It was a beautiful Sunday morning. It seemed even more beautiful as I was about to deliver a sermon. While I am not a Pastor, I do fill in occasionally. This time, our Pastor was on a mission trip. Nothing gives me more joy than to share God’s Word with my friends in Christ. I was prepared. I was excited. I was happy. As I started down the steps from my porch, I slipped and went crashing down to a bed of gravel at the bottom.
As I laid there, I became painfully aware that my leg was broken. I calmly told my wife, who was behind me, to call 911 and then go to church and tell them what had happened. In a split-second, my great joy turned to great physical pain together with spiritual pain and confusion. As would soon be confirmed, my leg really was seriously broken. The outstanding surgeon and medical team had me in surgery a mere three hours after the accident.
As I waited for surgery, I fell in and out of consciousness. I journeyed through many thoughts and emotions. Some were rational, most were not. I believed I had let my congregation down. I let my Pastor down. Most of all I felt I had let God down. I cried out repeatedly, “forgive me, my Lord!”
Following surgery and time in recovery, I was taken to a private room where I laid alone with God. That night and for the next few days in the hospital followed by a few weeks in a nursing home, I prayed without ceasing as we are told in Thessalonians 5.
My journey of faith and the rebuilding of my spirit while suffering evolved slowly over those next few weeks. In the very early days, immediately following my fall and surgery, I felt angry and I directed my wrath toward God. I repeatedly cried out, “Oh God, why did you do this to me.” Intellectually, I knew that God never works that way. He didn’t cause my fall and my suffering. Over time, my pleadings evolved to “Oh God, why did you allow this to happen.” That question too was wrong. Sadly, my pleadings were still inwardly directed and self-centered. They were still selfish. They were still all about me and not about the glory of God.
My recovery continued and my prayers became better thought out and certainly more rational. I prayed, “Father God, I don’t always understand the meaning of Your ways, but I trust you. I trust in Your goodness and I pray that Your will, not my will, be done.” I repeatedly added, “Father God, if it is Your will, please turn my suffering into joy and make it something good for me and for others. Turn my sorrow into joy; my weakness into strength, my pain into both compassion and comfort so that I may glorify Your name and do what You would have me to do.” And, Lord, please forgive me for my diminished faith, my inwardly directed prayers and my misguided, despicable and irrational attempts to blame you for my accident and suffering.
Over time, I came to understand that God had a bigger plan for both this experience and for my life. I had no idea what that plan was but I had faith that He would reveal it to me in due time. I knew I must listen carefully for God’s still small voice and that I must be prayerfully alert and ready. I prayed earnestly, listened intently and I did hear from God.
God’s Plan Revealed
Shortly after being moved from the hospital to a nursing home (rehabilitation facility), a dear friend and Elder from the church, came to visit. I repeated to him how troubled I was that I had let so many people down. Surprisingly, he told me I had not let the congregation down. The Holy Spirit worked with the congregation to put together a meaningful and truly inspirational worship service. Several people spoke during the service, the audio-visual team selected a video to share and the Praise Team sang. Several people prayed, including a young man who had never prayed publicly before. He chose that time to start. Was spiritual growth for the congregation a part of God’s bigger plan? I think so. I pray so.
I have been studying discernment for a long time. We are told that discernment is not a step by step process but instead a regular discipline of listening for the still small voice of God beneath the rush of the whirlwind of daily living. Indeed, the journey of discernment begins the moment we begin to seek God.
I have watched and listened intently for God and began studying “spiritual discernment.” While I was hospitalized, I read two books on the subject. One was “Discernment” by Father Henri Nouwen. The other was “How to Listen to God” by Dr. Charles Stanley. I very highly recommend both to all my friends in Christ.
I began to accept that God is always around us. I began to find God in everything. In His Word, in books, in other people, in Nature, in Community (the church) and elsewhere. I became aware that sometimes God speaks through other people; both great and small. I began to find God in the people I met and sometimes in the most unlikely places.
One morning at the nursing home, “Michelle” came to my room. She introduced herself as a social worker. I had not met her before nor have I seen her since. I never even learned her last name.
She opened the conversation by saying “I understand you’re a Pastor.” She had heard the story about me intending to deliver a sermon when I was injured. I clarified that I was not a Pastor but I was deeply spiritual. She replied, “regardless, your reputation precedes you.” She then told me to take my bible, get in my wheel chair and roll myself down to the residents’ lobby and pray with them. “They need you,” she added.
Despite being a little confused by what seemed like a slightly terse message, I did as she suggested. Without inviting them, several residents congregated with me. I began to pray for them. I noticed one particularly elderly and frail lady who sat with her head resting on the table. I suspect she may have been more than 100 years of age. I grew concerned about her and moved toward her. As I did, a nurse assured me she was alright. When we were finished, I sat with her. Not knowing what to do or say, I took her hand and quietly began reciting the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want …” She raised her head and offered a gentle but weak smile.
I noticed another lady and my tears began to flow. My suffering with a broken leg suddenly paled in comparison. She had no legs.
Did God speak to me through Michelle? I think so. I pray so. I truly believe that God spoke to me through her and through the residents.
As I prayed throughout my hospitalization and nursing home stay, I felt my spiritual enthusiasm come back and begin to soar. Did God speak to me through my pain and through my fellow residents that day? He did.
Does God Cause Tragedies or Suffering?
The answer is a resounding no. God is good. He will not cause evil nor will he do evil. But God can use our dark, stressful or painful times for good. He will use them to teach us to trust him; to help us grow our faith, to show us how to help others, to draw us closer to him and to draw us closer to other believers. Did God speak to me through my suffering? I know He did. He showed me how my suffering was actually comparatively minor yet He turned that suffering into great joy. God is good. Thank You my Lord.