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 I have been an ordained minister of The Presbyterian Church in Canada for 45 years. During that time I have walked with families through the best days of their lives and through their worst days. Then there are the times when I was called to minister to folk, both people in my congregation and members of the community, in situations which can only be described as tragic, devastating ,and forever life changing. The family of the father who committed suicide, the daughter who was murdered, the young parents OF a child killed in a car accident, the healthy person who succumbed to a rapidly advancing cancer three weeks after diagnosis. There were times when I sat for hours alone in a coffee shop late at night rather than take the horrors I had been immersed in home with me. Times when I hugged my wife and kids so tightly they wondered what was wrong.

Often, in those situations, people were very angry with God, and that anger spilled over on to me because I was the one in the room representing a so-called loving God. I was supposed to be able to answer the “Why has God allowed this to happen?” question. And I was the one who had to say “I don’t know”, because any other answer would have been both pious and trite. These families knew that, and so did it. There are some questions that have no answers, this side of heaven. Ministry in those situations was simply “being present”, listening to grief and agony being poured out, and later memories and stories. And it was praying, with the families. Indeed, I cannot think of one family who told me they did not want me to pray for them. In fact, even in their anger and doubt, much like the Old Testament Psalmist, they cried out to God. 

What has always amazed me in devastating situations is the power of the human spirit. We all deal with grief and tragedy differently but I have seen people go through life situations that shattered their lives, took them down to the depths, and made me wonder how they could ever pick up the pieces and move on with their lives. Of course, their lives were changed forever because some things happen to us that can never, and should never, be forgotten. But through God’s amazing grace, they found the strength to keep on going.

In “retirement” I have often reflected on my experiences and as I often do, I put my reflections into a prayer. I offer it to you and, as I do, I invite you to think of those who have demonstrated strength of spirit in devastating circumstances and to remember them once again in your prayers,

God, If it were not for what we call the human spirit life would be impossible.  

With it we can experience heart breaking grief – and emerge consoled.  

With it we can face serious illness and emerge bruised but not defeated.  

With it we can be overwhelmed by worry and trouble – and emerge hopeful.  

With it we can be broken by life’s circumstances – yet rise above them.  

God, thank you for making us strong in spirit, and for empowering us with your Holy Spirit, so that hope can arise from the ashes of our despair, as you lead us out of our dark times and into the light of your presence.


© Neal Mathers 


Rob 11 months ago

Thanks Neal. I have a friend to share your blog.

Astrid Rutsatz 11 months ago

Dear Neil, thank you for your uplifting words. I can truly relate to them and "thank God for making us strong in spirit!"

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