This was written by Catriona Murray and appeared in the February 2017 Stornoway Free Church Newsletter. It appears by kind permission from Catriona who shares this very personal journey.
The Lord’s presence in my life is something of which I have been aware for almost as long as I can remember. This makes it all the more shameful, therefore, that I have not always followed Him. Despite my upbringing, I actively chose to go my own way many times. Sometimes I would remember Him, and this would be followed by a period of seeking which would, inevitably, give way to disobedience. It wasn’t so much that I fled from the Lord, but more that I drifted aimlessly away, lukewarm.
In my early twenties, while still a student, I began once more to go to church regularly. I would come to the morning service in the seminary with my parents and go alone to the English service on Kenneth Street. Perhaps because of my own innate shyness (yes, really) and because I didn’t know anyone of my own age in church, I used to come and go without usually speaking to anyone.
There were many occasions when the preaching very much affected me, but there was no one to discuss it with. The Lord, in His providence, has given me a lot of good friends who are, at best, sceptics and, at worst, all-out atheists. So, trying to figure it out for myself, I bought a study Bible and filled it with post-it notes, but found it hard to read scripture for myself, without having it opened first by a preacher.
I had graduated and was working as a development officer in Ness when I spotted an advert for the first of the Saturday theology courses. Thinking that this might be something which could help me, I enrolled, despite being filled with trepidation at the thought of entering – as I saw it – a den of Daniels, with no Christian credentials of my own. Putting these doubts aside, I completed the certificate, but felt no further forward in my walk.
By the middle of 2003, I was working as a lecturer in the Gaelic department at Lews Castle College UHI, teaching Highland history, politics and folklore (all more related than you might think). That summer, I married Donnie Murray, from North Tolsta, and we made our home in his native village. We started with good intentions, but I’m afraid that we made one another our priority. He worked away all week, only getting home at weekends. That was our excuse for not attending church. It is ironic that, because we were so happy in our marriage, we neglected the One who had given it to us. We were both well aware that the Lord had brought us together and felt, from time to time, the pricking of our consciences. Nonetheless, we did not make room for Him in our home.
My father passed away in 2011 and I was deeply conscious of his own and my mother’s faith, as well as the upholding of our whole family by the church community. I remember the pang I felt when a lady came up to my mother at the funeral and said, ‘he’s in the happy land’. They both had something that I did not have, and I began to keenly feel the absence of it once more.
In the weeks and months that followed his passing, I had an almost constant awareness of death as a real and present threat. It was as though this first breach in the family circle had left us all somehow exposed to it in a way that we never had been before.
My sense of foreboding, sadly, proved well founded when my husband passed away on March 20th, 2015, 17 months after the initial diagnosis of bowel cancer. He had been in hospital with a chest infection when I was summoned and told that he was dying. The same day, he was transferred to Bethesda Hospice, and I slept in a chair by his bedside for the week that he was there. This may all sound terribly bleak – and so it would have been, but for the Lord’s presence. However, He transformed that scene into one of such grace and peace as it is ever likely to be my privilege to witness in this life. Among the last things Donnie said to me were Christ’s words in John 14:3, about going to prepare a place in His Father’s house. Who would not be comforted by that?
It was around this time that I realised just how much I was living by faith and how little of my own strength was needed because the Lord was giving me His. Without my requesting it, He had stretched His arms out to catch me before I even knew that I might fall. I believe that I had been converted some time before this and honestly cannot say when, but I feel that this was my moment of blessed assurance. A few weeks after Donnie’s funeral, I closed in with Christ. Having felt exposed to death after my father’s passing, I now felt open to the reality of eternity in a way I never had before.
I told no one, except one atheist friend who asked me directly. Strangely, although I could not deny my Saviour to this man, it also seemed that I could not confess Him to the Kirk Session. It was firmly fixed in my mind that I would remain a secret disciple forever, until Kenny I preached on the woman with the issue of blood: Christ required that she tell of her healing and I felt the message was for me, and me alone. Of course, I changed my mind hundreds of times during the next fortnight. Nonetheless, at the opening of the February 2016 communion, our soon-to-be new minister preached from 1 Peter 3:15; he spoke directly to anyone present who loved Christ, but who might be afraid, to obey Peter and simply sanctify Him in their hearts. I had nowhere else to hide, and professed faith that same evening.
Secret discipleship had become a burden to me; loving Him in plain sight has brought blessings by the score.