In the last installment, a little bug had become bigger than God to me. Silly isn’t it? But, sadly we mortals are given to such short-sightedness about these things: too-few coins, or a centimeters growth of tumor, or a rift between you and the one you love–we magnify our weaknesses all the time. James McDonald has made an equation of it: Big God= small problems; small god= Big problems. And the wrong focus will fill us with unrelenting self-pity and frustration and unanswerable bursts of questions and angry upraised fists.
Yet the weeks I endured of the patient combing-out of each of my eight children’s infested heads tutored me in perseverance, and strengthened the spiritual muscles of thanksgiving and faith and humility I would need for a very great struggle ahead. The seeming triviality of this trial was really a microcosm of the Gospel–the shame that sucks up and sours all of life, the endless cycle of re-infestation with sin, the longing to just be clean as you load the washer again, the desperate reaching out for strength to endure, and at last, the blessed relief of repentance and rest found only in the One who gently invites, ‘just come as you are’. And the repetition of this cycle of repentance and rest builds stamina. Because, as Alaistair Begg’s said, ” Our patience in adversity produces wonderful security regarding the future.” Begg’s meant our eternal security, but I found present security in Him, too. And so the Father prepared me well for what lay ahead.
For as I sat on the couch one night, with a particularly vibrant-hued head in my lap, swiping at eggs, the phone rang. I heard terrible news. My brother, only fifty-three at the time, had just suffered a massive stroke, and was in the ICU. There was much intense prayer among us. Yet he died.
I know that in the few weeks duration of his suffering, my brother’s own heart was being prepared for the future. He had made a committment to Jesus as his savior as a young man, and I know that on his bed of affliction the Father was calling his prodigal home. I will never understand why my brother was taken, leaving a wife and three heartbroken children. I said at his funeral that God is good and no-one will ever accuse Him of doing wrong. I spoke necessary words then, words that pointed to Jesus, who is our only hope.
I was not shaking my fist at God because I had been prepared in the discipline of giving thanks despite difficult circumstances, and so I thanked God for the things I knew were true in this confusing crisis: that my brother had re-united with his estranged wife, and they were joyfully planning a re-committment ceremony. That he had taken time, even time away from work, to purposefully mentor his troubled son. He had spent his last precious hours on earth restoring some kingdom order to his life.
I was thankful as well that God sent my sister to that family ahead of time, before the crisis, and she was there with them in their time of need, to provide comfort and Godly wisdom and prayer. Her ministry was that of presence. She sat by my brother’s bed for hours, reading the scriptures out loud to him, and sometimes she was silently praying. She listened to all the weeping and venting and the regrets. She was Jesus with skin on to that benighted clan.
This preaching of the ‘gospel without words’ — usually a specious cover for those ashamed of the gospel (and its accompanying aphorism is wrongly atttributed to Francis of Assisi, who neither did nor said it) is often the only appropriate response to deep grief.
Remember Job’s comforters.
A soul folded into the fetal position does not respond well to lots of talking. Two words like these will do: “Jesus wept.” The Son of Man wept with the sisters who said to him, ‘where were you, O God, when I needed you?’ Those of us who observe deep grief can feel great anxiety in the face of these seeming unanswerable questions, and so we stupidly seek to fill silences, and have a fatal temptation to fix complex problems with platitudes. We need to trust in the sovereignty of God ourselves, and really believe that love never fails, and then speak only with fear and trembling. Grief is a holy ground we walk upon.
Some of God’s family walked well, taking up our griefs as their own, and showed us sacrificial love. When we needed housing for the funeral, our oldest and dearest friends took us in for the weekend, though they understood the risk of head lice–that though we thought we were free of nits, our infestation had been recent. I thank God that there are such safe havens of hospitality and unconditional love.
Some reward for their sacrifice they got! Nits in the hair of all the kids, and one child has hair past her waist, another a tendency towards dreadlocks. Yet my friend was determined to endure even this humiliation and inconvenience to the glory of God–there would be no complaining! That family will be recompensed for their service, it will be returned to them, pressed down and overflowing, in heaven.
Such refreshing given to a weary pilgrim has a prophet’s reward. Still, some of us want a showier ministry– and so we drive with an empty tank, past the wounded Samaritan, multi-tasking and texting as we go, leaving little margin in our lives for the neighbor with no bread and great need. But who is the faithful servant, the one who comforts the fainting heart, or the one who just twitters his report of the calamity? Facebook friends are often faithless ones.
I think it is those simplest things we do that have the amplest reward in heaven, because they are often done with the least thought of self. ‘What’, we say as we shake our heads in wonder at the return on our meager investment — ‘it was just a cup of cold water! It was only a hug!’ Oh little faith! It was really a benediction! Those humble deeds are sometimes the most eloquent of sermons, for they are often the best means of changing a sufferer’s focus and helping him to know the Father’s goodness. That is the mystery of face-to-face community. It can be a carrier of the worst disease. Or it can be a container for God’s richest blessings. Oh, what He longs to pour out on his His people, but for our little faith.