There was a terrible shipwreck and only one man survived, cast ashore on a tiny island with nothing but the clothes on his back. For a while he hoped for rescue. But in time he knew he had to make a life there on the island. And that is what he did. He taught himself to fish and hunt, to garden and cook, and he built himself a charming little cottage overlooking the bay. He even carved a tiny flute which he played every night after supper.
One day he hiked to the top of the mountain at the center of the island to see what he could see. As he reached the top, what he saw was a tower of smoke and his little cottage going up in flames.He ran down the mountain as fast as he could. But it was too late. The cottage was in ashes — and his flute, his garden, his tools, his bow and arrows — everything he’d made with his own hands was gone, all gone!
He wept. He raged. He cursed God. He despaired. And finally, as night came, he collapsed on the sand and fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning he was awakened by sailors who had rowed ashore from a great ship to rescue him. “But,” he exclaimed, “how after all this time did you know I was here?”
“Ah,” said the captain, “we saw the smoke from your signal fire.”
It is very common to hear the phrase: “Everything happens for a reason!” It is often used when something unexpected has happened, which might initially be seen in a negative light but turns out to have more positive consequences.
And in one sense the statement is a no-brainer. Everything does happen for a reason. If there was no reason, nothing would happen!! But that is not what people tend to mean. Instead, the statement is getting at something deeper. People may be referring to some cosmic laws that are making events occur in some way, others might be thinking about the Buddhist law of karma ( oh, how we love that idea!) while many might be referring to the belief that God has a plan for their lives.
We live in a culture and a society that values speed. Everything is so quick now. At one press of a button, we can get most things delivered to our doors within a couple of hours through an Amazon Prime delivery. What happens when something is taking too long to download on our laptop or phone? Well, if you are like me, you will huff and puff, give out about the network provider and lament about having to live in these terrible conditions!!!! And yes, this is leading to a fast paced world that is often hard to keep pace with. (Interestingly, one of the benefits that people have found with lockdown has been the opportunity to slow down).
But there is a greater worry. This fast paced culture can lead people to dismiss the importance of waiting and the value of perseverance. Some want the perfect career now. They want to find the “right person” as soon as they can. They need to have the perfect body now – no need to do all that exercise or to go through the pain. Get the newest and fastest diet! People may want to be the best dancer, artist, musician…now. Shows like The X Factor were great entertainment but promised a fast track to success which rarely lasted.
In 1999, I decided I wanted to study for the priesthood. I applied to the Bishop of my diocese and I was not accepted as a candidate. My world came crashing down around my feet. It had been my dream and my whole focus was on the priesthood. I licked my wounds and, eventually, I applied to join a religions order to study for the priesthood and I was accepted. However, after two years I began to realise this was not where I was meant to be. Again, I asked a lot of questions of myself and God and often wondered to myself what was next! This period of time crushed me. I got a job as an RE teacher in a secondary school but I was not fully satisfied. I had no clue as to where I was going in life.
However, when I was in the religious order, I had completed a placement in Liverpool with the parish priest of St. Albert’s. Move forward two years – I have left the order but this priest phones me up and offers me some summer work in his parish and the local secondary school. I need the money so I jump at the chance! I come over to Liverpool in the summer of 2005 and I then meet…my wife! She was working in the school as a teacher and the rest, as they say, is history. I am now living in Liverpool, have three amazing children and I am chaplain in Maricourt.
In other words, if I had never experienced the crushing rejection to be a priest in my diocese, if I had not left the religious order and experienced that confusing time in my life, I would never have been contacted by that priest and I would never have met my wife. But there is more – all those experiences have made me the person I am today and have impacted on how I am as a husband, father and chaplain. Like the man in the story, all the events led to something greater. If you had asked at the time how I felt about what was happening to me, my answers would have been very negative.
And this is often how God works. You might not like it but it is. There is a Greek phrase kairos and this word means “God’s time.” The idea of kairos is that God’s time is different to our time, which is called chronos. Sorry about all the Greek words! So chronos is measurable – our clocks, days, months and years all follow chronos time. Chronos is busyness, routine, timetables, deadlines and is often stressful!!
But kairos is different (but can be stressful too!) – it is mentioned in the Bible to refer, not to the length of time but, to the quality of time. It is a time that is right, that is leading somewhere and has great potential. In that time, it can be hard to know what is going on and, quite often, it is only hindsight that helps us to fully appreciate that time in our lives.
The Bible contains lots of examples of these kairos moments, which seem too late or too long in our understanding of time. Why did God wait until Abraham was seventy-five years old to call him to be the father of the Jewish nation? Why did God allow Joseph to be sold to slave-traders and separated from his family for twenty-two years? Why did God wait until Moses was eighty years old to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt? Why was David anointed king as a teenager and not actually crowned king until 15 years later, after being on the run from the reigning king for nearly all that time? And why (this has always got me!) was Jesus about thirty years old when he started his ministry? Why couldn’t God have started his ministry earlier and for longer (he died 2-3 years later!)?
My chronos thinking wants these people to have been younger and to have started earlier! It would have been better!! But that was not God’s purpose for them and it was not God’s time. In each example, their experiences – whether it was heart-rending and crushing disappointments or moments of joy and peace – were preparing them for something greater and something more important. They were learning endurance, resilience, patience and, most of all, learning how to trust God. And the result was, especially in the case of Jesus, life-changing and history-making.
I don’t know what your situation is at present. You may be wishing the lockdown was over tomorrow, you may be desperate to find the perfect job, you may by recovering from an illness or an accident, you may be struggling to cope with a mental health issue or your heart may have been broken by a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Just like the man in the story and the people in the Bible, you may have wept, raged and cursed God until you had nothing left in the tank.
But I invite you to trust kairos – God’s time. I am not saying that God makes the above things happen so you will learn a lesson. What I am saying is that whatever experiences you are having that make you doubt your direction or place in the world, these can be part of a greater whole, a bigger picture and a journey that God will lead you through. None of these experiences are meaningless – they will form a part of your greater story.
Jesus reassures us with these words from the gospel yesterday: “For only a penny you can buy two sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows!” (Matthew 10: 29-31)