It really wasn’t a day for sitting on the patio. There
was no blue sky or bright sunshine. No sense of a warm sun toasting skin a
golden brown. It was raining. Not the heavy stuff. Gentle, soft stiff but rain nonetheless.
My friend was drinking coffee and I had just clambered out of a taxi.
‘I see you’ve not got your driving licence back then?’ It’s a sore subject. I am falling into a hole with an inch or two of self-pity at the bottom.
We pretended it wasn’t raining and chatted for a while.
Earlier that morning I had been walking the local streets praying and sharing faith. We were upfront about it, no disguise. Christians talking about God, one of us a church pastor. We were asking two questions. One was about lockdown and whether we had come out of it intact, and whether we felt cared for by the community around us. The second question was a direct, ‘Do you believe in God?’ It was raining then too, and people were just wanting to get somewhere dry – the fish weren’t biting.
Even earlier than that, very early, I had been singing a hymn while doing last night’s washing up. But as I got to the ‘It is well, it is well with my soul’ I was poking around in my soul wondering if it was indeed well. Lockdown had frayed my edges somewhat, but I was mostly fine.
I didn’t ask my friend across the table if it was well with her soul. It wasn’t. She had weathered the first lockdown well, but the second one, the one that covered the dark winter months has scuppered her soul. She was signed off work. Her job was not a difficult one, but she just couldn’t face it. She is a formidable lady who faces into the wind and stays standing, usually, but not this time.
It’s the long drawn out nature of the lockdown that unravels us.
I had come across a poem by Howard Thurman. We all know who
Martin Luther King Jr is. Thurman was a mentor to him, someone who had met and talked
with Mahatma Gandhi, someone who thought of non-violent protest as a way to
change the world for the better.
He had a concern, though. He worried that in the long drawn out nature of campaigning
for racial equality and being on the receiving end of vicious maltreatment,
that the protestors would become hardened in their hearts. Yes, they might
react non-violently on the outside, but on the inside, in their thoughts and
emotions there might be a different narrative going on. He wrote a poem, ‘Open
I wrote my own version picking out some of his phrases.
Open unto me
Open unto me a light to guide my way
Open unto me courage for the day
Open unto me the hope that will not fade
Open unto me a peace that’s heaven-made
Open unto me the joy that flows so deep
Open unto me your strength my course to keep
Open unto me the wisdom I should know
Open unto me forgiveness wide to show
Open unto me a soft and tender heart
Open unto me each day a brand-new start
Inspired by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)
How do we, when we come under such sustained pressure, come out of it singing, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul’? We must not pretend it is well with our soul when it’s not.
I was reading this today:-
‘Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.’ (Colossians 3:12 NLT)
‘Clothe yourself’ is something we do for ourselves. It doesn’t have a fairy godmother’s wave of a magic wand. We have to do it. I’m not sure whether someone can do it without the help of God. My husband has got to that stage in life when he needs help getting his jacket on. And I think that we need to show ‘tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience’ to ourselves as much as to other people.
My friend and I, still chatting in the rain, seated at her
patio table, moved on to talk about other things – her son is getting married
soon and the hunt for the right ‘mother of the groom’ dress has begun.