Jen and I spent the weekend about sixty kilometres up the road from Pietermaritzburg further into the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. We were just beyond the town of Mooi River at a place called Midlands Saddle and Trout. As its name implies, guests are able to enjoy the pleasures of trout fishing and horse riding. It is in a part of the country that contains a number of race horse stud farms, and marks the northern end of an arts and crafts, accommodation, cuisine, sport, and recreation route called the Midlands Meander. For Jen and me, however, recreation involves reading, walking (not too much, I’m afraid), a good coffee shop or two, and (for me) some writing on the side. Having taken Monday off we were able to “chill” a little more than we would normally be able to do.
The weather played its part in the chilling process. It would generally be colder up here than it is lower down in Pietermaritzburg, but our weekend turned out to be the coldest of the year so far, pretty well all over the country.
I have a bedside clock, which we brought with us, that shows the temperature. At home, on a very cold night, it’s been going down to 17 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Farenheit), but usually hovers around 19 or, with the heater on, 20 degrees. On our first night here it dived down to 11 degrees (52 F) in the bedroom. And that was with a heater on. Admittedly it’s a pathetic postage stamp-sized panel heater fixed to the wall, which makes absolutely no difference to the comfort of the occupants. But there was plenty of hot water and the resort is very generous with blankets but our noses were frozen, and going to the bathroom in the middle of the night was a mission—tiled floors not helping at all.
On the other hand, there is a very good fireplace in the lounge, with an excellent chimney, and a supply of wood, but I’m no boy scout. I used firelighters on our first night, which were very effective but left the cottage reeking of paraffin. On Sunday night I tried again with dried grass, twigs and newspapers. The twigs were in short supply, however, and the wood had been chopped into very large chunks; once the grass (which wasn’t quite as dry as I thought) and the paper were gone the wood was barely singed. As you can see, while Jen and I love to get away from it all into the country, we still require four strong walls around us with creature comforts inside them.
Such wimpish behaviour contrasts dramatically with our current daily readings from the book of Job. Job of course was used to the best of the best. Luxury came naturally to him and his family. His sons appear to have spent their time flitting from party to party. Suddenly he had nothing and he was left sitting in the trash heap scraping his sores. His wife had given up on him. “Why don’t you curse God and die?” she said to him. How’s that for comfort from your wife? But Job would have none of it.
“You are talking nonsense,” he told her. “When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when he sends us trouble?”
Job, we are told, suffered through no fault of his own. The Psalmist (Psalm 38) was in the same predicament, but he knew that he was there because of his own failure:
“…I am in great pain;
my whole body is diseased because of my sins.
I’m drowning in the flood of my sins;
they are a burden too heavy to bear.
Because I have been foolish,
My sores stink and rot.”
Both Job and the Psalmist found hope in open and honest conversation with God. They told God bluntly what they were experiencing; they expressed their fears and their despair.
Job cried out:
“I wish I had died in my mother’s womb
or died the moment I was born.
Why did my mother hold me on her knees?
Why did she feed me at her breast?
If I had died then, I would be at rest now,
sleeping like the kings and rulers who rebuilt ancient palaces.”
And the Psalmist:
“O Lord, don’t punish me in your anger!
You have wounded me with your arrows;
you have struck me down.”
“Do not abandon me, O Lord;
do not stay away, my God!
Help me now, O Lord my saviour!”
Nowadays we tend to rant to anyone and everyone who will listen: to our friends, our families, and to perfect strangers in supermarket queues. Our neighbours for the weekend, whose living/dining room shared a wall with ours, spent a good part of the weekend shouting at the television. It was set to the sports channels and the referee, the teams, the horses, whomever, drew their ire. We complain to anyone but God; anyone but the one who really listens; the only one who can take the worst the world can throw at us and turn it into victory and healing—isn’t that what he did on the cross? What would he do with our pain if we would let him?