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It’s not fair!

February 17, 2013

It’s not fair!

“It’s not fair!”, said with a pout and a stomping foot, is a favourite phrase of most small children. I’m sure that if it was easier to say it would beat “Mama” or “Dada” as a child’s first recognisable sound.

Toddlers, and small children may be the most open about it, but I hear the same thing from high school children. “It’s not fair that I have detention, others were doing it too! Mr. ‘whatever’ just has it in for me!” There can be stomping too, and occasional slamming doors and serious bouts of sloughching and sulking. Indeed, teenagers are noted for it.

However, the sense of fairness is something that stays with us, whatever our age. We have a sense of what we deserve and feel aggrieved when we feel that we have been short changed by life. It is a childish part of us that started when we were toddlers that never seems to leave us.

It is the same thing that affected the special 12 disciples in Matthew 18. They were arguing about who was the greatest. There were probably lots of raised voices, or at least loud whispers so that Jesus didn’t hear. There was probably foot stomping and sulking too. But Jesus does hear them and he tackles the whole sorry mess. Jesus will soon be leaving them and the Gospel will be their responsibility. But they are still squabbling like 3 year olds, so Jesus has to do something to prepare the ground for them to be leaders.

Jesus has seen that the 12 have been acting like toddlers so he brings a toddler and puts her in front of them. He then says that they should be like this child, the lowest in society if they want to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Their childish squabbling about who is the greatest, is getting in the way of the childlikeness that will really make them great.

This week I have had to deal with squabbles between those who are old enough to know better. I have had to gently settle squabbles within a family as they were coming into chapel for a funeral. I have had to deal with squabbles in one of the schools, and between people in the churches of the benefice. I see it, I get frustrated, I shout inwardly “Grow up!”. I feel aggrieved and say to myself, “its not fair”, “why me” and, mentally at least, stomp my foot.

Now, a little further away from these events I can laugh. I can laugh at the stupid situations that seemed so important at the time. I can laugh at my own pride and impatience. I can laugh at my childish desire to say “its not fair!” to God, and spiritually stomp my foot. I laugh at my own stupidity, … and I feel close to those early disciples. I also feel glad that God has been easier on me than Jesus was on them.

Like the 12, there is a real danger for clergy to feel self-important. I am not immune. People look up to me and other clergy for what God has called us to be and do. It is all the work of God’s Spirit, but I am so tempted to be proud of it all just the same.

I can be very childish. I can look around at other churches that are more successful, with more people and amazing mission programmes. I know that I’m working hard here, and I know that others are working hard here too. So, I feel jealous, I feel like a toddler again, I pout, and say to God, “It’s not fair”! I say “not fair!”, when what I should be doing is getting on with the business of listening to the Spirit.

I need to grow from childishness to childlikeness. I need to let the Spirit show what he wants doing and let go of everything that gets in the way or slows me down. Here Jesus chose “hands” and “feet” and “eyes” as metaphors. But for me it is pride; It is self reliance; It is getting carried away by my own importance rather than listening to what God wants to do through me.

For me it is also that close friend of pride, ambition, that can be my stumbling block. I want all to go well, I want the churches that I am responsible for to grow. I want the schools I work in to become more godly. I want success for God’s mission. But I find that I start identifying myself with the success. I begin to think that I did it. What is worse, I can start blaming others for not being successful. I need always to remind myself that all that I am and all that I am is a gift from God. It is all God’s doing, not mine, there is nothing for me to boast about.

I listen more to what the Spirit wants, to let go of my pride, and ambition….

Supermarket Saint? (Thank you to Grove Books!)
A woman in a supermarket was following a grandfather and his badly behaved 3-year-old grandson. It’s obvious to her that he has his hands full with the child screaming for sweets in the sweet aisle, biscuits in the biscuit aisle, and for fruit, cereal and fizzy drinks in the other aisles.
Meanwhile, Granddad is working his way around, saying in a controlled voice, “Easy, William, we won’t be long, easy, boy.”
Another outburst, and she hears the granddad calmly say, “It’s okay, William, just a couple more minutes and we’ll be out of here. Hang in there, boy.”
At the checkout, the little terror is throwing items out of the cart, and Granddad says again in a controlled voice, “William, William, relax buddy, don’t get upset. We’ll be home in five minutes; stay cool, William.”
Very impressed, the woman goes outside where the grandfather is loading his groceries and the boy into the car. She said to the elderly gentleman, “It’s none of my business, but you were amazing in there. I don’t know how you did it. That whole time, you kept your composure, and no matter how loud and disruptive he got, you just calmly kept saying things would be okay. William is very lucky to have you as his grandpa.”
“Thanks,” said the grandfather, “but I’m William. The little brat’s name is Kevin.”

Especially during Lent, I need to listen to the Spirit, and let Jesus prepare me for whatever he has in mind. But if hear me pouting, or saying “it’s not fair!”, then please be gentle, I am trying, honestly I am! Give me a sweet and leave the toddler in me in the corner to calm down.

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