Recently, Derek and I spoke with a newly married couple and they asked us to share some advice, especially as Derek and I have been married a long time. We paused. There was so much we could say, ‘Love each other,’ ‘Be kind’, or even ‘With God you can do it.’
But what came mind was something we have learned the hard way. It is something Jesus repeated taught as well – ‘Listen, then, if you have ears!’* There is little mileage in winning an argument, but a conversation can go a long way.
As a very wise lady once observed about another conflict a long time ago: ‘Why do they argue? Don’t they see that both are right?’
So our advice to this couple was simple – ‘Listen.’
This is the question Elizabeth asked Mary, a young, single, mother-to-be. And this is the question I too should have been asking in all my troubles over the years. Instead, I recited the wrong ones…
Why won’t you hurry up, God, and answer my prayers?
How can I survive in this intolerable situation?
Don’t you care, God?
But God has been helping me redirect my focus – to look for what is good. And that is hard for me to do, for everything in my heart cries out against these injustices, it cries out against the cruel behaviour of others.
So, today, I celebrated my father’s death, for 33 years ago today, he suddenly died. Derek and I shared an ice cream sundae, and rejoiced in the bravery my father had to admit that he had done wrong. We thanked God for the occasions where he stood up against wrong. We agreed that because of his severity, I grew much deeper in faith.
So, I celebrate with Elizabeth for God’s favour in hard times.
That was what Naomi said when she lost her husband and two sons. She said, ‘Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter’ (Ruth 1:20). And in her deep grief, she tried to drive away those she loved.
God’s exiled people experienced the same in nature. They came to a spring, but ‘they could not drink its water because it was bitter’ (Exodus 15:23). They backed away from it and rejected it, because bitterness has a way of driving others away.
But God stepped into both situations. God gave Naomi a grandson through the very person she tried to reject. He cured the water for his exiled people, the very water they refused to drink. And God will do the same for us. Let’s not drive others away in our great sadness and bitterness of heart, for it is often through these people that we find God’s hope.
Why 143 revisions over 7 years? God isn’t in a hurry when working in our hearts. It took all those years to find the laugh. Enjoy my bio below…
Rich girl, poor girl, beggar girl, Leaf…
Eva Leaf was born in the USA to World War II refugees – a RICH girl – with family and chilling escape stories from Eastern Europe. But Eva’s Pa got spooked and fled again – a POOR girl – to an isolated place in the Ozark mountains.
Next came homelessness in tents and a barn – a BEGGAR girl – with nothing but a cardboard box of clothes and a borrowed guitar. But God stepped in to rescue in an unexpected way. She could finally go to college and study Religious Education in Canada. After getting a degree, she became a teacher on the Mexican/USA border.
Later, an English gentleman, by the name of LEAF, found her and whisked her away. Together, they worked for a charity in England and Portugal. They have now set up home in an English village, where Eva mentors and writes.
She did dream of becoming a doctor, pilot, a commander-in-chief – she has four grown children instead – RICH girl!
It never occurred to me how good God was to Hagar, a female slave in the Bible. Even though it could feel like she was wrongly treated, being sent away into the desert with her son, God gave her the greatest gift she could ever have – her freedom.
Yet, in order to gain that freedom, Hagar had to leave. She had to leave that strange sense of security in her slavery, where all her physical needs had been met. And we too can remain where we are, in our untenable situations, because in some way our needs are met.
Oh, the kindness of God, to get us kicked out. Oh, the lostness we will feel in this uncomfortable place. But, once we look around at the new life we have, God shows us a better way to live. ‘Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water’ (Genesis 21:19). Hagar used her freedom to provide for another – she gave her son a drink.
I would like to share what the Lord has taught me concerning loss. One year stands out. I was a young mum with a toddler and my father died. My granny died. My sister fractured her back. I had a miscarriage. Derek got ill and the doctor said he might never get better. But Derek had already handed in his notice at work because we had just joined as Nav reps. On top of that we had agreed to move to Southampton to lead the student ministry. So, I packed the house alone. Then out of the blue I suffered a painful relationship breakdown with someone I deeply loved.
It all hurt too much, and I couldn’t pray.
I couldn’t read the Bible or even flick through its pages. My Bible simply stayed open where it was, at Isaiah 40:1-2. “Comfort, comfort my people. says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…” In my losses, those two verses sustained me.
Unhelpful tips about loss: over the years, unhelpful cliches also came my way, advice I eventually learned was false.
Here are a few:
– The pain will go away if you ignore it.
– Time heals all wounds. It will get easier. Give yourself a year.
– Your pain doesn’t really count because others have it worse.
– Don’t worry. You will forget your loss.BUT WE DON’T!!
A loss is always a loss, and it is valid. It needs to be paid attention to.
Our individual response to loss
Through it I learned that each loss is unique and personal to us. And how we respond will depend on our personality, life experience, and our faith. It will depend on how significant the loss is to us. If someone says, “I hate you,” but we don’t really care about their opinion, it won’t bother us. But if someone we love says, “I hate you,” it destroys us.
So how do we move on?
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross came up with the five stages of grief. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. She also said this, “There is no typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.” And I had to learn that no matter how someone might like me to keep my emotions tidy and under control, loss is messy. and it will mess us around.
But I did discover a way through loss, and my guide was Jesus himself.
Here are some thoughts which come from Matthew 26.
– We can grieve our losses just as Jesus did. I grieve best in the silence of night. Others grieve differently. So, it is important to know who we are and how we grieve.
– We can talk about our losses just as Jesus did with God and others. Jesus prayed, “May this cup be taken from me.” To his disciples he said, “My soul is overwhelmed.” But he chose those with whom he shared. And we too must be careful, for others might judge us and say unkind things. Hannah in the Bible, when she wept over the loss of not having children, the priest scolded her, that is, until he understood. It is an awful thing to be scolded for our losses.
– We can find comfort in God just as Jesus did. God sent an angel to comfort Jesus, and God will send us those who can comfort us. But comfort isn’t just to make us feel better. It is there to help us grow.
God used that painful relationship breakdown, and I learned a powerful lesson. I could let go of worrying about the loss of my reputation, for it is God who gives it. I could stop trying to justify myself because God would do that.
– We can get up and live just as Jesus did. To Jesus, it didn’t mean he forgot about his losses. He went up to heaven with permanent scars in his hands! But there was new life at the end.
And this is what I have learned over years, that God gives new life amid the ashes. He gives incredible joy amid our losses.
Sure, I can never go back to how life was before, but I can accept the new path God has for me. My new and uncharted normal. For God gives hope in our despair. In Psalm 34:18 it says, “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” In Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
And with this comfort, we can comfort others.
Our lives are a rich testimony, showing that our losses can give life to others. The Apostle Paul said, “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). It is so true.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross made this observation: Let us become those beautiful people, loving, and living generously in our loss.
Eva’s book, This Crown of Comfort is available now:
‘No matter how broken or hurt we are, we are given in this excellent book the tools or ‘the calls of God’ to build a bridge to healing and wholeness. This book reminds us of God’s deep love for us in our time of greatest need and provides a spiritual balm for every situation.’
Dawn Braithwaite, solicitor and consultant ‘This Crown of Comfort conveys seven powerful messages from Isaiah about God’s tender heart towards Jerusalem. The author skillfully intertwines her many personal stories with the messages to illuminate God’s unfailing love to his people. This book is an easy read yet rich with insights, comfort and encouragement – a must for anyone who seeks healing and desires to experience God afresh.’
Anissa Chung, UKCP registered psychotherapist and supervisor
Exactly 8 years ago my memoir, ‘On Unclipped Wings’ was accepted by a major Christian publisher, but then threatened with litigation. And 4 years ago today, I self-published it. That threat was meant to silence me and it almost did.
But, all things do work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28). I learned that each of us has a voice, unique to us, and that God wants each of us to speak. I learned that no one can thwart God’s will in my life, or anyone’s life, for that matter. I learned that I was an expert at accepting failure, but now God wanted me to learn how to succeed.
My memoir is still barred from traditional publishing, but God is my constant comfort. For, even though he chose not to protect me from the threat of litigation, he is and always will be good.
On occasion, my adult children recount stories from the past. ‘Oh, by the way, Mum, I never told you about the time I nearly cut myself in half, bicycling through a field in the night.’ Or, ‘Remember the time I came home late? I was walking along the top of that cliff, but I never told you that I forgot to take my torch.’
I have come to learn – 1) that these are confessions, but not ones of penitence. 2) that I don’t need to forgive, for these are the wisdom-growing adventures of independence.
But when these confessions do surface, I always turn to God in thanks for his promise concerning my children: ‘The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life.’ (Psalm 121:7).
Maybe this is your story as well… I grew up having to be ‘perfect’, to be intuitive and figure out how to please. So for me, failure causes intense agony, even now.
But it took me a while to realise that those who demanded my perfection never lifted a finger to help. And those who pointed out my failures didn’t actually care for my success. Was there a way out?
Slowly, I learned that, ‘Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up’ (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
My true friends are those who help me be my best, and who let me do the same. DAH!
This past week, I spent hours upcycling old bricks, chipping off old cement. But I also spent those hours thinking about Nelson Mandela. As a prisoner, he too chipped away at stones in a quarry, and after 27 years, he still could forgive.
If he had the courage to do that, so could I. So, I chipped and prayed about a painful situation… Then it dawned on me – God is above every manipulation, and no one can ruin his plans.
I finished that pile of bricks and late that night, I stopped fretting about my apparent ruin. I was still on track in God’s eyes. I could forgive. I could leave bitterness behind, because God is above all.