Those who live in the UK will be familiar with this slogan advocating the benefits of travelling by rail, and normally it is true. I love train journeys, and often use the east Coast mainline to travel from Doncaster down to London, and then on the Kings Cross.
On a recent journey I was all ready to leave home for the station when I realised I could not find my rail tickets. I knew I had them in my possession earlier in the week, so began to serach my bag for them, but to no avail. Puzzled by this unusual display of disorganisation, I asked Evelyn to help me look. She also went through my bag, but couldn’t find them; I checked my desk, my drawers, and other possible locations, but also to no avail. With time running out we decided we had better head for the station and explain what had happened, hoping they could issue a second set.
You can imagine that by now ‘panic’ is the best word to describe my response, that and ‘anger’ – not at anyone else but as myself for my incompetency. You see I am always so well organised (I need to be given the amount of travel I do), and I did not like this display of inefficiency one bit. My blood continued to boil as we headed for the station, me at the wheel to make sure we got there as quickly as possible as I had a specific train to catch and time was running out.
Once at the station I explained my dilemma at the ticket office, using my most plaintive manner, but without effect. I was told I needed to buy a new set of tickets (costing £70 on top of the original £50), with no refund for the lost tickets. With no alternative I bought the new tickets and after a short wait boarded the train to London, still in somewhat of a stew. After a minute or two to catch my breath I opened my bag just to check …. And almost straightaway found the lost tickets, hidden behind a brochure in one of my files. I had clearly put them somewhere ‘safe’, but that place proved to be too safe. Now I was angry with myself not just for my inefficiency, but also for such a waste of money. Two cardinal sins as far as my conscience is concerned.
Two hours later I was in London’s Kings Cross station sipping a latte and mulling over this incident. Several things came to my mind.
(1) We create our own stress, not because we make mistakes, but because we respond badly to certain situations. We get them out of proportion, as if it were the end of the world. So I lost my tickets – it’s not the end of the world. It wasn’t as if I had a plane to catch this time, buying a replacement was straightforward, and I arrived on time anyway, so why so much fuss? Easy of curse in hindsight. Most of us have a default position that says PANIC when things go wrong, but not many situations actually deserve a panic response.
(2) It took the two hours of the journey for me to slow down, catch my breath and relax again. I was really annoyed with myself and my response, especially for bringing Evelyn into the orbit of my stress. Stress begets stress, doesn’t it, and for some reason we love to draw others into the realm of our distress. There is a perverse comfort in doing that, and it’s not something to be proud of.
(3) The hardest thing was to forgive myself for my incompetency and waste of money. My internal critic is quick off the mark when I make a mistake like this, usually accusing me with words like ‘You stupid boy!’ (copied from Dad’s Army?). Eventually I came to terms with my fallibility, put it under the cover of God’s magnificent grace, and allowed myself to stop the self- reproach . But it wasn’t easy.
(4) Such moments have much to teach us about ourselves, and our need to be perfect, or in control, or competent or whatever…. I guess they also serve to ‘prick our bubble’ in case we think we have reached some stage of spiritual perfection where we are beyond the reach of such immature emotional responses. They help us, and others, to see that we are still quite human and fallible, despite how God may use us, or how others may view us, or how we may present ourselves publicly. For those who are teachers, leaders, or in the public eye, it is the kindness of God that he occasionally humbles us less we become too big for our boots.