I’ve been having a hard time again recently. I was turning up for work crying every day, unable to focus on anything for longer than a few minutes and struggling to see the point to get out of bed every day.
I’ve experienced this before – since my workplace accident 2 years ago, I’ve had an off again/on again battle with depression and anxiety. I’ve lost count what round we’ve got to, but this latest battle in our war is one of the toughest ones.
During these past few months, one of my friends in Cardiff lost a different battle – his fight with cancer. It breaks my heart. Phil had also previously won his war against depression and was a great source of comfort to me during my time living in Cardiff fighting my depression. He knew exactly what to say in a way no one else did. He’s been in my shoes. He could just say “I know” and give me one of his legendary hugs (everyone who ever met Phil knew him for his hugs) and just hold me in his embrace. I knew his arms were the same as God’s. He just holds me and knows. No words needed.
When Phil’s wife, Viv, emailed me earlier this year to tell me about Phil’s diagnosis, I cried, pulled myself together and hit my knees. I had just read ‘Sun Stand Still’ by Steven Furtick and was ready to pray like Joshua (see Joshua 10) and ask God for a miracle that required my total faith. And He had it. I had no doubt in my mind that my Sun Stand Still prayer would be fulfilled.
I prayed my prayer every day. Sometimes 3 or 4 times a day. I would lift Phil, Viv and their family up to God whenever I thought about them – and I thought about them a lot.
But Viv’s emails kept coming. Phil wasn’t doing so well. They were coming back and forth to London for treatment. I kept praying, but I started to consider the fact that maybe Phil wasn’t going to survive this. But I refused to take ‘no’ as an answer from God for my Sun Stand Still prayer.
I kept asking. Still 3 or 4 times a day I asked God to heal Phil. I got an email from Viv saying the treatment in London wasn’t working. He was deteriorating and the trips weren’t worth it. I started to realise what the answer to my prayer was. But I kept praying it anyway. And I kept praying for the family. And that Phil would be comfortable and not feel too much pain anymore.
Viv sent me a message to tell me that Phil had lost his battle.
I felt like God hadn’t listened to me. He had the power to heal Phil. But didn’t use it. Why?
I was reading ‘The Shack’ at the time, and have only just recently finished it. If you don’t know the story, I’ll give you a quick summary: the main character (Mack) has a little girl who is kidnapped whilst on a camping trip with him and 2 of his other kids. The other 2 are in a canoe on a lake and it capsizes. Whilst he is saving his drowning son, his daughter is taken and murdered. Her body is never recovered. He receives a letter signed from God inviting him to the shack where his daughter was murdered. He goes and God helps him to process what happened.
Part of his struggle is not understanding why God didn’t save his daughter from the monster that took her and slaughtered her. Much like the power God has that could have saved Phil, God had the power to save his daughter, Missy.
As I understand it, The Shack’s author suggests that God is allowing these things to happen because we live in a fallen world. Because a child only learns that fire burns by touching it and being burned. If every time we stumbled and fell and there were no consequences, then we wouldn’t learn or grow. Missy’s brutal murder isn’t because she did something wrong and she’s being punished. It’s not because Mack did something bad, and his punishment is losing his daughter to such severe circumstances. It’s a chain of events: the man who killed her was tormented by his father, who was a drunk, who had experienced bad things at the hands of others, who in turn had been hurt/tormented/tortured at the hand of others. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, and the introduction of evil into the world that was never meant to be present.
I understand this but find it a bitter pill to swallow. Wouldn’t any parent stop their child before they run into a burning building? Touching a flame is one thing – but the extent of suffering Missy experienced? And the months of pain for Phil and his family?
I believe that my God can move mountains and make the sun stand still. Why does He only move them or stop them for some people and not others?
I recently climbed a mountain. I saw it and decided I needed to scale it (my logic is always pretty straight forward). I took some painkillers (my back is still messed up from the aforementioned accident), filled up a bottle of water and grabbed my mum’s camera.
As I climbed, I realised how unfit I am. And an old calf injury was causing me discomfort. I started to question what I was doing. But kept pushing on. The higher I got, the more my breath was taken away (and not just by the steep, rocky climb!) the views were incredible. At the top, I realised the mountain wasn’t a mountain: it was once upon a time a volcano.
I was with my dad: a geography graduate and teacher. He pointed out where the volcano would have erupted from inside the crater, we “investigated” (my dad is a great teacher – don’t tell him I told you that) which direction the volcano would have erupted to, and looked at the different rock formations and pondered how long it would take for the ground to become fertile.
Walking helps me think. And a walk with a view is always a bonus. The day before, I had walked along cliff tops. Whilst there, I had spotted that couples who walked up there, would use the stones around to make a heart and put their initials inside it. Or they would draw a heart in the gravelly sand. I happened to find my initials in a heart up on that cliff top.
I realised that Miley Cyrus really was right: the climb is hard, but the view is great.
See, if God removed all our mountains, we would never see those spectacular views. We would never learn new things or see things from a different perspective. We wouldn’t see things in a different light. We wouldn’t know that He has written our names in stone on His heart. That he cares about us intimately – more than anyone else ever will. And He wants to see me get excited that the mountain I thought I was climbing is actually a volcano. He has hidden surprises for us in even the toughest climbs of our lives.
Phil is now with Him. He’s with someone who loves him more than he ever even thought possible. Someone he tried to emulate in his time on earth. I felt it – and I’m thankful for Phil’s heart and his time here. But I can’t wait to see him again in heaven. Get one of his hugs, and know I’m home.
I thought I’d climbed my mountain. In February I stepped out thinking I was on the top and I’d succeeded and defeated my mountain. But I hadn’t. I’d reached a vista – the view looked pretty good. But now I know I’m going through some really rocky terrain right now. But the view is going to be that much more spectacular when I reach the summit.