On the pilgrim way: Battling negativity
I think it was the celebratory funeral for a wonderful local woman which pushed me over the line. Her achievements were manifold: She was the local CND, taking part in countless national anti-nuclear demos and supporting the women at Greenham Common; she ran two monthly film clubs, often writing notes and leading the discussion afterwards; she sang in the best local choir (who came to sing at her celebration); she organised support for a South African primary school; she was a leading light in twinning our town with a German one – as a German teacher she had inspired generations of pupils; and, above all, she was such fun.
She was not a Christian, but her husband and children booked our church and hall for the event; both venues were overflowing with people who had come to celebrate her life and weep at her passing at only 69. A fellow film club member said to me on that marvellous occasion: “It makes one feel so inadequate,” and I realised, to my dismay, that I felt like that too.
Our daughter, Ruth, has a new and exciting ecumenical community ministry in Milton Keynes; I am, of course, delighted to hear from her about the large number of adults and children turning up for her experimental café church in the local pub. But it is hard not to poison my delight with negative comparisons with our ageing local church.
I have been wondering how to do battle with such negative thoughts. I notice they seem to begin with the words: “I wish” – for example: “I wish I had joined a choir when younger,” “I wish I had been more active in CND,” “I wish I was more fun and less serious,” “I wish I could attract lots of new people to our church,” etc. In other words, they are always about me – and they are always regretful and negative.
St Paul has a helpful suggestion for the church in Philippi: “If there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” A wise counsellor, many years ago, urged me to write down each day one good thing I had done. I found it very difficult to do, almost embarrassing, but, after some weeks, I found the cloud of negativity lifting and I was once more able to admire other people and be truly inspired by them. Perhaps I need to return to that discipline.
However, God has other loving ways of lifting me up again. I woke one morning in February to birdsong and no rain. I went out into the garden and discovered so much new life that excitement welled up and I found myself talking to the new shoots and praising them.
Hallelujah – new life, yet again!
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform
This article was published in the April 2014 edition of Reform.
Read more articles by Sheila Maxey