January 8 - When life tumbles in
“…standing in the roaring of the Jordan, cold to the heart with its dreadful chill, and very conscious of the terror of its rushing, I too, as Hopeful [in Pilgrim's Progress], can call back to you who one day in your turn will have to cross it, "Be of good cheer, my brother, for I feel the bottom, and it is sound." - John Gossip
Dr. John Gossip, a renowned Scottish evangelist who passed away in 1954, was one of the greatest preachers Scotland has ever produced. His wife died tragically and suddenly when he was pastor of the Beechgrove Church in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1927. Dr. Gossip delivered a sermon after burying his wife on the following Sunday morning as usual at his pulpit, and it was a sermon called When Life tumbles In, What Then?
The thrust of Gossip's sermon is that we cannot allow who we are, and what we believe, what matters to us, what we value, what we place our faith in, to be shaken by the mundane tragedies of our daily lives because our foundations must be stronger than that. Gossip went and did his duty, and spoke to his flock, because in the face of tragedy, he knew that allowing his grief and sorrow to fracture and damage his responsibility and his beliefs would only be allowing that tragedy to rule and diminish him.
It's in times that are hard - brutally hard - that we must be even more resolute and faithful in our faith because we come to realize just how dependant we are on our values. Our codes. Our ethics. Our morals. The way we see and interpret the world. Without a strong foundation, we crumble.
So often, the foundations of our lives are built on such unimportant things. The job. The time we want to save. The luxury of the moment. The object we want to possess. The thing we want to be able to afford. And when tragedy comes, while it should only and can only be our faith in the bigger picture that keeps us standing strong, so often we realise that our foundations have been built on ground that is unworthy and unstable.
It's often how many times you fall down that determines your true character; not how many times you get back up again, simply because it's the only true test of your foundations.
The past two years of my life have been formative, but they've been difficult. I've lost loved ones, and I've struggled with my sobriety. I've lost friendships that I had thought would be the bricks of my soul's stately mansion. And throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I have found my mental health to be a daily battle. The last 6 months in particular, I have drifted from so many of the folks I love and value, because I no longer had the words to share, to say what I felt, to fill the space between us. I was battling with the limitations of my mind, and I couldn't find a way through.
I've had to learn how to rebuild over and over again in the last couple of years. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes merely in passing as I tended to other things in my life. But when everything simply crumbled in front of me in the middle of yet another lockdown, I was pleased to discover that my foundations had been strengthened and that I was still standing. I am now battered, bruised, but I am here. I am here. I am here.
If you're anything like me, the small things of our lives always distract us. The petty grievances. The fights we pick with others because it somehow makes us feel more alive to be in some kind of conflict over something that feels important but really isn't. The insistence on continuing to be right and never wrong. The way we hold the things we believe and the people we love tightly as if our happiness is completely dependent on them; we begin building our lives around objects and feelings, and when tragedy comes again (and it always will), all those foundations that seemed so impossible to break apart, will fall apart.
When life tumbles in, what then? Will we let our morals, values, and ideals be torn away in the discomfort or the grief? I hope not. I hope that we will allow those things to be shaken and challenged with complete confidence that they will hold because it means that they were built on something solid.
And I hope that - like Gossip, we will be able to call back to the people we love and reassure them that we too have felt the bottom and it is indeed sound.
Self Care To-Do List
Don’t force yourself to get out of bed today. Take your time. The world can wait.
Stop forcing yourself to read that book you aren’t enjoying. Ditch it. Move on.
If keeping a diary is too much, try keeping a set of post-it notes. Scribble a single thought each day, and keep them in a jar…you’ll have a story to read back over at the end of the year.