Until very recently, I’ve been troubled by the idea of arbitrary suffering; not persecution, but the agony which falls upon many of us for no apparent reason. It was perhaps my greatest fear, that some day I’d be abandoned to suffer pointlessly and alone.
God’s promise to care for me (1Pe 5:7) wasn’t actually helping much; He does, in fact, let some of His children suffer unspeakable things for prolonged periods, not for any obvious wrong-doing, like Lazarus: immobile, full of sores, exposed, vulnerable and dependent, begging for scraps until his very last day. (Lk 16:19-21) This was a mystery and a worry, until I heard Maybel’s story.
Maybel, an elderly, ailing woman with no family or friends, suffered for over a quarter century, wasting away in a convalescent home. Blind, mostly deaf, ravaged by painful stomach and back issues, debilitating headaches, disfigured by facial cancer, constantly drooling, surrounded day and night with unbearable stench and shrieks of the insane, she spent her days strapped in a wheelchair – her only human contact from overworked nursing staff, who considered her the most daunting to care for of all their patients due to the horror of her appearance.
She was discovered quite accidentally by a seminary student back in the mid-70’s, as he offered her a flower and wished her a Happy Mother’s Day, not expecting much of a response. She held up the flower to smell it, thanked him for his kindness, and promptly asked if she could give it away to someone who could enjoy its beauty, since she was blind. He wheeled her over to another patient, and she offered it up saying, “Here, this is from Jesus.”
As he wheeled Maybel back to her room and learned more of her story, it became clear that this was no ordinary woman. Over the course of the next three years they become friends. He often read scripture to her, pausing to let her continue quoting from memory. They’d sing the old hymns; she knew them all by heart and would pause to explain how much a certain phrase or verse meant to her. He took notes from their conversations as she encouraged, challenged and comforted him, ministering to him and praying for him. She never complained, always cheerful, thoughtful, kind and joyful.
One Sunday afternoon during final exams, overwhelmed with distraction and worry, unable to keep his mind in focus, he wondered what Maybel thought about, lying in bed or strapped to her wheelchair, as the seconds ticked by, day after day, year after year … decade after decade. When he asked her she said, “I think about my Jesus. I think about how good he’s been to me. He’s been awfully good to me in my life, you know … I’m one of those kind who’s mostly satisfied … Lots of folks wouldn’t care much for what I think. Lots of folks would think I’m kind of old-fashioned. But I don’t care. I’d rather have Jesus. He’s all the world to me.” She then began to sing an old hymn …
Jesus is all the world to me,
My life, my joy, my all.
He is my strength from day to day,
Without him I would fall.
When I am sad, to him I go,
No other one can cheer me so.
When I am sad he makes me glad.
He’s my friend.
Mabel was an overcomer, remaining thankful, cheerful and joyful through the most unspeakable afflictions. God worked in the midst of what appeared to be arbitrary and pointless suffering to glorify Himself and His mighty power through the frailest and ugliest of us. Maybel was a broken woman in every earthly sense, but she was powerful (Ep 1:19-20), a Spartan on the spiritual battlefield until she went home to glory.
It turns out my greatest fear wasn’t being left alone, or suffering, in itself. I was afraid I’d never be able to glorify God in such a state. (1Pe 1:7) After hearing what God did in Maybel, I’m no longer afraid; she’s living proof that we can suffer with God, in God, and for God no matter what the trial. (Ro 8:35-37)
I will overcome, I already have, because greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world. (1Jn 4:4)