The Storms of Life, Part 2

I want to invite you to celebrate with me. Life is a journey, and I have the privilege of sharing some aspects of it with you here. If you’ve been following my journey this year, you’ll have seen me move through grief, and a resentment of the pain, the mental scars, and all that stuff, into a place where I have begun to learn to accept those ‘imperfect’ parts of my life. Looking back over the past dozen or so posts, I can see that I’ve come quite some distance along that road. And I think I’ve arrived somewhere I thought I might never reach.

Which is a mite perplexing.

A point at which not only can I accept my past, with all its pain and scars, but I can even begin to rejoice in it.

The bible tells us:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18.

I have often thought that was impossible. I do pray a lot of the time, if not continually; I find it hard to give thanks in all circumstances - though I am getting better at that. The weather recently has been very wet - in fact, it’s been horrid. But I am able to be thankful for the rain, because it means that our land is green and fertile, and we have no shortage of water for drinking, washing, etc.

But ‘Rejoice always’? How is that possible, given how awful life can be?

I believe that I am beginning even to see a way to do that.

First of all, and above all the 'horribleness', there is the fact of salvation, and life as part of God's big, adopted, family; typified by the love and faithfulness of all those alongside me on the journey. That gives much to celebrate and rejoice in. At least for the past, oh I don't know, decade or so, that part hasn't been difficult. It's the hard bits of life which are hard to rejoice in.

The scars, the pain and suffering which led to them, and which still afflict me at times, are some of the signs of a life lived to the full. Yes, there is pain there and, as I said in my previous post, in an odd way I wouldn’t want to be free of that pain in this life. But there are reasons to celebrate, even in the pain. I have loved and been loved, and I continue to love and be loved. That is positive, is it not? Something to celebrate. I wouldn't feel so bad about losing my son if I hadn't cared deeply about him, and been looking forward, immensely, to being a father. There is something positive, and life-affirming, even in that; although it apparently came to naught in the end.

Does that sound like clutching at straws?

Losing Charlie was an horrible experience, but yet, through it, I began, gradually, to learn such a lot (so perhaps it wasn't 'naught' after all). I learnt a lot about myself, and how I needed to change. It was the catalyst for a process of transformation - of beginning to become more 'Christ-like', though, heaven knows, I still have a very, very, long way to go on that score - but at least I have begun. It also began to teach me about love, in a way that I'd never been able to grasp before.

There were people around me who were prepared, happy even, to love me in a sacrificial way. That came as an enormous shock; I had always thought of myself as horrible,unworthy, and utterly unloveable. It made a huge difference to how I thought about others; and how I thought about myself - perhaps I wasn't completely unlovely and unlovable.

That, in turn, began to teach me about God and His love for me. And it began the process of setting me free.

Free to be who I was meant to be.

Free to accept love and free to love others.

This passage, very familiar to most evangelicals, had always seemed somehow 'impersonal' - yes, God loved the world, which sort of meant me, but it was everybody, not just me…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3: 16-17

It has taken a long time for me to learn that I matter; I'm not just an anonymous, hidden, slightly unpleasant 'body part' in Christ's body (a mole, a nose-hair, or one of the cells which make ear-wax, or something else equally undesirable like that).

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body - whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. 1 Corinthians 12: 12-23

So, even if I was one of those 'weaker' or 'less honourable' parts, I still have a special place in the body of Christ. I am not an outcast any more. I belong. I belong to God. I belong to His body, the church. I know that with every fibre of my being. I am home. I am secure. For me, really learning what that meant began with the outpouring of love from God's people when we lost our son Charlie.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
(John Newton, 1725-1807)

In some ways, the days around Charlie's birthday (13th November) are days to mourn. But in other ways, this year in particular, they signify a new beginning; the turning of another corner on life's journey. If I hadn't come round that corner, I wouldn't be where I am now.

A small part of me feels that it is disloyal to Charlie to not be sad, and hurting. Somehow, I had never realised (until now, writing this) that he would love me as I love him. He would, undoubtedly (if my other children are anything to go by) not want me to be sad. He would want me to be whole, and happy.

So rejoice with me.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020