One thing New Zealand has made me realise is that I hate the smell of feijoas. They are the kiwi-fruit’s bald, green cousin, and they smell sickeningly of bubblegum. But my first and most urgent reaction to your last letter was: tell me quick, did you find the bit of your wedding ring?
It’s interesting to me that you could draw such a life lesson from such an event. But then again, we are all stewards aren’t we? I must say I’m feeling it. I suppose you can’t help it when you’re living out of a suitcase. Even if that suitcase is now the size of Everest, the acquiring of ‘things’ (even super-cool Hobbiton and Weta Workshop souvenirs) loses its charm when faced with the hassle of overweight baggage, and the weight of lugging it around from place to place. The joy of the having is not equal to the correlative responsibility.
Isn’t it funny how we could be brought to contemplate the same things for completely different reasons, and still come to the same conclusion? I’m thinking of what you said in your last letter about how identity is to be found in Christ, and nothing (and no-one) else. It’s a good reminder of where to keep your focus. I’m tempted to value myself in terms of how other people value me, and what work I do, and what I’m worth to the world. Especially now when work is in flux and I might be tempted to feel too much the value others put on me, I am comforted to know that my identity in Christ is both fixed and the most important. Created in God’s image, we don’t exist apart from Him. So we can’t sustainably find any enduring or significant sense of identity other than in Him.
So it reminds me of something I was reading the other day about relationships. On the one hand, we have been taught to expect of them some sort of redemptive quality (which cannot actually be found in another—flawed—human). We expect reconciliation with parents, fulfilment in the role of wife, mother, friend, to give us a sense of worth and purpose. And it can, to some extent, but never fully. On the other hand, anything we have now is the grace of the Giver. I may have my wonderful family today, and my precious niece/nephew in two months, but who knows for how long? Recently there was a death in our church. It was entirely unexpected. We have no idea what the future holds. That’s why this author was talking about holding on (and cherishing) the things we have now, sure, but ‘holding them loosely’.
You held to your wedding ring as a tender symbol of the covenant it stands for, but when it was gone, your marriage doesn’t crumble. Similarly, I hope my relationship with God doesn’t disassemble as soon as things get difficult, or I lose something (or someone) I love. My identity and relationship are not dependent on those.
They are rather (or should be) dependent on Him. And He is faithful.
Jennifer wrote a really lovely article about it not so long ago, I remember—“The Cure for Bitterness”. We take the having for granted, and we assume it is a right rather than a privilege. Having a family is a privilege, having an income is a grace. Having special people that you can see every day is a blessing. While I’ve been here, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how the sweet simple pleasures of today might be the objects of the deepest longings the moment they are (or I am) gone. But I can’t be consumed about how much I will miss, or how I will cope with future loss. What I have today is a grace and a blessing, to be received with gratefulness. I have an all-sufficient Saviour who will equip us to the days of abundance and the days of want (Philippians 4), and that is the secret of contentment. As Thomas Chalmers famously said in his essay ‘The Expulsive Power of a New Affection’, “the most effectual way of withdrawing the mind from one object, is not by turning it away on desolate and unpeopled vacancy—but by presenting to its regards another object even more alluring”. We aren’t turning our thoughts away from the wonderful and many happinesses He gives, as if they mean nothing, not at all. The only way to break the hold of even a beautiful object upon the soul is to show it something even more beautiful.
To return to your letter, speaking of running the race, a friend has just entered me for a 10km (6 mile??) ‘fun’ run. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to exercise, I react badly and get all sorts of drastic symptoms: I get short of breath, I break out in sweats, and I feel weak, I have heart palpitations. I guess I’ll really be needing your reminder: strain for what’s ahead and keep running.
Jokes aside, as any serious runner will tell you (not including myself in that category), as you push yourself to greater heights, it also helps to look back to see what is already accomplished. There was a time where a run of 1.7km was asking a lot. A month ago, I took a route in a forest that was 12. Many times the psalmists advise us to meditate on what the Lord has done. Psalm 143:5 demonstrates how even while lamenting we actively seek solace in reminding ourselves: “I remember the days of long ago, I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done”. But most of the time my thoughts spring to ancient events like the Exodus, and I forget to look specifically into my own little prayer life and the mighty ways God has already answered many of my greatest prayers from mere weeks ago, let alone months and years: I pray for this situation to be resolved, and it is. Then I forget, because that little struggle has me on my knees pleading for strength and trust. If only I remembered to look back on the way God has upheld me throughout, not necessarily provided exactly how I would have things, but His constant, very involved, presence throughout. If I made a better habit of praising Him for the things He has done—very specific things not just the generic, thoughtless prayers I can so often be guilty of—I would be so much less prone to fits of doubt or wordless anxiety about His involvement in my life.
Strain for what’s ahead and keep running. I know what’s ahead, because I know who was behind all the things that brought me this far. God has sustained me throughout, in miniscule and in miraculous ways. I need no further reason to lean on Him. And I need no one else, no status (employed or not) to prop me up. I am His, and that’s why I run.
Well, to Him. Metaphorically speaking. It’s raining here, so I’m not running today. I have my laptop on my knee and my back to the fireplace. Life is good.
Sending you pretty panoramas of pretty Autumnal gloom, peopled with sheep and the smell of apples.