It would be interesting to see a poll that reveals the happiest countries in the world and to see whether the religious belief and happiness correlate. My own view for what it’s worth is they probably do. I don’t think for a moment that the most religious countries are the most miserable. I have my theories that the UK is a very unhappy nation, not merely because of the current political or financial state it finds itself in but also because of an abandonment of faith in God.
Faith lived properly is about outward-looking service to others – loving your neighbour as yourself. I am not saying you need a faith to do that. Faith isn’t always lived properly. Not-yet Christians are sometimes kinder and more self-sacrificing than those who claim a faith. Sometimes a faith community can be the most destructive force going.
Faith lived properly is a challenge. Belief in God isn’t some kind of vaccination against the things that torment and trip us up. Happiness isn’t the absence of conflict but having a secure path, God’s path, leading through that conflict.
Last night at the Women Aglow meeting I listened to the testimony of a woman.
Pat shared her life. She talked about her adopted children. She confessed that perhaps if she had known about the struggles ahead with them she might not have adopted them at all. She wouldn’t have seen herself as being equipped, but discovered the equipping came with as the journey progressed.
She talked about her elder son’s trouble with drink and drugs. I thought it would have a happy ending. When Christians talk about these addictions they talk about God’s miraculous deliverance and how everyone lives happily ever after. I don’t know when I realised that there wasn’t a happy ending. She talked about the struggles of his being at home and the final realisation that they had to tell him to leave. She talked about treatment of alternative drugs the medical men prescribed, and the flashes of sunlight that deceived them into thinking he was on a road to recovery. Then the narrative slowed down. Her eyes were fixed on her notes. She stopped. Tears started to fall. The words “He was dead,” were almost whispered.
Almost immediately Pat addressed the words we were all thinking – “Where was God? Where was the miracle? Why did God not step in?” God didn’t take away her son, the drugs and the drink did that. Where was God? With them, giving them strength and courage to take the next step forward. God respects our freewill even when it leads us to hurl ourselves off a cliff.
Being a Christian is not about God putting us on a yellow brick road that leads to an Emerald City where someone tells us to click our ruby slippers and we go home to somewhere nicer.
It is about learning to live in a hostile world and always, always holding out peace to people that have none.
Pat spoke about the difficult months that followed. There was no breathing space as life lurched from one crisis to another. Through it all God was the Rock they clung to. People looked on amazed at how they lived under such tremendous pressure. Yes, they broke. They are people, not Kryptonite-enhanced super-heroes. God restores what has been broken. People are being broken by life’s storms every day. There is little they can learn from Christians who have never been broken. They need to know there is a path to repair and restoration for them. Telling them there is such a path is good but it has its limitations. Watching a Christian who has been broken walking that path with God is a powerful testimony.
I reflected on my own life and testimony. I thought how pale and insipid it was in comparison. I had spoken at meetings myself but suddenly felt that I didn’t have the right to speak because I had nothing that really mattered to offer people.
God laughed gently.
“Oh, Mel,” He said, “how quickly you have forgotten…”
Memories of my own broken days flooded through my mind. They were not merely days, or months, but often years - one after the other - when I had walked through such dark days grimly holding on to God’s hand, letting go sometimes and falling. I sometimes think my pain, visible like some weeping wound, embarrassed people. I felt alienated a lot of the time. People looked for the happy ending then, but the narrative of those events slowed down, and then I stopped and the tears started to fall.
I had forgotten that I was one of those broken ones too – one of those God-repaired and restored ones. God reminded me that my life has been anything but pale and insipid.
The key to learning to live in a hostile world and always, always holding out peace to people that have none is to hold out my own hand first to God and to not let go.