Comfort in Uncertain Times
On Mothering Sunday, two acknowledgements in Rachel Turner’s new book, Comfort in Uncertain Times, stand out. To her son Caleb, she writes:
‘We have walked through so many uncertain times together, and it has been one of my greatest joys to learn about who God is with you. Thank you for praying for me, giving me your wisdom and advice, and for letting me play with you.’
And to her mother, Susan Hart:
‘Thank you for being my mother through every phase of my life. I need you in different ways, but I always need you. Thank you for teaching me and growing me.’
Rachel writes as both mother and daughter. She writes out of her wide experience and knowledge of family life and family ministry and, in particular, out of her growing awareness of how deeply children can struggle to cope with change, grief and anxiety.
Life is full of uncertainty
As Rachel says so aptly in her introduction: ‘Life is full of uncertainty,’ which is hard for parents and even harder for children. Already reeling from the impact of the pandemic and climate change, children of all ages are now exposed to terrifying daily updates from Ukraine. More and more of them are experiencing profound, pervasive unease.
And, as Rachel writes:
‘Everything inside us as adults wants to make it better for them, to smooth the path and fix what is causing them such turmoil. But most of the time, that isn’t possible. The circumstances are still there the next day and the day after.’
So, she has written this book to help parents help their children. Based on 15 Bible stories, which ‘build an understanding of who God is in uncertainty’, the book offers helpful discussion starters as well as notes on how best to use the stories to help children build resilience in the face of uncertainty. As Rachel writes:
‘The joy of the Christian faith is that our children can learn to walk with God in these uncertain seasons. All of God’s promises are for our children right now, and they need his guidance, comfort, peace and courage. In uncertain times, we can help them connect with the God who is powerful, who loves them and is with them whatever they’re going through.’
One of the 15 stories, from Acts 18, retells how Priscilla and Aquila were forced into exile by a wicked emperor. Its echoes are remarkably current.
The story of Priscilla and Aquila
An angry emperor forced Priscilla and Aquila to move out of their home and travel far away. They arrived in a new city without friends or a place to live. But God turned that unexpected sadness into a wonderful adventure for them. They led the first church in that city, and got to have Paul, the writer of lots of the Bible, live in their home. God turned something evil and horrible into good for so many people. God can weave anything into good for us and others. But now, Priscilla and Aquila were on the move again.
‘Aquila, have you seen my purple scarf? I can’t find it anywhere!’ called Priscilla to her husband. She opened the lid of another bag to see if it was there, then shook her head.
‘I just don’t want to lose it. My dad gave it to me!
Their little house looked so empty now. This morning the ship’s crew came and collected all their boxes and furniture for their trip to their new home across the sea.
Priscilla called again: ‘Timothy will be here any minute to take us to the docks. We don’t want to be late and miss the boat!’
Priscilla sighed and looked around her. ‘I loved all the good times we had in this house. We have so many memories of what God did in people’s lives in this house, week after week. Eating together, reading scriptures, and laughing and praying together. I loved every minute.’
Priscilla looked over the room one last time and sighed. Then she heard a sharp knock at the door. With a heavy heart, she opened it, and there was Timothy grinning. His young face was lit up with excitement, and his arms were loaded with bulging bags. ‘Are you ready? This is going to be a great adventure!’
Priscilla smiled weakly. A wave of sadness washed over her as they walked out and closed their front door for the last time.
When they entered the marketplace, Aquila took off, weaving in and out of the stalls, saying goodbye to the shopkeepers he knew, hugging friends and laughing with people one last time. He emerged from the end of the marketplace with a basket full of last-minute gifts from their shopkeeper friends. Aquila hooked Priscilla’s arm with his arm, and nudged the basket towards her. ‘Would you like an orange? Selina sends her love.’ Tears sprung to Aquila’s eyes. ‘I will miss everybody so much. We have made such good friends here. People who love us and make us laugh. My heart hurts just thinking about it.’
Timothy smiled at Aquila. ‘Have you always lived here? You seem to know everybody.’
Aquila shook his head. ‘No, actually we used to live in Rome. Our whole family lived there. I was born there, and I met and married Priscilla there. We loved it in Rome.’
‘If you liked it so much in Rome, why did you leave?’ Timothy asked.
Aquila shrugged his shoulders. ‘The emperor Claudius forced the Jews to leave Rome. He didn’t want us there. We didn’t have a choice. We had to leave or be killed.’
Timothy paused for a moment. ‘That must have been awful.’
Priscilla nodded. ‘It was. We thought our whole life was destroyed. We didn’t know where to go. We trusted God to lead us to wherever he wanted us, and we ended up here. God didn’t speak to us or tell us with a big voice, “Go here.” We just felt really peaceful when our boat landed here, and we felt that it was right to stay.’
The docks came into sight at the end of the road. Large and small boats were bobbing in the water and gently swaying in the breeze. Priscilla took a deep breath. ‘When we were on the ship from Rome, not knowing where we were going, I never could have imagined what God would do with our lives. He turned the worst experience of our lives into the most wonderful place of love and adventure. Here, God gave us purpose and friends and opportunities to see him work. And now he’s asking us to leave.’
Priscilla stood still and reached her hand out to Aquila. They turned to look back at the city they had loved. This time, rather than sadness, she felt grateful. She whispered, ‘Thank you, God, for the gift of this place to live. I trust you, God. I don’t know what this new place will bring, but I know you will be there, and you’ll have more love and adventures for us. Thank you.’
Aquila squeezed her hand. ‘Ready?’
Priscilla turned around towards the boat. ‘Yes, I am.’