Saturday mornings. Don’t you just love ‘em? (Unless you work weekends, maybe.)
Saturdays were full of cartoons & cereals, sweets & comics, when I was a kid.
I still love Saturday mornings. Although having a toddler means I’m out of bed just as early as on Monday to Friday and weekend family life is pretty busy, my time isn’t as structured as during the working week. The day is less determined and life feels a little more like the adventure it’s meant to be.
Some Saturday mornings, to give my wife Janine a bit of a break, I take Hannah, our nearly-two-year-old, to the swings down the road. This little play area is nestled in some wildlife-rich woodland, shaded by magnificent oaks, and I enjoy time with Hannah as well as the squirrels and birds, often early enough to pre-empt the noisy rush of other young families.
In recent weeks those mighty oaks have been firing tons of ammunition with fury down at innocent civilians in the play area. At least, the speed at which these acorns come down makes it feels like they’re being fired. Peow! Peow! Duck!
They’ve been falling, of course, not being fired. But falling fast.
Falling with style – like Buzz Lightyear.
Autumn’s my favourite season. Well, one of my top 4, anyway.
Definitely my favourite season when it comes to running. Tearing along leaf-carpeted trails through rainbow-coloured woodlands in just-right, cooler temperatures.
Autumn – nature’s firework display. Fall, with style. A kind prelude to unforgiving winter.
Being pelted by acorns, I found myself gazing up for the first time, admiringly, at these wise old oaks, with their hench trunks, twisty-turny, tangled branches and rugged bark.
There’s nothing ordered about these trees.
How on earth did their branches first of all end up spreading out from the trunk at such random intervals, and then grow outward in so many haphazard directions?
There may be a scientific answer to the ‘how?’. But the aesthetic effect is one of awesome, majestic magnificence.
Beauty for the beholder.
Dignity in disorder.
If I were God or Nature, I’d have probably arranged the branches at neat, evenly spaced intervals, growing in boring, straight lines, and there’d be no beauty to behold.
My kids think I have OCD. That’s a term that’s banded about far too lightly these days. I’ve seen the torment experienced by people who suffer genuine Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and I don’t have that distressing condition. But I am the type of person who can’t stand mess – clutter is even worse! – and if it were down to me, I’d keep all our CDs, DVDs and books in alphabetical order.
on the other hand
isn’t like that.
Like the mighty oaks, Life takes unexpected twists and turns.
It’s full of intrigue…
It has a habit of taking us by surprise.
We often don’t understand the hows and the whys of life. Maybe we would choose for things to be different, if we could.
For life to be neater, simpler, easier, tidier.
Sometimes you might feel like screaming. Or crying. Or shouting, “Why?!”
Sometimes, even when we know the answers, we still need to express that cry of anguish. That cry of frustration, confusion, despair or distress from the soul.
Even Jesus, knowing
why he was on the cross
and why his Father had left him alone,
had to cry out, “My God, WHY…?!”
It wasn’t meant to be like this.
And yet it had to be like this.
Not for his sins, but for ours.
For our healing and wholeness.
For the veil between us and God to be ripped apart.
There was a bigger picture, which he knew.
But it’s hard to see it when you’re peering through a mist of blood, sweat and tears, and all you can do is let out that cry of anguish from the soul.
Jesus was tangled up by the biggest twist in the tale. But like the oaks, he rose magnificently out of it all.
God never promises that life will be easy – even when you decide to follow him. Perhaps especially when you decide to follow him. I recently came across a brilliant blog: Confronting the lie (that God won’t give you more than you can handle) by a pastor called Nate Pyle, on his experience of going through an excruciatingly difficult time: well worth a read.
Twists and turns.
But these lives – lives of those who have been through seemingly random twists and turns, tragedy and apparent failure, even – often adopt the strength and splendour of those rugged oaks. And could not have come to that place of dignity and beauty without those unfathomable experiences.
I know I’ve partly said this before (apologies), but when Christian teaching is all neat and tidy, we do the Bible, God and Life a gross disservice. And perhaps most of all, we do a disservice to all those people whose lives have been tangled and messy.
The Bible, like Life, is full of intrigue and surprise, not ordered and predictable like I’d like my CDs to be….or how some Christians would like their Bibles to be.
Imagine if Christians started making stark, sterile statements like:
“Only Christians are saved, and everyone else will go to hell.”
“Being gay is just plain wrong.”
“Your suffering is your own fault – God is judging you for your sins.”
“You can only interpret this or that part of the Bible the same way as me. Any other way is false.”
Imagine if anyone made such a harsh, black-and-white statement as any of the above!
Thankfully, most Christians I know stand in awe and love of Jesus, and don’t pretend to have all the answers to life’s questions. They know that all they need is in Jesus, who does have the answers.
Thankfully, the Bible, with its messy theology, surprising stories and sometimes-only-three-quarters-answered questions doesn’t do bumper-sticker philosophy. On behalf of God, it respects the dignity of people whose lives have been confused, confusing, challenging, incomprehensible even.
What the Bible does more than anything else…its speciality…its central purpose…is to show us what Jesus is like, to point us to him. So that in spite of our twisty-tangly lives, we can find some order, some sense, through being in the one who is not disordered, who knows the end from the beginning, who is never taken by surprise.
Not that the Bible is incomprehensible, but like the mighty oaks, it leaves us in awe and wonder, with a profound sense of something – Someone – bigger than ourselves. Like life, Someone bigger than we can get our heads around.
In My Life’s Soundtrack I described some of my life experiences, which took some interesting twists and turns in the distant past. In more recent years the arrival of our wonderful daughter, Hannah, in 2011 (see Let’s Face the Music) has been the biggest (and best!) twist. I’m very fortunate that for many, many years I haven’t had personally to face any tragedies or major difficulties.
Recently, though, we changed church. Not a massive change of direction; not a particularly painful twist; but a difficult decision, nonetheless. One not taken lightly, especially as it meant giving up a homegroup, made up of good friends. But the right decision for us as a family, made amicably, in consultation with friends and leaders in both churches, and I’m excited about the new start.
Sometimes a change of direction is part and parcel of the bigger plan for growth, for fruitfulness, for Life. There is a bigger picture. Our lives as a family, the lives of our wider church in Hastings and further afield, will become like those mighty ‘oaks of righteousness’, described in Isaiah 61, bursting with life-giving seed, as we allow God to bend and shape us through the pain and the change.
Remember – according to Isaiah*, it’s the ones who have gone through the twists and turns of being broken-hearted, enslaved, bereaved, deprived, rejected, who become those magnificent, fruitful ‘oaks’.
Watch out, now, for those flying acorns!