Doing everything by the Book

In the last, difficult weeks of Donnie’s life, we spent a lot of time on planes and in hospitals. I say, ‘we’ because, although he was the patient, I went through it all in my own way too. My way involved reading. Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ were satisfyingly bleak and waiting-room long; they suited the mood, and they passed the hours.

And for a while, I thought they were going to be the last books I would ever open.

After Donnie died, I could not read. At first, it didn’t matter, and I barely noticed. There were other things to fill my time, other concerns to occupy my imagination. But, gradually, it started to worry me. I had already lost what felt like the greater part of my identity. The months and months of anxiety and nursing had ended abruptly; I was no longer a wife. Now, it seemed like reading had gone too – I simply had no appetite for it any more.

Perhaps that doesn’t sound like a big deal, especially in the context of my loss. But reading had always been part of me. I remember being endlessly chided for trying to bring books to the dinner table, and for walking from room to room, book in hand, nose buried in a story. Once, hilariously, my father watched me bring home yet another purchase and said in exasperation, ‘surely you have enough books now!’

Yet, some of my most treasured volumes are the ones he bought me because he knew how much I wanted them.

I think I worried him enormously by insisting on finding a new home for the bookcase full of theology texts I’d amassed while doing a short course with the Free Church. He must have despaired when I kept saying, ‘I won’t need them again – they should go to someone who will use them’. And although I’m not sorry that they joined the fledgling library of a now newly-ordained minister, I am sorry for the anxiety I must have caused my father in the process. Did he think I was turning my back on God?

Yes, books have played an important role in my life. I wish I had told my father about the devotional I read as a child that caused me to kneel and ask Jesus into my heart. It may not quite have been a conversion, but He never quite left me after that either.

By the time I was a widow, all these years later, I was also His completely. I had lost the ability to get absorbed in a novel, but was beginning to find a new identity in Christ. Wrestling with mounting concern about my reading mojo being gone, I began to tell people how worried I was that it was never coming back. Privately, I actually thought I was mentally ill. When I would try to make myself read, I could not finish anything. It was like a sickness when food turns your stomach. My sister in-law suggested that it was the result of my conversion, that perhaps I no longer cared for ‘worldly’ books. Okay, but I wasn’t exactly devouring Christian ones either.

Except for one, that is. The One. Morning and evening, and in those still stormy, tearful times in between, I reached for my Bible. Gospels, Pauline epistles, the beautiful Song of Songs, the melancholy Ecclesiastes, the inspiring Job, and the incomparable, endless Psalms. They all spoke to me in their different ways, and in my different moods.

This Bible that had been a dumb thing in my hands for so many years, it was transformed by the power of the Comforter. Now it was ministering to me in all my need. When I wondered what all this fog of pain could mean, it spoke truth into my heart.

The Bible is not just a book. It is the living Word of God and He reaches us through it. If I did not know this before, I know it now. Books, the very things which had once peopled my world, receded from me when I needed them most. They would have been no use anyway.

His Word, though, did the work. It caused me to feel my pain, to regard it through the lens of God’s mercy and justice. For all that people call it folktales and fairy stories, it does not provide a means of escape. We have got our means already; He from whose lips the cup did not pass. But the Bible helps us accept that, it helps us see where we fit into His plan.

It did not always use soft words, nor did it beguile me with pretty promises for this world.

But it does speak absolute, inerrant truth. It comes from the Lord, and it tells us what we need to hear – that is, not what we want, but what He knows is best for us.

Trying to run things for myself, I had begun to panic, and to struggle against what was happening. Actually, though, I see it now: it was as if God had taken the book from my hand, laid it down, and whispered, ‘listen to me’.

The more I listened, the clearer His voice became.

No, the Bible is not just a book. It is a direct line from God. There is no pain, no loss, no heartache, into which it cannot speak. But it’s got to come down from its high shelf first; and so do we.


4 thoughts on “Doing everything by the Book

  1. I am so sorry for you loss, but I do understand here what you are saying. My Mom had Alzheimer’s and I am an artist. During those six years of battling the most awful disease that I know of, I drew very little.

    After she passed away which was two years ago, I wanted to draw again. To this day, I have not been able to. The interest and the passion I once had for it is gone.

    So I decided to teach myself how to paint. In that I found much pleasure. I do not know what happens to us through those days, months, or years of caretakers. I know something does, and the love for things which we had prior to those times, somehow leaves.

    I am so glad you found comfort and yourself again in the Bible. Love and God Bless, SR


    • Thank you for that, and I am sorry you had to watch your beloved mother go through that awful disease. My late mother in-law also had Alzheimer’s and because it was already fairly advanced before I met my late husband, I never really knew her. It just robbed her of her true personality and I feel I missed a lot by not knowing the real her.
      How sad that you lost your love for drawing – I must admit that you have skills I really envy, stick-men being my limit! No, I don’t understand it either, but I’ve wondered whether it isn’t a protective measure. What I mean is that both of us have experienced disaffection with something we loved and used to get absorbed in: lost in, you might even say. Perhaps it’s dangerous for a grieving person to let their mind go in that way. Prayer is maybe the closest I get to that and it can frequently lead to an upswell of emotion.

      I’m so glad you got in touch. It’s helpful to hear of others who have had similar experiences becuase there were times when I thought I was going out of my mind. I hope that painting is a real source of solace to you too.
      Every blessing, Catriona

      Liked by 1 person

      • Could be a “protective measure.” I think in my case honestly, I was just worn out. Mentally and physically. I do not think even though it has been two years, that I have really completely recovered from that.

        I know for myself, those years were very draining to say the least. Midnight trips to the ER where she would fall. Calls at 3 a.m. where she was crying and I would have to get up and go. So it was just not during the day as I am sure yours was not either. Long nights in the hospital as well as days.

        After so many days, months and years of it you just get exhausted. To have to place my mind on something else which takes my total concentration, I still have not been able to do yet.

        Slowly coming back, but not quite there. I hope this helps you maybe understand if this is what happened to you. Outside of all of it then there is the grief process. God bless, SR


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