By Rebecca Smyth
Serving on the New Horizon Media team for the first time this year, Rebecca Smyth reflects on arriving at the big blue tent for the first time this year.
I spent my childhood and teenage summers at my family’s caravan on the North Coast. July and August were book ended by end-of-school ice-creams and back-to-school stationary shopping in Coleraine. Age depending, July and August’s antics varied from body boarding to bar hopping, chasing dodgems in Barry’s to chasing boys in Kelly’s.
But over the years, one thing remained the same: for one week in August, Christians took over ‘the Port’. Feeling slightly territorial, my friends and I hated to see the extra-long Morellis queue snake down the promenade. We would see the mysterious tent erected in a random field in Coleraine, hordes of people flocking to it. Bizarre, we shrugged. What are they doing here?
Last night, I walked into that very same tent with a six-week-old boy strapped to my chest, leaving two other exhausted and feral boys back at the caravan with my angel-husband. It was a mammoth expedition just to make it here.
The room was humid and hopeful and smelt like straw–a standard tent aroma, I guess. I made my way through a swarm of bustling young people who were here to serve on a kid’s ministry team and spied a familiar face who had served at our church’s holiday Bible club only last week.
“Are you a summer-team junkie or something?” I laughed.
“It’s my last Summer before full time work,” was the reply.
Lord, give me an ounce of their passion, I prayed, collapsing into a chair beside some friends and feeling every measly ounce of my three-hour sleep from the night before. My head throbbed behind my eyes, and I recalled putting on my glasses that morning only to realise my vision was still slightly fuzzy from exhaustion. Just then, the little head resting on my heart began to stir and I steeled myself for another marathon nursing session. What am I doing here?
Arianna taught from 2 Kings 5, where Naaman the army commander was told by the prophet Elisha to wash in the river Jordan seven times to be healed of leprosy. Not quite the care plan he expected, Naaman raged about the ridiculous instructions. Where was his instant miracle? How could such a dirty river make him clean? Couldn’t God just skip to the good bit, like, now?
After some encouragement from his servants, of all people, Nathan set aside his pride. He set aside his armour, his reputation, his prestige. And he admitted his need. Naked, needy, and vulnerable, he dipped in the river seven times until he was healed.
Nathan’s dipping took persistent obedience. He needed to obey over and over and over until the healing was complete, until he had reached seven–the number of perfection. Until then, no one knew what God was doing.
Every act of obedience is a dip in the river. Every time my newborn needs my broken body in the 3am darkness; every time my toddler needs held during a tantrum; every time my nine year old needs me to open my ears and close my mouth; every time I join my church family on a Sunday morning and sit under God’s word with fuzzy eyesight; every prayer said through gritted teeth and a hurting heart; every morning I choose to rise and fight the shadow of depression that has followed me since I have followed the call to be a mother.
It is safe to set aside my pride and come to Jesus naked, needy, and vulnerable. Because in all of this, He is finishing the work he has promised to bring to completion. Perhaps not in this life, but when we see him face to face, we will know Jesus wore a crown of thorns so we can wear a crown of life.
To end the meeting, New Irish Arts led us in ‘Yet Not I but Through Christ in Me’ and as everyone stood around me with hands raised in worship, I stayed seated with my son with my eyes closed. And in a little glimpse of heaven, for a split second I forgot where I was.
‘To this I hold, my Shepherd will defend me. Through the deepest valley He will lead Oh, the night has been won, and I shall overcome. Yet not I, but through Christ in me’
I get it now. I know why I am here. There is grace to be found in this mysterious tent erected in a random field in Coleraine. And it is grace that will lead us home.