We DO because we ARE loved by God
Tomorrow could see a defining event in my life. Should I finish the Ormskirk ParkRun I will enter the elite group of those who have completed 100 runs. As a result I will wear my elite black 100 t-shirt with pride. It will go not just over my head - but more to the point, to my head. But it hasn’t been easy since a freak wave at La-Tranche-sur-Mer last August knocked me sideways, twisting my knee. And I was already receiving treatment to my left foot. But now I’m back. It will take a while to recover my fitness but at my advanced age I need to be patient and not push myself too hard. There’s a fine balance here between effort and caution – when to push yourself and when to ease off. I guess that’s the dilemma we all face one way or another, not least in our work-life balance. Interestingly the phrase work–life balance only appeared in the late 1970’s as a result of greater expectations in the work place along with radical shifts in technology. But as businessman Jack Welch reminds us: “There's no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.” This spring I retire as vicar of Christ Church – my last Sunday is 8 April while following diocesan policy I formally retire one month later, on 8 May. It was while I was curate at Heswall in 1979 that our long-serving rector Kenneth retired – a big event which had an effect on me. And since then in conversation with clergy about to retire, I always ask the same question: “Looking back over your ministry, what would you do differently?” Nearly every time, the answer is the same: “I wish I had spent more time with my family.” And I guess, not just clergy. We are so easily driven to make wrong choices leading to an imbalance, a disparity which can damage not just our health but our relationships. Of course, there are times when we do have to push ourselves, when our family and close friendships have to take second place. But we can only maintain this pace for so long; otherwise we pull a muscle or damage our backs. I’m not sure whether I have blogged about this before but I was very much influenced by the late Frank Lake, missionary doctor and then psychiatrist who founded the Clinical Theology Association in the 1960’s. As it happens I now discover through Wikipedia that he was born in Aughton in 1914 and that his father served as the organist and choirmaster in the parish church, which in those days would have been St Michael’s. Anyone remember him or know about his family? But that’s a digression. Anyway, Frank teamed up with the eminent Swiss theologian Emil Brunner to reflect on how Jesus managed the enormous stresses and demands placed on him without losing his poise, his sense of joy and purpose. In other words he got the balance right. What was the secret? Simple – Jesus lived the cycle of grace. For Jesus identity and acceptance came before achievement and ministry – rather than the other way around. Right at the very outset of his ministry he was assured of his Father’s pleasure. “The moment Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the skies opened up and he saw God’s Spirit—it looked like a dove—descending and landing on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: ‘This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.’”(Matthew 3:16) The danger, the temptation, is that we start at the wrong end. We work hard to achieve and it is on the basis of this achievement we derive our significance. And it is this hard-won significance which allows the acceptance we long for. And we not only do we burn out but those around us pay a price. The good news, however, is that God wants to break into our cycle of seeking achievement by calling on us to abide in Christ. Above all to know that we are beloved of God. It is John who in his first letter uses the word Beloved no less than six times.
For example, “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God” (1 John 3:21). It is as if God is saying direct to our hearts: “BE LOVED.” And once by God's grace we know this in our bones – albeit ones which can fracture so easily – we can begin to DO things for God. It is Henri Nouwen who assures us: “Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert.” So whether I finish tomorrow or not Jacqui and my family will still love me. Even so I will be wearing my black 100 t-shirt all of the time.