I sat on the bench staring at the squirrel as he edged closer towards me. Cautiously, he sniffed the air and shuffled, shrinking the gap between us. I strummed my guitar, hoping it wouldn’t scare the curious creature away. Instead, he was joined by another, then another, then another until I had a strangely captivated audience waiting to be entertained, I began singing, and wondered how this odd scene must look to early morning Walkers.
As I began to sing songs usually led in front of congregations across my local area, I wondered why my usual confidence was somewhat lacking. It struck me that, without the safety of four church walls and the comfort that comes from a community of friends, my voice had begun to wobble and had been reduced to a mere whimper; a shadow. The words that I believed so strongly when in my own bedroom with nothing but a guitar and a wall to sing into came out as a feeble melody, so quiet that not even a set of skittish squirrels would run away.
The private and the public seem to be totally different expressions of worship, and scarier still, the private appears to include the church. Of course, I could easily dismiss my nervousness as some sort of Britishness, where displays of emotion are kept behind closed doors. It could be that my own sense of political correctness means I didn’t want to insult anyone wandering through the park by forcing my own religious lyrics onto their easily offended ears. I could even suggest that, as it was early in the morning, I didn’t want to wake the multitude of students and families that might still have been sleeping.
But in truth, I was quiet because I had less confidence in my faith than I had expected, and that surprised me. There have been plenty of reasons over the past few years why my faith might be weaker – just watching the news is enough to shake anyone, let alone any personal issues – but there have also been moments where I have known more than anything else that God is with me. Looking back on that moment, I now feel shame.
I want to be someone that lives their faith, not just by what I say on a Sunday or in private, but by the way I act every day.
And then something happened to reassure me.
I was at work – I’d only been there a few months – and someone asked whether I was a Christian. I’d not made my faith known, and not mentioned what I did in my spare time. Another colleague laughed at some of my Christmas presents (two bottles of wine), as they thought I didn’t drink. Again, I’d not shared whether I did or did not drink alcohol with anyone. And finally, an observant (and rather tactful) child asked whether I was busy on Sunday mornings in an attempt to discover whether I was a Christian or not. When I asked my own questions, it became clear that my actions, my ethics and my priorities were what had led people to the conclusion that I had faith.
So the fact that I can’t worship in front of squirrels is irrelevant. It turns out that worshipping God by the way I live my life is far more important.
And that increases my faith, increases my hope, stops me feeling a failure and makes me even more excited to reach my destination because it is not ritual that makes a difference, but every choice, every decision, every moment. And each one is a new opportunity to worship God.