It has been a long time. Over a year in fact, now that I look at the date. My friend Inge asked me to write to her to tell her some of the things I am learning whilst studying at Ridley Hall part time. As of yet, I have failed to do that and have been intending to for the past 5 weeks. And so, I write this with Inge in mind but also aware that it might be of interest to others that have followed my haphazardous blogging in the past. It's more than likely to end up as a mini series of blogs rather than one epic one but we'll start here and see how we get on...
I sat in a lecture this morning on the verge of tears. For those of you that know me well (Catz English, I am thinking of you and my reputation for one who loves - at least in theory - a devastating ending) you will know that this is quite a frequent occurrence. I am moved easily but, of late, have suffered a bout of compassion fatigue. I've found it hard to really love people and have felt pretty saturated by the mess of life. A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine cut off contact from me, seemingly, out of the blue. We have prayed and talked together almost every week for two years and the rejection hit me like a slap in the face. She struggles with depression and alcoholism and has been in and out of an abusive relationship for a long time. But before, when she's pulled out of her friendship, there has been a fairly quick reconciliation. This hasn't happened this time. And I feel guilty and fearful: guilty because of the nagging feeling of not having done enough; fearful because I long to speak with her and see if she's ok but haven't been able to do so. I don't know whether she's drinking. I don't know whether she's back with her partner. I don't really know anything and it makes me afraid for her.
This morning, Janie and Dave Beales spoke at Ridley about their experience of pioneering in Colchester and starting a movement of simple churches reaching out to communities. I asked them how they cope with disappointment and failure, with people who deliberately withdraw from community and any attempt to help, with those that might be lumped in the "too hard" basket. They spoke of a friend of theirs who died the previous year after making a commitment to Jesus and then becoming entrenched again in heroin. Did they feel like they'd failed him? Did they feel that God had failed somehow? Janie spoke with wisdom and compassion in her response and it felt like balm to my hurt and worry. She reminded me that we cannot chase everyone but we can only chase those who are seeking. When people withdraw back into the chaos and mess of life, we cannot always chase them there and pull them back. This is hard for those who have the heart of a pastor, the heart of a shepherd whose greatest desire is to see people healed and reconciled to God and to others. It's hard for those who always want to pursue and fix. But we can't pursue everyone. We can commit to loving long term and being there and standing alongside but we can't always chase.
That's God's job. (Luke 19:10)