Five lessons for faith-shaking storms
Eric Gaudion battled pancreatitis for more than 20 years. He shares some of what he learnt living with this dreadful disease
When Atlantic storms hit the west coast of Guernsey our home shakes. Living near the sea is a great joy in still weather, but the crash and rumble of pounding surf in a gale less so. Storms in life come in all disguises: pain, serious ill health, bereavement, divorce, debt etc. They can all shake our homes and our hearts. I discovered this the hard way in my mid-forties. At the time I was the senior pastor of a large city centre Elim congregation in Wales and I felt I was at the peak of my ministry and career opportunity. Then the storm hit, and my home was shaken to its foundations.
Acute pancreatitis is one of the most painful conditions known to humankind and is often fatal. It hit me suddenly, following an investigative procedure, but it had been coming for some time. I spent long periods in hospital in Cardiff, and complications arose when I suffered anaphylaxis in a CT scanner and had to be resuscitated. Advised by my medical team to take six months leave I returned to my native Guernsey for rest. There, things became much worse, and I spent many weeks in an intensive care unit, enduring huge internal bleeding, massive infection and organ failure.
Six months became two years of not being able to work or preach at all, after which I recovered sufficiently to be able to take the pastorate of Shiloh Baptist Church in the island. Supported by a great team of elders and leaders I could teach and lead again, though I invariably preached sitting down. For the next nine years I persevered through the most appalling pain, going in and out of hospital regularly, sometimes for several weeks. Chronic pancreatitis is not easy to treat, and the pain requires large doses of opiates such as morphine. Eventually, I had to step down from my ministry again and for five years was a medical ‘frequent flyer’, being evacuated often by air to hospitals in London, Southampton and eventually Newcastle upon Tyne. In the twenty-two years of my battle with this dreadful disease I was admitted to hospital more than 100 times and underwent over thirty surgeries.
Much of what I learned over those years of suffering is covered in my book Through the Storms - a manual for when life hurts. These two decades have equipped me with a deep compassion for those who, like me, know that our loving Lord is a healing God and yet are facing storms of all kinds that seem resistant to prayer.
Here are five lessons I learned amidst the storm:
Embrace the Mystery! Paradoxically, St Paul says ‘When I am weak then I am strong’ (2 Cor. 12:10) and elsewhere ‘having nothing yet possessing everything’ (6:10). Welcome to the topsy-turvy kingdom where we win by surrendering. Modern science and medicine have given us the feeling that we should be able to measure and evaluate everything, but there are huge areas of matter and existence about which we know very little. Why should God have to explain Himself to us in ways we can understand? ‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!’ (Romans 11:33).
Choose to Trust. I kept a card stuck to my wardrobe door for years saying: ‘God’s in charge, not me, not the devil, nor the doctors’. I did this as a reminder to choose to trust Him each day, even though I could not understand His ways. Sometimes we express this trust through worship, declaring God’s character and person even when we don’t feel like it. Other times, we show our trust by prayer and quiet obedience to God even when it costs. Trusting means accepting that God’s plan is the best for us. He can even use our struggles and stress to increase our willingness to trust.
Make Space for God’s Word and Spirit. When storms hit, we need the Bible as daily spiritual food. Jesus said, ‘“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”’ (Matthew 4:4). But we also need the Holy Spirit’s work in us when we are under pressure. As R. T. Kendall says, ‘if we have the Word without the Spirit, we tend to “dry up”; if we have the Spirit without the Word, we tend to “blow up”; if we have both Spirit and Word, we tend to “grow up”.’1
Be Real – Stay Vulnerable. It is hard, sometimes particularly for men, to be real and honest about struggles, especially psychological ones. In the book I have been open about my battles with paranoia, ICU psychosis and PTSD, all products of trauma. The people who connect well with others and are socially secure are those with a healthy understanding that they are loved. Once you know you are loved you can be real! God loves you despite all that you are going through.
Don’t Give Up. There were moments when I despaired of life itself and felt that I would be a lot better off in heaven. But if I had short-circuited God’s plans for me in any way, think of the pain that would have caused my family, and I would have missed the amazing developments in medical research that eventually brought me out of my storm. I had to wait twenty-two years for relief, and I hope yours will be much sooner. But, whether in this life or the next, there is hope for us in Jesus. The best is always yet to come!
Eric Gaudion was born in, and now lives in, Guernsey. He is an ordained minister with the Elim Pentecostal Church who has, in the past, also been an accredited minister of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. He served as a pastor in the UK and Guernsey and was a missionary in Seychelles with FEBA Radio and in Zimbabwe with Elim International Missions. In retirement, Eric is an Associate Pastor at the Vazon Elim Church in Guernsey.
Through the Storms by Eric Gaudion (ISBN: 9781912726172) was published by Instant Apostle in February 2020, and is available from Christian bookshops, bookstores and online retailers. Non-fiction, 224pp, £8.99.
1 R.T. Kendall, Charles Carrin & Jack Taylor, Word Spirit Power: What Happens When You Seek All God Has to Offer (Chosen Books, Minnesota, 2012).
Do you have a view? Share your thoughts via our letters' page.