Despatches from the front line of the Church
So now we live in Australia and everything’s different.
Like the wildlife. At home in the UK, our garden was visited by the occasional pigeon, a magpie or two and endless plastic carrier bags wafting across the lawn (it’s easier to cope with that if you think of them as ‘land jellyfish’). Maybe the Fat Squirrel, who used to sit on the fence and frighten next door’s useless dog, would pay us a visit. Here, our place is surrounded by all sorts of exotic creatures. Fruit bats squawk and chatter all night, while rainbow lorikeets (which, I imagine, taste like Skittles) pick up the day shift.
The problem is not so much the ones that kindly remain outside, but the ones that get in. In Britain, we had the occasional trespassing ant. Here, we’re on some kind of mutant spider highway. Last month I had to do battle with one in the hallway the size of a cat. ‘Just get a jar and a piece of card,’ a friend later said. A jar? I needed a flippin’ sword. This thing was big enough to have facial expressions. Insects should not be able to give you a sardonic glance.
Well okay, maybe not as big as a cat. But some are as big as your hand, and fast too – which means you have to chase them all over the house, or they’ll appear later when you’re least expecting it, jump on your face and impregnate you with an acid-blooded alien that later bursts out of your chest. Or something.
Anyway, apparently it’s been mating season, which means that the infernal monsters have been scurrying into our house looking for things to have sex with. If there is anything that makes a spider less appealing, it’s the idea that the eight-legged, six-eyed freak-show is in your abode because it’s looking for a good time.
And all this is before you consider that half of them are poisonous. Almost everything in Australia is trying to kill you. And anything that isn’t is probably about to be killed by something else, so don’t stand too close to it.
Basically, if you’re a creature that could simultaneously press ctrl-alt-del on two keyboards, fill out a questionnaire on ‘my favourite places to appear in a house without warning’ and make an offensive gesture at my wife while she cowers in the corner, you have too many limbs.
Moving to Australia has been a lot of change for us. Not all of us are very good at dealing with change; historically, I haven’t always been – I’ve struggled with it, especially when it seems pregnant with danger, uncertainty or decline.
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.
– Rudyard Kipling, If
It’s surprising, because God embraces development and evolution (small ‘e’, Creationist readers – don’t panic), and the idea of impermanence and uncertainty in the world is well-represented in Christianity (Matthew 6:26, Proverbs 3:5, Hebrews 1:11, etc) and culture (If, the Serenity Prayer, Croesus and Fate and ‘this too shall pass‘ – the notorious phrase supposed to bring happiness to an unhappy person, and unhappiness to a happy person). Resilience training too teaches us how to minimise stress by accepting and adapting as things change around us – so why do we struggle with it in our spiritual lives, still succumbing to fear or even doubt?
I wonder if, sometimes, it is because in our desire to please God and be ‘good Christians,’ we can end up focussing too much on Him at the expense of developing ourselves. When we fear change, we might read up on Bible passages that reassure us that there is a plan and a purpose for our lives, or get caught up in narratives about ‘God’s will’ and predestination. ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes away’ (Job 1:21) is often interpreted in a way that over-personalises provision and loss, focussing on God’s responsibility – rather than the key lesson in that story, which is acceptance.
We need to be careful not to abdicate our responsibility to develop our life (and spiritual) resilience skills by focussing too much on God’s plan – the contents of which we may never fully know or understand. Otherwise we risk making the error of assuming that God will make us happy and peaceful, rather than God wanting us to learn happiness and peace.
After all, God isn’t in the business of slavery, but growth.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
– Reinhold Niebuhr, Serenity Prayer