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Saturday, 9 June 2018

Self Worth? The Three Zeroes...

When retired, there are things I could do midweek which I had no time for throughout my years as an earner. Such as sitting at table at the Santa Fe Coffee bar located within a bookstore at the newly-developed Town Centre shopping precinct, with a newspaper spread out in front. This week was of no exception. One afternoon, I took a fleeting glance at a fellow customer sitting two tables away, facing me. Then I dug into reading the newspaper when a young and rather pretty waitress from Eastern Europe (going by her accent) arrived at my table to deliver my order. She was smiling with politeness, which is part of her duty etiquette. When all the items were set in place, she quickly left.

Then she went over to the other table to deliver the other customer's order. A conversation struck up between the two and remained ongoing for what could be for up to ten minutes. I couldn't help feel a pang of jealousy as the conversation progressed, with the waitress apparently swooning at the fellow's charms. I had to look up. The man, about half my age, sported some facial hair and was wearing a business shirt unbuttoned at the neck and without a tie. I could see straightaway that he has a university degree. His facial features radiated high intelligence and a scholarly expression - a far cry from my own working class background as a retired Window Cleaner. On his table, beside the coffee mug was a small laptop - most likely that one gadget which fired up the waitress's admiration, as if a confirmation of the fellow's intelligent facial expression.

Within my feeling of jealousy, I was thankful for my present status as a well-established married man. By continuing to read the paper following the end of the conversation, I was able to allow my pangs of jealousy gradually melt away. But supposing I was still single? True enough, I have male friends close to my age who remain unmarried to this day. Some of then did attend uni, others did not. But I knew perfectly well that such awareness wouldn't have added a crumb of comfort to a far more intense feeling of jealousy at that coffee bar. Indeed, the waitress was pretty, wearing a top with a low neckline that would stimulate the desire of any red-blooded male. I have often wondered whether such women serving the public deliberately dress provocatively to attract male attention. 

Santa Fe Coffee Bar, Bracknell, UK - where I call regularly.

As with me, I married later in life, in my late forties. Before then, especially in my thirties and forties, the opposite gender never gave me a second look. Any potential relationship which could have started up, especially when I was in my twenties, quickly fizzled out, thanks to my speech impediment and accent, which had nothing to do with having a foreign background. Rather, it was the result of something I was totally unaware of until I was already married and a father of two daughters - Asperger's Syndrome (AS).

AS is something so subtle and so unlike any physical disease or illness. It affects far more boys than girls, and sufferers often have above-average intelligence. I have a good, long-standing friend with AS, whose IQ matches any member of Mensa, and also fluent in at least two languages. Although quite good-looking in facial features, as far as I'm aware, throughout his sixty years of life he remains single to this day, never having an ongoing relationship with a female. 

Going by what I have seen, I don't think he had ever suffered personal rejection either. Although just a guess, I wouldn't put it behind me that my friend's extraordinary high intelligence, his office career and middle class English background each played a role in personal absolution from teasing or verbal assault. Unlike me, as already shared in a previous blog,* the verbal and vitriolic bullying whilst serving as a volunteer in Israel during 1994 was the nadir of rejection, ridicule and assault - an experience my highly intelligent friend would not have suffered had he been where I was at that time. However, my time in Israel was by no means a unique experience. I was teased by two other young women, especially during my mid to late twenties, and in my previous church. Indeed, exactly like in Israel, this verbal assault came from those who professed to be Christians, and one was influenced by the other.

Whether those two were Christians remains debatable. One eventually married, but not long afterwards, they divorced. The other left our church after such a short time and was never seen again. But even to this day, a couple of young married women from our church seem to feel uncomfortable in my presence, as if my tone of voice, caused by AS, is something of an embarrassment to them. Fortunately, I'm far more acceptable by other men, and particularly by the students. And talking about the students - as one who scroll through Facebook on a frequent basis, they often appear photographed in suits and ties, even bow ties for the men and evening dress for the women. Not only as if having an obsession with middle class status, but from a very different planet to the one I grew up on.

If only they realise how fortunate they are! Out of school into college - sorry, university - and then into some high-flying office career with a respectable income. Quite unlike me back in 1968. The year I left school on a Friday and started work in a family-owned furniture factory soon after. And my first task? Yes, picking up the broom handle. And not allowed to forget that I was at the bottom rung of the ladder, the small fry, the lowest of the pecking order, and I was treated as such as I pushed the broom across the floor. Such lowness none of the students at our church will ever be unfortunate enough to experience or even suffer.

No posing outside college in suits and ties for me as a teenager, no evening ballroom entertainment or posh dinners with close friends. And with a self-worth which is close to zero, if not already there. The temptation for suicide came and went but fortunately with conversion towards the end of 1972, such temptations faded and I began to see everything in a new light. This included making good use of my single status instead of moaning about it. Rather, I turned it to my favour. With the experience of being a lowly dogsbody already under my belt and the mental toughness which grew out of it, I was able to fulfil my adolescent dreams with world travel, especially as a lone backpacker.

How our church students appear on Facebook - Stock photo.

However, self-worth seems to be in short supply whenever failure at school occur here in the UK. Television interviews relates well with young teenagers who fear for their future unless they pass their exams and get the grades. What amazes me is that unless they graduate and get their grades, there is absolutely no hope for their future. I can't help thinking: I left school with zilch, but half a century later I'm still here, and with a story or two to tell. According to statistics, in 2016 there were nearly 6,000 suicides committed here in the UK, 75% of these deaths were men, peaking at the age range of 40-44 years of age.** Could a lack of personal worthiness be the bottom cause of these statistics? When considering the numbers being roughly similar year in, year out, such events as a divorce notice posted by wives after their kids fly the nest, or loss of a job, or financial difficulties with debt piling sky-high, addiction to drugs, any of these could link to failure in life and a resulting loss of any self-worth.

Therefore it came as a surprise to me that what I had to share at our church's recent "open" meeting seemed to have uncovered hidden feelings among those listening. An open meeting is a Sunday service without the normal sermon, but instead anyone in the congregation can come to the front and share what God has given. The whole congregation always praising God with such positiveness each week and looking contented, I managed to stand at the front and lifted the lid on what was really going on on a day-to-day basis, away from the church building and away from all other Christians.

I shared on the struggle involved with caring for a physically disabled loved one. Sudden intense pains leading to the need to call the ambulance for a trip to hospital, where she is treated with Morphine and other strong painkillers before discharge and a taxi ride home, often in the small hours. These "downers" - as I call them, are imminent  - each one can occur suddenly at any moment. After watching my wife go down with severe pain whilst on a day trip to London on Easter Monday and ending up at a London hospital, I felt that our planned trip to France later this year on the Eurostar had to be cancelled, as we take the National Health service, which is free to all UK citizens at the point of use, for granted. In France, we may be landed with a bill of several thousand pounds for the same treatment. Also "living on a knife-edge" would spoil the enjoyment of any holiday.

Therefore I shared my failing faith, believing that God has let us down, and prayer was a waste of time and effort. After all, God had more important things to tend to. Why should he deviate from what he is doing just to fulfil our wishes? How worthless we really are! Why on earth should God be concerned about us? I then shared what Abraham, King David and the prophet Isaiah had each said about their own self-worth in comparison to God's glory.

These were three of the greatest men of God recorded in Scripture. Here they were, alive between four thousand and 2,700 years ago, and we not only know their names, their genealogy, and their jobs, but we also know what they said and what they got up to, along with their experiences in their lifetimes. Over thousands of years. Contrast this to deceased celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, David Bowie or Priscilla Black. I doubt that much will be known about them in fifty years from now, let alone what they actually said. And us commoners? Taking myself as an example, nobody would know of me less than half a century after my demise.

Abraham was considered a friend of God. But one day he found himself interceding for Sodom, because God was about to destroy that city along with its sister Gomorrah. As Abraham was pleading, he also felt that he was putting the Almighty's patience to the test, so he confessed that he is nothing more than dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27).

King David, who was still a Prince at the time, was being pursued by King Saul with his desire to take the young man's life. At one point David felt exasperated, asking a question: Who am I but a flea or a dead dog? (1 Samuel 24:14, 1 Samuel 26:20). I understand that the flea is the smallest living creature which can be seen with the naked eye - just. Furthermore, a dead dog left lying on the ground, and unless consumed by vultures and other scavengers, will eventually stink and become the food for maggots and other disgusting things. So much of his own self-worth before God!

The prophet Isaiah I consider another example. There he is standing at the Temple of God in Jerusalem, and the Almighty reveals himself to him, his glory filling the temple. Isaiah then cries out:
Woe is me. For I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips and dwell among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Isaiah 6:5).

Along with the Apostle Paul, who wrote: For I know that in my flesh dwells no good thing...(Romans 7:18) - which corresponds well with the testimony of the other three witnesses. And before his conversion to Jesus Christ, Paul was an outstanding and dedicated Jewish scholar who also looked down upon all non-Jews and "sinners", yet his former religion is now considered as excrement compared to the glory of Christ living in him (Philippians 3:8).

This was the general trend I shared with Ascot Life Church during the open meeting. It must have had an impact. Before I returned to my seat, two men came up to me and started praying for me and my wife, and also praised God for my courage in revealing honesty, the truth of my spiritual heart condition. After the end of the service, one or two others came up to me and admitted that they often feel that way before God - that God has let them down or is too far away.

I am but dust and ashes. I am but a flea. And I have unclean lips. Without the Atonement made by Jesus Christ, these would be exactly a good description of myself as I stand before God. It is a dreadful truth but reality nevertheless. It's exactly the same as standing under the shadow of the Cross.

David Bowie (d. 2016) Would we still remember him after 50 years?

Under the shadow of the Cross, it no longer matters whether I voted for Brexit or to remain in the EU. Social class becomes irrelevant, as my occupation in relation to social status. All of these has lost all value or relevance. As with wealth. What use is it once we step off this planet? Or our high level of education. Would that add a single cubit to the afterlife? Like dry ash scattered by the breeze, a shrivelled leaf blown away by the wind, a dead dog's stinking corpse gradually eaten by maggots - what use is it campaigning for the sovereign of our country and the glory of England's future - if that what we really are before God?

Sometimes I question the wisdom of mankind - especially of my own countrymen. We sing for England's glory after Brexit, we also proclaim the salvation of our God through faith in Jesus Christ. But it seems, these are all cover ups of our own inadequacies, our lack of self-worth, regardless of what our education level or profession may be. Indeed, Sunday by Sunday, we may indeed hold our hands up in the air (but in reality we don't even do that - it's not British!) - but afterwards, when we are all alone at home or at work, we may ponder whether God is really with us, or are we after some ecstatic spiritual experience to boost ourselves up?

*For a more detailed account of this experience in Israel, click here.
** Office of National Statistics.


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