by Edith Hays Mulligan (my Great Grandmother)
We are all crushed in the winepress of a common grief,
squeezed by death one way or another,
yielding a drink sweet as wine
or bitter as vinegar,
a thank offering to God
or a sour sponge
to the parched lips of a crucified Christ.
The water of death, held in jars of cold stone,
can be changed by an uncommon grace
into living wine,
transformed by the Lord of the feast
who saves the best for last.
Let me start out by saying that I know others suffer much more deeply, much more poignantly than I. I am not claiming a corner on the market of suffering in any way. My hope though is that in my experience of suffering, though it pales in comparison to the woes of many others on the planet, I will be able to shine a light on the sufficiency of Christ in all sufferings, that I might be able to comfort someone with the comfort I myself have received.
Each night I pray that God will give me the grace to accept His will. Each night I ask Him to glorify Himself in my life and through my response to what He brings into and out of my life. Each night I continue to ask Him to heal my body of this ailment that has plagued me off and on since last August. And each night I receive His answer. Some nights are better than others which I am so very thankful for. And for now I still have a remedy that significantly reduces the worst effect of this ailment (which is extreme loss of sleep) even though I have still yet to be treated by a physician for the actual problem.
It is hard to wait. It really is. Sometimes I can go weeks and weeks without feeling down about God’s apparent silence in response to my earnest pleas. Other times I cry. God is continuing to teach me about His unfailing love and faithfulness even in what I could be tempted to construe as His abandonment of me and my felt needs. What He struck me with the other night is this; though I sometimes feel as if He has forsaken me, though it feels like I am alone in this and that I am actually crying out to a brick wall for healing, though sometimes it feels like He is not there or does not care — He cares, He is there, He is a person and He has not forsaken me. Feelings can be so dangerous and detrimental to faith if they are not filtered through the lens of truth.
Recently when I was struggling with the feeling of having been abandoned or left out in the cold when night after night I pour out my trust in God’s sovereign plan, I was confronted with this; No matter what it feels like, I have not been left. I have never ever experienced even a taste of what it really feels like to have been forsaken by my Father in Heaven. How do I know that when it seems that silence is His only answer? Because He was forsaken.
About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And He has given me His promise, as one who has been profoundly forsaken and knows the emptiness and grief to a degree that I, as a human who never truly experienced perfect unity with the Father due to my sinfulness could never possibly fathom. He cried out in agony and shame, in absolute desolation, that He had been forsaken by His father. How could I doubt the promise of the eternal one who had experienced profound abandonment that left him to the grave and the full weight of God’s holy wrath? When He says,
“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
dare I doubt him? Dare I imagine that my feelings of sorrow can match that of his? He is merely showing me that it is in suffering that we learn obedience. And in so doing He is not teaching us anything that He Himself did not have to endure.
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…”
Christ learned obedience through suffering. When a person presses grapes with his feet, his feet are covered in the juice of the grapes. The grapes, at first glance, by a person of little understanding, might be considered to be ruined, but in reality they are being made into something much more rich, flavorful, deep and long lasting — wine. The Father presses us as grapes and what should happen but that what is squeezed out clings onto Him and stains Him. May our stains that put Him to death be seen as marks of how we have clung to Him. Yes, He was bruised and He was crushed and He bears the marks. And we, because we are His, will have troubles in this world. Like Job He answers us with His glory in the storm more often than in peaceful walks in gardens. May we see, that though He presses us, as we cling to His feet like stains He is making us into something so much more robust and full-bodied and lasting than grapes, which if left intact, would simply wither and dry up and die… or at best become shriveled raisins. But He is making us into wine and He is doing it through a kind of crushing. And like a grape underfoot, we are not alone. We are in it with other grapes, who are likewise being crushed and made into something more beautiful. And how can we say no to being pressed by the one who indeed was crushed unto death for us?
Even as I am learning to exalt in this crushing, I am still clinging to His promises that let me know He is not out to do me in.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.
So when it seems that God is silent, when it seems that He is not answering me, when it seems that He has left me, when I feel like He is just maybe trying to kill me, when I feel like He is not answering my most heartfelt prayers — I remember this — He is answering my greatest longing, that He might make Himself more glorious in me and therefore change me from glory to glory, that He might show me Himself that I might worship Him more rightly, and that He might make me more like Him who was exalted in His humility. I can’t pray those things and expect it to come in a prettier package than that of suffering because that is the beautiful hideous package by which our salvation was purchased.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”