Context: This blog arrived yesterday morning, whilst I was exchanging messages with a friend. It simply formed in my mind as I began to respond. By the time I had put it into words, I realised I needed to hold on to what I had written, so I copied and pasted it into my spiritual diary. Here is the result:
You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light (2 Samuel 22:29; NLT).
Lord, you are light, and you live in the darkness of my unconscious mind (see reference #1).
Constantly present there, you move mysteriously in the depths, patiently revealing, insight by insight, all that is hidden within me, especially all that needs healing (2).
As long as I keep on searching, waiting, looking, listening, learning, changing and growing, you keep on revealing more and more, slowly bringing everything about me into the light (3).
Through this life-long process, you are healing all the physical, mental and emotional damage caused by my abusive childhood (4).
Thank you so much for everything you show me, Lord, for all your love, help, and healing.
I offer this prayer through your dear Son’s name.
1. God is light (1 John 1:5; NLT).
Clouds and thick darkness surround him (Psalm 97:2; NIV).
He shrouded himself in darkness (2 Samuel 22:12; NLT).
2. We are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16; NLT).
You cannot understand the activity ofGod, who does all things (Ecclesiastes 11:5; NLT).
He knows the secrets of every heart (Psalm 44:21; NLT).
He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness (Daniel 2:22; NLT).
3. Moses approached the thick darkness where God was (Exodus 20:21; NLT).
Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened (Luke 11:9-10; NLT).
4. I am the Lord who heals you (Exodus 15:26; NLT).
I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness – secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name (Isaiah 45:3; NLT).
Context: A few nights ago I had a vivid, strange and disturbing dream:
I saw a group of very young children who had just been separated from those whose task it was to take care of them. The children weren’t old enough to walk, so they were having to crawl along a rough, narrow, dirty street, moving away from their carers, and towards an unknown destination.
All of them were wailing. It was a heartbreaking sound. In his distress, perhaps blinded by tears, one little boy blundered head-first into a stone wall. He slumped to the ground, and I was shocked to hear him cry out, “They don’t love us any more”, in utter despair, hopelessness and desolation. After that he stopped moving. It was clear that he had given up the will to survive.
My heart went out to him. I jumped up and ran to him, putting my arms round his small body to comfort him. At that moment, I woke up with my arms clasped around my pillow. Instantly, even before I could begin to pray, several realisations struck me hard:
What I realised
Everything I experienced during my childhood laid the foundations of my mental health during adult life.
This includes how I was treated by those who brought me up, as well as by those I was exposed to at school, in churches, clubs, hospitals and all other settings.
Thus, for good or ill, I have been influenced and affected by all the relationships and events I experienced during my formative years.
From my dream, and from the realisations which followed immediately afterwards, I understood even more clearly than before that the damage done to me in childhood caused the wounds and scars I have carried into adulthood.
These wounds shaped the person I have become, including all I feel, think, say and do. They affect how I behave, relate to others, cope with suffering, treat the world, understand God, and even whether or not I want to live. They also affected how I brought up my son, and how I reacted to having a miscarriage.
My dream showed me the mechanism by which so much of my psychological distress and mental illness has been caused. Only God can fully heal the inner damage I sustained, and the consequences with which I have had to live.
I am the LORD who heals you (Exodus 15:26; NLT).
He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.
(Psalm 147:3; NLT).
Hello! A warm welcome to everyone who visits “Seeking God’s face”, and to all who follow here regularly. I pray for you all each day.
2. Home shrines
This blog brings a very simple message: to suggest that many people could find joy, comfort, support and self-expression through having a home shrine, especially those of us who are sick or disabled, and can no longer go to church.
3. My shrine
My shrine is in my bedroom, on the chest of drawers. In this room, I can close the door, and pray in private. The shrine has developed slowly over several years, having started with the large wall cross, a few flowers, a candle, and an incense burner.
Whenever I want to, I make changes to it, removing items that have served their purpose, and introducing others which are particularly significant for me at the time. As my faith becomes increasingly universal, I plan to incorporate relics from other faiths. Nothing is included out of a sense of obligation or pressure.
4. Personal spiritual practices
A home shrine offers an opportunity for the daily expression of personally meaningful spiritual practices. For example, I stoop to kiss the small wooden cross at the front, just as a priest kisses the altar before saying mass. Then I dip my fingers in the small bowl of holy water, blessing myself with the sign of the cross. Sometimes I do this in the Roman Catholic way, sometimes in the Russian Orthodox style, just as I wish.
Occasionally I light a candle or an incense stick, though I never leave these burning in my absence or whilst I’m asleep, in case of fire.
My shrine includes two framed prayers which mean a lot to me. Their presence enables me to include them in my daily worship whenever I want to, and reminds me of the words, if I forget them.
Sometimes I am able to stand in front my shrine to pray for a minute or two. However, when I’m too tired, unwell, cold, or lightheaded to do this, I simply begin praying there, then get into bed to continue whilst lying down. Last thing at night, it’s a pleasure to thank God for all my day has brought, both good and bad. Then I say goodnight, and settle down to sleep.
Whether I’m just passing my shrine, or staying a little longer, I often touch each icon with love before I move on. My room also includes three large wall icons, hanging at just the right height to touch, hold gently with both hands, and kiss, as I whisper my prayers.
7. A very private place
Some people might scoff at these practices, judging them to be sentimental, foolish, pointless, or even idolatrous. However, for me the beauty of my home shrine is that it is a very private place where I can be honest with God without any kind offormality, using my own words, however few or many they may be. It’s also a very good place to “be still and silent” before God, for a few, precious moments.
8. A safe place….
Furthermore, my shrine gives me a “safe place” to return to in my imagination when I need extra support in the outside world. This grounding effect is enhanced by a holding cross, made in Bethlehem from the prunings of olive trees. When I received it, I blessed it at my shrine, then left it there overnight to absorb the essence of its peace and beauty.
9. …coupled with a holding cross
During the daytime, I wear this cross around my neck on a long cord, hanging beneath my clothes. When I need it, I discretely retrieve it with the cord. Visualising my shrine whilst holding my cross hidden in the palm of one hand, or clasped between both, is a great source of help, strength and comfort. I do this when I face traumatic events, flashbacks, unpleasant medical treatments, pain, strong emotions, interpersonal conflict, or feared situations. Despite its small size, this little cross powerfully re-connects me to the peace and safety of my shrine.
At night, I have a similar cross, but on a much shorter cord. Secured around my wrist, it stays in my hand whilst I am asleep. This cross is a tangible, comforting reminder of God’s presence each time I wake up.
10. Final words
It feels strange to share these very personal, central aspects of my life with you, yet it seems important to do so. The opportunities offered by home shrines for spiritual nourishment, and for direct, free self-expression before God are far too valuable to keep to myself.
May God bless you all each day.
With much love from Ruth xxxxx
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them (1 Timothy 2:1; NLT).
3. My shrine
When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private (Matthew 6:6; NLT).
Should we accept only good things from the hand of God, and never anything bad? (Job 2:10; NLT).
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).
Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you (Isaiah 30:20; NLT).
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21; CSB).
Be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18; NLT).
7. A very private place
Pray about everything (Philippians 4:6; NLT).
Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17; NIV).
You desire honesty from the womb (Psalm 51:6; NLT).
Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge (Psalm 62:8; NLT).
Be still and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10; NLT).
Be silent before the Lord, all humanity (Zechariah 2:13; NLT).
8. A safe place…
You have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress (Psalm 59:16; NLT).
This I declare about the Lord: he alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him (Psalm 91:2; NLT).
9. …coupled with a holding cross
The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18; NLT).
When I wake up, you are still with me! (Psalm 139:18; NLT).
10. Final words
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NIV).
Greetings to everyone who reads this short article, which describes some of the life experiences underpinning the prayers I post each day on this website.
I was born in the UK, soon after the end of the Second World War, and was the youngest of 3 children. My mother was unpredictable, given to destructive outbursts of rage, emotionally abusive and controlling. Throughout my childhood and teenage years I lived with constant anxiety and fear, and had very little sense of who I was.
When I left home to go to university, I was ill-prepared to cope with independence. I began having panic attacks, though at the time I had no idea what they were. At the beginning of the third year I had a breakdown, abandoned my studies, and returned home.
After a period of unemployment, I worked in an office, then in a day centre, where I helped to care for people with physical and learning disabilities. One day a client accidentally set fire to the cushion of his wheelchair with a dropped cigarette. In lifting him up, I tore a tendon in my back, leaving me in constant pain.
The only treatment for back pain in those days was bed-rest. After about 18 months of this, I decided to try walking to the shops. Just a short distance from home I had a major panic attack. Although I didn’t understand this at the time, I had become agoraphobic. As with all phobias, the more I tried to avoid my fears, the worse they became.
Despite my constant pack pain and mental illness, my partner and I got married, and I became pregnant. When I went into labour, serious complications necessitated an emergency admission to hospital. The whole experience was traumatic. Afterwards, I developed multiple phobias, and found it hard to cope with the normal stresses of caring for my baby.
A year later I became pregnant again, but had a miscarriage at about fifteen weeks, leading to emergency surgery. Afterwards, I developed severe anxiety and depression, so my toddler had to go into daycare.
At this point, I learned that I was agoraphobic. From the local library, I borrowed a copy of “Agoraphobia – simple effective treatment”, by Claire Weekes. Slowly, I began to fight back, despite my mental and physical fragility.
There were further breakdowns along the way, and endless struggles with depression, anxiety, panic and dread. When my son was about seven, I began studying for a degree in psychology, but this time only managed the first year, before the panic attacks became so intense that I was forced to give up.
Along the way, though this seems astonishing as I look back, I did my best to contribute to my family’s finances whenever I was well enough. Without any qualifications, I did the best I could with the skills I had picked up earlier in my life. Over the years I worked as a student landlady, cleaner, and barmaid. I organised children’s parties, ran a dance band, and taught music informally.
Later, I joined a five-piece band, travelling to gigs all around the UK. I quickly learned never to mention my fears, and somehow got through. It was hard, but I did the best I could to have a life. I suppose I unconsciously assumed it was the same for everyone.
Throughout this time, I read all I could about anxiety, depression, panic disorders and the factors underpinning them. I made daily efforts to face my fears in a graded way, building up my tolerance until I could walk to the centre of my home-town, visit a supermarket, and drive a few miles alone.
Realising I would never be able to cope with the stresses of full-time study, I began attending an adult education centre. Slowly, over a period of seven years, Iworked to gain a certificate in counselling, an advanced certificate, then a diploma. During this time I also entered therapy, worked as a volunteer counsellor, and tried to gain insight until the origins of my mental issues. Meanwhile, I continued to push against my boundaries by starting to travel on trains. Essentially, I managed to live with my fears through dogged efforts to confront them.
Once qualified, I began work in the National Health Service as a counsellor, later beginning a part-time master’s degree. My academic results were good, but the stress of achieving them was very high.
Unfortunately, half-way through the two-year course, I developed Grave’s Disease. Too ill to work, and deteriorating rapidly, I had emergency surgery to remove my thyroid. It took me a year to recover enough to go back to work, and to continue my degree, but somehow I managed it, even coming top in my year-group. However, the illness left me dependent on medication for the rest of my life, and with the collateral damage of daily headaches and frequent migraines.
The migraines eventually made work impossible, so I retired. Not long afterwards, a bout of influenza left me with chronic fatigue (M.E.). For the first few years, I was unable to walk more than a few paces around the house, and relied on a mobility scooter. Eventually, I learned about pacing as a possible way forwards. It took me a year of building up through slow, daily practice to be able to walk about five hundred yards up a gentle slope. Despite this improvement, I have lived with chronic fatigue ever since. The limitations it imposes have increased with each illness, and as I’ve got older.
Unable to make music any more, I slowly developed other methods of creative expression, including textile art, writing, and editing. In 2013 I began a website (www.ruthkirk.org), and have posted a daily, original, spiritual poem there ever since. I also enjoyed helping in a charity shop for a few hours each week until three and a half years ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was swiftly followed by a mastectomy, then by lengthy attempts to cope with various drugs, whose side effects eventually proved intolerable. This time, the collateral damage was losing the ability to regulate my temperature, so I now cycle constantly between sweating and shivering, day and night. There is no treatment for this condition, which doesn’t even seem to have a name, though it has a significant impact on my quality of life.
Nowadays, my limited energy is spent on hospital appointments, occasional short walks, and a few social contacts. Church is too hard to manage, but I have made a shrine in my bedroom, which I find very helpful.
As I slowly become more accepting of my overall condition, my faith grows ever stronger. When I was confirmed, very recently, I took the name of Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux. Her “little way” of doing everything, however small, with love, has become my daily aim. Accordingly, I would like to finish this article with a prayer I wrote some years ago. Each morning, I say it soon after waking up:
Your little way
Thank you, Lord,
For this new day.
Please keep me
On your little way,
Then I will feel, think,
Say, and do
Everything with love,
No matter what
You give or take,
May I accept it
For your sake,
And strive to feel, think,
Say, and do
Everything with love –
To those who have read this brief summary of my life-story, I send my thanks, praying that one day it will help someone, somewhere. May God bless you all.
He reveals deep and mysterious things
and knows what lies hidden in darkness (Daniel 2:22; NLT).
1. You know I’ve been abused.
I’m traumatised, and scarred.
I’ve had to live with shame, dread
And depression. It’s been hard.
2. My physical and mental health
Have failed, time and again.
I’m sure my mother never guessed
Her rage would cause such pain.
3. Since then, I’ve tried to be
A Good Samaritan each day,
But now I see that I, too, was attacked
Along the way –
4. Stripped and beaten, left half dead,
Despised, passed by, ignored,
Then you drew near to care for me,
My Priest, my God, my Lord.
5. At last, I’ve grasped your promise,
And your plan has been revealed:
My suffering will end one day –
In death, I will be healed.
1. God has seen your abuse (Genesis 31:42; NLT).
2. The tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself (James 3:6; NLT).
No one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:8; NLT).
The tongue can bring life or death (Proverbs 18:21; NLT).
They live wicked lives and they misuse their power (Jeremiah 23:10; NET).
You did not reflect on your actions or think about their consequences (Isaiah 47:7; NLT).
3. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers (Luke 10:30; NIV).
4. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road (Luke 10:30; NLT).
By chance, a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side (Luke 10:31-2; NLT).
I am insignificant and despised (Psalm 119:141; NLT).
I look for someone to come and help me, but no one gives me a passing thought! No one will help me; no one cares a bit about what happens to me (Psalm 142:4; NLT).
Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine, and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, “Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here” (Luke 10:33-35; NLT).
I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you (Hosea 14:8; NLT).
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess (Hebrews 4:15; NIV).
“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed (John 20:28; NLT).
5. My eyes strain to see your rescue, to see the truth of your promise fulfilled (Psalm 119:123; NLT).
We receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:22; NLT).
This is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6; NLT).
The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever ( Revelation 21:3-4; NLT).
Two people have hurt me badly in the last few weeks. In both cases, after some thought, I was honest with those involved, expressing my response as lovingly as I could. However, they both reacted with anger and blame. Sadly, offering to meet for reconciliation has brought no response.
Since then, I repeatedly go over all that happened, which generates a constant, painful, and exhausting sense of dread.
The crux of my anxiety is that when someone hurts me, I don’t know whether I should speak out, or say nothing. Each approach has different consequences.
What did Jesus say and do?
As always, I look for guidance in Jesus’ teaching and example. However, he taught, and displayed, both outspoken and silent ways of responding to hurt and injustice, which I find confusing.
Until his arrest, Jesus always spoke the truth in love when people criticised or insulted him. He was, in fact, very direct. His honesty made him a lot of enemies, and contributed to his death.
After his arrest, Jesus said very little, no matter what he was accused of, and how he was treated. This puzzled his captors, perhaps antagonising them even more.
Over the years, I’ve tried both approaches. What happens when I follow Christ’s example in these two, very different, ways?
A. Speaking out
When I “speak the truth in love”, it almost always backfires. The person I’ve been honest with turns on me, angrily blaming me for what I said, even though it was their own hurtful behaviour towards me that I spoke about. I then react to their hostility with my characteristic chronic dread.
B. Saying nothing
When I say nothing, I simply allow the other person to hurt me, absorbing the pain and damage, just as I did with my emotionally abusive mother. Without feedback, of course, there is a risk that they may continue to damage me. This makes me feel helpless and powerless, worsening my chronic depression.
Either way, I can easily end up feeling as if life is not worth living.
Fortunately, Jesus is absolutely clear that whether we speak out or say nothing, we should always forgive those who hurt us. This applies even if they never recognise what they have done, and never say they are sorry.
When people hurt me, I ruminate endlessly about how I responded, and what went wrong. Whether I speak out or say nothing, the outcome is equally damaging for my mental health.
Worse still, I also feel guilty for having “caused” the other person to strike back angrily at me, and to hate me from then onwards.
So, when someone hurts me, should I speak out, or say nothing? I still don’t know the answer to this question, which has plagued me all my life. All I can do is to pray for those who hurt me, asking God to guide and heal us all.
Image: Himsan, Pixabay
Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me (Psalm 41:9; NLT).
What did Jesus say and do?
Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21; NIV).
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matthew 23:33; NIV).
The leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise (Mark 15:3-5; NLT).
If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God(Matthew 5:23-4; NLT).
A. Speaking out
Speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church (Ephesians 4:15; NLT).
If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them (Luke 17:3-4; NIV.
The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me (Job 30:27; NIV).
B. Saying nothing
He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:7; NLT).
You have taken away my companions and my loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend (Psalm 88:18; NLT).
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me (Psalm 42:7;NIV).
Why wasn’t I buried like a stillborn child, like a baby who never lives to see the light?(Job 3:16; NLT).
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there [and] Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:33-4; NIV).
When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins (Mark 11:25; NLT).
Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you (Luke 6:27-8; NLT)
The Lord of Hosts […] is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance (Isaiah 28:29; NKJV).
Thank you for my life, Lord, My exile here on earth,
For all I have experienced
Thank you for my wounds, Lord,
My healing at your hands;
For all the care I’ve welcomed
Thank you for my darkness, Lord,
My losses, and my grief;
For all the times I’ve laid awake
Thank you for my sins, Lord,
My sorrow and my shame;
For all the ways I’ve tried
To put things right.
Thank you for your gifts, Lord,
Your blessings, and your joy;
For all the fears
I’ve worked to overthrow.
Thank you for my home, Lord,
My kindred, food, and drink;
For all the ways I’ve had to change
Thank you for your teaching, Lord,
Your pattern, faith and hope;
For all the sickness
I have had to face.
Thank you for your crown, Lord,
Your forgiveness, and your love;
My birth, life, death, and, most of all,
When I bring you home from exile, you will be like a pleasing sacrifice to me(Ezekiel 20:41; NLT).
Though he wounds, he also bandages. He strikes, but his hands also heal(Job 5:18; NLT).
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).
If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-4; NIV).
Be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18; NIV).
He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies (Psalm 103:2-4; NLT).
God saved you by his grace when you believed (Ephesians 2:8; NLT).