I went into August this year with a lingering irrational sense of dread. In 2014, I found myself unaccountably tired in August after a holiday in Helsinki, and finally went in to my GP with symptoms I had had since 2009. In September, my blood tests showed severe anaemia. In October, a colonoscopy showed colon cancer. On November 25th, I had surgery for it.
Trouble snowballed during that period. Our business was down by a third. Oops! Our beloved collie Jake developed cancer, and died on October 11. A friend said it was as if he had taken my cancer on himself! We lost our cleaner of five years on whom we had so depended. And, of course, my blog declined month by month as I had little energy to blog!
After surgery, after prayer, I felt that the way of the Spirit for me was not the recommended chemo. I declined it. The biggest risk of my life, a life-or-death one!
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Then this year, everything uncannily turned around. The business is up, both month on month, and compared to this month last year. It’s the same with my blog– (though blogging is something I do because I love it, and because it is a calling). My strength is increasing, month by month. My six month test results were clear. We found new cleaners, a Brazilian couple, cheaper and quicker than the Polish cleaner we lost. We have an adorable labradoodle, Merry.
I look back on last year and think, “Oh my goodness, what was that about? That almost Job-like onslaught of trouble?”
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“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions,” Hamlet.
God suddenly arranges for us to deal with battalions of troubles–and goodness, we are so much stronger for all the muscle we’ve gained in the battle; the coping and transcending strategies we’ve learned; the hard-wrested wisdom; the insight into the human heart, and into ourselves.
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Roger Bannister’s training to break the four minute mile included fell running.
You run on fells, Britain’s moor-covered hills, panting, pushing yourself to exhaustion.
And then when you run on a smooth track at four minutes a mile, you feel as if you barely are moving. You settle into deep relaxation. Time is suspended.
Bannister describes breaking the four minute mile, “I slipped in effortlessly. My legs seemed to meet no resistance, as if propelled by some unknown force. We seemed to be going so slowly! I was relaxing so much that my mind seemed almost detached from my body. There was no feeling of strain.”
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“In this world, you will have troubles,” Jesus said. Everyone.
Though, of course, we don’t all bear exactly the same weight of troubles. For the woman in Africa or Asia, struggling to keep her children alive without much security, food or proximity to water, life is hassle, with sudden silver linings of joy in the full moon or sunset, the smile of a child, a filling meal, sleep at night. For the most privileged woman in this country, the Queen, with her baker’s dozen of Royal Residences, and retinue of employees and corgis, life is privilege, with hassle as a dark moon sliver–state dinners at a time other people choose, at which she eats food other people choose, and talks to guests other people choose, an ironic prisoner of privilege.
While being organised and disciplined minimises self-inflicted hassles, they are inevitable—relational tension if you live with other people, and hassles caused by other people’s greed or incompetence: marketing calls, receiving stuff not as advertised, returning it, hassles over the refund, ugh.
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All the hustle and hassle builds muscle, builds character, builds endurance; we run on the fells, so to speak, on the beaches, on the mountains. The difficult thing we dreaded, trouble, challenge, hassle, boredom, being way out of our comfort zone, now feels normal, like running a four minute mile on a smooth track felt almost effortless for Roger Bannister who trained on fells and mountains.
The troubles of life ironically equip us for doing the work we are called to do without being crushed by its hassles. It equips us to fulfil the dream God has placed in our hearts.
Pinpricks of hassle are inoculations, vaccinations, preparation. The small and daily troubles of life prepare us to stand in the time of real troubles, the troubles that Jesus tells us are inextricable from living, the troubles that are inextricable from chasing our dream.
In that day of big trouble, we will stand strong, we will endure triumphantly, we who have so often inoculated ourselves by enduring small trials, small sufferings, small disciplines… And what’s more, we will be able to be a blessing to others.