Have you ever had an enemy, or a competitive frenemy? You know the sort of person who, if your name comes up to speak, or be in an anthology, or a panel, or win a prize is certain to, covertly and insidiously, block you?
I guess no one can escape them, even someone who is“irreproachable: as painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, capable of going from perfect bride to perfect mother, with no messy deviation.”
Sometimes, we have behaved in such a way that they have good reason to block us from “glory” or damn us with faint praise. And, sometimes, it is sheer jealousy and insecurity, which we have not deserved.
* * *
Enemies and jealousy are a fact of life. But they are not in any way to disturb us or frighten us. They were written into the blueprint of our lives from the foundation of the world, and whatever opportunities to “star” they deprive us of, were, of course, not opportunities God wanted us to have right then. Enemies, by virtue of thwarting and blocking our weak, foolish and undirected ambitions, in fact, help keep us focused on the main thing.
And—and, this must be infuriating to the enemy—their blocking us is only going to make us stronger, if we continue seeking after Jesus.
No one can block the life of Jesus in us. And so Paul writes, 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess 5:16.
* * *
As a river hits rock, it turns in another direction. If it did not hit obstacles of hard, gravelly, rocky soil, it would become a swamp, a marsh, a pond. It would never reach the sea. But the impermeable rock it meets, the friend who will not be appeased in our terms, forces it, in its contorted, twisty way, towards the ocean.
When I look back to times when I was blocked, for many of them, I feel thanksgiving. Yes, I do!
I think of a group I was in four years ago in my previous church, led by a little cocky Eastender who had spent time in jail. (Yeah, it all was a bit of a soap opera!). This fellow, I’ll call David, loved to hold forth, and I guess, so did I, then. Once when he asked me to lead the group, he kept interrupting every sentence, and to his wife’s frown and admonitory shake of the head, subsided, muttering, “It’s not a sermon!”
He suggested we split into midweek triplets. I have long had a dream of leading a group which would read through the Bible. (I know now that I will never lead it, because my call to write and blog has grown so much stronger, but I still dream of belonging to such a group.)
So when he suggested prayer triplets, I emailed all the women in the group asking if they wanted to meet in my house, read through the entire Bible, week by week, and then pray. Pretty much everyone wanted to.
Well, this little man went ballistic. My inbox filled with hysterical emails accusing me of undermining him; there were hysterical angry phone-calls. He sent me idiotic questionnaires asking what I considered the ideal qualities to host a group or lead a group, questionnaires I wisely ignored. I didn’t lead that mini-group.
I was blocked in another group I did lead, thank goodness, thank goodness, and soon left that church which seemed to be as much about contending for status, position and importance as about following Jesus Christ.
* * *
So what happened? I had been leading groups for over ten years, and got into the habit of sharing my thoughts and insights with the group rather than write them down.
The impulse to meditate on Scripture and share my thoughts was still strong in me. Was God-given. When I was not leading, the thoughts and insights still came, a stream of living waters within me, but I wrote them down.
Within six months, in April 2010, I began blogging. The river of God’s life in me, blocked in one direction turned to another, which happened to be God’s true call for me.
* * *
And have I forgiven David? Yeah, sure I have. I was upset and angry then, even burst into tears in one of the phone calls with this man who was so terrified that I might possibly have a greater gift than this—but ultimately, he behaved so stupidly that it was easy to forgive.
Premeditated malice ah, that’s a different ballgame, but even then, God has permitted us to have enemies for our own good.
* * *
What our enemies do for us: We learn to act graciously and with dignity in the face of our enemies, as I did not do then, but do increasingly now. We learn to forgive—and essentially blow off their injury (and sometimes we can blow them off, glory be to God!!).
We learn to trust God that our enemies might block short-term “glory,” but cannot block the long-term purposes of God in our lives. And we learn to keep on keeping on, and when we see God give us the opportunities our enemies denied us—but just bigger and better, oh, our trust is immeasurably deepened.
I joined another local church which I did love, was soon asked to co-lead a group, and did so, but after a year, realized that leading groups was no longer in God’s plan for me, that I could share what the Spirit says to my spirit and perhaps the Church with more people through my blog.
* * *
Somerset Maugham has a splendid story called The Verger. An illiterate man is fired by the snooty new vicar from his job as a church verger. He drifts into business, and becomes wildly successful.
When the bank manager discovers that he was illiterate, “the manager was so surprised that he jumped up from his chair.
“That’s the most extraordinary thing I ever heard.”
He stared at him as though he were a prehistoric monster.
“And do you mean to say that you’ve built up this important business and amassed a fortune of thirty thousand pounds without being able to read or write? Good God, man, what would you be now if you had been able to?”
“I can tell you that sir,” said Mr. Foreman, a little smile on his still aristocratic features. “I’d be verger of St. Peter’s, Neville Square.”
* * *
I got into blogging because I was blocked in a manuscript I had trouble wrapping up, and because being blocked from teaching the Bible after doing so for seven years left me with time to meditate and more ideas than I had people to share them with. And so I wrote them down. And blogging has been life-transforming for me, and so I bless all who have brought me to it.