Teach me, my God and King, in all things thee to see, and what I do in anything to do it as for thee.
This is the famous stone that turneth all to gold; for that which God doth touch and own cannot for less be told.
I want to risk this life of faith in my brand-new household of believers. I want to call myself part of the family and embrace all that that might contain, including the opportunity to disagree or misunderstand or just plain be a bit arsey with them all and get over it.
It’s not like any family of believers I’ve experienced before.
You see, I’m being asked to consider how I pray, study and work. I’m sorry, but these three words put me in mind of the Calvinistic doctrine of working your way flat out into the Kingdom. God just might be impressed by all those hours you spend on your knees, or preparing that Bible Study. Go for it! He’ll be sure to put a large red tick against your name in his heavenly register.
But I don’t think this is like that.
I don’t think I’m being asked to be good and to earn my place with my fellow brothers and sisters. I don’t think I’m being asked not to be good either – I’m sure the Third Order isn’t saying ‘Well go and have a ball because God loves you anyway!’ I think I’m being asked to reflect on where my motivations come from for prayer, study and work.
Let’s go back.
I am eleven years old and I have just started at my posh grammar school. It’s drummed into me that only about five per cent of kids make it here at all – the rest are relegated to technical and secondary moderns to become bus conductors, plumbers and hairdressers whilst we will attain the dizzy heights of university and the professions. I know, I know, but this was the Sixties and we have moved on light years from all this.
But I am eleven and I have to succeed. I have to achieve at school because that is why I am here, and I have to achieve at home because we all serve the Lord there and I can’t let the side down.
Life is, shall we say, stressful.
I have a homework diary, which, even at age eleven asks for an hour and a half a night. Three subjects, half an hour each. I copy the set homework task into my jotter carefully at the end of each lesson. But as the final bell rings for the close of the school day, I am seized with an irrational need to check every entry with three other people. I now know that this is my nascent OCD rearing its ugly head, but then I just knew that something very terrible would happen if I didn’t do it.
And so, every afternoon, at 3.40 pm I am trying to find a different three people, because the other girls soon tire of my pleadings and try to avoid catching my eye. Study and work are overshadowed with the spectre of a big Monty Python foot coming down to squash me if I get it wrong.
So, as you see, being asked to consider the place of prayer, study and work in my life comes with a heavy weight of baggage which could incur a very hefty excess on my internal flight.
I am also told, helpfully in this Principle that although I need to find a balance between prayer, study and work in my life, I must not forget other aspects as well.
Such as what?
Surfing Twitter? Browsing round Zara? EastEnders? But the whole point about committing to work, study and prayer in this new and different landscape is that I want to enjoy it just as much as my hedonistic time-wasting pleasures. I want it to become a part of my life that isn’t ladled with overtones of duty and performance.
Tough call for me with my inbuilt agenda to get it right, even if it means checking with three other people.
But the Third Order is gentle. ‘Light a candle,’ they say, to pray. ‘Read a book,’ to study. And work can be construed as my writing or my singing – using my talents to communicate and to bring relief or comfort or even pleasure to other people.
I am told that it doesn’t need to be punishing. It can be challenging, but that’s not the same. I am told that Jesus said,’ Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’
He didn’t say, ‘Make sure you keep those plates spinning, you little layabout, because if one of those blighters hits the floor, you’ll be for the high jump.’
It wasn’t supposed to be this easy.
I assumed I would always need to compartmentalise my life into the bits I enjoyed and the bits God might want me to do. It’s quite a realisation that whatever I do, as George Herbert says, can be done for God. Even and especially the bits I enjoy. My fundamentalist past taught me firmly that anything I enjoyed was likely not from God as their God didn’t enjoy very much at all. In fact, their God seemed to actively enjoy people being miserable and sitting round with cups of tea instead of large glasses of red, and turning off the telly if anything remotely suggestive came on the screen rather than kicking back with a bowl of popcorn in front of a ‘Carry On’ film.
I think my God now would share a glass or two with me. She would throw back her head and roar with laughter at a good joke. She would not purse her lips in disapproval at any mention of sex or bodily parts or put me in the naughty corner if I so much as let slip a ‘damn.’ She would revel in life in all its fullness. And she would tell me to chill as I ponder my life of work, study and prayer and not to beat myself up about making the grammar school grade.
‘You’ve got this,’ she would say. ‘Just do what you’re doing.’
And maybe if I do what I’m doing, then maybe it will of itself grow and develop and, eventually may even ‘turn all to gold.’
It wasn’t supposed to be this easy.