KINDNESS AND TURBULENCE
A few years ago, I was in a smallish aeroplane with my daughter Beth, flying in to Birmingham, Alabama. Beth was sitting behind me next to a slimy, overly interested bloke so I had to keep turning to chat to her and reassure her. There was increasing turbulence, but we were OK because we knew that no one would ever fly through dangerous weather… It turns out that there are lots of tornadoes in Birmingham, and as the pilot was trying to land, people around us started to scream and cry. At that point we realised that these seasoned commuters were actually very afraid, including Beth’s touchy-feely neighbour, so maybe we should be concerned, too. My role as dad was to keep reassuring my daughter, smiling, being nonchalant, lighting up a cigarette slowly and artfully – that's actually banned of course – but bringing kindness and hope when everything around was in chaos. The plane did land. Those who were waiting for us were very surprised it had even made the flight. We went straight out and ate some fatty carbs. The ordeal was over.
That is literal turbulence, but most turbulence happens to us when we are out of our depth, not in control and in an emotionally vulnerable place. 2020 has been turbulent. There have been times when it seems like no-one knew what to do in the emergency. We are left, hoping that there will be someone nearby who will speak peace, hold our hand and guide us through the distress.
I was thinking about the various turbulent events in the Christmas story. Both Mary and Joseph suddenly thrown into an impossible situation, controlled by government edicts, struggling for accommodation and then, just as they are settling down, pushed out as refugees. They didn't have loads of money or great strategies – they had to rely on the kindness of God and his hand and word of guidance to help them navigate the desperate terrain.
Not only were they helpless, but so was God, in Jesus. He had to rely on Mary’s tender trust, on Joseph’s goodness, on the wise men’s spiritual perception. God is certainly our rock in times of trouble but how fascinating that even he knows what it is to live through severe turbulence and to trust in the obedient love of those around.
There is something profound about the safety that we find in goodness and kindness when we travel through stormy weather.
My family and I have just been through a chaotic time in looking after my dad who became seriously ill very quickly and died at the weekend. The turbulence was about facing the mystery and violence of an aggressive illness and how to manage symptoms that developed daily. It was also about being in a care system that is under pressure, stretched through the tragic overwhelming of Covid, unable to keep up with my dad’s decline in health. And of course, the turbulence of shock, loss and grief.
And we found that people’s kindness during the few days was incredible. Words and messages of sincerity and affirmation are life sweetness in the soul. Care and support, food and shouldering responsibilities were strength. And the extraordinary expertise, behaviour and character of the nursing staff who came in and out brought up from our souls an ache of gratitude.
When we are helpless, what our souls need is to trust in others. In fact, we can only truly receive kindness when we are helpless. Simon Peter, stepping into the wind and the waves got overwhelmed and needed a rescue. And then later on when Jesus asked to wash his feet, his proud un-helplessness prevented that kindness from truly freeing him – until he gave in.
Kindness works when we have to rely on it. And then it is like arms that carry, caress and protect in such a way that even a turbulent storm can be flown through. Romans 2:4 says that it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. We shouldn't presume on grace or resist grace in our own lives, but we let grace in, in such a way that we are then disarmed. Then the sin we are surrounded by that produces fear, anxiety and anger can be addressed, confessed and escaped from. And even the aggressive sin that forms in us through habits developed to either defend or attack can be dealt with by grace which then opens our eyes to sin’s horrible power and lies. This is kindness of God.
There is a kingdom secret that in the midst of turbulence our fight is not to necessarily have the power and might to personally succeed, but to have the courage to put our hand in God’s hand, to keep our eyes fixed on his reassuring face and to receive his kind offer of help. I have experienced this deeply over the last two weeks; the truth of Jesus’ beatitudes in Matthew 5 – here from The Message:
You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope.
With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you.
Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less.
That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God.
He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
You're blessed when you care.
At the moment of being 'carefull,' you find yourselves cared for.
You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right.
Then you can see God in the outside world.
You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.
That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.
The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.
Martin J Young