Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.
My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the moldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast
And the days are dark and dreary.
Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary
Into each life some rain must fall; Longfellow’s words, written after the death of his first wife, remind us that everyone will experience a measure of heartache, even suffering at some point in our lives. Sooner or later pain and sorrow will find us, and being a Christian does not exclude us from that slice of reality. The Psalmist says: Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (34:19)
The Psalmist also said: It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (119:71) And in verse 75, I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. (119:75) The Psalmist came to recognize it was through the hardships in his life he came to better understand the Word of God and the ways of God; he came to know more of God’s faithful love in dark and dreary days of his life than during the sunshine.
As I look back over my 40+ years of journeying with God, the greatest times of growing in my faith have come during times of hardship or disappointment or pain. In 1982 my dad took his own life just three months before Janice and I were married. His death brought back a whole lot of painful memories; I felt messed up inside. But it also brought me face-to-face with my God, who brought His healing grace into my life.
A few years later, our whole world was turned upside down, when after a year-and-a-half of wrestling with God, I finally surrendered to Him and followed a leading to go to Bible College. I did not enjoy that first semester; Janice and I were living apart, I ended up in hospital with pneumonia and struggled with being in an academic environment. I was convinced it was a failed experiment; I was not going back in the fall. But, another ‘affliction’ came along, I broke my arm playing baseball and was in a cast for 13 weeks. I could not work and I swear I could hear God saying, ‘you might as well go back to school’. I came to know better the God who leads my life.
A year and half later, after making a move to Toronto and feeling somewhat settled, another affliction,
Janice’s dad died suddenly. Driving back to Chatham the sadness of it all, hit me, I become undone and had to stop on the side of the road to seek to pull myself together. It was in that moment I met God in such a powerful way, I can’t even describe it. I learned about the God of all comfort, who would meet me again and again in times of loss.
Five years later, we were expecting our second child; Janice had a miscarriage and we were devastated. Another affliction, another opportunity to learn, to trust; the blessing of son came the following year. Nine years later Janice’s sister lost her battle with cancer; that was part of a really hard season, with many losses. Just days before the calendar turned to 2000, my senior deacon and good friend Gerry Johnson died and I was reeling on the inside.
I had so mismanaged the pace of my life and ministry during that season, a year later I resigned. With no opportunity on the horizon for work, I started to wonder, how am I going to provide for my family? It was during this season I came to know more intimately the God who sees and cares.
I wish I could say that was the end of my afflictions but my pathway has been littered with hardships and sorrows throughout my journey. But, looking back, I can testify, with the psalmist that it was good for me to be afflicted because I have been able to experience more of God, more of His grace and goodness. It has been during times of affliction that I have learned to…be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27:14)
In a way that we won’t fully understand until we get to heaven, our troubles are a gift from God. They humble us and force us to admit our weaknesses and drive us to the Lord, who alone can help, when all other supports have failed. In every circumstance of our lives God is at work and the greatest tragedy would be to miss what He wants to teach us through our trials. So my friends at Valley, hold on, keep believing, don’t give up, let God do His work in you, for in Him we have an anchor in times of trouble.
May God bring us to the place where we can say with the Psalmist: It was good for me to be afflicted that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71)