‘Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread’ Psalm 37v25
‘In that day the burden will be lifted from your shoulders, the yoke from your neck; the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat’ Isaiah 10v27
Yesterday my cousin came to visit. She hasn’t been to our house since Christmas 2007, so we looked back at some old photos. First there were the ones from when we were babies 🙂 We are only a few weeks apart in age and our mothers being sisters-in-law and good friends we seem to have spent quite a lot of time together in our early years. Jill remembers my 5th birthday party and I have photos of her that I took with my very first ‘instamatic’ camera when I was 11. As I had so few pictures of infanthood she has shared a lot of her own mother’s with me, giving a different view of my mum and dad, smiling and happy with their first baby. It is very comforting to see some normality before everything fell apart when I was 12 with my mother’s suicide and the subsequent breakup of our family unit when my younger brother and I were sent to boarding school.
Jill went to boarding school too – having lost her own father at the age of 6, her lovely Brummie mum worked as a housemother there and was as good as both parents to her. They were close friends until Irene died a couple of years ago at a ripe old age; it left Jill as a single professional woman now living alone in the Solihull semi I remember from childhood visits. After years of silence I found myself at a meeting in the same road as the remembered address and am so glad I made the effort to reconnect with my father’s one remaining sibling before it was too late: we had some happy times together sharing family news and the memories that have now been lost along with her. Although my cousin and I are utterly different in lifestyle and attitude, because of our childhood friendship, shared history – and perhaps mutual tragedy – a bond remains; we are determined not to lose touch again and try to meet once or twice a year.
One of those occasions was the triumphant Christmas meal that reunited us all. It was the year I finally felt able to invite my dad, step-mother and their unmarried son to stay with us for a couple of days over the holiday and Irene and Jill put aside the family tensions of the years and came over from Birmingham to join us for Boxing Day.
Looking at this photo – apart from the miracle of having everyone together in our home! – I am mostly struck by how thin I was! Thinking back I had had a long episode of anaemia without knowing about it which had kept me pretty underweight – but I didn’t mind being able to wear size 12 jeans at the age of 50! It is a different story 5 long years later, having endured all the things that have happened to our family with Sam’s illness and the consequent multiplication of bad habits – not to mention additional effects of the menopause and middle-age spread! I’ll never wear size 12 again now – I’m losing the battle to get back into size 14 jeans! 😉
I was thin but now I am fat;I was young and now I am old… they seem to go together in a way! 😉 I think I am finally accepting it, deciding to wear bigger clothes and stop worrying about dieting: there is no point adding another burden to our lives at the moment. It is a shame not to be young anymore, but we can’t turn the clock back…
There is my ‘acceptance’ word again, my chosen non-resistant and submissive attitude… and perhaps I take it too far? Going even further in the opposite direction to taking control, I also love the ‘A’ word ‘abandonment’. When you look that up in the dictionary it seems a pretty negative thing: ‘to abandon’ is ‘to leave, discontinue, lose interest, stop supporting or caring, indulge…’ none of which display the worthy character traits of good discipline or commitment. My own mother abandoned me – and the Lord does not abandon me – as in Psalm 37 above; it is definitely a bad thing to do!
I prefer the noun to the verb: abandonment (noun) – complete lack of inhibition or restraint; but again it depends on the context! In many ways I have abandoned myself to the bad habits I mention – eating and drinking too much are a source of comfort in our grief and moments of desperation and have contributed to the ‘fatness’ I mention! Lack of restraint leads to trouble… and yet there are moments to let go of all that control and throw yourself into something. Maybe not an orgy or gluttony, drunkenness and over-indulgence – though many people do think this the height of human pleasure… No, my abandonment has to be to a safer place that that.
The reason I love abandonment it that I can stop holding myself together and relax into GOD – especially at those times when I can feel the Holy Spirit like tangible peace or a whispered breath in the sacred silence. At those moments it is foolish not to abandon oneself – just as with a lover: give up resistance, yield to trust and dive into the river of God. Whether with wholehearted songs or bodily worship, arms outstretched in surrender, facedown on the floor, or in tears that express the deepest prayer of all, ‘Not my will but yours be done’ – it is love and trust at it’s pinnacle: You know best.
So these are my essential A words so far: absorption, acceptance, abandonment – all of which have provisos and need boundaries, but all of which are helpful in an impossible situation: the capacity to receive and hold, the acknowledgment that this is how it is and the willingness to let go and trust, fall into grace.
As for being fat… apparently there are advantages to that as well! Isaiah 10v27 above has been translated in different ways, eg, the anointing oil breaks the yoke, but surely just being too BIG for a yoke – what the writer about Botswana calls African ‘traditional build’ or the Incredible Hulk exemplifies when he bursts out of his shirt! – is as good an interpretation. I am now surely SO fat, SO full, that the old restraints can’t hold me anymore: I’ve grown beyond that. The last 5 years have indeed changed and aged me, but I’m wiser too. As Isaiah says elsewhere, using the same word -thanks to the King James translation – ‘Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness’ Isaiah 55v2. And in Psalm 63v5: ‘My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips’
Once I was poor but now I am rich: God is faithful and I abandon myself to God.