I do not remember exactly when it happened, but I will never forget the day my world was rocked to the core. My husband left the house as usual in the morning to catch the 8 o’clock train. The older children were at school, the baby was lying contentedly in her crib. I normally loved this time of day, but on that particular day, I didn’t have my usual energy to start my household tasks.
Perhaps it was because of the startling magazine cover I looked at. Pictured there was a child, dressed poorly in rags, holding out an empty bowl. Hopelessness was written in his large, dark eyes. I had often seen such pictures, and displeasure had always risen in me. “Why does such misery prevail in our prosperous world?” But then it wouldn’t take long before those thoughts dissipated again. Today, however, the headline of the publication would not loosen its grip on me: “What if this were your child?” Enough already!
Suddenly, my grandfather’s words came to mind: “Do you think people suffered so much because they were terrible sinners?” Thinking about those words, past years came to mind in which I was once again the rebellious orphan who defied everything that was happening around me. During my childhood, I had always resented my grandfather’s words. When I learned why I was living with my grandparents, I cried out, “Why did God let my father and mother die in a plane crash? Why couldn’t it have been someone else?”
When my friend was hit by a vehicle and hurled onto the street after chasing a ball, I asked, “Why did God let Monica get injured? It was the driver’s fault, after all, and nothing happened to him.”
When my grandmother died of cancer, I pounded on the table and said, “Why did Grandma have to die? Why couldn’t it have been old Mrs. B?” When I got married, I felt abandoned by my grandfather since he no longer looked after me. I felt that God had forgotten me, too. But deep inside my heart, I knew it wasn’t so. That child I was looking at on the magazine cover did not deserve his fate. The headline simply constricted my heart.
As I was working in the garden one autumn day, my neighbor called out to me, “Why don’t you come for coffee tomorrow? An old college friend is coming to visit, and I’d like you to meet her sometime.” This neighbor had been living next door with her husband for two months. Somehow she always reminded me of my devout grandfather, because they often talked about God. Because I was uncomfortable with that, I had always turned down her friendly invitations for a cup of coffee. But that day I couldn’t stand it in the house anymore, and I accepted the invitation.
The next afternoon, when I entered Karen’s house, her college friend was sitting on the terrace, facing me with a kind expression on her face. I wished that I could overlook her crutches and the fact that she sat in a wheelchair. As I listened to her story over coffee, I again became the child who rebelled against God for letting the innocent suffer.
“Even when we were still in school, Theo and I wanted to be missionaries. But then the war came, and he went overseas. But we had so much confidence in our future that we didn’t even think he might not come back. But then, just before the end of the war, he was shot down. My life…” she paused for a moment, “I think a part of me died. But my plan for the mission field was so firm that I still went to South America with my three-year-old son.”
She glanced at me and realized I was staring dubiously at her wheelchair. She answered my silent question. “We were in the deepest jungle when polio broke out. Fortunately, it hit me and not my little son. And so, we had to travel back home.”
“To be a missionary over here,” my neighbor interjected. – “You’re still a missionary?” I asked incredulously.
“I live in Florida because it’s the most manageable place for me to go out because of the mild climate. I visit hospitals but especially rehabilitation centers. After all, when a sprightly nurse tells a crippled person that they are not worthless and still have a job to fulfill, they usually don’t believe it. But when they see me, on the other hand, they think: Perhaps I could at least give it a try.”
I asked her, “Didn’t you hate God when all this was happening?” –“Hate the One who loves me?” she asked, shaking her head. “Of course, I asked ‘why?’ countless times. Among other things, I asked why He had led me away from a place where I was so needed. But I suppose I am needed here even more. In hospitals, there are very few missionaries to tell terminally ill people that God loves and knows them.” – “But isn’t it unfair of God to do this to you after doing so much for Him?”
Indignantly, the woman looked at me and then replied: “Why should I be free from my suffering? I wasn’t the only one who got polio. Besides, I didn’t work on the premise of, ‘God, I’m doing this for You now, so You must do this or that for me.’ Even though He knocked me down, I still want to trust Him.”
To that, I answered: “My grandfather also told me these ‘Job’s proverbs’ over and over again.” – “Exactly, but do you know why Job could say that?” I didn’t answer. To my chagrin, she said, “Because he saw how great God is. When you look at the One who has the world in His hands, everything else fades into the background. Then you don’t need an answer to ‘why?’”
“I can’t understand that,” I replied. – “Because you’ve never experienced it,” she returned. – “You just can’t say it’s not fair if you haven’t lived it yet.” – I gestured with my hand and said, “If all this had happened to me, I would have cried myself sick and been absolutely done for.” – She smiled. “Maybe cried, but certainly not ‘done for.’ And would it have helped you in any way and changed anything about the situation?” – “No, I don’t suppose so.” – “I know that I’m walking in God’s ways. That’s why this way is good for me.” Looking into her elated face, I could not argue against it.
I did not experience any transformation in my life on that day. But gradually, I began to see God from two sides – His omnipotence and His great love. And then I saw Him as an Absolute whose ways I did not understand, but whose love included me. My anxious fear for the well-being of my children and our own lives diminished, and deep peace settled into my heart as I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.
The child pictured on the cover of that magazine still haunts me. But I include this child in my prayer, that all who suffer terribly will find Him who says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).