Grieving and trusting!

Easter Garden

Holy Saturday is often seen as an in between kind of a day, a day of trying to process what had happened to Jesus on Good Friday, and wondering what the future might hold. Some of Jesus’s family and friends had stood at the cross, and had witnessed his death. They were numb- had all the miracles and wise teachings resulted only in a cruel and unjust death? It didn’t seem to make any sense.

If we are honest, I wonder if we often question if life is making sense. People suffer unexpected losses and bereavements that turn their world upside down, and we go though long periods of lament. We often reexamine details of events again and again, and think if only……..

The Easter story feels very raw and very real. We think of Mary having witnessed the death of her son, Jesus’s friends sharing his last hours of life, watching in disbelief and horror. And for Jesus to say the words ‘Father, forgive’. In the midst of the emotional, physical and spiritual anguish, his heart was still full of forgiveness and love.

And so on the Saturday, the Jewish sabbath, there was a sense of shock and bewilderment. Some of Jesus’s disciples hid because they were afraid that they too might be arrested. Others met in small groups, and went over the details- the betrayal, the arrest, the trial before the Sanhedrin, and then Pontius Pilate, the scorn and beatings from the soldiers, the crown of thorns. How cruel. What good could ever come from such a dark day?

Whatever place we are at today, if we are questioning or upset, heartbroken by loss or bewildered by injustice, may God draw us near, and remind us of His loving presence. Sometimes we don’t find the answers we seek, as to why something has happened, but even if we can find the healing and strength to live with it, maybe that is enough. There are so many in between days of turmoil and sadness, but Jesus understands, and He reassures us and brings hope.

Eternal God, You reveal that there is a loving purpose for this world, but sometimes there are so many challenging and painful things, we question what is happening. The pain can seem unbearable. Even your precious Son, although he had done nothing wrong, faced bullying and scorn, violence and an unjust and painful death. We believe that somehow through the mystery of the cross, our sins are forgiven, and that we are given the gifts of peace and of eternal life. Yet meantime, day to day, life can still be a struggle. Thankyou that it us ok to question, to he honest. Risen Lord, when you appeared in the garden on that third day, You had tender words of love for Mary. Help us also to know these words are also for us, and may your holy spirit help us to trust, even in the most difficult of days, Amen.

Eeyore kind of days

A blue day!

Eeyore often seems to be feeling sad and gloomy. Even with his friends Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Piglet, he can sound a bit mournful. And sometimes he just doesn’t seem to know why, he just is.

I think we can all have Eeyore days, when we seem to get out of bed on the wrong side, and it doesn’t matter how hard we try, we just can’t shake that feeling of heaviness. These are days when we are low energy, often irritable, and completely resistant to anyone who has the audacity of trying to cheer us up.

I guess, sometimes, we just need to give one another space to be sad. Sometimes there is a reason to be low mood- it could be an unpleasant conversation, a disappointment or a difficult anniversary. All these things could cause upset. At other times, there is no obvious reason- it is just a day we struggle.

I always remember the story of Job’s comforters, who sat with him whilst he was questioning why so many bad things had happened to him. He lost his children, his home, his livelihood and his health. He lamented his plight, with tears and angst. His friends who sat by him, were a comfort, till they opened their mouth. They tried to provide answers, when there were none, and so they only made it worse. They even tried to suggest it might all have been Job’s fault, and they increased his sense of distress.

When we are hurting, or just feeling a bit lost, we know that God is always willing to be with us. He never rejects us or belittles us. Rather In Isaiah 41:10, it says: ‘Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’

When we are having a difficult day, God tells us not to fear, for He is with us, and will strengthen us. When we are unsure He will steady us, and help us. We have such a wonderful and faithful God!

Gracious God, sometimes we have so many questions, we are in so much pain, that we can’t begin to articulate what is wrong. We are just having a sad, kind of lonely day. Thankyou Lord Jesus, that You are the one who stays with us in our distress, that you are closer than a brother. Your love lifts us up from the pit, and you encircle us with grace. Holy spirit, thankyou that when we have no answers we don’t need to hide, that we can be honest, and that you give us people who will sit with us in companionable silence. Thankyou for those people, Amen.

Waves of suffering everywhere.

Turmoil.

I choose to affirm the good in the world, that God is still real, loving and powerful, that there is still hope. But sometimes to make these statements takes such courage.

In the week where the details of Sarah Everard’s death have come to light, it seems that so much is broken, it is hard to ever imagine any kind of repair. Her trust was violated in so many ways it is hard to put into words. That people can be so intentionally cruel and brutal to another human being is terrifying.

I think however that the problem is that this terrible abuse of power, rape and murder just remind us of the reality of what goes on daily for many people. Whether you are talking about domestic violence or hunan trafficking, some one choosing to violently exploit and control another human being is all too common. Institutional corruption is endemic in so many places. And we often turn the other cheek. We pretend not to see, we pretend things will get better. And it doesn’t.

As a human race, we need to weep over the seemingly unrelenting brutality and violence in our world. We need to pray for it to stop, for us to support charities working in this area, to do what we can to support those affected by it in any way. There are too many children and adults traumatised by abuse and violence.

Jesus said ‘ come to me, all those who are weary, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28

When we are tired of putting on a face, being brave, of crying on the inside, we can come to Jesus and be honest, and pour out our hearts to Him. In the presence of God, we are safe, and can find shelter and healing. It might just be a first step in a healing process, but in the midst of the overwhelming pain and suffering of the world, it is an essential refuge. Even in the midst of heartbreak and sorrow, God’s love for us has never changed.

Gracious God, You are full of loving kindness and grace, and You created this world to mirror the beauty and harmony of who You are. But we have rebelled and sullied our planet and our relationships, and been exploitative and cruel. Lord Jesus, You who experienced the brutality and callousness of human beings on that Friday of Holy week, have mercy on our souls. In the ongoing spiritual battle, may we pray for evil to be restrained, and for the vulnerable to be protected. And please can your life giving holy spirit bring healing to all who have suffered at the hands of another, so that in time they might trust and heal once more, Amen.

A wistful emptiness

Anniversaries and birthdays of those no longer with us.

Today would have been Colin’s birthday. The date is etched in my soul forever. But what happens when the person is no longer here? For most people, it is just another date in the calendar- of no special significance. Yet for the people left behind, you are marking the date with the key person missing. There is no one there to open the cards and blow out the candles, There is such a mixture of emotions, sadness, thanksgiving, guilt and a longing for things to be otherwise.

Listening to other people’s experiences of loss, the guilt of remembering a significant date, is that other people think you should have moved on by now. As the years go by, in some ways, part of you does process things differently, but I think there is still a feeling of profound sadness.

In some situations of grief, feelings are exacerbated by the circumstances of a loss. Very often people choose not to talk much about these, as they can be distressing, and as a society maybe we need to make more space for people to talk more honestly about the messiness of it all.

At the risk of repeating myself, I find it hard to come to terms with what happened with Colin, as it was so unjust, and involved so much suffering, over decades. His head injury led to a long term degeneration through poorly controlled epilepsy. It was hideously painful to witness.

My consolation comes from my faith, that even in the darkest, most bleak and challenging days, God was with us. God blessed Colin with the knowledge that he was loved, even when nothing made any sense.

In psalm 86:15 it says: ‘You, Lord are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness.’

I understand when people question where God is, when something awful is happening in their life, the illness of a child, a gradual loss of faculties, a painful treatment. Watching someone you love suffer is excruciating.

Yet in the most tearful circumstances, there can be a moment of lucidity, a glance of understanding, a loving connection, that can be transformative. And the power of prayer to help find meaning and hope can never be underestimated.

I just want to write to encourage people to know no-one is alone, even when we have bad days, or when we question, or when it all seems too much. We need to find people we can trust to talk to, even if it is to say the same thing for 100 times. There are some days on which that is just what it takes.

Gracious God, on the outside all looks well, but You see into our hearts- the painful memories, the regrets, the lament- why did it have to happen that way, why did that loved one suffer so much? Lord Jesus, you understand us, for You suffered at the hands of others, when it didn’t need to be like that, and You come alongside us with compassionate eyes and cascades of grace. Holy spirit, lift from us our pain and grief, and help us remember the moments of beauty and trust and love, that transformed even the hardest times. And on days like today, bring healing and a sense of peace, Amen.

When to take off the mask?

We have got used to wearing masks!

In these covid 19 influenced days, we are getting used to wearing masks in many situations- shops, dentists, churches etc. We know that this helps prevent the spread of the virus to others, so it is so worthwhile, even if its a bit uncomfortable.

However, in our society, it feels as if most of us are wearing a mask of some sort that prevents people seeing who we are, not just physically, but spiritually. When asked how we are, we often say that we are fine, when we feel anything but. We are often editing information to share with others, so we don’t say too much.

The American pastor Rick Warren says this: ‘ wearing a mask wears you out. Faking it is fatiguing. The most exhausting activity is pretending to be what you know you aren’t.’

The kind of mask Rick is talking about, is a mask that we hide behind, that stops others knowing who we truly are. We often like to pretend that our life is going better than it is, that our job is great, that our relationships are harmonious, that we are in a good place. We often don’t want to make ourselves look vulnerable to others by saying that we are in debt, or are wrestling with self doubt or depressed, or struggling as a parent. We don’t know how people will react, and so we tend to hide.

We can all wear a mask, but at times, the weight of keeping up the pretense is overwhelming and destructive. Sometimes the secret is too big, when it comes to illness or addiction or domestic abuse. I think that some families of veterans know this pressure, because they are trying to pretend that everything is going OK, rather than admit that their much loved person has destructive behaviours. People try to be loyal, little knowing that becoming a codependent is not going to do good for anyone in the long run.

In John’s gospel chapter 8, Jesus says: “you are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” v 31 and 32.

Pretending to be what we are not, is a stressful burden. It is often driven by fear and insecurity. If I tell the truth, will people still respect me, will they still talk to me? It is such a strain to live with. The amazing thing us that God knows the truth about us, even our most dark secrets, and He still loves us. How incredible is that? And being able to be real with God in prayer, helps us to find that freedom we crave. Freedom to admit the truth, however difficult, and even to get the support that is needed.

For many people, struggling under the strain of pretending, please trust your worries to God. He will not reject you or abandoned you, rather He looks upon you with love and grace. He shows compassion on the weary and the hurting, and seeks to guide us, and to help us. God can be trusted!

I understand a little of this, as telling Colin’s story has been one of the hardest thing I have ever done, and at times people don’t like what I am saying. Yet being authentic, is the only way I can come to terms with all that has happened, and to seek to heal, and to find a new way forward. The truth is setting me free, although it us a gradual process, and I am so impatient.

So we might need to keep our covid preventative mask on, but to take our soul mask off. We have to ask God for wisdom, to discern if there are people we can trust to do this with. Being honest is such a relief, and helps us find our healing. My prayer is that each of us reaches out for help when we need it. May God give us courage, and bless us all with that loving friend or safe person that we can talk to, let us pray.

Gracious God, You are Loving, a God of integrity and grace, look upon your children with mercy, for we tie ourselves in knots with pretence and lies, and self doubt. Lord Jesus, give us courage to tell you the truth about our past, about our struggles, and to find the forgiveness and healing we seek. Holy spirit where you dwell there is freedom. Free us, and our loved ones from lies and deception, and help us find the support that us most needed. In Jesus’ name, Amen