Barbers are wonderful people. Part psychologist, part priest, part agony aunt or uncle, they are never short of a bit of human insight. Or a good story. My barber told me a story on my last visit which I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
The story is about a man who wanted to make sure that his sideburns were even. (Anyone that has ever had this facial decoration will understand the man’s concern). So concerned was he, that he made his girlfriend lap a tape measure around his head to ensure they were equal. Still not satisfied, he then applied a spirit level to ensure they were level. But to no avail. Eventually he consulted my barber. The barber’s analysis was not what he expected. He told him that it wasn’t his sideburns that were uneven, but his ears!
There are some things in life that no matter how hard we try to fix, they will never measure up. There are some things that are the way they are and we simply have to trust God and move on.
Anna, who met the infant Jesus when He was presented in the temple, was faced with that challenge.
The best translations and the most contemporary scholarship tell us that Anna had been a widow for eighty-four years (Luke 2.37). Prior to that, she had been married for seven years.
She was probably about twenty-one when her husband died. We don’t know how he died. We do know that Anna’s life changed forever. Married for seven years. A widow for eighty-four years.
How easy it would have been for Anna to have concluded that her life did not measure up the way it should, and sunk into seclusion and self-pity.
Not Anna. By God’s grace, the tragedy that she experienced did not rob her of a future that was faithful and fruitful. She drew a line under her past, when many might have been tempted to draw a line under their future.
How can we make sure that we don’t allow unexpected and unwanted life experiences to rob us of a future that is faithful and fruitful?
Firstly, expect to find God in the change that has come about in your life.
Anna experienced a shift from a home centred life to a temple centred life (Luke 2.37). Things changed. And God was in that change. Expect to find God in changed circumstances. If we have an expectation of finding God in change, it gives us confidence to embrace the change that is inevitable.
Secondly, expose the idol of a fantasy life.
Anna could have spent the next eighty-four years after she was widowed looking for a rerun of her seven years of marriage. If she did harbour that desire, she never allowed it to become strong enough to detract from the new thing God was doing in her life.
It is so easy when we have lost something good, or haven’t attained what we had hoped for to get into “should be” thinking. “I should be a millionaire by now”. “I should be married”. “I should have a more loving husband / wife”. “My children should be more spiritual”. “I should have a bigger church”. “I should be happier”. I should, I should, I should. And we miss what God is doing because at a subconscious level we don’t really believe we could meet Him in what we perceive to be our deficient lives. In truth, “should be”, inasmuch as it displaces God and His purpose from our lives, is an idol masquerading as a dream.
Finally, get ready for some Holy Spirit inspired excitement.
Anna found herself in the temple at just the right time. She gave thanks to God. Then she went and told all her friends (v.38)! At one hundred and five years of age, she was at the temple. She was right in the thick of what God was doing. And then she was off to tell everyone – perhaps all the seventy-somethings in the youth group. Who’d have thought!
That’s what it’s like when you throw yourself into God’s purpose for your life. It’s far better than you could ever design it for yourself.
It’s what happens when you draw a line under your past. It happens when you refuse to draw a line under your future. It happens when you dare to believe that you can meet God in your less than perfect world.