Some time ago I read a Facebook comment from a woman (Lucy Mills – author and editor, click her name to read all about her) who had been out walking and trying to take pictures of the beautiful birds and trees.
The big problem was a Jack Russell whom the writer described as her nemesis. It barked incessantly, put off the birds and generally ruined the day.
I imagined Lucy (or you could well imagine yourself in a similar situation) out walking, intent on taking pictures of the trees and birds. This would be time with God, letting God speak to you, show you things of beauty, calming things, inspiring things. Then along comes the Jack Russell (insert annoying barking dog of your choice) which starts barking incessantly and completely destroys the mood.
Call me a contrarian but I’ve always had a tendency to veer off track and chart my own path through a thought or image. I like alternative viewpoints, pondering them if not always agreeing. So I started thinking about this scenario, trying for a different angle.
I put my contrarian hat on and imagined the Jack Russell as God, putting himself right in front of us or chasing us and yelling at us loudly. At first we try to ignore it, it’ll surely go away if we ignore it? It’ll surely see we aren’t interested and go off elsewhere to annoy someone else, surely? But it just goes on and on. It finally gets our attention because our irritation levels have reached critical mass. It finally gets our attention even if all we’re intent on doing is trying to stare it out or shout at it to get lost, having spoiled the moment for us.
It made me think that sometimes God wants our attention and by looking at all the lovely and frankly less annoying things we normally like to watch and which make our journey worthwhile, we’re actually missing something else God wants us to see, to hear. There is something God feels is more important than the nice, tranquil view we had our heart set on. Maybe that annoying, irritating, spoiling presence is actually God trying to get our attention?
I imagined God as the Jack Russell saying, “I’ll stop barking when you start listening.”
God speaks through the beauty of the birds and trees. I have learned many lessons from these myself during early morning walks with our dog. God also speaks through the annoying and journey ruining Jack Russell. God can speak through the things that ruin the moment for us.
Lucy wrote that she met her nemesis, the Jack Russell.
It made me think.
Sometimes my nemesis is God.
Sometimes my nemesis is God and what he wants, an annoying person he sends our way, the path he wants us to walk, the barriers he wants us to confront. Sometimes I know God is trying to get my attention but it involves a person or subject or situation I don’t like and would rather not face. So I ignore it, or try to, and do other things. Sometimes God persists, keeps barking at us, other times he withdraws for a time before returning later, trying again. Sometimes I wonder what signals I’m blocking out, what wavelengths I’m refusing to tune my radio to because I know what message that station carries and I’d rather listen to other, more pleasant stations. Maybe the station God wants us to listen to is actually a wonderful one, containing music that will cause us to wonder at this amazing new sound, but we’re so intent on something else that we’re ignoring that wavelength, the wavelength God is pointing to.
Like most people I prefer the pleasing encounters which help me feel calm and inspired and I look forward to them. Yet I’m experienced enough in my walk with Jesus to know that my character can be tested and transformed far more through difficult encounters with difficult people and situations than the encounters I prefer and would naturally gravitate to. Those encounters take effort and wear us down, needing alot of energy, mentally and emotionally, to navigate.
Of course, there are times when it is actually wise to walk the other way, when it is actually bad for our health, physical and spiritual, to continue. Some situations are too toxic and we need to withdraw and avoid for the good of our health. We can be taken over by a false spirit of martyrdom, a misplaced sense of duty, continuing to deal with something which is poisonous and contaminating our lives when the wiser option is to withdraw. We need discernment. Sometimes it is wiser to walk away, to avoid a confrontation, to commit the situation to God in prayer and continue another route. Maybe we aren’t yet ready to deal with a situation and we can address it at a later date when God has used his providential workings to teach us more, make us stronger and more discerning. Maybe we simply aren’t equipped to deal with something or someone and need to hand the situation over to someone more qualified in a particular area.
Alternatively, sometimes facing our nemesis is the way forward, the awaited breakthrough in our spiritual lives, our walk with God.
I saw a film awhile back called The Finest Hours based on a true story about the US Coastguard’s most daring small boat rescue mission. A tanker ship has been torn in half in rough sees but in order to reach them the lifeboat crew has to negotiate something called ‘the bar’ in atrocious conditions. It’s a stretch of water with huge waves and rolling seas and even the most experienced sailors won’t tackle it, it’s too treacherous in weather this bad. The bar is the crew’s nemesis, spoken of only in tones which convey not just danger but virtually inevitable fatality. Yet if the crew of the tanker is to be reached the bar has to be crossed. So a young and relatively inexperienced crew go out in what looks like a far too small lifeboat (on approaching it one of the crew quips, “Please tell me we’re taking that boat to a bigger one!”) although they must know that this may be a one way trip and they are placing themselves in perilous danger. Under their captain’s skill they overcome ferocious seas and rescue most of the tanker crew. You really need to watch the film to experience the full cinematic effect but it does convey the force of the lifeboat crew’s nemesis. To have any chance of reaching the crew they had to face their nemesis. Their bravery paid off, they overcame terrible odds and achieved an unlikely rescue by facing their nemesis. The tanker crew’s lives depended on it. Of course, I’d be remiss not to add the disclaimer that although there were lives at stake, if the decision had been taken not to launch the lifeboat because the conditions were too treacherous to risk the lifeboat men’s own lives, no blame could be attached. Some situations have no winning outcome.
Our nemesis may be many things. The annoying neighbour we avoid, the elderly person, maybe a family member, who demands so much attention, the work colleague whose name we dread to see on the rota with ours, the Facebook or Twitter follower who is always there with the sarcastic, antagonistic comments and sometimes you’re afraid to leave your own thoughts.
It may not even be a person. It could be a health check up that you keep putting off but it keeps popping up in conversation but you’re afraid of what it might reveal yet facing your nemesis may lead to surgery that saves and if not, then coming to terms with a terminal illness will help focus thoughts on what truly matters.
It could be a thorny theological topic that keeps rearing its head but you’d rather avoid it. Maybe the time has come to tackle it but you fear that the view you’ve held all your life will crumble or you’ll have too many doubts. Maybe you’re afraid of the conclusions you’ll feel yourself edging towards and the turmoil this might cause. Maybe you’ve had doubts about an established position for years and it’s time to face them. Maybe you’re afraid that being vocal about a position you’ve thus far remained silent on will lead to being ostracised, rejected and criticised. Maybe a fresh look at a topic will reinforce your previous view, or culminate in taking the opposite view, or you’ll find yourself in a tricky middle area. Maybe you’re afraid of losing your faith but it could just as easily be strengthened and reveal new areas to look into. If something is true then it originates in God yet truth, when first encountered, can often be deeply unsettling. When aligned better with the mind of Jesus within us it is also deeply liberating and part of our growth in him.
On his website, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig gives this honest advice to someone struggling with doubts, “You’ll probably have to work through your doubts in a slow and agonizing process. But be assured that many great men and women of God have traveled that same path before you and have not lost faith.”
God comes to us in many forms and not all of them are attractive or seemingly welcoming. Many can seem troubling and, initially at least, can lead to emotional discomfort. Yet such discomfort can often be the forerunner to tackling an issue and coming out the other side stronger and firmer in our faith, better equipped to service God.
If our nemesis is a person we may need to prayerfully seek God’s wisdom on how to deal with them. Sometimes the fact is we have done all we currently can and we should prayerfully commit that person to God and go on our own way.
Now for the really scary thought.
Maybe we are someone else’s nemesis.
Maybe we don’t know it or maybe we do know it.
Maybe we’re causing unnecessary discomfort in someone else’s life, causing them stress and strain and we need to stop.
Maybe we keep badgering someone to come to faith in Jesus or accept a position we hold that they disagree with and we’ve crossed a boundary from loving respectful dialogue to confrontation and forcefulness. Our persistence while often well meant is misguided and is becoming a stumbling block for them rather than a stepping stone.
Maybe we enjoy being someone’s nemesis.
Maybe we need to ask forgiveness and change our own ways.
Maybe we are God’s nemesis.
Sometimes he talks to us and sometimes he withdraws in order to return again at a later stage.
He loves us enough to annoy us to get our attention.
He loves us enough to leave us when we’re overloaded, too angry to listen, too confused to think clearly.
He’s like a parent who knows when to stop talking but stay present and available, ready for the right moment, ready for when we’re ready to listen. He knows it’s going to be an uncomfortable conversation with far reaching consequences but he also knows it’s necessary for our lives and spiritual health. He only acts for our good. He only acts out of love.
What or who is your nemesis?
Take it to God and seek discernment.
Thanks for reading.