I’m sitting with a memory. A different time, a different season. It was one of those gifts of an empty calendar day that can sometimes fall between Christmas and New Year. It sounds almost laughable now that every day is an empty calendar day, but at the time it was gold dust.
There was a jewel-like quality to the clear winter sky; the white sun shining perfect all day. We escaped the haze of food and wrapping paper, parked at the Abbey and walked across farmland to our local ‘Quiet Garden’.
It is small and we usually only stop there a while (the effort of living up to the garden’s name being challenging for a family), wandering around the grassy-banked ponds and admiring the Taizé cross. But this time, there was something I had never noticed before. Dotted among the lush greenery of the shady glen, were a smattering of memorial plaques.
The first, after giving a name and dates, proclaimed ‘Scientist, Teacher, Innovator...’ An involuntary “wow” slipped from my lips.
Noticing a second plaque I thought I would see how it compared. What could this second man have done that could match up to the whizz I’d just read about?
I looked, and felt an unparalleled rush of warmth. There were only two words given to this second man. ‘Deeply loved’. It made me catch my breath, touched me profoundly. It’s wonderful that the first died so very accomplished. But the second, he was deeply loved. He needed no more than this.
The first impressed me, awed me. The second spoke to my soul.
Sometimes we think the only way we can be ‘deeply loved’, the only way to attain this status is to also ‘be’ the scientist, teacher, innovator... basically genius type person that we think the world is looking for. This is where the two stories become muddled, smudging into each other. And this is where we can get muddled too, tying ourselves up in knots of how to prove we’re worth something.
But God turns this upside down saying that, before we do anything at all, we are already deeply loved. And it is from this place of deep love that we can walk into all the incredible things He has planned for our uniqueness.
So if we are worrying that we are ‘nothing’ perhaps because we’re in a job we hate, or because retirement, unemployment, illness or parenthood has ripped away a part of our lives like a tear-off slip on a letter – a whole chunk of us now missing - we should be reminded that we are more than our jobs. Our work can help us to grow, but without it we are still that same person.
And at this time of crisis, more than ever, we realise we need both kinds of people. We need the genius: the scientist toiling towards a vaccine; the medic carrying those who fall sick... But we also need the beloved, showing us how to treat each other with kindness.
Both are motivated by love, just in different ways.
This story was first published in shorter form in my article ‘And what do you do?’ for Woman Alive (January 2019)