Seven Years

Seven Years

It is incomprehensible to me that it is now seven years since we said goodbye to Leah. During these seven years, my sense of grief and loss has evolved, but has never gone away and I certainly don’t expect it to.

The first few years after Leah died the pain of grieving was immense and very intense. It was frequently overwhelming. At times, when the painful feelings of grief and loss were acute, I wondered how it was possible to keep on living – or even just to continue breathing.

With time, my sense of grief and loss has mellowed somewhat. Most days I can live with the sadness without feeling overwhelmed by it. However, there are occasions when something (usually unexpected) rips open the wound of grief and once again I feel totally overwhelmed. A few weeks ago I was attempting to do some paperwork during my working day, when without thinking I clicked on a link to a song in a group chat on my phone. Immediately one of Leah’s favourite songs began to play. I was completely undone. No matter how hard I tried I could not regain my composure. I did not want to cause distress to anyone who might enter the room that I was in so I went outside for a walk. Fortunately, it was raining heavily so my tears were disguised and I just kept on walking until I felt calm enough to return to my duties. Thankfully, episodes like that are now infrequent. Most of the time I can live with the sadness of Leah’s absence without feeling overwhelmed with emotion.

Recently I opened an old Bible that I no longer use. In it, I discovered two little bookmarks from Leah that I had forgotten about. One of these she had made for me when she was younger:

The other one she had brought me back from camp when she was about 10 years old.

These bookmarks made me smile as I reflected on how Leah had invested in my life and also into the lives of others.

It made me wonder how I’m investing in other people’s lives? What will they remember from my encounters with them? Will they feel encouraged and blessed – or not?

2020 was a very challenging year for most people in so many ways. We continue to face significant restrictions in our daily lives due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s so easy for us to become negative and disheartened. However, negativity and “glass half empty” thinking doesn’t help anyone – neither the speaker nor the hearer.

I recently read a quote from Tracie Miles book Unsinkable Faith

“It is usually our thoughts, not our circumstances, that cause us to sink. This is such an important truth to tuck into our minds. Mark it down: What we think becomes who we are.”

This is so true. How we think and what we focus on are so important. At the start of the first lockdown, I signed up for a free online prayer course created by 24-7 Prayer. It was run over 8 sessions and I found it very helpful. Handouts to expand on the material within the course were made available. One of the handouts that I found especially helpful was the one on “Breath Prayer”. I now find this a really helpful way to refocus my thoughts during the day. I subsequently discovered this website which gives some really good suggestions for breath prayers:

One of the breath prayers that I find especially helful at present is based on Exodus 33:14 :

“My Presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.”

I find it so helpful to remind myself that no matter what happens in life, that God has promised to be with me and that He gives me rest in my soul.

God on Mute ~ A Book Review

God on Mute ~ A Book Review

Many years ago, before we had children of our own and life became crazy busy, we used to run a children’s Bible Club every week in our garage for all the local children. One of their favourite songs to sing each week went like this:

Sometimes God answers ‘yes’ when I pray.
Sometimes God answers ‘yes’ when I pray.
Sometimes God answers ‘yes’ just because He loves me so.
But I know He always answers when I pray.

Sometimes God answers ‘wait’ when I pray.
Sometimes God answers ‘wait’ when I pray.
Sometimes God answers ‘wait’ just because He loves me so.
But I know He always answers when I pray.

Sometimes God answers ‘no’ when I pray.
Sometimes God answers ‘no’ when I pray.
Sometimes God answers ‘no’ just because He loves me so.
But I know He always answers when I pray.

It is very easy to sing these words as a catchy little tune. It is much harder to believe and accept them when the prayer to which God has apparently said ‘no’ to relates to saving the life of your teenage daughter.

Since Leah died there has never been a day when I haven’t talked to God in some shape, form or fashion. Yet, I no longer know exactly what I believe about prayer. Although I pray diligently for people to be healed and helped, while some prayers are answered in the way that I want them to be, others clearly aren’t.

For this reason, I recently read a whole book about prayer. It’s called God on Mute:Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer by Pete Greig. Pete Greig is a writer, church-planter, pastor and founder of the 24-7 Prayer movement. 24-7 Prayer is an international, interdenominational movement of prayer, mission and justice working in more than half the nations on earth.

God on Mute was written out of Pete’s personal experience of the miraculous power of prayer alongside the pain of unanswered prayer and his own struggles with that paradox. Just after the birth of the 24-7 Prayer Movement as well as that of his second child, Pete’s wife Sammy was diagnosed with a massive brain tumour. Subsequent surgery to remove the cancer was successful, but Sammy continues to suffer severe epilepsy, despite fervent and heartfelt prayer for her complete healing.

I found this book very helpful. Pete is not afraid to ask the hard questions, the kind of ones that you might think about in bed at night, but wouldn’t dare admit to anyone in case they might think that you had lost your faith (or your marbles). He also has a wonderful sense of humour, which I very much appreciate.

The way that Pete writes around the story of his wife’s illness and (partial) recovery made the book very readable for me, while at the same time there is also plenty of theological substance to it. Pete is clearly very well read and he quotes plentifully from other relevant writers and speakers.

In Chapter 1 Pete says regarding his wife’s illness:

“Outwardly, I tried to give an impression of stoic endurance, and there were times when I did feel very calm. But I was also scared that Sammy might die if I didn’t pray enough, or if I didn’t have enough faith, or if I didn’t fast enough, or if I didn’t bind some disembodied principality, or if I didn’t repent of some root sin, or if I didn’t strap her on a stretcher bound for Lourdes, or if I didn’t agree with Benny Hinn. Surely I thought, God would not disqualify her on a technicality?”

If the author had been standing in front of me at that moment I would have hugged him. In some of my darkest moments since Leah died, I too have wondered about some of the things that he mentions here and it was a relief to have this very Godly man, whom I greatly admire, tackle them openly in his book.

One very emotional part for me was in Chapter 5 when Pete describes a situation where the wife of a missionary couple in his church was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Pete was really struggling with this until this woman’s husband came to him and said:

‘Pete, many times in our lives Barbara and I have needed to exercise faith. Faith for healing in the face of sickness. Faith for finances when we had no food in the cupboard or when we lost everything. Faith for guidance. But this time, God has asked us to trust Him in a different way: to have faith not for healing but for dying. The challenge she’s facing is to die well, to die peacefully, to trust God and to love God in the most frightening days of her life.’

At various stages in the book Pete addresses possible reasons for unanswered prayer – he cites fifteen in total. Something that particularly resonated with me was contained within the section: Reason 5 -Doctrine:  ‘Some prayers aren’t answered the way we think they should be because our understanding and expectations of God are wrong.‘ In this portion he states ‘Preachers who say that it is always God’s will to heal simply have no theology of suffering.

Overall, I found the 300+ pages of this book very readable. I felt that the author completely understood where I was coming from with my doubts and my questions about prayer. The various quotes and references he includes in the book have helped me to think about prayer in many different ways, some of which I had not thought about before. I definitely would recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with the issue of unanswered prayer.

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