Some days it can feel like a brick wall.
Life can be utterly obdurate, like an unwilling child dragging their heels along the supermarket aisle, giving you hell in public.
We pray to be saved from ordeals, but they mostly come anyway. Thankfully God knows we ‘are but dust’. How true, despite advertising giving us the impression that unlimited health, wealth and prosperity are naturally and automatically tied up with the latest face cream/savings bank/super car (delete as appropriate).
On Friday 13th there was an advert announcing there would be 13 new billionaires, made that evening via the National Lotto. I mean, with the world in the state it’s currently in, I humbly suggest 13 more billionaires is the last thing we need. Is it something to aim for, really? Become a billionaire! More decisions and much more to protect. I pity them and I pity our society. We all know how tiring envy, greed, unlimited choice, and worry are.
Sometimes life feels like a blank and a brick wall and there’s no escaping the fact that part of this is due to a lot of the things I pray for, as a minister, not appearing to come to pass. This is when prayer feels like an echo chamber, my voice the only one echoing around inside, panic rising…
However, as far as prayer goes, this is not the time to give up. Staring at the blanks has one of two effects, I find. The first is that it is depressing. In church life, staring at blanks always results in ministers imagining things. We imagine no one else cares. We imagine our church-related problem is unique and devastating. We imagine everything on our mind is desperately important.
So many blanks: we’re praying and nothing appears to happen.
But slowly, in the face of blanks, I am challenged to re-imagine, and to persevere, despite setbacks. I am challenged to lay down my incomplete picture of what church life ought to look like and see and understand what it actually is like. What it actually is like is, one step forwards, two steps backwards. And sometimes even one step backwards, two steps forward.
So secondly, staring at the blank and being forced to wait for answers to prayer, I begin to notice that the blank is taking shape into something less blank. When I stay with it long enough, the blank that I thought was unanswered prayer, or the chamber of echoes, begins to take shape into something that might even be the long, slow and always good, purposes of God.
And they always look different to my initial plans. They don’t give me excess; they give me enough. They leave room for trust. Being a church leader is not like having a water tight premium insurance that coughs up automatically every time something is needed. It’s not like mindlessly filling up the cupboards for when the food shortages start. The Israelites wandered in the desert and were not given more food than they needed; they were given enough.
Because enough for today leaves room for trust in God. The daily bread idea. It’s all running on trust, this church life thing. Inside the echo chamber of my own mind there comes a silence and then another voice: Trust me – there are enough people who care. Trust me – there are others facing this thing and here they are to bring you some comfort. Trust me – your inner character is so much more important than your average Sunday attendance.
And while you weren’t watching because you were worrying and taking things into your own hands because you were imagining things, the blank has become a blessing. Remember the rhyme, ‘climb up the stairs, and here is the steeple/ open the door and here are the people’? Here, finally, is the encouragement. Here is the perspective.
Staring down the blank, and finding the blessing. That’s my metaphor for this week and another ‘successful’ Annual Church Meeting negotiated.