Just got back from a week in France. 3000 feet up, miles from anywhere, view to die for, leaves turning red and gold, every day a bit colder than the one before. Perfect.
We’d been invited to join another couple and that fitted in with my plans very well. I’d been trying to find a good venue for some study-leave and – up to then – nothing had worked out.
The idea was to start each day when I woke up but then get my head down and really focus on what I thought I was there for. If the others wanted to sit around chatting and/or going for healthy walks - fine. I’d commit to the main meal (with any attendant chores) but otherwise there was just the one priority.
Everyone seemed happy with this: we’d known each other for years, everything was easy. But by the second day, I began to feel that my proposed agenda wasn’t the one I should be following. There was a distinct sense that, although some time in solitary was OK, I was also needed for ‘other duties’.
Our friends are really hospitable and easy-going but it didn’t need too much perception to realise that they were in need. There had been a long-term illness and some ongoing, most frustrating situations to deal with that were proving very wearing. They had been feeling emotionally run-down and disempowered for quite a while. What they needed were friends who were there.
There was an occasion when Jesus learnt that his cousin had died. In fact he’d been killed – casually – by a man he’d earlier and quite legitimately criticised in public. In the event, the death wasn’t actually intended, needn’t really have happened. It was all rather unnecessary.
Jesus was obviously much affected by the news. He wanted some time away, somewhere remote so that he could grieve and, maybe, reflect on his own situation. He hadn’t exactly been avoiding controversy himself.
When he arrived at the spot where he’d planned to have a few days on his own, he found that word had got out and a whole crowd of people had arrived ahead, all wanting to ask him questions, get healed, have a piece of him.
The report says that Jesus was moved by compassion. Here was a need that only he could meet. Without hesitation, he started attending to people’s needs. His own went on hold.
I can’t claim to have dropped my agenda completely. I actually found time to some very useful reading and thinking. But the main emphasis was no longer what I’d planned but what was needed.
God knows our needs. He knows when we need time aside, when we have tasks that need to be done. But He also has His agenda and a lot of that involves the needs of others. And how we can be part of the answer.
By nature I’m someone who likes to have things organised. Over time, I haven’t dealt well with interruptions to ‘the plan’, whether that’s shopping or a few days away.
What I’m gradually learning is that God’s plans are bigger than mine, that they achieve more and usually turn attention from me towards someone else.
This past week has proved to be far more satisfying – and far more beneficial for all – than I’d ever have imagined.
By Nigel O’Dwyer, who lives and works in Worthing