On a Sunday morning a few years ago, I winced inwardly as the preacher promised, “We will never ever have to have another down day because of the Word of God.”
I had found the fellowship listed in a phone book tucked in a drawer in my husband’s hospital room. Since our home was a state away, I had spent the previous four nights sleeping restlessly on a cot next to Larry’s bed.
Although my mind and body were exhausted that Sunday morning, my hope was steadfast because my spouse’s medical condition was temporary. Yet other believers I knew where not so fortunate. I thought of those who had lost loved ones, were struggling with an addiction, battling a life-threatening illness, experiencing financial crisis, or heartbroken by a prodigal child or divorce.
As the minister went on to speak of folks who wanted to wallow in unfortunate situations in quest of sympathy, I couldn’t help but smile rather wryly. After all, long ago I had embraced this same belief. My theology back then was based on the fiery zeal of youthful faith, which had not been tempered.
Don’t get me wrong, tempered faith is not a burnt-out disbelief in the miracles created by God’s supernatural working power. However, it is the ability to trust God despite our circumstances, and to trust in the ways in which our Creator chooses to assist us in our times of trouble. After all, suffering is often a part of the Christian walk, but as mature believers we “consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18 NIV
Almost two decades ago, an elderly woman who I’ll call Minnie taught me this valuable lesson. I attended church with this silver-haired senior whose frail body had been attacked by a serious illness. Since I had often seen God’s miraculous power heal either instantly or gradually through medical treatment, every week I waited expectantly for Minnie’s miracle.
At that time, in my naïve opinion anyone not healed of some disease, financial dilemma, or other adverse condition must somehow lack faith. Having this rigid black and white theological stance prevented me from offering comfort to Minnie Sunday after Sunday.
However, a chance encounter in a restaurant enabled me to view her in a very different light. In God’s sovereignty, chance encounters are actually divine appointments orchestrated for our good.
Over the salad bar, I smiled at Minnie in greeting that long ago afternoon, and asked the elderly Christian how she was doing. Minnie was having a really down day so she replied that she wasn’t doing very well.
Trying to help, I told the fragile woman she needed to speak the blessings of God over her life. She looked at me like an animal caught in a trap, one pierced by its sharp metal teeth. A volcanic whirlwind seemed to swirl about her as she tried to compose herself, but it was too late. Minnie’s wrinkled eyes flashed angrily as she very distinctively spat out a mild profanity. Instantly, she was remorseful, broken, and about to burst into tears when she whispered, “I’m sorry, but I’m hurting so badly.”
Suddenly, when I looked at Minnie, I saw her through God’s eyes and waves of His compassion flooded over me. Instantly, I asked Minnie to forgive me for being insensitive to her pain.
Since that day I have learned that it is not sympathy that folks like Minnie want when they walk a difficult path, one that they must travel far longer then they ever expected. Rather it is empathy that they so desperately desire. To empathize is to identify, and when we identify we don’t just feel sorry, but we do something to help. This process births the compassion that Jesus spoke of so freely.
If I could replay that scene with Minnie, I would have encouraged her to, “Not give up!” I would have also committed to walk her painful path with her through my prayers, while reassuring the struggling saint that in Hebrews 13:5 Jesus promises to “never leave or forsake” us not even on the most difficult days that we spend on this Earth. Finally, I would have reminded Minnie of the eternal promise in Romans 8:23 of a glorified body that will never again experience sickness or death.
Christina Ryan Claypool is an inspirational speaker and author, who has been featured on CBN’s 700 Club. Contact through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.