Its been a while since my last post when we announced the safe arrival of baby Aaron. To say that these past six weeks have been difficult for us is probably putting it mildly! A few days after Aaron was born Debbie began suffering again with another bout of Post natal depression. On the advice of the doctors she went back into the Mother & Baby Unit (where she had spent 3 months in 2014 along with Jacob). The rational was partly based on having some time to catch up with sleep (thanks to their 24/7 child support team) and party because of a return of some of the mental health issues that Debbie had struggled with previously. This time round was however quite different because there was already a safety net in place and the doctors were able to move swiftly in order to get on top of it early. Over the past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about our experience of returning to things which have proved quite difficult in the past. Simultaneously in my daily Bible readings I have been reading parts of the Bible which also encourage us to do likewise. Below are a few of the lessons coming through.
Learning from Experience…that we might have hope (Rom 15:4, 1 Cor 10:1-13)
There is something quite different about going through challenging experiences which you have faced previously. On the positive side there is the fact that you have been there before and come out on the other side. Experience teaches us to have hope because we know that we can endure the challenge, we know that we have done it before. The apostle Paul affirms that what was written in the past was written to teach us. We can learn from the examples of faith held up for us in the Bible. Paul says that the endurance of these men and women of faith (see Bible Characters for examples) and the encouragement they provide gives us hope.
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” Romans 15:4
It feels quite different when it is your own experiences that you are looking back on but the same is true for us. When I look back to that dark and difficult period in 2014 when Debbie was away for what seemed like ages I remember how the Lord brought us through it and led us into a “spacious place” (see A change of perspective). While many of the symptoms of the illness were similar this time round the doctors were not trying to find an effective treatment, just adjusting dosages and making sure that Debbie got the space and help she needed quickly. From my perspective the key was to repeat what has been helpful for Debbie’s recovery in the past, namely visiting daily and trying to approach every day (and its challenges) as it comes with the strength God provides.
On the negative side however there is the realisation that you are back in the mire, back to places that you thought you’d left behind you. Experience leads us to question God anew and wonder why God would take you back to such a hard place. Such thinking leaves us in danger of being ignorant and leaves us influenced not by ‘hope’ but by ‘fear’. Ignorant of all that God has done in the past. I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 10 where Paul warns the Corinthians about ignorance. He spends some time reminding them that God was not pleased with the very same Israel who were under the cloud and passed through the Red Sea. Paul warns them about being idolaters and grumblers and says that these things in Israel’s history happened as warnings for them. Paul urges them not to be complement, not to think they were standing firm when actually they were in danger of falling. The Corinthians were not facing some new temptation but merely what was common to mankind.
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-13
Truly God is faithful and He will never allow us to be tempted or to suffer beyond what we can bear. He will always provide a way for us to endure. It will not necessarily be easy but His grace is sufficient for us. The challenge for me (and indeed for all of us) is to learn from our experience and the experiences of the many generations who have gone before us. God is faithful and He always will be.
Be careful not to forget (Deuteronomy 8)
The other chapter that I have been thinking quite a bit about is Deuteronomy 8 which was the chosen text of my first ever sermon many years back. Deuteronomy is a series of impassioned sermons given by Moses as they stand on the verge of entering the Promised Land and Moses prepares to go home to be with his Lord. In chapter 8 Moses gives a stark warning to follow all of God’s commands and be careful not to forget Him. Moses calls them to remember how God had led them and in verses 2 and 16 he speaks of God working in the ways He had “in order to humble and test them”; God wanted to know “what was in their hearts”.
“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Deuteronomy 8:2
“He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.” Deuteronomy 8:16
Moses concern for them now was that once in the Promised Land, once they had eaten and were satisfied, once they had built themselves fine houses and settled down, once they had grown in their wealth and livestock they would soon forget God and start thinking “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (v17). Moses response to such thinking was clear…
“But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” Deuteronomy 8:18
As we come back into that “spacious place” it would be ever so easy to forget God and think that somehow God had nothing to do with Debbie’s swift recovery. It would be easy to forget the difficulties that we have faced and fail to learn the lessons that God has been teaching us about Himself and what it means to trust Him. Another example of this is regarding our housing situation. Back in February I wrote Hope in the God who Provides as a personal study into God’s character as the God who provides for all that we need. I bookended the post with some thoughts about the issue of overcrowding which came to the fore with the news of baby #5. We quickly saw that our best solution was to build upwards by means of a loft conversion but this was still well beyond our affordability. To cut a long story short it has been an exciting three months and we are amazed that God has already provided 90% of what we need to do this and we have a plan to make up the shortfall. What a faithful God we have but oh how easy it would be to start forgetting God amidst all of this. The plan is to start building in September (ready for the winter months) and we are so grateful to God for all His blessing and provision.
Last week I spent some time journalling in the sauna having not done so since February. What an encouragement it was to see the things I had written and prayed for back then come about. Perhaps it is really no surprise but it is now clear to see that God has brought blessing, provision and healing from sickness in the most wonderful ways. My hope is that this post will encourage you about God’s faithfulness. What a faithful God we have! With hindsight it seems quite silly to have ever doubted God’s goodness, provision and victory in all of these things. I am slowly learning through experience that all of this does bring us hope and I am challenged to work hard to make sure that I do not forget God.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23