Wednesday’s No-Smoking Day appears to have had no effect on Patch. Owner Yvonne Stubbs says: “I don't begrudge anybody a fag, but this is ridiculous. At first I thought he'd mistaken the ashtray for a food bowl but once he'd got the dog-end out it was obvious that was what he wanted. I tried taking it off him but he was off like a shot round the back of the sofa so he could have his fag in peace. I'm sure he would be a chain smoker - or chain chewer - if I let him but I try to keep ashtrays away from him.” Patches don’t appear to work on Patch so lets hope dog-ends don’t bring about the end of the dog.
It’s not just dogs that get addicted and not just smoking that can be addictive. Craving can be brought on by a variety of different substances and sensations. The sense of being trapped by it produces a feeling of powerlessness. St Paul describes one aspect of the experience accurately when he says: What I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do. For him, the beginnings of a solution came with a sudden and dramatic awareness while he was on his way to Damascus that he was loved and was not alone.
Enormous discipline is demanded if such dependency on a habit is to be cracked. The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous suggest a framework within which such self-control may begin to operate. They too emphasise the importance of realising that there are others who are there to help in the struggle, as well as the value of belief in a higher power. If today there are types of behaviour that seem to have a grip on us, it is important not to battle on by ourselves. Seeking support from others and knowing that we are not alone can be the beginning of the end of the enslavement. Patch’s problem might be solved if Yvonne stopped smoking. Maybe they should support each other in giving up!
An Australian company is offering mobile phone users a way out if they begin to regret agreeing to a date. All they have to do is discreetly dial three numbers and then hang up without saying a word. "Virgin Mobile will call them back a minute later with a perfect excuse to get them out of there. We'll even talk them through what to say."
It’s not just on dates that an opportunity to escape might appeal. Any method of disentangling ourselves from situations which feel unsafe is worth knowing about. Sometimes though, taking the easy way out prevents us from facing our responsibilities.
It may be that we owe it to the person we want to avoid, to tell them the truth about our decision. Perhaps it may be that escape, though the most attractive option, is not the right one. There are times when perseverance, even if painful, is what we should be choosing.
As Jesus “set his face” to go towards Jerusalem where he knew he faced almost certain death, there must have been many times when he wished for a way out. But his conviction that this was the right thing for him to be doing kept him going even when his courage threatened to fail him and he pleaded in his prayers for another way.
Perhaps there’ll be situations facing us today where we’ll have a choice to withdraw or persevere. Let’s be sure if we do back out that we show respect to the others affected but let’s also determine to keep going when we believe it’s right to do so, even if stopping would be easier.
Knickers made out of nettles could be the next fashion thing.
Alex King, a textile design graduate at de Montfort University, Leicester, has used the plant to knit pants and a camisole top as part of her degree course.
She said the fabric is almost as soft as silk, is as strong as flax and certainly doesn’t sting.
People too are sometimes not as prickly as they seem. When handled correctly, their off-putting exterior can prove to hide a softer, more yielding centre. People are sometimes bristly because they’re frightened or hurting – it can be a defence mechanism. So patient, consistent, imperturbable loving is what’s required, the kind of loving St Paul talks about in his hymn
to love. ‘Love is not quick to take offence, keeps no score of wrongs, takes no pleasure in the sins of others but delights in the truth.’ The truth about many prickly people is that there’s much that’s delightful in them if only they could feel less vulnerable.
Perhaps today we could try offering such people the kind of love which will make them feel more secure and able to be themselves.
Something distressing and embarrassing happened to the Sri Lankan Public Security Minister last week. At a Peace ceremony in Colombo, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, along with other dignitaries, was handed a dove to let loose. When he tried to throw the dove in the air, instead of flying to freedom, the bird dropped like a brick. The minister was able to catch the dead bird in mid air and give the carcass to the military police so that they could establish the cause of death.
Politicians in areas of conflict must sometimes see signs that their efforts to make peace are succeeding, only to find that some atrocity or someone’s aggressive statement kills off such hope. In our own less public lives, we can experience disappointment when our hopes for some positive movement in an area where we’ve been struggling are dashed.
St Paul writes
of his experience of ‘affliction, hardship, calamity, beatings, imprisonment, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger’ and yet no failure deterred him from persevering in the task to which he felt called. Feeling disappointment can seriously damage our morale but determination and a sense that we’re doing what’s right can renew our energy.
Let’s today spare a thought for politicians and other peace-makers in the roller-coaster ride from hope to despair and back again. Perhaps we too can have the courage to keep going in the face of adversity when similar difficult challenges face us.
Twelve highly-toned athletes had been preparing for weeks to prove today that they are the finest woolly jumpers in Sussex. No temptation to use baa-biturates because there were random dope tests to prevent cheating. The bank holiday saw the return of the "sheeplechase" season.
Farmer David Kemp, the race organiser, has been training sheep to race since the Eighties. "The dope testing isn’t serious. They won’t need drugs. We bribe the sheep with food. We put food they specially like at the far end of the course and they go as quick as they can to get to it." No ewe-turns then.
The thought of food will keep the sheep going. In our lives, a variety of things encourage and inspire us through good times and in times of struggle. Other people’s reassurance, expectation of success, sheer determination, fear of letting others down are just some of the things which galvanise us into keeping going. Our inner resources, and for Christians, the energy of God’s Spirit, drive us on when we might otherwise give up.
Let’s today be grateful for any support we get from others in our work or as we face our personal problems. For God's Spirit, there to empower us. Let’s be glad too for inner strength where we have it and if we feel it’s running out, find wise people who will know whether to encourage us to continue or to stop.