Category  |  Suffering & Tragedy

The Hand of Comfort

“Patient is combative,” the nurse’s notes read. 

What she didn’t realize until later was that I was having an allergic reaction as I awakened after a complicated open-heart surgery. I was a mess, with a tube down my throat. My body began shaking violently, straining against the straps on my arms, which were there to keep me from suddenly pulling out my breathing tube. It was a frightening and painful episode. At one point, a nurse’s assistant to the right side of my bed reached down and simply held my hand. It was an unexpected move, and it struck me as especially gentle. I began to relax, which caused my body to stop shaking so badly.

Having experienced this with other patients, the nurse’s assistant knew that a hand of comfort could minister to me as well. It was a vivid example of how God uses comfort when His children suffer.

Comfort is a powerful and memorable tool for any caregiver, and Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 it’s an important part of God’s toolbox. Not only that, but God also multiplies the impact of His comfort by calling us to use the memory of the comfort He gives us to comfort others in similar situations (vv. 4–6). It is but another sign of His great love; and one we can share with others—sometimes in the simplest of gestures.

Trust Tally

Before my husband and I surrendered our lives to Christ, we seriously considered divorce. But after committing to love and obey God, we recommitted to each other. We sought wise counsel and invited the Holy Spirit to transform us individually and as a couple. Our heavenly Father continues to help us develop healthy communication skills. He’s teaching us how to love and trust Him—and one another—no matter what happens.

Yet, even as we head toward celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary, I occasionally forget everything God has done in and through our trials. Sometimes, I struggle with a deep-seated fear of the unknown—experiencing unnecessary anxiety instead of relying on God’s track record.

In Deuteronomy 1, Moses affirmed the Lord’s reliability. He encouraged the Israelites to move forward in faith so they could enjoy their inheritance (vv. 1–21). But God’s people demanded details about what they’d be up against and what they’d receive, before committing to trust Him with their future (vv. 22–33).

Followers of Christ are not immune to succumbing to fear or anxiety. Worrying about what difficulties we may or may not encounter can keep us from depending on faith, and may even damage our relationships with God and others. But the Holy Spirit can help us create a trust tally of the Lord’s past faithfulness. He can empower us with courageous confidence in God’s trustworthiness yesterday, today, and forever.

Rooted in God

When friends moved into a new home, they planted wisteria near their fence and looked forward to the lavender blossom that would appear after five years of growth. Over two decades they enjoyed this plant, carefully pruning and tending it. But suddenly the wisteria died, for their neighbors had poured some weed killer by the other side of the fence. The poison seeped into the wisteria’s roots and the tree perished—or so my friends thought. To their surprise, the following year some shoots came through the ground.

We see the image of trees flourishing and perishing when the prophet Jeremiah relates them to God’s people who either trust in the Lord or ignore His ways. Those who follow God will send their roots into soil near water and will bear fruit (v. 8), but those who follow their own hearts will be like a bush in the desert (vv. 5–6). The prophet yearns that God’s people would rely on the true and living God, that they would be “a tree planted by the water” (v. 8)..

We know the “Father is the Gardener” (John 15:1) and that in Him we can trust and have confidence (v. 7). May we follow Him with our whole heart as we bear fruit that lasts.

 

Surviving the Wilderness

In the 1960s, the Kingston Trio released a song called “Desert Pete.” The ballad tells of a thirsty cowboy who is crossing the desert and finds a hand pump. Next to it, Desert Pete has left a note urging the reader not to drink from the jar hidden there but to use its contents to prime the pump.

The cowboy resists the temptation to drink and uses the water as the note instructs. In reward for his obedience, he receives an abundance of cold, satisfying water. Had he not acted in faith, he would have had only a jar of unsatisfying, warm water to drink.

This reminds me of Israel’s journey through the wilderness. When their thirst became overwhelming (Ex. 17:1-7), Moses sought the Lord. He was told to strike the rock of Horeb with his staff. Moses believed and obeyed, and water gushed from the stone.

Sadly, Israel would not consistently follow Moses’ example of faith. Ultimately, “the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed” (Heb. 4:2).

 Sometimes life can seem like an arid desert. But God can quench our spiritual thirst in the most unlikely circumstances. When by faith we believe the promises of God’s Word, we can experience rivers of living water and grace for our daily needs. 

How Long?

When I married, I thought I would have children immediately. That did not happen, and the pain of infertility brought me to my knees. I often cried out to God, “How long?” I knew God could change my circumstance. Why wasn’t He?

Are you waiting on God? Are you asking, “How long … ?” Before justice prevails in our world? Before there is a cure for cancer? Before I am no longer in debt?  

The prophet Habakkuk was well acquainted with that feeling. In the seventh century bc, he cried out to the Lord: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (Hab. 1:2–3) He prayed for a long time, struggling to reconcile how a just and powerful God could allow wickedness, injustice, and corruption to continue in Judah. As far as Habakkuk was concerned, God should have already intervened. Why was God doing nothing?

There are days when we, too, feel as if God is doing nothing. Like Habakkuk, we have continuously asked God, “How long?”

Yet, we are not alone. As with Habakkuk, God hears our burdens. We must continue to cast them on the Lord because He cares for us. God hears us and, in His time, will give an answer.

 

 

Hovering Over Us

Betty’s daughter arrived home from an overseas trip, feeling unwell. When her pain became unbearable, Betty and her husband took her to the emergency room. The doctors and nurses set to work, and after a few hours one of the nurses said to Betty, “She’s going to be okay! We’re going to take good care of her and get her healed up.” In that moment, Betty felt peace and love flood over her. She realized that while she hovered over her daughter anxiously, the Lord is the perfect parent who nurtures His children, comforting them in difficult times.

In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord reminded His people how when they were wandering in the desert, He cared for them as a loving parent who hovers over its young. He never left them, but was like an eagle “that spreads its wings” to catch its children and “carries them aloft” (32:11). He wanted them to remember that although they experienced hardship and strife in the desert, He didn’t abandon them.

We too may face challenges of many kinds, but we can take comfort and courage in this reminder that our God will never leave us. When we feel that we are falling, the Lord like an eagle will spread His wings to catch us (v. 11) as He brings us peace.

Sweet and Sour

When our toddler first bit into a lemon wedge, he wrinkled his nose, stuck out his tongue, and squeezed his eyes shut. “Sow-wah,” he said (sour).

I chuckled as I reached for the piece of fruit, intending to toss it into the trash.

“No!” Xavier scampered across the kitchen to get away from ne. “Moe-wah!” (more). His lips puckered with every juice-squirting bite. I winced when he finally handed me the rind and walked away.

My taste buds accurately reflect my partiality to the sweet moments in life. My preference for avoiding all things bitter reminds me of Job’s wife, who seems to have shared my aversion to the sourness of suffering.

Job surely didn’t delight in hardship or trouble, yet he honored God through heart-wrenching circumstances (Job 1:1–22). When painful sores afflicted Job’s body, he endured the agony (Job 2:7–8). His wife told him to give up on God (v. 9), but Job responded by trusting the Lord through suffering and afflictions (v. 10).

It’s natural to prefer avoiding the bitter bites in life. We can even be tempted to lash out at God when we’re hurting. But the Lord uses trials, teaching us how to trust Him, depend on Him, and surrender to Him as He enables us to persevere through difficult times. And like Job, we don’t have to enjoy suffering to learn to savor the unexpected sweetness of sour moments−the divine strengthening of our faith.

Give It to God

As a teenager, when I became overwhelmed by enormous challenges or high-stakes decisions, my mother taught me the merits of putting pen to paper to gain perspective. When I was uncertain whether to take specific classes or which job to pursue, or how to cope with the frightening realities of adulthood, I learned her habit of writing out the basic facts and the possible courses of action with their likely outcomes. After pouring my heart onto the page, I was able to step back from the problem and view it more objectively than my emotions allowed.

Just as recording my thoughts on paper offered me fresh perspective, pouring our hearts out to God in prayer helps us gain His perspective and remind us of His power. King Hezekiah did just that after receiving a daunting letter from an ominous adversary. The Assyrians threatened to destroy Jerusalem as they had many other nations. Hezekiah spread out the letter before the Lord, prayerfully calling on Him to deliver the people so that the world would recognize He “alone . . . [is] God” (2 Kings 19:19).

When we’re faced with a situation that brings anxiety, fear, or a deep awareness that getting through it will require more than what we have, let’s follow in Hezekiah’s footsteps and run straight to the Lord. Like him, we, too, can lay our problem before God and trust Him to guide our steps and calm our uneasy hearts.

Don’t Run Alone

My husband Jack was on mile 25 out of 26 when his strength failed him.

This was his first marathon, and he was running alone. After stopping for a drink of water at an aid station, he felt exhausted and sat down on the grass beside the course. Minutes passed, and he couldn’t get up. He had resigned himself to quitting the race when two middle-aged schoolteachers from Kentucky came by. Although they were strangers, they noticed Jack and asked if he wanted to run with them. Suddenly, he found his strength restored. Jack stood and accompanied by the two women he finished the race.

Those women who encouraged Jack remind me of Aaron and Hur, two friends who helped Moses, the leader of the Israelites, at a key point (Ex. 17:8-13). The Israelites were under attack. In battle, they were winning only as long as Moses held his staff up (v. 11). So when Moses’s strength began to fail, Aaron and Hur stood on either side of him, holding up his arms for him until sunset (v. 12).

Following God is not a solo endeavor. He did not create us to run the race of life alone. Companions can help us persevere through difficulty as we do what God has called us to do.

God, thank you for relationships that encourage me to continue following you. Help me to be a source of strength for others, as well.