“‘With God’ – these are the wonderful words, this is the wonderful fact that changes earth’s sordid surroundings into the heavenly places where we are seated with Him.” The Letter “M”
I approached my friend’s home with fear and trembling. It was my turn to provide the evening meal after her return home from rehab. She had recovered fully from a previous stroke – been reinstated at work – only to suffer an even more debilitating combination of stroke and heart attack. She was back home only to start all over again.
I was welcomed with a warm smile, urged to sit down – “the food can wait”- and we spent a joy-filled hour catching up with the activities of our adult children and the various events of our lives. Before leaving I had to ask: “I’d been told that you would minister to me. Tell me, what is the secret of your contentment?”
Her answer was not glib. She told of her despair upon her first stroke: worry over income ( How would she pay the bills?); fears for the future (Would she recover? Would she get her job back?). She entertained self-pitying thoughts, “Why me? Why this?” Reluctantly she began the long road of rehabilitation: daily physical therapy; regular counseling sessions. The first week in group therapy the counselor put the facts bluntly: life had dealt them a severe blow, the road to recovery was long and painful. The prognosis uncertain. He drew a large rectangle on a white board. “This was before.” Then he drew a smaller rectangle within the larger. Your world has become more limited. You may never be able to do some of the things you did before. It may be harder to do other things. But you have a choice. Regardless the size of the perimeter of your box, you can choose to live fully, to the very edge of those limits. And, in that choice, you are like every other person.
Barb made a sweeping gesture indicating the boundaries of her small living room. “I have everything I need. Shelter, food, friends.” She pointed to framed pictures on shelves, “Family – children, grandchildren.” Then she crossed her hands over her heart, “And, I have God. With Him I am never alone.”
I left her that day, blessed and challenged. I reflected on areas of discontent in my life – so insignificant compared to what my friend was experiencing. I asked myself, what are the contentment chasers in my life? What are the disturbers of the peace – my peace? Usually it is the result of factors so subtle as for me to be unaware, at the time, of their effect on my inner well-being. Expectations, perhaps, foiled or dashed. Comparisons, maybe, not having as much or doing as well as someone else. Disappointments, things didn’t turn out as I hoped or expected. Setbacks sometimes entirely out of my control, sometimes of my own making. The list could go on and on, I suppose, fueled by the unpredictable circumstances of a given day.
I look at the richness within the perimeters of my life. My given. I consider all the possibilities of life and work and love therein. I know that it is, by the grace of God, what it is today; and I know that there are no guarantees that it will remain the same. (Truth is, the longer one lives, the more certain the possibility of limitations.) But regardless of the size of the box I call my life, one thing is certain: it is and can always be “with God.”
During Lilias’s years in North Africa, as a growing number of workers united in her vision, she developed an in-house magazine “El Couffa” – Arabic for an open basket – in which were gathered bits of information and inspiration, news local and international to circulate amongst the stations and outposts. It featured an editorial column, The Letter “M”, with pithy advice to missionaries. (See Home Page: The Unpublished Works of Lilias) In Chapter V, “Missionaries and Their Miseries,” she asked the question: “What are our miseries? Shall we make a list of them and what shall we write opposite to them? Shall it be ‘this is very hard’ or shall it be ‘with God’?”
She concludes with this story. “A friend told of me that she knew an old charwoman who lived in a little garret in great poverty. One day speaking of returning to her room after a day’s work, she said, ‘And as I open the door I find the dear Lord waiting there for me, and I say to myself, ‘can Heaven be better!'”
What are my miseries? What shall I write opposite them? Shall it be “this is very hard” or shall it be “with God”?
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:12,13, 19)
Upper painting: pocket sketchbook, Algeria, 1888