My husband was a Scot. Born and raised in Glasgow, he grew up and thrived on fried food, square sausage, white pudding, loads of sugar and thick creamy milk. His dad died at 64 following years of ill health and a stroke, both brothers had heart trouble, and that was the general expectation in his family – the heart disease and fried Mars Bars of Scotland going hand-in-hand. But I was a nurse, so I PDQ said “None of that unhealthy nonsense for my George, thank you very much!” We were married for 15 years and in that time he gave up smoking, we didn’t own a frying pan, we used only low fat spreads (yuch! How could I do that to the man I loved?) and semi-skimmed milk and he had to fight for every spoonful of sugar (he designed and built sugar refineries, so this came hard). George was a sausage maniac so to avoid total rebellion, meltdown and divorce, we had grilled sausages maybe once a week. He was forced to eat vegetables (“What’s this green crunchy stuff?”) and when I was working long shifts I would leave healthy food in the fridge and oodles of instructions on a sheet of paper very prominently displayed. I would return from work to find the food untouched and the note neatly folded in the bin. Our daughter would let slip that they had (once again) had an all-day breakfast at the Little Chef and Daddy had winked and said ‘Tell no one.’
You blokes, you’re just the same as my George. You know you’re all naughty twelve year olds at heart.
But he had some things on his side – he was a great sportsman; a veteran oarsman, he ran 18k three or four times a week, he was a black belt in Judo and he loved table tennis and squash. We had boxer dogs and a Great Dane and they were walked twice a day. You’d think all those things would even out and let him to live long enough to see our daughter grow up, wouldn’t you? Oh, no, me hearties. Not so.
How much good did I do? All my planning and preparation, all those cling-filmed meals, salads and fish? How much good did he do? All that cardiovascular exercise? Well, apparently, not a lot – George dropped dead of a heart attack long before he could match his Dad’s 64 years. Flip me! All that careful forward thinking. Don’t you hate it when a plan crumbles to sand in your sweaty little mitts?
Jesus said “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” and I think that’s the only verse in the Bible that I completely get, that I completely and utterly, in every fibre of my being, understand. I KNOW that worrying about death is a total waste of time and energy. In fact, the teaching I need to get my head around far, far more is in 2 Peter
‘…. make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. ‘
Make every effort! So, I can’t after all sit back and while the days away, worry free and confident. Bother. Just when I was going to kick my shoes off and snooze in a patch of rare sunshine.
I gave an interview to The Guardian a few years ago in which I described myself as ‘cow-like’ and this made friends and family splutter in indignation. How could anyone call themselves a cow? But, you know, I am. I don’t worry about ‘stuff’. The world ending, death, illness, any of the big things. Here I am, standing in a corner of my field, gazing into space, lost in thought, chewing cud and sinking slowly into the mud. Quite happy. It’s when I have to step out and join the rest of the herd, doing small stuff, that the trouble starts. That’s when the worry kicks in. Not about anything grand like life expectancy, or next year, or finance or anything ‘grown up’, but about how I will walk along with others… how I will fit in, not get in the way, not ruin everything for everyone else, I mean – really – idiotic things like where I should stand and ….. oh, its too boring to explain.
Death? Come when you like. Bankruptcy? Who cares. Failure? Been there and it’s no big deal. Success? Been there too, and ditto. So, the only thing left to worry about is just being a part of the herd. And here’s the thing I’m beginning to understand… there’s nothing I can do about that either! I can’t add an hour to my life by worrying, but neither can I make myself fit in any better by worrying. The energy I could have saved over all the years! My worrying will not make me wanted or more acceptable, will not make me invisible, will not make others more forgiving. All my worrying does is to keep me away from prayer and praise, joy and worship. And love.
Yesterday was a learning-heavy day. Three sermons. I mean, c’monnn…. even Theresa of Lisieux would be pushed to equal that! Check me for a halo. The last one was about habits. Well, no, it was about Lazarus. But it was about Lazarus casting off his grave cloths and walking free and alive, and about the habits we adopt, sometimes without even recognising them. It was a bit of a stunner. I heard two very similar messages over the last three years and each has smoothed out a little bit of sharp and awkward me. Last night another rough edge was about to be sanded down. I had arrived a few minutes before the service kicked off and our little church has two inner doors. If I can’t sneak in around the back mostly unnoticed, I go in by the right-hand door, find a pew sorta half-wayish and sit near the wall. No probs. Take a breath. Recover. Put on a smile. Look around. But last night there were about five hundred men standing at my usual door. At least five hundred. Might have been a few thousand. So I slipped in through the other door. That’s who I am. I’m the person who doesn’t like walking into a group, I’m the person who sidles sideways and ducks and avoids eye contact. That’s who I am. I didn’t think twice about it.
And then came the message. You know, if you’re a Christian you’ll have heard this teaching a million trillion times. And if you’re like me you’ll have needed every single one of them. Dammit. Last night the message covered who we are. We are who God says we are. We are loved. We are wanted. We are free. Does God say I’m the person who has to sidle in and duck and dodge and wish for invisibility? Nope. He jolly well doesn’t. What did He die for? To make me an apologetic, shut-in, deeply suspicious, barely tolerated outcast? Hardly. So why am I acting like one? I mean, come on, this is God we’re talking about. He died to achieve perfection. His was the perfect, perfect, sacrifice. He didn’t nearly save me. He didn’t nearly give me a new life. Or give me a new half-life (isn’t that a radio isotope?). He did the job perfectly. I am a new creature, and I’m wanted and loved. Yep! ME! Even in bloody church.
Hah! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. Should I take out the ‘bloody’? Probably.
Nah… leave it.
Last night, as we heard ‘It’s for freedom you’ve been freed’ and heard a sweet testimony from a young woman, I didn’t see Lazarus stumbling into the daylight, I saw me, slipping into the wrong door and walking around the pews the wrong way to get to a place of ‘safety’. And I realised that it has become my habit, but it isn’t a joyful one, it isn’t the good habit of a woman free to love and be loved. It’s the habit of an unloved and confused person, something learned 60 odd years ago.
Sixty years ago! How dim am I? Don’t answer that.
Yesterday we sang a hymn:
I am chosen
I am who You say I am
You are for me
Not against me
I am who You say I am
Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes, I am!
That’s my genesis now. My genesis is God. My genetics come from him.
When George died they discovered something about his genetics… he had lived with a heart condition from his early years, possibly from birth, and then all through his youth when he was such a keen and successful athlete. We knew his pulse rate was slow, that his cardio-vascular strength and stamina were amazing, and we had always thought of that as a good thing – the much talked about ‘athlete’s heart’. Now, post-mortem, we were told that he had lived with acute cardiac hypertrophy for many years. The increased musculature of his heart simply kidded him into thinking he was wonderfully fit. Every race he ran, every long distance run he completed, every regatta he competed in, told him that he was healthy.
A bit like me, thinking that because I don’t fear death, I have great trust in God.
I need now to learn to trust Him in the little things, too. In the walk into church, in the conversation with a stranger, in the daily round of life. What I can’t do in my own strength, He can do in me. It’s great to worship Him in love and trust when I’m on the beach, or at my table, or drowsing in bed… alone and safe…. but how about when I’m putting out the rubbish, or when I see someone I know in the supermarket, or when it’s Sunday evening and I’m stepping into that bloomin’ porch……? How about trusting God then?
Three sermons. My brain hurts. The more I learn…. the more I realise how … hang on, Theresa said it better, and here she is: