Renee Mercer loved her calling as a pastor’s wife. She was content serving in the background, serving next to her husband, Dave, a Wesleyan Methodist pastor. They recently celebrated thirty years of “I do’s” and were looking forward to the next thirty. They had a home with three teenage boys and one girl newly married. Their church was bursting with possibilities and new people.

A knock on the door in the wee hours of a cold December Sunday morning shattered her and the children’s lives. Upon answering the door, Renee was given the crushing news that her husband had died while on his mission trip to Nicaragua. Time seemed to stop at 5:20 a.m. as she cried, “No, this can’t be!”

Renee soon began to ask questions: Where is God’s will in this? David still had so much to do. I can’t live without him! When no answers came, she did what many do in the silent mysteries of suffering: blame themselves. Did I not pray hard enough? Did I not love him enough, or did I somehow deserve this? God, what did I do wrong? God, what’s going to happen to my kids? I don’t think this hurt will ever go away,” Renee wept. “Sometimes the sorrow is so deep all I want to do is throw up. It’s hard to move on when every moment feels like 5:20 a.m. when I was blindsided.”

At my lowest moments,” she said with a trembling voice, “God’s grace often appears clothed as ordinary people who not only grieve for me but with me.” Renee recalled that on the first night of being a widow, someone slipped a note onto her pillow that read: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). This proved to be true when some church members helped her sell their house in three weeks. Others helped her find a new one in three days in Kentucky (where her family lives).

Some days,” Renee confessed, “I want to sit down and quit because this is too hard, but God’s grace scoops me up and helps me keep doing the next thing. My children and I struggle in our unique ways with the ongoing grief, and as their mother, I wish I could ‘fix everything.’”

Many friends tried to tiptoe around her suffering, not to make her cry. But Renee knew crying was therapeutic and part of her healing. She recounts the Apostle Paul’s statement that “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Renee said, “We are learning to daily lean on God and limp at our most untroubling pace.”

But another Christian lady, Sarah Cochran, dealt with all the disappointment and sadness at being infertile that took root deep in her heart. She fell in love with Tom the summer after high school graduation, and three years later, they were married. She felt blessed and happy to join him in his call to ministry.

But one thing afflicted her. She often jumped out of bed screaming with abdominal pain or doubled over while strolling through a store or driving. Doctors diagnosed her with the polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and Sarah soon learned that conceiving children would be difficult. Bearing children became a goal to be achieved to make physical pain worth enduring. For years, Sarah told God, “I will do whatever you want me to.” However, when it became almost unbearable, Sarah began withdrawing from people. Symptoms of depression began to appear as she and Tom pursued fertility treatments month after month without results.

One morning, after years of trying to conceive and yet another failed pregnancy test, Sarah locked herself inside their bathroom and screamed. She repeatedly banged her head against the wall. She vomited out of pain – caused by nausea from the fertility drugs – and her disgust and rage. She cried out to God to let her die. Her prayers felt as though they bounced off the ceiling, mocking her every thought. How could she have faith in a God that would not heal? She was weary of the pain and weary of praying for others, doubting that God even cared. She became cynical and bitter. Her life had been built around a God who cared, but she could see no evidence of that care in her situation.

One morning, as questions swirled in their minds, Tom played his guitar in the bedroom where Sarah lay and began to sing: “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love…the Lord is good to all, and He has compassion on all that He has made. As far as the east is from the west, that’s how far He has removed our transgressions from us.[1] At that moment, God met them in that room.

A seed of faith and hope began to take root in Sarah’s heart. It expanded and grew over the next decade. Finally, God answered Sarah’s prayer: “God, I will do whatever you want me to.” Sarah realized God was asking with all her heart. He did care for her, but did she care about God’s creations, plans, and people, or was she blindly focused only on her desires and comfort? God wanted her to surrender her full attention, plans for her future and family, and aspirations for education and a career. Could she submit her entire life to God?

Eventually, God called Sarah to return to school and become a pastor. She now says confidently, “God’s grace is sufficient to forgive my sins. He is sufficient for me. God does care, though he does say ‘no’ sometimes. God’s perspective is not our perspective. His is bigger and better!”

As we can see, God’s Word shines in the shades of grief and confusion, in the darkness of sorrow and despair. And the darker it gets, the brighter God’s light shines. And that Light on our pathway is not shining on us but from within us. When that Light dims, we may stumble and fall into the shadows where few people seem to see us. In a modern paraphrase. Jesus’ words ring loud and clear: “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine! Keep open house; be generous with your love. You’ll prompt people to open up to God, this gracious heavenly Father, by opening up to others” (Matthew 5:14-16 – The Message).

We often think we impress people as Christians with our behavior, but that is a candle next to the spotlight in the darkness of difficulties and hardships. Since our light is powered by the Holy Spirit, we may need to be recharged!

[1] Ord, Graham. (1998) The Lord is Gracious and Compassionate. Vineyard Music

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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