The kingdom of heaven is all about reversals. Or rather, our world is about reversals – the kingdom’s got it right. So much of what we think is good, turns out to be bad, whilst the suffering or discomfort we fear is in fact blessed.
Take for example, beauty. In our society, this is everything. Ask a little girl (and increasingly boy) what they want to be when they grow up, and the answer is beautiful. Who we are is not longer what we do, it’s how we appear. Yet beauty can hinder just as much as it helps. Writing in his book ‘Telling Secrets’, here’s what Frederick Beuchner says;
‘To be born…beautiful…can be as much of a handicap in its way as to be born with a cleft palate because if you are beautiful enough you don’t really have to be anything much else to make people love you and want to be near you. You don’t have to be particularly kind or unselfish or compassionate because people will flock around you anyway …never develop the giving, loving side of what (you) might be as a human being’.
So often, we forget this. Or we chase after other things. Money, relationships, pleasure, fame. Yet the people who have these things are often the most unhappy -their vision distorted by the bubble of success. I was reminded of this when reading an interview with Terence Conran, the designer, retailer and restaurateur.
In his own words, Conran has not ‘performed particularly well’ in his family life, saying that work is a deep and unhealthy obsession which has ‘made me difficult as both a father and a husband’. His son, Jasper, ran away to New York to study design, because he was terrified of his father’s ‘cold fury’. Yet Conran can also be sentimental. When one of his sons inadvertently ran over some snowdrops with the lawnmower, ‘Terence went beserk. “Can’t you hear them crying?” he screamed’. When asked to comment on the story’s veracity, Conran says this: ‘Possibly. I do care deeply for flowers’.
Conran is no more or worse than any of the rest of us – but he has enough money and power to live in a world where his blindness goes unchallenged. We too are blind – to what we have and the gifts that come wrapped in darkness as well as glossy paper. I’m not talking about suffering for its own sake. But rather, the consciousness of our own helplessness that opens our eyes to who we really are and what really matters. The helplessness that lifts our eyes to Him.