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 wounds – but 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: http://www.ministriesbydesign.org/2012/06/22/what-are-you-waiting-for/
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: www.ministriesbydesign.org
Over to you:
- What has helped you most in times of difficulties and sorrow and pain?
- What can you share that might help others?
Liked this post? Do stay in touch – subscribe by email or like my Facebook page.