Skip to main content

I will abroad...

I struck the board and cried, "no more; I will abroad..." (George Herbert, The Collar [1])
Or, in my case, I will not abroad. Like Herbert, desiring to defy his priestly calling, to escape, to flee the life that God has given him which seems to him too burdensome, too wearisome, I don't want to do it anymore. I don't even know what "it" is -- I'm not a priest, I'm not a missionary, I'm not an anything-in-particular; the Bible tells me I'm "his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). "Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if you do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).

Well, I'm weary. I'm not even sure I know what giving up looks like, but I know I want to do it. Part of me resents the strength to carry on, because without it I wouldn't have a choice, and without a choice I wouldn't have the responsibility; my failure would not be my fault. "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). There are times when this amazing promise strikes me as an affliction rather than the blessing that it is. Imagine Sisyphus being fitted for his own personally customised boulder, the perfect weight to fall just within the bounds of his physical capacity. No point in giving him something he was literally unable to shift, or what could he do but stand there at the bottom of the hill and shrug. But find him a rock just on the other side of that threshold and he's faced with a task which is possible but just feels impossibly hard.

Even in my worst moments I know that that's not really how it is with God. I don't believe He's simply telling me to keep battling forward in my own strength, rather that He's offering me His strength and teaching me to view those circumstances which loom unbearable as opportunities to grow in faith and to experience His faithfulness. "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7). When I manage to switch briefly out of panic mode I'm able to remember and acknowledge that this isn't just something I've read about but something I've experienced for myself on multiple occasions.

One particularly pertinent and remarkable example was a couple of years ago when I had to do some long distance travel for work. Flying, public speaking, tiredness, broken regime, social interaction -- each one of these things on their own has, at various times, proved a source of substantial struggle and anxiety, not to mention that the trip was at the height of my "foot problem" when getting around was at its most awkward. But I felt (with an oxymoronically vague sort of clarity) that God was prompting me to go for it. I had no great sense of assurance that everything would be fine and dandy, but I trusted that He was with me and I believed that going was the most "faith-filled" of the choices before me. So I did, and actually had a brilliant time, and in all the challenging bits I learned to be that little bit more prayerful and dependent, which was blessing in itself.

But that was two whole years ago, and right now my present fears and anxieties loom larger than my memories of God's past provision and the promises of the Bible. Thing is, see, it seems I must repeat the trip. Only, well, I don't want to. It's too hard, on top of everything else I'm muddling along with. Or is it? "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' " (Romans 8:15). Now, I'm a strong advocate of unashamedly saying "no" to things which are outside of one's current limits. Our scope and resources as humans are finite, and it is reckless and unwise (and often pride-driven) to knowingly put oneself in untenable situations or embark on unsustainable trajectories. But I also recognise (reluctantly) that there is a danger and/or cost to setting limits for oneself which aren't really there. In the case of this forthcoming trip, I'd have liked to have said I "can't" go -- thereby rejecting the choice and the sense of responsibility -- but by the grace of God (to my dismay) I don't honestly think that's true on this occasion. I'd rather not go, I doubt if I'll enjoy it, I don't know how well I'll "cope", all manner of things far worse than not coping or not enjoying it might happen, but...
... as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
      At every word,
Methought I heard one calling ‘Child!'
And I replied, ‘My Lord!’ (George Herbert, The Collar)
When it comes down to it I'd rather act on faith than fear. If I really believe what the Bible tells me about the faithfulness and awesomeness of God then what in the world am I doing fretting about a few hours on a plane, a few days away from the gym, a few lost hours sleep? And even the weightier stuff, which I won't elaborate on now, lightens in the light of His love...
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [...] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31, 35-39)

[1] Do read the whole poem, it's brilliant and not very long.