It’s just that you’re dead for such a long time.

12 06 2010

Here follow some things you’re probably not supposed to say.

I am resentful.
I resent my kids. I resent my job.

Got your attention? Then perhaps I’d better clarify. There are moments — my weaker moments — when I feel resentful. Trouble is, as time goes by, I don’t feel like I’m on a trajectory to fewer weaker moments. As I get older, I feel I am subject to a sort of creeping curmudgeonliness. I’m not that old of course (I turn 39 this month). But as Indy said, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage. And with three kids and a challenging ministry, I’m clocking up plenty of miles, and wondering how long I can keep up this pace of life — especially as I’m essentially a lazy sod.

As the t-shirts say: It’s not that life’s too short, it’s just that you’re dead for such a long time.

I’ve always been kind of conscious of mortality. So, for instance, I’m not entirely comfortable in the company of people over 50. It’s not that there aren’t people over 50 that I like. There are. Some of my best friends are over 50. It’s just that there’s this question grumbling away in my mind and one day I’m afraid I’ll ask it out loud:

‘What does it feel like to have more of your life behind you than ahead of you?’

And I’m very conscious that the time is fast approaching when I too will cross that line. And as time’s wingèd chariot draws near, I have begun to feel a little unsettled and a little, well, resentful, as I said.

How can I possibly say I resent my kids? I have childless friends who would dearly love to have children. They know it’s not a bed of roses but honestly, they’d give their eye teeth to be ‘blessed’ in the way we are.

Maybe resent isn’t the right word. It’s not that I don’t love my children. I love them fiercely. I only have to think about what it might be like to lose one of them to know that. But there is just this niggling sense that our lives are so absorbed in theirs that we’ve lost ourselves a bit.

We waited a few years before starting a family. In that time we had a couple of memorable holidays. But I can’t help feeling that the world offers such a breadth and richness of different experiences and that we’ve missed our chance to really travel and experience the world.

Some of you reading this might be thinking that there’s always the time when our children have left home. Actually I’d dearly live to share some of those experiences with them.

But it’s not just that. It’s actually a concern for my children and the sort of life we’re modelling for them.

We’re putting ourselves to not a little trouble to try and ensure that our eldest has the opportunity to go to a secondary school that will give him the best chance to make the most of his ability. We will do the same for his brother and sister when it comes to it. But not just so that they can do the same for their children, if they eventually have families of their own. I want them to get something out of life for themselves. To have a life. To do stuff. To have interests. To experience the world. Raising children is one of the most rewarding things one can do in itself. But I think there might be a difference between living for others and living through them. My faith calls me to be committed to seek to live in a way that puts others’ needs before my own. But life is also for living — life is a gift to be enjoyed in all its fulness. As the old lyric goes: ‘I did not put you here to suffer/I did not put you here to whine/I put you here to love another/And to get out and have a good time now’ (Rainmakers: Let my people go).

Living a miserably selfless life now because there’s heaven to come seems to me to be a denial of that gift. Enjoying life doesn’t seem to me to be at odds with a life of faith. It’s just that lots of enjoyable things require resources!

Which brings me to my second resentment: my work.

Being a stipendiary priest in the Church of England isn’t a bad gig. It’s not a proper job for goodness sake and we’re a lot better off than most of the population of the world and a lot of people in this country, even. But it’s hard not to cast an envious eye over at friends whose earnings give them the freedom to go to the places they want and do what they want. It’s not about getting more stuff. I really don’t much care what car I have, for instance. All right I would quite like an iPad and an iPhone 4 and… and… Okay so maybe it’s a little bit about stuff.

This is all sounding so shallow. Well believe me, I do have hidden shallows. Sometimes they’re not even that well hidden.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I thought having the chance to be a priest would just mean I didn’t really care about what other people get to do by virtue of their earnings. But it turns out I do. And I guess I want to have a life, and I want my kids to have a life in their turn, that isn’t just about the kids. The loss of other opportunities because of the choices we’ve made is not insignificant.

I don’t expect any sympathy for my middle class, middle-aged angst. It’s all a bit pathetic. But maybe sharing this waffle might just make someone else feel less bad about themselves if they’ve got these feelings too. Does any of this ring any bells for you?