by Josie Smith.
I once spent seventeen years praying for guidance about the way ahead as I tried to follow The Way.
I had been a ‘cradle Methodist’, the latest generation of a family of lay leaders in the church – Sunday School Superintendents, Circuit Stewards, church organists – we even knew, at a suitably respectful distance, an ex-Vice President of Conference! At sixteen I had ‘felt my heart strangely warmed’ in true Methodist fashion and had realised that Jesus was alive FOR ME.
But then I realised that ‘Conversion’, even a Methodist one, was only the first step. I began to ask ‘What now? What is God’s will for my life?’
The following year my mother died of an inoperable brain cancer, after months of increasing pain which nothing could alleviate. We had been a family of six – my parents, a younger brother, a baby sister whose arrival had surprised everybody, and a grandmother whose sight had almost gone and who had come to live with us to be looked after – by my mother.
For the next seven years, then, the question ‘What now?’ was deferred. My stumbling first steps in my mother’s much larger shoes turned me from a sixth former into some semblance of a middle-aged matron very quickly, as I learned to cope with the needs of four other people while getting to grips with household management, appeasing my grandmother’s anger and everybody’s need for regular meals and clean clothes – bringing up the baby, and helping Dad with a big garden. There was always an urgent NOW, and it seemed a bit irrelevant to be looking for a career in God’s service.
One day, travelling to Sunday School on the bus with my Junior Teacher’s Handbook, I met a young man carrying a Senior Teacher’s Handbook. He turned out to be a son and grandson of the Manse, and he put up heroically with my rather unusual lifestyle for the next few years (we saw each other perhaps twice a week, and that would be a good week!) until our marriage, when he and I moved into a small house nearby so that I could look after both households.
Fast forward several months. My brother had by now left home, my grandmother had died, my sister was growing up, and my father had met someone who was to become his second wife. The following year, a month before our first child was due, he and she were married. To my great joy!
Another fast forward. The youngest of our three children was starting school, we were living in another part of the country because of my husband’s work, I was going to be free during the school day, and the question which had always been there resurfaced. What now?
As it happened there was a teacher training college in the nearby town, in the same direction as my children’s school run. There was a nationwide shortage of teachers at the time, and there was a drive to persuade suitably qualified mature students into the profession. Friends urged me to apply for a place, my husband added his encouragement, and I was accepted to start immediately.
Then it dawned on me, for the first time, that the prayers I had been praying for the previous seventeen years had actually had their answer in what I had been doing all the time. Having brought up four children I already had a head start.
From then on, I relaxed. God, I decided, had a sense of humour, and I never would catch up. So ever since then I have gone with the flow – nudged by other people who saw needs I could fill and jobs I could do. My prayers are no longer anxious – often I don’t even use words – and in old age I can look back on those early years as a tough but completely appropriate apprenticeship into a life of trying to take seriously the Methodist Covenant Service.