Monday, 31 January 2011

Just the cover and the title page

Here I go again, Lord. 

The other day two things happened that made me worry about something I've never thought to worry about before (and that's saying something; at some time or other I reckon I've seen the potential for anxiety lurking round practically every corner).

So I heard that someone I was at school with is doing well in her career; she's flying high and likely to get a promotion sometime soon.  Also, on the radio women were talking about how they had babies late in their thirties so that they could get their career to a stage where they could ‘take a break’ and then pick up where they left off.  The idea was that by concentrating solely on their career and postponing motherhood, by the time they did have children they were materially better off, with success and status in their career.

Hmm. My girls were born when I was in my late thirties, but I don't have a fabulous career that I spent years nurturing and developing with the intention of picking up the reins again at some point.  It didn’t cross my mind.  In fact by the time I had my girls, my job was pretty specialized – probably to the degree that with five or more years away I’d find it very difficult to get back to where I was.  I’d have to start pretty much from the bottom again.

There we go. Instant anxiety.

What have I done with my life?  I didn't have children late because I was building up a wonderful career.   I just…sort of had children late.  I did other stuff. I had a few changes of direction. I didn’t start my ‘career’ till I was 28 and so by the time my beautiful babies came along I hadn’t had time to climb to the top of the tree. I did love my job, but I didn’t think twice about leaving it behind to be a Mum.

I’m sure you remember Lord that there was a point when we didn’t know if we were going to be able to have a family, and that was a bleak time. I looked at my life then and I remember being appalled at the idea that my career might be the focal point of my life. That’s not because I was unambitious, just that in the work/life balance, work seemed sort of insignificant in comparison. 

But I had never thought to question what I was doing with my life.

What am I for? 

I am so much more comfortable in my skin right now, being who I am, who you have made me, than I think I’ve ever been in my life before, and yet everything I know to be true was rocked in one morning, by a bit of gossip and a radio programme. That’s not good, is it?

All of a sudden I felt as if I should have more to show from my life. I’ve always liked that I took a circuitous route to get where I am, and that I did things and went places, while I had chance. I never worried about the fact that while I was trying things out, or travelling, or working for a church for next to nothing, or being a student, other more focused folks were laying the foundations of a supercareer that would make them rich and admired and give them status that I would never have.

So I spent much of that morning with a furrowed brow and it spoilt my lunch, actually. Hmmph. 

But then it came to me. Or you did.

It doesn’t matter. Just that.

It doesn't matter.

" 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.' " 
Jeremiah 29:11

I was looking in the wrong direction.   Just because everyone in this world rates things like status and title and rank and achievement and money doesn’t mean that you do. Quite the opposite – you’re always telling us that these things don’t matter at all.  My worth comes from you, from being your child, from being who you want me to be.

My self esteem shouldn’t be linked to what other people think of me, but what you think of me.  There’s going to come a day when I stand in front of you and give an account of how I lived my life, and you won’t care if I was a high flyer or never had a decent job or a pay rise. It’s the other stuff that you’ll be interested in.

I have no idea why on that day, I suddenly became insecure about my life, when in the last couple of years you’ve been building me up so much that I am so much more secure in your love for me than I have ever been. You have done wonderful wonderful things for me these last two years and yet suddenly I wanted other people to tell me I’d done well, other people to recognise that I had worth. I wanted approval from a world that rates success and achievement in a completely different way. I am amazed that this thing that I know so well, accept so completely and have over the years been so comforted by was for a time so easily derailed.

At the end of ‘The Last Battle’, the final book in CS Lewis’ ‘Narnia’ series, the narrator says:
“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
I love this.  I love the idea that this life is just a beginning of what there is for us, and it’s going to get better and better. Why would anyone want to fill up on the starter when there’s a spectacular banquet ahead?

So, knowing this, why was I all worked up about not being seen to be a success in the world’s eyes?  I would rather crash and burn here on earth and then stand in front of my God and have you say,

‘I’m proud of you’.

I’d rather make you smile than than write a Booker Prize winning novel that makes me rich and famous. (Though, of course, if that’s what you have down for me, I’m sure I’d cope…)

The truth is, I have no idea what the rest of my life holds.  My two girls are small and need me a lot at the moment. They’ll leave home when they’re grown up (and at this rate that’ll happen in the blink of an eye, I reckon) and then what for me?  What do you have in store?

Do I go back to the profession I was in?  Something else?  Will I even be here? Whoa. There’s a thought. What do you have in mind?  I really don’t know. And for someone who likes things clear and mapped out it’s a bit scary at times, this not knowing.  I guess that you’ll let me in on the secret when you’re ready, Lord.

What I do know is that whether it’s easy or hard, familiar or new, I will only be happy if I’m walking alongside you, and I will only make you happy if I trust that you will walk with me.

I want to be who you want me to be. 

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