Grace Grows Best in Winter
I first wrote this piece five years ago during a time when life had thrown us a few curves. I offer it again here to those who may be going through a rough patch of their own.
Unless you have been walking about with eyes and ears closed all of your life, you are familiar with suffering. Of the 30 top stories on a major U.S. television network, the majority are stories of people facing war, disease, famine, displacement or natural disaster. This is the “stuff of life” in our broken world. But we are always shocked by it, particularly when suffering visits our neighborhood.
For the past year, my wife and I have been witness to our share of suffering. Lee’s mother was killed in a horrific car crash that not only took her life but the lives of twin 7-year-old boys. It took months for the boys’ parents to recover from their own injuries. And after such a loss, they may never quite find themselves whole again. My wife’s aunt, also in the crash, required weeks of rehabilitation so that she could walk again. Now, we visit the facility where she is happily living, but we see so many there whose lives have been limited to a room and a wheelchair. Some do not remember that they were once bankers or lawyers or artists. When they do remember, they wonder if they will ever awaken from the cruel dream they are living.
In recent days, I stood beside the bed of my 93-year-old great aunt. She has served God faithfully since she was a little girl. Now she awaits a diagnosis for an unexpected and extremely painful illness. Her greatest fear is that this infirmity will not be serious enough to take her life, and allow her to be with family and friends who have already been removed from their sufferings.
Then word comes from friends in Central Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa. And they tell of atrocities unimaginable to the western world. I am not surprised by the news, having lived in SE Asia in a country where repression is common. But I am growing weary of it.
So, it is no wonder that a few days ago I found myself thinking about the books that have been most helpful to me as I have faced struggles or have tried to help others who were.
One book that came to mind is one that few people today have read. It is Margaret Clarkson’s Grace Grows Best in Winter. If you have heard of the book, it may be because another, more popular author, Joni Erickson Tada, quotes her frequently. In the forward of the most recent edition of Clarkson’s book, Joni writes of her first experience with the book soon after the accident that led to her paralysis.
It was not long after I left the hospital in 1967 that I fell into a deep pit of depression. I was but a young girl, yet I was facing an overwhelming future – a life of total and severe paralysis. I was in desperate need for answers. A young friend who often came by my home for visits stopped by one day with a special book in hand. Together, we read that book through the weeks of winter. I eagerly looked forward to each chapter – discovering sense in sovereignty and delighting in a new grasp on God’s grace. May I be the friend who stops by in your life this day? You have in your hands that same special book that I read back in that first winter of my disability. Grace grew then for me. And through grace, you will grow too!
Here are a few excerpts from Clarkson’s writings to whet your appetite for the help she offers. They will also give you a sense of the theological perspective underlying the guidance she gives.
The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God.
On accepting adversity in our lives: Always it is initiated by an act of will on our part; we set ourselves to believe in the overruling goodness, providence, and sovereignty of God and refuse to turn aside no matter what may come, no matter how we may feel. I mistakenly thought I could not trust God unless I felt like trusting Him. Now I am learning that trusting God is first of all a matter of the will. I choose to trust in God, and my feelings eventually follow.
Pain is pain and sorrow is sorrow. It hurts. It limits. It impoverishes. It isolates. It restrains. It works devastation deep within the personality. It circumscribes in a thousand different ways. There is nothing good about it. But the gifts God can give with it are the richest the human spirit can know.
It is surprising to me that, in spite of the repeated words of Paul and Peter, and of our Lord himself, there is a theology in Christendom that denies that God allows suffering in the lives of His people. That denial is an abominable lie and misrepresents both the Scriptures, and our caring, sovereign God. So I commend Margaret Clarkson, her hymns, poems, and particularly her perspectives in Grace Grows Best In Winter. In a world so broken, this is a book to help guide us in our pilgrimage.
For a brief biographical sketch of Margaret Clarkson ~ [here].