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Coping. And not.

Are you a ‘let go and let God’ kind of person? Or a ‘God helps those who help themselves’?

I’ve always been a determined little thing. My mother used to tell the story of a holiday we had when I was four. My older sister was already at boarding school in this town; we rented a cottage at the top of what was called ‘Missionary Hill’, on account of the many missionaries who took their summer holidays there.

Carless, we would go for walks or picnics, or to the local market for food, and trail up the long hill back to where we were staying. According to Mum, I would toil stolidly up the road by her side, muttering under my breath, ‘Clare manage, Clare manage’.

I thought wryly of this recently when I was climbing Mount Bogong for the fourth time in my life. I did it twice in my twenties at a blistering pace. Last time I did it was 18 years ago, with our three oldest children. As we drove home, I said to my husband, ‘Well that was fabulous, but I am never doing it again’. Into my sixtieth year now, the opportunity came up for one last connection with Bogong, and I couldn’t resist.

Crikey but it’s a brutal climb though! The aptly named Staircase is eight kilometres of relentlessly steep ascent. By the time we were almost to the summit, I was having to stop every couple of hundred metres, leaning on my walking poles, drawing deep breaths, trying not to throw up. And all the way I chanted to myself, channelling that gutsy four-year-old: ‘Clare manage, Clare manage’.

It’s not a bad mantra for life. It’s good to be a coper. Life’s a long haul, if you’re lucky; a marathon, not a sprint. Mostly it’s not glamorous or triumphant, and the deepest joys and satisfactions are often the smallest, simplest, quietest, most intimate things. But you keep plugging away, knowing that it doesn’t matter if you’re not flashy, as long as you have a go and give it your best shot.

In the last decade, however, as I age and face new challenges, I am learning something else as well. Sometimes, Clare can’t manage, and when that happens, it’s quite okay to curl up and howl, to sleep, to rail at God, to call on my besties in floods of tears, to say out loud, ‘Clare can’t manage, she needs some help here!’

My family, my friends, my church and my community carry me in these times, and when I am feeling stronger I do the same for them. It’s great to be a coper. But life is long, and we are not called to cope by ourselves all the time.

There are two images from the animal kingdom that illustrate the two approaches to our relationship with God. A kitten hangs passively from its mother’s mouth as she carries it around, contributing nothing. Baby monkeys, however, cling for dear life to their mothers. I’d like to think that with God, and with my people, I can sometimes be a baby monkey, sometimes a kitten.

This was published in the June edition of The Melbourne Anglican

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Reader Comments (3)

Thank you Clare

June 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRuth W

I love the lyric simplicity of this - I connect with it in so many ways, from the walking poles to Bogong and the animals. Clare write, Clare illuminate, thanks Clare

June 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

Thoughtful reflection Clare- thank you. It also reminded me of one of the times when I took my two daughters down to the park for a picnic tea. I had the food basket in one hand and my younger daughter's hand in the other. My older daughter ran up to take my right hand and saw it was busy with the basket, so she went to the other side of me and saw her sibling had my left hand. So she cheerfully held her own left hand within her right and walked off down to the park together with herself.
I also enjoyed your inclusion of the ability to accept support from others when you need it and embracing the flexibility to allow both ways of being in your life.

June 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSally Polmear

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