In these darkened days of restricted travel, unable to visit our favourite coast or country park, unable even to meet family, friends and attend gatherings, we may be tempted to look back at times less constricted, to look back, perhaps, at favourite holidays.
I think back to one such holiday, many years ago, spent on the Spanish Costa del Sol. But, before you begin to wonder if this is to become a ‘travelogue’, perhaps we can take a moment to consider Scripture, to recall the events recorded in Matthew 18 and verses 2, 3 and 4. There we read of the disciples, evidently having a conversation about who would be the greatest in The Kingdom of Heaven, approaching Jesus to ask the question.
Jesus’ response was to “call a little child” and to tell the disciples that, to enter the Kingdom, they needed to humble themselves as that little child.
That has puzzled me a little over the years – yes, I knew the message, I understood the rationale, but somehow, I never really related to it. Something further for me to consider perhaps, but for the moment, let’s go back to that holiday in Spain.
We were taking our twin grandsons – close to 18 months old – and our party consisted of Nan and Gramps, the twins of course – and their Mum and Dad. We had been able to reserve two, virtually adjacent apartments in a private complex some 100 metres from the sea-front. There was a sun-filled garden, partially shaded by trees and flowering shrubs, and a small swimming pool, but neither ever appeared crowded – and, whilst there were no ‘mad dogs’ in sight, there was a smattering of English, French and German tourists in the garden or on balconies, turning an indelicate shade of pink in the midday sun. We remained indoors whilst unpacking and settling in for the week ahead.
It was a pleasant holiday, memorable in many ways. On some days, I’d potter around the apartment, noting yet again that every tourist will bring a novel to read and then leave it on the shelf when departing. I collected some which had become really thumb-marked, to take to the local ‘swap-shop’ – but there is one book which never showed any sign of wear or tear – its pages remaining as white as they had for the 25 years the book had been in the apartment.
The highlight for Nan and Gramps came the last evening, when we generously suggested – without a thought of our own pleasure as you can imagine – that our son and daughter-in-law have an evening meal in one of the marina restaurants whilst we looked after the twins. Mum and Dad were delighted, Nan and Gramps even more so.
We decided to take the boys for an evening stroll along the promenade. It was a beautiful evening, the prom wide and relatively new, a low wall on one side overlooking the beach and sparkling sea – and a small kerb on the other side bordering a lush, grassy lawn running the entire length.
We had chosen a time when most of the tourists would be in their hotels or restaurants, having their evening meal, so the prom was not too busy. At first, the twins disagreed on direction of travel, Nan, Gramps and one lad, heading to the marina, the other heading in the opposite direction. Eventually, with much waltzing with him in my arms, we managed to disconnect his sense of direction and we all headed towards the marina.
The boys, independent as ever, wanted to walk on their own, they were steady on their feet but needed to balance themselves with ‘elbows out’ – and it was a case of ‘look out anyone in their way’. We scuttled along behind to make sure they were always (almost) within arm’s reach. That low wall appealed to one – a low wall is overly appealing when you can’t see over it – whilst the grass, much greener on the other side of the kerb, appealed to the other. Both were ‘no-go’ areas to us – the wall having a drop to the sand below whilst the lush grass was equally appealing to the cats which frequented the area late at night.
The prom began to get busier, walkers moving to one side to let the boys pass without incident – and then I spotted two Spanish ‘Grandees’ – 2 elderly ladies dressed from head to toe in black, heads protected from the evening sun by wide-brimmed hats, veils draped across their faces to protect their eyes. Of course, having the Spanish love for children – the Grandees stopped, bent slightly and spoke to the boys. They were stopped in their tracks – two strangers dressed in black, speaking some unknown language and looking at them through a veil was just too much. The boys turned simultaneously and, with a look of abject fear, ran to cling to our legs – one to Nan, the other to Gramps. We laughed, took them up in our arms and approached the Grandees. With our weak/limited Spanish, we told them “Yes, the boys are brothers” “Yes, they are twins” “No, we don’t dress them alike as each has his own identity” … well, words to that effect. That was followed by some polite chat and with a final “Buenas noches” – we went our separate ways.
The boys were lowered to the prom, and they gripped our hands firmly – for about a minute, maybe two – then broke free and resumed their ‘elbows out’ posture and charged ahead oblivious.
Returning to the apartment, Nan called the boys to get ready for a bath whilst I began putting bits and pieces to one side, ready for our early departure the next morning. Remember that pristine book I mentioned earlier? It was lying on the table. I picked it up to put back on the shelf – but paused for a moment to look at that verse in Matthew. And my thoughts were confirmed – our twin grandsons had shown me that, when faced by a fearful adversary, they knew they could turn instantly to Nan and Gramps, they knew they would then be safe.
Some may fear this current adversary, this Covid-19, they may fear its damage, its possible ultimate victory over those susceptible, but with our hand in God’s hand, we can face the adversary, we can get through it – we have a future beyond. And remember – Nan and Gramps hadn’t withdrawn their hands from the twins and let go, just as God won’t let go of our hands – it’s we who may take our hand from God’s hand as we live our lives, with perhaps, a little less caution than we realise.
So, humbled by the power of this virus, humbled by the thought that our strength, our ability and success in life is ultimately totally inadequate, we can turn to take God’s hand, confident that He is there for us as we continue to walk steadfastly along the path towards the Kingdom.