Wrongfooted

How easy it is for us to trip up. A respected Christian friend tells me we can tell the quality of our walk with God by the extent to which we suffer for it. I am alarmed. My face watches her lips move, as she tries perhaps to explain, but all my attention shifts inward, searching for something that might be labelled suffering for my faith.

My ordinary life with its usual stress and distress doesn’t quite measure up. So I am temporarily derailed. I have been on a relatively smooth track recently, oiled by a newly discovered take on the the concept of faith. Faith has come to mean the opposite of worry, working-out-what-next, and telling God what needs to happen and how. If I really have faith, I don’t need to do all that any more.

Except now my Achilles heel of self-condemnation has yawned, stretched and got dressed for work. Once again I have to force myself not to let it in. To trust that God is in control and He may be using this to keep me honest.

A friend once told me that she feels closest to God when things are going well. At the time, I was surprised and almost shocked. I had, I realised, associated closeness to God with crying out to him in adversity. I simply did not associate him with joy or success or any of the stuff that feels good. I thought that true piety equals pain. Painful pain.

When challenged to audit my life for suffering, I began to leave the secret sunny garden of childlike faith I had recently found to return to the cold damp cloister where discomfort demonstrates you’re on the Way.

Because of my earlier ideas about God this felt right, even if it was disappointing. Even if it seemed to reopen the wound of anxiety. Here was a truly enormous thing for me to worry about.

But then I remembered who I’m meant to be looking at. Not myself. Not even my pious sister. She may not be wrong. But she may not have the whole picture.

17 years at N/A.

This may just be it, you know. My turning point. The bit in my personal movie where I suffer a blow that motivates me to face down my personal demons. One of those is a tendency to wallow in perceived failure. It encourages me to hide my pain from others, and then lashes me with it when I’m alone. So let me speak the truth and shame the devil, however small and slight this event may appear in the grand scheme of things.

Last Saturday night my husband showed me a notification from a networking site inviting him to congratulate me on ‘17 years at N/A’. I laughed with him and a friend at the time but inside I was curling up, mortified. I realised I had never completed my profile properly, planning to return to it ‘later’, that magical time beyond the horizon. And now the whole world, okay, the handful of contacts in my network, know I have been at N/A for the last 17 years, whatever that means. It got to me because for most of those years I have been in that other place beyond the so-called real world, known as full-time parenting, where strange creatures live in lands strewn with all manner of quests, trials and adventures. Some parents, like me, are fully immersed in this other world and emerge only occasionally to engage with this dimension (which I’ll call working-world, for the sake of simplicity if not accuracy, for work is abundant in that other world too). As my children grow more independent, I am beginning to travel between dimensions more often, but this computer-generated reminder that there was no category for me in working-world made me feel like someone had pulled my skirt up in the playground and then run away.

I heard the usual song from my internal bully about being a failure and having no trophies to show the good folks of working-world with the addition of a new verse about this now being public and how embarrassing and everyone’s laughing at me now… (think Morrissey). I cried along to that later, thinking of my amazing accomplished peers and how poorly I compared. I hadn’t heard the song of failure for a while, though like anything you learn well enough, you never forget the words. It felt like coming home, because this is where I lived for years even before having children. Before I was even old enough to have a chance to try, let alone fail at anything. That thought alone sat me up in the dark.

In the movies this would be the moment of searing revelation just before the montage showing repetitions of sweaty workouts or study or physio or pirouettes as the main character transforms from zero to hero. This song of negativity took me backwards. It reminded me of the past. It didn’t relate to my life now. This was an epiphany because I realised I’ve already been doing this sweaty working out/study/physio thing – though no pirouettes, if I’m honest – in the strange land I mentioned earlier, learning all manner of resilience, resourcefulness and stamina as I facilitate childhood in glorious technicolour and four times over. Who knows what use I’ll put it to, or what I’ll end up doing in working-world, but I know that with God’s help I’m more than equal to it.

For I know the plans I have for you, Says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29 v 11

Time for a new song. And a profile update. 😉