The invitation to Saturday’s breakfast carried with it a brief instruction – wear something pink. Twenty ladies were invited to gather at our friend’s home to share a delicious healthy brunch, and hear a talk, from a representative of the Breast Cancer Foundation. I turned up in my rather dated pink shirt, and was delighted to meet a range of women from all walks of life, many of them breast cancer survivors, and all wearing at least a splash of pink. The official speaker did not materialise, having rung in to plead a case of flu, so our hostess had twisted the arm of a teacher friend, only recently done with a round of chemotherapy, to speak to us.
“K” explained that she was not equipped to provide us with a facts and figures presentation, but had instead turned to her personal journal, in order to share with us some of the ways her illness had affected her. She called this The Psychology of Cancer. She had keenly observed the changes in attitude and emotion in herself and others, and read from her diary examples of the self-talk with which she had encouraged her soul. She had noted some unexpected reactions - a discomfort with shaded windows in the morning, a horror of losing her hair, and a desire to keep the bad news within the family, at least in the early days. The first she dealt with by getting up at dawn to open the blinds and the windows, the second by choosing to shave her head before the therapy could have its devastating effect. As her diagnosis and treatment became more obvious, she was grateful for the prayers of her church, but was glad that the children in her class did not ask much about the change to a head turban.
K. related her story to us courageously , with just the occasional tear. Weepiness, she said, was under normal circumstances an emotional outlet for her, but interestingly not during the time of medical investigation, waiting, final diagnosis and treatment. Then, she felt a strange calm about it all, and this was a contrast with a time when her husband had a cancer scare, when she was completely beside herself. "I wonder," she said, "whether we feel differently about something when we have at least a sense of being in control." She was given, she said, many options for timing and method of treatment, and did feel she had a lot of say over something which is inherently an “out of control” experience. There was a sense of freedom there, which she had not felt when it was her husband’s life and health in jeopardy.
I found this woman, and the other survivors there on Saturday, profoundly inspiring, and tucked away many of their insights for future use. But K’s observations, about being in control, got me thinking all day. I reflected , for example, on how much I have been enjoying my part time job as Discipleship Coach, at times even more than when I have been in a Senior Pastoral role. This Deep Gladness, I reflected, what is it? Is it because the position has such a clear and confined job description that I know what I am called to do? Or is it because it is such a good match with my strength and experience that I feel confident of my capacity to serve in this ministry? Or is it because the agreed outcomes are quite observable, so I don’t have the same concerns I’ve had in other roles, about whether I have done enough, or done the right things? It does have something to with my regular time out with family, when I spend about half of every week with preschooler grandchildren; they certainly keep me grounded! On reflection, it is probably all of those factors, but I have a gut feeling it is also because in my midlife years I have grown in my spiritual life, and am more comfortable with just ”being.” I can just bring myself, loved and valued by God, into each ministry situation. I don’t have to be in control; I just have to be me. (Though I still prefer being in control!!)
This got me thinking even wider, about why being a follower of Jesus in itself brings me deep joy. Again, I think it is to do with "being," rather than "doing." Joining up with Jesus isn’t signing up to a sausage factory. We are not called to fit into a mould; disciples do not all come out of Rabbi Jesus’ school looking and acting alike, and I would go so far as to say that is exactly how God wants it. There isn’t just one right way to do discipleship. Its not like aiming to hit the dot in the middle of the bullseye, and if we miss it, we’re lost. Life with Jesus – and I can’t remember who first told me this charming metaphor – is much more like being in a big playground or theme park, with lots of different options with which to engage. There is a fence, but the boundaries it marks are huge. From our point of view (I’m not talking about the sovereignty of God here) we get to choose, depending somewhat on our interests and circumstances. To extend the metaphor, you can serve him by going on the roller coaster every day, but I’m freaked by that; I’ll choose the gentler swing or the slide, because I prefer structure and patterns over thrills and spills anytime. For both of us, choosing how we follow Jesus is fun, because we feel free. In contrast to some other faiths, Christ-followers can make their own choices about when and where and how to pray, to worship, to serve and to give – even though deep down we recognize that those choices are already known to God, and that our times are in his hands.
The image of this wide “playground” expresses the freedom God offers his beloved children, and gives us a calm confidence, akin I think, to the faith K felt even in times of deep distress. If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed (john 8: 36). It’s his playground, it’s his world, and in it he’s called us to enjoy him forever. Free indeed.
To Chew Over: What activities in the playground of faith are the ones that giv eyou deep joy? Which freak you out? Where does God ask you to play?
People try to force me to be,
People give me their eyes to see
How much of what I am is really me?
People demand that I walk in their way
People expect me to say what they say
How much of what I am is really me?
But there is one whose way I would walk
Yes there is one whose words I would talk
I would let him have the whole of me.
Now Jesus I find as you take over me,
I do what you say and yet I am free
In you I find I’m what I want to be.