Ash Wednesday: Day One
OT Joel 2. 12-17
NT 2 Corinthians 5.20-6.10
Gospel Matthew 6.1–6, 16–21
On giving up more than I bargained for….a Tale of Cyber Crime.
I have a cyber stalker. A middle aged, former client with “difficulties”, but with talents also, one of which is IT. They are the reason I am starting this year’s Lent Blog via a phone app and not on my lovely laptop……because, yet again, my cyber stalker has managed to thwart my cutting edge protection software, and scramble tweaky’s brain. Looks like I’m giving up the laptop as well as Facebook and meat this year.
So far so sad, but what has this to do with Lent?
Earlier this week, the world’s longest running soap opera, BBC Radio 4’s “The Archers”, tackled what we do in Lent. Alan, the Vicar (married to a Hindu, shock horror!) suggested to his always suspiciously well attended Church, that instead of giving up all the usual suspects….chocolate, fags, booze etc that they gave up gossiping. He pointed out that gossip requires two people, one to talk and the other to encourage the gossip by listening. The fictional Revd went on to suggest that the time people saved by not gossiping could be spent on random acts of spontaneous kindness. And no, he pointed out, that meant more than bringing your partner a cup of tea in the morning
…..And my stalker? Well, the person is a very isolated, frightened, unloved individual, who has come to believe that they are being persecuted by the authorities. I treated them no differently to any other client; I listened to their convoluted tale of wrongdoers, nay smiths, and thwarted teenage love (they were 50+)…..unbeknown to me, just doing my job, was for them a random act of kindness…no one had ever listened before. Busy professionals, with busy schedules, clients to see, places to be. No time for the loser, their ramblings “irrelevant” to “their” work……except “their” work was actually looking after that client…. I gained their trust through that random act of kindness, and as a result was able to make a stab at sorting things out for them….. For a while.
….So here’s the gossip….I failed them….I developed compassion fatigue….I became frustrated because it seemed that the harder I tried to help, the more help they needed; the more difficulties I sorted out, the more trouble they got into. As part of my efforts I wrote an advice about the person, seeking funding for a medical report. In it I discussed the person’s problems. I didn’t pull my punches, because I was worried about them, and I wanted to sort them out, wave a magic wand, maybe even play god….ok I hoped that if treatment was available, they’d be helped and would find life less frightening. But, I also hoped I would then be free of the person who had become a problem, MY problem. I hoped that by getting them treated they’d either stop being a problem, or at least would become someone else’s problem ie the medics.
The client wasn’t supposed to see the advice I wrote. They were a very difficult person, who would ring and email the office all day, everyday. They were also very cunning, and eventually they were passed down the chain of command to the office trainee, who knowing no better, hit “forward” in Outlook, and so they not only had the advice, but my supposedly secure email address.
….And so the client got to read my advice; the advice that pulled no punches about their life, their problems, their irrational behaviour, their prognosis if they didn’t accept treatment. So began the weird messages, small at first and totally random. Then the huge files with massive attachments, filling my inbox….then the trojans, the malware, the spyware….and so now I’m getting sore thumbs typing on my BlackBerry. Because, in doing my professional task, I lost sight of the person, forgot them. Didn’t really stop to think how my professionally correct, objective, blunt assessment would read if, THEY read it. Because, like gossip, the subject isn’t supposed to hear or read about themselves. So we believe, so we say what we want. But like my client, someday, somewhere, somehow….they will.
And Lent? Lent is not about giving up, Lent is about giving. Lent is taking time: time to stop and think. Lent is about making time: time for yourself, to think, pray, and meditate on finding ways to serve God and His message. Time for others, lots of time
for others, especially the “others” who need us, but really are a bit of a pain; because in making time for them, we make time for God.