Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wife Rule #47: Peace Will Come

I still remember the conversation we had.

It was about five years ago. My wife and I were talking about how incredibly blessed we felt in our lives. It seemed like every opportunity was open to us, that every aspect of our lives was proceeding according to our plans, even that every person we loved was doing well. In general, we felt that everything was, well, just perfect.

We both wondered aloud why we were so blessed, why it seemed that there had not been any major trials in our lives for several years. The idea that we didn't need any trials, to facilitate more personal growth, was so obviously foolish that we never even considered it. So then, was it that God knew we weren't strong enough to handle any trials? That didn't seem likely either. We knew so many of our good neighbors, just ordinary people like us, who seemed to have heaping portions of trials on their plates, much more than the Recommended Daily Allowance called for, and they were handling it. We were sure we could too.

This line of thought finally culminated in the question that had been simmering on the back burners of our minds for a while: How long will the peace last?

Well, needless to say, it wasn't long before the trials came. Big ones. Hairy ones. Nasty ones. Scary ones.

I should be careful not to be flippant about these trials. They have been major tests of our faith, our strength, and our resolve. They have stretched us in ways that we never could have imagined. They have brought us to tears frequently, and brought us to our knees in the most excruciating anguish we have experienced yet.

And to date, none of the direct causes of these trials were events involving my wife or me, or our children. The biggest share of these hardships was, and is still, borne by other members of our family: our parents and our siblings. I'm not talking about trials of their own choosing, either. These are not the consequences of carelessness, or foolishness, or rebelliousness. They are just the incredibly difficult things of life, which often seem to fall like anvils out of the blue.

These trials are still personal to us, but they are also trials of sympathy, of sitting helpless on the sidelines, watching people we love beyond description suffer in ways we that reach beyond our comprehension.

And so we worry, we lose sleep, and we drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out some way--any way--to help. But the harsh reality is, no matter how badly we want to, there's simply no way that we can bring someone back from the dead. There's no way that we can take away the suffering caused by brutal cancer treatments. There's nothing we can do to re-engineer genetic tendencies towards depression. And there's no way for us to heal deep emotional wounds caused by former abuses heaped upon the innocent heads of those we love.

When faced with this reality, it is sometimes tempting to despair at our helplessness--or our non-helpfulness, as the case may be. I'll admit that there were times, after exhausting what little ingenuity I have, that in frustration I have taken the easy way out and simply driven the thoughts of my suffering loved ones from my mind.

But far more often, my wife and I have been driven to our knees, our hearts poured out in prayer to that God who is our Parent and to Whom we belong. If we are frail, foolish, and feeble in our abilities, then He is Strength, Wisdom, and Power. If we don't know how to help, then surely He does. If we are too selfish to expend our last drop of focus on behalf of another, then He is ever-focused on us--all of us--and never on Himself.

Having been a parent now for eight and a half years, I understand a little about the love a father has for a child. There is no doubt in my mind that I would give my life for one of my children if that's what it took. And that's exactly what our Savior, the Father of our salvation, has done for us.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.... (Isaiah 53:4)

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

He has borne our griefs, and our sorrows, and we can be healed. We can be healed! Made whole. As if nothing had ever happened. As if everything was going according to our best plans. At peace. Perfect. Healed.

His grace extends to us, to heal every hurt, and fix every problem we have, though not always according to our preferred schedules:

And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3:3)

This scripture has been well-known to me for a long time; it's the text for one of the chorus numbers in Handel's Messiah, which I have sung numerous times. My understanding is that the sons of Levi can also represent the Lord's chosen people in our time and land, His sheep who follow Him today.

A refining fire is placed upon those who choose this discipleship. And for most of us, this fire most often takes the form of trials, whose purpose is to purge all weakness, all imperfection, and all impurity away, that we may offer up to the Lord the offering of our righteousness.

All this is essential to understand, but there is more to this verse than that. Until someone pointed it out to me, I had overlooked one very important word, a word that adds a new depth of meaning to this refining process: "sit." The Lord sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. One who refines silver sits and watches the refining process, so that at just the right moment, when the last particle of imperfection has been burned away, the cleansed product can be promptly removed from the fire. The one who sits and watches ensures that refining lasts only as long as is absolutely needed, and no longer.

He does this for us, personally. He does not delegate, though He invites us to watch with Him.

So when my wife and I are sitting on the sidelines, wishing that we could put out the fire, we can have faith in the One Who Sits. He watches this necessarily painful refining with perfect eyes, and will never allow the fire to consume more than is absolutely necessary. You see, He wants us to be perfect, like He is, and the pathway to perfection always passes through the refining fire. He knows. He went there before we did.

No matter how hot the fire gets, it is comforting to know that Someone is watching, ready to rescue and heal when His purposes have been accomplished. For some trials, this may not happen in this life, but we know the healing will eventually come. I know it's simplistic, but this simple faith really can make all the difference--my wife and I know this from experience now. With such faith casting present hurts into an eternal light, we really can have peace, even in the midst of trials.

How long will the peace last? my wife and I asked ourselves five years ago. Now we know the answer: As long as we have faith in Him.


Sylvia said...

Thank you for sharing this - it is very powerful. Sitting on the sidelines watching others in pain and heartache can be so very difficult. But sometimes, merely the knowledge that they aren't alone can help the one suffering to endure just a bit easier (relatively speaking, of course). It can help in ways that are difficult to put words to.

You said that the simple faith is what makes the difference. You are right. But the thing that comes from that simple faith is HOPE. And with that hope, a renewed strength to keep going, to look toward the brighter day the WILL come... someday, it will come.

Thanks -

Brooke said...

I, too, remember that conversation. And though we have faced trials (and watched others face them) I still feel that peace. There were very hard times, still are, but I feel the same pervading peace. I know it comes from God, and I pray I'll always be aware of it and able to access that healing power in my life.

Thank you for sharing life with me, especially the hard parts. You help me feel that peace. I love you.

Shell said...

That was very beautiful Matt, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I can't say that I've always felt that peace, but I'm grateful when I'm calm enough to let it enter.

chelse said...

matt you're amazing. thanks for this. It's exactly what I needed today!
I remember right before dad died I thought the same thing. I kept thinking "wow my life is so perfect! I wonder when it won't be anymore." Honestly that was 2 weeks before the accident.
I don't think it was chance that I felt this way or that the events happened then. It all went how it should. Anyways, thanks for your thoughts and prayers, but mostly thanks for your faith. Both you and Brooke have given me strength numerous times through your testimonies and love. I'm so blessed to have you as a brother!

LuckyMatt said...

Sylvia, you said it well--the hope that comes from faith is what gives us strength to endure. Thanks for your thoughts.

Shell, you have been so brave during very hard things you and your family have been through. We admire you!

Chelse, you are such a great person and we love having you as our sister and friend!

Brooke, thanks to you for everything. I don't know what I would ever do without you. I'm so glad we can face life's challenges together. I love you too.