into the City, across the River and of Canary Wharf. Sometimes I listened to worship music on my way but at other times enjoyed the silence and beauty around me.
I found the liturgy comforting in the Chapel services. Isaiah 43:18-20 leapt out at me:
“I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert
To give drink to my chosen people.”
God often speaks to me through water imagery and these verses gave me hope, a sense of being refilled and refreshed, ready to return to the real world.
My time away may have been different to previous retreats but one that blessed and uplifted me, restored and renewed me. As I assimilate back to family life, I intend to keep some of these practises alive to remind me of how God spoke to me and how to daily live this out.
Is there some way or some place you can get some quiet time to be with God? What does that look like for you? Perhaps diarise some time to make this happen in the next week or so.
Have you read the research that says that singing is good for our wellbeing? There are now many choirs up and down the country for exactly that reason. In fact, in Harrow, More Than A Choir, Harrow Community Choir, was formed to benefit those of us with mental health issues, to boost wellbeing and self-confidence. When we try a new skill, this can build self-esteem and doing something pleasurable, rather than something necessary, can give us a dopamine hit, boosting our mood.
Over the past few months, my mood had been slowly going downhill, to the point where my husband brought up the issue whilst we were on retreat in Wales. I found myself bursting into tears and it enabled me to bring to the surface some of the problems that had been bothering me.
Since then, with my husband’s support, I’ve been seeking medical and spiritual help but started to focus again on singing worship songs to God in my daily quiet time. Initially, I would listen to “The Joy of the Lord is my Strength,” by Rend Collective whilst walking in the park or sing whilst in the shower. It was then I realised the power of singing out praises to God, despite my low mood. It encouraged and uplifted my spirit as I took my eyes off my personal situation and lifted my eyes to Him. So now, I’ve added singing some worship songs back into my prayer time, usually at the beginning to put the focus back onto God.
Whether it’s singing in the shower or verbally calling out praise to God during your prayers – how can you worship God and give Him praise today?