I have always found great comfort from watching the birds feeding in our garden, especially in winter. This is when Robin comes. He is always alone – he seems unable to mix with the other birds. He only ever eats from the table and never swings from the feeders like sparrows do. He appears quite tame and certainly curious, cocking his head to one side as he watches us come and go in ‘his’ garden.
In his aloneness Robin reminds me of my years of pain and isolation from others as a result. Pain and chronic ill health do that to you. They cut you off. They isolate you. They rob you of the comfort of human company – just like this dreadful pandemic. The whole idea of ‘swinging from feeders’ is just not for you!
This Christmas, as so many face the stark reality of isolation in their pain, why not choose my book ‘Through the Storms; a manual for when life hurts’ as a gift for them? If you would like a signed copy, email me at email@example.com. the cost is £8.99 post free in Guernsey or add £1.75 for anywhere in the UK. Invoice to be sent with book for bank transfer. Thanks.
According to recently published research, in total , 45% of adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England. This equates to twenty million people. Characteristics of people who are more likely to experience loneliness include: those who are widowed, those with poorer health and those with long-term illness or disability. 43.45% of the group reporting bad or very bad health are often/always lonely. There is no doubt that being chronically unwell isolates people.
I believe that isolation, although sometimes necessary to prevent the spread of disease, is itself a potentially dangerous experience. Solitude is one thing – where one seeks ‘aloneness’ for spiritual or psychological refreshing – but isolation can be a tool in the hand of our enemy and accuser, Satan. It may be forced upon us, but we must take practical steps to try and minimise any damage that may be caused. I speak about this, among many other things, in my book ‘Through the Storms; a manual for when life hurts’.
From the other side of the coin, I try to keep my eyes peeled for folk who may be lonely. A smile, a word of greeting, an offer of practical help, an enquiry if all is well, may each be a way of bridging the gap with someone who is feeling isolated and lonely. High rise blocks of apartments are deadly for this problem, hiding folk away and putting them in files and boxes. When folk do emerge, they are often wary and fearful. We need to find ways of taking an interest in others well-being without overpowering them or disrespecting their personal space. It’s a difficult balance, but the pandemic of loneliness is also deadly and there will be lives lost as a result.
This is where your local church community can be a literal ‘God-send’. Its foodbank, or church cafe, or drop-in centre, offers real hope for lonely people. Our church runs the Alpha Course and it is well attended each time we run it, offering friendship and good food as well as helpful videos. Find out more about Alpha at http://www.alpha.org.uk.
Above all, you may be lonely, but you are not alone. Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother. Hear the words again of Hebrews 13:5 from the Amplified version of the Bible: ‘for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down (relax My hold on you)! Assuredly not!’
This time tomorrow I will be in prison! Not that I have done anything serious to deserve my incarceration – just having a story to tell. I will go into Guernsey Prison to talk about my experience of pain, critical illness and recovery, as part of their Sunday worship service. I’m told that numbers are quite good at these events as it is one of the few occasions prisoners get out of their cells and blocks.
Chronic ill health is a kind of prison too. You feel that your body – or maybe your mind – is locking you in. Pain yells at you if you step out of line and try to do too much. Life is limited and socialising becomes difficult. Isolation, which is now such a common thing in this pandemic, becomes a tool in the hand of Satan, afflicting you with feelings of worthlessness and rejection. I am so glad that my faith enabled me to break out of that prison long before my body was healed or my pain relieved. Find out how, and what helped me with that, by getting hold of my book Through the Storms. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a signed copy today.
The words of the famous hymn spell out my story. Even if the corona-virus crackdown prevents the singing of this in UK churches – not that many would probably choose this style of musical praise today anyway – it remains one of my favourites.
Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven; To His feet thy tribute bring. Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, Evermore His praises sing:
(Henry Lyte 1834)
In a recent newspaper interview and article I was asked several questions about my experience of chronic pain. Here’s an extract:
If you feel able to, please can you explain for those who may not realise, what is it really like to live with pain every day? The pain of pancreatitis is out of this world. It often meant that I couldn’t breathe freely and had to lie curled up in a foetal position to try and find relief. At times I was carried out of the home by ambulance personnel in that position. Pain made it difficult to concentrate as it is all consuming. It was a daily battle to deal with the depression that comes with chronic pain but is often exasperated by the kind of drugs I was taking. Pain is a slave driver, a hard task master and a thief. It stole so much from me that no insurance policy on earth could ever repay me for the years lost to it.
Now, two and a half years after that drastic and radical transplant surgery, I am free of pain after 22 years of suffering. Can you see why I love that hymn so much? If you would like to know more, email me at email@example.com and I will be glad to arrange to let you have a signed copy of my book.
It is a real pleasure to know that bookshops are reopening around Britain after lockdown. My latest book ‘Through the Storms’ came out just before that period of closure and has been stuck behind locked doors ever since. Thankfully, online stockists like Amazon, Eden and Aslan have continued to make it available. I have also got stock and have been sending them out from home, signed and usually with an invoice for payment by bank transfer. The above copy was pictured in Waterstones in Jersey.
I have a friend in quarantine. He has about a week to go of his 14 day sentence. It’s hard going. Meals put down outside his door. No mixing with hotel staff or anyone else at all. Twenty minutes exercise per day – less than many prison regimes. And his crime? Arriving in Guernsey from the UK to work in our local hospital. Our borders are firmly closed. Anyone arriving in this little group of islands has to isolate for two weeks, or face a fine of up to £10,000. One man was recently fined £6,000 for his first offence!
My experience of chronic pain is that it isolates the sufferer. You can’t go out socialising because you simply don’t feel up to it. Even within families and homes you can’t take the noise and hassle of chatter and being with others. Sadness is compounded by loneliness as you ask yourself ‘Will I ever feel different?’.
Yes, you will. You are not shut up for ever. Try to look beyond the confines of your situation. Even lying in bed you could FaceTime or Skype someone you love. Above all, keep your mind on the fact that you are never truly alone. Jesus said “I will never leave you, I will never forsake you”.
For some of the lessons that I have learned in my many periods of real isolation caused by pain and recurring acute pancreatitis, get hold of my book ‘Through the Storms: a manual for when life hurts‘. And get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org as I would be pleased to hear from you.
My friend will emerge from behind his cage next week. I will be pleased to see him, and I hope he will be even better equipped to understand how people in chronic pain feel.
I am tempted to say ‘all lives matter’ but that would risk being patronising and overlooking the dreadful injustices being heaped upon people from ‘BAME’ communities in the US, Europe and even in Africa today. I see the same issues of police brutality, racism and corruption in Zimbabwe as in America, and feel the pain of my brothers and sisters in both places.
The violent death of a Christian man, George Floyd, who was doing his best to bring about purpose and meaning for young people in his community, has become a global tragedy. Piled upon the disproportionate effect of the Corona virus on communities of colour, the huge increase in unemployment as a result, and a centuries old tally of injustice, there is almost a ‘perfect storm’ erupting on the streets of the USA. Its effects will be felt across the world.
In these times of international angst and upheaval we need more than ever a faith that keeps us focused on the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ. Never was my story and my book more timely. You are welcome to get a copy from https://amzn.to/36TlNBJ or else email me at email@example.com and I will mail you a signed copy.
Today I pray for the governments and people of these troubled lands. The USA, Zimbabwe, the UK, Hong Kong and mainland China, sub-Saharan Africa where the virus is spreading like fire – never has the storm been more virulent – never has the need for prayer been greater.
I was scandalised while listening to BBC Radio 4’s morning programme Today on Weds 20th May 2020, at approximately 8.45am. Not my usual reaction to this typically well-balanced current affairs programme, but the story was appalling. They interviewed two disabled people who had separately been deprived of their home based carers due to the pandemic. It was a real struggle for them to cope without this support. But, the real shocker was that both of them had become aware of a government ‘frailty’ list which had suggested that certain folk would not be offered ventilation or intensive care if they became seriously ill with Covid-19. They felt that they had been written off as unworthy of being helped or saved!
Each of these two dear ladies had written a letter to their family, copied to their doctors, in which they made a plea that they might be considered as worthy of being saved. They both mentioned that they had cats who depended upon them, and one had children and grandchildren. They admitted to really scraping around to find anything that might convince others of their worth. This is a horrifying example of the depths of worthlessness and despair that can afflict the chronically ill.
I tackle this issue head-on in my book Through the Storms; a manual for when life hurts. In the chapter ‘How much am I worth?’ I talk about the epidemic of low self-worth there is in the Christian church today, which is reflective of a wider problem in our society. Throughout the two decades of my battle with chronic illness I struggled to believe in my own worth. It led to me being unwilling to seek medical help, even in emergencies, because I felt that I was being a nuisance. I learned to deal with this issue, and offer practical steps as to how you can too.
To my disabled friends – and those who are chronically ill – you are of immense value to God and the rest of us. You matter now, not just when you are recovered. And whoever thought up that so-called frailty list deserves to spend some time on it! They might discover what it means to have to assess their own value and offer reasons why they too should be spared.
Most parents of little children know the phrase ‘are we there yet?’ from long car journeys with their families. The kicking of the back of the front seats can drive you crazy! Young minds cannot always fully grasp concepts like distance and timing yet and are easily bored. Thankfully, they are also easily distracted.
When life’s troubles go on for a long time, like this lockdown, similar questions arise in our adult hearts too. ‘My soul is in deep anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?’ (Psalm 6:3). I asked that question many times during the twenty-two years of my battle with serious and chronic ill health. I longed for the trials to come to an end.
Early in my ordeal I felt that God gave me 1 Peter 5:10 as a personal promise. ‘And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast’ (1 Peter 5:10). I held onto the ‘little while’ part of the verse like a drowning man clasping a piece of flotsam. But as the months, years and finally decades passed without an end to my problem, I started looking again at what the Bible means by the phrase. God’s ‘little while’ turns out to be quite unlike my own interpretation of those words. His timing is not my timing.
My own ‘little while’ appears to have ended now, although storms will not cease completely till we reach heaven. I praise Him for His sustaining grace in the trial and for bringing me out of it. As in Ecclesiastes chapter three, ‘there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’ Take courage from that assurance today. God has the timing in His hands, and He will bring you out of this season when its time is done. When Jesus calmed the wind and waves on the Galilee, the one that threatened to drown his disciples, He stilled the storm when He was finished with it, not when they were. His timing is always perfect and His sovereignty and power unlimited.
I received an email from an old friend who just happens to be a retired consultant psychiatrist. He shared his concern about an impending ‘avalanche of mental illness’ following this period of lockdown. I share his concern and pray often for those who are closed in with issues of the mind that are being intensified and increased by this enforced isolation.
One factor of this is the absence of the grace of touch for many millions. I recognise that I am greatly blessed in this regard because I am at home with my loving wife, but for so many, it may be weeks since they touched anyone, or were touched in return. I learned the value of human touch in Intensive Care, which I tell more about in Through the Storms. I had been there for two or three weeks on that occasion, hooked up to the many machines that were keeping me alive. Every now and then a nurse would have to come and take my pulse the old way, holding my wrist gently between thumb and fingers. I relished those moments of simple kindness, physical contact with a fellow human being. Touch brings reassurance, the sharing of life, closeness, and science tells us, can even increase our store of the well-being hormone Serotonin.
If you have a pet, you will know how much they mean in this regard. If not, then the absence of being touched is just one of the pressures you are facing. Can I just point you to the One who reached out and touched so many while He was on Earth? Jesus was criticised for His willingness to embrace those who were untouchable in society, such as lepers and people of low moral reputation. Some years ago we used to sing; “When I feel the touch of Your hand upon my life, it causes me to sing a song, that I love You Lord”. It may seem a bit sentimental but it is real to many millions of believers in Christ who are finding that He is there with them in their isolation at this time.
I am also grateful for the technology that can help us all keep in touch at this time. Our church is using Live-streaming via YouTube to broadcast hope-giving services each Sunday morning at 10.45am which can then be viewed later if you wish. Just search for Vazon Church on YouTube or go to the church website http://www.vazonelim.org.gg. We are also part of #stayconnect Guernsey which is making wifi and tablets available to those who are unable to keep in touch with loved ones, and if you know anyone who could benefit from a free loan or gift of such things, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try to help.
Meanwhile – some folk are recommending my book as ‘essential reading’ for the lockdown, and I would really encourage you to get hold of a copy. Here’s a link you can use, https://amzn.to/3ayFJdj, or email me at the address above and I will send you a signed copy by return with an invoice for bank transfer. But above all, stay safe – in every way – including mentally! God bless.