Suffering and the Healing of Our Spirits
My dad shared the following at Elli’s memorial service. I asked him for permission to share it here because I so appreciated what he had to say.
In the 9th chapter of John’s gospel, the apostle records the disciple’s question about a blind man’s blindness. Like many today, they assumed that bad things happened to people who had sinned against God as a kind of punishment. Jesus’ answer revealed the shallowness of this kind of thought and provided a positive outlook on all manner of suffering. He said, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” One of the great works God displayed through Elli was to use her in the lives of many to make them more like Christ.
God uses people like Elli to challenge our preconceptions and wrong ideas about God as well as to draw faith and obedience out of God’s people. Following Christ does not guarantee a life free from trouble. Her care givers had to come to grips with real suffering and helplessness. All of us had to learn to fight our natural selfishness. Literally everything had to be done for Elli, with almost no likelihood that it would ever be different. We had to learn patience in order to communicate with Elli. Because her responses to conversation are much slower than normal, we had to become good listeners.
Her parents sacrificed normal family vacations in favor of simpler plans that could include Elli. Resources that could have gone elsewhere were spent modifying cars and homes so Elli could get around more easily. We rejoiced over progress which in others might be thought small. Sometimes the reward we got was the way her beautiful brown eyes sparkled or by her gentle touch. Those who took the time serving Elli grew and learned to serve Christ by serving her.
Why has God so arranged things that we grow in Christ’s likeness through sorrow and suffering? Elli endured many surgeries to correct her improperly formed heart as well as to correct other problems that resulted from confinement in a wheel chair. The amount of planning that went into each of Elli’s operations was enormous. If all we ever saw was the blood and the cutting, the labored breathing and cries, no one would ever opt for such surgeries, much less put their beloved daughter through them. Yet, we do it because we trust the intentions and the skills of the physicians, and because without the operation, we, or our child, will die.
You see, we are very quick to treat the ailments of the body, but often oblivious to the more serious sicknesses of the spirit. The care and healing of a human soul is far more complicated than any physical surgery. Some of us do not even want to admit that we are sick and so do not come to Christ to be made well. Followers of Jesus Christ have had the first and greatest of the heart surgeries absolutely necessary to save our souls, and all of the pain of that was borne by the Physician Himself. But God in His wisdom has chosen other means throughout our lives to complete the work He began. It is through these often painful events that hard hearts become tender, and selfish men and women become Christ centered. Proud people learn humility by accepting God’s dealing with us, however pleasant or painful, as directed by a loving, wise and all powerful Creator. God matured Elli’s caregivers this way. What Elli learned and became through her life may not be fully known today. But we know from her responses to music, hymns, and the stories and prayers she heard from Joy and Scott, that she loved Christ as much as any 8 year old girl can.
Christians follow Christ because we have concluded that He is trustworthy. We follow Him because our God proved His love for us beyond all question by putting His Son to death in our place for our sins on a cross. Because He is beautiful and magnificent beyond description. Because He is wise beyond all imagination with His brilliance evidenced by the extraordinary design of this vast and beautiful universe. His splendor and majesty are only hinted at by the marvelous gifts of human love and creativity. And so we submit, sometimes with fear as we might to any serious operation, to these secondary surgeries so necessary to correct the twistedness of our persons. And we know, that one day, in God’s perfect time, we will find ourselves in a different sort of recovery room. For Elli, this happened last Sunday morning when she heard a gentle voice say, “It is time to wake up, Elli.” As she opened her eyes she saw the Jesus that her Mommy and Daddy had told her about. The Great Physician took her by the hand and Elli, who has always loved music, found her voice and sang her first song – a song of praise to her God.