I’ve enjoyed Christian fellowship in lots of different places and countries but in a jacuzzi this morning has to be the strangest and most unexpected place to date! Please, let me explain myself.
Last night I accompanied Annie for an overnight stay at the Ragdale Hall Spa in Leicestershire as part of a free treatment package delivered through a charity called the Willow Foundation. Annie’s excitement and enthusiasm began the very moment that she got the phone call confirming that the package was booked. I was certainly excited for Annie but having never been to a spa I was a little bit…well, nervous.
One area of our lives where Annie and I differ is how we like to unwind and relax. In this area, Annie leans on inactivity; whereas I thrive on hyperactivity! This difference can be illustrated from a few snapshots of our time at the spa today.
This afternoon, we entered one of the treatment rooms called ‘The Thought Zone.’ The sign on the glass door promised a room for us to clear our thoughts. We entered (wearing our swim suits) a dimly lit, musty, orange scented, mosaic-tiled octagonal room filled with other people wearing their swimsuits. Thought Zone or Twilight Zone? My first thoughts were that it looked like one of the mysterious brainwashing stations from the TV series, Lost. Serenaded by the music of Vivaldi we were encouraged to sit down and look up at the ceiling on to which was projected a series of almost trance-inducing lines, shapes and colours which moved and changed with the cadence of the music. I say ‘almost trance-inducing’ because I was sat thinking how much the lines resembled animated versions of 3d graphs in Microsoft Excel. Subsequently, this got me thinking about our home accounts and then my self-assessment tax return.
Then I started to think about how I would improve the experience. You see, there were eight walls in this room and I thought how great it would be to project outdoor scenes (mountains, woodlands, white water rapids) to give the impression that we were in some sort of octagonal vehicle spiralling out of control through nature. Add a few jets of air behind the seats and vibrate the room for added effect and you’ve got the picture of my idea of relaxing. My thoughts had turned a thermal spa into a theme park – run by accountants.
As we departed this room, Annie was off on a mission to the next experience. I however, was distracted by a bowl of crushed ice laced with orange slices, next to the water dispenser. Personally, I would have stationed Diet Coke fountains every 5 metres but a cup of orange flavoured ice water looked refreshing at this time. I added water to my cupful of citrus ice, sat down and sipped; then a fellow spa guest picked up one of the face towels just beside the bowl of ice, dipped it into the ice and washed her face; as was the custom of everyone else that passed by. I was wishing it was my custom or that the ground would have swallowed me up.
There was another odd custom widely practiced in this place. At all times, almost everyone in the hotel (apart from the staff) walked around in bedrobes and slippers. It felt like a futuristic hospital. Not wanting to stick out, we did the same. This also seemed to be the practice in the restaurant. The restaurant was probably my most favourite part but I couldn’t help but feel like I was poorly each time we ate as the only time I ever eat a meal in my PJ’s is when I’ve got a bad cold.
I might not be selling the experience to you (or sounding grateful) but I honestly did love every moment of it – in between the moments where I misinterpreted the customs and made a fool out of myself. Ultimately, my enjoyment was rooted in Annie’s and being with Annie. And for that reason it was a beautiful time.
Now about that jacuzzi fellowship…
It may be just a Ryan-thing, but I find it uncomfortable being stationery and in close proximity to strangers, while wearing only my swim-shorts. While Annie and I lay on the pool-side loungers, I began strategising. Keeping my eye on the jacuzzi I was calculating the optimum time for it to be empty. Once that time came, we seized the moment with military precision. Unfortunately we didn’t quite make it under the radar because we were subsequently joined by five ladies.
Annie, as bubbly as the waters, began talking with four of the ladies – who had come to the spa together – within as many seconds. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk…it’s just your classic ‘awkward-jacuzzi’ social encounter! Very shortly they were all on the subject of why we were there. And from there unfolded Annie sharing about her illness. As that time came to an end one of the four ladies said:
“We will pray for you both. We are all Christians.”
I have to say, I instantly became less uncomfortable with the whole thing and thankful to the Sovereign Lord who used my strategising for something better than complete privacy!
We stayed in that jacuzzi for about another 20 minutes just talking about the goodness of the Lord together. These four ladies (Val, Liz, Lily and Jenny) were all from the same church and were as overflowing with the love and goodness of the Lord as the waters in which we were communally plunged! One of the ladies even knew about the GLOW outreach ministry that our dear friend and brother Larry Kineman runs (Larry, if you are reading, I just want you to be encouraged – the work of the Lord through GLOW is reaching even beyond our city!). Another shared that it was through her cancer diagnosis, over 20 years ago, that Jesus became her Lord and Saviour. And so came to mind the words of Jesus:
“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:20
So, I learnt a few things from today.
1. God’s over-ruling of our plans is always a better thing!
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:25
2. Brothers and sisters, ask the Lord to help you seize moments in which you can tell someone that you will pray for them.
Those ladies displayed courage by saying that they would pray for us. At the time, they didn’t know we were Christians. They might have calculated the outcome and determined to pray for us privately, without the risk of potentially upsetting two suffering strangers; but they didn’t, and we were so glad that they didn’t because we wouldn’t have had the special fellowship of Christ in that place.
Recently someone asked me: “Does God answer the prayers of unbelievers?” Whatever your answer to that it’s probably a bit longer than a straight and simple “Yes” or “No”. But we know for sure that God delights to hear His children pray.
Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me! – Psalm 66:20
And His children are encouraged – even commanded – to pray for those who are not yet His children:
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, – Matthew 5:44
We can lift our unbelieving friends, family, neighbours and colleagues before the Lord. We can intercede for them and plead for them. We can place their needs before the throne of God. We can do this even for the complete stranger; the person sat beside us on the bus or in the jacuzzi! And if their response to our offer of prayer is aggressive, Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:44 gives us even more reason to pray for them!
3. True rest is only found in Jesus
Unlike me, you might find temporary physical rest in a spa but you will never find eternal rest for your soul there. You won’t find it on a remote sun-soaked island; you can ascend the snow-capped mountains and still you will be left wanting. Some have sought it in money, work, education, family life…only to find they are more troubled, more tired, more anxious, more worried, more restless.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
If you are not a believer, a Christian, a disciple of Jesus and you have not yet met one who has said to you, “I will pray for you.” then I would just like to close this entry this evening by assuring you, there is a prayer, a sincere plea, that God will listen to.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:13
Trusting and resting in Jesus,