The frozen scream {guest post}

This week’s post is from Penelope Swithinbank, ordained minister and spiritual director. I love her pastoral, mothering heart, and I am honoured that she is sharing her story. Over to her:
It’s been a tough time – 24 months of coping with loss, depression, stress, emotion, exhaustion.

“Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome,” diagnosed the psychotherapist. I was disbelieving. I am a Christian – a Vicar’s wife – actually, clergy myself. WE trust in Christ, don’t we? We don’t get PTSS. And what would the church say? Friends, family, other Christians – what example was it setting to them, to be off work for 2 years now?

You too know how that feels. We all have rough things to cope with: times of pain, anxiety, grief. And it’s hard when something suddenly reminds you, takes you back into it when you thought you were learning to cope, learning to live with the ‘new normal.’ The questions come again and again.
-Why, God? why did that happen? and why do I need to be reminded again today?  when will it all come to an end so I can move on?

Two years ago, on September 23 2010, I saw my mother crushed under the wheels of an out-of-control car. One moment she was there, a feisty ninety-year-young who cared ceaselessly for others, drove old ladies to church, talked non-stop on the phone to her friends and family whenever she could. And the next she was gone. Swept away by an out-of-control driver who could not, would not, stop.
And I stood there frozen, helpless, unbelieving, stunned. Deafened by shouts and screams of passers-by.  Deafened by the sirens. Deafened by the silent scream inside. Maybe I should have cried. Maybe I too should have screamed. But I kept it inside. And my tears turned to ice and my scream was frozen deep within.
I looked at her face, ground into the road; at the white broken bones protruding from her leg; and her outflung arm, clawing frozenly at the tarmac. My heart froze too.
Then came the helicopter crash team; they rolled her over and their scissors ripped her clothes and their drips penetrated her body  –  and  I knew.  I knew. They pumped and pushed and did their best.  But she was gone.
I stood at her feet and asked for her to be covered; I could not bear to see her naked chest.  They pulled the blanket to her chin; and I tried to pray for her, aloud.  Tried to thank God for all she was and had been to me and others; tried to ask Him to take her to Himself; committed her to the One who loved her the best. People were so kind; so very kind.
But I was frozen.
Just few weeks ago, visiting another church, I heard a sermon. Well meant, talking about Jesus quietening the storm, being there IN it with the disciples: God being concerned with every small detail of our lives. And lots of stories of the pain and the suffering that people endure – including one of a woman being crushed under the wheels of a car and killed.
I saw that happen to my lovely 90 year old mother. I remembered.
Don’t be bitter, the preacher urged. Be broken hearted, yes, for the Lord binds up the broken hearted. But don’t get bitter. Let the train of faith always be ahead of the parallel train of problems and pains. How, I asked him afterwards. How do I do that? How do I keep the train of faith ahead?  He had no answer but to repeat that there is so much suffering in the world and not to get bitter but allow God to bind up your broken heart. I left feeling bruised and broken hearted again.

But there IS an answer. We can know what to do, where to go for help. We can’t explain why the sorrow, the hurt, the pain; but we can look to Christ and seek His peace and His strength. I can’t pretend it’s easy, for it’s not. There are days when there seems to be no peace, no strength, no stilling of my storm. But there are things I am learning, things I want to share with you, for those days. That I pray will help you as you struggle with the pain, the emotion, the exhaustion.

    • admit your pain. We are all too good at pretending everything is all right, for fear of the judgment of others.  But, as I discovered, opening up a little, as and when appropriate, can actually help people. Otherwise there is “the Sunday morning lie-in.” When asked in church how we are, we reply, “Fine,” and it’s a lie. When I admitted the feelings of pain and depression, I received several letters of stress and suffering from some who had never voiced it to other Christians before, for fear of being considered ‘second class citizens.’ How sad if we can’t support one another in these times.
  • ask for help. Personally I don’t find that easy. But when you can’t pray for yourself, for your situation, for your sorrow and pain, someone else can and will. A trusted friend; the prayer team at church; a prayer help line; even on Twitter where you often see people asking for prayer. All of the above – it doesn’t have to be either/or! You don’t even have to say why if you don’t want to. A simple “please would you pray for me today” can be enough. Being vulnerable (where appropriate) allows others to practice their gifts of compassion, prayer, comfort.
    • take a short walk. Even if it’s just a short walk through a park. Fresh air and looking around at trees or flowers can help. Drop your shoulders, breath deeply…  keep looking around, moving your head, your eyes, to see from side to side. Notice what’s around you. It’s the basis of some of the psychotherapy exercises – rapid eye movement looking from side to side – and doing it out in God’s beautiful creation really does help. I’ve proved it many times!
    • be grateful. Actively look for, notice, write down, two or three things for which to thank God each day. Whether it’s the aroma of fresh coffee or the sun rising again today;  a green light or a parking space; an email from a friend or a verse of Scripture which stands out and helps; a friend, a grandchild, your favourite pair of shoes …. Jot down a couple of gratitudes even in the brokenness. My first list of 1000 was a huge step on the path to healing.
  • allow yourself time. Time to rest; time to recover; time to heal; time with God.  We are a busy, rushed society. We don’t allow ourselves time, let alone one another, to grieve, to mourn, to recover from loss whether of loved ones or jobs, homes or situations. He heals the broken hearted and binds up their woundsbut maybe not instantaneously for maybe we have things to learn, things we can share with others, rough edges to be smoothed, pride to be smashed. Go slowly. Rest up. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Maybe take a day of quiet with God occasionally – some ideas are here:

So I am learning  – to be thankful; to seek help from others; to lean more into Christ and His love and His strength. It’s not easy; but it is beginning to bring healing to my hurts. He truly does bind up the broken hearted – when we let Him.

The Revd Penelope Swithinbank is an international speaker for Christian conferences and women’s events. She leads retreats & pilgrimages (UK & USA) loves hiking, reading and travelling.  Author of ‘Women By Design,’ she is a Spiritual Director, blogger, mother and grandmother, and has homes in a London Vicarage, a beach house in South Carolina, and a tiny cottage in the Cotswolds.  Grace abounding!

Website and Blog:

Over to you:

  • What has helped you most in times of difficulties and sorrow and pain?
  • What can you share that might help others?

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14 Responses to The frozen scream {guest post}

  1. Donna 9th October, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    Thank you Penelope, for sharing your hard-earned wisdom! It really, really irritates me when people tell you to do something, and give you lots of reasons why doing that thing is a good idea, but neglect to mention the ‘how’s’ of actually doing it. Like the sermon you heard.
    This may sound odd, but I think sometimes we need to forgive God for allowing painful things to happen. It’s not that He has sinned, but more that our feelings of outrage, anguish, pain and frustration need to be acknowledged. I hope that makes sense… it’s late and my brain is going to sleep!

    • Penelope Swithinbank 10th October, 2012 at 11:37 am #

      Donna, that is a very honest response – to allow ourselves to forgive God in a sense, for what HE has allowed to happen; and maybe learn to thank Him for all ‘the slings and arrow of outrageous fortune’ which He PREVENTED/took on our behalf. A lot of things to ponder there. I really appreciated the thoughts you are raising here!

  2. Joanna 3rd October, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    Hi Tanya – just to say that I signed up to follow the comments on this blog (it’s something I do when I have left a comment so I can keep in the conversation) but did not receive any notifications from WordPress. This is emphatically not a moan – I just thought you might want to know. x

    • Tanya 3rd October, 2012 at 10:06 am #

      Oh how annoying!!
      Thank you SO much for letting me know – I would have no idea otherwise. I’ll have a ponder about what to do. I am half considering changing to disqus – do you have any particular feelings on that?

  3. Marie Clarke 2nd October, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    A great post that will no doubt have affected so many. I lost my mum a few years ago mid way through university. I just had to be grateful for what I did have in order to keep myself going. I do admit that I didn’t ask for help and kept it all under wraps. Perhaps it would have been better for me to open up a little more. I found it hard to turn to god because I couldn’t understand how he would have let it happen but I do understand your words and what he means to you.

    • Penelope Swithinbank 2nd October, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

      I am sorry for your loss, Marie. I wonder if you have read Philip Yancey’s book, “Where is God when it Hurts?”? Because sometimes God does seem so far away especially in these painful times; and Yancy’s thoughts and arguments and stories go a long way to begin to answer the question he poses in the title. Prayers for you. xx

  4. Amy Young 2nd October, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Penelope — I am drawn to the small, practical, and gentle suggestions you provide.

    • Penelope Swithinbank 2nd October, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

      Hope they help, Amy. They are not a definitive list; but a start, I hope!

  5. Sue Milton 2nd October, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    Sue Milton via Penelope Swithinbank
    Thank you Penelope for sharing your pain, for giving me the courage to acknowledge my pain and to ask God continually to heal us and renew us in Him

    • Margaret 2nd October, 2012 at 9:57 am #

      Thank you for such raw honesty and therefore such nuggets Penelope. Your treasured insights have been bravely fought for and are a gift and a blessing to many of us.

      • Penelope Swithinbank 2nd October, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

        All is gift – and words are a gift from God. Praying that these words will indeed help others today. Thank you, Sue and MArgaret.

  6. Joanna 2nd October, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    So much wisdom in such a short post. Thank you for sharing this, Penelope. I have also found all the things you mention helpful in recovering from a traumatic incident. The other thing that helped me enormously was growing things, particularly things the family could eat! Just a small trough of salad in the garden or a little planter in the kitchen with pea shoots or coriander can do wonders for a bruised spirit.

    • Penelope Swithinbank 2nd October, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      I love the creatively simply yet profoundly helpful idea of growing things! What a great thing to do – and to see new life and provide for others. Now I am looking forward to our upcoming move to the countryside where I am planning to grow a few things too. Thank you Joanne; this is a wonderful suggestion for others too.


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