For three and half months we had my parents staying with us, in our attic. On Sunday the 28th they said goodbye and started their journey back to Portugal when the ferries were able to take passengers again.
On the Friday before they left, Allegra accompanied Zion into my room after having been put to bed and told me Zion was sad – he was inconsolable. As he lay next to me in bed sobbing, Allegra instructed me angrily to “Tell Nana and Dada not to leave!” On the Saturday evening we had a special last meal together – Allegra burst into tears at several points for no apparent good reason. And Zion asked “why do Nana and Dad have to go?”
To this my brother answered him: because God wants them to…
Our family has been saying these kinds of goodbyes for the past 22 years – since I went to boarding school when I was 11, later to be joined by my brother and then my sister – whilst my parents did development work, and planted a church in Brazil.
It has made us appreciate the holidays and seasons where we have been able to spend more time together, and we have got used to the feelings that come with saying goodbye for a long time during which we will be separated by an airplane journey. But it’s never become particularly easy.
The day they left I felt understandably low, the kids were upset and I hadn’t slept well.
But I was reminded of what Paul had told Zion – They’ve gone because that’s what God asked them to do – and we’ve stayed, because that’s where God has asked us to be.
But to be honest, I felt hard done by – I didn’t feel particularly selfless, or joyful in the face of watching my kids discomfort. I started thinking about how I could distract them from it all.
I think a lot of us can think of times when we have resented being put through a difficult situation. And yet we follow a God who says two things – which seem to oppose each other, but that actually complement each other.
Firstly, he says: “Pick up your cross daily, and follow me.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise when we follow him that we encounter discomfort – the analogy he used was of a cross – one of the most brutal forms of capital punishment that has ever existed! Jesus never claimed that following him would be without sacrifice!
But he also says: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Because actually, when we choose to follow him we can let go of being in charge, feeling responsible for everything – the pressure is transferred on to him…
Cath and I have an ongoing list that we add to, of all the reasons why we would never want Donald’s job – and it boils down to the fact that the buck stops with him. We like that we don’t have to deal with that pressure. It sometimes means that we don’t fully agree with Donald about a decision – but we know that when push comes to shove it will be Donald that has to deal with the consequences of that decision, not us.
Following God is similar, but on a far more significant scale – he takes responsibility, and though we may not always understand why he asks certain things of us we can rest secure that he sees the bigger picture and that he is ultimately working to build his kingdom – one that will see the sadness, sickness and injustices we see today in our world – eliminated.
I may not like having to see my kids dealing with the sadness of saying goodbye, again, to their grandparents. I may not have enjoyed saying goodbye throughout my teenage years to my parents and siblings. (And these are nothing in comparison to the suffering some go through!) But, I needed this reminder – because it’s so easy to slip into a selfish view of situations like I did.
Because, when I stop to reflect, and step out of my self-pity I realise: I would rather go through the sacrifice of being separated again, than to be stripped, or have my kids stripped, of the knowledge that we are part of something bigger, that we can rest secure that He knows what he’s doing, that we don’t need to understand it all, that there is a purpose beyond ourselves to our lives.
Because at the end of the day, rather than protecting my kids from discomfort I would rather protect them from the lack of purpose that comes from centring our whole lives around ourselves and our comfort.
Jesus called us to live as servants – focusing on others needs – this is the antidote to the epidemic of meaninglessness that huge swathes of society are facing today – Jesus doesn’t ask us to carry that heavy burden – his burden is light, he takes the weight – he just asks us to follow and take up our cross daily.
So, what sacrifice are we being called to make?
What is the cross we have to pick up today?
Not a sacrifice for the sake of making a sacrifice – to make ourselves look heroic. Not a sacrifice using the name of God to justify causing others to suffer – so we can do what we like. And probably not a sacrifice which is admired by mainstream society – it is unlikely we will gain more money or glamour for ourselves. But one which says – not my will but yours. One which says, I’m here to serve others not my own interests, because I would rather hold to the purposefulness that comes from following you, God, despite the sacrifices…