Welcome to 2019.
I have had a couple of weeks of leave and it was a very special time. As well as simplifying a whole lot (and throwing a lot of things out and giving away a heap of stuff), I had a good amount of time to slow down and reflect on 2018. Many people have been saying 2018 was a difficult year for them, and I tend to agree. It’s hard to generalise though as there were some significantly great things that happened too.
As I was thinking about this, the image that came to mind was of a snake shedding its skin. I confess I didn’t know too much about this process, so I did some research. What I found has given me a great framework for thinking about my year.
- The New Skin grows while the snake is still wearing the old! This is very similar to how God worked with me. While doing the “normal things” I did in life and ministry, the new growth began. And it was like growing a new skin under the old one. I began to think differently about God, about church, about ministry. I read new books, studied new courses (particularly the Grad Dip In Spiritual Direction) and I discovered new relationships in our local community. I became passionate about our neighbourhood. And I became sure that I needed to find a new way of doing mission that broke out of the old skin and old institution. The old skin had become tight, and it was constricting growth.
- When the time is right, the snake releases a fluid that separates the layers of skin. This is fascinating to me. This is my 2018! This fluid that the snake releases helps the old skin to separate, but it also causes the snakes eyes to become cloudy and makes it harder to see. Just before the breakthrough moment, it gets harder to see! Vision gets clouded. One breeder says his snake bumps into things and hurts itself. In so many ways 2018 felt clouded. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but I couldn’t see the way ahead. I kept bumping into things (figuratively and literally) and it hurt. All I could do was stay in the process, with the help of my Spiritual Director, and trust that the change would come. This is what some people call Liminal Space. The time or season between leaving one thing and stepping into the other. It’s lonely, confusing and doesn’t make sense. It’s also essential for growth.
- There is an itchiness that causes the snake to begin rubbing and banging its head. Then it all gets too irritating. The old skin needs to go. So the snake starts rubbing and banging its head against hard or abrasive surfaces. Again…. 2018! Felt like a lot of head-banging, a lot of irritation and a lot of hurt. Eventually the skin breaks and the snake can slide out of the old and start living in it’s now well-formed, shiny new skin.. with clear eyes!
- The biggest danger is if the skin does not shed completely. Here’s the trap for a snake though; if the old skin isn’t shed properly or fully, it can cause health issues. The snake can be trapped in its own skin and get sick. The challenge for me in 2019 is to fully shed the old… whatever that means. Jesus talked about it in similar language when he told the parables of the wine skins and the cloth – the key point to these parables (and he was talking about the old covenant and the new kingdom) is that if you try and mix the old with the new, EVERYTHING is ruined! So completing the shedding is very important. (More on this in a later blog).
The key lesson for me as I reflect on 2018 is that there is great joy and victory in GIVING UP! Surrender is something we have traditionally not been good at in the West or in Evangelical/Charismatic circles. We look for growth, for more, for much. But I have had to deal with some very personal challenges in the past 12 months, and all of them have involved giving something up. It was hard and felt counter-cultural. But as I enter 2019 I feel freedom and joy.
I wonder what 2019 will hold for me? And for you? I’d love to hear what you sense God is up to!