Kathryn Heslop is an Executive Advisor at the Baptist National Office and works closely with Charles Hewlett, Baptist National Leader. This article is written to illustrate the importance of showing God’s love to those in our faith communities who might need it the most. This was first published in the July 2022 Baptist Children and Family eConnect.

In March 2021 our then 11-year-old son came down with a virus similar to Glandular Fever. A virus which would spiral him into a severely debilitating illness over the course of the following year. He went from being a fun loving, adventurous, caring, sensitive, relational young man who loved sailing and playing his guitar, to a pale, sick, tired, sore, shadow version of his previous self. Over the course of the year he got worse, and at his lowest, he could barely walk, would often collapse, had constant pain in both legs, headaches, brain fog, confusion and severe fatigue. He was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), a complex illness that impacts every system of the body and has no medical cure. An illness that has devastating effects on the lives of the individual and those closest to them.

While Covid was creeping in around us and we were plunged into lockdowns, church as we knew it was thrown up into the air. All sense of community was lost. We withdrew into our bubbles and retreated into a life of working, schooling, and juggling our daily demands from the comfort of our homes. In many ways I look back on that time as one of blessing. What a blessing it was to have time as a family unit, to withdraw somewhat from life and just ‘be’ together.

On the other hand, we had a personal storm raging with the health of our son. Our son was struggling with depression, hopelessness and grief of all that he had lost. My husband and I were struggling with our own grief, sadness and trauma seeing his quality of life robbed from him - the carpet of health had been swept out from under his feet overnight. Invaluable health that we had always taken for granted. I felt like screaming at the top of my lungs, ‘Covid? Who cares about Covid. Look what is happening to our precious son!’

Church leaders, I cannot express this enough. Install in your leadership teams a culture that values authentically caring for those in your community - reaching out to those in need, encouraging those walking through difficulties, being a voice of hope to those struggling in their faith.

When someone in your church family is struggling and stripped of their health, the gloss and value of programme is peeled away. When programme is stripped away, what do you have left? It is community. It is relationship. It is care. It is kindness. It is love. In our personal situation, we didn’t need others to understand, and we didn’t need a programme. But what we did need, was for our faith community to show they care and to reach out to us in love. What is Christ’s greatest command? It is to love God, and to love others.

There may be families in your faith community where the programmes that you offer, no matter how amazing, will be irrelevant for them. Show them love in other ways. Reach out to those who you know are struggling, those you notice are missing. Notice! You don’t need to have the answers. You don’t even need to understand. But what you can do, is replicate Christ’s life by reaching out to others in love. This is one of our greatest callings as Christians. ‘For the Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit’ Psalm 34:18.

During the midst of this pandemic, I wrote a prayer for our Baptist movement. I prayed that we would be a movement hat reflects Christs love. As Jeremiah 31:3-6 promises, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!’. In these complex times, if there is one thing that we need to reflect of Christ’s character right now, it is love. As Plato once said, ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.’ We all have our struggles. We all have our storms. We all carry our own grief and trauma in some way. That is part of the suffering that we will experience in life until the coming of Christ. But as God has shown time and time again, he loves us with an everlasting love. He never quits loving us and he never will. What can we expect from God? It is love, love and more love.

I pray for us all today, that our lives will be a reflection of Christ’s love. That in accepting Christs love into our hearts, we the church would emanate that love in everything we do - in our personal relationships, in our places of worship, in our areas of service, in our workplaces, in our communities and beyond. I pray that the communities which we serve, would come to expect love, love and more love from us, the church. May that be our mark.

Our son is healing! After undertaking private training that focuses on rewiring the neurological pathways of the brain, he is now on a journey of recovery – he has gained his quality of life back. We are truly and deeply grateful to our amazing, ever-loving God.

(If you would like to hear more about our son’s journey or the training that we did, while I cannot give medical advice, I would be very willing to share with others how this has helped our son. Please email me, [email protected]).

Photo supplied by Kathryn Heslop.

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