Privet Lives

(with acknowledgements to Jerome K Jerome)

Have you ever been in one of those real-life mazes, with tall hedges? You know there is a middle, and that’s what you’re trying to find, but no matter which way you turn, you keep discovering a dead-end (which, you suspect is the same dead-end every time).

After about an hour, you come across some people who look like they know what they are doing. ‘Three turns to the left and then one to the right. Follow that pattern and this maze is easy!’ they say to each other in a self-congratulatory tone. But when you sneakily follow them, a few paces behind, you discover some tough truths. The method they are using doesn’t work (mostly because after the third left turn they are facing a dead end, with no right turn or left turn). When they realise their method doesn’t work, they improvise randomly, and end up in the same dead end that you’ve been finding every 30 seconds for the last ten minutes. Ho hum.

In your despair, a child of three comes up to you and offers to take you to the middle for 20p. You pay up gladly, but the child disappears through a tiny hole in the hedge behind you. The hole is too small for you to follow, and suddenly you are both lost and diddled. You rush about, fired with a new motive (to find the little child and demand your money back) and accidentally stumble upon the middle of the maze with a surprised look on your face. You quickly recover your composure, and allow a smile to play over your lips, as if you planned all this and have simply strolled round this ‘ridiculously easy’ maze with confidence.

Having reached the middle, you sit down for a rest. You don’t know how you got there, and you know there’s very little chance of ever finding the way out. You begin to resign yourself to spending the rest of your life in this maze (or at least having to wait until closing time, when you hope a friendly park keeper will escort you to the exit). Then three of your friends arrive, with ice creams, having ‘done’ the maze four times already, grown tired of waiting for you to join them, and gone off to get refreshments, and then come back to see where you are.

You are so pleased to see them, and you follow them blindly as they confidently lead you towards the║ middle again. ‘Funny that,’ says one of your friends. Not that funny. ‘I was sure I knew how║’ After five more futile attempts to find the exit, which always end up back in the middle, you realize that your friends are using the three left, one right method. You suggest that on the way out, shouldn’t that be three right, one left? ‘Of course!’ they say, and you set off with renewed hope and return three more times to the middle.

Feeling hopeless and foolish, you pay the small child once again (his price for finding the exit is £1 per person per trip, because he’s a smart kid), and emerge from the maze 45 seconds later. The small child has pocketfuls of coins, you notice, and consider briefly either a) mugging him or b) following him, learning the route and setting up in competition. But you are foot weary, and slightly claustrophobic from high hedges. You are enjoying allowing your eyes to focus on the middle and far distance much too much to return to the narrow corridors of the privet trap from which you thought escape was impossible.

In the parables Jesus told, the lost sheep was lost like you in the maze - hopelessly unable to find its way back to the fold. And the lost son was lost like you in the maze, as well - despairing of ever returning to his home, on account of bad decisions and foolish choices.

But Jesus’ parables encourage us that even when we are lost, despairing, feeling cheated and yet responsible for the state in which we find ourselves, he came into the world to rescue us by his a-maze-ing mercy (1 Timothy 1:15).

© 2002 Children's Ministry