Rob Parsons

My friend wasn’t a psychologist or a theologian ? I’d probably have got off more lightly if he had been. He listened, sighed as if he heard all this 100 times before, and then made a very simple comment: ‘If you don’t change anything, everything will be just the same.’

I have discovered that my friend is right. In themselves, wishes, hopes and good intentions don’t change things. I mean, just consider the waistline issue. I remember my father, who had been a postman and walked miles every day of his life, asking me, ‘What do you do in that gym thing you’ve joined?’ ‘I walk, Dad,’ I replied. ‘Where do you walk?’ he said. I coughed and muttered, ‘I don’t walk anywhere, Dad ? it’s just on a treadmill.’ My father didn’t have a sarcastic bone in his body which made his next question even more annoying: ‘Why don’t you walk outside in the street?’

Before I could summon up an answer he enquired further: ‘What else do you do at the gym?’ I knew before I opened my mouth where this was going. ‘I ride a bike, Dad.’ My father was on a roll: ‘Where do you ride it?’ I was cross now and answered him rather brusquely: ‘I don’t ride anywhere, Dad ? it’s just on a machine.’ My father’s eyebrows raised: ‘How much do you pay to be a member of this gym thing?’ ‘Thirty pounds a month, Dad,’ I spluttered. His eyebrows went higher: ‘And how often do you go there?’ I sighed deeply and whispered, ‘When I started, I used to go three times a week. Now sometimes I go once a month.’ Dad smiled. ‘If I owned that gym thing, I’d have my office window facing the path to the front door, and when you started to walk along it I’d shout out, “Quick! Look! Here comes the mug who pays us 360 quid a year to walk nowhere and cycle nowhere.”’

You must forgive my father. He was unsophisticated. He didn’t understand gyms. He didn’t realise that you don’t actually have to go to the gym because body fat is scared of direct debits and that as soon as a monthly entry goes through your bank statement the pounds fall off straight away. He thought you actually had to walk a little, run a few miles or lift some weights to make a difference.

"Sometimes you just have to stick the seeds in the ground and see what happens"

It’s not just my waistline. Sometimes I think I’d like to read the Bible more, but I have discovered that buying a Bible the size of the Queen Mary with enough notes and maps to help you circumnavigate the planet, or even purchasing some new Bible app, doesn’t seem to do the trick. And it’s the same with prayer. If my prayer life was as deep as the pile of books I’ve read on how to pray I’d make the great prayer warriors of history look like spiritual sissies.

It’s even deeper than that, though ? and now I am getting into very dangerous water ? but I sometimes wonder whether the whole ‘I’m praying about it’ thing is actually a bit of a cop-out as well. If people tell me I’m getting grumpier as I get older (which they sometimes do) perhaps I should just stop being grumpy. After all, Jesus said, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another’ (John 13:34, my italics). Pray about it, of course; study the various meanings of the word love in the original Greek. But while you are doing that, stop being so nasty to each other ? just do it.

Of course, ‘doing it’ is often not that easy. Some of us have procrastination hard-wired into our very being. Just think of that project you’ve been intending to start for years but the time is never quite right. The Bible says, ‘Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap’ (Ecclesiastes 11:4). In other words, sometimes you just have to stick the seeds in the ground and see what happens.

An African proverb says, ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is… today. ’ Perhaps that’s just another way of saying, ‘If you don’t change anything, everything will be…

…just the same.’