Tag: regret

scarred love

 

There have been several major tragic events in the UK in the past few weeks, involving significant loss of life and injury, and my heart goes out to all who have been bereaved or injured.

Recognising and honouring the incredible acts of selfless generosity and heroism that have been shown in response to these events is one way in which we can respond with hope and resilience in the face of tragedy. Responses in these extreme circumstances are of hope not hate, of kindness not cruelty, of love not loathing, of heroism not hesitation. These responses (to me) reveal glimpses of the intended qualities of the One who created human nature.

There are different levels of human culpability in these horrendous events (by which I mean that I am not wishing to prejudge the outcome of any inquiry, trial, etc). We have to accept that if humans had not acted in certain ways these tragedies may have been avoided or far less tragic. We also recognise that there is a pernicious quality to the evil side of life.

 

So what do we do?

Scream

Rage

Weep

Sit in dumbfounded silence

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All of these and more. I think that we need to be honest with ourselves about how we feel as a first step towards being honest with one another. What emotions are we feeling? Why do we feel these things?

One response to these sorts of event is regret expressed as ‘if only’. If only’ regrets can be corrosive. They can eat away at our ability to confront the impact of what has happened and begin the long process of coming come to terms with it and how we feel about it. But I can’t help feeling a deep sense of ‘if only’ regret on behalf of the victims. All suffering and death is a vile reminder that things are not as they should be, but somehow when the victims are those we would deem to be ‘innocent’ that exacerbates our sense of outrage and indignation that it should maraud savagely into our relatively well-ordered society. So we wonder whether it could have been prevented?

‘If only’ also looks for someone to blame: someone should have done something differently. Often that ‘someone’ is someone who is not known to us. It is much more difficult to cope with when ‘if only’ points the finger of blame and someone closer to home, or even to us. The ‘if only’ blame requires someone to resign or to be convicted or to apologise. And while collectively we may feel better when that happens we transfer the blame to that person / organisation and we distance ourselves from it. But the regret remains.

If you want to blame someone, by all means blame God. If you want to complain about the injustice then give him your best shot. He can cope with the raging lashing-out of hurting people.

Writing this post today I remembered writing a lament to God a few years ago for those who died when a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane was shot out of the sky over Ukraine. I was surprised to find that this was 18th July 2014 – how was it so long ago and how had I forgotten all about it?

Did you hear the 298 30,000 foot screams? Do you know who pressed the button: do you know if they feel guilty? Did you fall with them? Do you share the grief of the parents, partners, children who have an unexpected chasm opened up in their life? Do you know how angry we feel about it?

Do you care about the people of Ukraine, because we have replaced them with new news? Do you understand the depth of division that is so deep that people have given up on politics and taken up guns? Do you know how many people have died unseen by the world’s media and unnoticed by most of us?

Do you know how many people are buried in the rubble of Gaza or how many have escaped with their lives but that’s all they have left? Do you comprehend the incomprehensible hatred that fires random rockets and retaliates with missiles that infuriate and motivate more rockets that exasperate and lead to invasion? Do you weep with the families of four young boys who had been playing football on the beach until the shells hit?

And then there’s the Islamic insurgency in Nigeria, civil war in South Sudan, ongoing uprisings in Afghanistan, destruction and devastation in Syria and Iraq, and so many more. We name countries because the people are unknown to us and because it makes it easier for us to cope rather than think of all of the individuals.

Does the inhumanity make you weep? Does it make you regret? Does it erode hope?

It’s wrong. So wrong. Words can’t express it. But they are all you have given me.

One of the consequences of our global news social media world is that, while we feel the impact of each new tragedy more keenly because we see footage from camera phones from those who were there and we hear eyewitness accounts almost as they happen, we move onto the next one fairly rapidly with an almost macabre fascination. I could easily change the words above to reflect the most recent events. And in a few weeks’ time perhaps (please God no) there will be new events to replace those…

But when you are screaming at God when these things happen, ask him where he was and is.

God is not indifferent to our suffering.

At the risk of being insensitive to those who are suffering in ways far beyond anything I can imagine I do believe that part of the answer to that is that he is with us, he is in the pain, he feels the impact, he is screaming the screams of anguish. Why? Because he loves each one of us with love that goes far beyond that of any parent or child. He loves us because he made us lovingly. When his beloved ones are damaged, ruined, destroyed, and defiled his love – even though it remains undiminished – becomes a scarred love.

Be blessed, be a blessing

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time travel

Time FliesWe human beings are obsessed with time. Our lives are shaped by the rudimentary 24 hour clock which God built into the solar system: the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. With the advent of timepieces (sundials giving way to clocks and watches) we have been able to be more precise about timing (admittedly sundials are less useful in cloudy / rainy countries and at night).

So phrases like ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ have become everyday expressions, reflecting the reality that when we are enjoying ourselves (or just busy) we are less conscious of the passage of time. We know too that when we are bored time seems to stand still. We know that ‘time is money’ and that a ‘stitch in time saves nine’…

Time travel has been an idea with which fiction writers and film makers have played, and it fascinates us because our experience of time is exclusively unidirectionally linear. It goes in one direction. The ‘what if’ of time travel is exciting because it breaks one of the most fundamental rules of our existence.

If you could travel in time what would you want to see? Where would you want to go? One of the apparently fundamental rules of time travel (especially if you go backwards) is that you don’t change anything. If you change something you may change an event that significantly alters our present reality – so in ‘Back to the Future’ Marty McFly inadvertently stops his mother meeting his father and falling in love, and so his own existence is threatened.

If you could go back in time and change something, what would you change? What would you do differently? There is no guarantee that the change you make or the different action would result in a better outcome than the one you have experienced. Wishful thinking, regrets, ‘if only’, and similar thoughts often reflect that things have not turned out as well as we had hoped: we rarely think that we would like to be able to go back and change something that worked out well!

We can’t turn back time. This side of death we are stuck in our unidirectionally linear existence. But God can redeem our failure. He doesn’t change what happened, but he can transform how we feel about the past and the present as well as the future. Grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace are all gifts that he longs to give us. It’s not always easy. I don’t pretend that these things instantly change our reality. They are gifts that sometimes we have to receive over time and with much prayer. Sometimes we need other people to help us to receive them. But they are possible.

When Peter realised he had denied knowing Jesus in the courtyard outside his trial he ‘went out and wept bitterly’. I love the way Jesus restored him (John 21 if you want to have a look). He did not change the past but he offered forgiveness, restoration, a hope and a future.

Because Jesus is risen from the dead the Christian faith is an optimistic faith. You cannot change the past, but he can change the way that the past affects your present and your future. He is in the business of giving fresh starts. There is no mess that God cannot sort out if we allow him to. There is no sin he cannot forgive if we ask him. There is nothing that can separate us from his love.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

memories that make you shudder

Have you done things in the past that make you shudder when you remember them? I was reminded of one of those today when I heard a news report about the possibility of a smoking ban being introduced in UK prisons. Let me set the scene…

I was about 21, fairly fresh out of University with a Law Degree. I was working for a wonderful provincial firm of Solicitors in South Devon in the Litigation Department. We carried out civil and criminal litigation, including being Duty Solicitors for police stations. There were some people who became ‘regulars’ of ours and on one occasion we had a call from Exeter Police that one of our clients was under arrest in their cells and had asked for us.

My boss, for whom I have the greatest of respect, asked me to go and see the client. He gave me some money because the client had said he was out of cigarettes and told me to buy him some and some matches. He told me that this would calm him down and help him to listen to my advice. I did as asked (don’t ask me which brand I bought even though it’s the only packet of cigarettes I have ever bought) and drove up to Exeter with them in my briefcase (which I carried so I looked like I knew what I was doing).

I went to the custody section and was shown into a room where I could meet my client in confidence. He came in and I passed him the cigarettes and matches, which he gratefully took and I listened to his story. I can’t remember much about what we said (and of course I couldn’t tell you anyway) but at the end of the time he was happy with the advice I had given. The police were not going to interview him immediately so I left and drove back to the office.

Later that day I had a phone call put through from the switchboard. It was Exeter Police. I assumed it was to do with my client. It was the Custody Sergeant. He asked if I had visited my client that day and I confirmed that I had. Then he asked if I had given him some cigarettes and matches. I said that I had. Then he said something that made my blood run cold.

match

My client had been sitting in his cell lighting matches and flicking them around the cell as they burned. Thankfully the cells were pretty spartan and he had not set light to the mattress, but the police officer gently pointed out that he could have caused a fire, he could have been injured and it’s possible the police station might have been set alight. he calmly reminded me that if I wanted to give clients anything at a police station I should do so through the custody officers not simply pass them over.

I was horrified at my mistake. I remember going very red with embarrassment (I could feel my cheeks burning) and offering profuse apologies. I certainly learnt that lesson and (as you can tell) have never forgotten it.

Today’s news about smoking and prisons brought it all back. But what it has also reminded me is of the gracious way in which the Custody Sergeant dealt with me. He had seen me when I came into the police station and it would have been clear (despite my briefcase) that I was very new to all of this. He could have screamed down the phone at me and told me I was a blithering idiot (and I would have agreed) but instead he had been calm and courteous and had explained what I should have done.

Today that is a reminder to me of God’s grace to me – he does not scream at me when I get things wrong but patiently and calmly points me back in the right direction, receives my apology and helps me to learn the lesson.

It is also a reminder to me of how we can all better relate to each other. This is especially poignant because on Sunday evening I am looking at the moment in Acts 15 when Paul and Barnabas had a major falling out and went their separate ways. How we need the help of God’s Spirit to help us emulate Jesus at times when we disagree or even argue. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control anyone?

And with God’s grace he can also take the memories that make us shudder and offer fresh starts if we offer them to him openly and honestly.

Be blessed, be a blessing

je ne regrette rien

We are following a series of sermons at our church at the moment: ‘Living life in all its fullness’. On Sunday morning we will be looking at ‘Living without regret’. It’s a theme that seemed important when I prepared the series. In preparation I have been wrestling with Peter after he had denied knowing Jesus. Or more accurately I have been wrestling with the passages about Peter.

I remembered that I had reflected on this before, and it had motivated me to write two pomes. They are in the ‘pomes’ section of the blog, under Bible, but I reproduce them here to save you from clicking.

I hate mornings.
I hate the sounds of life carrying on.
I hate the normality of it all.
It’s the end of my world and no-one has noticed.
And most of all I hate the sound
of that
damned
wretched
cockerel.
© 1995 Nick Lear

If only
I’d kept my mouth shut – making promises he knew I wouldn’t keep.
If only
I’d kept my eyes open – instead of falling asleep.
If only
I’d kept my mouth shut – when they
accused me.
If only
I could stop the tears from flowing.
© 1995 Nick Lear

 

firelight

Regret is not a bad thing. It is the beginning of repentance, restoration and renewal so long as we move on from regret. Peter’s regret was transformed by his encounter with the risen Jesus. It may seem naive and stating as I am about to will appear simplistic for anyone who lives in the shadow of deep regret, but I believe that the same is true for us today. Because Jesus is alive, the past can be forgiven, there is a mandate to live for today and we have a hope for the future. Peter found forgiveness, a mandate and hope after a cooked breakfast on the beach at Galilee.

The experience of this may be a process rather than an event, but it is part of living life in all its fullness as followers of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.