"It's like POPCORN!"
This was my opening sentence last time I met with my spiritual director.
I'm fortunate - he's a kind and patient man with a great sense of humour, and he tends to enjoy my analogies.
Invited to say more, I explained about popcorn.
I love popcorn. But every now and then, one of the pieces of husk hasn't fully popped away, and it ends up in my teeth. Usually in the most awkward, annoying, unreachable place near the back. And so it stays there, and for a time I become transfixed by it. The tongue plays with it, I'm sure I make all sorts of weird faces as I try to dislodge it by any means. There are even times when fingers or toothpicks or floss won't get that silly thing out.
It doesn't hurt, not really. Sure, it's uncomfortable, but not painful. It's just an unpleasant presence.
Yet, the longer it lingers, the less attention I pay it. Other things take precedence - a phone call, walking the dogs, a good book, whatever.
Until: that moment when it dislodges. The husk is gone! And there's this deep sigh of relief. Relief, because I never really forgot it was there. Relief, because I hadn't realised how accustomed I had become to that discomfort.
And so: freedom! No more popcorn husk.
Now, the liberation from the annoyance of the husk is wonderful, but (like the lodged husk itself) it can be easily forgotten or overlooked. I certainly don't hesitate from eating popcorn again because there once was a husk. And so I know (almost expect) that there may be a stuck husk again. But the joy of the popcorn outweighs the risk.
Like the husk, there will be things that annoy us in our lives. We will encounter aspects in our ministries that cause discomfort. Very seldom is it life-threatening or severe; but it can take away an awful lot of time and energy if we let it.
So as we prepare for the coming of a new year (liturgically at least!), I invite us all to consider how we will start that year... will we bring with us any stuck discomforts from this past year?
Will we fixate on the annoying things, which will prevent us from moving forward?
Will we work to remove those things in our lives which annoy us, and thus prevent the discomfort in the first place?
Will we do our best to work out those annoyances which are at present lodged, and celebrate when they are released?
However we wish to move forward, the responsibility becomes our own to prepare for that journey. Because loving and serving God and ministering to God's world is not something we should give up on - like popcorn, the benefits of more certainly outweigh the minor challenges that may arise.