For those who can’t access a YouTube video with subtitles, here is the transcript of my New Wine Interview in all its impromptu glory. I SWEAR it comes across much better when I say it than when it’s written down, honest…Joy French was my interviewer. To watch the video interview (subtitles available), click here.
Tanya: I used to be in paid Christian ministry and was a lecturer in Biblical Theology, training people to teach the Bible – and then I got sick and became a writer. I’ve got a popular blog… I’ve written a short book called, Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty and I’m
on the edits of my second book, on the theme of waiting.
Joy: You’ve been chronically ill with ME for over a decade now. Can you tell us a little bit about the impact that being ill has on your everyday life?
Tanya: The trajectory of my illness has gradually been worsening. So I originally had it after glandular fever [mononuclesosis] in sixth form which is about [ahem] 20 years ago now. Ten years ago it affected my mobility and I started needing to use a wheelchair. And seven years ago I became housebound, needing to be in bed like this 21 hours a day.
What does it look like in the everyday…? I have to measure out my life in teaspoons. I’m like the opposite of a Duracell bunny. I have a really bad inner battery that runs runs down very fast and never charges fully again. I can’t walk, for example, more than a few metres before my legs collapse, and leaving the house even in a wheelchair is such a high level activity for me that I can only do it once a fortnight for a couple
of hours. So it’s a little bit like being on house arrest. Like [St.] Paul! He was very saintly, so I’m very much like Paul. And then when the pain comes, just having to wait it out.
I miss things: like going around to a friend’s house for dinner, walking alongside my husband rather than being pushed by him, you know, be able to do stuff for my son, go to his parents’ evenings, play with him in the park. I miss the things I used to do – like running, singing, playing piano, cooking a meal. I miss…Oh! I miss going to church! It’s a bit awkward being the vicar’s wife who doesn’t go to church!
Most of all I miss my my freedom and my independence. It’s just hard being reliant on others.
Joy: They’re all huge, huge things and I’m just wondering what the impact of such intense and long-lasting pain and struggle has been on your faith…?
Tanya: Well… Before I was this ill I was a Bible teacher and so I could lecture quite happily in suffering and God and how it all fitted together. But when you are going through something yourself… you can know theology but there’s heart-theology. And for me it was most hard was because there is this Christian myth that when you’re suffering that God is somehow more present or closer to you, or you become more holy in some way, and that kind of justifies the amount of suffering.
So I felt very awkward about the fact that when I was going through the hardest time of my life God was silent. I was pretty unholy! (It’s really hard to be anything but angry and irritable when you’re in a lot of pain. It’s just hard.)
I said to myself, “I don’t know I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, and I want God to be here but God is silent. What do I do with that?”
The worst point was just after I gave birth. It was going through labor that pushed my ME into this very severe state. After I gave birth I woke up with a new baby and a new disability. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t even stand in the early days, I couldn’t pick up my baby. I couldn’t change his nappy.
So for months I was in bed, just looking up at the ceiling, too exhausted to speak to anyone for more than 30 minutes per day, just having my baby to feed – and then hour after hour looking up at the beige ceiling, the same colour every day, nothing to do, just endless time going on and on. I said to myself, “I don’t know if I can do this. I just don’t know if I can survive this.”
And I had this newborn baby who I loved, and would have done anything for. Something in me snapped. I said to God, “If I had the power to stop my baby suffering from the way I am now suffering, I would do it. And you have the power and you’re not. How are you my parent? How are you demonstrating love to me in this?”
Well… I’m not the kind to suffer in silence…! So I got mad at God and I raged, I wrestled and I ranted at people. I think I’m still in that process of wrestling in in many ways. But there were two things that really helped.
The first was looking at the Bible again with a fresh fresh perspective and discovering so many heroes of God who wrestled similarly, who really really struggled in their faith or with suffering. And the fact that so many pages are devoted to that in the Bible gives me hope – it gives me permission to say “I’m not okay with this, and God, I’m going to you with the questions because this doesn’t add up.”
Having permission and that space was huge. As Christians we often underestimate the length of time it takes to be able to process and cope with a loss or suffering like this. If we rush too quickly to the “hey, just trust God!” then we we fail Christians. There are a lot of people who walk away from the faith just because they have no space for that in-between, lament, that we see so much of in the Psalms and in Job.
The second thing that really helped me was listening to Kay Warren talk about her son’s suicide. I don’t know if you heard the talk? It was really good. At one point she says, “Suffering will come, because suffering will come, because suffering will come.” You can’t escape suffering. You can’t wish it away. So do you want – in that midst of suffering – do you want to be with God, or do you want to do it without God?
And for me that was the choice. I wanted God to fix things, but in the face of Him not fixing things I had to say. “okay! Am I going to do this alone or am I’m going to do this with God?” And I felt just like the disciples who say, “Where would we go?! You have the words of eternal life.” I’ve got I’ve got to do this with you.- What else can you do?
Joy: Like you said already, healing happens sometimes and doesn’t have other times. For those who haven’t experienced full physical healing, what kind of things have worked for you? What would you recommend they think about?
Tanya: This is such an interesting topic because I’m a walking, living example of the paradox. When I was six days old, I was rushed to Great Ormond Street Hospital: my parents weren’t Christians; I had a brain haemorrhage; the doctors were saying, “Look, so she’s going to die. If she survives shall be incredibly disabled. She’ll never learn to read or write. All we can suggest is praying.”
So my non-Christian parents prayed with a nurse and the next day the scans were clear. I was completely better, and even the doctors were saying, “This is what we call in the trade a miracle.” They had no explanation for it.
So I always grew up with that knowledge that God can heal and and that He loved me. And yet He doesn’t heal me now of this. I’ve had that example of a miracle. I’ve had a miracle but I’m also living with that journey of when God doesn’t heal. And that’s the paradox: God can, and sometimes He does. Not very often – that’s why they’re known as miracles! – but sometimes He does. And it’s worth asking.
But…. Sometimes He doesn’t.
And what do you do then?
The first thing to say is – you’ve got to live in the mystery, and you’ve got to have a theology that allows that space. The moment you start trying to tie it down too neatly – why God doesn’t heal – you either end up blaming God or blaming the sick person. In the Bible it is a paradox.
You don’t blame a sick person, and you don’t blame the suffering people who had the tower [in Siloam] fall on them, like Jesus says. And you’ve got to say on the one hand, God doesn’t cause evil; God doesn’t delight in evil; but at the same time, there are times where He doesn’t remove it. And at the same time He can bring good and meaning out of it – which doesn’t make it in itself good.
The thing is bad but you can find good. Those nuances and subtleties are so important.
So, for me, I rejoice in others’ healing and… Sometimes I also cry, I’ll be honest! Sometimes when I hear of someone else being healed, it is that feeling of, “Oh! why not me? and what do they do?” but I just have to talk myself out of that. God doesn’t heal people because of their worthiness. So we’ve got to get out of that mindset.
I really appreciate that others do pray for my healing as well. And I occasionally kind of hope and also pray [for myself] as well. But for me – I can’t live in the hope. I’ve got to live in the acceptance.
I think too often the church doesn’t realise how emotionally exhausting it is for [some] people who are chronically ill to be offered prayer over a number of years. Some people find it a real gift, love to go up the front for prayer and rejoice in the opportunity, but for me I find it so hard, because there’s the disappointment.
The crucial thing for me has been to understand that even when you feel exiled, even when you feel like you’re in the wilderness, you’re alone and your experience is so different from everyone else’s – God has a habit of showing up in the wilderness. He always does.
And there’s… there’s gold in amongst the muck and the thorns – He can bring good.
Joy: You speak of Thorns and Gold!
Tanya: yeah! That’s the name of my blog! And I’m like, “yeah!”
Joy: So you guys get yourselves over to TanyaMarlow.com and it’s Thorns and Gold, isn’t it? [yeah] – And check out her blog because you’ve been writing for a lot of time. Thank you so much Tanya!
Tanya: Thank you! Thank you so much for having me.
To watch the video interview (subtitles available), click here.
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