Ian and Freda
“The paper is lying on the kitchen table,” Ian told his dear wife Freda. “Just jot down something that you’re thankful for as you pass by.” And so, they each began to compile a list.
Freda had struggled with cancer for 20 years. Slowly it was winning, and now it was invading the neural pathways in her brain. Ian and Freda were both Afrikaners living in South Africa and loved the Lord. They were walking this difficult season together. As Ian moved through his day, he often found opportunity to stop by the kitchen table and jot something down that he was thankful for. Not so easy for Freda. She tried and a few things made their way to the list, but it was hard.
David and I had the privilege of meeting Ian Murray recently and he shared this story with us. His Freda has been gone for 12 years now, but by God’s grace, he “landed on his feet.” He continues to serve the Lord and to find purpose in God’s sovereign plan for his life. We were amazed at his kind and gentle ways of trusting in our God. He reinforced in our minds the strength that comes from focusing on thinking thanks, even in your darkest times.
Living with Hope
Facing struggles almost always makes us initially doubt God’s love for us. That’s a big and persistent flaw in our thinking – when our circumstances turn dark, we think God’s attitude toward us is also dark. When our wind is contrary, God is angry with us. When I am hit with one setback after another, God is really irritated with me and feels it is payback time. And we believe the inverse as well – that when there is good health and wealth and smooth sailing, God really loves me. This is such a wrong view of God and of the usefulness of the circumstances He has chosen for us.
“We must see our circumstances through God’s love instead of, as we are prone to do, seeing God’s love through our circumstances.”Jerry Bridges, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts
We need to remember that God is committed to re-forming and con-forming us to the character of His Son. Romans 8:28-29 promises that all the things in our lives – the wonderful, average and horrific – work together for our good. That ‘good’ is our being made like Jesus … Jesus, who was loved by the Father using every superlative, but who went through suffering, loneliness, misunderstanding, hostility, injustice and a slow murder. Do you see the problem of connecting my circumstances with God’s emotions toward me? It robs me of the hope – the steady confidence I have in His love for me and commitment to my good.
God will accomplish His work in us and His mission through us until we finish the days He has numbered for us. He won’t miss one detail. Psalm 139:16 tells us that all of us have an allotted number of days to live. The tally of Freda’s days were determined before there was yet one of them. When we rest in the sovereignty of the Lord, we can look past the challenges that confront us presently. We can look to the Orchestrator of my circumstance for help and hope. He gives grace. A little at a time. We can make it holding tightly to Him because the Orchestrator is also the Sustainer.
What Happens When We Are Thinkful?
There is an interesting phenomena that happens when we choose to think thanks. The brain neural pathways we develop start searching for other similar things to travel those pathways. The mind begins to sluff off the discomforts and irritations we face, and although those hardships may still be very much present, the focus has been moved to find grateful things. Emotions may not applaud at first, but they are fickle and soon trail along.
Another thing that happens is that we become a testimony to others. Just like when David and I sat around Ian’s table and he shared with us about his wife and the journey they had together. David and I were edified by their example. We were strengthened to also follow in that kind of pattern. Struggles we will always have. The Lord Jesus promised us that. It is how we process the struggles and move through them that makes the difference.
It was the discipline of listing thanks in a trying time that was the key for Ian and Freda. Yes, it didn’t change that Freda passed on to glory, but it made a difference in how those preceding days were spent. Thankfulness brought them through the season of faith’s perfection as she swung out into eternity on the promises of God and faith fell away because it was replaced by sight.
What About You?
So if it was your story, how would you pass the time? Now Freda’s faith has been made perfect, but what about that season that we, on earth, are still going through as our faith is being perfected?