Friday, 22 August 2014

Be honest: Being a Christian is hard work!

In less than two weeks time, my little boy starts school. For me, the transition from the lazy freedom of pre-school days to the regimented routine of Reception class, is utterly heart-breaking.  But observations about how clingy a parent I am and what this says about my need to control everything will be left for another post; what I actually want to write about is my son's perspective on starting school and how we've tried our best to make this life-change as positive for him as possible.  We've told him about all the fun activities he'll get to take part in, all the new friends he'll make, how lovely his new teacher is, and how grown up he'll be when he's at 'Big School,' just like his sisters.  We've waxed lyrical, we've enthused, and ultimately we've exaggerated. In short, we've lied, at least by omission.  Because at no point have we admitted that school might actually be a tad boring at times. At the very least it's restrictive, and will certainly preclude him from sitting at the kitchen table all morning with his play-doh, as well as being able to stroll round the park with his Mama and his baby brother.  Not to mention the fact that his treasured Spiderman t-shirt will be off-limits for five days of the week. I can't help but think that the reality of school; which we've built up hugely in an attempt to reassure him, will none-the-less be a major disappointment.  We've focused almost entirely on everything good about the experience and we've left out all of the bad.  I fear it's just not going to live up to expectations.

Fibbing by omission

I see a parallel here with the testimonies of many Christian people, particularly when they're focussed on evangelising people.  There is much talk of the difference that God will make to your life; how accepting Jesus will dispel fear and unhappiness; how his presence will be a constant source of joy to you, how communicating with God in prayer will unburden you, and how worship will uplift and sustain you.  I agree with all these things, and want to write that a belief in God has for me been utterly life-changing and transformational, though I'm obviously not done yet, not even by half! I just wish that someone had told me about all the other stuff...

Not all it's cracked up to be? 

Without a doubt, becoming a Christian is the hardest thing I've ever attempted to do, and I've got four children under the age of ten! Perhaps this is just another signpost pointing to me being a huge glutton for punishment ( I adore my children but I've not slept properly now for more than ten years) because being a Christian certainly doesn't make your life easier.  Sure, it's more fulfilled, more meaningful and more full of wonder than ever before, but easier? No way.  

Not so easy 

 I'd like to think that in terms of distance I wasn't a million miles away from living my life according to Christ's teachings; I tried to be honest, attempted to be thoughtful and sensitive to the needs of others and wouldn't have dreamt of cheating anyone.  But I have certain personality traits (we shall call them flaws) that make being a Christian really difficult.  Firstly, I have a vile temper and it's a real challenge some days to reign that in and apply myself in a way far more pleasing to a God who ultimately, would much rather I didn't fly off the handle and hurl angry epithets at other members of his treasured Creation.  Ok, so this doesn't happen often, but I really do struggle to maintain my new Christian aplomb sometimes, particularly if someone has upset one of my kids. The red mist descends and WWJD? is the last thing on my mind.  

But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! (Matthew 5:44.)

This edict presents me with my greatest challenge as a Christian.  People can be selfish, thoughtless, obstinate, rude, ignorant or just plain annoying (yes, even me!) and that's not even taking account of the people who are cruel, sadistic or murderous.  And Jesus wants me to love them?  With my Christian journey still very much in its infancy, I have to confess that I'm nowhere near fulfilling this command.  It's hard to not dislike those minor irritants who we encounter as we go about our day, such as the man in the white van who winds his window down to swear loudly at you because he cut you up at the roundabout, or the woman who 'tuts' really loudly at the supermarket and gives you the hairy eye-ball because you accidentally knocked her ever so slightly with your trolley.  This doesn't even include those truly heinous human beings, who have done things so terrible that they scarcely warrant that title. Love them? I try really hard each and every day to remember that these people - all of us - are God's children, and he loves us, one and all.  Some days, I'm lucky enough that I succeed, and I see the world through God's eyes; I see a person how He must see them, and the sense of familial affection is overwhelming.  Unfortunately, much of the time, particularly when someone has vexed me, my dominant thinking is: Sorry God...not today.  

Reality bites

Some days, I glibly wonder if becoming a Christian has actually made my life better after all, and I hanker pointlessly for that time, 'pre-God,' where the main point of reference for my behaviour was myself and I was free to dislike with impunity.  Least I wouldn't have so many things to be sorry for at the end of each day, nor would I have to endure a continuous sense of failure as I struggle to measure up to an apparently impossible moral yard stick. So yes, following Jesus is hard...but isn't it meant to be? I mean, at no point did Jesus himself claim that it was going to be an easy ride.  He makes it quite clear that following Him is going to be difficult: He says, 'Don't be surprised when I say you have to be born again...' And if I have to be born again, then perhaps part of me needs to die first? If a death is involved it's probably going to pinch a bit.

And you will know the truth...and the truth will set you free.' (John 8:32)

Would it have helped me to have been told from the get-go that this would be a struggle? That not only do I have to contend with my family and friends thinking that I've suddenly got a screw loose, as well as the weekly challenge of attempting to get four kids to church on a Sunday morning ("whaaaaat? Sunday is a pyjama day, right?!"), it's actually going to be hard? That's not a tempting proposition now that I come to think of it.  And choice would have still remained the same; I would have chosen to accept God into my life (or open myself to the reality that He was there all along) despite all the stuff that I find difficult, or irksome, or just plain inconvenient.  The most worth-while things in life are usually those things that have cost us something to attain; I'm thinking about the four kids again, in particular the collective eight days spent labouring. Ouch.
When the going gets tough whilst on your journey of faith; those times when you indulge in murderous thoughts about that obnoxious man who lives two doors down, or the BMW driver viciously tail-gating you on the M56.  Or when someone close to you is sick and you've prayed and prayed, and she's not getting any better, and you think, what IS the point? Forewarned is fore-armed and if you know in advance that it's coming, and that it's normal to feel that way, and that we've all been there, then you will find comfort in the knowledge that you're not alone; this is how it is sometimes...and that knowledge might just be enough to give you a stronger grip on the cross and to keep clinging on.

So...will I be telling my little boy that he might actually hate school? That his fellow pupils might not be delightful little children, that they might annoy him...or worse?  That his teacher might not be an angel and might actually expect him to sit still, be quiet and God Forbid, work hard?
Not on your nelly ; )

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