Peace in a Time of Pandemic (Ros' Blog)
I used to think leaving my tiny premature baby in SCBU each evening not knowing whether she would make it through the night was as traumatic as it gets, and maybe it was. She’s now 36 and resident in a care home and I’m not currently allowed to take her out or even visit her. Seeing her on the other end of a Skype call distraught beyond words and seriously self-harming comes pretty close to being the most traumatic! As a mum, all my instincts are to rush round and scoop her up in my arms but that is the one thing I’m not allowed to do.
It’s a weird kind of comfort to know that other friends are in the same boat. There’s a sense of being in this together, of going through a shared experience. There are some people whose empathy means a huge amount because you know they really do understand.
But though the grief and heartbreak is real, there’s one thing I’ve learned over many years of parenting a child with multiple disabilities and health problems. When Jesus said, “I leave My peace with you. I give My peace to you. I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid”, He wasn’t holding up some lofty ideal, attainable only to the spiritually superior. He was describing a present reality in times of deep, dark trouble.
I remember when my daughter had an operation for scoliosis at the age of 11. The doctor told us gravely that her spine had become so twisted and deformed that it was compressing her heart, lungs and stomach and putting her at imminent risk of heart failure. He asked us to sign a consent form for the operation to insert a rod the entire length of her spine. And he explained the risks – a fairly small risk that she might end up completely paralysed, and a more significant risk that she might not survive the operation at all. As he passed the consent form for signing, he said, “All her life you’ve taken responsibility for her, and now I’m asking you to take responsibility for this, too. It needs to be done soon; we can’t leave it a year, she doesn’t have a year left.”
That was in January. It went close to the wire. By the time all the support systems were in place for her aftercare and the operation could go ahead, it was October. We were told the operation would take a minimum of five hours if it went smoothly, but that they never do go smoothly. We were told that she would need at least 48 hours in intensive care and a month in hospital. We accompanied her to the operating theatre and the consultant told us to go home and spend time with our other children, promising to phone us as soon as there was any news.
After only 3 hours the phone rang and I picked it up. It was the consultant surgeon and my heart sank. Was he phoning to tell us the worst? “I’m absolutely amazed and delighted,” he said. The operation has gone like the smoothest possible textbook procedure. She’s doing ok and she’s in recovery.” We returned to the hospital. Our daughter was transferred to a side room off the children’s ward with an intensive care nurse in attendance, but incredibly she didn’t go into intensive care. She was discharged from hospital just three weeks later. Yes, there was some permanent damage from the handling of her spinal cord, but she adapted to her new limitations and has gone on to have a happy and fulfilling life.
I remember those three weeks that she was in hospital. She was on morphine for the pain from such a drastic operation, but we soon found that the morphine was supressing her breathing and the dose had to be reduced until she was in sufficient pain to keep her alert enough to breathe. That was distressing to witness. I sat in a chair at her bedside, day and night for 3 weeks, snatching naps when she was calm or asleep.
My overwhelming memory of those three weeks is of an almost tangible sense of the presence of Jesus in the room, filling me with a joy that defied explanation or description. I thought of Paul’s words about there being a “peace that passes all understanding” and I paraphrased it as “a peace that’s ridiculous in the circumstances”.
My daughter and I emerged from that hospital room to face new beginnings – she with an indefinite extension of the life that had come so close to an untimely end, and I with a deep and enduring love-relationship with the Jesus who had sustained me and filled me with His joy at the most unlikely of times.
Some of us are now facing a prolonged period of unbearable separation and hardship, witnessing our children suffer in ways we cannot alleviate for them. It’s ok to cry! I’ve done quite a lot of that myself this week. But let’s not forget where our source of peace comes from. These are the very times in our lives when we get to prove the reality of God’s promises. Let’s turn our eyes resolutely to Jesus and stay fixed on Him.
And when we get overwhelmed by the magnitude of what is happening, the way it seems to stretch out endlessly before us with no end in sight, the fear and anxiety in society and the media all around us, and we wonder what to pray for and where to begin, there’s a great prayer in the Old Testament which Jehoshaphat prayed when his army faced overwhelming odds: “Lord, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20. 12) Make that your prayer as you face the current global situation, in whatever way it affects you. May you know His presence with you and His joy in your heart no matter what the coming days hold for you.