Faith Worked Out: Margaret White
Ever since we did this interview last summer, parts of it have popped back into my mind regularly, especially this little sentence: There Is A God, It Is Not Me. During essay season, I have whispered this to myself most mornings! It really is an honour to share Margaret's interview with you all today, and I'm praying that her example and energy will propel you to seek God's kingdom wherever you might be placed. Read it all, read it twice, take lots of notes, stick it on your wall - I promise it will be a great start to your weekend! L x
£10 treat: Some beautiful flowers
My coffee order: Flat White
Quality I'd most like to have: A better memory
Place on Earth most like Heaven: St David's, Pembrokeshire - especially in the Spring.
Thing in my handbag I never use: Most of the functions on my phone...
Tell us about who you are & what you do...
Like most people, my life is a mix of lots of different things. Firstly and foremostly, I see myself as a child of God: that is the identity I base my life upon, the most important thing.
Secondly, I am a wife, and am very involved with my husband's work, which involves meeting lots of people - so I try to support him, to be welcoming and to take a genuine interest in those we come into contact with. I'm also a mother to Emma and James, and at the moment this is an interesting stage because they are both in transition - Emma has recently married, and James is about to leave home, so I will soon be an empty nester! However, this is just going to mean a change in how I am a mother to them, not a change in status.
I also work as a teacher. I teach English, and have responsibility for the teaching and learning of 400 children. I take this very seriously, as it's really important work to make sure that we educate the next generation as well as we can, in a way that is in line with God's principles. They say that you go into teaching either because you love or loathe school. I found school really hard – unnecessarily so. I didn’t see a reason why schools should be unhappy places, and part of my motivation in going into teaching was to try and make school a better experience for children.
What about your journey of faith? Have you always known Jesus?
I am so grateful that I grew up in a Christian home, where I was the youngest of four children - this was always lots of fun! There was never a time when I didn't know God, but my parents were always very clear in showing me that my decision was a personal one, left very much to me to make. I decided on relationship with Jesus when I was very young, and I've never looked back - though my faith has been grown, challenged and made more robust over these past forty years.
Upon leaving school, I went to university in Cambridge (much to my surprise!) but I found studying at such a high level very hard and challenging, though God's hand was very clear across my time there; university is also where I met my husband. After graduating, I went straight into teaching, and taught until Emma was born, only returning part-time to teaching when James turned eight.
So, this meant that I had 11 years out of paid work. During that time, my primary responsibility was my family, but I was also very involved with ministry at our church in Bath. I was particularly involved in ministering to our children and young people, and one of my big projects was writing a musical for them, which we performed and recorded. It was called The Promise, and it told the story of the Bible. Writing and producing this musical showed me how God works in extraordinaryand unexpected ways, and it taught me a lot about him, and how exciting it is for us to be caught up in his work.
What do you love about what you do? What energsises you, what are your passions?
I love that my life, in all its spheres, is very people-orientated. Through my husband's work, we meet so many diverse people who contribute in widely different ways to society. This is such an enormous privilege, and I love meeting such a huge range of people. In my teaching 'sphere', it's also all about people - especially the children, who are such good fun and from whom I learn so much. I also learn a lot from my colleagues, who really care about what they do. It's wonderful to have such a clear shared purpose with them.
What do you believe you are put in your place to do?
I think that we are put wherever we may be - hourly, daily, weekly - to try and live out God's kingdom values in that place. I really think we're called to do this. So, I try (and fail!) to live imagining that this world is Heaven, doing what I can to try and live as closely to God's loving and perfect ways as possible.
Last year, I only read the Gospels, which was so interesting and challenging, as well as a real blessing. I spent one whole weekend on John 15, which talks about Jesus being the vine. It taught me again that our purpose is to bear fruit - and I think as Christians we all want to do this, wherever we are. Jesus makes it clear that the only way to bear fruit is to abide in Him, and the fruit that we should be bearing is love for one another - so that's what I ask God to help me do.
What does this look like in practice?
In my teaching, my faith affects how I view the children. I am so encouraged and delighted that our school has Christian principles at its heart and we try to see the children in the light of these. Striving to work out practically how to live by these principles has taught me a lot about living out my faith in a position of responsibility. I strongly believe that every child is an individual of infinite worth, and that they are all of equal value, so in school we foster individual integrity and respect for others. I see each one as uniquely gifted, and I aim to encourage my colleagues to actively seek out the strengths and gifts of each pupil too.
Another Christian principle is that of continual learning. So when children make mistakes, we aim to foster a spirit of forgiveness, so that they learn from them, pick themselves up and move forward with a fresh start. We also want to teach that we are mutually dependent. This is a kingdom value – that we are part of one body, and we all need each other – and this is acknowledged and appreciated in our school.
I find that especially when teaching English Literature, we talk about really important parts of life - death, love, relationship, loss - and inevitably Christian values will come through as central in these. However, as my parents taught me when I was growing up, God gives us free will and we must never take that away from other people. This means that we aim to teach the children how to think (for themselves), not what to think.
It's also especially important as colleagues to view each other compassionately, avoiding criticism and hierarchy by focusing on the fact that everyone brings a strength and that everyone has next steps to take (continual learning!). Society can be so hierarchical, judging people by the amount of money they earn, the number of friends they have, the job that they do, but this is NOT how God looks at us. We are all precious in His sight, and this is a truth that I try and live out in practice in all my spheres of life.
What are some of the biggest lessons that God has taught you along the way?
I think that the biggest lesson that I am continually learning is this:
There Is A God. It Is Not Me.
This seems obvious... but it really helps to remember that the universes revolves around God, that the very nature, existence, being of God is the framework of the entire world. It is within this picture frame that we make sense. This speaks to me in so many situations - when I don't understand difficult things, I shouldn't expect to - there is a God, and it is not me!
I've also learnt that when we pray, we are in closest touch with reality: acknowledging who God is, seeing life and the world as it truly is. This is why I try and cultivate an organised (structured) and disorganised (spontaneous) prayer life – every time I pray I am reminded of the real, bigger picture of life.
I remember a period of intense suffering, where I was at a point of absolute exhaustion and depletion - and I remember praying: All I want is to know you're there. God really honoured this prayer, and since then I have had a clearer understanding of His presence. I've had the picture of everything being filled with His love - that He fills everything with His presence - leaves on a tree, conversations between friends... He is everywhere and in everything.
I have also learnt that nothing in God's economy is ever wasted - such an encouragement!
What advice would you give to someone struggling to know what her gifts and passions are, and how to use them for God?
Pray. Pray with close friends, pray with your family, pray on your own. Trust that God will guide you, even though He doesn't always speak to us in a way that is initially clear to us. Get on and trust - God is very good at closing doors (!) and I once heard that the door of opportunity is labelled PUSH - so be willing to push doors and accept what happens.
I would also encourage you strongly to read the Bible. The Bible is wonderful at doing three things:
- It teaches us the BIG universal truths: God is creative – He made the world beautiful but it is spoilt by all the wrong we do; God is redemptive – His purposes are to restore that perfection and He has made this possible for anyone who wants to be part of it through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus; God is relational – by His Spirit He lives in us personally and works with and through us patiently restoring us to all that we should be.
- It tells us the principles of how to live: this is goodguidance for us as we make decisions. The Bible's way of living is not always the same as the world's, but we can trust what it says. Building our lives on the guiding words of Jesus is like building our house on solid rock that will withstand the storms and gales of life.
- It is personal, active, living and individual: the Word is alive, and it speaks right into our individual situations. When we read the Bible each day it is uncanny how often it speaks directly into our circumstances, giving just the right encouragement, correction or insight.
It's also really hard to do, but we have to leave space for God to guide us - so don't be too busy to listen, because it's hard to move to something new unless you leave space for flexibility. I wrote The Promise in a gap of time where I had space to listen, and in this space, God moved me into a new area of ministry. So, don't be afraid of space - and do take time to listen. Finally, I'd say - find something you enjoy and that you think you're good at! God will close doors that aren't suitable, so don't be afraid to go and do something you love for the glory of God.
What encourages you to keep pursuing Jesus in every sphere of your life?
These principles will apply from one part to all parts of your life, but this is what I've learnt: in this world, nothing is perfect. Many things are very, very good - but nothing is perfect. We can view the world slightly like the aftermath of a shipwreck, where some things are incredibly beautiful, but all in disarray. Things can be good, enjoyable, beautiful but they will never reach perfection in this world.
If we can accept this and stop searching for perfection, we will feel less disappointed and frustrated and be more peaceful and joyful. We can see good in everything and everyone and thank God for its place in our lives, living with an ‘attitude of gratitude’ but seeing everything good as a foretaste of Heaven, rather than as perfect here and now. Work is a good example; I can be grateful for the good in my work, but realize it will always be a mix of the frustrating and the fulfilling. Certainly my own contribution will also be flawed!
In each situation, I'll try and ask myself: what's good? And what can I do better? How can I move forward in this situation towards the values and life of the kingdom of heaven? Because we are all on a journey, and that is how I see life, as an exciting, adventurous pilgrimage. My favourite Psalm is Psalm 84, where in verse 7 it seems counterintuitive as it talks about how the pilgrims get stronger as they go:
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.
In the Christian life, our goal is to move towards Jesus, as we are made stronger by Him. We will move from desolation to light, from darkness to promise. This is the hope we have!