Saturday, 4 June 2016
Both were born in the 1890s and had lived in that tiny hamlet all of their lives. Bob had worked as a coalminer and his hands had severe arthritis from the relentless and hard nature of his work. When I knew them, as a weekend and holiday visitor, both were in their 70s. Bob was mobilised for the First World War but never got further than 'Bormin'am'. Olive had never travelled as far as 'N'cassel', only 25 miles to the south.
Their marriage and lifelong commitment to each other defies many contemporary descriptors of relationships, but I was reminded of those things in reading Richard Foster's chapter on the discipline of service.
Neither had ever enjoyed alcoholic drinks. Olive loved lemonade ('pop') and Bob would walk into Amble and back to bring her a fresh bottle or two, and take the empties back. They would pick blackberries together and make a pie with the fruit. If one was ill, the other would sit with them until they got better. The service of small things. Theirs was a life of complete co-dependence, mutual service and care.
Their tiny home, ten yards from the beach over which the Northern winds blew, was a place of the most generous hospitality. All and whatever they had would be made available to guests. A bowl of pease pudding was a favourite. Conversation was boundless and Bob would fuel a fire with the sea coals he had collected from the beach. For one who had seen so little of the world, Olive had endless funny stories about people and their idiosyncrasies. Service was not limited to each other, but something extended to those who visited, even those from very different backgrounds.
To enter into the spirit of service, not just once a day but as a way of life, might be the most challenging call we receive. Bob and Olive's world was a simple one, but they kept it so. Their devotion was Godly, it was to each other and those put in their path.
As Christians, the 'narrow way' set out for us is one where service is not just a feature of our closest relationships, but of our approach to all those we encounter....believing that, by humbling ourselves to serve others, we bring our God in Jesus Christ the greater glory. We may sometimes feel overwhelmed by the scale of the task of service, but God sees that we are strengthened and not diminished by it.