Ted Richardson is a ninety-three-year-old veteran. He and Florence met as teens, then he left to serve as a Marine in World War II. But he took her picture with him everywhere he went.
They got married after the war. Ted says Florence always took care of him–for seventy-two years. So, now it’s his turn to take care of her.
Ted visits his wife’s grave six days a week, without fail, taking three buses to get there. He cares for it meticulously, trimming weeds and brushing away leaves. He has already arranged for his church to bring flowers to Florence’s grave after he dies.
He has already visited over 1,300 times. He says it’s worth it to be close to the love of his life.
Adversity is opportunity
As you look back over 2018, what events come to mind?
If you’re like most of us, your challenges and problems loom large. If someone you loved passed away, their death marked your life.
History feels the same way. When we think of David, Goliath is followed immediately by Bathsheba. Our first thought about Abraham Lincoln or John F. Kennedy is usually their assassination.
But we don’t have to let our losses define us. Like Ted Richardson, we can choose to honor the past by the way we live in the present. And we can view adversity as the opportunity it is.
In Zechariah 13, the Lord foretells of a day when “one third” of the people will survive the judgment to come (v. 8). Then “I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested” (v. 9a).
With this result: “They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God'” (v. 9b).
Three ways to redeem our challenges
Gold and silver must be refined to be useful to the craftsman who employs them. Water must be purified to be healthy for those who drink it.
We should view adversity as opportunity, for three reasons.
One: Adversity helps us evaluate the health of our souls.
Charles Spurgeon, commenting on the fact that reeds depend upon water for survival (Job 8:11), asked himself: “Do I only serve God when I am in good company, or when religion is profitable and respectable? Do I love the Lord only when temporal comforts are received from His hands?”
He then observed that “a godly man often grows best when his worldly circumstances decay.”
In fact, this is an excellent way to know that a person is godly. As C. S. Lewis noted, turning on the light doesn’t create rats in the cellar–it merely reveals them.
When we respond to adversity by turning away from God, we discover that we sought his blessings more than his presence. But when we trust him in hard times, we discover that our faith is deeper than our circumstances.
Two: Adversity provides a platform for persuasive influence.
The Christians whose faith has most impressed me are those who have suffered the most while remaining faithful. We think of Joseph in prison, Daniel in the lion’s den, and John imprisoned on Patmos. I am remembering parents who lost children, patients who endured horrific physical pain, and spouses who walked loved ones to the gates of paradise.
A skeptical culture watches Christians suffer to see if we believe what we say. Hard times can be powerful times for the gospel.
Three: Adversity invites us to recalibrate our life purpose.
Robert McFarlane was Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor, a twenty-year veteran of the Marine Corps, and the architect of the Iran-Contra plan. When his plan failed, McFarlane resigned his position and later attempted suicide.
I heard him speak several years ago at the National Prayer Breakfast. He described the incredible power he had achieved, the ladder to success he had climbed. But then Bud McFarlane told us with tears in his eyes that it was nothing. He got to the top, and there was nothing there.
Only after he fell off that ladder did he discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall–that life really consists of loving God and loving people. Nothing else.
“The whole of humanity needs you”
One prediction for 2019 I can make with certainty is that, as Jesus noted, “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). But every time adversity finds us, we can view it as an opportunity to evaluate ourselves spiritually, impact others with our faith, and refocus our lives.
And we can know that God will use us in spite of–and often because of–our challenges and failures.
If you wonder across the coming year if your flawed life can make a difference, remember this reflection by Catholic theologian Michel Quoist:
If each note of music were to say: one note does not make a symphony, there would be no symphony.
If each word were to say: one word does not make a book, there would be no book.
If each brick were to say: one brick does not make a wall, there would be no house.
If each drop of water were to say: one drop does not make an ocean, there would be no ocean.
If each seed were to say: one grain does not make a field of corn, there would be no harvest.
If each one of us were to say: one act of love cannot save mankind, there would never be justice and peace on earth. . . .
The whole of humanity needs you as and where you are.