I’d had my new (used) car for about a month when I realised with horror that I’d done 20 thousand miles in it, or ten thousand. Or something. And my insurance covers me for 10 rotten thousand miles in a whole year. So, in a blind panic, thinking I was now illegal I took it back to the garage… “Could you check the mileage counter thing? I’m sure it’s wrong. I can’t have gone all the way to Siberia and back pootling around West Wales, can I? I mean, can I?”
The salesman was kind. He didn’t actually call me an idiot. His look was one of pity. I can’t remember now how many miles I’d done but it wasn’t twenty or two thousand. Maybe it was two hundred. Anyway, stupid decimal points and confusing noughts …. clinging onto my dignity I accelerated away, (simultaneously kicking myself).
Numbers. Who needs ’em?
Today I’ve ordered a new carpet runner for my hall. I measured the hall five times, making it a different length each time. I should explain that I have a small house with a long long hallway. That sounds impossible, but it isn’t. Anyway, I measured it five times and then did the metric to imperial conversion a few times, and then measured it again, this time in stupid metric, and looked up and down the street to see if any neighbours were around to double check it, but they weren’t…. and then I remembered why husbands are a good idea and why George really was a stinker for dying like that….. Then I thought about ringing someone from the church just to check but I don’t think measuring halls comes under the responsibilities of the Care Team….. there’s a pal coming for supper tonight so I could wait for her… but that seemed pathetic so I took a deep breath and finally ordered online. Since then I’ve measured it twice more. I expect I’ll measure it again tonight. And who knows what will arrive on Wednesday? It may be the exact length of the new runway at Heathrow for all I know.
Numbers are rubbish. Fact.
So, listen, last weekend we had this fab sermon about counting the cost of becoming a Christian. We were looking at what Jesus said about a man building a tower – in Luke 14 – “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” As you can imagine, I’m rubbish at estimates, but I do remember really clearly, way way back, when I was thinking about God and listening to some great teaching at Durban North Baptist Church, that I had to know the cost of being a Christian before I stepped out. The carpet runner’s only 150 quid, but the cost of following Jesus is … well, as I learned back then and I was reminded this week, everything.
A cheerful, willing, lively, rich, thankful everything! Why so cheerful? Because we already have everything. We already have everything we need in Jesus so everything else is just dross. I have many wealthy friends in the world of telly – they have homes with 6, 7, 8 bedrooms… they may have two or three houses…. but they can only live in one at a time, sleep in one bedroom at a time. And their lives become a slavery to the things they own. They work to pay the taxes on each property, the heating and upkeep, the insurance, sometimes the staff, the expense of travelling from one to the other…. I wonder if they ever count the cost in time and stress, in wasted hours on motorways or in airport terminals…. Maybe not, because counting the cost might just be a tiny bit depressing.
You know what struck me today? No, you don’t have a clue so I’ll tell you – Jesus could have said “Suppose you want to build a house? Or a stable?” but He didn’t. He said ‘a tower’ and I wondered why He chose that. A tower surely would be built only by a rich man, someone wanting to make a statement, an edifice that would be seen for miles and miles. How great would the indignity be if you had the hubris to start a TOWER and then ran out of money! Everyone would see it! Hah! What a twit! A self important, rich, self-publicising twit. The higher we climb, the further we fall.
An uncluttered life is fabulous, my little pumpernickels. My life is simple. A bedroom for me, a bedroom for my grandchildren, a second hand car, a flat line in the bank, and that’s it. What more does anyone want in life? Nothing to count, no numbers involved, simplicity, prayer, friends, beach, hairy little mongrel dogs. Heaven on earth.
And sometimes it doesn’t feel like heaven. If you read my blog you know I struggle – I don’t pretend to be smiley and little-house-on-the-prairie-ish just because I’m Christian. There are hard and lonely and bloody bitter days. There are. But into every life a little rain must fall. Or as Jesus said ‘In this life you will have trouble’. What have I given up for Jesus? For 30 years I gave up not a single thing. But 5 years ago I gave up telly. I gave up writing series, popular dramas, I gave up my life style. Steadily and surely my income plummeted.
What have I lost? Nothing.
What have I gained? Everything.
There was no single point at which I decided to pack in the telly work, but rather as I read the Word, and listened to good sound teaching, and came to know God a little better, I found that I couldn’t say yes to this project… and then to that project… I found that what had seemed fun and important now seemed empty….. that I wanted to be at home on Sundays, that I wanted time to listen to the sermons again, to let them sink into my bones….. to read the Word and learn…. and I realised that drama too often demeans humanity rather than exploring it…. that TV was becoming louder, brasher, more lacking in morality (I want to say ‘amoral’ but it’s not all like that) … that to stay in that world I would have to step away from this aspect of God, or that aspect of God…. and a soap writer a few weeks ago was heard to say “Luce? I thought she was dead!”
No. Never as alive as I am now.
I’m no good at numbers and counting but I know this with crystal clarity:
In the last five years I have gradually given up everything.
What have I lost? Nothing.
What have I gained? Everything.