About 12 years ago, when I first became University Chaplain at Reading, in the United Kingdom, a homeless man knocked at my door. He told me that his name was John and that the priest before me had always given him a sandwich and a cup of tea when he was in the area and he hoped that I would do the same. I told him that I would be pleased to and from then on John would call, about once a month, for his cup of tea and sandwich.
One cold night in deep winter, the front door bell rang and there stood John, wet and shivering and with no overcoat. I brought him into my kitchen and made him a cup of tea and a sandwich and, then, asked him where he was going to sleep that night. He pointed to a piece of wooded ground next to my house, where he usually slept, wrapped in black plastic bin bags. I, then, asked him if he would like to sleep in my garden shed, which had a wooden floor, and with a great smile John said, “That would be grand!”, and, from then on, my garden shed became John’s bedroom, whenever he was in the neighbourhood.
So, after he had eaten his sandwich, I took John out to the shed and bedded him down for the night with a pillow and a warm quilt. But as I walked back across the garden to my house, I heard a voice in my head saying, “Garden shed eh? Two guest bedrooms in your house and you put him in the garden shed?” I stopped in the middle of the garden, looked up to heaven and said, “Lord, it is the best I can do. I don’t have the courage to do more.” Then, another voice sounded, “I didn’t say anything,” said the Lord, “I’m just happy he got the shed!”
I learned, that night, that the Lord does not demand of us things we cannot do – but, we sometimes demand those things of ourselves and then imagine it is God, who is asking. There is such a danger in this, for if our living is led by the ‘ought’ in our head, rather than the ‘love’ in our heart, it will not be God we are serving nor will it be his face that we show to the world.
Our ‘growing in love’ is brought about by the Holy Spirit and we cannot force the pace – to try is to risk marring the whole project, for we do not know the master plan – nor our own potential. There is, however, a part for me to play in my own ‘becoming’: it is to have the humility to admit to God – and also to someone else – my failings and to entrust myself and those failings into his hands. If we take seriously the partnership between God and ourselves – the New Covenant – we can be sure that when we are spiritually ready to do something we will find ourselves both able and wanting to do it. God is not a hard taskmaster – we do that job very well ourselves. We just need to trust him. He began the process of our spiritual development, he alone enables us to make progress and he alone can bring us to fulfilment – even though at times we think we know how to manage things far better than he!
It is enough for us to be what God wants us to be,
rather than some perfect creature that God never had in mind.
St Francis de Sales
Fr Terry Burke