23.9.22: A letter (with thanks to C.O.) 

Context: Yesterday I stayed in bed because of a migraine, and used the time to reply to a letter from a friend. Very unexpectedly, inspiration sprang from our correspondence, so I’d like to share with it you:

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go (John 21:18; NIV). 

Serious illness and ongoing deterioration change our lives in countless ways, but with God we can slowly face and accept this, learning to live within each fresh limitation.

There can still be joy in our hearts, but there can also be regret, sadness, frustration and even anger about all that has been lost. 

The Lord gives and takes away, but we can praise and thank God, no matter what happens. As Mother Theresa said: “Give whatever He takes, with a big smile.” Fortunately, loss and suffering can also bring good into our lives. For example, they can teach us patient endurance, and deepen our understanding, sympathy and love for others.

Speaking more personally now, Mother Theresa’s words have to be my watchword, because I have no control at all over what God chooses to take from me as I progressively lose my physical and mental capacities.

Work, whether paid or unpaid, used to give structure and meaning to my life. It also generated a sense of a separate selfhood, though this is of course, temporary, and, in the long term, illusory. However, as some of you will know, I have recently had to change the way I manage my website, because I no longer have enough energy to spend whole days writing each blog. At present, I can still post each day, but now in the form of a spiritual diary, rather than referenced poetry and articles. It’s not quite the same as before, though, and my sense of “self” is considerably diminished, as is my feeling that existence is meaningful. Gradually, illness and the limitations it imposes are taking over all aspects of my life.

In time, whether through my spiritual development, through dementia, or through death, I will lose my illusory sense of selfhood in God’s overwhelming greatness. Then I will be set free into eternal oneness with the Lord. 

Sometimes I hope this will happen soon, dreading a long future of increasing dependence and becoming a burden to others. However, my release from exile will come when God decides: not a moment too soon, and not a moment too late. Until then, the Lord will see me through whatever each day brings.


A reading: Ecclesiastes 12:1-8; TIB

  1. Remember your Creator while you are still young, while still innocent, before that time of life when you say, “There isn’t pleasure anymore”;

  2. before the sun dims, as well as the moon and the stars; before the clouds return once the rain stops;

  3. before the day when the house guards tremble, and the mighty are bowed low, and the millers stop for lack of help, for the day darkens at the windows;

  4. and the front doors are shut; when the sound of milling is faint; when the chirping of the birds vanishes, and the singers are silenced;

  5. when you become afraid of heights, and dread walking in the streets; when the almond trees bloom, the grasshoppers are sluggish with food, and you lose your appetite; when you go to your eternal reward, and the mourners go about the streets;

  6. before the silver cord – a sign of life – is snapped; or the golden bowl – a sign of life – is broken; or the pitcher at the well – a sign of life – is smashed, as well as the pulley;

  7. or before dust returns to the earth as it was at the beginning, and before God rescinds the breath of life.

  8. “Completely illusory” says Qoheleth. “Completely illusory! Everything is just an illusion!”

14.9.22: Praying for myself

When I pray for others, I ask for them to be comforted, strengthened and healed. But when I pray for myself, my approach is completely different.

When I pray for myself I don’t ask God to take my trials and sorrows away (see reference #1). Instead, I thank God for them all (2).

This might initially sound strange. However, praying for myself is my opportunity to ask God to help me accept and face each challenge squarely. God then helps me to work out how to deal with each problem in consciously assertive, proactive ways, whilst strengthening me to change, as I put these new approaches into practice (3).

I am then able to take responsibility for tackling each issue in line with God’s will (4).

As I start to change my approach and take action, I experience a growing sense of healing and relief (5).

Over the days, weeks, months and years that follow, as I learn to put each new way forward into practice, I give thanks, because I know that God is working to bring about good for me through everything that happens in my life (6).


References 

1. I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world (John 16:32-3; NLT).

2. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NIV).

3. You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall (2 Samuel 22:29; NIV).

4. I want your will to be done, not mine (Luke 22:42; NLT).

I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart (Psalm 40:8; NIV).

5. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground (Psalm 143:10; NIV). 

6. In all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28; NIV).

9.9.22: On pause (with thanks to M.O.)

I’m deeply grateful to a very good friend, who gave me the best possible birthday gift yesterday. Whilst discussing a lengthy project she is working on, she casually mentioned that it was currently “on pause”, though her goal had not changed, and she would continue working towards it when she was ready.

The phrase “on pause” caught my imagination immediately. She had developed the technique of consciously pressing her inner “pause” button, then setting a task aside for a time while she attended to other priorities. This idea came as a real breakthrough for me, as a driven, perfectionist person. My way is to keep on working at a task until it’s as perfect as I can possibly make it, heedless of the personal cost in terms of fatigue, headaches, migraines and loss of sleep.

After feeding my praise and excitement back to her, I thanked her warmly for what she had shared with me. Then I said that I wanted to pause the conversation, so I could write down her words before I forgot them. This took only a few seconds, after which we resumed our discussion. Later, as we parted with a hug, I resolved to embrace pressing “pause” as a new technique to add to my repertoire of coping skills.

Whilst working on a blog later the same day, I was amazed to hear myself say to my husband, “I’ll put this on pause for now”. With that, I laid down my iPad and walked away from my task voluntarily. There was no sense of stress, reluctance, or having to make a huge, conscious effort, neither did I put off taking a break until physical needs forced me out of my chair. This was a completely new behaviour for me. God’s healing is truly amazing! So I now have a specific way to set myself free from the inner pressure which drives me to complete my task, regardless of how I feel, how tired I am, or how late the hour.

NB: After a short break I was able to finish what I was doing, and go to bed at a sensible time for once!

💟 I have prayed for everyone who visits this website today, as always.
May God bless you all. With love from Ruth xxxxx

A crash course on suffering (for J.C.)

Context: While I was praying for a friend who recently asked me some significant questions about suffering, I was given the inspiration for the following article:

Introduction 

This crash course addresses ten questions about suffering. Immediately below each answer there is a series of Biblical quotes. These are offered as an aid to reflection, perhaps over a period of several days.

1. Where do we come from?

All human beings are part of God, who makes us, breathes life into us, cares for us, and loves us unfailingly. 

YHWH fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life. And the earth creature became a living being (Genesis 2:7; TIB). 

The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life (Job 33:4; NLT). 

I will be your God throughout your lifetime – until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you (Isaiah 46:4; NLT). 

He loves us with unfailing love. (Psalm 117:2; NLT).

2. What is life?

Life is the period during which we are exiled from heaven, though not from God’s constant, invisible, loving presence. We come from God, spend time on earth, then return to God.

I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5; NLT).

You will soon return from exile (Lamentations 4:22; NLT).

3. Why are we here?

Our task is to get to know God. We do this by seeking God, and by praying constantly, thanking God in all circumstances, and rejoicing, no matter what we face.

His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him – though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27; NLT).

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NIV). 

4. What does life offer us?

Life offers us the chance to learn how to live in God, to grow more like Christ, and, astonishingly, even to become more like God.

We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ (Ephesians 4:15; NLT).

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ (Ephesians 4:13; NLT).

Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:24; NLT).

The Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18; NLT).

5. Why do we suffer?

Trials and sorrows are an inevitable part of our time on earth because our bodies, minds and hearts are fragile and mortal, though our souls are immortal. Life here is essentially a training-ground. It offers us the opportunity to make our own choices, reach out to God and grow in faith. This developmental process helps us to love God, all people and the world, until we eventually discover our oneness with God, and with all. 

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).

How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble! (Job 14:1; NLT). 

If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me (Jeremiah 29:13; NLT). 

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them (1 John 4:16; NIV). 

Love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; NLT).

Love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19; NKJV).

Show love to foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19; NLT).

Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44; NLT). 

6. Where does suffering come from?

Everything comes from God, both good and bad, though some people would prefer to see good things as coming from God, and suffering as being inflicted by “the devil”. However, the concept of the devil as an external being arises from a combination of mistranslation and the human desire to disown the temptations and terrible impulses which well up spontaneously from our unconscious minds (see https://wp.me/p45bCr-bPK). When we act these out, evil occurs in truly shocking and horrific ways, but the impulse, the decision and the action always come from within.

Learning to accept suffering as God’s will, and to make the best of it whilst still loving and serving God in others, is one of the major challenges and opportunities of our lives.

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other (Ecclesiastes 7:14; NIV).

Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realise that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life (Ecclesiastes 7:14; NLT).

Should we accept only good things from the hand of God, and never anything bad? (Job 2:10; NLT).

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21; CSB). 

7. Why does suffering exist?

Suffering has much to teach us. Without it, we might not grow in trust and faith. Christ’s example is particularly helpful here, for even as he begged God to spare him from extreme suffering, he maintained his resolution to accept God’s will rather than his own. God suffers with us and helps us to learn through all we face. This is how we grow in endurance, patience, inner strength, hope and love.

Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (Luke 22:42; NLT).

In all their suffering he also suffered (Isaiah 63:9; NLT).

Blessed be the Lord! Day after day he bears our burdens (Psalm 68:19; CSB).

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).

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever (Psalm 73:26; NLT).

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5:3-5; NLT). 

8. How can good come out of suffering? 

As we grow in love and trust by facing and sharing our suffering with God, God brings good from it all. This is something we can ask for when we pray for others, as well as for ourselves.

We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Romans 8:28; NLT). 

Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan (Ephesians 1:11; NLT). 

9. What is the purpose of life?

The purpose of life is to recognise, love and serve God in ourselves, in others, and in all things. This means becoming aware of our constant oneness with the Divine. To live like this, no matter what happens, is to live joyfully in heaven on earth.

You are the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:16; NKJV). 

There is one Lord …who is over all and in all and living through all (Ephesians 4:5; NLT). 

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them (1 John 4:16; NIV). 

So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God (Romans 7:4; NLT). 

10. Where do we go when we die?

As mentioned briefly in #2 above, when we die, we return immediately to God, who welcomes, kisses and embraces us. Completely healed, forgiven and restored, we are absorbed back into God’s infinite peace, bliss and love – and this time, it’s forever.

The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).

I came from Abba God and have come into the world, and now I leave the world to go to Abba God (John 16:28; TIB). 

So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.” But his father said to the servants, “Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found” (Luke 15:20-24; TIB).

Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalm 23:66; KJV).

Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8; NLT).


Conclusion

In this article I’ve addressed ten questions about suffering. I hope very much that you have found something here that interests or helps you. Remember that I pray for you all every day.

We keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do (2 Thessalonians 1:11; NLT).

✝️ With love from Ruth.
14.8.22.

Wrapped

Context: This song of praise began to form whilst I was dancing for joy in the shower. When I got out to wrap myself in a large, homely towel, I was able to note it down. It was a pleasure to work on it during a completely unstructured day of rest following my long journey.

Don’t be afraid. Just have faith (Mark 5:36; NLT). 

1. I’m wrapped in faith, in hope and truth;
In praise and peace that never end.

2. I’m wrapped in joy, in thanks and prayer;
In all you give, and take and lend.

3. I’m wrapped in weakness and in strength;
In everything you make and send.

4. I’m wrapped in sickness, life and death;
In all you wound, and break and mend.

5. I’m wrapped in ecstasy and light;
In shadow, and the love of Christ.

I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 63:7; NLT). 

May you experience the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:19; NLT).


References 

1. Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love  (1 Corinthians 13:13; NLT). 

The Spirit is truth (1 John 5:6; NKJV).

The Lord is peace (Judges 6:24; NLT). 

2. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NIV).

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21; CSB). 

3. My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9; NLT). 

The Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength (Isaiah 26:4; KJV).

He created the earth and everything in it (Isaiah 42:5; NLT).

Everything you have is from God (1 Corinthians 4:7; NLT).

4. He himself sent this sickness (Isaiah 38:15; NLT). 

The LORD gives both death and life (1 Samuel 2:6; NLT).

He breaks the bow and snaps the spear (Psalm 46:9; NLT). 

He breaks the pride of princes (Psalm 76:12; NLT). 

I am the one who wounds and heals (Deuteronomy 32:39; NLT).

5. I became in ecstasy (Acts 22:17; DBY).

Then she was in ecstasy (2 Chronicles 9:4; BST).

God is light (1 John 1:5; NLT).

In his shadow have I rapture (Song of Songs 2:3; DBY). 

God is love (1 John 4:8; NLT).

Like Martha

Context: I noted down the essence of today’s prayer a day or two ago, but didn’t have enough time to work on it. However, yesterday morning I woke early, which gave me the space to finish it before starting the long journey back to Liverpool (the magnificent Lime Street Station is pictured above). Although I was nervous before setting off, it was a really good day for several reasons.

Firstly, I made a wonderful new friend on the train, and I’m hoping we will stay in touch.

Secondly, a kind friend came to visit me at my hotel, bringing the blessings of conversation, anointing, and Holy Communion.

Thirdly, remember my lifelong claustrophobia? Well, I twice used the train loo, even though it had electronic doors. I’ve avoided this type of toilet ever since they were invented. Admittedly I didn’t engage the electronic lock (my friend kindly guarded the door whilst I was inside), but shutting myself in there was the bravest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I managed it!

Today, I’ll be catching a ferry for the final leg of my journey. I already want to visit the UK again, and especially to visit Liverpool Catholic Cathedral. So, with a heart full of prayerful thanks and rejoicing, here is today’s blog:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.
(Luke 10:38-9; NIV). 

1. Jesus, may I be like Martha,
Serving you in all each day,
And, Lord, may I be like Mary,
Learning at your feet each day.

2. Jesus, may I be like Peter,
Walking by your side, each day,
And, Lord, may I be like Thomas,
Touching your poor hands, each day.

3. Then, no matter what life brings,
I’ll know your presence, choose your way,
And never cease, Lord, to rejoice,
Give thanks for everything, and pray.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:17-18; NIV).


References 

1. Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40; NIV).

2. One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers – Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew – throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him (Matthew 4:18-20; NLT). 

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed (John 20:27-8; NLT). 

3. Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20; NLT). 

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6; NLT). 

God’s nearness

Context: This blog was very difficult to write. I’m deeply tired as I approach the end of my holiday, and had to work on it in amongst all the inevitable tidying and packing which come with leaving rented accommodation. As always, the inspiration took only a moment to arrive, but expressing what I saw was almost beyond me.

Yet, to my great surprise, just before posting today’s prayer I discovered that it’s actually two prayers in one, woven together. If you read just the first line of each verse (those in non-italic text), they make sense, and the same is true if you read just the italicised lines. God is truly amazing!

We thank you, O God! We give thanks because you are near.
(Psalm 75:1; NLT). 

1. Thank you for your nearness, Lord:
In everything, I see your face,

2. And for your supreme transcendence:
Far beyond all time and space.

3. Thank you for your constant presence:
Here, on earth, in everyone,

4. And for your sublime completeness:
All exists within your womb.

The Almighty …blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb.
(Genesis 49:25; NIV).


References

1. They delight in the nearness of God (Isaiah 58:2; CSB).

There is …one God and Creator of all, who is over all, who works through all and is within all (Ephesians 4:5-6; TIB).

When I look at justice I see your face (Psalm 17:15; TIB).

When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied (Psalm 17:15; NLT). 

2. Do you people think that I am some local deity and not the transcendent God?” the LORD asks (Jeremiah 23:23; NET). 

To God, the only God, who saves us through Jesus Christ our Sovereign, be glory, majesty, authority and power – who was before all time, is now, and will be forever (Jude 1:25; TIB). 

I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me (Psalm 139:7-10; NLT).

3. Your presence fills me with joy (Psalm 16:11; GNT).

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).

4. The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deuteronomy 6:4; NIV).

Be perfect, as Abba God in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48; TIB).

Thank you

Context: Yesterday I went to watch my grandson have his riding lesson. This brought back memories from so long ago that they seemed to come from a previous life, when I was able-bodied. However, it is God who gives and takes away, so I’m entirely happy to be as I am now.

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
(Job 1:21; CSB). 

Thank you, Lord, for all you send,
For all you share, and all you lend;
For all you do, and all you make –
For all you give, and take.

Thank you, Lord, for life and breath,
For joy and pain, for birth and death;
For Christ, who came to set us free –
For loving even me.

Thank you, Lord, beyond all time,
For I am yours, and you are mine,
And though you wound me, yet you mend –
And always, Lord, defend.

For he wounds, but he also binds up;
he injures, but his hands also heal.
(Job 5:18; NIV). 


The angel of the LORD is a guard;
he surrounds and defends all who fear him.
(Psalm 34:7; NLT). 

Chant

Context: This simple chant of praise flowed spontaneously in the early morning a couple of days ago. It goes with a swing, and is the perfect blog for today, because my heart is overflowing with joy.

Some of you will know that I am currently facing up to my life-long, severe claustrophobia. Today, with my husband, I successfully tackled the busy, windowless lift in a major department store – one I never imagined myself using under any circumstances.

Then, for the first time in my whole life, I went in a lift on my own. Admittedly it was made of glass, but it was still a very significant achievement for me. In fact, I can hardly believe I’m even writing this, let alone that I did it!

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth
(Genesis 1:1; NLT). 

1. Yahweh fashions all there is,
Living, dying, rising –
Lord, I praise you.

2. Jesus comes to set me free,
Living, dying, rising –
Lord, I serve you.

3. Rucha* prays on my behalf,
Living, dying, rising –
Lord, I thank you.

4. I in you, and you in me,
Living, dying, rising –
Lord, I love you.

Nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us
from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord
(Romans 8:39; NLT).


References 

1. He himself gives life and breath to everything (Acts 17:25; NLT). 

2.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free [and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Luke 4:18-19; NIV). 

3. *Rucha means ‘spirit’ in Aramaic. It is a feminine noun (Wikibooks).

The Spirit, too, comes to help us in our weakness. For we don’t know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit expresses our plea with groanings too deep for words. And God, who knows everything in our hearts, knows perfectly well what the Spirit is saying, because her intercessions for God’s holy people are made according to the mind of God (Romans 8:26-7; TIV). 

4. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them (1 John 4:16; NLT).

Gifts

Always rejoice. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all circumstances.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NIV).

I create the light and make the darkness. I send good times and bad times. I, the Lord, am the one who does these things (Isaiah 45:7, NLT).

Thank you, God, for all your gifts –
The ‘good’ ones, and the ‘bad’,

The gifts that make my heart rejoice;
The gifts which make me sad;

The gifts that bring me pleasure,
And the gifts which bring me pain –

For you bring good from everything
For those who love your name.

Should we accept only good things from the hand of God, and never anything bad? (Job 2:10; NLT).

We know that God make everything work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28; TIV).