By Steven Wyatt
I am writing these words three days after packing up the house my wife and I had made our home. Cindy passed away in early 2010 after a courageous but also very expensive battle with metastatic breast cancer. Compounding our already difficult economic woes was the fact that the beautiful, master-planned community where we lived had become the vanguard for everything that’s wrong with our economy—and the poster child for the housing debacle. Mix those realities in with the fact that I no longer benefitted from Cindy’s income and, well, I wasn’t able to keep my home—the home Cindy and I purchased together, the home that doubled as an office during the first years of the church we launched together in 2005, and the place where we found refuge and mutual comfort during her battle.
It was also the home where we welcomed our first grandchildren by decorating a room just for them— and the site of countless family “seafood grill nights” and pancake smorgasbords on our patio. It was where I wrote my best books and where Cindy taught Elton John wannabes how to play piano.
I had no recourse but to pack up and leave that home.
After everything was distributed, I asked everyone to leave so I could say my private good-bye. As I looked around, I realized that our now empty home had suddenly become just another house. Strangled with panic, I wept. But most of all, I felt very afraid.
What was I afraid of? After my extended crying session, I texted my adult children in a frail attempt at explaining myself:
I’m sitting on the kitchen bar about to leave for the last time. My heart is flooded by so many wonderful memories as well as devastating battles lost. I am so afraid as I sit here all alone. Afraid that I will forget even one morsel of the joy and love and faith and hope Cindy showered on me. I have found reasons to live on, and today I must move on, but I leave forever changed by an amazing woman I had the privilege of calling ‘my bride.’
I tell you that story because it helps me identify with a woman whose story I have come to love. We don’t know her name, but we do know:
She was a widow, having lost her beloved mate.
She experienced economic adversity and when we first meet her, she is gathering sticks to build a fire so she can bake her son’s final meal. She’s got just enough oil and flour left to bake one last loaf so that “we may eat it—and die” (1 Kings 17:12). Talk about afraid! She had no money, no food, and was flat out of hope.
So when a stranger showed up and asked her to help him, she lashed out.
Don’t Be Afraid
Thankfully, the stranger turned out to be a prophet. God had sent the prophet to help her. He knew she had no resources—no money in the bank, no food in the pantry, and no extended family to turn to.
And when she blurted out her desperate plan for one last meal, Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid” (v. 13). And then he said this:
Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for you and your son. For this is what the LORD . . . says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land’ (v. 13).
Ever wonder how Bible characters could so readily obey such bizarre commands? I don’t. I’ve learned the hard way that if you’re desperate enough, and your wallet is empty enough, you’ll listen to just about anybody if it means keeping your family fed. And when that voice comes from God, you do it. Whatever it is.
That’s why “she went away and did as Elijah told her”(v. 15).
As a result, God made sure the jar always contained flour and the jug of oil never ran dry. And not just for two days or even two weeks—we’re talking two years!
Give Me Your Son
But then, her son got sick. And like Cindy, he never got better. Instead, “he grew worse . . . till finally . . . [he] stopped breathing.”
And that’s when Mom lost it! She scooped her son’s dead body into her arms and then asked a question everyone asks in the face of unspeakable loss. She asked Elijah, “What do you have against me?” (v. 18).
She addressed this question to Elijah, but she really asked it of Elijah’s God. That’s what you do when your heart is broken. You can’t imagine any rhyme or reason to such devastating loss. You’re angry and disillusioned. You may question God’s wisdom, doubt his love, and even deny his goodness.
But it’s more than anger. She wonders, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin?” (v. 18).
Not long after Cindy’s brain seizure, she walked into the study I kept in our home and asked a similar question: “Honey, is God punishing me by giving me cancer?”
That must have been what was tracking through this woman’s mind. Faithfully nursing her son at his bedside and consoling him—even as she tried to find some explanation for their misfortune.
Elijah did not rebuke her or correct her. He didn’t quote Bible verses. He just said, “Give me your son” (v. 19).
Time for Acceptance
You may need to hear the same phrases, even as I needed to hear them in the backwash of my heartache.
“Don’t be afraid.” I’m sure Elijah said it tenderly and without condemnation. “I know you’re overwhelmed, so here’s what I want you to do: Stop focusing on what you don’t have and focus on the oil and flour you do have!”
The key to surviving suffering is acceptance. Not somber resignation. Not whine-filled and endless rehearsals about all the garbage you’ve been forced (by God) to sift through. Acceptance is the only attitude that can sustain you through great loss. “Lord, if this is the song you’ve written for me, I will sing it—no matter how devastated I may feel in my loss.”
That’s what I did—once again—as I drove away from what was once our home. I decided I would not be a victim, but a victor. I refused to stay stuck in the muck of my terrified and broken heart. I chose not to be afraid.
Elijah’s second statement is equally powerful: “Give me your son” (v. 19). Elijah was saying, “Just hand him over. I can help you, but only if you let me.” Trouble is, she couldn’t go there, so Elijah “took him from her” (v. 19). He gently gathered the boy into
his arms and prayed—again and again.
And lo and behold, the boy started breathing! Can you imagine the moment Elijah said to her, “Look, your son is alive!” (v. 23)?
I wish all stories ended that way, but they don’t. Mine certainly didn’t.
Sure, I’ve had my moments. Tiny cracks in an otherwise impenetrable wall of grief. Hairline fractures that let in just enough light so I can see my way through another
mortgage payment or that huge stack of medical bills.
Such moments didn’t happen daily, but they did happen. And sometimes, it felt like God was waiting till the last possible moment before coming through. But he always has come through!
That’s why relinquishment is essential during your suffering season. God will accomplish his purposes. And in those moments when he seems most absent, he is most present—right there with you in the middle of your circumstances, even though you may not yet have recognized him.
I wish I had a neat ending to my story, like the widow of Zarephath had in hers. But here’s what I can tell you.
God is writing a sequel. I can’t yet discern how the end of my story will read, but here’s the way my current chapter reads: God has compassionately sent me another amazing woman.
And perhaps, in some future chapter, he will also provide me with another house that she and I will eagerly transform into “our home.”
Steven Wyatt is a freelance writer and minister at Christ’s Church at The Crossroads in Anthem, Arizona.
Second Guessing God: Hanging on When You Can’t See His Plan
by Brian Jones
Where is God? Why does he allow terrible things to happen?
Brian Jones responds to these questions, helping those in the midst of life’s trials to find meaning and strength.
A separate seven-session study guide is also available for personal or small group study.
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