My wife Claire and I moved down to this area from the Midlands at the start of 2018 and one of the first things we noticed was the sun. If you’re from anywhere north of Watford you will absolutely understand exactly where I’m coming from! It’s so much sunnier down here and, funnily enough, it healed our hearts in many ways.
Actually, it was the sole reason we both came to Sussex: to heal. We originally felt called to Sussex a few years ago, but had no idea why or what we’d be doing. It was almost like a small faint whisper telling us to ‘up-sticks’ and move, even though it didn’t make any sense. All we knew is that it would be significant – but we had no idea…
A few months before, in September 2017, everything changed. Both of our lives were hurled into a chasm of the deepest darkness imaginable. We not only lost our beautiful home but we heard the words that no parents should ever hear: ‘I’m so sorry, but your daughter has died. I’m so so sorry.’
The rush of heat and panic welled up as we sat in disbelief, shocked and in denial as to what we’d just heard. What I remember being the most frightening, was how close we came to completely losing our minds, and in that moment and subsequent moments thereafter, hell itself seemed like a better option than anything we had to face. We had nothing left. We were lost, homeless and childless. We were done.
Our first response to all of these things during our time in the hospital was to pray and to sing. Crazy I know – but it’s what we did. Small church choruses became our comfort as God was so present in the midst of so much pain. Somehow, although it felt strange at the time, pouring out our soul and suffering as the biggest offering we could ever give to God has now become the deepest treasure and the highest privilege we now get forever.
I remember waking up on the morning of our sweet girl’s funeral to get ready. I mentally had to prepare myself that I was getting ready for my daughter’s wedding, just so I could keep my mind together. I remember holding her little coffin, walking her down to her grave whilst singing, ‘Praise God from Whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above you heavenly hosts, praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ In my mind I was walking her down the aisle of Heaven’s church so I could give her away to Jesus. I knew I’d never get to give her away to her future husband, but it was a privilege to give her away to Him. I then put her in the ground myself and continued to sing because in that moment I really needed Jesus to comfort me. In that space, I stood proud but broken – yet privileged that I got to give my baby away to her Creator. It was to me, the ultimate wedding day, but also my ultimate offering. I remember saying ‘God, thank you for this moment. Thank you that I get the honour of giving my little one over to you. Thank you that I got to hold her and kiss her for a few days. She’s everything to me, and I’m giving everything to you’.
Then came the questions: God, where were you? God, we prayed, but why did nothing happen? Why us? God, our home too!!!! What’s that all about?
The questions poured out in floods of anger with every attempt not to enter into bitterness. We reminded ourselves that at all costs, we would not enter into despair, even though it felt like we had dined with the devil himself for the longest time, tasting his poisonous food.
You see, it was during this time that we had discovered what worship really is. We had discovered what faith really looked like and, more importantly, we witnessed the realness of the Goodness of God. Heaven became more real than ever, because our little girl had to be somewhere, and with that, God became more alive than ever, because someone had to be looking after her. It was as if everything in our world became far simpler with the perspective we now had.
Through all that has happened, and the perspective we now have, we have learned that worshipping God isn’t just singing church songs, or that having faith means you have to really really really believe, or that for God to answer your prayers you have to have it all together! We have learned that worshipping God is offering the ‘unutterable gushings’ of our heart to Him even in the midst of immeasurable pain and anger. And having the smallest glimpse of belief, when feeling weak and doubtful, is the epitome of faith. That even in the darkest voids of life, finding it in us to hang on is the sheer power of a worshipping heart.
When all the songs run out and there’s nothing left to sing, what do we offer? When everything is taken and there’s nothing left to give, again what do we offer? A man called Job in the bible lost everything, and yet he still offered the rags left on his body whilst cutting his hair to offer that as a sacrifice too. His offering of worship wasn’t perfect or polished. It wasn’t the sweetest tune or the dreamiest melody. It was dirty, raw and all he had left. This to me is what worship looks like.
Although all the questions we have still remain, and navigating the mystery maze is something we have to accept, the biggest relief in so much darkness and confusion, is that God is even more present than He’s ever been. He’s more real than we’ve ever known, and He’s more alive than the air I’m breathing. I cannot fathom it or try to explain it, but for some reason, I know it.
We sensed God telling us in the hospital that we had been given ‘a song to sing and a story to tell’, and it’s crazy to think that after all that, I was commissioned as the Worship Pastor of Chanctonbury Churches a year to the day our sweet daughter died. Isn’t that wild? And so, with that, I want to encourage you, that when you’re lost in the mystery maze, when you’re weak and when you can’t keep it together, God is there with you, walking through your mess and grief like a good friend would. And I absolutely promise you this: the Son – Jesus – really does heal your heart in so many ways.
Luke and Claire Christian-Farman live in Washington and are expecting their second child.