Life can be very frustrating. Like when you’re trying to go online – and the server is down.
Or when the bus timetable says there’s a bus every ten minutes – and you’ve been waiting half an hour. Or you simply have to get in touch with someone – and the answer phone’s on.
A lot of recent news has reflected the same on a national scale. The government proposes some legislation, probably reacting to some major prompt such as the Leveson report, the extradition of a terrorist, or the misuse of alcohol. No sooner has the proposal been made than there’s a problem and a delay. OK, I know I’m comparing things trivial with things that are – or should be – very important but it all builds up a sense of frustration.
It’s as though you and I are moving at one speed and the world around us is moving noticeably faster. We’re being asked to react to situations without time to shape our response. The result is often a sense of inner friction. It can make us irritable or confused, tired or simply ‘out of sorts’. There’s usually no one reason, just a general disharmony.
Faced with this, the tendency is to give a knee-jerk reaction. People say things that they don’t mean or can’t back up. Policy is announced that, on reflection, cannot be converted into law. It’s an overwhelming need to do something, maybe to resolve the problem. Or perhaps it’s just being seen to do something, to feel as though one’s in charge.
And Christmas seems to make this worse rather than better. Deadlines have to be met before the December break. Presents have to be bought, food got in, travel plans finessed with an eye to the weather. It’s not a peaceful season. The world is moving faster. We’re trying to stop for a bit.
At this point, with two weeks to go, I can feel myself getting jangled by all the conflicting demands. One reason – probably the most obvious – is that I’m not making space. I’m a Christian: I should know better.
On one occasion, when Jesus came into her kitchen, a woman called Martha asked him to use his authority to get her sister Mary to give her a hand with all the jobs she was trying to juggle. Mary had been taking time to sit quietly and listen to what Jesus was talking about in the next room. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you’re stressed and distracted by all sorts of demands. Only one thing is really essential for life. In spending time listening to me, Mary’s got it right and I’m not going to take that away from her.”
That’s a huge claim. Jesus was saying “Put me first. Spend time listening to what I have to say to you. If you make that your priority, everything else will get done. And well.”
There are lots of demands on our lives. It’s easy to spend time fire-fighting. Easy to get frustrated. Making a space in which to be quiet before God seems both difficult and irrelevant.
All I know is that, when I do it, I discover Jesus is right.
By Nigel O’Dwyer, who leads Goring New Life Church, and lives and works in Worthing.