In January 2017 I was on a preaching tour around North Wales. About 5am one morning the world seemed to go crazy. My head span with dizziness, I was dreadfully sick and only just managed to get to the bathroom by clinging to the wall as if I were caught in some kind of anti-gravitational machine. I then lay on the hotel bed unable to move at all until a maid came to clean the room about five hours later. I thought I had food poisoning. I felt as if I was dying, but I assumed that tomorrow I would feel better. In fact, tomorrow was the beginning of a new way of life: living with (slight) disability. I had had a stroke and spent weeks in hospital followed by months of convalescence.
I shall not want?
Psalm 23 opens with a remarkable covenant claim by David: ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.’ The theological foundation is the character of God as a personal covenant-keeping guide – Yahweh is MY shepherd. Then David applies the theology to his life: ‘I shall not want.’ If he has rightly understood God, he has rightly understood the life of faith, even in the face of a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I want to share how I have found God a faithful friend in such circumstances because we need to know how faithful our God is in the midst of deep trouble.
In some ways, I have come out of my stroke well, and I thank God for that. I can walk and talk, I can still speak in public, and my mental clarity seems undiminished. There is, however, less obvious physical damage. My right side is weakened, and that makes all physical activity, all life in fact, more tiring. Worst of all, I can no longer play the piano or organ, a source of much pleasure in my life. Added to that, the stroke caused a permanent tremor in my voice box that has taken away my singing voice, and that is a terrible blow to me in both excluding me from singing in worship and singing as a chorister and soloist. It is easy to say that God only takes things away in order to make room in our lives for something better, but I believe ‘I shall not want’ while I wait for the something better to come!
So far, I have to admit life does not seem better, but I do believe, and I will believe in a faithful God.
Having the stroke and a further period of serious illness, made me not only more susceptible to tiredness but to emotional extremes as well. I tried the patience of people around me, especially my wife. Paradoxically, I also found it more difficult to relate to people close to me or to read my Bible and pray. It was as if I could experience emotion over trivial things but not for people or for God – and I still struggle with this. To believe but not to feel is a bad place to be and I pray for deliverance.
So what of the future? It is limited to what I can manage emotionally and physically and to what God sends, of course. I can still write and study and preach, yet I fight an instinct to become a recluse where I can live out my limitations and oddities without embarrassment. On the other hand, I occasionally frighten my wife by wondering out loud if I could manage just one more pastorate!! No, I can’t. Probably! Don’t tell her I said that!! Why the mixture of hope and uncertainty? Because on the one hand I have to be a realist about my circumstances but on the other, I must be a realist about the God who is ever faithful and will ensure I shall not want!