In the last month or two of our Dad’s life, my brother arranged for a stairlift to be installed. Dad lived in a first floor flat and the stairs at the front and back were now a brick wall keeping him in – and the world out. Dad loved walking in the fresh air. Now he used a wheelchair just to get from room to room in his own small home.
I remember pushing Dad to the top of the landing so he could look down and see freedom. I remember we all felt much like this elegant lady looks. We had set Dad free! It was a good thing we had done. A loving thing. We did it for Dad! We all loved our Dad – he deserved it – and we could. This picture reminds me of that moment.
Dad never used the stairlift and none of us ever asked him why. He was Dad.
Shortly afterwards he died and the stairlift was removed. Just a few screw-holes in the stair carpet to show it was ever there at all. Much like Mum and Dad’s flat. Emptied, tidied, cleaned and sold. The proceeds divided between each of us. The memories different for each of us.
This morning I wonder what Dad’s thoughts really were. Maybe it was confirmation he no longer “had it” – and we all knew he no longer had it. Maybe it was confirmation that he was a prisoner in his own home – no longer able to walk through his own front door. Maybe it was just too scary – trusting to technology and being fearful of his own safety. Or maybe it was just because we never asked. We surprised him. We took his choices from him. We decided what he needed and we “invaded his home” with this addition. Or maybe something else. The list of maybes is always a long list.
But the look on this lady’s face … ? That was us back then. We looked like that, we acted like that – we were that. And Dad never did. Dad never was.
“Jesus said to his disciples, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Matthew 25:1-13
Yesterday the “24/7 being on duty” verses. Today “the foolish bridesmaids” verses. All this “kingdom stuff” and the Christian “work ethic”.
Our family grew smaller when our parents died. And then grew bigger again as nieces and nephews were born. The “cycle of life” and all that.
And this morning I wonder this …
How often do we good Christians look like the lady in this picture – how often do we take away others’ choices? How often do we show them freedom – which is not freedom at all? Because having “shown them the freedom of kingdom” – how often do we stick around when they never mention it again, when they never take advantage of it, when they never even want to try it? And how often do we remove all traces of that “freedom” (as we pack up and move on to another “prospect”)?
Our Dad never asked for a stairlift. He never used the stairlift. And he was still our Dad – he was always our Dad no matter what. “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.” is like that for me. Because anything else is not unconditional love. Anything else is “conditional love”.
And who in their right mind would give up a life of freedom and choice for “conditional love”? Because that is not the God Soft Hands Jesus I know. The One who treats me better than we treated our own Dad. The one who is my friend and father and who ALWAYS allows me to lead Him.
Try writing that down and it makes no sense. Try living in that relationship and it makes perfect sense. Try “telling others” why they should believe in God and all that religious stuff … And how often do we simply look just like the lady in this picture?
Our Dad wasn’t just a good Christian – our Dad was a proper Christian! And that was irrelevant. It always will be. Because we only saw “a label” in that moment of “his need”. We only saw the label we called “Dad”.
How often do we only see our labels with all this God stuff? How often do we look like the lady in the picture (as we tell the perfectly fit and able that they are a prisoner in their own home)?
The truth is that our Dad was always a human being – a unique human being – a person – his own person.
Just like my God Soft Hands Jesus always treats me (and you – and “them”).