The mysteries of life beyond our reach

Waiting for the right numbers to come up! (0803BM50)
Waiting for the right numbers to come up! (0803BM50)

During the week as I met up with one of my friends I couldn’t help notice how the grey hairs were catching up with his darker shades. I can’t comment too much myself as I try to get used to the salt and pepper look which has assaulted what’s left of my own hair.

This is in a week when my youngest brother turned 29 and if this wasn’t worrying enough I had to listen to a monologue of my friend’s bad luck. Generally he would consider himself a lucky person. The local adage seems appropriate - ‘he’s so lucky if he fell into the Foyle he would come out with a salmon in his mouth,’ and not because he’s fond of food. He’s 37 and lives at home with his father.

I was bearing this in mind when he told me his latest list of woes. It seems he was let down on Monday night at bingo. Usually I give him a bye ball because he goes to bingo to accompany his aunt.

However on this occasion he left the comfort zone of Creggan Community Centre and went in chase of the £2,000 jackpot in Galliagh. He’s not even forty but he has resorted to stalking bingo halls in search of a life partner. His bad luck does not end there because he was sweating on one number for the house which would have won him the jackpot and unfortunately number nine never was called. Although in hindsight it might have been a stroke of good luck that he left penniless. If his number had been called out and he won, because he was an outsider or blow-in he might have been handbagged to death or at least seriously injured. If this wasn’t bad enough during the same week he managed to pick three numbers out of four in the Derry City lotto, so once more he missed out on over £2,000. The hard luck story still hasn’t reached its conclusion yet, as we all know everything happens in threes.

The causal, part-time barman was in the bookies during the week and he managed to pick the wrong horse which was joint favourite. Once more he hit the crossbar as his horse lumbered under the weight and the pressure of his bookie docket. For such a lucky person, not only has he been unlucky in love but he couldn’t have won a raffle this week even if he was the only person who bought tickets. Of course we were sitting down to lunch when he told me his hard luck story and in case I didn’t catch the hint that I would have to pay for lunch again he disappeared off to the bathroom when the bill arrived. Genuinely I felt sorry for him as he struggles to come to terms with his bingo addiction not to mention his living in denial of his grey hair. Although there will be more grey hair by next week because he will have to produce his wallet to pay for lunch regardless of whether he misses out on a line, double line or full house.

Visiting the hospital you soon discover sickness is no respecter of age, sex, social background or post code. The reasons why someone has become ill are varied and unpredictable even though lifestyle, genes and family history play a major part. Often as a chaplain you find yourself listening to people struggling as they try to find explanations or reasons why they are sick or having to cope with surgery. Maybe it was bad luck or the patient might try to debate why God has inflicted upon them such a burden.

If we believe in a caring, compassionate and loving God then why do we have so much sickness, suffering and tragedy? Why do particular people and families suffer so much while other people and families seem to journey through life relatively unhurt or unscathed. There are no easy or simple answers to these questions and the mysteries of life often remain vague and beyond our reach. However Jesus reminds those disciples who follow along the pilgrim path to expect hardship and struggles in their journey through life. How we cope and respond to the crosses we’re asked to carry shape our faith lives. We have no control over many of the events which characterise our lives. There are various occasions over which we have no control other than how we respond as people.

If we turn to God asking for strength, courage and patience then we will be granted the wisdom to live life one day at a time. Our faith doesn’t remove our troubles and heartaches, or reduce the chances of having to cope with sickness, loneliness, suffering and death. Instead our trust in God can transform the meaning of what we endure. Rather than life being a series of meaningless and unconnected random events we believe in a God who remains ever close in our daily struggles and who has shown us the way to true peace.