Have you ever been in the wrong place at the right time?
A place of loneliness with few real friends?
A place of barrenness without energy to express the thoughts welling up within you?
A place of sterility which yielded no inspiration or support for your creativity?
A place of tears and stress when living with difficult people drained all your joy and energy?
An overwhelming place, in which the sheer tasks of living—keeping a home tidy and running—required more cleverness and energy that you seemed to possess?
I have lived in all these places.
Have you ever been in church in which you didn’t fit?
A cliquey church, whose cliques had no room for you?
A church-status conscious church, a climb to the top of the anthill, join the inner circle, seek-church-significance kind of church
A socio-economic status conscious church, a perfectly groomed, perfect smile, right kind of house-car-decoration-accessories kind of church, at a time when all this baffled you,
An outward appearance is all church, a pretend you tick the right behavioural boxes church when you and your family were barely holding your act together.
A theology conscious church, when, oops, your theology was a bit more nuanced, couldn’t be articulated in correct, brief sound bites.
Over my 22 years as a Christian, 15 all over in America (New York, California, Minnesota and Virginia) and 8 in England (Manchester and Oxford) I’ve been to all these.
You know, I have spent much of my life being in the slightly wrong place. There were perhaps only 12 years in which I definitely felt that I was in the right place at the right time as far as my creative life went—my three years in Oxford as an undergraduate; two years in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a young married woman; and 7 years in Oxford as a middle-aged wife and mum. My church experience has been varied. I’ve loved most of the churches I’ve been part of, and learned from them all, both those in which I perceived myself as being in the right place, and those in which I certainly seemed to be in the wrong place.
And yet, in a way, I have been in the right place in the right time all my life.
In the same way that the desert was the right place for Moses to see the bush which blazed and was not consumed, like the love and generosity of God.
In the same way that the land of suffering—pits and dungeons—was necessary for Joseph to become fruitful, to move from herding sheep to bringing blessing on two nations.
In the same way that being alone and abandoned in the desert was the right place for David to taste and see that the Lord was good because there was nothing and no one else to taste.
In the same way that being fed by ravens by the Kidron Valley was the right place for Elijah to learn that God always provides, and to trust His protection enough to single-handedly confront the Ahab’s court and the 450 priests of Baal.
In the same way that John needed to be exiled and quiet and still in rocky and arid Patmos to hear him whose eyes were like a flame of fire and whose voice was like a sound of many waters.
Being in the wrong place at the right time turned these men into poets, prophets, and writers. Men who could hear God when he spoke in gentle whispers or in a voice like the sound of many waters.
Suffering is suffering. I am not trying to minimize it, my own or anyone else’s. And I wouldn’t wish it on myself, or anyone else.
And yet, as Scripture says, suffering does yield blessings.
And these are blessings I found from being in the wrong place at the right time.
When I was bored and lonely, I read a lot.
When academics were too easy and not stimulating enough, I got involved in debating and organising things from idea to execution, which gave me useful skills when it came to running a business.
When my marriage went through rough periods, I burrowed into the Bible and Christian literature seeking answers, and scripture became so part of me, that if you scratched me, I bled scripture. Probably still do. I sought counsel and support from older Christians, two of whom became my closest friends.
When I was unhappy, and my writing did not go well, I learned to pray. I initially began praying for my writing—and though the answer was a “Not yet,” I continued praying for the sheer delight of being with God. And I wrote more in desert periods than in periods with many friends and much social life.
When I felt spiritually sick—was comfort-eating, getting angry too quickly, falling prey to malice and irritation–I grew convinced that I needed the great physician, and deepened my spiritual quest to get the fatness of Christ into my own soul
When I felt depressed—didn’t feel motivated to exercise, or do any housework, or do anything but read or write in bed—I remembered that Jesus said unless you eat my flesh, you have no life in you. And I began to learn to feed on Jesus.
When I went through a desert period in my previous church, I began to spend enough time with Christ to hear his voice, and hear his guidance quite clearly. And that has provided invaluable.
You made me fruitful in the land of my suffering,Joseph said. I wonder if enduring fruit only grows in that land.
Not the easy fruit that grows in the soil of one’s natural talent and ability, but fruit that grows in soil enriched by tears of repentance;
compassion born out of suffering;
tolerance born out of failure;
wisdom born from seeing the fruits of one’s own folly;
faith born of the times when all seemed lost, and you were in free fall, and God lent you a safety net, rescuing you from your mad sky-dive.