All or nothing. This phrase is written deeply in our culture and on our souls. It motivates business, education, sport, and even faith. And – in my world at least – it is wrong.
For some months I have had a recurring sense that these are among the very best days of life; even as they are also the most challenging. There seems to be so much to revel in, so much to be grateful for. Today I am writing on the veranda of a stylish cabin, perched on the edge of a tree-lined lagoon with a glimpse of surf rolling against Sandy Beach in the distance. We are here to dote on our two grandsons, the newest just 21 days old! Right now a couple of my daughters are shopping in town with my Favourite Wife, while I hide and read and think. I’m a lucky man.
With a typically coastal downpour veiling the lagoon, a pot of tea to hand, and Classic FM on the radio, I’m trying to balance the trials and triumphs of life. In an act of gross reduction I’m attempting to concoct a patently ridiculous equation of loss and gain in the hope – I guess – that I will come up with an answer vaguely in the positive. It’s a pointless pursuit, life is far too subtle for arithmetic, but one that I feel forced into time and again: Are we doing OK?
On the one hand there is some truth in acknowledging what we have lost as a family in the last 18 months. It is not inconsiderable; in fact it includes many of the things we would once have prized and been most grateful for. A car, my job, our home; that sort of stuff. And I guess I have to stick mobility on the list too. The infamous Bugger (my first wheelchair) has even been upstaged in the last week by B2, a battery powered version that I am finding more useful than I want to admit.
But in my other hand there is more abundance than I can readily write about; I am overwhelmed with provision and presence. We live in a quiet and beautiful part of the world, adjacent to a magnificent timbered hill on which cattle and kangaroos graze. We belong to a great church where we have been made wonderfully welcome, and where I have the opportunity to speak and to help in various ways. Karen has a challenging and rewarding job. Nine year old Cassie is in the very best special needs school we’ve come across. Deep and rich friendships abound. It seems we want for nothing. I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt as content or fulfilled. I look at my family and I marvel at our astonishing diversity. Our newest little grandson is so completely different to his big brother – and we laugh at the incongruous notion that they should for some reason be alike. I can’t imagine how my six children could be any more different: I sometimes wonder if they aren’t actually destined to live on six continents and become the ancestors of six cultures. But I’m deeply satisfied by what I see in each of their lives as they grow; I’m even satisfied with all the things I’m not meant to see! As they sometimes say to me, “Dad, it’s all good”.
From where does this pressure to be upwardly mobile come? Is increase really the single path of blessing? Human appetite is so rarely satiated that I wonder if it doesn’t take some form of divine intervention for us to glimpse the truth that contentment is found in much and little. There is definitely a feeling in contemporary churches that Christians can somehow have everything. But I hear Paul clearly saying he was content with plenty or with lack.
My growing conviction is that though I may have everything in one hand and nothing in the other, both hands come from the Lord. After all, who am I to judge which hand is actually full, and which is empty? I reckon we have everything and nothing at the same time. We can be unafraid of loss. A Christian can say with faith and great assurance, “The Lord Gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord”.