“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” wrote Charles Dickens as he begun to pen his famous novel The Tale of Two Cities. You may be able to describe your 2017 in a similar way. My 2017 has had both “best” and “worst” times. Planning and beginning to be part of a team who are planting a church has counted in the “best”. Hurting my back and still slowly recovering has to be counted as “bad”.
Life in all its beauty and fullness can have both best and worst times. These times can sometimes persist for long periods and sometimes they can change rapidly from one state to the other. Some people take a more optimistic view of life and delight in it, while others view it differently and can roll off clichés such as “Life is unfair, get used to it.” How are Christians supposed to view life? Should we take an optimistic or a more pessimistic view of life? (I assume people holding either view would call their view “realistic”.)
The Bible is not afraid of trying to make sense of a life that seems to be bereft of joy. The Psalms are littered with sorrow and lament and there is even a book of lament, called Lamentations. Psalm 88 is a unique song in that it doesn’t follow other lament psalms that rejoice in the character of God at some point. Psalm 88 records a period in the life of a very melancholy character who finishes the psalm on this note:
You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
my companions are in darkness.
Fair to say that this person had a more pessimistic view of life.
I am most grateful for this psalm for in times of sorrow it gives the reader comfort. The psalmist here is not attempting to sugar-coat life, giving a “band-aid” answer or the Aussie macho response of “Just get on with it!.” Instead, it is an honest reflection on a time when life seemed to contain little joy or hope. Sometimes just hearing that life is difficult and lamenting is the healthiest thing we can do. I turn to Psalm 88 when others have come to me in states of depression and sorrow and it is amazing how much people relate and gain strength from it. Isn’t God wonderful! This would be the last type of psalm I would ever think of including in a book I wrote. But God in his wisdom and sovereignty knows what is best for us.
As I walked, quite bent over, through the worst of my back injury this year, there were times of sorrow, but the turning point was when I was prayed for at the front of church during Communion. Miles spoke some of God’s deep truth into my heart. He paraphrased part of 2 Corinthians 12, saying, “God’s grace is sufficient for you, for His power is made perfect in weakness. . . for whenever you are weak, then you are strong.” This has been my self-talk for much of this “worst” time journey. I was transformed by the renewing of my mind and have been able to praise and delight in God for all my times, both best and worst.
(There are countless sections of the scriptures that speak of the joy of being alive but I’ll leave that for another musing.)
As I have reflected on this year, it is abundantly clear to me that God’s grace has been sufficient. So, with this in mind, I am very conscious of finishing this year strongly. Moving on to planting The Common, while welcoming the Carrs as they begin their time at St Philips is my focus. My beginning at St Philips 5 years ago was the “best” of times. I look back with much thankfulness, joy and fondness at my time here.