Thought for the week – A difficult subject 1st November
Well the clocks have gone back, the days are shorter, the weather is colder and the brightness of a warming summer fades away. Normally I don’t mind these seasonal changes because I counter them with comforting thoughts such as log fires, warming stews, bonfire night, mulled wine and of course Christmas itself, all of which I find real mood enhancers to get me through the darkness of winter months. However, this year is of course very different because it will be a winter like no other, one that I and many others will have never experienced before. Social interaction has been very different for the last six months and seems set to remain restricted well into next year, thus having a huge impact on our ability to see and spend time with family, friends and neighbours.
This deprivation of human contact has for me never been an issue before, whenever I have needed it I had access to the warmth and comfort of a hug, the sharing of laughter coupled with the joy of being in the company of someone I care for, sadly it is only now that I have come to realise just how much I have taken it for granted in the past. I feel a little ashamed that I only list the material things in life that help me to lift my mood as the days grow dark, instead of the people who I actually need. This reflection of mine set about a deep sympathy for others who may have truly experienced an enforced isolation, even before social restrictions, others who for whatever reason found themselves cut off, alone and feeling low. I cannot say I have an empathy for the lonely because I have never been really alone and for which I truly count my blessings, the point is I do not feel qualified to speak on behalf of those who know a real mental anguish, one that is found in the darkness of true loneliness, and like so many others, I can only take the time to stop for a moment and try to imagine.
What I do hope and pray for is that the world around me has also found in their own moments of pandemic reflection, what they had and probably still have, albeit constrained, in order to recognise the value of human contact over the inanimate objects of desire, the ones that we so often surround ourselves with and instead appreciate that this contact has a restorative importance to the well-being of all, in particular those who are truly alone throughout the year. Such thoughts should cause us to now earnestly consider the needs of our neighbour more than we may have ever done before and respond in whatever way we can to help.
This week I was having a conversation with a friend on how we can perhaps find some comfort during these difficult times and we both fell into a discussion on the benefit of having a faith to call upon in times of need and also how we both use prayer. The person I was talking to said that she found praying difficult at times, that she couldn’t seem to find the right words when it most mattered, something I am certain she is not alone in. She recounted a time when she found herself in hospital with a life threatening illness, awaiting surgery and with a very uncertain prognosis. She was put in a side ward on her own because she had MRSA and even though it was a busy hospital, she told me that this was her own experience of extreme loneliness, where fear of the imminent operation and its unknown fate was slowly smothering her usual optimism and vigour to prevail. She took the opportunity to have someone from the hospital pastoral team come and visit, whereupon the difficulty of finding prayer was duly raised in conversation. Her visitor pointed out that prayer was only one way of communing with God and suggested she try something a little different. You take a passage from the bible, perhaps a favourite one or one that is relevant to your immediate needs, you then need to close your eyes and immerse yourself in the narrative, place yourself in the moment and feel the curative power of God’s word bringing light and hope from within. The passage that was used in this instance was the reading I have given you today (Luke Ch8 v43-48) and you will see why I was told how it was able to bring immense spiritual sustenance to someone who looked to her faith as a means of finding inspiration, comfort and healing in the most desperate of times. You can also begin to appreciate the significance of the chosen reading when you consider the parallels of its narrative with that of my friend.
The woman that Luke tells us of has been bleeding for many years and any hope of a remedy has been extinguished by the physicians of the time, who tell her they can do no more. The cultural implications of her illness would have been huge because a woman who bled constantly in those days, would have been shunned as an unclean person. This insight allows us a much deeper degree of compassion for her situation, a person who is unwell, without hope and suffering the loneliness of exclusion, the similarities with my friend are now becoming apparent.
Now scripture never gives the complete story and we are so often left filling in the missing parts, something which I feel allows us some latitude in making it relevant to our own way of thinking and more personal in its effect. This woman who was at her lowest and with no hope available, must somehow have heard of the teachings of Jesus and the incredible things He had done by way of miracles, in order to form such a resounding belief that someone she had never met, would have the power to make her well again. In fact, so powerful that all it would take is the briefest of touches of his cloak as He walked by, a belief in something that at any other time would be regarded as being both incomprehensible and fanciful and yet she possessed this belief so deeply, that it reveals to us the nature of what true faith really looks like and what it can achieve when you have it.
My friend told me that within her own immersion of the the reading, it was this very moment that she felt uplifted, as she, in her empathy, became the woman who reached out and touched the cloak of Christ and felt a connection with the power of His healing love that prayer had never quite done before. She went through an awful battle with the illness before making a good recovery but she is resolute in the notion that this piece of scripture, the immersion mechanism and subsequent gifts of hope, strength and love that it gave, is what actually got her there and in her own words was her own little miracle, and who can deny her the right to think so.
Jesus said “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
I really felt quite humbled to have been allowed access to such an intimate disclosure of personal faith and when I poured over the reading again, I saw and felt something different within it, something intensely insightful and profound, more than I had ever before and found I became really quite emotional myself. That is the beauty and enigma of God’s word, no matter how many times you read it, the message it contains will have countless meanings depending upon your need. Whatever way we do it, talking with God is such an important spiritual balm for our mental and physical health and is for those with a faith, access to an infinite measure of God’s grace, more beneficial than mere possessions will ever be.
Love your God, love your neighbour and make time to love yourself too. Amen.
A Prayer for All
Lord Jesus we pray for all the lonely, burdened, bereaved and afflicted of our world
We ask that you bring them hope, peace, comfort and strength to deal with all the trials that life’s journey can bring
Heavenly Father we thank you for the countless blessings that so many of us have,
found in the smile, touch and sound of those we love and who love us back
and so we ask for those less fortunate that they too may find your loving light through the kind hearts of caring friends and neighbours.
May your Holy Spirit stir us to be more aware of the loneliness of others and to respond earnestly to their individual needs.
Lord Jesus you are our saviour, our redeemer and our friend
and because of you we are never truly alone
even if we struggle with prayer you see and know our thoughts, feelings and needs
you are always there as we reach out to you
unconditional in your love for those who seek it.
We thank you always Lord
A Prayer for those who Feel Alone
Dear Gracious and Loving God,
help me to feel your presence.
My heart aches and I feel so alone. I miss a human touch, someone to take my hand or give me a hug.
I long for someone to tell me everything will be alright. Please send your Comforter to me and take this loneliness away.
Help me instead of feeling empty, to feel full of the love you have for me.
Help me to know in my heart and remember that according to your Word; I am never alone because you are with me.
Your love and peace is with me, right now, in this moment. I feel it and I am no longer alone.