`When the road gets rough and steep…’

Fix your eyes upon Jesus, as the song says. Harder than it sounds. Instead, when the road gets rough, I tend to complain, sit down for a rest and look for sympathy. This is easier because surely Jesus, if I as much as glance in his direction, will just tell me to fix up and stop being a baby. I know I would if I were Him. Sometimes the road isn’t steep. Maybe I’ve just got a minor irritation to deal with, like a stone in my shoe. All the same, it’s still sound advice.

Recently a casual remark got into my shoe, as it were, and hobbled me for a while. It seemed to trigger other memories of real or imagined wrongs, so that by the end of the day I felt like a walking thundercloud just waiting for something, anything, to set off the storm. Not surprisingly I got a splitting headache to go with it. Good times all round.

The next morning I realised it was time to take the stone out of my shoe, to not let those words wound me any more. I knew that the person who said them was probably blissfully unaware, let alone agonising about them or wishing they’d kept their mouth shut. They were simply getting on with their lives. In order to do the same I needed to take action. So I decided to evict those words and all the self-pitying poison they generated from my mind, and to fix my eyes upon Jesus, like the song says. I asked forgiveness for the many stupid, thoughtless words I have said, particularly to this friend. I thanked him for all the amazing gifts and blessings of this friendship. It was easy after for this tiny, tiny incident to take its proper place, crushed somewhere on the floor underneath my shoe.

My headache, which had been nuzzling at me since I woke up, retreated to a dull thud. Over the next hour or so it went completely. I was feeling a bit silly for taking so long to get over it but then realised that actually this was a major victory. No disrespect to my family but we can sulk for decades over words spoken out of turn, so for me to 180 this thing in 24 hours was nothing short of miraculous. The road was neither rough nor steep. I just had to take the stone out of my shoe.

Thank you Jesus.


That’s a nickname given a character in a book I’ve been reading about a pious little girl from a strict religious community. Whenever her sister said something outrageously sinful her head would swivel towards her mother for reassurance. It never came. Her mother was staging her own form of mutiny, as it turned out.

I have been too of late. Tuning into other voices, clever words that have chipped at my foundations, causing me to stop and blink at what I thought I knew and assumed I believed. I haven’t even bothered swivelling my head for reassurance, just listened and wondered and listened some more. It has been compelling in its own hypnotic way, of course, and at times strangely beautiful. But this soundtrack has led me back to a sad, damp and narrow place I used to know well called Deep Rest. (Also known as Deep Ression).

Devil’s advocate is interesting for a while. But dangerous. Like playing too close to the railway line. Or the riverbank. I remember my mother telling me to be careful around water. You can drown in just a few inches of it, she used to say.

Another book I read as a youngish teenager came to mind this last week. A ghost story about a pair of young lovers who made a suicide pact at a remote beauty spot, it featured a haunting refrain from a poem, internalised by a young girl visiting centuries later. This young girl is drawn into the old love story and ultimately tempted to jump to her own death. That story has hung around in my mind for years. How easy, compelling and attractive it seemed to simply step off the edge.

In my mind I’ve revisited that cliff top, peered over the edge and inched forward, imagining a tide of oblivion carrying away painful memories, disappointments with myself present past and future. Picturing how it could all be washed away by the suck and roar of white water. Yep. That’s where I’ve been. Terrified and drawn at the same time. And then I remembered something else I had read years ago.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. ( 2 Corinthians 7 v 10)

In context, Paul is writing to a church he’s had to discipline, pleased that they’ve taken his words to heart, changed course and are sorting themselves out. He’s relieved that his strongly-worded rebuke has been received in the right spirit.

We don’t live in a time that honours correction. We hate it. I know I do. But I know I need it. Those words jarred when I heard them. They didn’t allow for my picturesque misery. I could no longer lose myself in my perceived unhappiness after recalling those words because I knew where that would lead. I had to choose between salvation, or healing, and death.

I realised I had forgotten, again, who God is. The one who first loved me, who experienced life here just as I do, who was tempted in every way as I am but did not give in. Perhaps he was even tempted by the delicious pain of melancholy. A staggering thought which itself snapped me out of my own nonsense and revealed how shallow the water really was down there in my pretty image. White water is where the rocks are close to the surface. Not to mention the fact that the thing I was being drawn to, the closing of the painful chapters of my life, has already been done. I have, through my faith in Jesus Christ, already died. I have already been separated from the mistakes and disappointments and all the rest because in Christ I am a new creation.

Slow, yes. But learning.



In many Anglican churches, and the one I grew up in, there is a part spoken by the congregation which goes like this:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I didn’t know when I was a kid that it came straight out of Scripture. I thought it was some clever formula dreamt up by a dusty cleric in a monastery somewhere. I since learned it comes from one of John’s letters in the New Testament, to be precise (1 John 1 v 8 – 9). It goes on to say in v 10 ‘if we say we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.’

Forgiveness is an incredibly difficult thing to do. We all have a problem forgiving people who have hurt us, and any public demonstration of this is remarkable enough to be newsworthy. The man who forgave the Lockerbie bombers whose actions killed his daughter and the Amish community who forgave the man who lined up their children and shot them in their schoolhouse, are two good examples. Forgiveness like this seems to bypass punishment or retribution. It is weird, out-of-sync with the world we live in, and even viewed as a dangerously lenient response to obvious wrongdoing.

But in the Christian world, justice is delivered by God, not by people. And the wrong that is done to people is done to God, who created them. The wrong done to people is done by people, whom God made. Tricky. In the prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples we are told to ask God to forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. For me, that means that my being forgiven is connected to my forgiveness of others. It all sounds so simple, but we know it isn’t in reality. A member of the Amish community which drew public acclaim for its forgiveness of the shooter and support for the shooter’s family immediately after the tragedy, tells a writer that it was almost easier for the community to forgive that huge evil than it was for them on a daily basis to forgive the smaller, everyday events that we can all get wound up about.

I know I need forgiveness because I mess up. Hurt others. Act, speak and think selfishly. Without God’s forgiveness I wouldn’t have a hope. But the words that I learnt as a child speak great hope. That if I confess my sins, God is faithful and just to forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. And why is that a good thing for me? Because it makes it easier for me to be forgiving towards myself and others when necessary. Forgiveness stops me repeating the same old scene, leaves the scab alone so that it can heal. Forgiveness saves me from becoming bitter and resentful, moves me forward. Forgiveness disentangles me from an unhealthy clinch with the person who hurt me, neutralises their power over my present, my emotions, my potential. Forgiveness releases the other to change.

Forgiveness is central to my experience of God. His offer of forgiveness is my guarantee of finding my way back when I wander off and want to return, when I’ve messed up and need to get sorted out again. The forgiveness of God is the open door at the end of the journey, the open arms.

I am adding to this post because where I originally stopped, at the end of the last paragraph, felt incomplete. I’m not aiming to make all my posts the last word on their subjects, far from it. But this one was lacking and it’s taken me a few days to find the missing piece.

I have realised in the last few weeks that a wound I received from people close to me a couple of years ago runs much deeper than I thought. I know this because I have noticed a bitterness in my tone and attitude towards them which has refused to lift or disperse, despite all my attempts to think well of them and remember all the good things I know about them. It seems to me that I have simply failed to forgive them fully. I think that I was too proud to believe that the hurt was significant. I was also too proud to let the matter drop; there is a certain satisfaction in picking at wounds, pressing the bruises to feel the pain over and over again.

And the incapacitated are limited. The wounded limp. And it’s a great excuse to blame the one who wounded you for your limp, instead of doing what you can or what you must, to sort it out.