When there’s a very large, grey shape filling your horizon, it’s hard to think of anything else.
No, not the elephant in the room, the one nobody talks about. Rather, the ever-present raincloud over our heads, the number one topic.
The news from the south west is bad and from the Midlands and north getting worse. It is hard to imagine the shock of being flooded. The sense of helplessness, the inevitability. The repeated comment is “Once the water decides to come in, there’s little you can do.”
I’ve only had to deal with two floods, both when living in the West Midlands. One came through the front door into the hall – not too bad. The other came through the air bricks in the front of the house, up through the floorboards and out into the ground-floor that way. That was again not too bad but I dreamt about it on and off for some years after. The feeling that, whatever you do, the water’s going to get in ad that you can’t measure or control it: it’s quite traumatic. So I’ve been very impressed by the stoicism of some of those interviewed this past week-end and saddened by the bewilderment of some of the elderly folk caught by a flood for the first time.
And now, as I write this, it’s raining and raining and raining, the sky a dead grey, the ground utterly sodden, everything still and dripping. Even without flooding, the effect on the spirit is almost wholly negative.
There is so much that can bring us down. Money – lack of. Work – too much of. People – absence or presence. The weather comes near the top of this influential list. It can – I understand – have a clinically measurable effect on our levels of satisfaction with life, which in turn affect our energy levels and ability to relate well to other people.
We try to change this by chasing the sun but you can’t be on holiday all the time. And at least one person who has chosen to be –as she thought – permanently in the sun (retiring to Spain a few years ago) reported unseasonable cold and (wait for it) flooding this past week.
Anyway most of us have to stay where we are. And grumble?
Grumbling about life looms large on the list of heart-attitudes that can negatively affect your health. It turns out optimistic people live between eight and nine years longer than pessimists. That’s according to pioneer of Positive Health Dr Martin Seligman of Pennsylvania who believes that being a pessimist is about as bad for you as smoking three packets of cigarettes a week. Ryan T. McKay of Oxford University and Daniel C. Dennett of Tufts University among others have argued that medically, an even at times unrealistic optimism in the face of adversity can yield significant health benefits.
That’s probably true but I’m not convinced about the merits of simple self-help. People often find there comes a point when your ability to deceive yourself (“Every day in every way, I’m getting better and better” etc) is exhausted.
God never says that. He’s more realistic. ‘In this world you will have trouble,’ Jesus tells his followers. The Greek word used here for ‘trouble’ is the same word used to describe the experience of child-birth (think about it). He goes on ‘But cheer up – I have overcome the world.’
It’s hard to develop an active trust in God, belief that He means exactly what He says. But millions, especially in hostile, anti-Christian environments, have found that somehow God does sustain those who trust Him, even in the most trying circumstances.
So as we deal with whatever our current circumstances are throwing at us, we can say ‘God, I don’t like any of this. I’m finding it hard to cope and I need help. But I trust that you really are in charge. Thank you for that.’
It’s a very healthy attitude.
By Nigel O’Dwyer, who leads Goring New Life Church, and lives and works in Worthing.