Susanna Wesley strived to spend as much time in prayer as in her many other activities. She led Sunday afternoon church during her husband’s travels, homeschooled her ten children, and kept written records of her time with God. She did this despite facing grief, poverty, health issues, and the challenge of often being apart from her spouse due to his travels. Hard-pressed to find privacy in a full house of ten children, she often prayed with an apron over her head. Her example, however, laid the foundation for the prolific ministries of her sons John and Charles.
“How can you sing joyful songs during this difficult time?” our relatives asked. It was the night before my brother’s funeral, and we were singing his favorite worship songs. My brother David had tragically and unexpectedly died a few days before. He was just eighteen years old when he drowned in the Danube River. Our family and the entire community were in shock. But there was a glimmer of hope in all of this. David was a believer in Jesus, and we knew that one day we would see him again.
The children in my church love to sing action songs. With joy and enthusiasm, they act out the lyrics. Seeing their exuberant childlike faith, I’m challenged to believe that because Jesus is with me, I can rejoice in the trials and pains of life.
As a 97-year-old friend and I discussed Horatio Spafford’s classic hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” she said the first line gives her reason to pause. The stanza “when peace like a river attendeth my way” doesn’t accurately depict all rivers, she explained, for “all rivers are not peaceful.”
With my focus on my computer screen, I was vaguely aware of the worship music playing softly in my headphones. But after the first chords of a powerful song began to play, I could suddenly feel the strength of God’s presence filling my heart just as it had the first time I’d heard it. My soul was like parched ground, cracked from the trials of ministry, and the delicate notes and powerful lyrics refreshed me during a season when I felt like giving up.
I know you have a plan, God, but why does it hurt so much? I closed my eyes and flopped onto my bunk bed in my dorm room. It was my final semester in college, and it wasn’t going as I had hoped. I was busier than I wanted to be, and two of my closest friends were battling depression while others were also struggling.
During a lengthy battle with cancer, I’ve learned many helpful lessons, and my life has been enriched in countless ways. By God’s grace, one thing I’ve encountered is something I call “The Gratitude Cycle.” The cycle involves: Facing a challenge (like a disease); growing in faith through the experience (drawing closer to God); and possessing a heart of gratefulness to God (looking daily for things you can give thanks for). And when you face your next trial, a deepened faith and focused spirit of gratitude can provide greater hope and resiliency.
My friend Phil began chemo treatments in December 2016 for an aggressive form of lymphoma cancer. By God’s grace, he’d been prepared for this challenge in many ways. His wife had battled cancer several years before, and he had seen me go through several treatments in my own battle with an aggressive lymphoma. He had also just changed jobs, and the benefits and community support there were just what the doctor ordered. Most of all, he had been enjoying deep relationship with God.
In college, I had the, ahem, joy of taking a class about the history of the English language. The professor would ramble on and on about his life and all kinds of odd facts during his lectures. We listened intently, however, because his tests were famously difficult. He didn’t simply ask us to recall facts, he required us to think differently. The questions were designed to ensure that we could apply our knowledge in unique ways.
My dog has been trained to always come back to me the instant I call or whistle. It’s taken a lot of work to get this response. And now he consistently listens for me and responds immediately—no matter what distraction is vying for his attention. Since I can trust him, I’m able to take him off his leash and let him run around and explore the fields and woodlands. In short, because he’s been properly trained and can be trusted even when facing temptation, he can enjoy his freedom.
A chrysalis was hanging from a branch. Inside, a butterfly seemed to be struggling. Curious to witness its emergence, an observer waited. Time passed, however, and the insect was still trapped in its self-made prison. So the person made a small tear in the chrysalis—hoping to relieve the butterfly’s struggle and suffering. It soon died, for the struggle to be free is essential to making a butterfly strong enough to survive. Without adversity, it won’t achieve maturity.
On the fourth Thursday in November, US citizens celebrate Thanksgiving Day. History reveals that for the first few years after the English pilgrims made their home in the New World, they were beset by famine and cold—surviving only through the assistance of friendly Native Americans. And so when they were finally able to have a plentiful harvest in 1621, they celebrated Thanksgiving as a way of remembering both the blessings and the hardships they’d endured.
I long for the cold embrace of death,” tweeted my friend’s teenage son—feigning mock despair. Apparently his second-hour high school orchestra class was dragging on too long. So he put into practice what he had learned in his first-hour class: creative writing.
I do not enjoy being at a loss for words. I feel helpless when I can’t offer comfort to someone who’s hurting. Facing unexpected circumstances with a loved one is difficult enough, but sometimes we feel powerless in not being able to answer their question, “Why?” In our desperation, we rifle through our thoughts in an attempt to at least ease their pain. But those who’ve been through deep waters of trial can attest that the silence of a friend is more golden than misspoken words, especially when the attempt to form answers only produces more pain.