Being able to tell our story and identify the things God is doing in and through us is one of the most powerful witnesses we have. One of the areas of passionate spirituality that we seem to struggle most with is articulating to others what God has done in our lives and how we can see his transformative power at work in our everyday.
A few weeks ago, as part of my “fact finding mission” to see what was already happening in the Diocese from the point of view of spirituality and discipleship, I visited Red Hill Christian Centre in rural Warwickshire. A place of retreat and somewhere to enjoy time-out in the peace and beauty of God’s creation, they themselves have an amazing story of vision and providence, well worth finding out about. However, on this particular day, the story that impacted me most was a quite unexpected one, shared in the freezing cold and, amazingly, at the foot of a cross on the hillside.
Martha* was staying at the centre, whilst on a visit from overseas, having emigrated a few years earlier. She had returned to England upon hearing the news that her son, who still lived over here, was missing, after developing an addiction, finding himself homeless and later disappearing from the shelter he had been staying at.
She explained how the police had been notified but, faced with the prospect of finding a young homeless addict in London, they had not been optimistic of success. “A needle in a haystack” was how they described her situation. Undeterred, Martha had embarked on a frantic search around the familiar areas of the city, praying as she went. Some people told her that it was a near impossible task but, supported by relatives, she continued. Eventually finding a possible sighting in a shop, she left her number with the shopkeeper and asked that he call her if he should see him, then went back to her persistent search for a lost and broken son.
One Friday evening, sitting with her family, the phone call came. The shopkeeper had just seen her son and he was standing outside the shop. A 25 minute journey to get there, Martha and her family prayed that God would intervene and keep him there. Her phone rang again, to say that he had walked off and the shopkeeper didn’t know where to. Still Martha prayed. The phone rang again. He was back outside. In desperation, Martha and her family prayed – “God, if it’s him, hold him there. Stick his feet to the floor”.
When the car pulled up, the family spread in different directions, ready to comb the area. They didn’t need to look hard. They found him, sat on a bench opposite the shop, “as still as a statue”. Martha ran to embrace him and found him unresponsive and “lost to the world”. As she gently took him in her arms and reassured him that it was all okay – that she was there – he broke down. “He said he was afraid to touch me, in case I turned out to just be a dream”.
Taking him home for a hot bath, clean clothes and a good square meal, the search began for a rehab centre who could care for him. They prayed it would be somewhere run by Christians who could love him, as well as heal him. One was found. They prayed that finances wouldn’t be a barrier, and he was offered a subsidised place, based on someone else’s generosity.
Having settled him in and reassured him, Martha had a few days spare, before flying home. She felt God nudging her to take some rest after her frantic few weeks and allow him to minister to her pain in return. This was how we came to be stood on a hillside together, on a freezing day in spring, under the shadow of a cross.
With each reference to an answered prayer, she demonstrated the power we have to encourage one another with our stories. What have we prayed about recently? How has God helped us in the situations we have found ourselves in? Each one of us has opportunity and ability to offer simple words that reflect the presence of God in our lives. As she shared her story, I was overwhelmed by the parallel between her desperate search for a hurting son, and God’s desire to find each one of us and bring us home to him. No judgement, no condemnation, just overwhelming love for His children that desires nothing but to see them safe.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost,
but now I’m found,
was blind but now I see
(J. Newton, 1779)
*Names changed to protect privacy, story shared with permission.