November 2015

Life as it happens

When, as is so inelegantly said, ‘life sucks’, it’s tempting to lose heart, to indulge in a spell of self-pity, to feel depressed, writes Judith Scully.

BY Judith Scully

For a few weeks I had been anxiously eying the agapanthus lining one side of our driveway, waiting for the first buds to appear. Then I forgot about them for a day or so, and there they were – five long-legged stems, holding my image of summer in each little almond-shaped, green embrace.

When they were planted two years ago, neighbours assured us that agapanthus would not be put off by the poor soil, and that locally they were frowned upon as an environmental weed. What to do? The possibility of a summer of deep blue flowers pre-programmed to keep on flowering, despite the heat and my somewhat intermittent watering, won the day – that and a promise of responsible seed harvesting.

It turns out that, apart from gum trees, most of the plants that sprinkle seasonal colour across our thin, rocky dirt are classified as weeds. I’ve spent a lot of time, time that possibly could have been better employed, wondering about the personal and spiritual implications of this.

I live in a supportive world – a government that pays me a fortnightly pension, a car that starts when I turn the key, Google at my fingertips when I crave instant information, an up-to-the-minute bathroom, and family who care about me. So why is it never enough?

Now that career and family options are in the past, it’s ordinary things that give me that ‘good to be alive’ feeling. Things like sunshine, smear-free kitchen benches, strong-brewed coffee, a new book, lamplight in an otherwise dark house, country roads, roast dinners and magpies singing lull me into a sense that I’m in charge and all is well. But of course that doesn’t last.

The benches smear again and the sky is grey and the book doesn’t live up to expectations. I get discontented and lack energy. It reminds me of the recurring weedy growth in my garden, pretty for a day or two before it dies away leaving behind the dry rocky ground.

On Friday the checkout girl at the supermarket wants to know what I have planned for the weekend. I just smile and answer non-committedly, unwilling to deflate her expectations that weekends are when life really happens. All the same, her polite query leaves me feeling a little flat.

A country like Australia brims with possibilities and expectations. Weekends that revolve around socialising with family and friends, sporting activities and time to pursue personal interests are seen as the norm. As are words, like fabulous, amazing, fantastic and great, used to describe achievements that are actually quite ordinary. That night the evening news shows long lines of weary Syrians whose expectations of basic care and freedom are a long way from being met and I question my unrealistic expectations that life should be consistently graced with good things.

When, as is so inelegantly said, ‘life sucks’, it’s tempting to lose heart, to indulge in a spell of self-pity, to feel depressed. When this happens to me, as it did recently, I was hurt, and felt powerless to change a situation over which I had no control. My energy levels dropped and I had trouble sleeping, even my voice lacked life. So, as one does, I put the whole situation into God’s hands with the unconscious expectation that it would be fixed to my satisfaction and life would be rosy once again. At my age and with my experience I should have known better.

I was angry and grieving, not only because I couldn’t fix a situation that was hurting people I loved, but because it affected my carefully-laid plans for the future. Let go and let God might be a religious cliché, but it’s pretty spot on all the same. I took a deep breath and prayed my way through the letting go of unreal expectations of God, of myself, of others, of my false entitlement to personal and unending satisfaction. Some hours later I realised that I felt lighter. The situation hadn’t changed and wouldn’t, but I had. Now, more than a week later, that deep inner peace is still there, nourishing me, enlivening me.

Little things like sunny days and a smear-free kitchen bench are just fleeting stand-ins for the real thing, the life that God longs to bestow. Which brings me back to my garden, with its shallow soil cover, and my suburban need to plant inappropriate pretty things in land where mostly tall, skinny eucalypts have flourished for hundreds of years.

The life Jesus was talking about when he said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance”, is like those gum trees, rooted deep into pockets of life-giving soil. It’s where they belong and it’s in our own inner depths that we find the life that will support us now and carry us into eternity.

Judith Scully

Judith Scully is a retired pastoral associate. She lives among the gumtrees in Warrandyte Victoria, where she posts on her website WORDS from the Edge Her first book, "A Gentle Unfolding", will be published in August 2018.

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