It was about 4 years ago and I was in Ireland. It was during the period of recovery from what happened in Australia. I was battling with my life, with its purpose and with my future.
My mum had given me the loan of her car, a little Nissan micra and as I was still suffering with anxiety and trauma I qualified for disability benefit in Ireland.
Let me tell you that it was not easy and perhaps the hardest of all was facing my family. They were very proud of their nephew when he was an actuary, they had no time for him afterwards.
You see my aunties and uncles were not bad people. However they were not people who had any interest in the church or in prayer and growing up all we heard of was of big houses, big cars, big salaries etc.
It was Ireland of the Celtic tiger and while the Celtic tiger reared me too, there was one person who seemed unimpressed by this beast and that was my mum.
All my life I saw her praying and even when I’d return home from Dublin when I was in college I’d see her praying.
My aunt, her sister, who was a successful bank manager laughed her and her prayers to scorn. For her prayer was for the weak and the gullible and she considered herself strong and intelligent.
I was torn between these two opposing forces and while I danced with the Celtic tiger for a short while, it didn’t take me long to realise that my mum was right. Without God it’s all a load of hot air and nonsense!
I always thought it was strange how out of the same family two people could be so very different. My mum and her sister were polar opposites despite looking quite similar in appearance.
My aunt was rich and she’d be ashamed to be seen at times beside my mum who didn’t have money for expensive clothes. Many times my mum would tell me how friends of my aunt and uncles didn’t even know that she existed.
She’d happen to meet them at a funeral and when she’d introduce herself they’d be in shock!
You see my mum wasn’t successful in their eyes and wasn’t the type of person that Hyacinth Bucket would invite to one of her candlelit suppers.
But my mum was successful in God’s eyes and even though I couldn’t articulate it at the time, she was successful in mine.
She was one of the most honest and hardworking people you’d ever meet and she reared and educated six if us in the Irish countryside when things were simple. She was kind, she was very prayerful and she was happy.
Now you may think that I drifted off from where I started, I’m getting back to it now!
You see after giving my life to Jesus I too was tasting the bitter cup of rejection and shame from family and yet I did what I always say my mum doing, I persevered.
So one Saturday night about 4 years ago my cousin was celebrating her engagement and I was invited. She was a really nice person and didn’t have the snobby attitude of most of the others. She had lived in Sydney beforehand and we used to meet for a coffee now and then.
The only trouble was going to this party meant seeing and facing all my aunties and uncles and my older brother who was back from London it I recall correctly.
I cried and prayed in that little Nissan Micra as I prepared myself in the car park in Galway city.
I was awaiting the looks, the questions and I’d already heard from my mum that some were not expecting (or wanting) me to come.
Nonetheless I was going for my cousin and I knew in my heart that Jesus was telling me to be brave.
I walked in and as I was driving (and poor!) I ordered a coke. One of many of my first cousins spotted me and to be fair he was pretty nice, I felt sorry for them, how could they possibly understand?.
Indiscreetly he asked me why I was drinking coke and when I said that it was because I was driving he asked
“Is that the only reason?”.
Was he expecting that I’d say that I was talking tablets for my ‘hallucinations’ and the voices I was hearing?!!! Even the psychiatrist had given me the all clear for that!!
Anyway I kept my peace! Next up was my older brother….
Just like my mother and her older sister, one year separated my brother and I.
One year and yet a thousand years.
He gave me the usual dribble of how it was good to see you “Mike” and how we should “become closer”.
Gosh, had I not heard it 2 years before and again another 2 years before that, I might have believed it. I even think that a part of him might have meant it but like the seed that fell on shallow ground, afterwards came the cares and worries of the world and choked it all up.
Anyway, maybe one day he too will turn but one thing he said to me I will never forget.
Towering over me (he’s tall) and staring me in the eyes he said:
“You know what your problem is, you are stubborn and so am I”.
And as I reflected on the ordeal of it all the next day I realized that in a way he was right.
This world is all about compromise and the fact that I wouldn’t compromise and tell them that I was crazy or that Jesus didn’t matter meant that to them I was stubborn.
Senan didn’t see Jesus as God and had his own opinions of who God is and of how he works. To Senan, his opinion was equal to mine, my experiences were my experiences that couldn’t be proved and so if I was to say that I was right and that he was wrong then I was prideful and stubborn.
And I’m sure many of you face the same dilemmas.
What is the difference between pride and between Holy Boldness?
Is it pleasing to God to compromise your faith to make others feel better?
Is Jesus really God and how convinced are we?
Are we willing to lose family and friends over Jesus?
And so here I sit this morning in a park in London.
I haven’t seen or heard from Senan since then and I’ve met many other people who have treated me in the same way.
Similarly I have no contact from any of my mums brothers or sisters or cousins from that side of the family.
“They never even mention your name” says my mum when she returns after meeting some of them. (After which I check my pulse to make sure that I’m still alive!!).
Yes, life has indeed taught me very many lessons and I know that I am not the only one.
The Gospel divides, Jesus tests our faith in the fires of adversity, rejection, pain and suffering.
Some will listen to us, some will run 100 miles and yet:
And so today let us all pray for the grace of perseverance which is not the same thing as stubbornness.
May we persevere no matter what the cost and may every tear, every pain flow down like the blood of Jesus on those who hurt us and be the transforming grace that will open their spiritual eyes and bring them to the truth of who they really are and what this life is really about.
Thanks for reading,