Recently, I got to thinking about Australian citizenship, and its place in my life. From one perspective it is not something I have consciously thought about often; it sits there as a treasure in my life, a foundation in my life, as something which provides a platform for so much of my life – and yet a lot like the ground under my feet, it is easy to take for granted.
What happened for me was this: A good friend of mine was talking with me about her experience of the process of becoming an Australian citizen. Not something I’ve thought on often. She related the way in which she had gone out one afternoon to process some of the paperwork needed to finalise her application for Australian citizenship – she had expected the experience to take quite some time (having allowed an entire afternoon) and was pleasantly surprised to have concluded the whole activity in under thirty minutes. Her comment to me was that in her country of birth, she could have expected to spend an entire day, if not longer, working her way through endless queues. And with the expectation that she may need to curry favour with various officials along the way to ensure her success.
But not so in Australia. We do have a formal process for becoming eligible and actually becoming an Australian citizen (not one, I will acknowledge, that is without its controversies) – but it works, and the community which accepts you as one of its own is valued worldwide. People from many, many countries across the globe choose to seek Australian citizenship – for many different reasons and out of a multitude of different circumstances they choose to seek to become part of the community of people that form the nation of Australia. This is not say that people do not choose or find value in other communities around the world (far from it!), but it is to say that the community to which I belong is of great value to me, and to others who belong to it.
What is it then, that I value about my citizenship? About my belonging to this nation of Australia that I call home? Easy to state perhaps, but also easy to take for granted. So then: I speak out, often. For those that know me or follow my Twitter feed, you will know this. I do so without fear of reprisal or persecution by my government. I travel overseas with freedom, confident that wherever I go I am able to seek the support & assistance of my community; and I am always welcome home and there is always help available to get me home. I live without fear in my community, free to come & go at any time of the day or night confident that the rule of law in our community is there to protect and serve all in our community. I work in business, knowing that my employment and entrepreneurship will bring me fair rewards that are protected by law. I could go on.
Now please don’t take me as saying that our community is without fault. It is not. Not by a long stretch. Nonetheless, my citizenship brings a huge amount of good to my life, and enables a whole lot more.
It is important that I recognise this. If I do not honour and value the good things in my life, I run the risk of not protecting them enough, I run the risk of letting them slip away through lack of attention or care.
This got me to thinking about the way I treasure the other valuable things in my life. There is truly a huge number of things that I could talk about – my life is absolutely “the fortunate life” and full of good things! The thing that came foremost to my mind now though, is how I treasure the words that God speaks. You see, it is my experience that God desires relationship with us, both individually and as a community of people (like the community that forms the nation of Australia, this one has a name too – we call it the church). And it seems to me, that in a relationship two-way communication is the very lifeblood of that relationship. This is true in all relationships that we share – think of your relationships (or sadly perhaps, lack of) with your mum, your dad, your husband, your wife, your children, the team at work, your social group – the list goes on. Relationship cannot really exist without communication.
And more, I think, the depth of relationship we share with someone is connected intimately with the degree to which we value our communication with them. If you are a father, think about the times when your young son or daughter runs up to you when you are working, eager to share something with you, full of excitement, expectant of the attention and love that will come in your response to them. You see, our response to our children is significant: Do we value what they bring to share with us enough that we stop what we are doing and give them our full attention? What about longer term? Perhaps they have shared a long and detailed story about something which occurred at school or with friends on a particular evening whilst being tucked by us into bed – do we value their sharing so much that these things form part of our relationship with them? Or do they deserve only a passing smile and small encouragement before passing in one ear and out the other? When they remind us of the event a week later, do we struggle to bring the details of the story they told to mind, or do those memories form a valued part of our life? Are the things our children share being treasured in our memories, with us counting as amazing privilege the opportunity to be able to be part of them? How valuable are they and the things they share, truly, to us? Have a think – I know that when I think honestly about my life, I can see that my actions demonstrate the things that I actually value in my life. When I have truly looked, I have not always liked what I saw.
It seems to me that this is even more significant and important when we think of our relationship with God.
Jesus once said that in order for us to truly live, we must get our strength not only from food but also from the things that God says personally to us (go on, check it out in the gospel of Matthew, I know you want to :)). So the question for us becomes, how much do we truly value the things God says personally to us? Do we hang on His every word? Or, are we a little like the father who half-listens in a distracted manner to the words of their child before returning to the other “important” things in our life. It is worth thinking about.
You see, I believe that the situation is very similar to what occurs in the example of our children. The strength of the relationship we have with God, and the degree to which that relationship brings strength to our lives (think food), is very much dependent on the degree to which we value and treasure the communication that occurs within that relationship.
This then, is the challenge for me: How do I, or should I, value the things that God says to me? Two thoughts come to the fore as I’ve thought about it: (i) remembering and (ii) airtime.
By remembering, I mean the things we do for memories that are dear or important to us. Think about a family photo album – we take photos of people, times, events and places that are important to us – we want to remember and treasure these things. It’s not as if we would completely forget that they occurred if we kept no record – I mean, technically, I will always remember that my daughter had a first birthday (a birthday happens every year, right?!), and technically, I will always remember that there was a day when my oldest boy started to walk (he couldn’t when he was born, right?!), and technically, I will always remember that my middle son graduated as Dux from primary school (I’m sure it will come to mind when I recall that everyone transitions from primary to high school at some point, right?!). Sounds ordinary, right?! The truth is that the things we treasure, we want to remember in exquisite detail, with every colourful detail preserved so that we can draw upon the experience and value the people that we shared the time with. This remembering also provides provides a place for us as individuals to recall our identity – our experiences in the past are extremely significant in establishing who we are as a person. Even though sometimes it is easy to forget. Selah. I think it should be the same with that which God speaks to us, and over us. We should do things that make sure we can preserve and recall all of the amazing things that God says to us personally, and all of the things that God declares personally over our lives. For my mind, recalling and preserving the things that God says is even more significant than recalling personal relationships – for God often speaks to us regarding our future. And this, like remembering where we’ve come from, is an incredibly significant part of our identity.
Airtime then. Think about advertising: Advertisers know that the more airtime a product gets, the more it is in front of us the consumer, the more that we become aware of, familiar with, and comfortable with the product. I believe that it is the same here. The more that we recall (give “airtime” to) the things that God has spoken to us, the more that they have the opportunity to shape and influence our lives. Do you remember the way Jesus connected the words of God with eating? It’s as if when give the words of God to us personally airtime in our lives, this gives them power to feed and grow us. Selah.
I think these thoughts also apply to the community of God (what we call the church). Food for thought. I’d be interested in your thoughts (take that as an invitation to comment :)).
So then: A longer post that I originally expected – I hope you’ve been able to stay with me. Isn’t it interesting how thoughts travel as we follow where they go in our minds? Australian citizenship, and the words that God speaks to us in our relationship with Him… two disconnected ideas that find connection in thinking about what we value in our life.