I read a history-nerd book recently, The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack The Ripper. It was a surprise. I thought it was going to be a dark and dismal tale of prostitutes’ lives in Victorian London. What it was, was a compassionate look at the lives of five women – only one or two of whom were actually prostitutes – and how they happened to be where they ended up on the night they were killed. The unifying theme that draws their stories together however, was the precariousness of the life lived by all people, and especially women, in that era. The day might start like any other and by nightfall you could find yourself on the street, job gone and so housing gone. This was hand to mouth at its most extreme. But even the more affluent families (from whose stock one of the victims came) were subject to a dramatic and rapid downturn in fortunes.
As a single mum, it tugged a thread in me that I hadn’t been able to draw out until that moment. Part of the mental load that is carried is building defences against precariousness. As a single mum, I’m it. There is no back up. There is no partner to rely on. If I lose my job, my house would be at serious risk. In a position of unemployment, I would be facing a myriad of financial risks and with children in tow, sorely restricted in my ability to respond to them in a way that would pull us back out of a hole.
Of course I don’t have a monopoly on that kind of anxiety. People in any and every family situation face it every day. What I do know though, is that when life has been at its most precarious I have leaned the most heavily on God and trusted the most deeply in his grace. When things go OK, I forget. I don’t need to lean on him so heavily. In a place of greater confidence and comfort, I can happily lean on myself to problem solve. And therein lies the problem.
If things are precarious, I trust.
If things are comfortable, I forget.
But surely we don’t need life to be precarious to remember? Surely we don’t need the threat of loss and penury to adequately lean on God?
Proverbs gives us wisdom here: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8-9)
In other words: Don’t give me too little and don’t give me too much. Please Lord, give me just enough.
Comfort can be soporific. It can make us sleepy. God doesn’t mind us having comfort and nice things. We just need to remember him in all we do. So we need to have a better system for remembering than the threat of financial ruin.
First off, while fear can drive us to God, it is not a good way of keeping us there. So our focus should not be on fear of losing things, but fear of the Lord. God first, stuff second. Fear of the Lord in biblical terms is reverent awe. And if we fear God, everything else is kept in perspective. The threat of loss then doesn’t become so all-encompassing a terror.
Second, it is still OK to fear losing livelihood and security. I often pray for God to keep me in my job. I even pray that if its his will to test me, that he doesn’t do it by taking away my financial security. He might. But praying this acknowledges that what I have comes from him and so it is his to do with as he wills.
Third, I have certain words or phrases that strike me from scripture or from singing in church that have great meaning for me when I say them back to myself. Here are some of them:
- Walk by faith and not by site. This struck me while we were singing at church the song By Faith.
- Just surrender. I’m not sure where this came from but it was during a sermon and it struck me hard how much I was holding onto and trying to control by myself.
- Remember. This one I have to remind myself all the time so it helps to have it written as one of my prompts. It is wide ranging – remember to let go, remember to stop worrying, remember to trust God.
These words and phrases act like a circuit breaker for me. They point me back where I’m supposed to be looking and not worrying about what I have got, what I haven’t got, what I might lose and what I should do about it. It points me back to the only thing I really need to think about. Him.
Because life is precarious. Things can change in an instant, and sometimes do. There is no guarding against that. We can be good parents and wise stewards and faithful disciples and caring friends. But we can’t control everything. By accepting that life is unpredictable, and yes – precarious – we are accepting that God has it covered.
When Job, in the depths of his despair and in the most precarious point of all, calls on people to rouse the Leviathan (Job 3:7-9), he is feeling the despair of chaos and calls down the Leviathan to reverse creation and make chaos universal. When God appears, he tells Job that he created and controls the Leviathan (Job 41:1). There is chaos. But God is still in control. “Everything under heaven belongs to me.” he says (Job 41:11) and Jesus “is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” God is in control.
So remember. Then, just surrender. And walk by faith and not by sight.