In God's Hands
A reflection given at Choral Evensong on Sunday, 15th March, 2015, by Jenny Davenport, at St. John the Baptist, Holland Road
“We boast of our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope”
I have been reading Archbishop Tutu’s book In God’s Hands and he draws the distinction there between what the World calls VIPs – Very Important Persons – which very few of his mainly black congregations were in the era of apartheid, and VSPs – Very Special People – which each of us is, made as we are in the image of God. He used to get his congregations – mainly very poor and oppressed people – to stand up and wave their arms in the air and shout “I’M A VERY SPECIAL PERSON” to try to help them understand how each of them was individually loved by God.
None of us is a copy of another. We are each unique, and each one of us is of immense worth, of infinite worth; a worth that no-one could compute.
Yet how hard it is sometimes to think of ourselves like that when we are suffering: when we are in pain or seeing a loved one in pain; when we are bereaved; when we are frightened. Our natural tendency in such circumstances just to think about ourselves and our misery – and probably to look for someone else to blame.
Of course, we bring a lot of our suffering on ourselves, when we forget that we are very special people. Jesus repeatedly tells us not to compare ourselves with others: for example in the parable of the hired labourers who earn the same wage whether they have done a full days’ work through the heat of the day or just hour in the comparative cool at the end of the day. Comparing ourselves almost always leads to misery and a wasted life. In my job I interview a lot of people at work. One of the sad by-products of social media is how people compare themselves with former colleagues and school-mates. Interviewing young graduates working in a supermarket recently they were saying that the work itself was perfectly pleasant and they could live on the wage but when they read the facebook pages of former school-mates showing pictures of themselves by their BMWs and boasting of their glamorous holidays they felt complete failures. You need to remember that you are a VERY SPECIAL PERSON, a person of infinite worth and compare yourself only to the self that God wants you to be, not to others more gifted or fortunate than yourself.
Life is never easy. Imagine yourself as one of the members of Desmond Tutu’s congregation. You were probably suffering a lot. You or one of your family might well have been suffering from AIDS; your family was probably split up with some having to live in distant semi-deserts called “homelands”; your work was probably precarious, usually low-grade humiliating and boring; you were living in the direst poverty, and yet here was your leader, not telling you to feel sorry for yourself but to stand up and shout “I’M A VERY SPECIAL PERSON”.
St Paul tells us in our reading today that it is through suffering that we get – via endurance and character – to hope. This is the hope that we have “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”. Each of us has our own path to tread through life, through our own particular suffering, but we are assured that God loves each one of us, and that through all of it, that each of us is A VERY SPECIAL PERSON.