`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.

Compare and Contrast

With both hands tied behind my back. With all my fears, worries and hang-ups calling out from the sidelines. With all the mistakes, embarrassments and regrets of the past shifting the ground beneath my feet. I carry on.

Last week one of my daughters was awarded a distinction in an exam. She was delighted, of course. But when she got back to the class and got her certificate she found her mark was the lowest in a high-scoring set. They all had distinctions. And suddenly she felt less. She was no longer a success because of what the others had achieved. I instantly reached for some Mum Platitudes to make her feel better. Never Mind, These Things Happen, You Did Your Best And That’s What Counts, What A Great Teacher You All Have… you know, all that stuff. But I had to force the words out. Because I knew exactly how she felt. Seeing her score next to other, better ones tripped her up. She felt undermined and inadequate. Her success was now as good as a failure. And as I thought about the flip side of that I realised that in this mindset the only thing that would make her feel better would be beating the others. Which would provoke in them the same ‘not really good enough unless I’m better than-’ sadness she now felt.

Unhealthy as this is, I have to admit that I am no different. My achievements can seem paltry compared to those I measure myself against, consciously or not. Even though I know it’s nonsense. We’re all starting, and starting again, from different places, with different talents and gifts. Like the story Jesus tells about the man who gave different gifts in differing amounts to three men, and told them get on with it. The two with the most, 5 and 10 talents respectively, invested and reaped rewards. The last, given the least, moaned and criticised the man who gave it to him, burying it in the ground instead of doing something with it. He let self-pity and bitterness stop him doing anything useful with what he’d been given.

My attempts to comfort my daughter with borrowed wisdom – since I still haven’t cracked this one myself – sounded hollow and I soon shut up, much to the relief of both of us. She’s approaching eye-rolling teenage stage, so she probably wasn’t listening much anyway. In a world which invites us to compare ourselves with the thin, the clever, the rich and the successful in order to sell us stuff, we would need to be made of stone not to be tempted to measure our lives against the glossy ones we read or hear about. If I’m not careful I can forget that like the man in the story, I’m not going to be judged on someone else’s gifts, but on my own.

Day 10. Pretty quiet.

Yep. It’s been pretty quiet round here since I started my Lent discipline of not complaining. Following that principle of ‘if you have nothing positive to say, say nothing’, I have been a whole lot quieter of late. I have also noticed how much I usually find to complain about. I won’t pretend I haven’t slipped up – sometimes very badly – but on the whole, I think I am managing to keep a fairly firm grip on my tongue.

And there’s the rub. What comes out is purely an expression of what’s inside. And for this attempt to stop complaining to be sustainable, it’s the inside that needs to change. I realise I need Jesus to help me with this. As with every significant behavioural change I have successfully made in my life, I can’t really take credit for anything other than a sometimes grudging willingness to become a different version of myself. To be upgraded, so to speak. It’s God who does the work. And He does it at my pace, not His. He doesn’t force things on me but as I mature, I find Him showing me areas that need work. My old ways, my childish ways, are no longer sufficient. Just as growing children find each birthday brings not only presents and celebrations but new responsibilities and expectations. And just as parents try to show how to meet these, God also steps in to help me with the changes I need to make.

Like when I gave up smoking. Not that I was a heavy smoker. I rarely smoked more than 2 cigarettes a day in the last year of my habit. But I needed them both. Daily. I had eventually to admit to myself that each failure to crack the habit was a sign that I needed help. But I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I really had a problem. I had also made a pact with myself not to smoke beyond the age of 30. But the night before that birthday, I had to face the fact that I wouldn’t be able to simply stop the next day. Not without either divine assistance or hypnosis. (I will always choose divine assistance over hypnosis. Just so you know). So I essentially handed my cigarettes over to Jesus and asked him to look after them for me. And guess what. He hasn’t given them back. The physical addiction was relatively quickly dealt with, though the psychological one took a while longer.  And yes of course I had my moments of failure. But Jesus helped me get back on track.

So fast forward now, to no complaining. To the new, quieter me.

At this point in writing this post, my computer switched itself off without warning to install some updates. The whole screen went blank. I couldn’t believe it. Then I thought, this is like a metaphor for what God’s Holy Spirit is doing in me a bit at the moment. I am shut down. In my attempts to do or be better I am silenced by the stuff inside me that needs sorting out. The one who put me together is giving me an update. There is, apparently, teaching in every moment. When my laptop eventually switched itself on again, I was relieved to see it had autosaved the first part of this post, which I had already mentally waved goodbye.

Like the computer, I’m sure I will be switched on again with some new language to replace the old, just as my laptop is greatly enhanced in ways I cannot yet see but know I will notice in due course. I’m looking forward to it.