3. Gather those closest to you and get closer to some others
When we first broke the news of our situation to our closest friends, I was amazed by how many of them got in touch with me to check in and see how I was doing. It very often brought me to tears.
When one person spontaneously called me to see if I was up for meeting for a coffee, as he was in the area, I immediately accepted – and then leapt out of bed – it had been one of those mornings when I had woken up not feeling very positive and subsequently, was still lingering under the duvet, not wanting to face the day ahead. A call like that made a world of difference. Another time, I was walking along the footpath that runs parallel to the beach and a cyclist stopped next to me. I didn’t recognise him until he removed his helmet. We don’t even know each other very well but we had chatted many a time whilst watching our sons play tennis on Saturday mornings. He had heard from his wife what had happened to me and took the time to stop and ask how I was doing.
Small thing maybe. Massive impact. A never to be forgotten gesture.
Something that I found myself doing, with relative frequency, was looking up old friends that I hadn’t spoken to for years. It was as if I needed to reconnect with some people in order to recalibrate my life. It didn’t matter if the friend failed to take the initial exchange any further. There was some catharsis in simply reaching out and taking stock. In fact, the sad situation that I found myself in, actually made a way to do a sort of inventory of my relational landscape. It’s an area that we often neglect but that is brought into sharp relief in times of crisis. The bad circumstances actually gave me an excuse and a reason to contact many people with whom I had gradually lost contact. And for me, this was an opportunity to find new aspects of old friendships – fresh perspectives on the new scenario.
These people can come from all walks of your old life – former work colleagues, business acquaintances… you would be amazed how encouraging this can prove to be. Some people may have done really well and hopefully, you will feel really happy for them. Other people may have had an even worse time than you and this will of course, or should at least, help you to realise how blessed you are, despite everything.
Getting involved in a small group at church – meeting every other week on a Tuesday was a huge help for me. I soon realised that my story (or rather, how God was working through the events) was a source of immense encouragement to lots of people. This in turn, gave me a renewed sense of purpose and passion for pursuing life in all its fullness. I knew that I would eventually emerge on the other side – healed, whole and happy.
The Word & the Spirit
The power of fellowship during dark times is impossible to exaggerate. John Wimber once said, “People come to church for many reasons but they stay for only one – friendship.” I have found this to be so true over the thirty-one years of being a believer.
As a senior leader in church for many years, I have always loved gatherings of all sorts – Sunday celebrations, small, mid-week groups, right through to one to one coffees with dear friends and newcomers alike. Now that I was no longer in that space, I came to all those kinds of meetings with a very different perspective. It was my turn to be the one who perhaps needed encouraging. The truth is, I didn’t even belong to a small group for some time, as I found myself in a new church and was quite happy to remain fairly anonymous.
I believe God calls us – whoever we are – to deep fellowship. The New Testament is full of exhortations to be honest with one another, bear each other’s burdens, weep with those who weep, be kind, considerate and loving to one another. You can’t do that if you withdraw.
I once heard a wonderful illustration based on the story of the paralysed man who was carried by his friends and then lowered down through the roof for Jesus to heal him. (See Mark 2:1-5) Many of us are more than happy to be stretcher bearers as part of our Christian service. It is when we are the ones who need the stretcher that we have a problem. Whether it is pride, embarrassment or something else, we all need to learn when it is okay to be carried and cared for.
4. Volunteer your Services
One of the really rewarding things I did for a season was to get involved in my church’s street community project called Safehaven. Every Saturday evening, the church opens its doors to typically 100 people who are sleeping rough and provide them with a hot, two course meal. As volunteers, you can choose to be on the Friendship team, Hosting Team or Kitchen Team. I nearly always went for the Friendship team – being the natural ‘people person’ that I am. Speaking with people who are much more obviously struggling than yourself will always cause you to be grateful for what you do have, but even more importantly for me, I was learning to exercise a greater degree of compassion than I had demonstrated in the past. If I’m brutally honest, in the past, I had preferred to practically look the other way due to my inability to know how to relate to some people. This was my time to put that right and identify with those who have suffered in one way or another.
In other areas of life, I found myself offering free coaching to people – simply as a way to feel productive on the days when I had more time to offer. This was another way of being outward focused and helped me to take my eyes off my own issues.
If you recognise that this would be a good way to move forward, find something that suits your lifestyle. If you are part of a church, joining a team that serves on a Sunday (usually on a rota basis) is an excellent way to feel useful and to find new friends. The small group I was part of would serve together as a group on perhaps a monthly basis.
The Word & the Spirit
I love The Passion Translation of what Paul says in Philippians 2:4, “Abandon every display of selfishness. Possess a greater concern for what matters to others instead if your own interests. And consider the example of Jesus, the Anointed One, has set before us. Let his mindset become your motivation.”
I believe, if you are able to choose to acknowledge your situation without becoming bitter, and extend some compassion to others – regardless of whether they are far worse off than you – it becomes an enormous aid to your own recovery. Why is this so? I believe it is simply because we know the nature of God is to stoop down and get involved in our mess, and lead us out of it. If we can in some small way, imitate that in our own empathy towards others, we are being Christ-like without even thinking too much about it. And this is turn, enables us to receive the Father’s love for us.
5. Do Something You’ve Never Done Before
This doesn’t have to be an expenditure or anything zany. It could be – as it was for me – as simple as going for a walk in a brand new location. Why not take a trip to somewhere you’ve never visited before? If you’re on your own, this could be either a massive challenge or a genuine thrill. Whatever your situation, don’t let fear control your decisions.
One significant thing that I chose to do over two days between Christmas and New Year was to review my worst year ever and begin to plan and prepare for the next year. I spent a good deal of time in a favourite beach café and really thought deeply about what I wanted to do. I had found a very spiritual take on reviewing the current year and how to chart your desires for the forthcoming year.
Part of the process involved writing a letter to the current year.
It may sound strange but this was in fact, extremely liberating. I found myself beginning my letter something like this, “Well, 2014, you certainly did your best to finish me off for good but I am NOT finished!”
The other thing I had never done before was literally draw a ‘roadmap’ of what I wanted the New Year to look like. This for me, included the possibility of meeting someone else. Along my meandering timeline, I plumped for May – not too early but not too late in the year either. It turned out to be September but before that could happen, I had to do something else I had never, ever done before.
I went online and began the search for a new wife!
A friend told me about the Christian dating website, Christian Connection. I remember him saying to me, “Look mate, let’s be realistic about this. You’re approaching fifty. She’s probably going to be divorced with kids, and you can’t moan about that as you’ve got three yourself!”
I decided to write down a ‘profile of preferences’ for my ideal new partner for life. And guess what? She more than fulfilled the description! To give you the full story would take – and deserve – far more words than I have at my disposal here but suffice it to say, she is beautiful in every imaginable way and we have been happily married for almost three years at the time of writing.
I believe God loves to answer our deepest felt prayers – especially when our previous, desperate prayers have gone unanswered for whatever reason. He is kind and generous and does not merely give us what we need but often, far more than that. He loves to give extravagantly!
(I’m still doing things I’ve never done before – I’m in there somewhere at the start of the Blenheim Triathlon 2017)
The Word & the Spirit
Did you know there are 365 references in the Bible that say, “Do not be afraid”? One for every single day of the year! A crisis or trauma can either be debilitating and understandably so. After the initial shock however, it is up to you to allow what has happened to become a springboard into something new and different. It’s not about better or worse – this life now versus that life then – but rather, seizing the opportunity that now presents itself to you.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you.” Joshua 1:9
As you begin to put out your brand new hopes and dreams (as well as maybe, some others that have always been there but never materialised) dare to trust God and His Word. One of my all-time favourite Scriptures for this is Ephesians 3:20 “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” (Emphasis added)
6. Get help when you know you need it
When I eventually sat down with my vicar at the time, to tell him the details of why my marriage was breaking down, he was enormously compassionate. He asked if I would like to see someone on a one-to-one, regular basis. I said I probably would at some point but wasn’t quite ready at that moment in time. The truth is, that I found it hugely embarrassing to be in need of help. I have always been strong emotionally and here I was being offered ‘help’. Thankfully, I was able to overcome the pride that stood in the way and later, I took him up on his offer and the way I met my ‘counsellor’ was simply wonderful.
The vicar sent me the contact details for another man – let’s call him John; it was on a Friday as I remember. I hadn’t made contact with John but was intending to do so during the next week or so. Two days later, on the Sunday, I went forward for some prayer, towards the end of the service. St. Peter’s in Brighton is a wonderful church for many reasons and one of my favourites reasons is because every single Sunday, anyone can go forward to the front – without even a hint of shame – and receive prayer for anything.
I went forwards and almost immediately, a very gentle man with a softly spoken voice put his hand on my shoulder and asked me for my name. I gave it and then he reciprocated with, “My name is John.” He was the very man that I had been referred to by the vicar. He prayed with me many, many times for probably a couple of years ever since that morning and I will be forever grateful for his wise words of counsel as well as his patient willingness to sit and listen as I poured out my broken heart and often complex situations to him. As much as I came to enjoy those sessions, it was also a wonderful day when I realised that I no longer needed them.
Some of us need professional help in the darkest of times, while others of us just need a friend like John who can listen and perhaps, offer some advice here and there. Whatever it is you think you need, just go and get it.
The Word & the Spirit
“…be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon him for he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:5b-7 NKJV (Emphasis added)
You won’t always be the person who is crying in the corner or at the front of the congregation. But for now at least, if that is where you are at, go with it. I love Charles Spurgeon’s description of tears as “liquid prayers”. If we hide behind our emotions and do all that we can to cover up our cries of pain, I believe this only serves to extend that very same pain. It is in the shedding of our tears that we find comfort in a cloak of His compassion and presence.
Again, if you have been a leader like me, it may well be extremely difficult and certainly uncomfortable for you to find yourself on the other side of the counselling coffee table. Hopefully, you will be in front of someone who knows exactly what you are going through – either through their own experience or others they have helped. In the worst case scenario (and I suspect this can be more common than we like to think) the person is well-meaning but is not a good fit for you. In that case, be polite and grateful but seek out someone who can help you until you find them. Do not give up at the first attempt. I know people who have made themselves extremely vulnerable, only to have had that vulnerability not treated with enough care, wisdom or maturity. Trust in the Lord to bring to you the best person you could imagine. It will certainly be worth it.