I rarely feel my age (which in my head is defined by a tolerance for alcohol, celebrating the weekend, having a proper job and probably some sort of exercise routine). Either I feel six years old, or forty-six years old. (In other words, I neither earn money nor have the energy to go out clubbing). Faced with a rejection from a prospective job that had got my excitable little heart singing definitely made me feel like a toddler. All I wanted was my mummy. It’s especially hard to not take rejection from a Christian workplace as a sign that I really am the rotten, got-in-by-administrative-error Christian that a snickering little voice in my head often tells me I am. Life, I have to remind myself, is not a conveyor belt- a gentle, steady-paced movement from a to b, preferably accompanied by supermarket muzak. To get the decent soundtrack, you have to cope with a few more bumps in the road.
Psalm 23 is full of lovely, refreshing imagery: green pastures, quiet waters, shepherds and sheep (very Wordsworth) and it has the beautiful promise: “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake”. But how God does so isn’t quite as winsome: “your rod and your staff, they comfort me”. In other words, like wayward sheep, sometimes we need an explicit nudge in the right direction. Not so we can ricochet around some pinball machine for God;s own amusement. But so that God can protect us and lead us down paths where we will grow, be nourished by Him, learn to lean on Him, and serve Him. And ‘lead’ is the right word- He always goes ahead of us, whether it is through the Sinai desert or along the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary. Prods hurt. Vaccinations do too. The recognition that, in my self-preservation-minded naivety, I don’t always know what is best for me is the proper response to both. (Though I wouldn’t be averse to a consolation lollipop falling from the heavens…)
Most reassuring of all, is the knowledge that I haven’t disappointed God. Aligning my will with His feels seriously uncomfortable. But I know I would rather cause Him joy than bring myself smug self-satisfaction. Because He loves me irrespective of my achievements, and I could never promise myself that consistency. I’ll distract myself from my own finiteness til the proverbial cows come home. God, on the other hand, remembers that I am dust, and accepts me in spite of it.
“As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.”