A light on the stairs
Life transitions may happen incrementally or they may creep up and confront us suddenly; either way, they invite us to pause and open ourselves up to the possibility of illumination and grace, says Raymond Tomkinson
Mary asked Michael to change the light bulb on the stairs. He was taller than her and he could reach provided she held on to his waistband to prevent him toppling over the bannister. They chose a bulb with a higher wattage than they had previously used, concerned that they might miss the steps and have an accident. Unfortunately, however, the brighter light showed up the poor decorative state of the ceiling and walls. The worn carpet was threadbare and presented a further hazard. In more than one sense, this routine household chore had occasioned a “light-bulb moment”.
Over the years they had redecorated every room in the house and had enjoyed doing so. The hall, stairs and landing had not, in the past, presented too much of a challenge. This time, however, Michael came to the conclusion, reluctantly, that he no longer had the confidence to climb ladders. A hip replacement operation had been a great success but the prospect of redecorating the high ceiling and walls of the stairwell filled him with dread. Mary had always repainted the woodwork, but her heart sank at the thought of repainting 10 doors along with their frames, architraves and metres of skirting board.
Mary and Michael decided they would need to get in a painter and decorator and that new stair carpet would have to be laid by proper carpet fitters. It would be the first time in more than 40 years of married life that they would have to call upon the professionals.
The project, when complete, was a source of delight as they ascended and descended the stairs, admiring the bright but serene colours and with the feel of new carpet pile beneath their feet. It was more than the relief of not having to do the work themselves. The project had brought a new joy to life. They could still manage to get up and down stairs. Now it was a pleasure to do so. Conversation about the success of the stairwell project led, however, to a deeper discussion about transition into growing dependence on others and to a review of their commitments. The stairs project allowed an opportunity to consider “stepping down” from some things and “stepping up” to what was now important to them.
Mary and Michael had been, for many years, key members of their local church. Between them, over the years, they had tackled everything from church cleaning to leading worship. More recently, they felt driven by the fear that if they didn’t take on these tasks, no one else would. Now they considered which of their activities would be life-giving: what they felt drawn to continue doing.
It is unfair to make too strong a distinction between being “driven” and being “drawn”. Both can be of God. We may feel bowled along by a series of events that propel us to a place or a circumstance over which we seem to have no control, yet we may have felt the hand of God upon us. Conversely, we may have sensed a beckoning by the gentle Spirit of God: a series of invitations to draw near to God or to draw near to service in God’s name. As we seek God’s will for us, it can be a helpful exercise to ask: “To what do I feel driven at this time and what draws me?” We may find God’s grace is found in both.
Michael and Mary felt driven to redecorate the stairwell but, as a result, they had to appraise their circumstances; their capabilities and their priorities. Illuminating the stairwell was a challenge in revelation and led to a joy in recreation. It occasioned liberation from the drivenness of independence to delight in the freedom to ascend and to descend the stairs. This led them, in love, compassion and care for one another, to consider where they were now being gently drawn by a loving God.
Growth and transition in our relationship with God may be likened to movement along a spiral staircase. This model allows for passage up and down through life’s transitions, without moving far from God, the epicentre of our life. We remain wrapped around and through God, who draws us ever closer and who is with us in all our transitions “guiding thy steps as may best for thee be”*.
Raymond Tomkinson writes and teaches on Christian spirituality and prayer; his most recent book is Called to Love: Discernment, Decision Making and Ministry (SCM Press, 2012)
*From verse two of the hymn O Worship the Lord in the Beauty
of Holiness! Words by JSB Monsell
This article was published in the February 2013 edition of Reform.