Every year members of the Methodist Church participate in a service where they purposefully renew their covenant with God, they do so in the knowledge that by grace God’s covenant with is is sure and true and holds us in a place where we are able to say with openness and vulnerability these words: (The Covenant Prayer)
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.’
Well that is the aim anyway. I have to admit that there are times when I have done so with openness of heart and a willing spirit, and times when I have gone through the motions. I have been reduced to tears by this service and this prayer particularly and been totally unmoved by it, but I have still chosen to enter into it no matter how I have been feeling, because the bottom line is, it is not about me! It is about God’s grace and the community of faith choosing to say this prayer together, to renew the covenant promise and to support one another. One of the churches I have served in the past chose to make the covenant prayer on behalf of the wider community, stretching out the arms of their prayer in welcome to all who would come and be with them, and even to those who would not. For me this was deeply moving, a reflection of prevenient grace, including us all, before we knew it .
We usually say this prayer in either January or September ( the beginning of the new Methodist year), so why am I thinking about it now? Well partly because I choose to think about it often, and because parts of it resonate for me at different times, at the moment the words, “let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you” speak to me strongly. I have been laid aside, and I keep having to make peace with that.
Being laid aside is temporary for me, and I know that, for some I know it is more permanent, and that is entirely different. One month ago I was discharged from hospital with some serious antibiotics and painkillers following an infection, which I am told could easily have turned to sepsis! I am now waiting for an operation and have been instructed not to work until that has been completed, and even then I will need 6 to 8 weeks recovery time. The operation is set for a few weeks time.
So, I am laid aside, I have been reading, and am now beginning to do some light exercise, I am being very careful with what I eat, and fighting my own feelings of inadequacy and uselessness, all exacerbated by the fact that I have nobody to tell me to stop being daft because I live alone! I battle feelings of guilt too, I had planned to visit family today but woke late (I needed the sleep) and am feeling out of sorts, not something I can put my finger on, but a signal to rest, something I am not very good at!
My battle is with the voices in my head, voices that say I am not enough, not good enough and that that will soon be seen by everyone because everything carries on perfectly well without me, which I would normally be the first to say, should absolutely be the case!
Are there benefits to being laid aside, well yes, firstly rest, rest physically, emotionally and mentally, if I am honest I needed to step off the treadmill for a while, and my body saw to it, that, that should and has happened. Second time to read, I am always bemoaning that I don’t have time to read, and have now read 2 1/2 novels and am getting to grips with some soul feeding theology. Lastly ( though the list could go on) I am finding a different perspective, it is so easy to get caught up in the urgent and the demands of day to day work and life that you fail to see the bigger picture, and I say that as a big picture person.
In the Covenant prayer, we accept that being laid aside might be part of our calling, and I find that in these days I am simply need to accept and go with that, to accept the fact that being laid aside does not make me any less in the eyes of the divine, I am not useless, I am not unwanted, I am not put out of the body of Christ, I am still a part of it and have a place to take.
So for now I will accept rest, accept that maybe I have been led beside quiet waters, to have my body, mind and soul restored ( see Psalm 23), and here the words at the beginning of the prayer come into their own, “I am no longer my own but yours, put me to what you will”, here I am Loving God, only help me to rest in you… (even in my grumpy restlessness)