Tag Archives: hope

At Least

There are many ‘at least(s)’ flying around.
‘At least you don’t live alone’
‘At least you don’t have a pre-existing condition’
‘At least you still get paid’

Of course, all these may be true. Some of us are more privileged than others, that can be recognised without minimising struggle.

Because whether you’re self-isolating, social distancing, have a pre-existing condition, are trying to navigate wedding planning or wondering how to get a refund for the trip you’ve saved for that you don’t get to go on – it’s okay to feel disappointed, to feel sad over what might have been.

Gratitude can’t be forced onto someone – it’s an attitude of the heart orientated to the giver and sustainer of life.

Perhaps when we allow ourselves to feel the disappointment, we can move to a place of gratitude.

This too shall pass, and as the snowdrops break through the seemingly barren winter ground, let us allow God to work in us through this season, trusting that life, hope, hope and creativity will emerge.

Holding Out Hope

Whether or not you’ve ever watched anything that the late Caroline Flack presented, it’s unlikely that you won’t have heard that over the weekend, Caroline died by suicide.

News of her death has filled column inches, clickbait articles and provoked debate around everything from the existence of shows such as “Love Island”, to press intrusion, the worth of mental health awareness and the need for more kindness.

Every ninety minutes someone dies by suicide. Every other hour a life is lost which leaves unimaginable pain, unanswerable questions and grief in its wake.

But in the course of everyday life, very few of us consider this, we are simply getting through our own days, so when suicide pushes itself so forcefully back into the public consciousness, we are astounded yet again by the scale and the pain of it.

The loss of someone so prominent on TV screens up and down the country brings the tragedy of suicide into our own living rooms. We are forced to conceive of that which is inconceivable. It raises age old questions:

“How could they do it?”

“Why?”

As Kay Redfield Jamieson, a psychiatrist and author writes in her book Night Falls Fast:

“Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible. Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities, and any attempt by the living to chart this final terrain of a life can be only a sketch, maddeningly incomplete.”

For those of us who have experienced suicidal thoughts; considered, however briefly, taking our own lives there is a sharp edge to these questions. A sharp edge to the passing judgements of strangers online which declare that suicide is “selfish” or “stupid”, because it is a very real reminder that some have been unable to stay in the world.

Suicide cannot be considered in those terms; it is unspeakable for so many, both because of the pain it leaves with those whose lives are claimed, and for those who have lived in spite of a pull toward an abrupt ending.

Suicide is not selfish, because for the most part, the people who die by suicide believe themselves to be relieving others of a great burden. Caroline herself wrote on Instagram in the months before her death that she feared “being a burden”, it can be an impossibly high barrier to reach across to ask for help.

It is not stupid; because it is often seen as the only course of action for those who have reached past their tether.

Suicide is a tragedy. Over the past thirteen years as I’ve both battled with suicidality, studied it and written about it, tragedy is the only word that even begins to do justice to the enormity and pain of it – for those who lose their lives, those who lose their loved ones and those who  live through it.

For the christian, there are more questions. Is it the unforgivable sin? Can they be saved?

And all I can do is to look to scripture, and to lean on the character of the God I have known and trusted for almost twenty-five years. The only unforgivable sin recorded in the Bible is that of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – which is nothing to do with suicide, and the idea that those who take their own lives being unable to enter glory because of their inability to repent renders the gospel of grace obsolete. Not one of us dies having confessed and repented every sin!

But more than this; we see how God responds to those who consider suicide in the Bible and we are presented with a picture of care and grace, help and hope.

There are a number of completed suicides and considered suicides in the Bible; from King Saul falling on his sword, to Elijah begging for death on Mount Horeb, from Judas’ death to the desperate philippian jailer. In these accounts, there is no moral judgement made. There is prohibition of taking life, yes, in many places in the Bible; but the responses the scriptures record to those considering suicide speak volumes to me.

Elijah is ministered to with food, drink and rest.

The philippian jailer is drawn from harming himself – to hearing the gospel and being baptised.

These passages do not encourage suicide, but they do widen the angle of our viewing to see that when people are desperate they can be ministered to and helped. There is hope.

So that is what I think we need to do, to widen our angle of viewing to consider not just what things look like at face value, to minister to the hurting and hold out hope for those whose view is blurred by tears, until they can hope for themselves once more, drawing from the infinite kindness of our God.

Present Tense Testimony

I’ve been sharing my testimony since I was thirteen and I first stood in a church pulpit. On that blisteringly hot day in July 2003, I spoke about the God I serve and the calling I felt. Since then, I’ve been sharing my story in blog posts, seminars, sermons and talks. It’s something I feel relatively confident in doing, I am well rehearsed in what I feel comfortable sharing and making sure that I can point away from myself to the God of my story in the course of sharing.

But as I was reading Stephanie Tait’s “The View From Rock Bottom”, one phrase leapt from the page.

“present tense testimony”

More often than not, the testimonies we share are in the past tense. They speak of things overcome, of the miraculous and the way live has changed for the better.

I can speak of a significant recovery, that I live a life I love, that I have not harmed myself in over a decade.

But that would not tell the whole story.

My present tense testimony is more complicated, more unfinished and less tidy.

My present tense testimony demonstrates no less of the glory of God and His grace.

My present tense testimony is that I still struggle; that I live with mental illness but that through grace, community and rest I live a life I love.

Patrick Regan brilliantly describes it as “healing in the slow lane” in his book, Honesty Over Silence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we all bear our pain for the world to see every day, we don’t need to bear our open wounds – but we need to be honest that we are wounded.

It doesn’t look as shiny, but it is miraculous nonetheless, because there were days when I couldn’t lift my eyes to even consider a future and now I am living each day. Stumbling, yes; with help, most definitely – but more importantly with the knowledge of grace and God’s care in the day-to-day boring stuff.

It is, I think, the difference that the late Rachel Held Evans and my friend Tanya Marlow speak of so eloquently. Rachel wrote:

“But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”

This is what a present tense testimony offers; that even when the pains of life persist so do we and so, more beautifully, does God.

God’s work is both the lighting flash and the slow burning flame.

What glory in the mundane might our present tense testimonies reveal?

Speak of Suicide and Speak Hope #WSPD2019

“You aren’t going to do anything silly, are you?”

“Can you promise you won’t do anything stupid?”

A member of staff at my secondary school asked me these questions countless times during my sixth form years.

They weren’t talking about me bunking off lessons, getting into trouble or talking back; they were talking about suicide and self-harm.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people – it’s not silly or stupid – it’s despair.

And when those thoughts and feelings were branded stupid and silly – I heard that I myself was stupid and silly.

The language we use when we’re talking about suicide matters.

Phrases such as “committed suicide” hark back to when suicide was a criminal offence; whilst those like I was faced with fail to recognise the distress and torment that self-harm and suicidal thoughts wreak through someone’s mind and life.

It was over a decade ago, and I hope and pray that no-one struggling with thoughts of suicide and self-harm is met with such language, because the fight for life from those depths is hard enough as it is, without the stigma that can stalk it.

Every year, when the 10th September arrives I’m filled with a mixture of the heaviest grief and a flaming hope that thing can change.

Because my experiences with suicide when I was younger, even though I survived them, have marked my heart. And those marks on my heart fan the flame of hope – because I believe that light does win – that suicide is preventable.

I can speak of hope alongside speaking of suicide because I live with suicide as a part of my story and hope as my daily reality.

If there is someone in your life who is struggling, let your words spark hope rather than cause spirals of despair.

Think about the language you’re using, listen to their story before you rush in with answers and imagine with them what the future can look like and hold their hand as you point to it.

The people who made the most difference in my life during those darkest of times, were the ones who believed in a future for me that I could not conceive of. They were persistent in their belief that hope was real, that there was a life for me to live and yet they allowed me to voice the hardest of words.

It is no exaggeration to say that I would not be here without them and the hope they pointed to.

The hope they pointed to was not an abstract “things will get better”, but rooted the One who walked to His own death for our sakes.

That Jesus’ took on our despair and sin, died on the cross and walked out of the grave with His scars remaining, that’s the hope I looked to through my tears.

It’s the hope I live for today.

That we are saved by a Creator God who willingly gave Himself for us, to endure the worst of humanity so that we may experience the glorious closeness of Him.

That we can speak of hope, on a day which highlights despair, is the work of the One who marked the night’s sky with stars and the Saviour’s hands with scars.

 

 

 

Tracing the Tears – Resurrection #OurHolyWeek

This Holy Week, I’m going to be blogging each day, tracing the tears Jesus shed for Jerusalem to the tear filled eyes who first saw the Risen Christ. Throughout I’ll be following prompts from #OurHolyWeek


“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying.”

John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection begins with tears.

The tears of Good Friday and Holy Saturday were still wet on the faces of Jesus’ friends when He returned to them.

And it was through the tears of Mary Magdalene that He chose to appear – that tells me a lot about the Jesus I follow.

It tells me that this suffering servant is acquainted with the deepest grief, but it also tells me that Jesus forever reigns over the agony, that death and agony are beaten.

Twice in the stories of Jesus’ resurrection He is obscured to the people He appears to; first here when Mary believes that someone has taken the body of Jesus she does not realise to whom she speaks until He speaks her name.

Jesus makes the first move, every time, and waits patiently for us to respond. He leaves the ninety-nine to go after the lost sheep and waits for us to invite Him in when we are found.

And secondly, in Luke we read that Jesus is not recognised until He breaks bread with the hopeless travellers on the way to Emmaus.

The Risen Jesus does things as unexpectedly in life as in resurrection (as if resurrection were not unexpected enough!)

He reveals His power over the grave through signs that others may call weak; Mary’s tears, Cleopas’ hopelessness, His own scars which prove who He is to Thomas.

Our first signs of life are our cries of a baby; and here we see that it is through tears that the risen Lord first appeared. Our tears signal the beginning of everything new; the new life Jesus offers, the new hope He embodies.

As the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, we are reminded that His mercies and our hope are new every morning.

Our hope is in the Christ who died for us, who suffered in His mercy.

Our hope is in the Christ who rose from the grave who has beaten death and evil, in His mercy still bearing the scars of crucifixion.

Our hope is in the Christ who will come again in glory and who in His mercy allows the dawn to rise slowly so that our eyes may become accustomed to the blistering light and life of who He is.

“We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” Pope John Paul II

 

Tracing the Tears – Holy Saturday #OurHolyWeek

This Holy Week, I’m going to be blogging each day, tracing the tears Jesus shed for Jerusalem to the tear filled eyes who first saw the Risen Christ. Throughout I’ll be following prompts from #OurHolyWeek


No one likes to talk about days like today.

There is no drama, no battle, no victory.

The grave is full and the grief is raw.

It feels like death has won.

Below is a reflection on Holy Saturday adapted from my book “Learning to Breathe“.


Holy Saturday is a day to lament.

Holy Saturday is the valley of grief and uncertainty, for us and for Jesus’ disciples.’

It’s the place where we spiritually live so often, when the worst has happened and we don’t know if or how we can go on – yet in the midst of darkness we trust that dawn will break. It’s often like this in the rest of life, I think. We often remember the most dramatic days, the happiest, but how often do we remember the days of silence, when everything is wrong but nothing can be done? I don’t know if it’s a good thing that we forget days like these in our own lives, but I think it would be good if we spent a little more time remembering Holy Saturday.

It goes beyond the agony of the cross, even. The day when it was finished – when Jesus was dead – because of our sins. It is a day of silence, it seems.

God doesn’t always speak. Sometimes the silence of God says it all. As I write, I’m reminded of Job. Job who lost everything and everyone who mattered to him. Job whose friends were worse than useless. Job to whom God remained silent, waiting to speak. It strikes me that the silence of God is more often than not followed by a presence of God that is so awesome, so mighty, that we can do nothing but bow in praise and awe.

A season like this Holy Saturday can seem endless. It’s the state in which we sometimes live our lives. It’s an open wound. Shelly Rambo writes:

‘The reality is that death has not ended; instead it persists. The experience of survival is one in which life, as it once was, cannot be retrieved. However the promise of life ahead cannot be envisioned.’

There is no happy ending on Holy Saturday. Jesus is in the grave and the shadows of His death keep this day dark without a hope for the resurrection dawn. It’s a mistake to rush beyond today, because it is reflected so often in life.

Holy Saturday continues the tradition of lament set out in the Old Testament, throughout the Psalms and, of course, Lamentations. It tells us that even when God is silent, he is still to be trusted.

It’s important not to rush past the silent days of lament.

We have to be able to deal with the times when God does seem to be on mute, to be absent.

Silence does not mean that God does not exist; scripture shows us that God’s work of life begins in the dark silence and reminds us that even on these; there is hope because Jesus has been in the dark of the tomb and it was the beginning of our greatest hope.

He blesses every love that weeps and grieves

And makes our grief the pangs of a new birth.

The love that’s poured in silence at old graves

Renewing flowers, tending the bare earth,

Is never lost. In him all love is found

And sown with him, a seed in the rich ground.

Malcolm Guite

Reflections

I’ve just listened to Rick and Kay Warren being interviewed at the HTB leadership conference.

I was hesitant to listen to it. I knew it would hurt. I knew it would poke me in the parts of myself that are still raw and still painful.

I was right.

It is full of the most profound reflections on pain and mental illness, on suicide, on grief; that I have ever heard. If you haven’t listened to it, I really recommend you do.

There are wonderful nuggets of wisdom – but what is most astounding to me, is that through the agony of their words and the beautiful grace of God – that which is the most painful and destructive in life will be the greatest foundation of the greatest works of God.

His words echoed through my memories to one of the hardest seasons of my life when I wanted out. When I wanted an ending more than I wanted restoration, when I wanted oblivion more than I wanted to make a difference – the chaplain of my school told me that these darkest days would be the beginning of my life’s ministry.

I didn’t believe it.

I believed, even in those days, that I had been called into some kind of christian pastoral ministry, but I didn’t believe I would ever be able to live out that calling. I didn’t believe that the agony of those days could ever come to any good.

I was wrong.

I do not claim that this calling is easy, nor do I claim that I want it 100% of the time. Sometimes, I would love to do a job which didn’t involve me opening my heart to those things that have most bruised it. What I do claim, is what an enormous privilege it is to be able to see, in this lifetime, a restoration of some of my darkness.

I quote the book of Joel a lot on this blog – but it’s the promise that I cling to and the promise that I see every day when I go to work.

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten – the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm – my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will be people be shamed.” 2:25-26

I so often felt that the years when my depression had its tightest grip had been lost to me. Not only metaphorically, but because even now I can barely remember those days through the haze of mental illness. These verses from Joel were my promise and are my reminder of why I do what I do.

And when I get weary, I turn to them and to John 10:10 which says “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Mental illness has been a thief in my life, it has stolen years and killed parts of my, left its own legacy in my heart and my mind and on my body.

But in this I have hope – God is bigger than the thief. And more than that, he restores what was lost and gives us more than we could imagine. Truth be told, this side of heaven, it is often not what we would imagine (we prefer to imagine a much easier ride, I think) but what he gives us is greater than an easy ride (however much an easy ride might tempt us). God gives Himself. On a cross. The God of Heaven and Earth, for us, as a broken and scarred young man who understands pain and understands struggle and remains with us through it all. 

It isn’t easy.

But God is in it all.

So it is more than worth it.