COMFORT AND STRENGTH
The devil, I am convinced, works 24 hours each day to make life miserable for Christians—seeking and finding any great or small inlet to get at our weakest points. He was quite successful in reaching me on a recent Sunday night.
In the afternoon I had led a planning session at the church. I knew I had not done well and I went home downcast. I thought of earlier days when such a meeting would have been so much easier for me. Later that day I had read two newspapers filled with conflicting reports and commentaries about world crises. These created unrest within me as I did not know what to believe. 1 felt frustration realizing that we are totally at the mercy of the news media.
I went to bed perplexed and disturbed. The hope for a peaceful night’s sleep was shattered. In the early hours of the morning, with my restlessness robbing Don of his much needed rest, I told him that I believed the words "Comfort ye my people saith the Lord" were in the Bible. I asked the Lord to bring me peace through His reassurance. He did just that, and I went to sleep and rested well in the security of His care.
The next day I sought help in finding the Scripture. Rather than using my own abundant helps, I asked for another’s help and located Isaiah 40:1: "Comfort, oh, comfort my people, says your God." (LB).
The last verse (vs.3 1) of this 40th chapter of Isaiah ["But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." (LB)] has been a favorite of mine for many years. In it He had given me peace of mind and heart and now He had further promised to help me cope with whatever might come.
Much background is provided before and between these two verses. Though I am not a Bible scholar, I understand that God was telling Isaiah to comfort His children—that their suffering for their disobedience was to end. We are still today God’s children, and I believe that God wants His children still now to be comforted.
Many experiences in our lives remind us of His comforting power. My neighbor Marjorie Hewlett said during a visit shortly after the death of her husband (Mr. Gayle) that she did not know how people went through grief without God’s help. This thought is echoed over and over by those who know the Lord.
I often pray for His comforting presence, and He has never failed to give me peace. He wants us to be comforted. He longs to give us His encouragement. He knows our needs. He loves us beyond measure. He leads us on the right path. I have found solace in a quote I have kept near, though the source has been lost and forgotten by me: "God has time for each of us. He created time, He created us . . . beyond all beginnings beyond all tomorrows. He is Lord."
We can claim God’s comfort in our most dire circumstances. I believe also that God expects and desires that we should let Him use us in bringing comfort to those who are hurting. I am often slow to do what I can to show my compassion. I am aware that many face trials in the home, at work and in other personal circumstances; however I find I am often more mindful of the pain of illness and grief. Other kinds of pain can be just as devastating—the pain of loneliness, the pain of anger and frustration, the pain of disappointment in others in whom we had confidence, the pain of frustration when plans for life do not work out.
As I worked through these thoughts on comfort, I recalled a book, The God of All Comfort, by Hannah Whitall Smith. In the opening chapter she quotes from Paul’s second letter to the Christians in Corinth, II Corinthians 1:3-4: "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulations; that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" (KJV).
In a distant city last month I walked around a young man lying stretched out—passed out—on a clear, clean sidewalk. I looked long enough to note his clothes were clean. He did not seem to be a street person. This picture has haunted me since that day. I was both the priest and the Levite. I excused myself by saying that it has become too dangerous to be compassionate and caring. However, the young man— perhaps the object of a desperate mother’s prayers, the husband of a young, grieving wife, or the brother of a shattered sister— may have indeed needed my help. I was anxiously hurrying to reach a shop before it closed. After all, this was my last opportunity to secure the item I wanted there. "In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, by brothers, ye have done it unto me" continues to weigh heavily upon me.
Too often I observe with eyes which do not see and with ears which do not hear. Too often I harden my heart and deny compassion. Yet I have often been the recipient of succor for my own needs.
We each have our own personal helps for comfort and strength. I find strength in looking back over my prayer lists and other marginal notes from years past in my favorite devotional book. I am encouraged by seeing requests which were answered, and I am challenged to continue in faith for prayers yet unanswered and for answers of His choosing rather than of my choosing.
Since claiming Isaiah 40:31 as one of my favorite Scriptures, I have wanted to watch an eagle. I did recently see several eagles for a brief moment and at a distance but how I would like to observe the behavior of an eagle as he sits and literally keeps an eagle’s eye as a storm builds and moves in. The rain comes and turns his feathers into glistening hues. The sky fills with blackness: the lightening flashes. He sits perfectly still, turning first one eye then the other toward the storm. He waits until he knows the storm has struck—then with a scream, he wings his way into the storm. Away he goes—borne upon the storm. By flying against the wind, he is able to soar above the storm and out of the reach of danger. As I have read about the eagle, I have understood why it was chosen as the symbol of our country.
1 like this example of strength which God gives us through Isaiah. This is the strength we can know when we wait upon the Lord. By waiting for Him we have all the strength we need for the storms of life.
"Soar upwards, upwards towards God. Devout affections are the eagle’s wings on which gracious souls mount up. They shall press forward towards heaven. They shall walk, they shall run, the way of God’s commandment, cheerfully and with alacrity." (source unknown).
Reading The God of All Comfort, I was reminded of another Hannah Whitall Smith’s books, and I searched and found my paperback copy, now yellow with age. This book was first published in 1870. With the fourth printing in 1968 (the date of my own copy), more than 2,000,000 copies had been sold. The last chapter, "The Life on Wings," offers additional thought-filled comments on this Scripture from Isaiah.
How terribly hard it is to wait! If we are not impatient and wait for the Lord, He will always come. "Don’t be impatient. Wait for the Lord and He will come and save you! Be brave, stouthearted and courageous. Yes, wait and He will help you." (Psalms 27:14 LB).
In The Living Bible in Psalms 27:4 1 read: "The one thing I want from God, the thing I seek most of all, is the privilege of meditating in His temple, living in His presence every day of my life, delighting in His incomparable perfections and glory." When I have this in my life, I shall have an abundance of His comfort and strength to face whatever the day may bring.
No one lives long until, reluctantly, he walks down to the harbor to watch a ship sail off into the night. I say night, for it’s the night of his soul as he watches the ship fade into a tiny speck, then disappear forever. On board is someone near and dear, about to cross that mysterious line we call death. It may be an infant son, teenage daughter. Mom or Dad, a precious wife or noble husband, a dear grandparent. brother or sister, a longtime friend.
At first we say it isn’t true, can’t be. mustn’t be. We tell ourselves it’s Just a bad dream. Or we give up on life, saying it’s no longer worth living, the void too vast and deep. So we grieve and wait, hoping the ship Amax’ return and all will be well. But it won’t. Once the ship of death departs these shores, it’s destined for a new shore, another Harbor, where all is well for those who die in Christ.
However, for we who wait on this side, the harbor teems with new life, since other ships continue to arrive daily. On board are persons who, in some measure, can fill our painful loneliness. They come to us by way of births and adoptions. marriages and new friendships, children who grow up and youth who mature.
However, if we insist on watching for ships that sailed yesterday’, we are mysteriously blinded to the incoming ships of today. If we major on what’s left rather than what’s lost, what we see is the difference in day and night. For with open hearts and open arms we now see the harbor filled with at least good days— if not the best days—of our lives. This is the meaning of Eccelsiastes 3:1, 2, 5. "To everything there is a season ... a time to die. . . and a time to embrace." It’s never too late to embrace, to welcome new faces, greet new friends, new family.
—Robert J. Hastings
When our son was killed in an auto wreck people were very kind and helpful, particularly those in our church. But it has been a year now and no one bothers to ask how we are doing. I wish you would tell people not to forget those who have lost a loved one, once the funeral is over.
The Bible tells us to "Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). This should always be true, not just when someone’s burden is obvious.
Yes, often people do rush in to express sympathy and extend help when tragedy strikes, and then forget all about it. As you have discovered, a sudden tragedy often makes you numb in your heart and mind at first. Gradually, however, the numbness wears off, and then come the grief and pain. People who have never been through it may not understand, or they may feel embarrassed or awkward. Those are not excuses for insensitivity—but they often keep us from helping those who are hurting.
Don’t be afraid to share your hurt with a few Christian friends, and ask them to pray for you. You may be surprised to find there are others in your church who have been through similar situations and may even need x’our encouragement.
Most of all, turn to God and seek His comfort and strength. After all. God knows what it is to lose a Son—for Christ was put to death on the cross for our sins.
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children, by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. New York: Bantam Books, 1983. 37 pages (paperback).
This attractive book, a new addition to the library at the Funeral Home, was written and illustrated for children but it will be appreciated by adults as well. It explains life and death in a sensitive, caring, and beautiful way. It tells about plants, about animals, and about people. It makes the point that dying is as much a part of living as being born. Excerpts are included below to illustrate the beautiful simplicity of the words and meaning of this special book.
There is a beginning
and an ending for everything
that is alive.
In between is living.
Nothing that is alive
goes on living for ever.
How long it lives depends upon
what it is and what happens
while it is living.
Sometimes, living things become ill
or they get hurt.
Mostly, of course, they get better again
but there are times when they are so badly hurt
or they are so ill that they die because
they can no longer stay alive.
This can happen when they are young,
or old, or anywhere in between.
It may be sad, but it is the way
of all things, and it is true
for everything that is alive.
So, no matter how long they are,
or how short, lifetimes are really
all the same.
They have beginnings, and endings,
and there is living in between.
That is how things are.
Even for the tiniest insects.
We highly recommend this book for helping to explain the death of a relative, a friend, or a pet to a child and/or for your own appreciation and understanding. Ask to borrow it.
We dedicate this issue of Seasons to those who died and whose families we served from April 1 through July 9. 1994
Mr. Donald Wright Abel, Sr. 04/01/94
Mr. Clinton Roland Hale 04/02/94
Mrs. Mallie Beard Murchison 04/04/94
Mr. Bobby Dwight Fortner 04/07/94
Mr. Harold Bryan Davis 04/08/94
Mrs. Maxie B. Miller 04/10/94
Mrs. Nancy Ferguson Inzer 04/15/94
Mr. Johnny David Ratliff 04/18/94
William Cody Boggs 04/18/94
Mr. Rona Lealon Weeks 04/27/94
Mr. Clyde Walker Murchison 04/28/94
Alex Douglas Boggs 05/01/94
Mrs. Minnie Ruth Little 05/04/94
Mr. Chandler Hobson Karr 05/09/94
Mr. Donald Allen Green, Sr. 05/10/94
Mr. Robert Crutcher King 05/16/94
Mr. Calvin Reuben Gayle Hewlett 05/17/94
Mrs. Ora Dodds Carroll 05/20/94
Mrs. Susie Lorene Sartin 05/24/94
Mrs. Marilyn Tapscott Atkins 05/25/94
Miss Alma Jane Sims 05/27/94
Mr. William Eugene Lewis 05/27/94
Mrs. Leona Catherine Arnold 06/02/94
Mrs. Mildred Dora Holmes 06/02/94
Mrs. Bama Ree Ward 06/02/94
Mrs. Lois Ethel McCain 06/03/94
Mrs. Lillie Barron McLartv 06/04/94
Mrs. Lucile Taylor Hofland 06/13/94
Mr. James Walter Robertson 06/16/94
Mrs. Inez Bonney Markette 06/19/94
Mrs. Helen Singleton Cooper 06/24/94
Mrs. Margaret Bynum Parks 06/25/94
Mr. Andrew Thomas Betts 06/27/94
Mr. Jerald C. Wright 06/30/94
Mrs. Lealon Holcomb Hunter 06/30/94
Mr. Paul Thomas Oliver 06/30/94
Mrs. Wanda F. Duncan 07/01/94
Mr. William Paul White 07/06/94
Mrs. Roxie Harris Hipp 07/06/94
When the Stars Are Gone
The stars shine over the mountains,
the stars shine over the sea,
The stars look up to the mighty’ God
the stars look down on me;
The stars shall last for a million years,
a million years and a day.
But God and I will live and love
when the stars have passed away.
—Robert Louis Stevenson
Here are some suggestions for coping with the death of a loved one, from experts Janet Bode and David Techner:
•Release your emotions physically, but safely—punch a pillow, dance, run, etc.
•Fill a shoebox of mementos of you and your friend to go through on "a lousy day."
•Write a letter to the person who died.
•Develop a daily routine. Look for things that will always be the same.
•Grief has its own schedule. If you can’t concentrate on something, think about the person for a set amount of time, then get back to what you were doing before.
Reprinted with permission from The Clarion Ledger