Faith Worked Out: Rachel Hughes
Delighted to be sharing with you so much wisdom from Rachel Hughes, a role-model & inspiration to lots of our readers already. Rachel's story has inspired me very much, as has her energy and commitment to following God wherever she feels He is calling her to go. Let's be girls that listen well, and make ourselves available to God's call too! Enjoy Rachel's interview - it's a special one. L x
Ideal dinner party guest: Susannah Wesley or Angelina Jolie
Place on Earth most like Heaven: Has to be the beach!
Book on bedside table: A study on Daniel that I am determined to complete…
Song you would sing on an echoey stairwell: Let It Go!
Funny quote from your children: Phoebe: Mummy, why do you call Daddy ‘babe’?
Me: Well when you love somebody you like to call them special names like angel or honey – like I call you! Do you have any special names for Mummy? Phoebe: Yes Mummy: John.
Tell us a little about what you do now, and how you got there?
My primary role is to be a mum at home for our four children aged 7, 6, 4 and 2. Since my eldest daughter was born, I have felt very strongly that I should be at home – though this isn’t a decision that has come naturally to me. I love kids, but I pray daily for grace to be the mum that they need me to be. Particularly when lots and lots of my friends have returned to work, I feel like I’m always the one “left behind” at home.
Yet every time I have asked the Lord “is it time?” I have still felt like I needed to be at home; I have a strong sense that one day I will look back and be really glad that I’ve made this decision. However, this decision has been costly – something that any mums at home will understand, but for those without children, might sound ungrateful. It’s not an ingratitude by any means – and again, I thank God daily that I’ve been able to have four healthy children of my own: I don’t take that blessing lightly.
So what are you learning in this season of being at home?
Being at home with young children is a hidden season, a sacrificial season, and I’ve had to learn how to connect with God in a totally new way – it has changed my sense of identity, it the way I rely on God, communicate with God – everything.
As I said, I feel like God’s been speaking to me a lot about seasons. I think the cultural pressure is that you have to have everything now and immediately. We forget that for most people, life is 70 years long, and there are seasons along the way. I feel part of my ability to just sit in this season and be content is because I know there’ s more to come – I just know it! Though I don’t know what it will look like, I honestly totally trust God that beyond nappies and mopping up various bodily substances from various bits of our home (!) – I know that God’s got something different in store. This gives me sustenance for the season I’m in.
Who or what do you have a heart for?
Something I’ve felt passionate about for a long time is this desire to cheer on parents (mums) – something about being a mum to young children is so vital. There’s something that happens to a woman when she first has a child, and my heart is to get alongside women to help them to find connection in that time – whether that is connection with other Christians, or within the church. It can be a lost time – church becomes a logistical operation and not a spiritual experience, and you can slip under the radar easily. It can also be quite a dry time spiritually, and so yes – this is something that I’ve had on my heart to do since I became a Mum, to encourage others into a place of connections.
Are there other seasons that you remember as being particularly challenging or significant?
I think every season has its challenges – it has its good bits and bad bits, and it’s only as you get older that you’re able to appreciate the goods and bads of each season. I can think of a few particular times - one of these being single in my twenties.
Again, I wouldn’t claim to know too much about what it’s like to be long-term single; Tim and I started dating at 25, but I remember the years in my early twenties when I longed deeply to meet somebody, fall in love, and get married. It was draining and difficult! At that time I was working at the BBC, in a really exciting television career that I loved where I made entertainment TV programmes. It was so much fun, and my social life was very active – yet I always had that deep longing for a husband that I would spend the rest of my life with. There were many moments of pain, turmoil and disappointment in that season.
How did you find your time at university?
University I found really hard. Again, looking back through the eyes of a 36 year old I realise that I was having fun, but on a very superficial level. To be honest, there was a lot of drinking, lots of partying, and lots of sleeping around. I would have still said I was a Christian at the time; I went to church and Christian Union now again, and attempted at times to live that double life – I was drunk on Sat night, sleeping at somebody’s that night, and walking into church that next morning. It was a horrible, horrible way to live life.
That double life is awful, particularly when you’ve had a relationship with God before – and I had, having grown up as Christian, with fab Christian parents and siblings, as part of great church. But for me, I think what I struggled with most was that I always had a very fragile sense of self-esteem when it came to the way I looked. Because I struggled so much with my own sense of self-esteem, making some of those attractive guys attracted to me quieted that voice in my head telling me how inadequate and ugly I was.
It became a bit of a pattern. I was constantly seeking approval from guys, which inevitably leads down a sexual path. I had arrived at university with a desire to keep my virginity until I was married – I guess I knew the right thing to do, and yet the pressure was just too much. The only way I knew at the time to feel good was to sleep with guys that I guess gave me that sense of approval. But it was superficial, and of course the morning after the night before feeling is horrible: a hollow, aching feeling in your heart, where you KNOW what happened wasn’t the best, you know it and cant shake it off.
In the moment it makes you feel better, but afterwards, that sense of dignity is gone. I can remember on several occasions walking back to halls of residence in same clothes as night before and just feeling lonely and empty – a pervasive sense of rejection really. And I felt like I couldn’t really go back to God at that time; I carried such a deep sense of guilt and shame that was such a heavy weight on me. It actually wasn’t til I finished uni and was in a long-term relationship with a guy when I realised my life wasn’t going anywhere. I knew I needed to turn back to God, and I can remember being on my knees in my room just sobbing my heart out just asking God if I could come back. I felt the warmth, the presence and the cleansing acceptance of the Holy Spirit and I knew God was giving me a fresh start.
So – this was a real turning point for me. I moved to Manchester, and was living with a bunch of Christians on a council estate! Living with these Christian girls, I got to see for the first time what it looked like to live out Christianity in a way that was relevant, exciting and made sense. Of course I made mistakes, but I didn’t ever go back.
Having made a ‘fresh start’, how did you create habits and patterns that allowed you to grow closer to God, in this lifestyle that was no longer the ‘double life’ of your university years?
I think probably main thing was living with Christians – I knew at that point that unless I was accountable to committed Christians, I didn’t stance a chance. I lived in two houses: one with group of girls in Manchester, then with some girls in Watford who were part of Soul Survivor Church. Again, I wasn’t perfect – but these women were holding me to account in the most loving, godly, Christian way possible.
I remember particularly living with a lovely girl called Lex. There was a guy at work at BBC who asked me out; we had already been out on date, and he asked me to take things further in our relationship. I was chatting to Lex, and I will never forget that she said: Rachel, I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I will say you’re choosing a really dangerous path – and I don’t want to see you walk down that path. That HIT me! Nobody had ever challenged me in that way before. I knew she loved me, and I respected her so I listened and didn’t pursue the relationship.
Knowing that those godly women were watching what I was doing and asking these kinds of questions – that was profound. Really importantly we PRAYED together and we spurred each other on. For me, that was absolutely paramount. And then of course it’s the ‘boring’ stuff – the bread and butter of following Jesus. Regularly reading your bible, prayer time, journaling, serving at church, getting there every week – it’s just the everyday things that create those good habits.
We loved this Instagram post! What are some of the major ways God has been faithful across this time? What lessons have you learnt about Him?
I would say – if I could sum it up: God’s plans are always better than ours. That’s probably the main lesson I’ve learnt - to go with God’s plans. It sounds like a very cliché thing to say, but I think I had lots of ideas ten years ago – particularly before I married Tim, about how my life would look. Working in TV, I thought I would marry some hotshot Christian producer and that we would make life-changing films together that would bring the gospel to people in never seen before ways! The idea of working for a church was never in the plan!
And then I look at all the twists and turns: one being our decision to come to Holy Trinity Brompton. We loved Soul Survivor Watford, but had a strong sense that it was our time to go. Tim was offered the job of Worship Director at HTB, and we’d gone to Focus (church week away) to visit for 2 days, and I remember spending most of the first day in tears, saying Tim we’re not going to some posh church in London! This is not me at all!
Then we went for a walk on the beach with Nicky & Pips, who didn’t give us the sales pitch at all, but just chatted to us, and of course the Spirit was totally at work. Tim and I walked back from the beach, walked into our room and said to each other: we’re going arent we! God’s made it clear! It wasn’t writing in the sky, it was just a deep sense of the next twist in the journey.
To be honest we’re at another one of those turning points right now. We feel very called to church plant in Birmingham. Again, Birmingham – not in the plan! We went to Sydney in Australia this Christmas and I’d just gone for a run on the most staggeringly beautiful beach on the coach in Queensland, looking at the beautiful sea and just thanking God for sense of calling. In a human sense, Tim and I could pack up things, take the kids, move to Australia and live a lovely life on the beach – but God has called us to Birmingham. For some strange reason, the strong sense of calling bypasses any of those “would be nice” feelings – but creates a meant-to-be feeling.
What advice would you give to girls seeking to serve God with their gifts and passions, but unsure of what the right path is for them?
I’ve been thinking and praying (particularly as we think about starting our own church) about what it looks like to take the presence of God out to people. Of course we want to invite them into church and into community, but what does it look like to take the presence of God out where you are?
For those asking God ‘what do you want me to do’, ask instead: ‘God, what are you doing where I AM?’ Trust and believe that God already is at work.
If the attitude of your heart is genuinely one of availability (only God will test that) but if it is, then God will guide you. He will lead you. It might not happen in the way you think, it might not happen immediately – but I suppose my encouragement would be to seek and ask God what He is doing in the place you already are.
I think about me being a mum at home; as I said, it’s not always the most inspiring season, and it certainly doesn’t feel like a season where I’m utilising all my gifts; nobody is praising me publicly, but I’m learning to continually ask God: what are you doing here? In my home? In my street? Amongst the people I’m with?
And it’s been so encouraging to see God at work amongst the people on my doorstep! I’m doing this parenting course at my house, and three mums who don’t come to church are coming to do this course! I know God is at work in that. It might not be the glamorous high-profile stuff, but it IS the Kingdom! That’s the question to ask: where’s the Kingdom activity in what you’re doing?
If your heart is one of availability, then God will steer you and move you. Remember that you will experience seasons; it’s not always going to be job satisfaction or exciting initiatives, it’s often simply faithfulness and obedience. Sometimes we can think that unless we’re feeling totally fulfilled, there must be something wrong – perhaps we’re not where we’re supposed to be. Yet I think God is looking for faithfulness. That means some seasons will be harder and less fruitful than others. But God is looking for faithful servants! Will you be one?