Another stunning guest post, from Lizzie, who is training to be a curate. Thank you, my friend.
“How many kids do you have?”
Until recently, I’d have thought this was a pretty easy question. Mr 7 and Little Miss 1 have, after all, spent the day bouncing around like lunatics – you’d almost think it was nearly time for the 7 year old to go back to school – very much here, very much present.
The truth is, for us, that’s not an easy question. Between our two living children came several miscarriages, and we recently lost our daughter, Ahava. She should have been due in a few weeks, but an overwhelming number of pregnancy complications led to us needing to make an agonising decision. In order to save my own life, we had to allow her to be induced early; as I was rapidly losing more blood than my body could handle. Though we knew that, realistically, her chances of survival were infinitesimal, I think a part of me hoped and prayed that God might just perform that miracle. He didn’t. Ahava was born, and died, on July 11th, and her funeral was last week.
The Sunday before Ahava’s funeral, I was preaching on John 6, the passage where Jesus describes himself as the Bread of Life. The passage comes just after the feeding of the 5000, crowd has been following Jesus for days, and have seen him perform this miracle. Later on, they seek him out, and Jesus begins to teach them. He compares himself with the manna provided by God in the Exodus story. He is food for a desert place.
In fact he insists on being our true sustenance. In the wilderness of our suffering and temptation we must eat his flesh and drink his blood! In the Hebrew Scriptures “flesh and blood” seems something like our “body and soul.” Jesus is to be our everything. He seems to be asking us to be utterly dependent on Him, bound up in Him. In a place where nothing else can sustain us, we must allow Him to be a part of us, lifegiving nourishment flowing through our veins.
Those that have been following Jesus so far aren’t keen on this idea. “This is a hard teaching”, they complain, “who can accept it?”
If I’m really honest with myself, the experiences we’ve had over the last couple of months have made me feel broken, somewhere deep inside. I’m not the same person I was a couple of months ago, and I’m not completely sure that the cracks that Ahava’s death has left will be healed this side of heaven. And so for me, at the moment, this is the place where I question Jesus. When it’s all feeling a bit raw, and I want to cry and hide and eat far too much chocolate – preferably all at the same time – that’s the place where I wonder where Christ is. That’s the place where I find myself echoing the followers of Jesus, the place where I can trust Him so far – but I’m not sure whether I can trust Him with the deepest, most vulnerable and hurting parts of myself. The place where this trust thing just seems a bit too hard.
This is my brokenness. I’m pretty sure though that we’ve all known brokenness somewhere. Maybe it’s that thing way back in the past, or maybe it’s current and you feel the pain and the rawness and you just don’t know what to do with it. And to give that brokenness to Jesus – to acknowledge the parts that are raw and hurting, the things that cause us pain or guilt or anxiety – isn’t easy. It means we have to acknowledge our own difficulties, our lack of control, our lack of answers – our inability to make it right again. To do that makes us vulnerable and forces us to confront reality. It’s not a fun process.
In fact, at the end of John 6, people are turning away from Jesus and his hard teachings. He turns to the Twelve and asks whether they too are going to leave him. What does Peter respond?
“To whom else would we go?”
For me, the answer lies at the cross, as we remember the God who loved us so much that He gave us Himself. We come to the cross, not because we’ve got all the answers, but precisely because we haven’t. I need to be here, to remind myself of the one who is greater than my brokenness, but who let Himself be broken for me. It makes no sense in ordinary terms – His brokenness for my wholeness, His death for my life. But in God’s upside down kingdom, it works. Here we are fed and receive precious gifts if we know where to look, right here at this place of brokenness and despair – gifts of forgiveness, graciousness, welcome, inclusion, strength, perseverance, gentleness, kindness, remembrance, energy, spirit, and hospitality. The gifts of life itself. We come as ourselves – just as we are, empty handed. We come, because we know that there is nowhere else to go.
There is nothing on earth that can make sense of my daughter’s death. Nothing that can take the pain of labouring away, knowing that she wouldn’t survive. Nothing that can take away that awful silence where there should have been the sounds of a newborn crying, and instead the only person crying was me. In the days after her funeral though, I’m clinging to the words of the beautiful hymn we sung – “I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise not in vain, that morn will tearless be”. Sometimes, life doesn’t make sense. But, in the words of Peter – “to whom else could we go?”