Friday, 12 June 2015

The Foolish Things

Although this is a true story about myself from a few years back, I’ve told it in third person. 

This is partially for dramatic effect, and partially because it is embarrassing.  For me. So just to make sure I give it to you in all its cringe worthy glory, I need to keep my distance. 


It’s a bright morning on the tranquil Norfolk coast. The early calm is occasionally interrupted by the squawk of a seagull soaring across the sky, the sun glows promisingly behind a curtain of haze and the sea blurs gently into the horizon.

Trundling along the pier towards the beach is a student-worker. Bleary eyed, with Bible in hand, she’s off to have a super early, super spiritual quiet time. She's decided. She has a camera in her other hand. Just in case: there might be a screensaver shot waiting with the tide.

The student worker makes her way across the layered pebbles, pausing occasionally to take a snap: the paint-flecked life boats and orange buoys give a vintage feel to the photos (which is just as well: Instagram's "Valencia" filter has not been invented yet). At just the right angle the composition is perfect.

Before she gets on with her (no doubt extensive and impressively Grudem-esque) Bible study and prayer time, she decides that what this moment really requires is… a selfie.

Sadly, the Selfie Stick has not been invented yet either, so the student worker must depend on the timer function on her camera. It’s a tricky business- but she manages to lodge the device on a large rock at the top of the beach. The plan is: press the button, jump / pirouette down on to the sand, and strike a charming pose. The shutter will then wink and she'll have attained a perfectly framed shot: beach plus sky plus sea plus smiling student worker. Lovely. Maybe even one for the prayer letter.

The plan goes wonderfully. 


Until, in quick succession, two things happen.

Firstly, the student worker notices that there is a middle-aged man, up on the pier, attentively watching this ridiculous ritual of vanity. Secondly, she realises she has not executed the landing as planned. Her feet strike slippery pebbles instead of sand and thus fly swiftly from beneath her. Rather than a gazelle-ish spring to a secure base, the student worker has bounded directly from leap to inelegant heap.

She is now a pile of knotted limbs, crumpled face-down in the sand. She is praying (at last) but the content of the prayer is focused on her very urgent need for the middle-aged man not to have seen her, and if he has, then on the equally urgent need for him to go away.

Eventually, she untangles her arms from her legs, brushes off the sand and- head bowed low- goes to fetch her camera. And oh yes- Bible! She smiles at her clumsiness, but shakes off the embarrassment with the grateful knowledge that this is a story no one will ever hear.


She is just about to settle down and start reading, when she sees the man from the pier, making his way across the pebbles and towards her. She flings open the Bible and strives to look very, very absorbed in the upside down pages of 2 Chronicles she happens to have chanced upon.

“Are you okay?” the middle-aged man asks, his face a mixture of caution and concern.

Yes, fine- thank you.

“What are you doing here?”

And so begins an interesting chat.

No, she explains, she is not injured. No, thank you for asking, she is not drunk. In fact, when she’s not throwing herself into a mound on Norfolk beaches, she actually has a job(!) working with students. Her job is to encourage them to love Jesus- and to help other people love Jesus too.

The middle-aged man is staggered. He tells her that his father passed away earlier in the week, and that he’s come to Norfolk to process his mourning. He’s been thinking about life a lot recently, and death- and he can’t believe he’s arrived at this very beach this very morning and found a girl whose job it is to read and teach the Bible.

So they talk about the Bible. They talk about an active and kind God who has ordained the times and places where people are: when they’ll be on the beach, what’s led them to the beach, what bumbling tomfoolery they might see when get there. They talk about a God who lovingly sets things in motion so that people might seek him, reach out for him and know him.

The middle-aged man and the student worker talk about life and death, about John 11 and the One who claimed to be the Resurrection, about the promise of a shame-free, eternal life for all who trust in Jesus. 

Eventually, they have to part ways. The man promises to start reading the Bible, and marvels again at what to him seems an extraordinary coincidence:that he just so happened to stumble upon her (although one could argue it was more like the other way round). The student-worker heads back to her students, makes sure she isn’t too bruised and tries to think of a way of telling this story without looking too foolish.

In the end, she realises she can’t.

She is foolish. She is weak. She is vain. She is no ballerina. 

But her gracious Heavenly Father has worked in all these things to make his Son known, and to build his kingdom. 

And now?

She is not a student worker anymore. She is still weak, vain, foolish and a long way from The Royal Ballet.

And though she doesn't know what happened to the middle aged man, she is grateful to remember the generosity of her Heavenly Father's kingdom building strength, and of his power to work- even through the most foolish things- for good.

She has also learnt that she should probably buy a selfie-stick. Just in case.

"But God chose the foolish things of the world... the weak things of the world... to nullify the things that are... so that no one may boast before him." 1 Corinthians 1: 27ff

"We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power belongs to God, and not to us." 2 Corinthians 4:17 

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