Two weeks ago we had a somewhat challenging period of about 5 days. It was challenging on a whole number of levels and was one of those times when everything felt like it was going ‘pear-shaped’. My most striking memory of pears comes from my mother who during my childhood was particular motivated to see me benefit from what she felt were the enormous health benefits of eating pears. There was no getting away from them and if I did they would turn up in some other form such as desert the following day! So why the reference to pears? Well for those who are unfamiliar with this strange but quintessentially British expression, when I describe things as having gone ‘pear-shaped’ what I mean is that it felt like things were all going wrong. Let me give you two examples of how this worked itself out two weeks ago…
Pears & Family Life
It all began on the Wednesday when our third child Samuel started to become poorly. He spent quite a bit of time from Wednesday lunchtime onwards being sick. Yuk! Later that day we cancelled our Church home group (due to meet in our home that evening) and it wasn’t long before Samuel needed to go to the hospital. Most of our children (though notably not Benjamin) have struggled with some form of Bronchiolitis (a common lower respiratory tract infection) as young children. Once you are 2 years old they call it a virally induced wheeze and Samuel in particular has continued to struggle (though not for a couple of years now). It begins with a cough or cold but develops into the wheeze and normally requires a trip to the A&E department at the local hospital. Jacob was admitted for a night last month but this was a new batch. Over the years we must have been into hospital with one or other of our children on more than 20 separate occasions. Naomi actually had it the worst when she was very small and spent a week on the High Dependency Unit. So with all our experience of dealing with this particular illness what was the big deal on this occasion? Well Samuel spent 24 hours in hospital and returned during our student ministry evening the next day but that was not the end of it. No Aaron also developed the wheeze and was also admitted on Friday (for about 12 hours) and if that was not enough Jacob also came down with it again in the early hours of Sunday morning (for another 12 hours). In all that is 3 children in hospital over the course of 5 days! Debbie took the brunt of this (staying in hospital overnight with Samuel and staying for most of the time with the others too) but the impact effects the whole family. There is no area of life that remains unaffected when you have poorly children.
Pears & Ministry Life
For years we have worked with students and regularly have them in our home once or even twice a week. The new term having only just started brought several opportunities within this period for students to join us; our regular Thursday evening meeting and a Sunday Lunch. You will notice how those timings clash with the hospital visits for the kids! During the week my normal routine is to attend a discipleship training programme Tuesday evening and then be out on campus meeting students on Wednesday mornings. That week both of these opportunities were excellent although we did manage to lose the contact details on campus of a person with whom we’d had a particularly good conversation! It was also a week in which I was preparing to share with the students on Thursday evening (listen here). Not an easy task with all that was going on but the most difficult part of it all was actually giving the talk Thursday evening. First off we were a much smaller group and there was a bit of discouragement following the bigger turnout the previous week. Secondly however I had my ‘Theresa May’ moment! Thankfully no-one tried to give me my P45 but everything that could have gone wrong with the technology did so. In particular my laptop mouse wouldn’t stop clicking which made showing videos and using power-point very difficult indeed. The people in the know ‘technologically’ as it were did all that they could to restore normal service but even then the laptop had a mind of its own. Interestingly the laptop seemed to work absolutely fine the following day!
I was thankful that we made it though this particular week in one piece but it motivated me to spend some time reflecting on all that had taken place. In particular I have been pondering the question, where is God when it all goes ‘pear-shaped’? Its encouraging to know that I am not the first to ask such a question! My mind turns to the Biblical examples of Job and Joseph. Both had their lives inexplicably turned upside down by events completely out of their control (or understanding). Neither necessarily got an answer to their questions. With Job God met with him after a length period of discussion between Job and his friends. God showed him just how far beyond his comprehension He really was. After this point Job’s later years saw even more blessing than his early years.
“Then Job replied to the Lord: ‘I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, “Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?” Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. Job 42:1-3
With Joseph God transformed his life as he transitioned from Prisoner to Prime Minister in the space of a day. With hindsight he was able to see how God used the evil intentions of those around him for good and the saving of many lives (read more about Joseph here).
“But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 50:19-21
After a challenging week it seems that there are unlikely to be too many answers as such. It was however clear to see that God was at work. Was there mercy? Yes, none of the children became seriously unwell though there was the potential for things to head in that direction. Was their grace? Yes, in all that had happened God still gave me the opportunity to share with the students, none of whom walked out and left when the technology failed me. there was disappointment that we had less people with us at these times but perhaps that was grace once more from a gracious God who knows how much we can handle. Did it provoke faith? Yes, there is nothing like a crisis to point us back to God. Experiencing weakness as we come to a place of real need points us to the God who holds all of us in His hands. In some ways this place of weakness is a good place to be because it lures us into the arms of the God who loves us and gave Himself for us. We are mess up and broken people and God loves to use us even when we are under pressure, when our message is unpolished and when we are crying out to God for help admitting that we cannot do it alone.
Paul sums up this well in his second letter to the Corinthians. he had been pleading with God to take away a certain thorn in the flesh and Paul tells us what God said to him;
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Thankfully such pear-shaped weeks are few and far between but when they come there really is much to learn! I urge you to rejoice if you’re having a great week and praise God for His blessing. I also urge you to rejoice if you’re having a bad week and still praise God for His blessing; the blessing of allowing you to experience how His grace is sufficient for you also in all the pear-shaped experiences of life that come your way.