08 Sep All Light But No Spark
To imagine a life with more. More time, more meaningful relationships, more contribution, and growth, and contentment. A life of passion, unencumbered by the trappings of the chaotic world around you. What you’re imagining is an intentional life. Not a perfect life. Not even an easy life, but a simple one. And to get there, you might need to let go of some stuff that’s in the way.
My ears pricked up with these concluding words from a documentary we were watching. The ‘minimalism’ concept it explored certainly appeals to my wife and I as we counted together in our minds the boxes of life memorabilia we have stored in the one cupboard of our flat.
Our stage in life means we still have a chance of acting now to avoid needing a mass clearance once day. But I found poignancy in these words not so much because of the ‘stuff’ accumulated in our Southsea home. It was the ‘stuff’ of life that I’m becoming aware of which has accumulated over the past few years, which caused me to sit up and pay attention.
This ‘stuff’, it seems, has been slowly but surely weighing me down and holding me back, mentally, spiritually and physically (literally). It has been taking hold of that space that probably should be filled with those meaningful relationships, contribution, growth and contentment that the minimalism guru was describing.
Born Again Hoarder
Every born again Christian has a story of the struggles and darkness of the life they met before being freed from the shackles of life. I do have such a testimony. But, perhaps, like some others, it seems I moved out of one pair of shackles only to voluntarily pick up and start locking in another.
I appear to have unknowingly hoarded encumbering ‘trappings’ since, and from, that fresh new life which started seven years ago.
Of course, there was a whole lot more ‘stuff’ accumulated in the 30 years before that – much of it was thankfully hauled out in this new life. Some even in an instance. Yet, since receiving the light of Jesus in my life, there has been a lot of other ‘stuff’ which has accumulated.
With all this hoarding, while I may have come in to the light, something else has also come to light: That light which I have entered is lacking something. A spark. The spark that led me to enter the light in the first place. This kind of spark was there as my eyes started to open in this new ‘born again’ life, as I begun discovering what ‘church’ really was, and as I started to recognise God’s grace for the first time in those ‘early days’.
There was a tangible freshness to life, from driving off from a Sunday morning church meeting and listening to my new worship CD, to monthly commutes to Abu Dhabi in my new job, to my morning coffee and Bible reading as I made my way up Scotland in a lone mission to John O’Groats!
But that kind of spark was also there before then. Certainly as a traveller stepping into Lesotho for the second time, and on the first visit as a charity fundraiser tour member while reading up on the continent’s battle with HIV.
That spark was there as a care-free graduate with camera in hand walking around London’s streets on a crisp autumn day or while roaming around Tokyo’s shrines, or looking out from a hotel to an early morning Kolkata street or Cape Town hills as a community music charity member on tour.
The spark of experiencing adventures, of having curiosity, of looking forward, of taking interest, of following passions.
The problem for me with that spark was that any light it would ignite would not stay lit. And often it was like the spark of a lighter that had run out of fuel. Lots of flicking in a frantic uncoordinated effort to get it going, but darkness prevailed, with its all too familiar ‘trappings’ of cynicism, bitterness, confusion, self-centredness and hopelessness.
Now I live in the true light. I have faith, hope, a growing love, and all the fruit of the spirit that I never knew before. It appears to be real, permanent, and very settling. With this has come moments in the past few years (missioning and ministries, getting married, new flat, honeymoon, first baby, friendships, family) which have of course brought unique, memorable, and exciting moments of joy and thankfulness.
Yet, while this light lives and is carried within me, I have been left with these words going around my mind in the last couple of days:
“All light but no spark”.
All Light but No Spark.
I first heard the Spirit say this to me as I read Hebrews 10’s urge of “don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (Hebrews 10:35). This home truth was built up on the words that preceded it:
Remember the earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to taunts and afflictions, and at other times you were companions of those who were treated that way. For you sympathised with the prisoners and accepted with joy the confiscation of your possessions, because you know that you yourselves have a better and enduring possession. — Hebrews 10:32-34 (CSB)
This was indeed the very real experience of being ‘born again’. In so many ways I could feel my eyes being opened — and I wanted more of that. Yet it wasn’t a smooth journey. Romantic relationships failed, some of my own issues and shame began to surface, I occasionally experienced unexplainable moments of weeping in church service worship time.
I came to learn that Christians didn’t have it all together — even leaders — and some were hard to tell apart from anyone else. I wrestled between some vary familiar flesh decisions and urges hanging over from the darker days.
But I did all this willingly. I kept going despite it all. There was a confidence there. And it was growing. And with it, a spark.
So what has happened since then which has meant that the words “all light but no spark” continued to ring in my ears as I operated the church online service last Sunday morning?
Sitting back and listening to the pre-recorded message from Pastor Steve on “The Trouble with Distractions”, my current sea of issues was becoming crystal clear.
We live no more than five hundred meters from the sea, and with the current beautiful weather it is amazing to think our busyness can still result in us not even leaving the flat some days.
In a similar way, while I should be experiencing a daily clarity and freshness in life, I have become encumbered by the trappings of this world around me.
I have let the offence of difficult relationships cause bitterness and some experiences create relational chasms and a love lockdown. A centring up of my politics — from life’s liabilities lent by the laid back left-leaning liberal lens to a balancing a bit closer to the roads of rage ridden by the rigid rule-clinging right — causing me some deep-lying frustrations in recent popular national and global trends and campaigns.
Financial struggles have made me wrestle over any cause for expenditure. Business plans have become pride battles. Becoming ‘one’ with another has caused some domestic lifestyle shifts, responsibilities around the home, and inches around the waist. A loss of a close one here and there, whether in communication, geographically, or from this world altogether, has dealt some low, slow, lingering blows. Lust fuelled habits from the past are exposed and cling on like the tight minimal lycra of a Southsea seafront runner.
But the trappings are not just outside of church. They are in religion, too. And I use the R-word intentionally.
“Sometimes good things can distract us from the best things”, Pastor Steve simply yet profoundly summed up, reflecting on the story of the sisters Martha and Mary. Martha — who was busy preparing the home for the upcoming feast with Jesus — had a growing bitterness for her sister who was simply sitting at his feet.
As revealed sharply by last year’s lockdown, church had got busy. It became routine, serving became the norm. Then the lack of it during lockdown also led to some lethargy on the other end of the spiritual spectrum.
Removing the shackles…again
We are not here for religion but for relationship. It is the presence of God himself that has become lacking in my life as I have been re-enslaved by the ‘sinning’ described above, letting it leave its weight on my shoulders. I have willingly been putting shackles back around my ankles despite losing them altogether seven years ago.
For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery. — Galatians 5:1 (CSB)
“Become intentional”, Pastor Steve encouraged us. “What return do we want from our investment?” he challenged us. “Remove the distractions”, he urged.
I am thankful for this mini-project, with the London to Brighton ride as its target and this blog and some exercise as its vessel. It has reintroduced me to my unique communication channel with God. We all have one, Pastor Steve told us, and this is mine – writing and adventuring.
And with it, I am beginning to sense a presence of God and hints of the adventure, curiosity, looking forward, interest and passion that it brings.
After all, God is the Creator of all these things and in their right place with the right person behind the wheel, they are good indeed.
So day by day, this is giving me a better “wide lens view” as Pastor Steve terms it. Clarity and freshness are beginning to resurface in a way that resembles the promise by the minimalist missionaries whose documentary encourages us to consistently remove one item of purpose-less hoarded junk each day, and only keep close those things of value that have a use.
This ‘de-cluttering’ of ‘stuff’, I hope, will indeed bring with it more time, more meaningful relationships, more contribution, more growth and more contentment.
By God’s grace, there is time to let go of some stuff now, for good, so that one day there won’t need to be that painful mass clearance of hoarded junk.
An intentional life, where space and time is given daily to enjoy that presence of God we were always designed to experience, can confidently accommodate both the light that gives life clarity, and the spark that keeps it fresh.