Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Is Your God Big Enough?


I remember as a 3 year old idolising my big sister, following her around everywhere she went, copying her every movement, to the extent that she managed to trick me into swallowing a button and then laughed in that way that only big sisters can when they know they’ve caught you hook, line and sinker! Today I look at her and my heart breaks – the little girl I looked up to, who danced so gracefully like a ballerina, now caught up in a world of obsessive movements which makes her heart pound with anxiety and the sweat form on her brow even as she attempts to pick up a jug to drink out of it. For she suffers with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, her coping mechanism for her Asperger’s Syndrome. Bullied at school for being “different”, she withdrew into a life of rituals and obsessions to give her a sense of identity. I remember when she was 9 how she started coming home from school and checking every single thing in her bedroom was in its rightful place – it wasn’t long before she started sleeping in my bedroom to protect hers from getting messed up. Not long after that no-one was allowed in her bedroom at all. Today it remains a shrine, filled with untouched beautiful toys and unhugged dolls from that long-gone childhood.

As we both grew older, my ability to connect with Helen diminished. Looking at life wearing the self-centred glasses of a teenager, I resented the fact that I had to start using a duster to turn light switches on and off, that I had to line up the cutlery in the drawer in a perfect line, and above all that I was unable to bring friends back home in case the house got messed up. As Helen found life increasingly more difficult and became more and more house-bound, her frustrations that we simply didn’t understand her spilled over into physical violence, and I’ll never forget my mum and I sleeping in the car one night in the local supermarket car park, too afraid to return home. I was relieved to leave home and go off to university.

But God then intervened. He opened my mum’s eyes to the gospel message, and soon after mine too. And I was amazed at how my attitude to my sister completely changed – how my hardened heart towards her was softened and I felt deep compassion for her. And it was clear to both my mum and me that God was going to heal Helen and be glorified by doing so.

That belief took a knock when Helen was sectioned  (involuntarily committed) to a psychiatric hospital the next year, as she had become confined to living in an armchair in the lounge. And in the 19 years since then she has been passed from care home to care home, in increasingly desperate attempts to find a place for her to live where she might receive some help. Her problems have been compounded by lack of understanding in many of these places, and also sexual abuse from those “caring” for her. Today we are preparing a bungalow for her to move to in a few weeks time, in the hope that this time things might improve. Meanwhile, I go to visit her and watch as she stands eating her one daily meal out of a bowl with her fingers, unable to eat more often as this would add too many rituals, unable to use a knife and fork, unable to sit down otherwise she would get “stuck”; try to calm and reassure her as she performs her rituals of movement (which encompass every single movement she makes with her body) under intense anxiety; witness her despair at feeling like a “caged animal”, unable to have any kind of a normal life and feeling utterly worthless;  and have to forego any normal sisterly conversation as I have to teach her from a book whilst I visit so that the rituals Helen has “given up” by spending time with me are “repaid” by her learning and feeling better about herself that way. Yet there are moments when the tender heart that God has formed in Helen through her suffering shines out brilliantly – when a member of staff suffered a panic attack, Helen was able to reassure him and calm him down, and he was so touched by this he sent her a bouquet of flowers the next day to thank her.

Reading Chapter 4 in Michael Horton’s A Place for Weakness – Is Your God Big Enough – has been a personal challenge to me. For God has started to break down some emotional barriers that I had put up with Helen’s situation, and I am finding the questions are starting to come. In particular I look at the centurion who approached Jesus on behalf of his paralysed servant in terrible suffering who simply asks Jesus to “just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Mt 8:8). And I KNOW that all it would take is a word from My Lord and Saviour, and my sister would be released from her bondage, for the nature of God has not changed, He continues to heal today. Yet He stays silent.

Dealing with long-term suffering has led me through many different seasons of prayer for Helen and to be honest, I have fluctuated from one extreme to another without ever finding that satisfactory rest in Christ – either believing that God exists for us (p.65) and not being able to understand why He doesn’t heal Helen, or letting experience be my guide (p.54) and believing nothing is going to change for Helen and that we all need to just stoically persevere. Yet as Horton points out so well in this chapter, neither of these approaches does justice to the God we worship and who has revealed Himself through the Scriptures.

I KNOW that “God has a larger plan and design” for the suffering we may have to witness our loved ones go through, otherwise, as Horton says, “a random accident, the car accident that took the life of one’s daughter, for example, is literally meaningless.” (p.64). My mum and I were both left cold by the words of an Anglican vicar who told us after the death of my father in this exact circumstance when Helen was 16 that “God sometimes gets it wrong”. Even as non-Christians we knew this couldn’t be true. I agree with every fibre of my being when Horton declares triumphantly “Our Father is strong to save. This means that he both can and will set everything right and wipe every tear from our eyes.” (p.67). I just don’t know when. Elizabeth, the wonderful host of this stimulating book discussion, said the other day “We like to say it's a high calling, but dignify the trial by praying and persevering to the end of it. See what God brings about in His own time, in His own way, for His own glory.” And whilst I agree wholeheartedly, may God have mercy on me but I cannot deny that part of me is crying out that He should act in this case sooner rather than later.

And reflecting on that last sentence I wrote, I can now see how it is steeped in a theology of glory - for as Horton points out, "This is the key point of the theology of the cross: God is most present precisely when He seems most absent" (p.56). Which just proves the point of Horton's book really - that in the crucible of testing we are likely to revert to the natural theology of man, the theology of glory, unless we learn from God's Word how to meet the trials. So I will continue to wrestle.

Helen wrote this poem about 15 years ago. I haven’t read it for many years, and reading it today the words hit me hard. May God have mercy on her and free her from her prison and release her from the dungeon in which she is held in darkness (Isa 42:7).


Helen was my beautiful bridesmaid in 1994
Trapped in the depths of a world where I came to mysteriously exist
I have a desperate urge to get out – be free – to escape –
Begging, my soul screaming, I need comfort
Please come and give it to me, please, I beg you
Protect me from the demonic structure of this world.
Relieve me from the dark, painful tightness of my existence.
How can I be free? There is nowhere, nobody for me.
Too many other particles and matter in this universe.
Why should I be more important than them?
I am nothing – for nothing.
I am a bird that cannot sing
I am a petal on a flower which is unseen
I just cannot compete.
Why cannot I just be myself in this time?
Cannot human beings accept me as I am?
Why do I have to conform to every little detail?
Please let me be, please love me.
All I need is one good soul to hear my song.
To see me amongst the petals on a flower.
Without this special love I am surely doomed for ever.
-          Helen Reynolds.

(Please join the book discussion here).


  1. Diana I am going to be as honest as I can. I am so troubled by Helen. Just looking at her beautiful face breaks my heart. I had so many emotional problems growing up, even though it's no comparison I was trapped in a personal Hell all my own. I don't know why God chose to free me and not Helen. I just don't have any answers and I am learning that it's ok. God is ok with us having questions like this. Just lean on Him, pour it all out on Him. He can bear it and give you the grace to endure, even if this never changes. I asked these same questions when my Dad suffered so for 11 years, no relief only worsening pain. Its' so hard to watch, you feel helpless and I got mad and frustrated at God so many times. Diana He can handle it. I really like how Horton explains that God is so much bigger than some sentimentality, sometimes life is just plain brutal and there is no putting a smiley face on that situation. I love you, and I know in these situations God brings people along with us to shoulder the pain. I always think of Moses, and his tired arms! Just when I think I have hit my limit God always provides a loving arm to rest in, either His or one of His other Children. I think we will wrestle with some of these things for a lifetime, but I pray that Helen is healed, and I pray that God gives you much comfort and peace. I love you my very much! Thank you for writing this was so hard to read thinking of you and your Mom and Helen in pain, but I praise God that he's involved in all of it. Even if we dont' understand it yet.

  2. My precious sister,

    How can I read this and not cry? How can I read this and not want to be closer to you now and kiss your cheek? How can I not wish we did not have an ocean between us?

    I have no words of my own, but God's Word is enough, it is sufficient for you today in the middle of this mess.

    Love you, love you!

  3. Amen Becky, God is sufficient.

  4. Sweet Teresa, thank you so much for sharing as you have. I love your honesty. I find it so healing. To know it’s ok to have questions, that I won’t be condemned for not being in a place of “peace”, rather than have my theology all sewn up tightly. It’s odd – I know that in recent months I’d withdrawn emotionally from all this, and was in that place of God’s in control, what will be will be – but I wasn’t being honest with myself or with God. Actually, I was worse than a Job’s comforter sometimes with my mum trying to get her to stop worrying. And now the emotional barriers are back down and I find I don’t have any answers, other than I know my Redeemer lives and He is a Good God and I have no place to turn, no one to trust, other than Him. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You.” (Ps 73:25)

    Dearest Becky – I am greatly touched by your beautiful words. I don’t think I can express in words what it means to me that God has brought sisters in Christ alongside to help shoulder the pain.

    Love you both very much.

  5. I love you too Diana! And Becky too. Thank you Jesus for these precious Sisters!

  6. Oh Diana,

    My heart goes out to you, your mum, and most of all your dear sister Helen. Thank you for sharing your heart on such a matter as this. We simply cannot understand all the ways of our Lord, yet we know He doeth all things well.

    "God is most present precisely when He seems most absent"

    Such wise words Horton has written here. His words are true. It was less than 4 days ago that I sat holding my poor mom's hand as she entered eternity after a long, long torturous battle to the very last breath. I was her sole caregiver and watched her suffer slowly for many years - I frequently wondered how long the Lord would allow it to go on.

    We walk by faith and not by sight my dear sweet sister. And one day He will wipe away every tear. And so often, it is not until we look back that we understand that His grace was sufficient.

    I love you.

  7. Diana, I don't know what to say and wish I could just slip through this screen to hug you, your mom and your sister. But I do know that God is big enough, and that He knows, better than anyone, all about suffering and how fragile we really are, especially without Him. And as I look at my feeble attempt at words, I realize that neither 'big' nor 'enough' rightly describe God who is so much more than we can wrap our heads or words around. 'Big' and 'enough' are in our vocabulary only to describe the limit of what we understand, but have no place or meaning with God! He is the I AM! I am amazed how your sister, though trapped so heartbreakingly, would comfort the staff member. God is at work in all things. There is a beauty that shines, or sometimes it only flickers, but it's there--His grace, His fingerprints--even in the worst of circumstances.

    Hugs and prayers and hope,

  8. Oh, Diana!

    I just don't think there are words to express how humbled and moved I am to have read this. How can I thank you for opening up your heart and sharing your past -- your mom, your sister and and all of the valleys and trials He has seen you through. I see so clearly the track record of faithfulness that God has with you and your family. And, I am so encouraged and strengthened in my faith to see the grace of God at work in you, Diana. You truly are an amazing woman of God!

    I love what you said hear dear friend: "" the crucible of testing we are likely to revert to the natural theology of man, the theology of glory, unless we learn from God's Word how to meet the trials. So I will continue to wrestle."

    It is my honor to join you in praying for Helen! May God be glorified in and through her and may He bless and protect her all the days of her life. Surely, our God is mighty to save!

    I love you more than words my dear sister. XOXOXO

  9. Dearest Diane, thank you so much for your words of comfort. How true it is that God comforts us in our troubles so we can comfort others. All the struggle you’ve been through with your Mom’s suffering – so thankful she is now at peace, released and free. “And so often, it is not until we look back that we understand that His grace was sufficient.” Wise words indeed. God bless you, dear Diane. May He continue to comfort you and all your family.

    Oh Petra, I join you in your wish to be able to have a closer contact than is possible online! One day, dear sister, we will be face to face…until then, I thank you for your kind words, and most of all, your prayers, and even more, your hope. Thank God we worship the God of Hope!

    And sweet Christina, I am so thankful that you’ve been able to see God’s faithfulness to us as a family. And I think as a family we need to embrace more fully the quote of Joni Earickson Tada’s on your blog: “God has not redeemed you and me to make us happy, or healthy, or free of trouble. God has redeemed you and me to become more like Jesus Christ… and this is why He destined trials for you, my friend”. And thank you for your prayers. I treasure them dearly. Love to you.

  10. I don't know what to say. Stories like these leave me without words...

    I thank you for sharing it and for maintaining your faith in God and your love for your sister. Your life is an encouragement!

  11. Hi Lisa, I really appreciate you stopping by and leaving this encouraging word. God bless you sister!