A wise man once said:
It’s more than a feeling, when I hear that old song they used to play (more than a feeling)
I learnt the wisdom or otherwise of this little gem one sunny day last June. I was carrying out my manly duty to mow the lawn. With herculean strength I ran the mower over the meters of grass and weeds that had accumulated in the 6 months since the grass had last been cut. I was just getting into my stride, bringing the lawn into submission when disaster struck.
Suddenly I felt a sharp stab at my big toe. I looked down to see blood pouring out of it onto a metal spike which had once been the base of a washing line. I knew that the next few moments would be critical to my survival. If I could just make it through the back door and onto the sofa then Esther would know what to do. Assuming my wife could be quick and decisive in this crisis, I may lose the foot, but my life would still be saved.
I limped into our living room and threw myself down on the sofa. ‘Esther’ I called out with all my might as I lay spread out on my back slowly raising my foot in the air.
Esther arrived holding a 6 week old Millie in her arms. Millie was crying as Esther had been in the process of putting her to bed when her father’s blood curdling screams had cut through the air.
Esther looked at me sprawled out on the Sofa and was immediately concerned.
‘My goodness’ she said slightly panicked ‘what’s happened?’
‘I stubbed my toe’ I cried ‘on the old washing line!’ At that point I could have sworn her expression changed. There had been the concern and sympathy that any man in my situation would have expected, but it seemed to be turning into a look of irritation, as if this trauma was not something to warrant an interruption of Millie’s finely tuned bedtime routine.
‘Is that all?’ she said.
‘Is that all?’ I repeated ‘is that all? I am bleeding! Look! I am bleeding my own blood’. She inspected my toe.
‘When did you last have a tetanus jab?’ she asked. I turned white as a sheet and instantly began to feel even fainter’.
‘Please don’t make me have a tetanus jab’ I said pathetically. Something in my tone and pale complexion must have connected with her, because her sympathetic tone retuned.
‘You stay there!’ she said kindly ‘I’ll and get you a glass of water’.
‘Thank you’ I said weakly as Esther darted off to get me a glass of water. A moment later she returned and handed me the water before taking the screaming Millie away to leave me in peace.
I learnt 2 things that day. Firstly I learnt that you don’t mow the lawn in open toed sandals. But I also learnt something much more profound, something about the nature of love.
When Esther saw me, sprawled on the Sofa utterly convinced that each new breath I drew could be my last, the man she saw was a far cry from the dashing, debonair and brave specimen of a man she had married (pause for hollow laughter) and yet she loved me all the same.
The imagery of a marriage is often used in the Bible to describe the relationship between God and his people and it’s when I remember June days like the one I just described which makes me really appreciate the power of that analogy.
I don’t think I am alone in piling pressure on myself to be a Super Christian. You know the sort I’m talking about. They walk along the street and birds come to rest on their shoulders, gently tweeting ‘Handle’s Messiah’ into their ear, As they continue their walk they remain deeply engrossed in a very ‘deep’ prayer for all of the homeless sea turtles around the world. I see these people for whom Bible study and prayer seems to come so naturally and then I look at myself and realise that I just don’t cut it.
I’m ashamed to admit this but there have been times when everyone else in church seems to be deeply engrossed in the sermon and I’m thinking about rugby or wondering what is for lunch. In my student days I even managed to fall asleep during a particularly intense prayer session (this by the way is why monks traditionally wear those big hoods. That way no-one can see their eyes when they’re supposed to be praying).
I know that I am not alone in this frustration because a friend once confided in me via e-mail:
‘The biggest battle of my Christian life has been that of guilt. It has haunted me so much that at times it’s almost been a physical pain. I have lived with the feeling that you have during exam season, that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you OUGHT to be revising. In my every day life I constantly feel like I should be praying or being nice to people or witnessing or something’. It causes such spectacular burn out at times- no one can live like that all the time. So I just give up! I just go ‘nope, can’t do it anymore, don’t want to, not going to pray, not going to witness’- but in the long run that only makes the guilt worse’.
The reality is though that God doesn’t call us to be uba Christians. Romans 5 v 8 says:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God has seen us at our best and he has seen us at our worst and he loves us anyway. We don’t need to earn his love by being super Christian, it just there for us.
Just as Esther saw me at my weakest on that June afternoon and loved me anyway so does God.