The blog post below was written in early March 2014 . It was the start of Lent and I’d been ill for a month.
Little did I know then but I’d still be ill for another month.
In early April I went back to work. By mid April (just before Holy Week) I went back full time.
It’s been the longest period of continuous ill-health I’ve ever experienced. (Not much to complain about compared to many I’m only too aware of, but I can only reflect on my own experience) I had a series of virusus and a combination of other health factors felt like having lead weight attached to my ankles. Having to constantly rest, meant that for 9 weeks I had to give up exercise, which for years has been my ‘stress control valve’. I don’t exercise to stay fit, I exercise to stay sane!) The first time I crawled my way back to the pool I did a measly six lengths and got out the pool wondering if I’d over done it (within a week I was doing 20).
In all this, I have mined treasures from the darkness and am still uncovering new insights. But for now I’ll just catch up by posting up this long over due post.
God isn’t always comforting
The other day I came across a line in a poem describing Jesus as “tender, luminous, and demanding” (from one of many brilliant poems in Mary Oliver’s collection called Wild Geese).
The first two adjectives you expect but the third really jumps out at you, it certainly doesn’t sit well with any residual, somewhat faulty, notion of ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ you may have had left over from Sunday school.
In the same week I met this description I experienced two moments in which God made me say ‘ouch’. Usually we hold our circumstances responsible for all the ‘ouch moments’ in our lives, thereby keeping God in the set of things that make us feel good, comforted or comfortable.
But God will not be so corralled. Or if he is, perhaps are worshipping a tame version of God of our own creation?
The first moment came during a day at a retreat house: I’d already been off ill for several weeks and was really fed up with my persistent physical weakness and my impossible, frustratingly slow rate of recovery. I was aware that my emotional stability and my spiritual confidence were beginning to feel undermined. Being ill had come at a time when I was already feeling very assaulted by various changes, transitions and challenges.
So I ‘hearing something reassuring’ was high on my agenda. Yes, I spent time in silence. Yes, I spent time worshipping but yes I did also spend time asking God to heal me.
I paused to wait for a reply….
( I can’t explain how I ‘hear’ what I sense is the voice of God, it doesn’t have an audible quality more of an inner clarity) anyway, this is what I heard.
“And when I’ve removed this weakness from you… How long will it be before you go on ahead without me?”
Ouch. Ouch. And double ouch.
Not what I wanted to hear. No tender assurance of healing, more of a reminder that some things matter more to God, things such as dependance (“apart from me you can do nothing”).
There was no threat that I would be ill forever, in spite of the panicky feeling that I might be, but there was an insistence about remaining reliant, connected, abiding: “remain in me and I will remain in you, no branch can bear fruit by itself’.
The second ‘ouch’ occasion came during a Sunday evening Songs of Praise. A beautiful young female athlete was telling the story of how she lost one of her legs in a boating accident at the age of sixteen, an accident in which she nearly died.
She recounted in all honesty just how grateful to God she had been for the fact that she hadn’t died, followed rapidly by the equally honest admission about how angry she was about losing her leg. Her honesty was bracing and refreshing, but instead of ending with some neatly resolving platitude, she made the following ‘ouch’ observation: “God is more interested in our growth than our comfort”.
Wow! That was a ‘wet fish slap around the face’. Not what you expect from Songs of Praise.
Her words would sound so annoying were they to have been said by any one ‘comfortable’. But said by a beautiful girl, training to do long jump (of all things!) with only one leg.
Yes, I think I can take that.