Tag Archive | faith

Depression

 

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of disability in the world today. It affects 2-5 per 100 people in the population.Distressed_Woman_12034760_0

But 1 in 5 to 1 in 10 of us will suffer depression at some point in our lives.

Women are twice as likely to suffer as men. Possible reasons: higher rates of anxiety and susceptibility to stress? Biological and hormonal influence?

In Christian counselling, it is by far the most common issue.

Below you will find some of the symptoms of depression. It’s important to say that if you have a few of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you are depressed. You would need to be exhibiting several of these symptoms consistently for 2-4 weeks before you would think of depression. And then you should see your doctor so that a proper diagnosis can be made.

PHYSICAL

All or some of these areas can be affected:

Sleep

Appetite

Energy

Concentration

BEHAVIOURAL

You may notice some of these behavioural changes:

You stop doing things which previously brought you pleasure

Withdraw

Self-harm

Neglect yourself

EMOTIONAL

You may suffer from some of these consistently:

Low mood

Anxiety

Loss of enjoyment; apathy

Irritability/anger

Preoccupation with self

ALTERED THINKING

Re Self: lack of purpose; worthlessness

Re the world: negative

Re the past: ideas of guilt – you may fixate on something which others have long ago forgotten

Re the future: a sense of hopelessness

SPIRITUAL

Depression affects our fellowship with God, as it affects everything else.

You may identify with some of these:

Withdrawal from community of God’s people

Unresolved guilt e.g. Ps 32

Loss of sense of joy/peace

Difficulty praying/reading Bible

Lack of assurance

How can we understand depression from a spiritual perspective?

We are spiritual beings living in a fallen world

We live in a fallen world – ‘In the world you will have tribulation’.

Some people have a vulnerability, e.g. a child of a parent who suffered depression is 3 times as likely as general public to suffer from depression.

Previous history – person who has suffered one episode is more likely to have another episode.

Relationships – conflict and difficulty.

Life circumstances – 70% cases of depression are caused by life circumstances and      usually a loss. Not just the life event but our perception of it, especially if we feel we have some responsibility for it; and risk can last for several months after the event.

Earlier hardships that leave their mark, e.g. abuse.

Culture we live in – misleading voices.

We are embodied souls and our bodies are subject to the curse, frustration.

Bondage to decay (Romans 8) – weakness.

Chemical imbalance? Hard to know what causes what.

Is it sinful to feel like this?

a. No evidence in Psalm 42-43:

‘Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my salvation and my God.’ Ps 42:5

b. Jesus was ‘exceedingly sorrowful’, deeply distressed (strongest of the 3 Greek words for ‘depression’; he said ‘let this cup pass from me’ (Matthew 26:36ff).

c. Lam 3 ‘I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light….my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.”

These passages validate the feelings of the depressed person and give us hope.

The question is not ‘Is it sinful to feel like this?’ but rather Where and how do I seek help, comfort, refuge from all the hard stuff of depression? how can I respond in faith to these symptoms and this situation?’

Remember that progress is slow and not steady – there will be ups and downs. We need a cheerleader who will help us to see the global picture when we are discouraged by the setbacks.

We need to learn to live by faith, not by our feelings. Even when life seems dark and all is black, God is still there, although we do not feel his presence. Some of the most heroic people I know are people who live with depression and still hold on to their faith.

Advertisements

Hope for the New Year

On the brink of a new year, I can think of no more hope-instilling truth than this than one from Lamentations 3:

But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

Let’s decide now that in this new year we are going to call to mind the steadfast love of the Lord and look for His mercies which are new each morning. Sometimes they are obvious; sometimes we really need to look for them; but they are always there.

Look for them and your search will be rewarded: The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

Happy New Year!

From Worry to Worship – Session 3: the Antidote to Worry: Prayer and Worship    

If you would rather listen to than read the content of these sessions, you can find them on audio here.

What do we do when life doesn’t turn out the way we had imagined?confused unsure unclear

This was Hannah’s experience. Her identity? She was the wife who couldn’t bear children.

Here is how we are introduced to her: ‘But to Hannah he (Elkanah, her husband) gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb’ I Samuel 1:5. Hannah was probably Elkanah’s first wife and, because she couldn’t have children, he took a second wife because failure to produce an heir was a major problem in the ancient near East (cf Abraham and Sarah who couldn’t have children until the Lord gave them Isaac).

As if this wasn’t bad enough, Elkanah’s second wife, Peninnah, who is described as Hannah’s rival, ‘provoked her grievously to irritate her’. This is reminiscent of Hagar’s attitude to Sarah after Hagar became pregnant (‘And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.’ Gen.16:4).

Hannah had several things to deal with:

  • the great personal disappointment of not being able to have a child;
  • now she was also rejected by her culture because she had not produced an heir for her husband;
  • and to add insult to injury, she was provoked by her husband’s second wife.

Disappointed, rejected and provoked.

Hannah was disappointed

What do we do when life doesn’t turn out the way we had imagined? I remember when I lost my first baby, lying in hospital wondering if I ever would have another one. It had taken me a while to conceive and I so desperately wanted this baby. Now I was grieving the loss, and didn’t know if I would ever conceive again. But at the same time, I was almost overcome by a sense of God’s love for me and the certainty that, in the midst of the tremendous sense of loss and grief, God loved me and always would. Although I couldn’t understand what had happened, God had allowed it in love. Nothing had changed that. I was secure in His love, even though my circumstances had changed so painfully.

There is a God of awesome grace who meets his children in moments of darkness and difficulty. He is worth running to. He is worth waiting for. He brings rest when it seems like there is no rest to be found. Paul David Tripp

What was Hannah’s reaction? She ‘wept and would not eat’. It is normal for us to respond emotionally as well as physically – weeping and not eating. We cannot short circuit our reaction to great disappointment in our lives. That’s why it doesn’t work when someone just gives us a Bible verse. First we must work through the sense of loss, the grief, the disappointment. Eventually we need to get to the truth of God’s Word – but it’s a process.

Hannah was also rejected – not by her husband but by the culture

She had failed to produce an heir and she would have been seen as a failure. Elkanah still loved her, but his emotional support was inadequate because he didn’t understand the depths of her despair. 

Hannah desperately wanted to have a child and her disappointment that that had not happened was very profound. Some of you have probably been there and know what it’s like to wait expectantly every month, only to be disappointed again. We see every mother with a baby as we walk down the street, we notice every happy family in church, it seems that all around us there are reminders of our disappointment. and so it must have been for Hannah.

Every day she was reminded of her failure. Every day she sensed the rejection of those around her. Did she ever question God? Did she ever ask why? The sense of rejection is a very difficult one for us to deal with. We were made for relationships and we feel it keenly when we are rejected.

How many Psalms are cries of the heart, cries of pain and anger and confusion? That is why we identify with them so easily. God wants us to be honest like the Psalmists were. He knows the cries of our hearts anyway. What do we do when we are rejected? Again, we take time to process the pain, to allow ourselves to grieve the loss and to get to the point where we can begin to let the Lord heal us and to speak His Word into our lives. Always we are working towards being able to receive the truth of the Word of God and to allow the Redeemer to transform our hearts and our minds.

Hannah was provoked

Peninnah, who is described as Hannah’s rival, ‘provoked her grievously to irritate her’.

Can you imagine that, day after day? Not only was Hannah nursing her own disappointment and her feelings of rejection, but now she was provoked day after day by her rival. This added insult to injury. She was taunted, made fun of, teased.

I don’t know if you have ever been provoked in this way by anyone. Some of you will have had this experience, when there has been someone in your life who seems to have gone out of their way to provoke you, to irritate you, to make fun of you, to tease you or taunt you.  Others of you will at least have known people you find it hard to get along with – people who always seem to irritate you without even trying, people who just ‘rub you up the wrong way’. And all of this can happen in your family, in your neighbourhood and even in the church.

But often it is the very things that cause friction and tension among us which God uses to help us grow. That sister in Christ who is like a fly in the ointment; that brother in Christ who constantly and consistently irritates you – have you ever thought that God might have permitted them to be in your church to allow you both to grow in grace?

Just as God used the painful situation in which Hannah found herself with Penninah to cause her to run to the Lord for help, so He wants to use our difficult relationships to help us to grow in Him.

Hannah was disappointed, rejected and provoked. 

We have a Redeemer who has suffered all of these things – for us.

He was disappointed

He said to His disciples: ‘Oh ye of little faith!’; He asked the three closest to Him to stay with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane and when they had fallen asleep He asked ‘Could you not watch with me one hour?’

He was rejected

Isaiah tells us that ‘he was despised and rejected; He was a man or sorrows and acquainted with grief’.

He was provoked

The Roman soldiers stripped Him of His own clothes, put a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns on Him and taunted Him, saying ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Bystanders at the cross taunted him ‘He saved others! He cannot save Himself!’

He went through all of this – for us. 

Unable to share the depths of her sorrow with anyone around her, Hannah goes to the temple and pours our her heart to the Lord. ‘She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”’ (v.10-11).

She took her distress to the Lord and poured it out to Him. She knew that only the Lord could give her what she wanted so much. Eli gives her his blessing: ‘“Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” (v.17).

As Hannah leaves the temple, she is a changed woman: ‘Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.’ (v.18). Her appetite comes back and she is no longer sad. She has left her problem with the Lord and trusts that He is going to answer her prayer.

This is a very good example of Phil.4:6&7: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’

Hannah brings her prayer and supplication to God, she tells Him her request, and she receives the peace of God. Now she is able to join the rest of the family; she is able to eat again; and she is no longer sad.

The next morning, ‘They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord’. Hannah is able to join the others in worshipping the Lord – and this is before she is pregnant. She worships the Lord because she trusts Him and knows that she has left her problem with Him and He is in control.

It is easy to worship the Lord when He gives us what we ask of Him – but not so easy when we are still waiting for the answer to our prayers. That is when we need to trust God, to recognise that He is in control of all of our circumstances and to know that, whatever happens, however He chooses to answer our prayers, we can worship Him – a bit like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who said ‘our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’ (Dan.3:17-18). They were still going to worship God, no matter what – even if it meant they would be thrown into the fiery furnace.

God’s grace doesn’t always come in comfortable forms. But it’s still grace, and it’s still evidence that He loves us. Paul David Tripp

Hannah waits until baby Samuel is weaned and then she brings him back to the temple, where she leaves him with the old priest Eli, as she had promised she would do. In I Samuel 2 we have her prayer – a beautiful prayer of praise to God, much like the prayer of Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-56). Far from being a song exulting over her rival Peninnah, her prayer has been described as a ‘hymn to the God who reverses human fortunes by his mighty power, the Creator beyond all human understanding who protects the faithful’.

This is the kind of women we want to be. Hannah is a woman who:

  • is honest about her struggles;
  • doesn’t minimise her pain;
  • brings her problem to the Lord, believing in His sovereignty and trusting in His goodness
  • is able to thank God as she brings her petitions to Him, knowing that her requests are safe with Him and that He is good all the time.
  • personifies the truths of Philippians 4:6.

We will look at this verse in context – Phil 4:4-7.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Joy is a theme of this letter. Paul is calling the Philippian Christians to an attitude of joy, so that they replace anxiety with expectant, grateful prayer. How is this possible? Because our joy is ‘in the Lord’, as we have just seen with Hannah.

It is not possible to rejoice in the inability to have children or in miscarriages or in other kinds of losses or in illness or in any kind of human suffering. But it is always possible to rejoice in the Lord, which is why Paul can say ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ to his audience of believers who were enduring suffering at the hands of the Roman empire. This is key to this passage and to how we handle anxiety.

Let your reasonableness (or gentleness or gentle forbearance) be known to everyone. Reasonableness is crucial to community. It is that attitude that seeks what is best for everyone and not just for oneself. We can all think of people who are ‘reasonable’ in this sense – and what an example they are to the rest of us. It is something for us all to strive towards, for it makes such a difference in a Christian community.

But Paul means for it also to be something which is displayed by us towards others – it is to be known ‘to everyone’. Thus he is calling on the Philippians Christians to display this ‘gentle forbearance’ to one another but also to those who are opposing them and making them suffer cf the example of Jesus as described in I Peter 2:23 ‘When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.’

The Lord is at hand.  The meaning of this sentence is unclear. On one hand, it could refer to the fact that Jesus is coming back again. As such, it is a word of encouragement and affirmation. The Philippian Christians were suffering at the hands of those who proclaimed Caesar as Lord but Paul is reminding them that the true Lord is near. On the other hand, it could mean: ‘Because the Lord is always near, do not be anxious about anything, but let your requests be made known to God’. Perhaps Paul intended both meanings. In any case, both meanings are biblically true.

Then we come to Phil 4:6, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. It is one of the best well-known verses in the Bible. We quote it to each other and we remind ourselves of it often – yet I wonder does it have a ring of encouragement and exhortation to us or do at least some of us hear in it a ring of challenge and rebuke?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. This is an echo of the verses we have already looked at in Matthew 6 in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. We are not to be anxious but to entrust ourselves into the hands of our loving heavenly Father. We are to tell Him all of our needs – in our requests, prayer and supplication. ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything…’ Don’t be anxious about anything but pray about everything.

But another element is introduced here – thanksgiving. This returns to the exhortation in verse 4: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. We may not be able to thank the Lord for what we are going through – but we are always able to thank Him for who He is, in the midst of our suffering.

Paul’s own life was accentuated by thanksgiving and for him it was one of the marks of a normal Christian life. Thanksgiving  acknowledges that everything we have is a gift from God and is a verbal expression of our dependence on Him, as well as of His generosity and goodness.

I have found that, in a very practical way, an attitude of thanksgiving relieves anxiety. For it gets our focus off the thing which is making us anxious – which is normally something we can do nothing about anyway – and gets our focus on to the Lord, who is the one who is in control and who loves us as His own children. It also helps us get things in perspective – for there is always something we can be thankful for. 

Thanksgiving is a powerful antidote to worry. We cannot underestimate it. It will change our attitude instantly as we choose to turn from the circumstance which is causing us anxiety and concentrate instead on the things for which we can thank the Lord. In my experience, an attitude of thanksgiving also adds to the enjoyment of whatever it is we are being thankful for. When I pause for a moment – just in my thoughts – to thank God for something which I am enjoying, whether that is a meal with my husband or a coffee with a friend or a chat with a colleague – it adds to the enjoyment in that moment, as well as giving glory to God.

Pray about everything; worry about nothing; and be thankful. I recently used this verse in a counselling session with a woman who is recovering from depression. She came back 3 weeks later greatly improved. No doubt there were several factors but she said, ‘Well, you told me to pray about everything; worry about nothing; and be thankful – and that’s what I’m doing’. The very practical use of this Scripture had really helped her on a daily basis.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It is called ‘the peace of God’ because God is ‘the God of peace’ (v.9). He dwells in total shalom (wholeness, wellbeing) and He gives that shalom to His people. ‘The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding’ could mean it is ‘beyond all human comprehension’ but more likely it means that this peace ‘totally transcends the merely human, unbelieving mind’ which is full of anxiety because it cannot think higher than itself. His peace totally transcends our merely human way of looking at the world. Peace comes because prayer is an expression of trust and God’s people do not need to have it all figured out in order to trust Him!

As we thank God for His gifts to us, we will experience the peace of God – which surpasses all understanding – guarding our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Paul was writing to the Philippians from prison. Perhaps he was chained to a guard. And Philippi was a Roman colony with a military garrison. But it is not Roman soldiers who guard believers: it is the peace of God Almighty – the One who is in control and who is our heavenly Father to whom we can bring all of our requests in an attitude of thanksgiving. That peace will be God’s garrison around our hearts so that we do not fall into anxiety. It will also guard our thoughts – it will protect our minds from those very thoughts which lead to fear and distress and which keep us from trusting prayer.

This peace is not only an individual thing but also a collective thing for Paul. It is something which should characterise the community of God’s people, wherever they are found. Even for the Philippian church, who were going through opposition, Paul encourages them that together they can know the protection of God’s peace in the midst of that conflict. And as they have been urged to ‘have the same mindset’, the peace of God will protect their thoughts as they live out the gospel in Philippi.

In a post-modern, post-Christian world, this kind of spirituality can be the key to evangelism. There is so much to fear in our everyday lives and our non-Christian friends and neighbours don’t know the peace of God. They are perhaps not likely to come into our churches to hear the gospel. They maybe won’t ask us why we believe what we believe. But they may well wonder what it is that gives us peace in our daily lives when we are surrounded by the same anxiety-producing things which surround them. They get bad news from the doctor or they don’t know what to do with a rebellious child. They have a relative who dies or someone close to them loses their job. Every time they listen to the news there is more to make them afraid.

Our privilege is to live out the gospel of true shalom, wholeness, and to point our friends and neighbours to its source. It is only the God of peace who can give us this peace. What would it mean to become known as a community of Christians who know this kind of peace? How would it affect how you reach out to your friends and neighbours when they are in distress? 

What steps would your church have to take to become this kind of community? How can you reach out to those around you who are anxious? 

What about your neighbours or your work colleagues? When someone is having a hard time, where do they run to? Is your house or your office known to be one where they will find a listening ear, a cup of tea, a shoulder to cry on, someone to listen to their worries and ultimately to lead them to the One who has promised to take all our worries and give us His peace?

Heart surgery

My husband had just had heart surgery, there were tubes going into him and coming out of several parts of his body, machines were gently whirring, nurses constantly checking all of his vital functions. It was 9 May 1997.banniere-professionel-sante

Just 5 days before, we had gone to a clinic for him to be assessed, as he had been having a little bit of pain while walking up hills and, given that there had been a history of heart disease in the family, our doctor wanted to be cautious. But no one really thought he was going to need heart surgery. In fact, the day before the tests, we had asked the doctor what he expected to find: he said probably one artery that needed blown up a bit – he would do angioplasty.

On the day of the test (an angiogram), I accompanied him to the clinic and went for a coffee while he was taken from the ward. I was reading a book by Max Lucado at the time and I remember reading something like ‘You may be sitting in a hospital right now and the cold, icy fingers of fear are gripping you as you wait for news…’ How apt that was. I felt like God was saying he was there with us, in that hospital and, no matter what the news was, he would be with us.

I returned to the ward and, while I waited for Alan, was chatting to the other patient in the room. A nurse came in and started packing Alan’s clothes into his suitcase. Feeling slightly panicky, I asked her if I could help. But she didn’t need my help and continued packing until she came to my coat which had been hanging in Alan’s cupboard. When I told her it was my coat, she looked aghast at me and asked, ‘Are you his wife?’ She must have seen the look on my face, as in those few seconds I wondered if Alan had died, for she quickly said, ‘It’s OK. Your husband is OK. Come with me and I will take you to him’. Off we went and I found Alan hooked up to the machines, where the doctor had found, not one artery slightly blocked, but one artery completely blocked and two others very badly blocked. He should have had a heart attack. The doctor said he was very lucky. We all realised it was more than luck – God had protected him.

But time was of the essence so we were whisked off in an ambulance to the CHUV – a university hospital in chuvLausanne – where Alan was kept under constant care until he had his surgery 4 days later. How thankful we were that we were living in Switzerland at the time, where private health insurance was compulsory which meant that when something like this happened, there were no long waiting lists to add to the nightmare.

A triple bypass was what was needed and we were thankful for the skills of the surgeon, doctors, nurses and everyone else who cared for Alan at that time. Maybe he was not just so keen on the frequent injections into his stomach, or on the dinner of horse meat which he was served one day!

After a week in hospital, Alan (like all patients of heart surgery in Switzerland) was then able to go to a clinic for 4 weeks of rehabilitation. The exercises started with gentle armchair aerobics and by the time he was leaving, he and his fellow-patients were cycling through the surrounding woods. There were talks about all kinds of self-care following heart surgery and they even had the spouses in to talk about diet. The clinic – la clinique la Ligniere – was in a beautiful setting ligniereand I remember our daughters and I spending pleasant evenings sitting in the sunshine with Alan as he recuperated. The rehabilitation helped patients regain their confidence because, after all, they had  been cut open right down the middle of their chests and had left hospital feeling very vulnerable and fragile. Little by little their confidence was rebuilt as their bodies mended. Heart surgery – like any major surgery – is also a stark reminder of our mortality and it was not unknown for patients to be a little emotional as they recovered from the trauma. In the clinic, all kinds of staff members were available to help with every aspect of recovery and Alan left after a month, feeling stronger in every way.

During all of that time, we were very well supported as a family by the church we were working with at the time, Westlake church in Nyon. People made meals for us, visited Alan, looked after the girls when necessary, did our ironing for us and helped in all kinds of ways. It was a blessing to be part of a community of people who cared. During Alan’s surgery, the annual church retreat was going on, which meant that most of the church were together and so they prayed often for Alan and followed his progress closely. One church member had a flat near the hospital which she gave me the key of, so that I could come and go without having to go home after each visit.

We had so much to be thankful for at the time. God saw us through it all: the wondering and waiting for results; the bad news; the surgery; the recovery. Since then, Alan has taken his diet and exercise seriously, as anyone who knows him will know (mind you, his aversion to custard has nothing to do with his health!). The heart is a muscle which can be strengthened through exercise, just like any other muscle. Likewise, as AW Tozer said, ‘Faith, like a muscle, grows by stretching’. It is in the hard times that our faith is stretched. It is in the hard times that we also see God at work, assuring us of his presence and providing all that we need, often through communities of his people.faith is a muscle

Life is worth celebrating

I tried this year. I really did. I took my birth date off Facebook. I thought that would avoid all the fuss. Like I could just have a quiet birthday. Of course I would want my family and close friends to remember and they would anyway (well, most of them…). But this way it would avoid all the greetings from so many people that it makes it look like you’re a celebrity. Only you know you aren’t. So……no fuss, no noise, let’s keep it quiet.Birthday balloons

But of course some family members posted on Facebook anyway and before you know, everyone’s in on it, all your friends are commenting and liking and posting and sharing and wishing you a really happy birthday.

So yes! it’s my birthday! And it’s been a great day – in fact a great weekend. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to like or comment or send a greeting. Thanks for joining in the celebrations! Each of you has added to them, like one of the balloons in the picture. And I am thankful.

I am thankful for life and health and family and friends; for faith and joy and hope and love and freedom to enjoy them all; and for the reminder today that no matter how good this life may be and no matter how hard it may be, when it is all over, real life will only just begin. “But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Is God for life, or just for Christmas?

We breathe a collective a sigh of relief as the eagerly-anticipated holidays draw to a close, happy that (a) there was enough food for everyone; or (b) the turkey was cooked through; or (c) there were no major family feuds. What we planned for and prepared for is over in a flash and part of us is left wondering what it was all about.photo 1 (1)

If you are left with some sense of longing, a part of you that wonders if it was worth all the energy you spent on it, not to mention the money, an ache that is gnawing away in the background, then you are not alone.

It wasn’t the perfect Christmas – and it never will be, in spite of all the time and money and energy we spend on it. Things go wrong and people break down. Most of our disasters are of the kind which I call First World disasters (like opening an online purchase to discover it was not what you had ordered, or a hair dye which goes wrong, or candle wax spilt on a tablecloth) – all inconvenient at the time but certainly not life-changing or life-threatening.

photo 2It’s more what we do with those inconveniences which matters. Do we allow them to assume such significance in our minds that they affect our relationships with those around us? Do we blame others? And if others were to blame, do we make sure they know it, layering on the guilt as much as we can? Are we more interested in proving that we were not in the wrong than we are in salvaging or strengthening a relationship?

And if we managed to escape the holidays with no tempers frayed, no major mishaps, what are we left with at the end of December? I saw a t-shirt yesterday with the caption ‘364 days till the next sprouts’. Is that how we feel about Christmas – 360-odd days till the next one?

Even if we are left with memories of good times personally, December is drawing to a close with news of global disasters which send chills down our spines: the tragedy of the bin lorry accident in Glasgow, the missing AirAsia Indonesia flight travelling from Indonesia to Singapore, not to speak of accidents and losses of a more local variety but nonetheless tragic.

In view of all of this, what does Christmas leave us with? Nothing more than a warm glow as we remember the twinkling lights and gifts under the tree? A nostalgic wish that it could be Christmas all year long?

If Christmas is only about transient warm fuzzy feelings which evaporate in the cold light of January, then forget it. We need something which is going to stand the test of time – and whatever the New Year holds for each of us. Like the old saying ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’, so it is equally true that we need God to be for life, not just for Christmas. That’s why we need a rigorous faith in a God who gets himself dirty with the mess of our lives – who sent his Son to a dirty, smelly manger which led to a shameful, painful death. Because he came – and died for us, and rose again for us – we can carry that fact beyond Christmas. The fact that Immanuel came that first Christmas means that now we know for sure that God is with us – in the confusion of our lives, in the messiness of our relationships, in the pain and shame which often accompany our days.

So take him with you into the New Year, into the good days and the bad days, the days when it’s easy to believe and the days when it feels like you’re hanging on by your fingernails. Nothing you an do or say will change the fact that he loves you and came at Christmas time because he wants you to be with him forever.photo 4

When God rewrites the text of your life, Part 2

God rewrote the text of my life 
      when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes. 

Psalm 18:20-24.

The second occasion that I was aware of God rewriting the text of my life came in 1986, two years after I was married. Alan and I were keen to start a family and had been trying to have a baby for some time. We had had a few false alarms and I had consulted a couple of doctors when, in early 1986, we found out that I was pregnant. We were overjoyed. We began to look forward to having a baby.

But it was not to be. Seven weeks into the pregnancy, I had a scan and the doctor could not find the baby’s heartbeat. I had to stay in hospital for a few days. Then I began to bleed. The bleeding steadily got worse. The hospital ward was understaffed so I was left behind a curtain for most of the time, with no medical staff near me – bleeding and crying over the loss of our baby.

In the next bed was a lady who was in hospital to get sterilised. The doctor came round to see her and through the curtain I could hear him discuss the procedure with her, making sure she understood that this was irreversible and she would not be able to have children after it. How ironic as I lay in the next bed, losing the baby I had longed for!

Alan came up at visiting time and found me behind the curtain, breaking the news that we were losing our baby. It was a hard time for both of us. Our baby had died – and with it our dreams. Of course I had only been 7 weeks pregnant – some would think it was hardly long enough to call the life within me a baby. In medical terms it was called ‘the products of conception’ and was incinerated within my hearing. But any mother will know and understand that, although just 7 weeks old, that little scrap had been my baby.

Would we ever have another baby? We didn’t know.

What we did know, however, was that God was in control, and we clung to that fact. I remember the next morning being filled with the sense that God loved me. So, I reasoned simply, if God loves me He has allowed this to happen in love. I don’t know why – and I don’t know if I’ll ever get pregnant again – but it’s enough today to know that He loves me. Somehow God gave me a supernatural sense of His love which carried me through those days.

Returning home wasn’t easy and then facing everyone with the news that we had lost our baby. I remember being surprised by the different reactions we had from different people. One man acknowledged to Alan that he, as the husband, had also lost our baby. That was helpful because so often the man is left out of the equation when the baby is lost so early in the pregnancy.

Someone else said to me something like this: ‘Well, the Bible says we are to give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for us’. What?  The advice was well-meaning but the effect was cruel. How could I give thanks that I had lost a baby?

I don’t believe that God intends for us to be thankful in the face of death. Death is our last enemy and even Jesus wept when someone He loved had died. Nor do I believe that God wants us to deny our negative feelings or squash our disturbing questions. Larry Crabb deals with this subject in his book, ‘Inside Out’. He says this:

‘The tendency in most of us us to look for a way to wrap the painful question in pretty paper. We want to provide answers that settle things on a positive note, or, when that seems out of reach, at least closes down an uncomfortable discussion. There are biblical truths that deal with the tough questions.  God’s demonstration of love at the Cross should end all doubt as to whether God is for us. The fact of His sovereignty requires us to finally be still. But when legitimate truth is offered for the purpose of shutting down hard questions, that truth becomes a cliche. Sincere questions spoken from a heart of pain must be allowed to open the door to confusion. To slam the door shut, and in so doing to assert that honest confusion has no place in our pursuit of God, leads to a forced, mechanical trust rather than to a real and vital confidence.’

God can take all our questions. He can cope with all our negative feelings.  When He has rewritten the text of our lives and we are thrown into confusion, He wants us to be honest with Him, to work through the confusion and allow it to bring us to a place of renewed trust and confidence in God.

Crabb says: ‘There is incredible resistance – more in Christian circles, I think, than in secular – to owning internal pain. Even a glance in the direction of discouragement and fear violates our idea of what a victorious Christian should be doing…..To deal with what’s really going on inside is disturbing, too uncomfortable; so we hide the truth from others – and from ourselves.’

I remember during a period of great discouragement in one of the churches we served in, one of the other leaders said to me, ‘Don’t be discouraged’. I guess he meant to encourage me – but somehow it sounded like I was not allowed to be discouraged, I should not voice my discouragement. We are afraid of owning our pain – and we don’t want others to own theirs. Better to keep it all under the surface and pretend it isn’t there.

But is it? Crabb contends: ‘Keenly felt disappointment in the present supplies the energy for passionate hope for the future….Hope is the antidote for disappointment and the demandingness it creates. With confidence in the Lord, we are free to love, to risk more disappointment, to face the inevitability of frustration, to embrace that frustration as a stimulus to a more passionate hope. Feeling disappointment puts us in touch with a thirst that only hope can satisfy.’