God Of Surprises
(By Valerie Squires)
Charles Dickens in A Tale Of Two Cities says, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”. This rather sums up for me the many contradictions of the last complicated and challenging year for many of us.
2020/2021 for me (and I’m sure for many of you) has been a time of huge loss, grief, shock, fear, sadness, frustration, confusion, anger, boredom, loneliness and disappointment as well as thankfulness, gratitude, relief, joy, reassurance, comfort, enjoyment, surprise and appreciation. A bonus for me has been that God has started healing an area of my life which I have prayed about for 40 years. The irony is that that he has used a recent illness as a trigger for that healing.
I want to share more with you some of the great and at times unexpected blessings of the last year. God has shown himself to be a God of surprises and some of the high points of my year have closely intertwined with the most distressing.
God has spoken to me through other people. In Spring/Summer 2020 I had to take 3 months off work due to ill health. It was the first time ever that I had to stop rushing round and rely on others. I am very grateful to those who prayed for me and also appreciate the kindness shown in practical ways. My husband, David, has demonstrated great love and patience when I have gone stir crazy in lockdown and looked after me so well when I was ill.
Some precious moments have also occurred when God has spoken to me directly or through reading of the Bible, poems, songs and used the events in my life to speak to me afresh.
On 3 January 2021, for example, I was driving on the M25 and seemingly out of nowhere I started speaking in tongues (which I hadn`t done for some while). Whilst it was somewhat distracting it also gave me a huge sense of peace. I knew God was with me. I was on the way to see my sister who was under sedation at a hospice; she died 2 days later of Coronavirus.
God reassured me repeatedly on this and many other occasions that he wants to be my refuge and I needed to rely on him: “The Eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27)
Within the poetry of the Psalms there are numerous references to God being our refuge. One of my favourites is Psalm 91:4 “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge”. Likewise, God is described as being our rock and fortress in the Psalms.
The day before I went in for an operation last year, which I was scared about, one of the songs featured on the Sunday weekly news bulletin comforted me in my vulnerability: My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less (Cornerstone) when the chorus reminded me “weak made strong in the Saviour’s love/Through the storm He is Lord” alluding to the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9.
I have also learnt to treasure the reassuring prayer of St Patrick’s “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down”.
Time and time again I ponder this beautiful poem by the poet and priest, R. S. Thomas:
I have seen the sun break through(The Bright Field by R. S. Thomas)
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
I believe God said to me that he wants me to rest in him more, rely on him more, know his presence more and look forward to eternity with him. At times it hasn`t felt as though he has been with me but when I looked back, I saw his footprints in the sand.
I have been very aware that my troubles pale into insignificance besides those of many others. The life of Jesus is sprinkled with examples of him giving individual time to those who might least expect it such as the woman by the well (John 4) or the woman who had been ill for 12 years (Luke 8:43-48). This serves as a reminder that God can focus on any one of us as a precious individual, whatever else is happening in the world.
Life will continue to be testing and have its struggles for many of us; God will hopefully remind us many times as individuals and as a church of his presence. The last year has certainly taught me not to lose sight of the “pearl of great price”.