Since Abi died, prayer has become part of my day. I didn’t often pray before, except in church or the occasional Lord’s Prayer. Now, my prayers are more like mini conversations with God. Sometimes, I read a psalm or sing … Continue reading
When trying to rebuild a life that’s been broken – it can feel like you’re grappling in the darkness, utterly alone, tired, afraid. Even the simplest routines go out of sync, the pace of life seems five steps faster than what we can manage. … Continue reading
In my weary, 8-month pregnant, sleep-deprived state, the weekend doesn’t appeal. As the chores mount up (and are harder to get through as bending and lifting becomes an effort), the children fight over what (irritating) TV show to watch all the while creating even more mess and work, the husband idling after a stressful week and still recovering from illness, three work deadlines to meet by Monday, worrying about finances and things I need to do but physically can’t… etc… I ask God to be my focus and I immediately get the amazing Psalm 127.
In the midst of life’s distractions, it’s easy to succumb to the pressure, the sense of simply being overwhelmed, worrying about the future (I would hide under the duvet, if it wasn’t so uncomfortable to lie down with my aching pelvis!).
God has shown me that, without Him, there’s no point. That He’s made me to deal with this, and more!
God has always provided for us. He’s guided the growth of my business. He’s given my husband a stable job. I need to put the effort in and use the brain He gave me, but He always provides the opportunities for me to provide for my family.
But I also need to allow myself to switch off and rest. To not worry about the provision, to trust that it will come. To be mindful of what – and who – I have now, today.
Each of our children are blessings – the ones who never made it to birth, the ones who didn’t stay, and especially the ones who test us more than others. It’s not their fault they create physical and emotional work. It’s not my fault I’m too tired to deal with it all at times. They are not there to be worshipped and pampered, but to be moulded and shaped with love and healthy discipline, given space to find their feet within a loving home.
Having another (fifth) baby is scary at times too, as I consider how I’ll cope, or not, with all the other pressures in my life.
Yet this is God’s miracle and I must cherish it. I know we are truly privileged and I must try to ignore the practical stuff to see this, to see that I won’t always feel this tired, this weary.
I must find a way to see the many blessings through the few trials. And God is the answer.
I’ve been reading God on Mute for Lent, which ended at the weekend. There is much in the book that has both challenged me and opened my mind to understanding unanswered prayer in ways I’d never considered before. The book looks at various reasons why God might not appear to answer our prayers – in the time we want, the way we want or why we want them.
What is clear is that, even when he is silent, God hears our every prayer. Every song, praise, outpouring and simple ‘Jesus’ or ‘God bless’, He hears it all, but answering all those prayers the way we expect is quite a different matter.
I wanted to reflect on Chapters 10 and 11 from the book, Exploring and Engaging the Silence, which explores why, at times, God might choose to be silent. I don’t mean listening to prayer and answering it later or in a different way, but actually withdrawing from intervening in our lives.
When Jesus became an atheist
This part of the book reflects on the theme of Easter Saturday, a holy day that is vastly overlooked and understated. Easter Saturday is the time when Jesus was dead. When God was silent for him and for the world. He went down into death like any other person. God was gone.
Jesus, effectively, became an atheist. The resurrection was to follow, he knew that, but he also knew he had to go through the pain of Saturday. The Saturday expressed the despair and utter hopelessness of death without God, without heaven, without love. Nothing. It was a period of agonising waiting. In many ways, we are all now living this Saturday, while we wait for the joy, peace and grace of tomorrow’s paradise. It’s a concept I often reflect on in my grief.
Jesus cried out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ as he was dying. Words also written in the Psalms (Psalm 22:1. 16-18). Not only did he feel the physical and emotional pain of all sin, but even worse, the total absence of God, his father. Jesus’ words expressed the feelings we all feel at times – of doubt and a collapse of faith. Yet, at his hour of most need, his father had to step back.
I just read this moving article by Joey Feek’s husband about how in the months leading up to her death she painfully but determinedly distanced herself from her young daughter in order for her daughter to create a stronger bond with her husband, which would benefit both her daughter and her husband in their grief after her death. You can only imagine the strength it took for her to do that when every fibre of her being would want to hold her child every minute until she couldn’t anymore. God felt this too, as he left his son to die, yet He knew it had to be this way. We, even 2000 years on, still find it hard – with our human minds – to fully comprehend this seeming deliberate withdrawal of love.
Growing into spiritual maturity
What challenged me was what the author, Peter Greig, describes as moving on from the ‘infatuation’ with God to a mature relationship with Him.
I’ve realised that it doesn’t take much these days to break me. I always mourn my daughter harder when life feels tough…illness, sleep deprivation, anxieties, parenting challenges all set to chip away at my weary soul.
Women, mothers, hold up so much. We carry so much burden to alleviate the physical and emotional burden on others. We keep things ticking. Our minds work at a thousand paces. Yet we are human too.
I pray for patience then sin with words. I pray for peace then sin with angry thoughts. I feel I should be more. Be calmer, milder, more accepting but that only seems to create the opposite as I fail to live up to my own expectations. I’m not happy with my behaviour. I beat myself up. I’m irritable. And perhaps worst of all, I feel desperately alone. Pressures God knows I don’t need.
Today, I prayed a psalm of thanks which fell open in my Bible. I then prayed for God’s help, again. My prayers feel selfish but I poured it out to God in the brief moment I had without a child’s demands. I opened my Lent book, God on Mute, by Peter Greig, and read this quote… Yet again I realise that, in prayer, I don’t need to search too far or for too long to find comfort and guidance just to…
…breathe deeply in faith.
While there are many commonalities to being a Christian, a relationship with God is a deeply personal thing. Those who believe have ways of talking to or hearing God. Some people come to the faith through deliberate reasoning and learning, others simply grow into the faith, and then there are those who have the encounters with God that most of us pray for. But one thing I noticed, and have wrestled with, is how the relationship with God can change after a bereavement or period of suffering.
Until fairly recently, I was happy to pray to God, to ask Him for help with a problem, to pray for my family, to pray for healing, but when those prayers were not answered I felt confused and alone. Isn’t it true that when something goes well we believe that was God answering our prayers (and, perhaps, we take just a smidge of the glory by thinking it was thanks to us praying in the the first place!), yet when something goes badly we are stumped as to what happened, and don’t know what to say.
Reading about Jesus’s last days on earth, I understood how he knew he had to take the burden of our sin onto himself, he had to take the suffering of our bodies and minds, and worst of all, he had to be abandoned by God, his Father. He had to know what it was like to live without God, just as the people were doing. When our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be, it can feel this way for us.
‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’
Yet, at the hour of his suffering and abandonment, Jesus put himself entirely into God’s hands.
Feeling is believing
After my daughter died, I knew in an instant that I wasn’t alone in my grief. That Jesus was there – right there – grieving with me. It was a comfort but it also left me feeling more confused than ever. I was totally separated from God at that point in my life. I hadn’t lived a very Christian life. If anything, I felt nothing but anger at my decision that it was ‘all untrue’. I felt spiritually alone. So I was shocked to feel this overwhelming sense of spiritual love.
With the popularity of social media it seems we know more about people than ever before. We know their good times though holiday snaps, happy families, beautiful homes, good jobs… then it goes wrong, for someone, somewhere. Someone we know or a friend of a friend. An accident, burglary, cancer diagnosis, sudden death… we perhaps, somewhat voyeuristically, crowd round them in a cyber world in shock and disbelief. While many will offer practical and emotional support, others will fan the flames of anger and injustice. Life is shit. It’s so unfair!
But, Jesus told us to expect all this. In fact, He promises ‘you will have trouble’ (John 16:33), which isn’t a phrase you’ll want to think of over the nicer messages!
Like me, one day your life could look very different… trouble comes knocking.
Your body doesn’t work the way it should anymore.
You develop anxiety over something unexpected.
Your job or income is threatened.
Your relationship breaks down.
You’re involved in an accident.
You are harmed in some way.
Someone in your family is taken ill.
Someone you know dies.
Something, anything, could have a profound affect on the rest of your life and how you are able to live it. And it’s often at times like this we turn away from God, confused about why our prayers aren’t being answered or why we have to endure this new situation and suffering.
Life is hard
In our society, we expect a large degree of perfection. Way back when, magazines touched up images of models to make them look perfect. This was one level of perfectionism that most people could ignore. However, the popularity and accessibility of social media amongst all ages and sexes has skewed how life is viewed. Life is edited to sound more interesting. Pictures are filtered to look better. The life we present online can show an unrealistic snapshot of what it truly is.
As a Christian, learning about Jesus, we are never told that our lives will be easy. I can see, now that I have explored further, that the message of ‘God Saves’ is not ‘God will solve all our problems’. When Jesus healed and raised people from death He was not just rescuing them from those afflictions, but was demonstrating who He really was and the power He had. (As we know, we often want evidence in order to to believe.) Jesus told us quite clearly that we will always have illness, poverty, evil and suffering, and that God will love and support us through it all and – ultimately – wipe every tear from every eye.
It seems a morose way to view life and contradicts what we are to believe in the love of God. But our suffering and God’s love go hand in hand, in equal measure.
When my daughter died, I didn’t understand why (I still don’t) but I did feel very strongly that Jesus was with me (and I had been so separated from my faith up to that point that I couldn’t even pray to God to save her). I felt a presence. I felt such love and grief alongside mine. I may not have understood what was happening to us, but I felt understood.
‘To be understood, as to understand.’
To be loved as to love with all my soul.’
Make me a Channel of your Peace, Prayer of St Francis
So Jesus’s message was we should not be surprised by the trials of life but know that we are blessed when things are going well. The good times shine out and become even better.
Often, during the week, a prayer, hymn, or Bible passage will be repeating in my mind. I feel this is no small coincidence as it often reflects or resolves something I’m brooding over.
When writing my blog posts the other day, the lyrics from this prayer/hymn (from my school days!), ‘to be understood as to understand’, came to mind and seemed to convey perfectly my need to write to understand how I’m feeling yet also to give the opportunity for my grief to be understood by others.
[This blog was taken from notes I’d written whilst sat with Abi at the cemetery around 10th June 2013.]
Four months on, is that right? Have I grieved? Have I even started…?
What is the point of all that crying if at the end I still feel such deep and painful sorrow? Crying usually releases a tension, helps me feel better. But these tears are different; they flow easily enough but the emotion changes from despair and hurt, to sadness and depression. I suppose, if I didn’t feel able to cry, rant, write or talk then I’d be in a very bad place by now. So, to grieve must be to let my emotions surface as I mourn my darling child, but it feels like that is all it is. There seems to be no benefit, no end to it. Yet, even still, I can see that recently I have been able to laugh sometimes, though not as sincerely as before; I can converse, can think, can function apparently normally.
I was never a big candle user before we lost Abi. Having young children meant we needed to keep hazards to a minimum, they were a luxury in that regard! So, they were used for special events only and the odd occasion when I took one of those ‘mummy time’ baths purely to relax and unwind.