Imagine that you own a plot of land. You want to plant something in it, but it’s not in great condition. There are weeds that need to be removed and rocks that need to be cleared. It’s a big plot of land, so it’s a big job.
The good news is that there’s no immediate rush – you’ve got time. Even if you only move one rock or dig up one weed a day then you’ll manage it. It might take a while, but you’ll get there. On the other hand, it is a big job. It’s a bit overwhelming. You can’t help but wonder if it’s worth it.
A friend of my wife once told her about her grandmother’s attitude towards housework – “Little and often.”
Good advice for housework, and equally sound when it comes to developing your spiritual life. Little and often is far better than allowing yourself to become paralysed by the size of the task ahead. It takes time and work to nurture the garden of your soul into fertile soil, but not as much time and work as you might think.
Move a rock here, dig up a weed there. A few verses here, a minute of silent reflection there. The only way that you won’t clear that land is if you do nothing.
A little while ago, my three-year old daughter told me that she wanted to write a letter to God. I wrote, while she dictated. It wasn’t a very long letter, more of a note, concerned primarily with finding out if God owned a) a cat and b) a space hopper. We put the letter in an envelope and that was that. Naturally, being me, I sensed a teaching opportunity, so I decided to write a reply.
Thank you for the letter that you wrote to me. I loved to receive it. I do not have a cat, but I do like cats. I love everything that I made. I do not have a space hopper, but I don’t need one at the moment. Perhaps if I do, I could borrow yours? I love you very much & thank you again for your letter.
Apart from the dubious theological statement that God likes cats, I thought it would be a nice moment for Imogen. I put it in an envelope, and a couple of days later ‘delivered’ it. Imogen was fascinated at first, but after I had read God’s reply to her she became quite frightened. I believe the correct phrase is ‘she freaked out’. My parenting skills leave a lot to be desired.
On reflection, it makes sense. God is very much a part of our family life, so Imogen is aware of Him, but she is only a child after all. She has never seen God, and is not explicitly conscious of Him working in her life. The transition from God being an abstract idea to a concrete reality that could interact and intervene was probably a bit too much for her at that moment. We all have a crisis point where we have to decide whether or not God is that real, and I probably brought it on a bit early…
Still, to be able to talk about God and to be willing to talk to Him, but to be surprised and terrified when He decides to talk back? I can understand fear as an initial response, but eventually we have to decide to either walk away or be all in. Hanging around the fringes, still afraid, doesn’t help anyone.
Ruth and I have five children, which is about six more than four children. It wasn’t such a big deal in Australia, where immigration was the only thing that offset the negative growth rate, but in the UK a large family makes life complicated. People react to our situation in a variety of ways. There are those who display shock or pity, and those who respond as though we’re breaking some unspoken rule.
It’s possible to view children as a burden; a drain on the resources of the planet. The doctor who helped deliver our fourth took me to one side after the event and suggested that we had enough children now. He told me that our carbon footprint was big enough. He had a point, but the cynical part of me sometimes wonders if what people really mean to say is “If you don’t stop having children I might have to change my habits as a consumer.” There are those who view children as a resource, potential or otherwise. If you follow the news you may be aware that China is softening it’s one child policy as a result of studies predicting that the country will face a workforce shortage in the future. Children, for me, are neither a burden nor a resource. They are an expression of hope.
If Ruth and I do our job well then we’ll contribute five more people to this earth, who will take the best of us and run with it. Hopefully their character and deeds will more than offset their environmental impact. We are now the parents of a teenager and, if my maths is right, we’ll have at least one teenager in the house for about the next fifteen years. Teenagers are, generally speaking, hard work to have around, but some days I look at Calvin and feel fit to burst with pride as I see the man that he is becoming. Here’s to the next fifteen years.
“It is the dreadful lie of our culture that you must take the great adventures while you are young. Maybe so in abseiling and Bungee Jumping; but it is not so in the truly dangerous business of the Kingdom.”
It’s definitely true that our culture lionises youth. Getting old is seen as a backwards step; a decline; a curse rather than a blessing. But if you’re bemoaning your lost youth then you’ve done nothing more than bought into another lie. There’s a Native American saying: “No wise person ever wanted to be younger”. The truth is that if you’re living well, then you’ll be growing in character and wisdom. If you’re giving your relationship with God the attention that it deserves then you are more like Christ today than you were this time last year. If this is the case, then you’re actually more useful to God now than you used to be, and you’ll become even more useful the older that you get. The Bible is full of elderly heroes; men and women who didn’t hit their stride until the years of experience had caught up with them, and the wisdom of suffering had tempered and focused their youthful energy. Jesus himself spent his youth preparing for the tasks of middle-age. Let me add this: if you aren’t nurturing your relationship with God then you’ve got bigger problems than aching muscles, saggy skin and unwanted hair.
Be encouraged. The world may tell you that your glory days are behind you; that your purpose now is to grow old quietly and aim for nothing more than to be a productive member of United Kingdom PLC, but I tell you that God has plans.