Sorry? That’s it?

Imagine for a moment you’ve got it wrong. Wrong place, or timing, or words, or ideas. Wrong attitude or clothes or expression or tone of voice. Too much information. Or not enough. This may only be me, of course. But from time to time, three or four or all of the above apply.

This past Sunday morning, after a difficult night, I was in church with a strong sense of wrongness. As usual at the beginning of the service, we were invited to think back over the last week. I didn’t really want to think back, I wanted to just keep my head down and get through the service so I could go back to wallowing. But, given the events of the night before it seemed that God wasn’t about to let me. As it’s still holiday season in this neck of the woods, regulars were thin on the ground and I was asked to help serve communion. It’s a sacred ritual dating back to the last supper where Jesus asks the disciples to eat bread and drink wine symbolising his body and his blood, which would be given up for them in his death.

So there I was, wanting to have my own pity party at the back but being asked to come up the front and participate in a ceremony which leaves no room for that. For me, communion is the time to do serious business with God, to hand over all the stuff I like to hold close and torment myself with, and accept His help. As I and my co-server had to take the bread and the wine before everyone else, I had no time to do anything other than simply give up all that good pity I was planning to feast on afterwards. You see, if he forgives me, then there’s nothing to party with. I am forced to move on, get on with it. Get over myself.

I can tell myself it’s too easy to accept forgiveness, especially when I haven’t forgiven myself, thinking it pious, when in fact it is simply proud. The truth is I prefer to give, not to receive. It is much easier, it makes me feel good, it puts me in control. I like to be the strong one dispensing help, not the weak one needing it. When I have to admit that I am wrong I manage this otherwise uncomfortable situation by showing how abjectly miserable my mistake or foolishness has made me, and how much I can punish myself for it. (Yes of course it’s nuts). I get away with it in most situations, but not in communion. Since my childhood, it has carried the weight of the truly sacred. It is the moment in the service where I feel most vulnerable, most naked before God. Illogical, obviously, because he sees us all the time. But communion brings me face to face with Jesus, as it were, across the table, holding out the wine, saying drink this, this is my blood, given for you. Remember that I have cleared your personal slate once and for all, backwards and forwards in time.

If I really believe that my slate is cleared, once and for all, backwards and forwards in time, by God himself, it follows that all I have to do is to be and to say sorry when I mess up, and receive his forgiveness. Of course where I’ve hurt others I need to put things right with them, but essentially it comes down to sorry. That’s it. Too easy, as they say here in Australia. But is it almost too easy. I have no work to do to deserve this forgiveness, no way of earning it. Which is entirely the point. My part is not to try to deserve this mysterious wonderful gift but to receive and believe it, not just at the communion rail on a Sunday but throughout the rest of the week as well.


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.


This is it, possibly. Without wanting to sound dramatic or make you uncomfortable, this could well be it. The last thing you ever read. The last words I’ll ever write. I know this now like never before. And that it’s easy to forget; to take each day, or week, or month, or minute, for granted.

So I will take this opportunity to spell something out to those of you who are reading this not because you know Jesus already but because you’re polite or because you’re curious or bored or you’re waiting for something to download or for the kettle to boil. Not because I really want to but because I need to. In doing so I am breaking my own golden rule, devised long ago, to help me avoid the fallout of plain speaking and the pain of rejection. I had no right to come up with it, of course. The rule? At all costs protect yourself.

I apologise to everyone I know personally who is reading this and who has never heard me start a conversation about God. I am sorry. I have been too vain and too proud to do it. And I’m sorry for the times I’ve shut down a religious conversation because I’m terrified of outing myself. These are not the only reasons of course, though they are the most powerful. The other is that I feared not knowing enough for my words to carry weight, being caught out by a difficult, or more probably in my case, a simple, question which would make my faith unravel. But that was because I thought it all depended on me. And now I know it doesn’t. It depends on God. And on those who listen.

Christians have assumptions about the secular world which are false. Okay, what I really mean is that I have for years hidden behind a false assumption. It’s that people basically know the gospel and actively, consciously reject it. In truth, most people don’t. Don’t know the gospel, I mean. What many know is what Christians are against. But not what we’re for. What we do believe. So here goes.

God is love. And God loves you. To death. He wants to be in relationship with you. To connect with you at the deepest level, beyond the masks you project, the insecurities you harbour, the barriers you put up. He knows who you really are, and he wants to release you into real freedom. Jesus came to show us who God is, to describe his nature. He did it through a 3-year public ministry, summarised in four eyewitness accounts in the New Testament, known as the gospels, teaching small groups and large crowds, with miracles of healing and other signs of the supernatural. He offered something called eternal life and described himself as the son of God, and in the understanding of the Jewish community he was born into, as God himself. This claim made him a threat to the Jewish leadership, who had him executed. His followers claimed to have seen him alive three days after his death. The life, death and resurrection of a person like this were all prophesied centuries earlier in the Old Testament. The death of Jesus paid the price for the sin of mankind, sin being our rejection of what is good in favour of what isn’t. And it was necessary because our sin cuts us off from God, puts a barrier between us. Jesus is the way back to God. God climbed down into his creation and gave us a hand up out of the mess.

Okay, it won’t win any theology prizes but unless I hit send now it won’t happen. There are countless people who have expressed it better and more fully than that, but that’s not the point. Don’t be put off by sock-and-sandal-wearers, or by slick performance preachers, or even by me, wherever I fall in that spectrum but please take this opportunity to think about what you’ve just read. Find out what on earth I’m talking about. At worst, if I’m wrong, I will die falsely believing I’m loved and that my life has purpose. I will have lived a hopeful life with my imaginary friend Jesus, who will have made me more loving, more willing to take risks, to be compassionate, to pass on what I believe I’ve been given. If I’m right, though…