The musings of a Christian Couch Potato: Unemployed, stripped back, but strangely seeing more than before.

Genesis16.13

Hagar said: “You are the God who sees me…”

Once again I sit bemused as I listen to my fellow pastors taking part in the latest Zoom meeting and once again I sense a feeling of isolation for unlike them, I am an unemployed pastor, grappling with the deadening, soul-destroying, effects of feeling that I have been thrown on the scrap heap too soon, whilst at the same time ironically rubbing shoulders with colleagues who feel overwhelmed by pastoral needs. I realise that I am now a “pastoral need”. I am now one who needs help, rather than one who can offer it. Humbling. However, I am reminded today that I am something more than a pastoral need. I am a person who is noticed by heaven, despite it all.

Like Zazu in the Lion King, I am able to sing that “…nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus….”

The Pandemic has only exacerbated the isolating effects of unemployment. I may be in the same team as my pastor friends, but I can’t even make it onto the substitute’s bench. Some days I struggle to find a good reason to get up. But I do crawl from the duvet and step into this world.

Thus, I live life with the title of a pastor, but live it in a very, very different way. I am unlike my pastor friends in other ways too; I wish I could say it to them but I can’t. I’m just different; they all tend to be sat in book-lined studies, which seem to exude the sort of learned atmosphere that oozes out of academia; there’s not a whiff of ordinary life, or so it seems, and as such, it’s a sort of atmosphere that makes me feel somewhat ill at ease; an atmosphere that signals to me that it is probably time for me to leave my humanity outside the study, and only pick it up again on the way out.

Why? Because I’m more of a couch potato. Whilst I may not actually be lounging on my sofa, with pizza crumbs tumbling down my string vest, with a can of lager in my hand, I am undoubtedly nearer to that end of the theological world than theirs.

Somehow or other, I have never quite fitted into the neatness of thought and the polite conversation that emanates from that world. I’ve never quite been able to get my breath in the rarefied atmosphere that is there. I am on the outside, looking in. However, I take heart for I am reminded today that Zazu’s friend is also mine. I am reminded too that Jesus is the friend of “publicans and sinners”, and was considered by His enemies to be “a glutton and a drunkard”. Whilst both of the above accusations were false, they were nevertheless rooted in the fact that He did spend time eating, partying and having a drink. It makes me feel as if, with Him, I am on solid ground. It makes me realise that at least with Him, I don’t have to abandon my humanity and try and be something else. I think therefore that He is also the friend of couch potatoes.

Of course, what I am describing today about my life, is the result of the process that has been taking place in my life; relentlessly, and ruthlessly, and increasingly, since the Pandemic. Unemployment, the Pandemic and all sorts of other things that have transformed me into a spectator, leave me reflecting on things as I never really have before. I have been stripped bare.

But strangely, this stripping bare has had an unexpected effect on me; just like the sun, long hidden behind rain-laden clouds, appears, so the One in whom I actually believe, is being revealed. I notice that in a startling way, the cosy confines of my evangelical world, have been stretched to breaking point, so that they can include so much more. It’s not that I have rejected my evangelical beliefs, but have seen just how limited and limiting they are. It is as if I have had my eyes lifted from the small pool of evangelical theology that captivated me in order to gaze out towards the far horizons of the ocean. I don’t understand the ocean, but at least I now realise that it is there, and it is a lot bigger than I imagined. It really is quite big and makes me feel small. That is a good thing.

I am still as unemployed, as I was on the last day of August 2020, but I now see things more clearly. Through the rain, I can also see a rainbow. Deep things have happened to me, deep things still are.

It is, I believe, what happens when the real God, who really sees me, begins to establish new things in ones’ life. It seems to me to be the divine prelude to His presence moving in. The removal lorry has pulled up outside and new furniture is being unloaded.

I’m hoping and praying that despite this Pandemic, despite our own troubles, despite whatever might be challenging us, we will all be able to detect His strange work in our lives just as Hagar did, and realise that He still is the God who sees us.

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Neil Abbott

Disenchanted pastor, rediscovering the joy of decluttering his inner life.