Self. pity

 

We’ve now moved to a short-term rental following our house fire a few weeks ago, with a bit of geographical stability and a space to make our own for the next couple of months. I am now connected to the internet without having to buy endless cups of tea, the kids are back at school, my work is back on track, and we’re all set.  But with this has come an unexpected challenge.

Here it is. For a month or so, a handful of people have known about our situation and helped out in various, beautiful ways.We’ve got on with moving, moving again, keeping our temper (mostly) with the insurance process and all the rest.  At the start of a new school year, with families drifting back from their holidays, other people are asking me what happened. And each time I talk about it, and significantly, each time I sense their sympathy and watch them imagining themselves in our shoes, moisture appears at the corners of my eyes. And everything I then say, and they respond with, adds to my sadness.

When they say ‘oh, you’re so brave, you’re taking it so well,’ I want to lie down and howl. And yet a strange thing happens to my tongue. It stops wanting to say positive things about all the exceptional kindness we’ve been shown, and instead  it describes and lists the loss, the shock, the frustration, all that junk.

I first noticed this when seeing a potential rental house a couple of weeks back. I mentioned it to the agent and her hand flew up to her mouth. If she’d not been holding a clipboard she might have hugged me. A couple of our kids were wandering through the house and she said ‘oh, and your poor kids, oh love, how are you coping?’ Well I was coping pretty well at that point to be honest but I poured out a little bit of self pity and felt a bit less capable after that.

This has begun to snowball into extended conversations with various friends and school parents, all with a heavy emphasis on how terrible it’s all been for everyone. Yes it has been difficult, but in the grand scheme of things it’s all manageable. I know how much God has blessed us in the midst of this, and yet it is so easy to not say that, so much easier to harp on the negatives, which is what the world expects and which pays us off in the sympathy of strangers.

What God is teaching me in this is the wisdom of guarding my tongue. I need to watch what I say because at the end of one of these conversations I feel drained and disappointed, flat and ashamed. Because in failing to mention the kindnesses, the generosity, the hospitality and the support God has given us, I am discounting His work in our lives and our situation, and I’m failing to give him the credit for the fact I can still smile and laugh and make jokes and trust that whatever lies ahead he’s already there and he knows what we need. It’s like realising that worship is not to make God feel good but to make us feel good.

It’s a bit like teaching your children to do something that’s good for them. They think you’re just nagging them because that’s what you live for as a parent. That’s also true, of course ;), but usually it’s for their benefit. Like brushing their teeth. Or practising an instrument.

I have to practise not using my tongue in a careless way so that my words really line up with reality, so there’s no tension between what I need to say and what others may be expecting to hear. For my own sense of well-being and consistency. And to give God the credit that is due.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evangelism the party game

Last night I went to a Christmas dinner with an amazing diverse group of women with a shared interest in Italian language and culture. The group has been meeting over nearly twenty years to have Italian conversation, eat wonderful antipasti and generally have a nice time.

It was my first Christmas dinner and so I was unaware of the traditional activity, which varies each year, but usually involves some kind of party game. Last year they all had to wear hats with a word they couldn’t see and they had to guess it from the clues others gave them.

This year we all had phrases taped underneath our chairs. These were random, mostly surreal statements that we had to slip into conversation without detection. Once we’d all had our first go at the munchies and got settled, we were allowed to read our slips of paper. Mine said ‘I love Italian cheese but I prefer Kraft singles’. I couldn’t say it with a straight face, not between mouthfuls of delicious Italian nibbles, so I gave the game away instantly. My partner worked hers into an otherwise perfectly normal chat about holiday destinations. Mind you her sentence was much easier than mine: ‘if I won the lottery I’d buy a house in Tuscany’.

It was a great game, and funny to see people leading conversations off in weird directions so they could work their phrase in undetected. It was a lot of fun but for a while I was silent, paralysed by the need to fit this unfamiliar set of words into my conversation. My phrase felt like a burden I had to get rid of. Others had the same problem, to the point where they couldn’t play the game at all.

And it made me think of the formulaic evangelism that I was taught growing up, the three- or five-point scripts intended to show people their need for God, His work in Christ and the great plan of salvation. I never used any of them because they felt a bit like a set of random sentences inserted into a completely different context. Like this party game.

I dislike scripts. They feel manipulative and inflexible. But I know they work for some. For those who, like in this game, spend the time to bring the conversation round, set the context and then gently introduce the script. For a long time I felt that there must be something wrong with me because I have always found it so hard to even set the scene for prepackaged words about God. For me it simply doesn’t work. It feels awkward and false. Not because God is false, but precisely because He is real.

Lavinia

About three months ago our family visited the dog home. The children and their father were enthusiastic and keen, peering into the cages where the young dogs and puppies waited to be chosen. Classical music blared through speakers on posts near the cages, adding a surreal pathos to the scene. I found it all a bit much, to be honest.

Our eldest stopped and looked at a medium size dog whose cage label said Lavinia. She liked her short black and tan coat, her tufty eyebrows and big brown eyes. She brought me to look first, then the rest of the family. The dog’s dignified name seemed to suit her. Lavinia, a 2-year-old Kelpie Shar Pei cross, found abandoned in a house nearby, lay still while the other dogs barked, yapped or jumped at all the people peering into their cages.

When we met her in the exercise yard the connection was immediate and strong. She was quiet and relaxed, not bounding around in excitement or chasing the youngest, as other dogs had done. She quietly found me and stood by my knees, perhaps sensing my nervousness. I was the least keen to get a dog, my well-worn practical objections revealing themselves as fear in the days immediately before our appointment at the dog home. My only experience of dogs was with Kelly, my Aunt’s terrifying German Shepherd, who as far as I know never left the house and lived under the stairs waiting to eat small visitors.

For a long time the children had lobbied, begged and made ridiculous promises to break down my objections to having a dog. Until recently, circumstances were my ally – we lived in a rental, we’d just arrived in the country, we were about the leave the country, the youngest was still too young…then there was the extra responsibility, picking up poo, vet bills, having to walk the thing, the cost of pet food, restrictions on holiday plans, you name it. I finally had to cave when their father joined in.

Fast forward three months or so. The unimaginable is happening. I am becoming a Dog Person. At the local dog beach I watch her sprint and play with her pals. I know the names of some of the local Dog People, and even their dogs. I carry treats in my pockets and other dogs come up and nuzzle me. I do not recoil. I hardly recognise myself. Except for the times Lavinia stands in my blind spot and I nearly trip over her. Then my objections to dog ownership return. Briefly.

It makes me think. What else do I think I can’t handle that I might actually enjoy?