A story from the past came to mind this morning while Uni and I were discussing some Scripture passages related to suffering and while we were praying for some friends who are undergoing cancer treatment. The incident occurred while I was serving as a volunteer chaplain in the hospital in a small city in central Texas about 25 or so years ago. (See: MY FRIEND.) Please pardon me if some of the details are less than clear and accurate.
As I entered a floor I would first stop at the nurses’ station to inquire as to where my services were most needed. On this day I was told that I definitely needed to visit a lady in the room right across the hall from the station. (I can’t remember her name or the room number.)
“What’s her problem?” I inquired.
“Just go in and see her,” the head nurse replied. The other nurses nodded in agreement, with solemn expressions on their faces.
So I walked into the room, where an elderly lady lay flat on her back in her bed. As I recall, she seemed to be of great age and her body was thin and immobile. I did not know what her affliction was.
“Hello,” I said. “My name is Bill Ball. I’m the hospital chaplain. Is there anything I can do for you?” As she didn’t answer immediately, I asked if she had any need that I could pray for.
She slowly and with what appeared to be great pain, turned her head slightly toward me. And she smiled – a great, genuine, pleasant smile. She spoke slowly and carefully in her weak creaky voice.
“God is so good to me!” were the first words out of her mouth. “The people here have been so kind; the doctors and the nurses have been just so helpful and kind. They’ve treated me so well. It’s so pleasant here.” She continued relating the pleasantness of her stay in the hospital and of the goodness of God. She told how God had been with her for most of her many years and how He had never failed her. I stayed in the room for quite a while, though I never did ascertain what her affliction was. I prayed with her and thanked the Father for allowing me to have this wonderful lady enter into my life.
As I walked out of the room, tears trickling down my cheeks, I glanced over at the nurses’ station where I saw the nurses watching with big grins on their faces. Some were even snickering.
“Y’all set me up, didn’t you?” I asked. “You knew that was going to happen. “ They just looked back at me with a feigned ignorance.
“Thanks!” I said. “I needed that.” (I really did.)
I’ve dealt with many suffering people - people who’ve felt pain and pains of many kinds. I’ve seen all sorts of different reactions, but none as beautiful as that of this dear saint. Many have questioned the goodness of a God who would allow suffering. I haven’t always had a pat answer. I’ve not suffered much. It seems that we expect God to protect us from any kind of pain. And when it comes we ask why.
But this sweet lady not only accepted her suffering without questions, she actually seemed to delight in it. Not in the suffering itself, but in all that she had gained while suffering.
The passage I had been reading that brought this story to mind was Philippians 1:29, where Paul tells his readers, “ … to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for Him.” The Greek word translated “granted” is CHARITOO, which is related to CHARIS, “grace.”
That brought to mind a passage in 1 Peter, where Peter speaks to servants about submission to their masters, both the good and the bad. What he counsels them seems quite strange to us: “For this is grace (CHARIS) if for the sake of conscience toward God, one bears grief, though suffering unjustly. For what credit is it you endure when you sin and are beaten? But if you endure when you do good and suffer, this is grace in the presence of God!” (1 Peter 2:19, 20)
When we think of God’s grace, we usually think of His saving us through the death of His Son, or of His day-to-day grace as seen in all the good things that happen to us. But both Paul and Peter agree that God’s grace is also seen in the suffering He allows (or brings?) in our lives.
The lady whose name I can’t remember was an example and a demonstration of God’s grace. I believe that that day she taught me – and a few nurses – a bit more about what grace really is.