But sometimes, by happy happenchance, we get it right.
Tonight I am the happiest soul alive in this world. I think so anyway. I must be. Tonight it’s House Group night in our church and instead of going to a house group I host our Young Adults. There can be 8 or 12 or more, depending on school and work obligations, and they range from 16 to nearly 30. It’s a sociable and warm evening so sometimes a few not-so-young adults sneak in. All I do is put a bit of food on the table and (usually) hoover before they come. I love these evenings. I can’t always hear everything they say – too many Canadians, too many beards muffling enunciation, too many shy teens, but I love ’em anyway.
What is the cause of my happiness? Why does sticking a few packets of crisps on the table and watching kids devour them please me so much?
I’ll tell you why. It’s because everything I have is a gift. These young adults are a gift to me, my friends are a gift to me, these evenings are God’s very special gift to me. I love all His gifts, and more importantly, they are exactly what I need. God has given me all I need. And more. More and more and more.
I own nothing. Absolutely nothing. Everything I have is on loan. If someone else needs it, then so be it. I live in a house and legally I am the owner but ‘legally’ and ‘really’ aren’t the same thing. One day I will lose my house as I am carried out of it in a wooden box (or a trendy woven basket). I drive a car that I love and the log book says I’m the owner or keeper, but one day I will no longer be able to drive and that car will be passed on to someone else. I ‘own’ two dogs but they are my happy responsibility not my possessions. Everything I have belongs to and comes from God, and it’s all on loan.
And whether you believe in God or not, everything you have is on loan. Nothing is for keeps.
What liberation it is to say that I own absolutely nothing. I don’t want to own anything. I want to rely on God for absolutely everything. If tomorrow God shows me that someone else needs my house more than I do, I’ll be on the pavement before you can say ‘here’s the key’. It will not cause me a moment’s regret. It’s not mine to keep, it’s only mine to give away.
And money ?! Listen, my little jitterbugs, who the hell wants money? What earthly good is it? It’s certainly no heavenly good. Money becomes precious only when we spend it on other people or give it away. Money in the bank, for a Christian, is an obscenity. I’m not talking about prudent money management – it would be daft to have nothing there for an expected bill or a fund for an emergency, but beyond that – forget it. Amassing wealth is abhorrent, as well as foolish. Who are you kidding, Mr Fatcat, with your many houses and cars and private jets, tax schemes and overseas bank accounts? It could all be gone tomorrow. Your next breath could be your last – and by the time you hit the pavement you’ll have lost everything. Except eternity.
You know, this is not me being holy and pious and right. I’ve simply never ever understood the allure of money and wealth, or fame and power. I just don’t get it. I don’t know why, I just never have. Can’t explain it. Happy happenstance.
My step mother, a great believer in eating everything on the plate, used to poach plaice in milk. It made me gag and the thought of it still makes me feel slightly sick. The skin was the worst bit and if she gave me the side with the thick slimy white coating, it was all I could do to swallow it. It infuriated her – she would say to me, every damn time ‘Why don’t you like it?’ As a child speech was always a hurdle, but really that question was unanswerable for anyone. And she wanted an answer. Why didn’t I like fish? It’s like asking me why I like the colour pink. I just do. I just didn’t.
Wealth… much the same way as I don’t like poached fish, air pollution or climate change, I just don’t like it. Simple. I’m always amazed that much cleverer people than me are fooled by wealth. Live for wealth. Dream of it, slave for it. I’ve been pig poor and I’ve had a load, a real LOAD of money coming in, but I’ve never had wealth because I just don’t see the point of it. As it comes in, it goes out. And I’m happy that way. I’m not good or saintly, I’m just happy and free.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6
And fame! What sane person wants fame? When that came knocking on my door I moved house. Mind you, it didn’t do me much good! Here’s a little story ; I lived in the country, in a converted barn, all through the first series of Peak Practice. Peaks was a great hit right from the start and I had people interviewing me, wanting to film me, to spend a day with me for a magazine article, all the usual stuff. Because it was such a very rural location with few houses, soon everybody knew where I was, so I decided to move to a small town, to a house slap-bang in the centre, in a little maze of streets, hidden by other houses, with a wall and gates and privacy. Surely there I would slip under the radar? On the day of the move, friends went ahead to open up the new house and I came along later, showing the removers the way. As we entered the town I had a phone call from one of the friends who had gone ahead of us, ‘Look at the A board outside the paper shop as you come past.” I did. It said, in thick bold letters “Famous writer moves to Wirksworth”
A postscript to that story is that an enterprising businessman started ‘Peak Practice Tours’, taking busloads of fans around the filming locations, and sometimes I would step out of my door, putting out the rubbish, or taking in the milk, maybe in my pj’s, to find a coach load of eager fans at my garden wall, standing on tip-toe, craning their necks as their guide announced ‘That’s her – the creator of Peak Practice.’ and I’d hastily shuffle backwards, swearing under my breath.
OK, I can’t be arsed with money and fame and so I’ve ended up with none of either. How about honours? Do I get excited about them?
I have a Bafta. The statue-thing is made of base metal. It’s neither use nor ornament. It means nothing. When I die it will go into a landfill and clutter up the Earth until the day of judgment. I have a load of other stuff. A medal on a ribbon, a signed scroll, a statue, a line drawing… I’m an honorary doctor…. Listen, bloggites, it’s all crap! It’s all worthless, tinsel, flam-flam, bauble. It was fun on the day when it was given or awarded or bestowed or whatever. It was nice meeting her Majesty, it was great knocking back the bubbly, it was fun wearing a silly hat and a robe at the Uni, it’s a right laugh being on the red carpet at the Baftas…. and it all means nothing.