He Brought me out of a Horrible Pit
By Les Sherlock: originally posted 2015 but edited with 2nd section March 2021
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth— praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the LORD.
Since posting this experience in 2015 I have had another that I have included here. Both equally amazing. Both equally miraculous. Both resulted in my trust and faith in God to increase significantly. I hope it does the same for you!
Horrible Pit Number One
In the summer of 2014 the third bowel cancer screening test I had taken came back positive; so after all the usual tests, on Wednesday 8th October, I had keyhole surgery by the consultant, Mr Clark, in Poole Hospital. It had been caught at a very early stage, so I was told it had all been removed and no further treatment was required. However, when by the following Wednesday morning I was still in as much pain as the day after the operation, we rang our local surgery to ask what we should do.
There followed a series of delays, so it wasn’t until after midnight that the registrar, Mr Wood, examined me and after an x-ray confirmed that a large, infected haematoma * had developed, at 3.00 a.m. Mr Wood performed an emergency operation lasting six hours. The result was a seven-inch cut down my stomach, an ileostomy,** three days in ICU (the first half-day under sedation), one week in hospital, and I lost one and a half stone in weight in three weeks. I walked into hospital for the first operation a fairly fit person, and came out after the emergency operation a doddery old man, looking like someone out of a concentration camp!
* A localized swelling that is filled with blood caused by a break in the wall of a blood vessel.
** Similar to a colostomy: a part of the bowel is brought to the surface of the stomach (called a stoma) and a pouch is fitted around it, which then needs emptying 10-12 times per day (at least, it did for me!).
I must make it clear that I am aware my experience fades into insignificance when compared to the sufferings millions of people face around the world throughout their lives. Most of this suffering is due to man’s inhumanity to man and would end overnight if only everyone obeyed God’s instruction that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbours as ourselves.
Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
Matthew 22:37. See also Mark 12:30–31; Luke 10:27
However, I am here describing what happened to me from my perspective.
That week in hospital was arguably the worst week of my life. I have no memory of the three days in ICU apart from the last few hours before transferring to a normal ward. The first few nights I do remember were spent wide awake the whole time. I am not saying this is what actually happened, but what it felt like was Satan coming to me time and again, saying,
“I have you in my power now and I’m going to destroy you!”
I knew that everything I had believed in and stood for throughout my life was useless and if I came out of this alive, life would never be the same again. Each day I tried to read my Bible as I have done throughout my adult life, but got no comfort from it, apart from one occasion when I managed to read a bit more than I had done at other times and did then feel ‘picked up’ a little. It seemed that if God did exist, He had abandoned me and I was left alone to suffer the constant pain.
Everything seemed to go wrong.
I had cannulas in both arms but they kept coming out and having to be replaced, leaving a lot of bruising
Fairly early on my catheter malfunctioned and had to be removed, which meant every night I was constantly waking up needing to use a bottle (10-15 times per night!) and then not being able to get back to sleep again
The stomach drain was held in by stitches supported by dressings, but the dressings kept coming loose, which meant the stitches were constantly pulling on my skin
I had a button to press that delivered morphine through one of the cannulas and the nurses kept telling my to use it to relieve my pain, but every time I did I had hallucinations and could see the most horrible images and events before my eyes that my mind has now blocked out. I have no memory now of anything I saw, except I know it was horrifyingly awful!
I struggled to cope with the ileostomy and had great difficulty in understanding the nurses’ instructions on how I would manage it when I left
My nose was constantly blocked up and because of the pain in my stomach I couldn’t blow it to clear it
I couldn’t understand what food I was now allowed to eat and three times the meal I ordered was taken away from me because it was wrong, and twice it was not replaced with anything else
The breathing tube inserted while under sedation had damaged my throat, so my voice was now significantly weaker and I had great difficulty in swallowing (it was four or five months before this fully returned to normal) - I nearly choked on a cheese sandwich
And more problems too tedious to mention.
All this may sound very trivial, but at the time to me it was like a foretaste of Hell! I felt completely crushed, emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally.
Toward the end of November in my daily readings I reached a chapter in the book of Job, which seemed to describe my experience perfectly - along with the promise of restoration to come.
"Man is also chastened with pain on his bed, and with strong pain in many of his bones, so that his life abhors bread, and his soul succulent food. His flesh wastes away from sight, and his bones stick out which once were not seen. Yes, his soul draws near the Pit, and his life to the executioners. "If there is a messenger for him, A mediator, one among a thousand, to show man His uprightness, then He is gracious to him, and says, 'Deliver him from going down to the Pit; I have found a ransom'; his flesh shall be young like a child's, he shall return to the days of his youth. He shall pray to God, and He will delight in him, he shall see His face with joy, For He restores to man His righteousness.”
I have no complaints about the treatment I received in the hospital: the staff were all very kind and professional and I know how blessed I am to live in a country where such incredible care is freely available. My ‘hell’ was in spite of their efforts, not because of them.
After an eternity I was allowed home, and began the long process of trying to recover. At the beginning of December I saw Mr Clark who had told me he would reverse the ileostomy; but to my horror I discovered this could not be done for another three and a half months! My body needed this time to recover fully from the operations because there was the possibility, in view of the problems they had had with me, that I would need to be fully opened up again as in the emergency op.
I was devastated and couldn’t bear the thought of having to cope with the ileostomy for that length of time. However, two days later I realised that if I had to wait so long, I must try to get my life back together and start doing something. So the very first thing I did was to go outside to sweep up all the leaves that had blown into our drive and take them to the local tip.
Gill, my wife, came with me to the tip; but after we had poured all the leaves into the 35 cubic yards skip that was three quarters full of garden rubbish, I discovered my wedding ring had slipped off my finger and joined the rest of the rubbish. I’d worn it for over 48 years! It had become loose because of all my lost weight and I’d tied string round it to tighten it up; but this was a cold day and with cold fingers had become loose again and I didn’t feel it move.
This was the last straw and I completely fell apart. When we got home I collapsed in a heap of wails and tears, knowing it was impossible the ring could be found again and realising that the series of bad events was going to go on and on. Gill prayed for me that God would restore my peace and that the ring would come to light. I couldn’t do anything other than cry!
Then the miracle happened. Within an hour the phone rang with the message that they’d found my ring. When I put it back on my finger in their office I fell apart again and had to rush to the car, leaving Gill to explain to the men what it meant to me. On the way home I realised that my ring now was not only a symbol of Gill’s and my love for each other, but of God’s love for me, who had worked such a miracle to restore it to me.
This is not to diminish the efforts of the four men who spent 30 minutes on their hands and knees searching through all the rubbish; but when people obey God’s commands (and in this case whether they knew it or not they were obeying His command to love their neighbour as themselves) they put themselves in line for God to work miracles.
After this I wore an elastic band on my finger in front of the ring to ensure it would not come off again. The Council publicity department asked our permission to give the story to the press and it went viral! The interview for BBC TV South Today can be seen here and the video interview and report for the Bournemouth Daily Echo can be seen here. Their photo, taken by Sally Adams, can be seen below.
Out of the Pit
A day or so later I realised that if God would work such a miracle for a comparatively trivial thing like my ring, then He must also be working in the big things in my life - including my week of ‘hell’, whether I was aware of it or not.
Once again, I am not saying this is what actually happened, but looking back, what it feels like is that the moment I put my ring back on my finger God said,
“So far and no further. You’ve had your go, Satan; now it’s my turn!”
Slowly but surely I started to put weight back on and regain my strength; but more importantly the blackness of despair in which I had been submerged was now gone.
Starting at about day 75 I began counting the days down to the day of my next operation, and it seemed to take forever; but finally the day arrived. I had to wait nearly all morning as I was second on the list; but when around lunchtime the anaesthetist put the mask over my nose and mouth to put me to sleep, not knowing if I was about to have another seven-inch incision in my stomach, keyhole surgery, or even be left with the ileostomy because they couldn’t reverse it, I held the ring on my finger between my little finger and thumb and said, “I know You are with me Lord to take care of me: thank you for seeing me through this and bringing me back to normality.”
It wasn’t a major cut in my stomach, or even keyhole surgery: Mr Clark simply cut around the stoma to free it, joined the bowel back together and put it back where it belonged. I woke up a couple or so hours later, knowing I was different. Obviously there was a degree of pain from the operation, but otherwise I felt wonderful and could have got up and walked out of hospital there and then. I hardly needed to see that there was just a plaster where the stoma pouch had been; I knew I was back to normal again and it felt WONDERFUL!
Because of the nature of the operation they couldn’t sew me up again because of the risk of infection getting into the wound - the wound was stitched right at the deepest part, but the rest was left to heal naturally. This meant it had to have daily dressing changes, with packing in the wound to ensure it healed from the bottom upwards. I had to stay in hospital for one week, rather than the two or three days they had originally expected, because they were being very cautious after all the previous problems; and gave me a five-day course of intravenous antibiotics. Additionally they would not let me out until my body had started to perform normally again, and it took a full week before it remembered how to do that! (As our Rector said when I told my story to our Church: “Too much information!”)
Fairly early on after returning home, one of the nurses, when changing my dressing, remarked how well I was so soon after the operation. When I was in hospital, Mr Wood, who had performed the emergency operation, came to see me three times and each time, with some intensity, said,
“I am really impressed with you!”
I said, both to him and the nurse,
“There are a lot of people praying for me.”
There is only one thing impressive about me: God! Like all Christians, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives in me:
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
That is very impressive!
The One who brought the entire universe into being by the power of His word, as we read in the first chapter of Genesis, walks with me, holds me in His arms, loves me with a passion beyond anything I can ever understand, and cares for every detail of my life.
That is very impressive!
Just before my third operation, Mr Wood came to talk me through what was about to happen. At one point he said,
“You obviously have a very high pain threshold.”
“Did you say ‘very HIGH’?”
“Can I have that in writing please? Because my wife and family all say I’m the world’s biggest wimp and have a very low pain threshold!”
His reply was:
“When you came in last time you were really poorly, but you didn’t make any kind of fuss about it at all. So you must have a very high pain threshold.”
It was only some time later when I realised the only possible explanation. At the time when I thought God had abandoned me and I was alone under the onslaught of Satan, He was shielding me from the barrage that was coming at me so much so that the specialist who was monitoring my progress was fooled into thinking the world’s biggest wimp had a very high pain threshold.
Now that is VERY IMPRESSIVE!
2 Chron 32:31 …God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart.
While God clearly had not abandoned me, could this be why He stopped me sensing His presence? Whether or not this is the case, I know I can trust the God who loves me and never changes or fails to do what is best for me.
The rate of progress when I came back home was amazing - within three weeks of the operation I was back at work and able to function normally once again. It has been perhaps the most difficult six months of my life; but now I can look back, I thank God for an experience that perhaps more than any other has demonstrated to me that no matter how bad things may appear to be, He is there. His love for us is immensely greater than anything else in the world.
And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
1 John 4:16
If God is for us, who can be against us?
Truly, with the Psalmist I can say:
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth— Praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the LORD. Psalm 40:2–3
In June 2015 the BBC reported that one in ten patients dies within 30 days of undergoing urgent, unplanned bowel surgery. The report can be seen here. It would seem that I had an even closer call than I realised at the time! I am so grateful for the care and expertise of the staff of Poole hospital, and for my Shepherd, who was with me as I walked through the valley of the shadow of death and brought me out the other side into sunshine!
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me…
Christianity is not merely a set of beliefs, but a personal relationship with our Creator who went to the extreme length of an agonising death on the cross in order to make it possible. Everyone of us sooner or later will come to a time when we meet experiences too big for us to cope with ourselves, If only on the day we die - an event that by definition takes us out of any ability of our own to control. Jesus Christ is the only One who is able to carry us through them victoriously, and I strongly commend Him to you. All it takes is to get on your own and say to Him something like:
If you are God, then I want a relationship with You. Please forgive me for ignoring You in the past and doing things against Your will. Become Lord of my life and give me the power to be what you want me to be.
I pray that everyone reading this will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour (see here for a more detailed explanation) and enjoy the same degree of God’s love and care that I have experienced.
Six Months Later…
Six months after I was lying on the operating table for the third time, my wife and I travelled to Mbale, Uganda, to visit our daughter and son-in-law who are running a charity, providing free education and welfare for 416 children living in a slum area who would otherwise not have it (at the time I originally wrote this article - it is now over 700 children with a second, secondary school building now opened!). So we were able to see the official opening of their three-story building shown below. Do look at Child of Hope’s web site. It is an amazing work.
So, a huge miracle restored me back to health and delivered me from my horrible pit.
Horrible Pit Number Two
My wife, Gill, had battled with cancer for around 20 years, but by the summer of 2019 we realised after radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy had all failed, that we were reaching the end. We had been together for around 55 years and married for over 53, but the moment of parting was rapidly drawing near. For the last few weeks she had at home she became increasingly dependant on me, and ultimately could do nothing for herself.
Just a few weeks before the end I was having great difficulty in holding myself together at times, and at one point I leaned over the bed and kissed her and said,
"I don't want to lose you."
"I know. But I just want to go home."
She'd had a lovely relationship with her Heavenly Father all her life and knew where she was going. So I had to watch her slip away, and was very grateful for my loving daughters who were with me at the actual moment of her leaving on 30th September 2019.
We'd had a wonderful relationship and I was torn apart by grief at losing her. I was pleased for her that she was now with the Father and enjoying the start of her eternal life in the presence of Jesus, whom she loved. But we'd been together all my adult life and I literally felt like half a man. I was back in the terrible pit, from which there seemed no escape.
I have always read every day (apart from the very occasional exceptions) a reasonable section of the Bible; and one morning, just a few weeks after she left, I read:
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
This prophecy of the way Jesus Christ would suffer and die for us, is perhaps one of the most well-known verses in the Old Testament. However, the thought suddenly came to me:
If he has borne my griefs and carried my sorrows, then I don't need to have them, do I? We can't both have them. If He took them, then I can't have them!
The miracle didn't happen straight away, but within a couple of days I knew the grief had gone. I was set free from the agonising black hole in which I had descended. Over the following few months I went through various traumas with different issues that would not have arisen had Gill remained with me; but the agony of losing her never came back.
A week or so after the funeral, when I went back to Church for the first time as a single man again, I went out for prayer at the end of the service, and a lovely lady, Suzanne, who was on the prayer team prayed for me before I went home. I wasn't aware of anything particularly happening at that moment, but God had worked the miracle for me and I was grateful for the ministry that doubtless consolidated my deliverance.
In May I had an email from Suzanne asking for some thoughts on a particular issue. Following on from that she came over for coffee a couple of times and then I went to her place for Sunday lunch for two Sundays. By then I was starting to feel some attraction, although she had made herself quite self-sufficient, having lost her husband the year before Gill went, and had no desire for another relationship.
Things moved on very rapidly from that moment, and on 17th October 2020, we walked down the aisle together at Canford Magna Church, where we both had attended for many years. She acted in my first musical Hind's Feet, in 1983, so we had known each other for a very long time. At the moment of writing this, we have been married for about five months, and I have to say we are blissfully happy. She is the most amazing person and we are constantly saying to each other how incredible it is that we are so alike in almost every way, in spite of radically different backgrounds and upbringing. We enjoy the same things, have the same dislikes, our understanding of the scriptures is virtually identical, and it really feels as though the Lord has spent a lifetime on both of us, moulding us into exactly the person the other wants and needs.
The wedding video is below, and there is a menu at the beginning so you can jump to any particular point if you wish. One or two people have been amused by the way I tackled the vows and wedding ring; but it was our day and I was determined we should enjoy it!
Toward the beginning of 2019 something I had noticed several times before in my Bible readings, stood out to me. It was the number of times God said to Israel that they were not to do what was right in their eyes, but what was right in God's eyes. For example:
"You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes—"
Frequently the biggest complaint He had against them was that they were failing to do this. At that point I began praying regularly that God would do in my life what is right in His eyes, not mine; and that He would do His will and not mine.
When Gill left me, I continued to pray that, but I guess it was through gritted teeth. However, now I am experiencing what He had planned for me, I can truly say that even though sometimes it may not feel like it, His way is best. My second marriage has been during the difficult time of lockdown because of Covid-19; but I have to say Suzanne and I have hardly been aware of it. The incredible love we have for each other and the life we are now sharing is such that it's just like being on one long honeymoon!
(You might ask what I think about how Gill would feel; but I think she would feel exactly the same that I would have done if it had been the other way around - I would want the best for her and for there to be someone in her life to look after her and bring her love, joy and fulfilment. She has entered the joy of the presence of the Lord and is having the time of her life: I think she would want the same for me.)
So from my past experience of being delivered from a horrible pit - twice - I most strongly encourage you to turn to the One who loves you more than you can possibly imagine, and who has plans for you that will delight you if you choose to go His way and not yours. See here for more detail on how to start a real relationship with Him.
Finally, you might point out that many people in the world do not have such a wonderful time. It is true: there are large numbers of Christians suffering the most awful persecution, for example. Why should I be so blessed while they suffer? I do not know. I can only describe my own experience. However, this surely is reflected in Hebrews chapter eleven, where there is a list of people who did the most amazing things by faith, while by faith others:
...were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—
The fact is that we reap what we sow and when this life is at an end, we all receive back from the Lord according to the decisions we made in this life. All those presently suffering while standing in faith in Him will have an eternity of rewards and blessings in recompense. There is not one person, once we reach the point in time that we read about in Revelation chapter 22, who will say to God, "It's not fair!" His ways are perfect and His nature is Love and Justice.
This is why I so strongly recommend that you enter into a relationship with Him now, if you have not yet done so, in order to ensure you experience His full love, both in this life and the one to come.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Page picture, free image from here