It was sometime around 2am, and I was lying awake, my mind racing, tears streaming down my face as I looked at the big empty space on the other side of the bed which was vacant. I don’t remember a time in my life when I’ve ever felt so alone. It was around 2 or 3 weeks after Rachel had died, the frantic nature of life in the immediate aftermath, along with long emotional days, would take their toll and in those early days, by late evening I was ready to flop into bed and wouldn’t awake until the next morning. But now, as things calmed down, I often found myself waking in the middle of the night – the creeping darkness of the early hours a reflection of the state of my heart. In those moments I often felt as if I was utterly alone, occasionally sneaking into the boys room and sleeping on the floor.
But each night, as I felt myself descend into the depths once more, I felt compelled to open my bible and turn to the Psalms, a collection of songs, often written by those who were suffering and like me could do nothing but cry out to God in their anguish. And there, in the midst of my despair and loneliness, a voice would come and speak to me, again and again, reminding me that I was never alone, I was, in fact, being carried by him. Psalm 3 in particular, was a Psalm I returned to many times:
1 Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
4 I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
7 Arise, Lord!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
8 From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
For me, as a Christian, I have never felt closer to God than those nights. Never before had I experienced that level of peace and reassurance that drawing near to God brings. It often felt like I was in the midst of a raging battle, with an unseen enemy laying siege to my soul, throwing wave after wave of regret and anger at my beleaguered heart, daring me to allow myself to be consumed by it all. But as I read those words, often burying my head deep in my pillow, I called out to him and I always found deliverance. I always felt the protective hand of God resting upon me, causing me to look to him and find peace beyond measure.
And in those moments time and again I saw a glimpse of the future, a glimpse of what Rachel was now enjoying for real – a life where not only pain and heartache were gone forever, but so much more, my joy and contentment was bound up not in the circumstances of life, which ebb and flow like the tide, but they were entirely bound up in God and his blessing.
I love so many things in this life, I love history and halloumi, I love mochas from Starbucks topped with cream. I really love Norwich City, but they too often break my heart. I love my children so very dearly and would do anything for them. But ultimately, during those painful days of August 2019, the thing I came to see night after night, was that for me, only in God could my heart find true contentment and peace. Only by hiding in him could I lie down in the darkest valley of despair this life could throw and still find rest.
Psalm 23 is a much more famous Psalm, and with good reason. It reminds me of how I daily need to find rest in him. The thing is, it doesn’t take a tragedy to enjoy God as he intended, he is always near, always ready to come and bring comfort and joy. I pray I would do just that every day.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord