A personal prescription

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast from the team at Wild at Heart. They were talking about the upcoming summer. We all tend to use the summer to go on holiday, go adventuring and invite people round for barbeques. That is great, but this year they urged us all to remember that this isn’t any ordinary summer – we have all been through a season of worldwide trauma, that hasn’t completely gone away. The world is opening up again to some extent, and it is tempting to think that going back to how things were before is going to help us heal. But it won’t.

Imagine going to see a therapist and telling them everything you have been through. The isolation, the fear around simply going to the shops. Not being able to see precious family and friends. The lack of closure around the deaths of loved ones. The grief over the postponement or cancellation of much-anticipated events. The frustration when things that used to be simple, like trying to get a doctors’ appointment, have now become fraught with difficulty. The pain of not being able to gather as the body of Christ and worship together.

Now imagine if that therapist was the best one possible – they know your heart and your soul better than you know it yourself. They know exactly what brings you life, but they also know the limitations of your work and family situation. What prescription would they write for the summer ahead?

Well, we do have such a therapist – the Holy Spirit living in our hearts.

This afternoon I sat down and prayed. I asked the Spirit to speak to me about what I need on my personal prescription. I think I need to sit down and do this a few more times yet, but so far, none of the answers have been big, crazy things. They are all the tiniest lifestyle tweaks that open me up, give me breathing space, and calm for my heart and mind. They are not difficult. They still involve me cooking the dinner, doing the washing, looking after my 4-year-old. Some of them I will have to organise in, like finding time for a long walk. Others I need to lay down or moderate, such as non-intentional time scrolling through various media.

They are all simple, yet the warfare over our recovery and healing is intense. The enemy would like nothing more than for us to live half-lives, dazed and fearful. So we need to pray with spunk and determination:

I choose healing for my heart and my soul. In the name of Jesus, I lift off and banish the trauma of the past year. I choose not to partner with fear, frustration and despair, and instead I choose to draw on the life of the Spirit within me. I choose not to comfort eat or comfort scroll, and instead I partner with the love, joy and peace of God. Lord, show me things that are excellent, praiseworthy, noble and good; fill me with your beauty. I refuse to seek out the quick fix or to over-compensate for all I have missed and instead choose to delight in the simple, little things that refresh my soul. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Photo by Jan Padilla on Unsplash

Aligning with Christ

Ephesians 4:11-13

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

In the last year or so I have discovered an entire breed of people I didn’t know existed before: prophets. I first stumbled upon them when searching for teaching on a specific demon, because, well, who else is teaching on that other than a bunch of warrior prophets?

I mean, I knew about prophets because most of the Old Testament was written by them, and Paul lists both the office of prophet and the gift of prophecy in 1 Corinthians 12. I am also quite familiar with prophecy – I have heard loads of teaching about how prophecy is about speaking out what God is saying for the building up and edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:1-5), and how it isn’t really about foretelling the future. I’ve used the gift of prophecy quite a lot myself. And I haven’t heard any teaching that says there is no such thing as a prophet today, but the church circles I have moved in seem to just turn a blind eye to the possibility. I just assumed a prophet was someone who uses the gift of prophecy a lot.

But then when I search deeper, that understanding is challenged. In Acts 11:26-30, a prophet from the Jerusalem church named Agabus travels to Antioch. There, he stands up in the middle of the believers and prophesies that a severe famine will spread over the entire Roman world. He also has a very tough personal prophecy for Paul in Acts 21:11. These are not ‘nice’ prophecies for building up and edifying the church, and they result in serious action.

John the Baptist was acknowledged as a prophet by Jesus – admittedly he was ministering before the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, but his prophecies were also not enjoyable to listen to.

Jesus himself is our prophet, priest and king – he regularly prophesied, including prophetic weeping over Jerusalem in Matthew 23 and Luke 13. One particular occasion he speaks to Peter in John 21:18, telling him something very difficult about his death.

If the gift of prophecy is solely for comforting and ‘nice’ words – for the edification of the church, who then has the job of pulling the church up when it goes off the tracks? Who will notice when we are not aligned with Christ, and say the strong and difficult word to bring us back? Who will warn us of the plans of the enemy so we can prepare and be on guard? Who will warn us of coming famines and times of change?

That is the office of the prophet – different to the available-to-all gift of prophecy. God releases his Word particularly strongly to those called to this office, and their job is to spend time in deep prayer, learning to steward his gift.

Time and again this year my attitudes and understanding have been challenged by people who have taken on this mantle. And I have to say – it hurts. It is so hard to hear a word that confronts you with your own failings and ungodly mindsets. It is horrible being kicked out of your comfort zone.

Prophets are not easy to be friends with, but it is so, so worth it.

Seek prophets out at your peril. And ignore them at your peril – they will show you where you are not aligning with Christ, reveal the darkness in your heart, and give you the application of the Word to help you move forward in Him. They will also show you the true beauty of the heavenly realm, and point you to Jesus in all his glory and splendour.

And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town and in his own home.” Matthew 13:57

“Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.” Matthew 10:41

Global Prophetic Alliance: https://www.propheticscots.com/

British Isles Council of Prophets: https://www.prophets.org.uk/

Breaking the bondage of shame

In the last blog post I talked about how shame lingers. Even the most lightweight of mistakes can leave my cheeks burning red and my insides curling up and trying to hide. Even though I know I am forgiven.

One of the people who blew it spectacularly and then had to come face to face with the one he had wronged was Peter. Jesus rose from the dead, and no doubt Peter was utterly delighted to see his great friend and teacher again. And yet… when I imagine him face to face with Jesus eating breakfast on the beach, I can feel my own pangs of shame that resonate with his.

You know how smells evoke memories incredibly strongly? For me, the scent of a particular kind of wood fire immediately transports me to Kampala in the early morning. For Peter, I wonder if the aroma of the charcoal fire on the beach reminded him of the smell of the charcoal fire in that courtyard outside the High Priest’s house – the stench of his betrayal, fresh in his mind as he looks at his risen Lord.

How must Peter feel at seeing Jesus again? Ashamed. We all know logically that we are forgiven by Jesus, but the shame lingers and keeps us bound. It stops us lifting up our heads. It makes us feel unworthy in so many ways.

None of the disciples will have felt completely able to look Jesus in the eye – they all slept in the garden and they all abandoned him. I like to imagine Jesus looking each one in the eye as he gives them breakfast. That loving look that obliterates the darkness and pain.

But Peter was a little more tender, so Jesus handles him differently. When I was reading the passage, initially it sounded like he was talking to Peter over breakfast in front of the other disciples. But later on it talks about Peter looking back and seeing John walking behind them. That means they had gone for a walk – this chat was discrete and completely private. Jesus was honouring and loving Peter by keeping the difficult conversation entirely between themselves.

When our wounded hearts need tending to, Jesus is honouring and discrete. If we are willing to let him, he will call things out in us gently and tenderly – in our own private times with him or with a close friend.

The thing that makes shame so hard to shift is that it usually has demonic roots and initially takes the form of a bondage. Bondages come about when we believe the lies of the enemy – you’ll never be good enough – you’re too dirty – you’ll always be abandoned and useless. When we agree with things like this they hold us captive and we struggle to push through them to be fully alive and walking in all God has for us.

The way to get rid of bondages is to break them. We speak truth in place of the lies and choose not to agree with them any more. Jesus, with patient questioning, enabled Peter to declare the truth. “Do you love me?”

“Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” Peter spoke out the opposite of his denial.

And then Jesus went even further: “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus’ words could so easily have been condemnation, but instead they were total acceptance. Not only am I not ashamed of you, I want to use you in my Kingdom.

The bondage of shame has been broken – to such an extent that Peter allowed it to become public knowledge that he had denied Jesus. And how many of us have drawn comfort from his foibles? God takes our weaknesses and shame, and he redeems them, heals us, and even uses them to advance his Kingdom.

It is simply impossible to stray too far from his love. He seeks us, kicks down our walls and lifts our heads again.

I am enough

I had to preach on Sunday about the cross. And as I was praying about the talk, I felt Jesus say three simple words about himself: “I am enough.”

His cross is enough. His passion is enough.

We all get things wrong and make mistakes, and because of the cross of Jesus we can know we are forgiven and our guilt is taken away. But why do we rarely actually feel forgiven? 

A number of years ago a friend from church came to our house to set up our internet connection. As a teen who had had experience of emails and websites at school (and thinking I knew better than everyone), I became quite frustrated at the way he was explaining things to my parents. So when he’d gone, I wrote an email to my sister who was at uni, telling her how annoying it had been. But then something went wrong with the computer and a couple of days later he was back. He checked the emails were working and to my horror, there was a short reply from my sister, and my whole email pinged up on the screen for both my mum and the man to read.

Now in terms of guilt and sin, this is a pretty minor incident. But whenever I think of this man, my insides curl up and I feel utterly ashamed. There are several reasons for my shame, I think. Firstly, he was a kind and gentle soul, and incredibly generous to our family. He didn’t need to see my criticism. Secondly, my mum was right there, reading over his shoulder and I felt ashamed for my family. Finally, my email to my sister was private and the things that are done in secret squirm away from the light.

But why does shame linger so much? I’ve asked for forgiveness from God, I know I am forgiven, and it was so long ago, it should be long forgotten. Shame is insidious and hard to shift.

And shame doesn’t just cling to issues of guilt and forgiveness: a child is abandoned, a woman is raped, people are emotionally abused and bullied. The victims have done nothing wrong but still they feel shame – shame at the violation, shame at the loss of purity, shame at feeling like they can never be enough.

We all suffer from shame in different ways. We carry shame in different parts of our bodies that have maybe suffered disgrace or been criticised by others. We carry shame in our minds for having intrusive thoughts and unhealthy addictions. We carry shame in our hearts where we have felt rejection or hold onto regrets. We carry shame over different periods of our past.

But I want to put to you that the cross doesn’t just take away our guilt – it can take away our shame too. The cross is enough – for absolutely everyone and everything. No exceptions. As Jesus whispered to me earlier, ‘I am enough.’ My cross is enough.

Jeremiah 31:33-34
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbour,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

This wonderful prophecy about the new covenant in Jesus concludes, ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and I will remember their sins no more.’ You are forgiven, and even more than that, your sin is forgotten. God looks at you, and instead of seeing someone in filthy stained rags, he sees Jesus. Your guilt is taken away and your shame need not linger.

In John 12:31-32 passage Jesus says, ‘Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ Shame is one of the minions of the prince of this world – and as followers of Jesus we have authority to drive it out. So when we find ourselves bowed in shame, unable to accept that the cross has power for us, we tell shame to go away because Jesus has done it – Satan, death, shame, and all the powers of darkness have been swallowed up in his victory, and Jesus is drawing all people to himself. All people. Even those bound up in shame. He is enough. His cross has power, even for you. Even for me.

One of the greatest joys of being a Christian is being able to release forgiveness. Seeing someone accept the forgiveness of God and apply it to their lives is incredible. To watch the release of peace that brings healing, hope and joy is a complete privilege.

So don’t put it off. Let’s pray together.

Holy Spirit, is there something I keep asking forgiveness for but never quite feel free?

I choose not to partner with shame any more. I declare that Jesus’ death and resurrection means I am forgiven and my sin, or those done to me, are completely removed by his blood.

In the name of Jesus, I bind and I banish shame over this part of myself. I receive forgiveness and peace into my heart and mind.

Learning to love myself

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31

We all have different struggles with ‘as yourself’. We have hang-ups, regrets, insecurities, disfigurements (real or imagined); and even those who come across as supremely self-confident often hide their pain behind a thin veneer of bolshiness or domineering tactics. Whatever our personal struggles, it’s all very well being told to ‘love yourself’, but how do you actually do this in a practical way?

I am blessed to be fairly peaceful in my heart, but there has always been a body-image issue stopping me from being completely happy in myself. As I have sought God for moving forward in 2021 over the last few weeks, He has led me on a journey of learning to love my body. This is not an easy thing to admit. Since moving from childhood to adolescence (or probably before then) I have been uncomfortable in my skin. I dislike my height, my weight, where I curve. I struggle to buy clothes that fit properly, and over the years this has meant I have gravitated towards clothes that hide and cover. Almost my entire wardrobe is navy blue. And then I feel bad that once again I am pairing one shade of navy blue with another shade of navy blue. The one time I got to a place where I was reasonably happy with my weight, I walked into the shop thinking, “I’m feeling good about myself for once – let’s buy something that fits me well,” only to discover that the world seemed to have gone all in for a fashion of baggy, shapeless tops.

And so I knew that God wanted this to change – I have been actively hating something that is a gift to me from Him and is at its very core, good.  the other day I spent a good long time writing in my journal – I went through every part of my body that I dislike. I wrote about how I feel about it, and time and again God brought memories to the surface: the school photographer who called me a ‘chubby bunny’; the pointed look a school friend gave me when my body started to change; the comment someone had made about the ‘powerful thighs’ I was developing through cycling.

One of the joys of journaling is that I have to be deliberate. It slows down my thought processes. This means that when I bring my bottled-up-pain into the open through pen and ink it is powerful. When I write down ‘I choose to forgive the photographer for calling my 7-year-old self a chubby bunny’ then I have to really mean it: the power of declaring it in writing (and out loud) breaks the strongholds of the enemy in my life. When I write down ‘I choose not to reject my legs as ugly any more, and to accept them as part of my body,’ something shifts in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms and I become more whole as a person.

I also find that because my thoughts are slowed down by writing, space is created for God to speak. As I write about how I feel about the length and shape of my legs, He whispers: “You feel they are too big; I see strength. I am calling you to stand firm in Me.”  Time and again He blows me away with the words He speaks, and I feel healing flow as I become reconciled to my body.

This is my struggle at the moment – and quite a feminine one (although not exclusively so). For others it might be dealing with past and current trauma, fears for the future, or guilt and shame. There are at least as many different struggles as there are people. There will also be different ways to receive healing – talking it through with a friend, going for a prayerful walk, shouting and throwing stones into the sea, going for a long run like Forrest Gump. Some things will also need the help of professionals, but I urge you not to forget that our God is a healer and to turn to Him alongside whatever help you get.

My journey to be reconciled to my body is going to be long, I expect, but one I desperately want to take so that I can become more whole and my heart can be more at peace. When my heart is calm, those who are in turmoil can find peace in me and rest for their souls as I find it in Christ. That, truly, will be loving my neighbour as myself.

The breaking of the wave

2020 has been a tough year for so many reasons. Tonight we leave it and move into 2021.

As I was praying this morning, I felt like 2020 was a bit like the dying part of a wave where all the water is dragged back and sucked up before the new wave breaks. It has been a painful stripping back, and many of us feel like we have been dragged across the rocks.

But the new wave is coming, and anyone who has swum in an even slightly rough sea knows that the crashing of a wave can cause pain and disorientation. But it can also transform the coast it crashes against and wash away unhealthy debris.

In 2020 I have found that whenever I tried to push through in my own strength, I became stressed and weary. Instead I had to keep taking time over and over again to draw close to Jesus and receive from him the life that I needed to get through. I want to express my deep love and thanks to my wonderful husband James who entertained the three year old who is constantly asking questions or wanting a story, and my amazing friend Amy who always spotted when I needed to take the time to be refreshed.

But now I urge all of you – don’t put all your hopes in the change of the calendar year, because it really isn’t solid ground. Instead, put your hope in Jesus who is the fountain of all life, and the source of joy and peace when all around you seems to come crashing down. He is the light of the world, and the darkness cannot stand against him. And we look forward to not a new calendar year, but the day when he will come again in glory to make all things new.

Face to Face with the King

We join the crowd lining a glorious avenue of trees. The day feels fresh and new, and the world is young again – colours dazzle, and all of the senses we never knew had dimmed are renewed with vigour and life. Anticipation and excitement hang on the air as the crowd look down the road with expectation.

A figure approaches along the road. He is glorious. He is young and yet full of the wisdom of ages. He is a mighty warrior, and yet gentle and humble. His form is perfect and yet he bears terrible scars. I could gaze upon him forever.

And I have plenty of time to do so, because he stops before each person. And each person is treated differently, because he knows. He knows the sorrows and the joys, the triumphs and the losses.

Some, he wraps up in an enormous bear hug – embracing them in the way they remember from their childhood, or in the way they wish they could remember from their childhood.

For some he looks deeply into tear-filled eyes, and gently wipes away the pain and grief of years.

Others instinctively shy away, crouching down low so as not to be noticed. For them, he kneels, places his hand upon their cheek and carefully lifts their head. ‘Even that.’ He whispers, ‘Even that can be forgiven.’

And for me? We dance. Not a slow dance or an awkward school disco shuffle, but something more like the ‘swing your partners’ at a Ceilidh. It is exuberant and joyful, laughter bubbling up to erase the cares and worries brought about by living too much from my own resources and not his.

We celebrate together – celebrate his remarkable coronation and his irresistible power, goodness and holiness that overthrew Satan and all the works of darkness that kept the world in bondage.

And as I watch him greet each person in turn, I realise that my King, my wonderful Lord, is finally completing my life’s work, and the work of his church down the centuries. He is proclaiming good news for the poor, binding up the broken-hearted, proclaiming freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the oppressed. He is comforting those who mourn and providing for those who grieve.

This, to me is Christ the King. I partner with him in his mission to the world, and none of it is wasted as I put my hope in his future glory and the putting right of all things.

Remembering (or not)

The saxophonist picks up her instrument. The drummer begins the count, and she is lost. The song, Autumn Leaves, is so familiar her body plays as if asleep – her breathing, fingers, and embouchure working together effortlessly. The song moves on, and she begins to move away from the head, improvising over the internalised chord structure. Her mind may wander to leaves drifting down from an avenue of maples, but it is memories that fill her. Memories of hearing this song played live by a band in a packed jazz club in Chicago. Memories of studying all the great interpretations of this song by so many that have gone before her – Miles Davis, Erroll Garner, Eva Cassidy. And now it is her turn to weave the threads of memory together into a new creation, something beautiful, something her own, yet part of a greater whole.

Like the Jazz musician, we too are part of a tradition of memory. The Psalms are like the Jazz Standards of our Judaeo-Christian heritage, and every Christian songwriter is building on all that has gone before. Every year we retell the story through the Christian festivals, and take our place in the ancient melody.

Why do we remember?

Today is Armistice Day, and we remember the costly impact of particularly the first World War, as well as the sacrifices made by so many of our ancestors and those serving in the armed forces in defence of our nation. It is an emotional day – both patriotic and confessional. We are thankful that a great evil was overcome, and yet we mourn for our own failures as a nation over centuries. We remember to celebrate, we remember to confess, and we remember to change. In Revelation 3 when speaking to the church in Sardis, Jesus tells them to “Remember what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.”

I’ve just been reading through 2 Chronicles, and I’ve been struck by the repetition – it mostly focuses on the people of Judah, and the way they lurch from one king to another; one who leads them away to serve foreign gods, and then another who leads them to remember the Lord and come back to him. I was particularly struck by Josiah – he leads them to reinstate worship in the temple, and as they do so they discover the book of the law. They read it, they remember, they mourn and then they change.

We also remember to heal. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up in 1995 in post-apartheid South Africa gave the chance for victims to be heard and perpetrators to confess. The process brought much healing and reconciliation, although the process of collective remembering was painful.

Psychiatrists and counsellors often encourage their clients to share their stories, to delve into painful memories. This is because sometimes events are so horrific our brains do not process properly, and we almost need to reset. In a Christian prayer ministry setting, it can be important to remember painful things in order to identify where lies of the enemy have taken hold, or where we have made agreements – cursed ourselves, if you like – and need to break free. Someone who has been abandoned by a parent may tell themselves that they aren’t worthy of love anyway – and in doing so they partner with the enemy and need the healing the Spirit brings to fully receive and accept the love of God and also the love of others.

The children of Israel are repeatedly told to ‘Remember you were slaves in Egypt.’ This act of remembrance reminded them of many things, including how far they had come, and how the God they serve is a God of deliverance.

Every week (lockdown permitting), the church around the world shares in an act of remembrance – communion. In this act we take our place in the tradition of centuries of Christian worship, remembering the passion of Jesus, his body broken and his blood outpoured. We remember that our God is one of mercy, grace and love. We remember and we adore.

But our remembering isn’t my only focus today. I did a word study of ‘remember’ in the Bible and I was thrilled by what I found. We serve a God who both remembers, and doesn’t remember. He sees the rainbow and remembers his promise never to flood the earth again. He remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and remains faithful to his people, and to us. He remembers the evil and wickedness of the enemies of his people.

But then he doesn’t remember. In Jeremiah 31 we have these incredible words:

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbour,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

The new covenant, mysteriously symbolised in bread and wine, is the outworking of God’s choice not to remember. Where before he would look at the rainbow and remember his promise not to flood, or he would look at his people and remember his covenant with the patriarchs, now he looks at us and instead of remembering our wickedness, he remembers his son on the cross. He remembers thorns, nails, whips, and blood poured out. No matter how big or small the evil deeds we have committed, he remembers Jesus.

So we pause to remember body broken and blood shed. And we give thanks.

Our father in heaven pauses to remember body broken and blood shed. And he forgives, heals and welcomes us into his very presence. Come, he says, and know me.

Allowing ourselves to hope

“It taught me to hope,” said he, “as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before.” Mr. Darcy – Pride and Prejudice” ― Jane Austen

A poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

I envy not in any moods
         The captive void of noble rage,
         The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:

I envy not the beast that takes
         His license in the field of time,
         Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;

Nor, what may count itself as blest,
         The heart that never plighted troth
         But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
         I feel it, when I sorrow most;
         ‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

This poem is, of course, most famous for its final stanza. There is something about loving that is so good for the heart, even if we then lose the person or thing that we have loved. It is in loving, where that love is selfless and pure, that our hearts are at their most whole.

But my question today does not completely focus on love. I have been pondering whether it is better to have hoped for something and then grieved its loss or non-emergence, than not to have allowed ourselves to hope at all. I write this when it seems like the world is plunging into a second time of lockdown as Coronavirus cases increase once again. Those on waiting lists for minor, yet life-changing operations have to wait yet more. Small business owners who launched last year with such hope and expectation, now find those hopes once more put on hold, or dashed altogether.

This week is also baby loss awareness week. In 2016 I lost my first baby the day before we were due to have our 12-week scan. It was an awful time, but I kept the British stiff-upper-lip and carried on. It is hard to properly grieve a life you never knew, and I suppose what I was grieving was lost hope. Then, when I became pregnant again a couple of months later, I told almost no-one, and found hoping incredibly difficult. I remember the relief at the first scan when I was told the baby was alive and had a heartbeat. But even then, I did not allow hope to flourish too strongly, and it wasn’t until my maternity leave that I actually began to prepare properly – we are indebted to some good friends who emptied their baby equipment into our house, as we had virtually nothing.

Now I look back, I wonder why hope is so hard. If I had allowed myself to hope a bit more, what would the difference have been? I don’t remember that second pregnancy with great joy, although my symptoms were reasonably easy. The months were grey, pierced occasionally by the bright light of God’s presence as he taught me how to forgive negligent medical staff during the miscarriage and acknowledge my sadness and grief at the lost life. Hope, I now realise, brings life and colour. It brings joy and excitement, which is good for the heart.

A friend of mine asked whether the pain of grief or rejection is less if you stifle hope, or if you allow it to blossom. It is impossible to compare like for like. But I have come to believe that a heart that hopes is healthier than a heart that supresses all hope. If we allow ourselves to hope, and the outcome is not what we hoped for, the difference between the height and the depth is greater and that is frightening. However, if we suppress all hope and live instead in anxiety and fear, we spend our life in the depths and never experience the heights. And the joyful emotions – when they do come – are somehow deadened and not long-lasting.  So even if the outcome is grief once again, I believe that a heart that had been released to hope is in a better place to properly deal with the grief than one that had spent so much time in a prison of darkness.

Isaiah 40:31
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Lamentations 3:21-23
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.