Wilderness times


    Category
    Voices
    Date
    31 March 2015
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    Throughout all of his illness, he never lost his faith, his confidence in God, his desire to serve God, or even his sense of humour. When his physical strength had gone, he remained a strong man; finding his strength in God alone.

    Jon Bird web

    Growing up in a Christian family, I was always aware of the reality of God, being a part of our daily lives. My mother and father were actively involved in the church and lived their lives serving God, aiming to bring his life into the lives of others.

    I find it hard to point to one specific day when I ‘became a Christian’. It seemed to be that as my understanding of God grew, so did my desire to follow him. I remember listening at the age of nine to a man called Jack Lemmon, who shared his story of finding God in the most difficult of times when in prison. He challenged us that faith was not something you could inherit but something you needed to choose for yourself. I wanted to make that choice.

    Some years later, I came to realise that faith was far more than simple belief.

    I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood with so many memories of family time together, enjoying the natural world, fishing, canoeing, climbing mountains, going out to sea or all around the South West or Wales in our caravan.

    When my father contracted cancer, my whole world was turned upside down. My Dad, a minister in a Baptist church, was a big man, a strong man, respected by many and a strong leader. As cancer took hold of him, I saw him shrink in size, but not in character.

    His illness shocked the church and I, along with many others, struggled to come to terms with why it was happening to him. Didn’t he have so much more to achieve? Wasn’t God supposed to be a good God? These and many more questions troubled me greatly.

    Over a few years, we prayed and prayed, even seeing miraculous healing for a period of time which doctors could not explain. During this time, I was so privileged to even be baptised by my Dad; a special time. But as the cancer came back with a vengeance, I watched as my Dad lost weight and strength, becoming gaunt and wheelchair bound; a shadow of the man he was.

    Throughout all of his illness, he never lost his faith, his confidence in God, his desire to serve God, or even his sense of humour. When his physical strength had gone, he remained a strong man; finding his strength in God alone.

    For me, watching him die was the darkest of times. When I think of Lent, and Jesus’ wilderness experience, I remember this as one of my wilderness times. It was a time when belief was not enough. I wrestled with God, cried to him or shouted at him; angry at him for seeming to ignore my prayers and lack compassion for my pain.

    My Dad died the week before my 13th birthday. Weeks earlier he gave me my early birthday present of a camera and taught me how to use it. This was his last trip out of home. (Even now I think of him in my love of photography; how much he gave me!)

    For a while, I was torn between thankfulness that he wasn’t suffering any more, confusion as to why he had to die, fear for how I would get by without him, anger at my loss, such deep grief, and a joy that he was in a far better place where his body worked properly again and he could enjoy life with God once more. I guess I was happy for Dad but so sad for all he left behind.

    Through the wilderness times, the ‘dark night of the soul’ when faith is tested and it feels like we cannot get through this on our own, belief becomes faith - belief in action. This was my experience and I came to know God was with me, in the happiness and the pain. He had a plan for me and would be my strength when I had none of my own.

    I found the truth in the text, ‘You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.’ (Matthew 5:3

    The Message

    ). We might not feel blessed but we can certainly know what it is to not be alone or find strength to overcome, when really dependent upon God.

    This has continued to be the truth for me throughout my life. God is my strength and my hope. God is good even when life is not.

    Jon Bird is headteacher at St Mary’s CE Primary School, Yate

    Contemplate now

    What does God’s presence mean to you; how would you notice God’s absence?

    Whether faith is something you’ve always felt, never felt or have found - maybe only at times – does action come first or afterwards?

    What does it mean to bring God’s life into the loves of others? How does it happen?

    Meditate through the day

    Find some part of yourself that’s not what you want; try to shed it for today and let God be there instead.