When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29
I read this wonderful poem in the doctor’s waiting room on Monday morning. No wonder Shakespeare is called the greatest writer in the English language! How well he captures the sense of misery and the way we compare ourselves with others who seem better off than us. Yet how amazing the lift of mood and change of heart at the 10th line!
‘Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate’
No, he says, I wouldn’t swap my life with anyone else, no matter how gifted, fortunate or rich! I have YOU and you make it all worthwhile – you make my soul sing! Compared with you nothing else matters… if I just think on you, whenever I remember you… all is well again.
It’s a love sonnet – and to me it speaks of Jesus! He’s the One that makes the difference in my life and when I remember Him and focus on Him I too am content, despite my lot in life and the troubles we are walking through. He makes my life so rich, He makes me fully ME, He redeems all that has gone wrong – I simply wouldn’t want to be anyone else, no matter how attractive their life might seem, nor try to escape or avoid the adventure of my own journey.
‘For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings’.
But I do have to keep ‘remembering’ Him at the moment, in order to retain the sense of peace in the middle of the challenges of our lives. It’s a choice to look up, to refuse to be bogged down with the difficulties and uncertainties and impossibilities, to choose the positive and continue to hope and trust. It was really sweet to find such beautiful encouragement from a 16th century source! The carefully chosen words unlock something in my soul, opening my eyes to greater truth and joy.
Here’s another passage along the same lines that has really helped us recently:
‘When St Augustine was writing about Jesus coming to the disciples walking across the water in the storm (Mark 6) he said, “He came treading the waves; and so He puts all the swelling tumults of life under His feet. Christians – why afraid?” It is the simple fact of life, a fact which has been proved by countless thousands of men and women in every generation, that when Christ is there the storm becomes a calm, the tumult becomes a peace, what cannot be done is done, the unbearable becomes bearable, and we pass the breaking point and do not break. To walk with Christ will be for us also the conquest of the storm’
William Barclay’s commentary on Mark’s gospel
Writing 4 centuries after Shakespeare, this William too strikes a chord with our recent experience. Yes, we agree – when the Master is with us, the tumult becomes a peace, what cannot be done is done, the unbearable becomes bearable, and we pass the breaking point and do not break. I don’t know how this happens, but it does: it is ‘peace that passes understanding.’
I know I am walking a knife edge emotionally just now: it’s been a long and taxing journey over the past few years and there is a physical price that has to be paid. But I am so grateful for Martin being at home on his 2 months compassionate leave, for Jessa coming to help love and look after Sam – despite the extra tensions we have to work through getting used to each other 😉 – and for my lovely, wise, life-giving daughter, Rebecca, who is such an encouragement and good friend to her mum. I am grateful too for my kind doctors and the chemical help of modern medicines, for supportive friends and arms held up by many prayers, for feeling so loved, finding the daily grace to keep walking – and even knowing a sense of purpose in it all. Perhaps most of all I am thankful that it is possible to find amazing peace when I simply stop and wait for the One who ‘puts all the swelling tumults of life under His feet’ – and I really do experience the truth that His ‘sweet love remember’d such wealth brings’. As the church in Smyrna had to acknowledge to overcome in their suffering ‘we are rich‘ indeed (Revelation 2v9)
So thank you, Williams! And thank you Henri and Richard and Bono and Mumfords and all the other writers who have put their ideas and feelings into words with such clarity and wisdom. I hope I can do the same! Because this is what Henri Nouwen has to say about the process of writing:
‘One of the most satisfying aspects of writing is that it can open in us deep wells of hidden treasures that are beautiful for us as well as others to see. Each human being is unique and original and nobody has lived what we have lived. Furthermore, what we have lived is not just for ourselves… Writing can be a creative and invigorating way to make our lives available to ourselves and to others. We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told – and that the better we tell them, the better we will want to live them’. Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
I think perhaps he may be right! But for now, I’ll be away with the family until the end of the month having some quality time together without internet access: back to writing in June!