Some years ago now a friend of mine, Judy Hirst, wrote an excellent book called ‘Struggling to be Holy’, a powerful and honest account of some of the challenges we face as Christians in trying to open and honest with God, and in allowing God to work in us and through us. This is a book I return to frequently as I find it an invaluable companion for the journey - a source of reassurance and encouragement, whilst not being an invitation to complacency.
In the book Judy is disarmingly honest about her feelings of inadequacy when faced with the prospect of writing about a subject that she, and possibly others, might feel her wholly unqualified to even consider. But she lays out her stall early:
‘Writing this book has made it very clear to me that holiness is much less about developing self-discipline than it is about learning to entrust yourself to the God who loves you. It is about taking the risk of allowing God to interact with the truth of ourselves, no strings attached… Holiness is about God being present and our being present to God…the problem is to be present ourselves. God is there, but where are we?’
(Judy Hirst, Struggling to be Holy, DLT, 2006)
God is always there, always waiting with an open heart, for us to recognise his presence, to be present with him and to be in relationship with him. It seems so little to ask and yet we can often work hard to avoid it. This sort of openness makes us feel vulnerable, like a child waiting for a report card at the end of term - am I good enough or will I have failed to reach the required grade?
Our relationship with God, grounded in his unending love for us, makes this question irrelevant and yet we return to it over and over. ‘Struggling to be Holy’ reminds us that: ‘God can live with the reality that we are sinners even if we find it hard to do so.’ God is big enough to deal with and work with each one of us, even though we are compromised and imperfect.
As Rowan Williams says so helpfully in his inspiring book ‘Being Disciples’:
‘Becoming holy is being so taken over by the extraordinariness of God that that is what you are really interested in, and it what radiates from you to reflect on other people. There’s the catch: if you want to be holy, stop thinking about it. If you want to be holy, look at God. If you want to be holy, enjoy God’s world, enter into it as much as you can in love and service’
(Rowan Williams, Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life,SPCK, 2016.)
Bishop of Shrewsbury.