As I was mulling over this week’s FMF prompt of ‘Five’, I realised I was staring at my open hand. Five fingers seemed a too obvious association but then I remembered the Calming Hand. For those who don’t know, this is a technique to help people control panic attacks with each digit a prompt for each action. It’s one of the techniques we teach our patients who suffer with anxiety and/or breathlessness.
But then I fell to wondering if the five principles of the Calming Hand could be applied to our Christian lives? Could they be used as prompts to cope better with spiritual stress? So here goes:
- THUMB: RECOGNISE the signs. We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge. Learn the early signs of not coping and act then.
- FOREFINGER: SIGH OUT (FLOP AND DROP SHOULDERS). Relaxing our shoulders enables us to take better breaths. So whatever we’re carrying on those shoulders, whatever’s weighing us down, drop it at Jesus’ feet. Sigh – tell God how we feel. He won’t be fazed – He already knows anyway and loves us beyond measure so we can tell Him exactly how we feel.
- MIDDLE FINGER: INHALE slowly and gently. Inhale God’s love. Inhale His strength. Inhale His peace. Take our time and be gentle with ourselves (no falling into the familiar and far too easy trap of self recrimination).
- RING FINGER: EXHALE longer than you inhale. Inhaling is a reflex action and will happen automatically so if we want to relax, better to do a long breath out than take a deep breath in. Imagine exhaling all our pain and unhelpful habits – exhale resentment, jealousy, bitterness, despair. Remember ‘perfect love casts out fear’ so as we inhale God’s love there will be less and less space for these opposites.
- LITTLE FINGER: STRETCH HAND AND RELAX. Stretch those spiritual muscles and start acting out truths we know even if we don’t feel them yet. Remind ourselves of reassuring words from Scripture. Follow where God is calling us. Stretch our hand out to others and look beyond ourselves. And relax – know that our Father never leaves us nor forsakes us, that He will never reach the end of His patience with us, and that nothing can separate us from His love in Christ Jesus.
And it’s worth bearing in mind that it may be necessary, likely even, to repeat the Calming Hand for it to work.
Healing’s a tricky subject for those of us who work with the dying.
I remember one patient vividly. He had taken to his bed in the little downstairs room he was occupying in a friend’s house and I’d been asked to solve the problem of accessing the only bathroom upstairs.
It turned out it wasn’t a problem at all – he was perfectly capable of walking upstairs to the bathroom but he had decided to stay in his bed to wait for God to heal him of his cancer. He had already refused to see again the nurse who had referred him because she wasn’t a Christian and didn’t share his belief in God’s impending miracle. So I had been warned to tread carefully.
Sure enough, his immediate question to me was: ‘Are you a Christian?’
‘Yes,’ I replied.
And question number two was, ‘So do you believe God has the power to heal me or not?’
Now this was a man who wasn’t going to accept a counselling type approach of turning the question around to ask what he believed (as my colleague had already found out). He wanted a straight answer. The trouble was, I couldn’t give him the answer he wanted to hear, or at least not exactly.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I do believe God can heal and that He can heal completely…but I think sometimes He heals us here on earth and sometimes we have to wait for our healing to be in heaven.’
It wasn’t what my patient was expecting to hear but it was enough for him to believe we were on the same team.
There was no miraculous healing on earth for him. His disease progressed as medically expected and he died later in our hospice. But it was a peaceful death, which was an answer to prayer, and I believe he’s healed now.
In my prayer time today, I read this phrase from Malachi: ‘the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings’. Sometimes we have to wait for the sunrise for our healing.
We knew it as the Midnight Path but no map ever carried that name: a tarmac path that bisected the park opposite the house I grew up in, dividing playground and ornamental areas from sports fields – football in the winter, cricket in the summer.
Long and mostly straight, lined by trees either side, the path led from Victoria Road to Sweet Briar Walk, where friends lived, and then only a short walk to my beloved Auntie Rene’s house. The Midnight Path was a route to happiness for me.
About halfway down, an oak and a horse chestnut had grown so thick their trunks had bent the accompanying railings out of shape, so much so that we could squeeze through the gaps and access the park in the evenings after the gates had been locked. My dad and I frequently entered that forbidden territory, along with half the other dog walkers in the area. On a clear summer night, we would lie down in the middle of the cricket pitch to identify as many constellations as we could, while our dog wandered around on his extended lead until he became too impatient with our inertia and barked in our faces to make us move.
But the Midnight Path was touched with darkness. I wasn’t allowed to walk through it after dark on my own at any age. There were rumours of drugs and muggings, hints of worse for girls. Perhaps my parents read of actual crimes in the local paper, I don’t know, but it was enough to make me always take the long way round the park’s periphery or persuade my dad to drive me to Auntie Rene’s on a winter’s evening instead. Then I’d be collected later as part of another dog walk.
As a result, the Midnight Path became somewhere Dad and I got to know each other. We debated politics and religion, agreeing on the latter, clashing on the former. I discounted many of his views and experience with teenage arrogance but pondered them and mellowed as an adult when I remembered those conversations. We practised dog training for the Thursday night ring classes we attended and later, the odd dog show we entered. And he told me numerous Greek myths, stories of how those constellations we’d been observing were supposed to have got there, stories I loved passing on to my own children.
In reality the Midnight Path was just a shortcut through a suburban, rather rundown part of London but to me it will always be a magical road to adventure.