Grief affects the whole family, but affects us all differently. An experience that should draw everyone together, can instead be divisive. I have one ill daughter, one disabled daughter and one neglected daughter at present. I feel I ought to be giving all of them more attention than I am. I also feel I’m so overwhelmed by my own emotions that I haven’t any energy left over for handling theirs. As a result we get irritated with each other and tempers fray. Bad mother.
After witnessing a fracas between me and one of my daughters this morning, a friend reminded me that we all need to lean on each other, but no one can do more leaning than weight-bearing, or we all collapse. Wise words. This afternoon I flicked on the radio in time to hear a song with the line, “I worship You and I hide in the shadow of Your wings”.
I realised that the reason I’m short on patience with my daughters is that I’ve allowed my focus to be trained in the wrong direction. It’s good to be self-aware, but to be self-analytical is to turn my focus away from Jesus. Instead of worship, which makes me lose myself only to find my true self in Him and Him dwelling in me, I stare at the problems and the feelings, which then loom large.
I love to lie in bed at night with my curtains open, looking up at the night sky, feeling the mystery of having my own place in this vast universe, occupying a slot created just for me. But if that’s where it stops, it’s not enough; it should lead me into quiet communion with the Maker of it all. And lately, I’ve neglected that, caught up in my own overwhelming feelings. Bad worshipper.
By the end of this morning, my daughter and I had apologised to each other and I had made a peace-offering cup of coffee! Repairing the minor damage done to that relationship isn’t too difficult – just a bit of grace and forgiveness on both sides, and, of course, a hug, because wrapped in someone’s arms it’s hard to doubt that they love you. She hasn’t rejected me as a bad mother!
As for the other relationship – with the One I worship – I ask myself where that has gone wrong, and what needs to be done to put it right. One thing I can identify is that, for many years I was in the habit of getting up early, spending time in prayer, worship and reading the Bible. I journaled my walk with God and my prayer life. It was good from time to time to read back over it, see where I had come from, and marvel at the things God had done in my life. It started out as a real thrill – I gradually woke up earlier and earlier in order to spend more and more time with the One I loved.
But somehow, over time – especially, perhaps, as my marriage was failing, my heart was taking a battering and my ability to trust was being eroded – the very thing that had been an exciting and life-imparting tryst with the Lover of my soul began to become a legalistic ritual, devoid of life and maintained simply because it was something I’d always done and thought I ought to do. There came a point where I strongly felt it was right to stop it and find other, more creative ways of meeting with God. I began to encounter Him more in the ordinary moments of life, just as I had when I first began those early morning meetings with Him.
That was all well and good to start with, but over time I seem once again to have moved from knowing God as my dwelling-place, living all the time in the shadow of His wings, to having Him as my hiding place – I know where to go when trouble hits, but I am increasingly hungry for His presence and longing for the days when He was my constant place of residence. So I am again going to start to get up early and resume those meetings with Him in the quiet before the rest of the household is awake, not because I ought to or it’s what I’ve been taught, but because He says that the way to rekindle our first love is to do the things we did at first – and the memories of those sweet early mornings are still vivid. I shall wrap myself in the prayer-shawl made for me by my friend Cynthia, which itself became for me a symbol of God’s presence, and which I haven’t used for a while. I’m confident that as I do the first things, the first love will be rekindled.
But crucially, just as my daughters understand that I’m grieving too, and haven’t rejected me as a bad mother, God understands more than anyone, more than I do myself, and neither has He rejected me as a bad worshipper. His heart is beautifully expressed in this extract, taken from a hymn which my eldest daughter chose for her father’s funeral:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice
Which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.
If our love were but more simple
We should take Him at His word,
And our life be filled with glory
From the glory of the Lord.
(Frederick William Faber, 1814 – 1863)