Now if you know me personally I want you to know that these are not self-pity posts (actually even if you don’t know me personally I want you to know that!). I still say that my time off with my back was a total blessing and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
Neither are they finger-pointing posts, ‘why didn’t you do something?’ posts. I have thought long and hard about publishing them and the reason I am now is because I want to highlight things I learned in this time, that people who need help, or support or even just a quick hug, can be so easily be hidden from those who can help. And that for those who can help, sometimes we think we know what a person needs, but really we need to dig deeper and actually find out.
So, all that said, I don’t want people to feel bad in what I am writing. But I think it’s more important to say what might help people so if you do feel bad, well sorry but also, tough!
In my first few weeks of being incapacitated, I felt very alone. In fact probably for more than a few weeks. I love being with people so to find myself at home with pretty much no one to talk to for days on end was tough. I felt starved of human company!
And although I joke slightly, I actually did feel very alone. Going through one of the toughest times of my life, which many people knew about, and yet in the early days no phone calls, cards or visitors (well that’s not true, one friend was a very faithful support from the very first few days and was totally amazing). But on the whole, nothing. (It did improve as time went on, I should say!)
Imagine that for a moment. Going, literally in an instant, from a full life, out at college one day, work another, family, home, seeing people, talking, helping, sharing, doing. Every day. To then nothing. To lying on my back for weeks on end…
In that there were several things.
Firstly pain is debilitating. At times completely. There was a stage when even getting up to go to the loo was agony. And I’m not exaggerating. I waited until I could wait no longer because I just didn’t want to move. I got my husband to make me a little station on the floor or in bed where I could reach all the things I needed while he was out and the kids at school. So this was bad, yes. But what was probably worse was that I couldn’t do anything for my family. No school runs, no cooking, no tidying up. And yes of course that was a good lesson for them (although they all seem to have forgotten it now, conveniently). This affected all of us, not just me. Working out what on earth we were going to do to manage daily life was a mission in itself. Frankly how people cope with this kind of stuff without Jesus I do not know.
Then there’s support… Now here’s the thing, and please don’t think I’m judging or condemning, we are all busy I know that so well. But do you know what, the little support I did get, didn’t come from the church. In fact one of my neighbours told me she had put together a meal rota for me. Didn’t ask, she just did it. This was an amazing blessing that I feel sure both my husband and I would have said no to had we been asked. But the very fact that it was done and there was so wonderful I just sat and cried. A lot. And the people who filled this rota? My neighbours here in the village. Most of whom are not Christians or church goers. In fact I even asked people to sign up to it, which was a massive big deal for me, I can’t tell you how much. I find asking for help so hard even in my desperate need, and yet no one did.
In fact the neighbours and locals here cooked for us for about a month (if not longer). That is a pretty big commitment and yet we had meals every night, some people cooking several in that time, some bringing lovely treats too and going the extra mile. I am so grateful for all they did.
So then I found myself in that time questioning myself – was there a reason people didn’t visit, call, offer to help? Was it me? Am I not a good enough friend? Did people not care?
Of course some of those may be valid questions for me to ask of myself, and I shall continue to do so, but to be honest it’s not really what you want to be thinking about when you are at such a low point.
The reason I am writing this is because I think this is a challenge to all of us as Christians and for our churches. If I felt like this and I was so visible and well known at church, what about those who are not? Those on the fringes, those who don’t come because they can’t, those who don’t have such a strong connection? Our faith is built on love and compassion so are we really showing it?
And as individuals, are we all too busy to actually reach out in love to those around us? Are we too focussed on what is going on in our own lives to think about others?
I know that in all this, if nothing else it has been a lesson to me. A lesson that if I call myself a Christian, take on the name of God, the God of love that is, then I jolly well need to show it!
I’ve writtten before about the verse that really spoke to me in that time was from John 13:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Jesus died for us in love. There is nothing we can do to beat that, so then anything goes surely?! We cannot over-love people! And love looks like lots of things…
For me in my period of being ‘unwell’ there were some key things that stood out to me. Here’s a few:
One was when a friend, unsure what to cook for me (as I have food intolerances) found a jar of gluten free chocolate spread and brought that over! Another friend came and visited, and texted in between with encouraging words that really kept me going. There’s my lovely neighbour who organised the meal rota which was such a blessing. My husband bringing me back gluten free chocolate cupcakes unprompted. These are all such small things but meant so much and are real acts of love. In fact they made me feel loved at a time when I was struggling to feel anything good about myself.
The challenge to me now, and that I want to pass on to you too is: are you loving people in need? Are you showing the love of Christ? Are you seeing people who need support? Are you doing anything about it? Or are you too busy?
I have started to make more time in my diary for just this, no matter how busy I am. I read a quote this week – that is particularly appropriate for clergy – which said ‘when you die no one will remember your sermons but they will remember the time you spent with them’. But for all of us, clergy or not, the thing people see of us and the thing they will undoubtedly remember is how we respond to them, how we spent time with them or how we loved them. I’d much rather people remembered that about me that what I preached on!