By B.J. Funk
After I was grown and out on my own, my daddy suffered a stroke. His keen mind was taken. The left side of his body became useless. Until he died seven years later, he was dependent on someone to take care of all personal needs. I often drove the 50 mile trip to see him in the familiar home in which I used to live. But, I could not find familiar again. I could not find daddy again. I looked at the man who looked like him, but was not him. I left still looking for daddy.
Mother was a champion. Somewhere in the course of those long months, she moved from denial to acceptance. Sometimes she longed for just a few hours of what used to be normal. What is that quote many are saying? “Look for the new normal?” It never became new, and it never became normal.
If you’ve lived any amount of time on this earth, you too have struggled with learning how to live when sadness invades your life. There is a big hole in your heart where peace used to rest. You spend a long time in shock and denial, never finding the key that will unlock your prison of pain and lead you to a new victory. You read your Bible and hear Paul say in Philippians 4:11 “…for I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances,” and you fall apart thinking there is just no way you will ever feel as Paul did.
One morning a king went into his garden and found that everything was dying. He asked the oak, “What is the problem?” and the oak told him he wanted to die because he was not as tall and beautiful as the pine. The pine had given up because he could not bear grapes, like the vine. The vine was giving up because he could not stand erect and produce large fruit like the peach tree. The geranium fretted because it was not tall and fragrant like the lilac. The garden died because those living there could not be content with the life they had.
Unless we accept our circumstances, no matter how difficult, we will never live in peace. We will fret away our days, angry over the changes that have come to us. Paul’s words pull us into sharp reality as he continues his wisdom in Philippians: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
We would be much more at home with Paul’s words if he had written, “I can’t believe this! Here I am, working in the Lord’s army, and this is the thanks I get? Why me? How can I spread the gospel if I am in this smelly prison?” Yet, Paul’s words move past any hint of pity and focus on a life’s lesson. “Grumbling produces grumps. Contentment produces comfort. We are the only one who can decide if we smile or frown.”
Paul’s secret was that he drew on Christ’s power for every circumstance in his life. But, you say, Paul was a giant in the Christian faith; we cannot be like him! Actually, he was a sinner, plucked and saved out of his sinful life. After uniting with Christ and giving up his old life, he was forever humbled. He even says in I Timothy 15 that he had been the worst of sinners. In II Timothy 2, he tells us why he could endure the chains of prison: God’s Word has not changed. That was his secret. Paul was content because he believed God’s Word more than he believed the circumstances in his life, and he knew how to draw on that power.
Streams in the Desert gives us these words: “Through the leaves of every trial, there are chinks of light to shine through. Thorns do not prick you unless you lean against them. The words that hurt you, the letter which gave you pain, the cruel wound of your dearest friend, shortness of money—are all known to Him, who sympathizes as none else can and watches to see if, through it all, you will dare to trust Him wholly.”
I think back to those days before daddy died. The reality of daddy’s helplessness haunted me. Could I ever be content with him this way? Finally, I stopped leaning into the thorns of this situation. I accepted the truth. This is the way it would always be. And, in accepting the truth, I found my daddy again.