I’m going shopping today to try and find a saddle for a Chihuahua.
I’ve been saying for a few years now that my life is a long process of being knocked off my high horse and getting back on progressively smaller horses. From the high-handed and rather self righteous Clydesdale that I ‘rode’ in my youth, to the sleek, confident, bullet-proof racing horses that I ‘galloped’ on through my young adult years, to the weary footed Shetland pony who happily carried my children and I on her back around in domestic circles, I find myself in recent years on increasingly smaller rides.
My ever-changing personal circumstances have humbled me no end. I find myself a single adult woman in a church full of smiley happy marriages, I run my household alone in a society that is set-up for teamwork and togetherness. Rather than taking forward steps financially and personally I have had to take many steps backwards, discovering a fragility and vulnerability within myself that I never dreamed existed as I have to lean in on God more than ever before.
In an age of rampant consumerism and in a church that so often promises a life of health, wealth and happiness in exchange for serving God, its expected that we should be moving upwards, forwards, riding higher horses, not lower ones, as our lives go on. We’ve all heard the sermons, ‘We are the head and not the tail’, ‘We are more than conquerors’ and as modern-day westerners we like to interpret those blessings as success and socio-economic status.
Successful relationships, outward beauty, lovely homes and tip-top health – these are the things by which we measure our lives.
The trouble is, all we have to do is live long enough to realise it’s possible to do all the ‘right’ things and yet end up with the ‘wrong’ results. When things don’t go according to plan, like the friends of Job we are tempted to jump to our own conclusions.
According to many voices, if our health fails, we lack the faith for healing. If our hearts are broken, we should have prayed harder for a partner that would not let us down. If our financial position is threatened, we should have given more in the offering or donated more to the poor. If we pray for something and didn’t get it, somehow we got the wording wrong, prayed too quietly, too loudly, too little, too much…we tried our best, but still got it wrong.
And yet, what does Jesus say about climbing the ladder of personal success? His friends were discussing who would get a good place in the Kingdom based on their status of being close to him, to which he replied, “Anyone who wants to be the first, must be the very last, and the servant of all’.
If outward success is the sign of God’s blessing, that counts a whole heap of us out, if a fancy dream home and the love of a good man is the sign of God’s blessing, I’ve completely lost the plot. (Ironically the local P-dealer who’s just bought a mansion and remains happily married seems to be living the dream.)
It just doesn’t work that way. Thankfully God is more interested in what is going on inside us than what is going on around us. He is more interested in our human being than in our human doing. He knows that people and circumstances fail us and disappoint us, or that any one of us can be a couple of decisions away from saddling up a Chihuahua. Jesus seems to think that to ‘get ahead’, being the last, the least, the smallest, is something to be embraced, to be pursued even. He turned society on its head by celebrating the fragile and the weak and having a go at the proud and the self-sufficient.
Do I think we should all seek to become failures, to aspire to the disintegration of our lives just to prove a point? Of course not…what I am suggesting is that we should not measure ourselves by a standard of outward success that is fickle, fleeting and so often more down to good luck than good management. The beatitudes beautifully sum up the bittersweet beauty that comes through the struggle and the hard times, the blessing that comes through hard work and pressing forward even when it seems impossible, and maybe that is more important than outward appearances.
If you’ve found yourself in the embarrassing position of riding a Chihuahua, take heart. It in no way changes your personal value or the boundless love that your creator has for you. And the good news is, they’re cute, cheap to feed and if things go even more pear-shaped, there’s not too far for you to fall.