I promised dear Ellen from over at Moonside, that I would write and post this and being true to my word is important to me. But I know it will be a fairly long post, so I apologize fr that from the outset and would hope that folk would still take the time to read it…
Not really understanding what was going on in my heart, I walked into the office after work one night, in search of Jim.
“PTL! PTL!” Came the ever-happy reply – it was short for ‘Praise the Lord’ and was, from Jim, a stock response to most things.
“Got time for a chat?” I asked him.
“Yes of course” came his instant response as he shut the office door and gestured towards a set for me to sit in. “I’ll make a coffee and then you can tell me what’s up” he added.
Jim was a really nice guy. A Christian brother and colleague and the Center Manager. Although definitely my senior in age and technically my senior in the staff hierarchy, being senior just wasn’t Jim’s thing. Certainly not with and not with anyone else from what I could see.
As Jim made us both a cuppa, I looked around the office. I would be moving into it soon enough as Jim was leaving to go to Bible College soon and I would be taking his job. On his desk sat a little wooden cross with a light green plastic Jesus nailed to it. “That’s going the minute I take over this office.” I thought to myself, “I am not into crucifixes and Jesus has risen!”
I was already the weekend Center Manager and was taking the job up full-time when Jim left. There was a strange connection there as the Bible College Jim was leaving to attend I was considering going to before deciding instead to go work at the YMCA and eventually replacing Jim.
“I don’t feel or experience God or see Christ any more.” I told him sadly as soon as he returned with our drinks.
“Well He isn’t hiding” Jim laughed but soon guessed from my face that it was no joking matter and was bothering me greatly.
Jim, like most people knew nothing about my mental health although he had always sensed that I was “slightly different” to most of the other staff there. That sounds very serious” He told me. “And I can tell that it is really bothering you.”
Jim was right and the conversation that then took place lasted for about 40 minutes and covered most of the bases when t came to feeling or experiencing or seeing God. But to no avail.
“Perhaps I am just incredibly tired,” I offered weakly. “It is almost Monday night and it has been a tough weekend. Apart from the odd nap here and then I have now been working since Friday evening.”
Jim agreed and suggested that we prayed together before I went. I agreed and closed my eyes ad lowered my head. “I’ll just turn the light off.” Jim told me. It will help us focus and hopefully will convince others that the office is empty so we won’t get disturbed.
Eyes still closed, I listened as Jim turned off the light and then started praying. It was a deep heartfelt prayer and I was touched by the intimacy of his pleas for me. I agreed with him by saying amen when he did and then struggled out a prayer of my own. Jim agreed with me throughout the prayer and then once I had said “Amen” he also did.
I opened my eyes and looked up in the darkness of the office waiting for Jim to turn the light on. But the minute my eyes were open there before me was a little green glowing Christ. For a moment I was stunned. I hadn’t realized that the plastic Christ figure on the little wooden crucifix was glow in the dark.
“Weird isn’t it?” Jim commented as he turned the light on and noticing my staring at it. “It was donated by an old supporter of our work and I didn’t have the heart to get rid of it.”
“Well it certainly surprised me” I told him.
“Can I ask you a question?” Jim asked me.
“Sure” I told him.
“What is the one place or one thing that always brings you close to God?” he asked me.
I thought for a moment of two. There were so many potential answers, or at least there had been up until a few days ago.
“Other than people, Creation I guess.” I told him. “I just have to look at creation at the stars, the sea, the land, plants, flowers, animals, birds, fish and I see God.”
“Well maybe that’s your answer” He suggested. “Spend some time with creation.”
I thanked Jim and left the office. It was the middle of summer and hot out so whilst I was dressed only in tracksuit trousers and a t-shirt I didn’t even bother stopping to go back to my quarters for a jacket. I just said goodnight and left.
Walking out of the front doors of the YMCA i lowered my head a little and started to pray as I made for the beach no more that 500 yards away. It was a deep heartfelt prayer telling God I didn’t know why I could no longer see him, feel Him, experience Him? Asking God what I had done wrong? Explaining that I was on my way to the beach to stand and look out at the sea, to watch the rolling waves which reminded me so much of his ever flowing power and mercy.
Right across from the YMCA where I worked and would soon live and running parallel with the beach there was a long grassy mound under which hid some naval defenses – a left-over after the war. Head still lowered I climbed the mound and then looked out across the sea.
There was nothing. No roaring waves, no foaming tips, no nothing. It was dark and a very calm night and I cannot begin to describe the anticlimax in my heart. “But I need the roaring waves.” I complained silently. “I need the reminding of your ever-flowing power and mercy.”
Still nothing. I am not even sure I even expected God to suddenly summon up a storm for me.
“Ok.” I thought. “Then I will look at the stars.” That beautiful blanket of stars which always remind me of a million tiny blessings sprinkled over creation.
I looked up into the night sky. Again nothing! Not a single solitary star could be seen.
“Oh you’ve got to be kidding me!” I complained. “What did I do that you would pull so far away from me?” I couldn’t understand it. It felt somehow personal. Of course logically it probably wasn’t. It was just a very calm night with an overcast sky, but I was in no place for logic.
“Ok Lord.” I called out defiantly. “I am not going anywhere until you give me a star. Just one star. Surely that isn’t asking too much from you, after all wasn’t it you who sewed together the very universe?”
I waited. Still nothing.
“Right then.” I told Him. “I shall just wait until you are less busy.”
I sat down on the grass looking up at the sky, glancing every now and then back at the sea in case a storm happened to roll by.
Just how long I waited, sat there expectantly I couldn’t say, but finally I got a sore butt.
“I am not going.” I told God, laying myself down on the grass mound, placing my hands behind my head and looking up into the blank night sky waiting for a star. A single solitary star.”
“It’s just one star!” I complained. “Just one single solitary little star! It doesn’t even have to be a good one.” I turned my gaze from side to side and scanned the skies. Nothing!
“Ok God.” I explained in my defiance. “I am not moving from this spot until you give me a star.” I told him.
And then it happened.
The heavens opened and it poured down. A cold, heavy, clothes-drenching downpour.
“Oh that is just not funny!” I told Him. “But it won’t work, I am not moving without seeing my star.”
Just how long I lay there defiantly looking up into the night sky in the pouring rain I could not tell you. But certainly long enough for the dawn to break around me and the night sky to become the day sky.
Cold, soaked to the skin and incredibly tired and dejected I finally gave up. Without word I got up and started the long walk home. It was too early for a bus and what taxi driver would want a soaking wet passenger? And besides I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
I walked home along the beach but cannot even remember looking out to sea even once. What was the point? I had already got the message loud and clear – or so I thought.
The walk home was about 4 miles and I finally made it back to my parent’s house where I was living at the time, let myself in and climbed the stairs to my room.
What I was thinking I couldn’t really say. What can you think when you feel you have lost the most important relationship there is in life?
Going into my bedroom I peeled off my soaking wet clothes and let them drop to a sodden heap on the floor before standing there exhausted and naked.
Kicking the heap of wet clothes to the side I didn’t even have the energy to dry myself and simply slipped into bed. I was so tired. So very tired, tired beyond the ability to sleep. Laying on my back and placing my hands behind my head once more but this time on the pillow I listened to the sound of my mother moving about and then going down stairs.
Just as my eyes had desperately searched the sea and skies for signs of creation, signposts to God earlier, so my mind desperately searched for answers.
A knock on my bedroom door was immediately followed by its opening and my mother entering the room holding a hot mug of coffee.
“Morning son,” she greeted me. “You home very late, I made you a mug of coffee.” She told me as she placed the mug on the bedside table before turning and going to leave the room. But on reaching the open door she closed it slightly and turned her head back towards me and said, “Oh by the way, they think your dad is dying. But don’t say anything because we haven’t said anything to him yet.” And with that she left my bedroom closing the door behind her.
I could hardly believe my ears. “What was I hearing? What kind of night was I having? In one night was I truly destined to lose my heavenly father and my earthly father together?”
Turning on my side, I reached to my bedside table and took hold of my bible. Opening it I lay there blurry eyed and read it…
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 KJV)
And in that moment I had my answer.
Yes the roaring flow of the waves, the white capped crest of the waves would have shown me God and spoken to me of His ever flowing power and mercy. Certainly the brilliance and majesty of the myriad of stars in a sky would have spoken to me of His blessings. Absolutely the vibrant variety of colors and shades and textures and pigments of flowers would have spoken to me of the wonderment of God.
But none, not one of them would have been the message that I needed to hear and that God needed to give me. Somewhere along the way, even though I was still only a young Christian at the time, I had lost my way, stopped relying on God and started relying on my own strength instead of His and He, in His infinite wonderful father-heart wisdom knew that I needed His strength not mine.
The fear that my earthly father was dying turned out to be premature. The cancer they thought he had was not there when they tested again. He died several years later – although sadly we had lost our closeness long before then.
I hadn’t lost my heavenly Father either that night. He was simply and lovingly teaching me a lesson that I needed to know so very deeply. That He is my Father and the creator, and that creation is His garden. His garden for us to play in and grow in and love in with Him.