You know, I’m often conscious of what people might be thinking when I read my Bible on the tube. I wonder what they assume about me, about what I believe, about how I act. I wonder if they feel sorry for me, or angry at me, or bemused.
Perhaps no-one notices at all. But you did, Simon. I didn’t see you, but you took out an old envelope and started writing. You meant to pass it to me while there was still time, while I could reply. I wish I’d spotted you. I hope I’d have looked up and given you an encouraging smile.
But you were afraid. I don’t blame you. You had no idea what sort of a Bible-reader I was, whether I’d be harsh and judgmental, or kind and understanding. You didn’t know what crazy beliefs I might hold about God, or more frightening still, about other people. Perhaps you were afraid because you’ve seen the Bible used as a weapon before – a sword that strikes down, wounds and kills.
I’m so sorry that you were afraid. I wish you could have had confidence that a woman with a Bible would be a woman of compassion and love. I wish we gave anyone that confidence.
Your stop came, and you thrust your note into my hand, and in my surprise I looked down at it before I looked up at you. And you were gone, quicker than I’ve ever seen someone disappear off a train. I wonder why you still gave it to me, knowing I’d have no way to reply. Perhaps you’d promised yourself you would. Perhaps you knew I would pray.
If you’d spoken to me earlier, or left me your number, you might have been frustrated anyway. I wouldn’t have given you what you wanted. I wouldn’t have been able to. But I hope you’d have found something much, much better.
I understand the urge you had though. You’re struggling, you said, and you’re losing hope. You wanted a positive teaching that you could put in to practice, an instruction from the Bible that you could learn to live out, to try to do, to achieve. A month, you said, you’d do it for a month.
Your instincts told you that there’s a better way to live, and perhaps this way you’d find it.
And your instincts weren’t wrong, my friend. I could have copied out for you verse after verse, though perhaps not many in the two minutes from Clapham South to Balham. I could have shown you proverbs about living with wisdom, and introduced you to the prophets on justice for the poor. We could have looked through the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. We could have talked about living with generosity and thankfulness, or bearing with one another, or loving your enemy as well as your neighbour.
Perhaps you would have tried putting them into practice, and found new purpose and direction from living your life for others. I don’t doubt that you were ready to live this month differently.
But that would never have happened. I’d never have pointed you there. I’d never have given you a set of rules to live by, even if it’s what you were asking for.
Because that’s not what God did for me.
Whenever I’m struggling, Simon, whenever I need to find a better way, whenever my head feels like its sinking below the waves and I’ve forgotten which direction I’m supposed to be swimming in, whenever I’ve reached the end of my energy and I’m still prepared to do whatever is needed to find my way to solid ground again – God draws me back to his love.
Yes, there’s a time for examining my lifestyle and my values and my habits. But first, I’m to let myself be loved.
It sounds passive, doesn’t it, and our heads tell us nothing will change if we’re passive. That’s why you started writing a note on the back of an envelope to a stranger – you knew you had to do something to change your situation and find your way out of the rut. There’s no power in passivity, in just being.
Except when it comes to being loved. There’s something about knowing you are completely, intimately, unconditionally loved that anchors you and energises you like nothing else. And when that love comes from the God who created you intricately, knows you perfectly, and sustains you even when you don’t know it – it has the power to change everything.
I don’t know you at all, Simon. But I do know that you’re loved.
I know that the love of God for you was so all-consuming that it took Jesus to the cross and brought him through death to life, and that it’s stronger than despair and hopelessness and guilt and shame and that when you begin to know it, it’ll change the way you think and feel and speak and act, and it will make sense of your past and direct your future, and nothing will be the same again.
So if you see me on the tube again, be brave. In the meantime, here’s the Bible verse you asked for. You’re right – it really is a better way.
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.