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How my faith system has helped me to survive
I believe that the only way I have survived suspension without becoming ill from the stress, has been due to my faith in God and his faith in me. It has not been easy and the love of my very special family and friends, and the many prayers prayed, have all played a vital part.
What practical things did I find particularly helpful?
The strategies for coping, listed on the site, are all important. But when I was feeling very low and alone, I needed something or someone more.
In the beginning……..
I have been a Christian since a young teenager. I belonged to a Pathfinder group for young people. During our Sunday session we were reading an instalment of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I had been invited to read the next instalment and was reading through, to practice it. My chapter was the dramatic climax when Pilgrim came to the cross and his burden rolled away. Suddenly and undramatically, I too felt a weight lift from me at the thought of Jesus’ death on the cross, taking all my guilt and wrong-doing. It gave me a wonderful sense of relief and freedom and was a turning point in my life.
Help on the journey
My youth group leader recommended that I read the Bible to help me learn more.
I am very grateful for that suggestion and for Bible reading notes by organisations and people such as Scripture Union and Selwyn Hughes, and for Bible commentaries. Over the years they have helped me read this amazing collection of books, written for much earlier times and yet so relevant today. Listening to other peoples’ stories and joining in with others in study groups have also helped enormously.
Worship over the years has also been very important at a number of different churches as I have moved around with my husband and family. I have been very fortunate in meeting people who have loved me and prayed for me and been great friends. They have been family to me, extra to my own very special family.
Ah so that’s it…..
One other major experience that was very important to me was realising that I could not manage on my own and that God had given us his own Spirit to make Jesus real to us. That realisation made a change to worship, prayer and reading the Bible. God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit became more real and more wonderful still. Not to say there are not still many unanswered questions……………..!
A word of caution…
If you are depressed you may find any sort of mental activity very tiring and even difficult. You may find that you don’t have the energy to read or pray. If you had broken your leg, you would not expect to be able to run about or even walk without help. Please tell the guilt feelings they are wasting their time and that you refuse to dwell on them! You will get better and you will be able to pray and enjoy God’s love again one day, even though at present that is hard to believe.
Tell people how you are feeling, get help, and let others pray for you. However, you might find reading prayers and Bible passages help to break your other thoughts. So keep trying. Very often we don’t feel the benefit of what we are doing until later.
Also get in touch with God’s creation. By that I mean, have daily contact if possible with green things. They have been found to be very soothing. At best, if you live in or near the countryside, walk and sit in it (weather permitting!) and focus on the soothing colours, the detail, the stillness. If you live in a town or city, is there a garden or park you can go to, that’s safe to be in alone? If that’s not possible, buy one or two plants and sit and look at them each day for several minutes at least, again noting the detail, the colours, the shapes they make. You will hopefully be amazed at what you see. It is thought to be very calming and healing. If you enjoy sketching, you will see these things in even greater detail.
So how then and what?
The following passages are some of the words of God or about God which have sustained me. My prayer is that you the reader will find the same and be strengthened and encouraged. Unless otherwise stated, all the excerpts are from the Contemporary English Version produced by the Bible Society. (Permission is being sought)
To help me feel stronger and protected, I have found St Paul’s words to the Ephesians in the New Testament very effective. The passage also reminds me that something bigger may be going on here which helps to protect me from negative thoughts about the people responsible for my situation.
Ephesians chapter 6 verses 10 – 17. St Paul writes……..
‘Let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong. Put on all the armour that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil’s tricks. We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities…… So put on all the armour that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will be standing firm.
Be ready! Let the truth be like a belt around your waist, and let God’s justice protect you like armour. Your desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on your feet. Let your faith be like a shield, and you will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Let God’s saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God’s message that comes from the Spirit.’
I find it helpful to imagine putting on each piece and to hold the shield of protection and the sword of God’s word to fight against the unhelpful thoughts. This encourages me and helps me to feel stronger.
When it all seems overwhelming and I want to run away from it all, Zechariah, a prophet whose writings are in the Old Testament wrote some very strengthening things to people who were facing apparently insurmountable difficulties.
A message from the Lord All-Powerful-
“I am the Lord All-Powerful. So don’t depend on your own power or strength, but on my Spirit.” Chapter 4 verse 6
“I am the Lord All-Powerful. So don’t give up”. Ch 8 verse 9
“I will save you and make you a blessing to them. So don’t be afraid or lose courage.” Ch 8 verse 10.
“Love truth and live at peace.” Ch 8 verse 19
After a time when the people were to be under attack, the Lord All-Powerful promised
“Then I will purify them and put them to the test, just as silver and gold are purified and put to the test.
They will pray in my name and I will answer them.
I will say, “You are my people,” and they will reply, “You Lord are our God!” Ch 13 verse 9
Anxiety and worry
Jesus said” I tell you not to worry about your life! Don’t worry about having something to eat or wear.
Life is more than food or clothing.
Look at the crows! They don’t plant or harvest and they don’t have storehouses or barns.
But God takes care of them.
You are much more important than any birds.
Can worry make you live longer?
If you don’t have power over small things why worry about everything else?” Luke ch 11 verses 22-25
“More than anything else put God’s work first and do what he wants.
Then the other things will be yours as well.
Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself.
You have enough to worry about today.” Matthew ch 6 verse 33-34
St Paul wrote ‘Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: be glad.
Always be gentle with others. The Lord will soon be here.
Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything.
With thankful hearts offer up your prayers to God.
Then because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no-one can understand.
And this peace will control the way you think and feel.’ Philippians ch4 verses 4-7
Morris Chapman’s song (copyright Word Music) puts it well.
‘Be bold, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you;
I am not afraid, I am not dismayed, for I’m walking in faith and victory:
Come on and walk in faith and victory, for the Lord your God is with you.’
Jesus said we were to pray ‘Father….. forgive our sins as we forgive everyone who has done wrong to us’ (Luke ch 11 verse4) Matthew records that prayer as ‘Forgive us for doing wrong as we forgive others’. (Matthew ch 6 verse 12)
Jesus also said ”Love you enemies and be good to everyone who hates you.
Ask God to bless anyone who curses you and pray for everyone who is cruel to you…..
Treat others just as you want to be treated….
You will be true children of God in heaven. He is good even to people who are unthankful and cruel.
Have pity on others just as your Father has pity on you.
Don’t judge others and God won’t judge you.
Don’t be hard on others and God won’t be hard on you.
Forgive others and God will forgive you……….
The way you treat others is the way you will be treated.” Luke ch 6 verses 27, 28, 31, 35 – 38.
To forgive someone is impossible by my own strength. I need the motivation and the love of God to do it. Jesus’ words are very clear. God cannot forgive me if I am full of bitterness and unforgiveness to another person. Jesus’ story in Matthew ch 18 verses 21 – 35 is very challenging about the man who owed several million pounds to a king and had no way of repaying it. The king forgave him his debt but he then saw a man who owed him £50 and insisted he pay it even though the man could not. The unforgiving man had his victim thrown in prison. When the king heard about this, he was furious and ordered a very unpleasant end! It’s only a story but makes the point very powerfully that if God has forgiven us so much, by his own Son’s death on the cross, how can we refuse to forgive others for much smaller things by comparison?
When people reply to that ‘I can’t do it’ what they are possibly saying is ‘I won’t do it’. However, although it is very hard and even painful, it is possible to forgive if they just supply the willingness to try. There are so many people who have forgiven the most awful atrocities against themselves and their loved ones. And many would say they did it without any belief in God! What a challenge.
Practical helps to forgiving
Jim Borst has written a book called ‘Coming to God in the Stillness’. (ISBN 0-86347-051-3) It is a way of praying and includes a section on forgiving people from the heart. It is very practical and very helpful. It is based on the idea of visualising Jesus in the situation(s) of hurt and what he wants to say to us. It may be an idea or a feeling or actual words. We begin to experience healing and we begin to forgive by an act of our wills. Feelings of forgiveness will gradually follow but the important thing is to forgive. The forgiveness is such that we see Jesus loving the other person and that we want the best for them too.
There are a couple of songs that might help with this process. In the Complete Anglican Hymn Book no: 924 David Adam’s prayer has been set to music by Margaret Rizza.
Calm me Lord as you calmed the storm; still me Lord , keep me from harm.
Let all the tumult within me cease; enfold me Lord in your peace. (Copyright SPCK Holy Trinity Church)
If you substitute the name of the person for the word ‘me’ you will hopefully find your feelings towards that person changing and becoming more merciful and forgiving.
Graham Kendrick’s children’s song (no: 325 in Mission Praise copyright Make Way Music) can be used similarly. So instead of ‘I’ etc you substitute the person’s name once again.
I’m special because God has loved me, for he gave the best thing that he had to save me:
His own Son Jesus, crucified to take the blame for all the bad things I have done.
Thank you Jesus, thank you Lord, for loving me so much; I know I don’t deserve anything,
Help me feel your love right now, to know deep in my heart that I’m your special friend.
This is not the same as reconciliation. That is the other side of the coin so to speak. We can forgive and be ready to be reconciled but it is impossible until the person who has committed the wrong, is sorry and says so and wishes to put things right. Then it will probably take time as we learn to trust them again and as they show that they have changed their behaviour.
Words of comfort
“If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me.
I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest.
This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light.” Matthew Ch 11 verses 28 – 30
“I am the bread that gives life! No-one who comes to me will ever be hungry.
No-one who has faith in me will ever be thirsty.” John Ch 5 verse 35
“I am the light for the world! Follow me and you won’t be walking in the dark.
You will have the light that gives life.” John ch 8 verse 12
The Psalms in the Old Testament section are full of heartfelt, honest cries to God. The psalmists don’t feel any need to pretend with God. They are also full of joyful praise.
Psalm 23 will always encourage with the picture of the eastern shepherd who knows each of his sheep and takes personal care of them, enjoying them as well as protecting them.
You Lord are my shepherd. I will never be in need.
You let me rest in fields of green grass.
You lead me to streams of peaceful water, and you refresh my life.
You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths.
I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid.
You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me safe.
You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch.
You honour me as your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows.
Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and
I will live for ever in your house Lord.
Isaiah the prophet, wrote some beautifully encouraging words, especially in chapters 40 – 66.
For example chapter 40 verses 27 on
You people of Israel say ‘God pays no attention to us!
He doesn’t care if we are treated unjustly.’
But how can you say that?
Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
The Lord is the eternal God, Creator of the earth.
He never gets weary or tired; his wisdom cannot be measured.
The Lord gives strength to those who are weary.
Even young people get tired, then stumble and fall.
But those who trust the Lord will find new strength.
They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings;
they will walk and run without getting tired.
I hope these passages will help you as you journey through this traumatic experience. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians (second letter, ch 1 verses 3-4)
‘The Father is a merciful God who always gives us comfort.
He comforts us when we are in trouble so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble.’
May that be your experience too as people see God giving you strength to go on.
May God be praised and may his kingdom come and his will be done through these pages.
And finally again!
Your own experiences and favourite passages will be very welcome here too, also the experiences and favourite writings of people of other faith systems. Thank you.