Are we nearly there yet?

College President Johnny Juckes considers how we can continue to progress towards maturity in Christ through Covidland and, we trust, beyond it too.

It’s the classic question from the back seat of the car, ten minutes into a three hour journey! We all know the feeling, and we're asking the same question ourselves as we look into Autumn 2020 and towards the likely shape of 2021. The answer is looking like “No” and “not anytime soon.” So how do we strap in and live wisely?


In what follows we are sharing something of what College President Johnny Juckes wrote to the College community a few weeks ago. There’s a brief introduction, and then we’ve cherry-picked four of the eight topics he developed in that letter. There are links to follow, ideas to share, and a little window on how we are trying to embrace what God has for us in this season here at College.


Finding our way in Covidland


Covidland, of course, is not radically different from ordinary Christian living. We believers on earth are all ‘on the way’, and seeking for daily, across-life intentional growth in the Lord, individually and collectively. This coming academic year, like any other year, is an invitation to keep on remembering who God is, and who we are. This involves each of us, before God, knowing our burdens, our limitations; us accepting our finite nature, our struggles and weaknesses, our tendencies towards distracting idols - but also Christ’s call to growth, to develop the fruit of the Spirit, to connect with others, to continuing progress towards maturity in Christ through Covidland and, we trust, beyond it too.


Some of what follows might strike you as an area to dig into now. Come back in November or January and it might be something else. Let’s make this something we keep coming back to and chewing over together.


1. Time - we all have exactly the same amount of time (Ps 90:2)

Some of us need to learn to work harder, but many of us risk overworking or working for self rather than for the kingdom of God. Covidland is an opportunity to learn to live by grace, within the rhythms and patterns of grace, and to step away  A few resources to help us think theologically about the management not only of time, but also of energy and of our limited powers of concentration.


From the Desiring God stable: Grace paced living in a burn out culture

From CCEF, about Christ-Centred rest and the difference between living (and resting) for Christ, not self

From Brad Hambrick: Burn out resources - a video, a booklet, a time budget - all valuable


Here's a sample of Hambrick’s sanity:  The first thing God’s fairness requires of the person moving towards burnout is to rest in the fact that everything fits in a 168 hour week. This means that even if there are 200 hours worth of excellent things to be accomplished in a week, that you can have assurance at least 32 hours of your agenda is outside the will of God for your life; not “outside the will of God” in terms of being bad, but “outside the will of God” in the sense that God will accomplish this, if it needs to be done, through someone else.


From Cal Newport: Deep work (Piatkus, 2016) - on managing powers of concentration and not squandering them, and then his Digital Minimalism (Penguin, 2019) - also excellent, the clue is in the title!


2. Rest - we all need more sleep than we are getting, and to rest in Christ

When I was a student reading psychology in the early 1980s, the evolutionary biologists had a hard time explaining the biological point of sleep. The best they could do was to suggest that 'if you kept still at night, you would be less likely to be eaten by a tiger, and so sleep turned out to have significant survival value'! The science of sleep has changed beyond all recognition during your lifetime. 


Matthew Walker, Why we sleep (Penguin, 2018) tells the story of the science, in a series of elegantly designed experiments across decades of research. Almost every organ and bodily function deteriorates as a direct consequence of prolonged sleep deprivation. You really do want to know what sleep deprivation does to your memory! The book is well worth the money and the time. He concludes with a series of sensible suggestions to achieve sleep hygiene. It's a book that didn't exist that I would have found helpful twenty years ago. Parents with young children will be encouraged rather than depressed by it! For a twenty-minute TED-talk taster from Matthew Walker, click here.


For practical help towards better sleep patterns: Colin Espie is a professor at the Oxford sleep centre. His book is  Overcoming Insomnia and Sleep Problems: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques His centre also runs the Sleepio website (www.sleepio.com) and app which are both recommended by the NHS.


For spiritual help towards rest: Study and learn by heart and meditate on Matthew 11:28. How shall I pray that the promise of rest in this verse plays out in my life at this time?

3 Conversation - when there’s no news and nothing happening

In our church family, break out groups on Zoom after the service began well.  But after a few weeks, we began to run out of things to say to each other, because nothing had happened, nobody had been anywhere, nobody had done anything, there was no news and nothing new to talk about!  Skill for living involves skill with words, and especially in COVID land where the virus tends to dominate every conversation. What to talk about when nothing is happening? gives sensible ideas on developing skill in conversation.


Talking and listening well are areas of life where we all need help and all need skill, especially when travelling through Covidland. Every minister needs these skills all the time, every day, in every relationship, in every meeting, in every setting. Covidland imposes restrictions on us, but also presents opportunities. Brad Hambrick offers 270 conversational prompts over ten areas of life. He has married couples in his sights but there is much that is helpful here whether you are married or single.


4 Reflect: where are you running on empty?

These aren't specifically COVID or self-care, but the 'dials' approach can be helpful for taking an inventory, and at regular intervals on these specific aspects (or other relevant ones). 


Where to start?

Perhaps a first step would be to take a quiet hour on a Saturday or Sunday and pray through the things mentioned here and the things in your life. A time for planning your week, assessing where you are, and writing down some steps and goals for the coming week. Then, returning to those writings the following Saturday or Sunday, with thankfulness, prayer and godly determination, will help you plan the ‘step’ of the next week. This might inform a habit which will helpfully and productively outlast Covid, and be a productive fruit from it.