Born Free is a new book exploring how God can be experienced in the midst of life's demands. Author Katharine Hill, a former solicitor, offers guidance on how we can achieve stillness and create 'margin' for God every day.
Christian Today spoke with Katharine to hear about what inspired her to write the book and how we can meet God in the busyness of life.
What sparked your desire to write this book?
It's been a long journey for me, something that's been growing for a long time in terms of wanting to go deeper with God, and trying to work out how to do that within the demands of everyday life.
Like any journey there have been milestones on the way - and looking back one significant milestone came as a result of a friend asking me a simple question. If I'm honest it was the kind of question that pops up on my social media feed and generally makes me hit the delete button straight away! But I felt I should at least give it the time of day. The question was this: 'If you were to describe yourself as an animal, what animal would you be?" I found the answer came quite easily – I was an ant. I'm busy and productive, I'm quite small and I've got big capacity. I also remembered that the ant is praised for her industry in the book of Proverbs - and I decided it was a good question after all. But then she asked a follow up question 'If you could be any what animal would you like to be?' It's unnerving when a simple question reveals an uncomfortable truth about our lives. In that moment I realised I didn't want to be a busy little ant!
Instead my mind went to a scene from a trip I'd made to South Africa a few years before. After a week of delivering parenting seminars our hosts had taken us on a short safari. It was evening and the sun was setting, casting long shadows across the ground. In the evening light we saw a lioness beneath a tree, surrounded by her cubs. She was peaceful and calm, fully alert, scanning the horizon for movement – she was attentive and yet completely still. In that moment I knew the answer: I wanted to be a lioness. Instead of rushing around being busy like the little ant, I wanted to be someone who lived from that quality of attentive stillness.
Another milestone in my journey came in the Covid pandemic. Our kitchen calendar is the motherboard of our family life, each month packed full of appointments - work meetings, event tours, family engagements, or coffee with friends. There was a moment during lockdown when I turned over the calendar, and instead of thirty jam packed squares there were 30 white spaces, and I found my heart missed a beat. I realised that as hard as Covid had been, here was what the Bible calls 'treasure in the darkness'. Here was an opportunity to slow down, to learn to live differently. But the challenge was how to continue to live like that when lockdown ended and the diary filled up again.
You write that you didn't notice words like 'efficiency' or 'productivity' being used in the Bible to describe Jesus. As believers we are called to follow Jesus' example. How can we achieve this in the midst of a busy life and how can we maintain a kingdom mindset?
I think firstly, work is a really important part of our lives. There is a whole chapter in my book about work. God calls us to work and to be productive but not to do it to the extent that everyone around us and our own souls miss out in the process. I think one of the practical things we can do is to build margin into our day. If we read the gospels we see that Jesus was interruptible. Most of the miracles that take place are an interruption. He's on his way to heal Jairus' daughter and the woman who was bleeding for twelve years touches his cloak. He's on his way to the Passover and blind Bartimaeus calls out. He's preaching and there are some people lowering their friend through the roof. And each time he's able to stop and give them his attention. I think if we can build those margins in, then we'll find we have the space to respond to the interruptions of life, and so often that's where God meets us.
The pandemic saw society come to a standstill. Did this have any impact on your time with God?
Yes. Firstly there was such pain and heartache, particularly around families that caused me to want to pray for all those who were suffering. In those early days when we didn't know how it was going to turn out, the vaccines had not been introduced yet, there was definitely a call to pray for people. My heart especially went out to parents trying to juggle homeschooling alongside their other responsibilities, often in cramped conditions. Whatever our context it was a challenging time. But alongside that there was a chance to be more reflective and to live at a slightly slower pace and recalibrate what our priorities were. For me this was an opportunity to learn something different and then not to lose it.
Psalm 46:10 says 'Be still and know that I am God'. Can you recall a time you were reluctant to 'let go and let God'?
When life has been going well and family life has been relatively stable, the challenge has often been to do things in my own strength, to just to keep going and not take that moment to pause and be still. I believe this Psalm was written in the context of the turmoil of nations at war. Like every family we have had times of trauma, and in those moments there is also that temptation to not step back and allow God to be God. The verse says 'be still and know that I am God' - He is God, not us. I think sometimes it is so easy to think we are in control. But that was one thing that Covid taught us: we are not in control.
Has technology facilitated your walk with God?
It has facilitated my walk and at the same time has been a distraction. In lockdown everything went online, it had to. I think technology has been a lifeline for us but also there are some incredible challenges. For me my phone can be a big distraction. If I'm in the coffee queue, waiting for the bus, or for the checkout to become free I find myself automatically reaching for my phone, scrolling through Instagram or checking emails. There's nothing urgent to attend to – in spare moments it's just become a habit. In terms of the positive, I have done a number of online conferences. I am part of the Order of the Mustard Seed, which is part of the 24-7 Prayer movement, and in that context every morning since lockdown I pray with a group of people on Zoom. It's an amazing opportunity to pray with people from all around the world. That's been incredibly enriching for my husband and I to be involved in.
Do you have an anchor verse you lean on in times of distress?
Yes, several but I think one I come back to time and time again is Deuteronomy 33:27 where it says "underneath are the everlasting arms". I often read this verse and also offer it to others to read in times of trouble. It's just that reassurance that God is there - yesterday, today and in the future.
You write that spirituality is not a 'one size fits all'. What do you mean by that?
God has made us all unique and different and there are different ways that we connect our hearts with Him. For me listening to worship music or being out in creation feeds my soul. For others it might be studying the Bible, doing something creative, or spending time in fellowship with others. There's a book by Gary Thomas called Sacred Pathways where he explores all the different ways we can best connect with God, and I've found it freeing to discover how different we each are and how we can grow in our walk with him in a way that suits our personality.
How important is fellowship and how have you benefited from prioritising fellowship?
I'm an extrovert but I have introvert needs, and over the years I have discovered I need to guard time on my own as well as time with others. I love meeting with others and engaging in big celebrations with lots of people and worship. I think most important for me has been meeting up with others regularly to pray. John Wesley in the early Methodist Church used to meet other Christians in groups and they would ask each other 'how is it with your soul'. I think for all of us it is key that we find people who will ask us this.
How has your prayer life changed with each season of your life?
When I was a young lawyer, it was quite regimented. I had grown up with the understanding that you had your early morning quiet time and that was something you had to tick off as a completed task at the beginning of the day, alongside cleaning your teeth. In many ways I'm very grateful for that because it has been an important rhythm that I've known from my early years.
When we had our 4 children, all quite close in age, any rhythm of prayer went out of the window, and I just had to learn to grab the opportunity when I could. I think I learnt in those times, and more recently, how to turn to God in the everyday moments.
In the Message translation in Matthew 11, Jesus says, 'Walk with me, work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythm of grace.' It is something that we can do all the time and not just in a half hour in the morning. There are many references in the Bible to people praying three times a day, and I've discovered that's a routine that works for me. First thing in the morning, simply saying the Lord's prayer at lunch time, and then taking a moment again at night. That for me is a helpful rhythm.
What advice would you give to new believers in the faith to maintain the hunger for God's word?
I would say, find what rhythms work best for you and are enjoyable, a little like exercise. If we find exercise that is enjoyable we are more likely to do it. Four things that help me spend time in God's presence are finding spaces that are calm, comfortable, concealed, and carefree. So find something that works within your season of life, that works with your personality remembering that God delights to meet with us. Of course it's also about intentionality and choice, but remembering He's more ready to meet with us than we are Him. And I would also say: this isn't about a tick list, this is about a relationship. We are made to be in relationship with others, so make sure you have people that will cheer you along on the journey!
Born Free is out now priced £16.99.