I recently returned to work after a couple week’s leave, and several of my colleagues asked the inevitable question, “Did you have a nice holiday?” Much as I’d love to respond to these friendly enquiries with a simple “Oh why yes, thank you, it was just lovely!” and move on to the next subject, life, for me, rarely seems to be that joyously simple.
It was a week of contrasts; times of beautiful crystal clear waters of stillness and healing with God, alongside the perpetual, tumultuous wranglings of my inner world. And some leftfield ‘outer’ circumstances thrown in for good measure.
Allow me to explain….
I spent a few sunshiny days in beautiful Shropshire with dear friends. Amongst the relaxing, chatter, news-sharing, good food, crafting and laughing, we also shared our sadness and confusion around being estranged from another mutual friend; a sorrow that’s been exaggerated recently by the discovery that the ‘friend’ in question has been diagnosed with breast cancer. How is it possible to extend the hand of love and sisterhood when it’s not wanted? If we don’t have the opportunity or permission to do it in person, then we must respect that and simply, quietly, powerfully stand with her in prayer.
A few days later, I had the joy and privilege of being invited to join in a conversation at Malmesbury Abbey where they are reviving their Benedictine roots through setting up a dispersed monastic community inspired by old-school Abbot of Malmesbury, St Aldhelm. I’m always rather stunned and humbled that my opinion and input may be sought let, alone valued, but there we were talking and creating insight together, connecting our modern with the ancient and growing in love and grace.
Against this backdrop of relative spiritual bliss, it was, therefore all the more rude an awakening to collide sharply and loudly with another car on the return journey.
My dear little car limped home and has now been retired from service…..
The third contrast on my ‘holiday’ revolved around my birthday. My dismissive nonchalance of yet another year past and my reluctance to bow to social expectation to ‘celebrate’ in some way, was blown out of the water by the breath-taking beauty of my brother’s birthday present. Not a gift-wrapped trinket in sight, though. No, it was a video of him giving his whole birthday gift budget to a Big Issue seller on Park Street in Bristol and saying, “Here you go, mate, my sister would want you to have this.”
Yes. Yes I would.
I could have died of crying and sisterly pride. I’ve been praying that my dear little brother will catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, and there he was unwittingly bringing it about in a simple, small way that was deeply moving and hugely humbling.
It all made me appreciate something afresh: that rather than following separate tracks, where you are either on one track or the other, life’s beauty and ugliness so often walk in each other’s company.
In a slightly less turbulent moment on holiday, I was doing some charity research, and stumbled across a charity called ‘Wormfree World International’.
I thought, “Wow that’s pretty specific!” And then, on reflection, thought again, “Actually, it’s not specific enough!” Surely not all worms? There is much that can be learned from the humble earthworm in relation to the above bumpy-road scenarios we so often travel in life.
And yes, believe it or not, someone has blogged: ‘Life lessons learned from an earthworm’.
I’ll save sharing the whole thing (you can follow the link), but one ‘lesson’ stood out in the light of my recent so-called ‘holiday’:
Find your anchor, and don’t wander…. The easiest worms to catch are those that are far away from their holes. This isn’t suggesting we should all become homebound and avoid the outside world, but instead to search and latch onto a higher purpose. … to find the security of something more divine. The more we anchor ourselves in the safety of truth, the better our chances of surviving the rough patches in life.
“The more we anchor ourselves in the safety of truth….” What? Wait. Post-modern culture would have us believe that there is no such thing as objective truth; it’s ‘whatever is true for you’, or the more touchy-feely version (which does rather induce my gag reflex, I’m sorry to admit) ‘whatever resonates with you’.
Nope. I don’t buy that. ‘Whatever’s true for you,’ just leaves me unsatisfied; emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Like a glazed donut, it looks nice, it even has has the potential to make you ‘feel full’, but soon enough, when the sugar drop kicks in, you are hungrier than ever.
My ‘holiday’ had the potential to tell me all sorts of ‘truths’ that could have ‘resonated’ with me in any given moment:
- I’m a bad friend – v – I’m a great friend
- Some people hate my guts – v – I’m deeply loved and treasured
- I’m entirely inadequate and should stop pretending – v – I’m gifted, talented and capable of offering something of value to others, including, on occasion, love
If we let circumstances and feelings persuade us what is ‘real’, where does that leave us?
Cue, the little earth worm: we need to anchor ourselves. What do you anchor yourself to? Money? Family? Status? Image? Your iPhone? What other people think of you?
Jesus is my hope, my anchor. Nothing else even comes close. Who he is, what he did, and why it matters are the fundamental questions that drive me to explore and discover his rich spiritual landscape; to keep me digging deeper into holiness.
When the world around me gets noisy and demanding, when it invites me into chaos or tries to grab my heart and mind, I don’t want to be swayed by ‘whatever resonates’ in the moment, I want to be lifted up and embraced fully and powerfully by a greater and surer promise and hope: the ‘yes’ I have in Jesus.