I’m sorry to do this to you. Another blog so soon after the last. But I don’t seem to have much choice. I can’t sleep until I’ve said this.
Tonight I went to a prayer meeting. For those of you who think this sounds pious and a bit Amish, it isn’t. It was an assorted small group of men and women, a farmer, an office worker, a landscape gardener, a carer, a youth worker etc, sitting in a brightly lit church, thinking about the needs of our little town and the world we know of, and just speaking those thoughts aloud. To God. We kicked off with a reading from a Psalm (oh, come onnn, you know what that is, a piece of poetic writing that would have been sung in the years before Christ, and still is in some cultures) and then we prayed in small groups, and one of the prayers was for young people in our town.
And these are the thoughts I had that surprised me: all over the UK and most of the Western world, society has changed so much in the last 50 years that the nuclear family has undergone its own nuclear explosion. There’s no judgment here, we are all where we are right now, we have arrived here because of our humanity, and no one is better than anyone else. I divorced my first husband, I’ve led a Godless and wayward life and I don’t sit in judgment of anyone, but I have eyes to see and a wealth of experience.
Both tell me that the world is not as God intended. Those of you who don’t believe in God, try adding another ‘o’ and consider the idea that the world is not now even as ‘good’ intended. The security and safety of a loving family, mum and dad, siblings, grandparents is the rare exception rather than the rule. Of course the outwardly stable family, all through history, has too often been a terrible construct, full of unhappiness and cruelty. But that was never what God (or ‘good’) intended. God intended the family to be a place of love and safety. That is what we held up as the ideal.
So, if it has never been quite that, what am I banging on about? In the 60’s a slow change began. It gradually became old hat to even want a happy or life-long marriage, divorce and birth control and sexual freedom became the ‘good’ or the God. Fast forward half a century and now we have a society with no framework, no norm. Anything is the norm. Everything is the norm. Nothing is the norm. Nothing is ‘good’, nothing is ‘God’.
Every town in the UK has a high ratio of children with a disrupted family life, with at least one missing parent, and a stranger as a step parent. One child I know of – I’ll call her Lost – has two step fathers, two step mothers and her mother, who divorced Lost’s natural father before the child could even talk. She’s also divorced from the step father who brought Lost up for twelve years, and who Lost called ‘Dad’. That stepfather has since remarried (Lost called her ‘my second Mum’), divorced and is with a new girlfriend (just a few years older than Lost and pregnant). Lost is lost somewhere in the middle of all that mess. She’s 17. All three divorces were no-blame, quickies. Cheap and cheerful. Fill in a few forms and sign on the dotted line. Whether you talk about God or ‘good’, you and I both know this is not the way to raise a happy child.
I don’t pontificate about morals. That’s not my job. It’s none of my business what your morals are, what you do, who you are. Whoever you are, God loves you, right now, every bit of you.
(What is my job? I’ll tell you in a minute)
I’m just speaking up for the children. I know, first hand, how a disrupted and loveless childhood can cripple and warp a whole lifetime. One of my brothers was alcoholic by 19, my other brother never experienced a relationship, I was a mess. Childhood casts a long shadow. I know what I’m talking about.
I know from my own experience, that even when the concept of family was respectable and honoured, even then, every crime that could be committed behind a closed front door was committed. I know that. I am not harking back to a mythical golden age. Mankind has always been cruel and self seeking. But the balance has shifted. Where once, in our society, it was the exception for a child to be unloved in a chaotic domestic situation, now it’s so common as to be unremarkable.
It’s no accident that our news media is full of allegations of suicide, drug dependancy, sexual abuse, violence, mental illness. When the foundations of the house crumble, the whole damn edifice tumbles down. In the last 50 years, generations have grown to parenthood and the damage done to them in their own childhoods has been passed down, incrementally worse, to the next generation. How do we start to unpick this? How do we start to undo the damage done?
We can’t. We are helpless. Our prayer meeting tonight focussed, to begin, on some verses from Psalm 127, a Psalm which starts ‘Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.’ We considered that verse, reflecting that we’re unable to do anything worth doing, anything entirely ‘good’, without God. Sorry, folks, you can add an ‘o’ if it makes you feel more comfortable, but looking at the world we must recognise that there is no ‘good’ without God. We can’t solve our own small difficulties, let alone the world’s problems, by our own human power. Every scrap of intelligence we have, all the knowledge we’ve amassed over the millennia and all the technology and industry that we’ve developed have only brought us here, to this sad state of helplessness.
As we prayed tonight, I heard/spoke/felt the question ‘How can we untangle this terrible mess, Lord?’ and I realised that we can’t. There is no human way we can sort out the tragedy of our children, man has no solution to the problems of the world he has polluted, you and I can’t replace the rotten political systems of the whole globe, we are truly helpless. Unless the Lord builds the house…. we are wasting our time.
I suddenly saw the image of an apple pie (yeah, okay, it’s a very parochial mind I have. A sort of Little House On The Prairie mind). Where did that image come from, and why?
I found myself asking if we could ever take that lovely golden apple pie and deconstruct it? Could we take out the apple, and rebuild it into the crisp cold fruit, smooth and perfect, that the pie started with? Could we take out the sugar and recrystallise it, pure and sparkling? Could we sift the flour, reform the butter, tip the cinnamon back in its little pot? No way, José. But I know someone who can. God who made the little green apples. God who grew the sugar cane, the wheat, God who can do all things.
We can’t undo the damage we’ve done to our children. We can’t end the wars and the famines caused by man’s greed. We can’t undo the climate change caused by our pollution. We can’t take even one child in this little Welsh town and mend all the harm done to her. But I know someone who can. The God who has His arms open wide, the God who died for her, the God who breathed all things into being.
How do I know this? How do I know that God can mend the harm we do to a child? Because I’ve been there. I’ve been one of the lost and damaged, just about as lost and damaged as a person can be, and God has mended me.
So I know for certain sure that nothing is impossible for God. Even mending me.
Ahhh. There we go! I got there in the end. That’s my job. To know that God can do all things, to depend on Him totally and to love Him. And if I love Him then I’ll love and serve others. My job isn’t to judge, it’s simply to know, really know, fully believe, that nothing is impossible for God.
So I hold all our lost children up to Him, trusting Him to heal them. He loves them so much that He died for them. Who else will I trust with these tender souls? Only God.