True to self.

My family and I go camping over the Christmas break at a place in the far North called Whatuwhiwhi. It has become a traditional pilgrimage. We set up our temporary home of canvas and tarpaulin right on the each of the beach under a row of beautiful and ancient Pohutukawa trees that mark the border between land and shore. Part of our camping tradition is for everyone staying in the camp site to come together at around 5pm for happy hour where we talk, sing, eat and generally catch up with each other. 

This year we had a few extended family members and associates who joined us for the first time and they became bothered by the fact that one of the branches of a Pohutukawa tree had grown low and was blocking their view of the beach and the vista beyond. Discussions began about cutting the branch off to solve their issue at which point I pointed out that the tree had been there a lot longer than us, and it wasn’t actually our land, and therefore our place to take such action.

The following day, with perhaps a few drinks to bolster their resolve someone jumped up and cut the branch off. Now I would love to say that I rallied to the trees defense, tied myself to it’s branches and refused to allow such barbaric and small minded behavior but instead I watched as the action unfolded, mainly to keep the peace with my extended family and not ruin everyone’s evening. Needless to say I was appalled at what happened and angry, primarily at myself for letting it happen rather than the mindless actions that took place.

Chastened by this experience I began to consider if there was anything I believed in that I would be willing to die for. And as I returned home from holiday there seemed to be something deeper in play as I was arrested again and again by this question. I watched a seemly random movie on the life of Sir Thomas More. He was the right hand man of Henry VIII and served him faithfully. However, when the King broke from the Catholic Church in order to divorce his first wife and make himself the head of the Church of England in the place of the Pope, Thomas More refused to support the change and consequently lost his head (literally) for his convictions. My heart burned within me as I connected with the power of his story.

Then with the start of Lent we used the image of St John of Nepomuk, another martyr who was drown by another King for his conviction on the sacredness of confession. I think God was trying to get my attention. 

Not all convictions necessarily cost us our lives. There is a beautiful, ancient story in Genesis 13 which tells the story of Abram and Lot. Both followed their own convictions; Abram’s of love, peace, generosity and grace, while Lot’s in contrast were of greed, selfishness and ambition. In following his convictions to what initially seemed his disadvantage, Abram goes on to inherit much more than he already had or even imagined.

Conviction, is a word that can have a lot of connotations associated with it but for me I think convictions are more than just a belief in something, they are beliefs that hold us prisoner, that shape our actions and attitudes. Beliefs that haunt us.

In this season of Lent I am challenging myself to let go of those things that obstruct me in following those deeply held, Spirit breathed convictions, that wrestle deep inside me. I don’t do it with the hope that I may be rewarded in some way like Abram but that I may be more true to myself, that who I say I am, I am. What I say I want to be, I will be.

Rob Byrne