Tuesday, June 6, 2006

"You give and you take away..."

From yesterday's newspaper..."A 4-year-old girl drowned Saturday afternoon in a swimming pool near Covington, LA. The child died in a backyard swimming pool during a supervised party with many adults around…"

When I hear stories of tragic and unexpected death, particularly those involving children, my heart is gripped. This particular story tears at my heart even more than usual because this child was the granddaughter of my late Pastor. He passed in December 2001 after a very painful battle with cancer. The battle was painful not merely for him physically, but for our church as well. His family, who were obviously members of the church, were often caught in the middle of the struggle to care for him and see to the needs of the church. To say his death was difficult would be an understatement. His wife and youngest daughter (the mother of this little girl) seemed to feel it more severely than anyone…and from what I can tell, continue to suffer his loss today.

I can’t even begin to imagine what this latest loss must be like for them. I can scarcely think about it without getting choked up. Their pain must be nearly unbearable.

Over the course of the past week or so, the Lord has been impressing on me the smallness of my problems in light of both eternity and what other people are suffering. In truth, the majority of my “affliction” is self-imposed…it is simply a matter of not liking denial or delay. God saying “No” or “Not Yet” is not affliction…to suffer over it is akin to a toddler’s tantrum throwing. Oh, sure, I make it all spiritual and use terms like “the battle between the flesh and the spirit” and “dying to self” and “being conformed to His image” but really, what it boils down to is I want what I want when I want it, and that is usually 5 minutes ago. I don’t like to be made to wait. I like denials even less. And so I “suffer”. The amazing thing is that the Lord does not treat me like the brat that I am. He is ever near, faithful to speak words of truth and comfort, and even to answer my (at times) silly prayers.

I have no doubt this mother prayed for health and happiness and protection for her daughter. I am sure she just assumed that she’d see her go to big girl school, and to her first dance, and get married and be there when she gave birth to her first child.

But God, in His sovereign and good plan ordered things differently. His plan is good. Of that there is no doubt. It doesn’t make sense to me. I am sure it makes even less sense to this child’s mother. But He promises to work all things together for our good. And all means ALL.

The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)

It is difficult to see something like this as good. I think of some harm coming to my nieces and can only see pain and grief …not good. But this is His promise. He gives…and takes away…and both are good.

When I apply this personally, say if I think about some harm coming to my nieces, I can’t see any good in that. But I am not God. What I do know from my own paltry excuse for suffering, is that I need it. It is often in those moments when I feel my world is upside down, when nothing is going as it should, when it seems all is about to fall to pieces or already has that God is the most real to me…when my heart is the most prone to seek Him…and I learn the most about His character. Martin Luther is quoted as saying that the way to truly know God is through Bible Study, Prayer and Suffering. He called suffering a gift. He is not alone. Job also regarded his period of intense suffering as a gift which helped Him to see God more clearly and love Him more deeply. Though, in the midst of the pain, I am sure there were times when his suffering felt like anything but a gift.

I am sure this young mother feels the same way.

But God’s promise is God’s promise. He gives and takes away and calls both good.

Tragedy like this also puts things in perspective for those of us not quite so closely connected to the loss. In this life, there are no guarantees. Nothing is certain. Our next breath is not promised. The only thing that is promised and guaranteed is His goodness and faithfulness and comfort...that's it. Everything else will change...everything else will pass away or be taken away...people will leave and turn their backs on us, even...but Not God! And that is enough.

Lord let it be enough for this suffering mother…let it be enough for us…let it be enough for me.

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