Last week, I was cycling to work along a rain-splattered cycle path. It is a route I take regularly, at least twice a week each way, and it is always changing. Some days the path is crossed by a herd of cattle who graze during the summer on the grass on each side. Sometimes a flock of geese chase each other around the meadows. Once I had to stop and wait while a pair of schoolgirls herded three ducks off the footbridge over the river, laughing hysterically as they did so.

On this particular day, none of those things were happening. The rain had driven most people away. As I wended my way along a man cycled up beside me and advised me not to sit in my highest gear. He had noticed me swerving around a lot, he said, and I would have better control in a lower gear.

He cycled away before I could respond, which is probably a good job because I was struggling to find the words to explain that I was swerving not due to lack of control, but to avoid the earthworms lying on the path.

Often people give polite, well-meaning advice without knowing the context in which they are speaking. Sometimes people give rude, less well-meaning advice. I believe that the best reaction to any form of advice, whether it be kindly meant or otherwise and whether I immediately agree or feel defensive, is to look for the truth in their message. There might be a whole bushel of it, or there might be only a tiny kernel, but it is always worth considering carefully.

I’m terrible at taking advice. My instinctive reaction whenever someone tells me to do something is to refuse, usually vocally, and do the opposite. As a result my life has been full of struggles and long scenic routes to get myself to the point I’d have reached via a shortcut had I taken the advice in the first place. I seem to have an instinct for finding the harder parth.

This is especially true when I feel as though the person is criticising me in some way, but I know in my heart that these times are the ones when it is most important to listen. It doesn’t matter who is giving the advice, or why – they might be total strangers, they might be trying to hurt me or make me anxious, but until I have considered the truth of the message in their words I shouldn’t disregard what they say.

God has led me in many different ways, and I have resisted determinedly at almost every step. I have finally begun to recognise the importance, and the benefits, of handing over the reigns. And maybe that means sometimes accepting advice when I don’t want to hear it, from people I don’t want to submit to.

Tonight’s second lesson at evensong was Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 15 to the end. It was, like many of Paul’s letters, controversial amongst the female members of the choir. We are a feminist bunch, intelligent and independent with a desire to succeed on our own merits. I brindled at the instruction that the husband is the head of the wife. I am not prepared to be subject in everything to anyone other than God.

But I need to look for the kernel of truth in his letter, and I know it is there because he was a servant of God. As in many of Paul’s readings I find myself internally yelling “socio-historical context!”, but it is important to look past the 2000-year old views on gender roles and see that kernel.

For me, the kernel lies in the sentence “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Be subject to one another. Learn to take advice, to seek guidance and to compromise and agree. Love each other and respect one another’s opinions and feelings, because we are called to respect everyone as a child of God. It isn’t about gender, although in Paul’s time the gender roles were so strong that it would have been inconceivable for anyone to suggest they should be overturned. But gender is so important in our society, even now. I am fiercely proud to be a woman, to be financially and intellectually independent and to be living alone without supervision or chaperoning. I am constantly grateful that I live in a country that allows me to be so. Perhaps the message for me tonight was not to allow my pride to overcome me and blind me to good advice, by whomsover given. My instinct is to reject anything that seems even slightly to diminish me as a woman, or particularly as a young woman. It needs to become instinctive to look for the kernel, or bushel, of truth. Because otherwise, I might well be missing just exactly the message God wants me to hear.

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