Bottoming Out

Recently I had what one might call a salutary experience. I was repairing a door jamb for which I had to get down on my knees. That is not easy for me but I managed it, painful though it was. Then disaster struck. I couldn’t get up, and no one was around. The pain intensified. My left leg, the one with lymphoedema and other nasties, was useless. My right leg felt weak and unreliable and wouldn’t provide me with enough spring to get up. My cries for help became more desperate, finally turning into sad little whimpers. Eventually, after what seemed an age, I managed to get onto my bottom and edge myself into the building. I had reached the point of wondering whether I could continue or would give in to the pain, when someone came past and helped me to my feet. I felt both silly and relieved and inclined to laugh at myself for making a mountain out of a molehill.

It is very easy to make mountains out of molehills, but we don’t always laugh at them. Trifling setbacks or negative experiences can be allowed to loom large in our lives, making us prey to self-pity or unremitting anger. We can magnify the shortcomings of others so that we no longer see them as they are, only the monsters our spite or misunderstanding has created. That is especially true for those of us who engage with social media on a regular basis. We can see the world through a distorting lens and fail to realise that we may contribute to the distortion by our own unthinking attitudes or the way we voice our complaints. We may see ourselves as beacons of light set high on a mountain when in fact we are more like little molehills down on the plain that people stumble over. The experience of being powerless, of having to rely on others, can indeed be salutary as I have said, because it it reminds us of our dependence on one another. More than that, it teaches us that when we need help we may have to rely on the most unlikely people, on apparent chance or on other factors beyond our control. In short, there is no such thing as D.I.Y. salvation in any sense.

This morning there are many people who need help. Most of them are unknown to us. They are ‘out there’ in South America, Syria, Yemen; in the next town, the next street, next door:  easily forgotten or ignored. Just occasionally, we may register that we too need help. We ‘bottom out’ so to say, and that is when we discover that our pretensions to self-sufficiency are absurd, that grace is all around and we must rely on it to get us out of the predicament in which we find ourselves. We have only to ask and grace will be given in abundance — not necessarily as we would like or choose, but given nonetheless. That is worth thinking about. Whether the need be material or spiritual, our own or another’s, let us pray that both we and they may be as open to receive as we are to give.

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