How can we find benefit in times of affliction, frailty and illness? For one, the Lord can use such times to “teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12). There is the means—affliction, but note also the purpose—to apply our hearts unto wisdom, and also the method—teaching us to number our days. When we are well and prospering, it is so easy to rely upon our own efforts and to forget God. But He would have us to redeem the time, for the days are evil. (Eph. 5:16). Our Lord would have us to remember Him daily—constantly—to live our lives resting upon Him for all that we are and have.
The following material comes from THE NEW YORK OBSERVER, a 19th-century Presbyterian newspaper. The PCA Historical Center has a modest collection of these newspapers, and these two articles recently caught my eye.
“Words of a Childless Widow on the Benefit of Affliction.”
[excerpted from The New York Observer, 18.38 (19 September 1840), p. 1, columns 4-5.]
My husband died, and then disease seized on my children, and they were taken one by one. In the course of a few years, I had lain those in whom my heart was bound up, in the grave. Oh! They were many, many bitter tears that I shed. The world was dark. The very voice of consolation was a pain. I could sit by the side of my friend, but could not hear him speak of my departed ones. My affliction was too deep to be shared. It seemed as if God himself had deserted me. I was alone. The places at the table and the fireside remained—but they who filled them were gone. Oh the loneliness, as it had been a tome, of my chamber. How blessed was sleep! For then the dead lived again. They were all around me. My youngest child and last, sat on my knee—she leaped up in my arms, she uttered my name with infant joyousness; and that sweet tone was as if an angel had spoken to my sad soul. But the dream vanished, and the dreary morning broke, and I waked and prayed—and I sought forgiveness even while I uttered it for my unholy prayer—prayed that God would let me lie down in the grave side by side with my children and husband.
But better thoughts came. In my grief I remembered that though my loved ones were separated from me, the same Father—the same Infinite Love, watched over them as when they were by my fireside. We were divided, but only for a season. And by degrees my grief grew calmer. But since then, my thoughts have been more in that world, where they have gone, than in this. I do not remember less, but I look forward and upward more. I learned the worth of prayer and reliance. Would that I could express to every mourner how the sting is taken away from the grief of one, who with a true and full heart puts her trust in God. I can never again go into the gay world. The pleasures of this world are no longer pleasures to me. But I have trust and hope and confidence. I know that my Redeemer liveth. I know that God ever watches over his children. And in my desolation, this faith of the heart has long enabled me to feel a different kind of pleasure indeed, but a far deeper, though more sober joy, than the pleasures of this world ever gave me even when youth, and health, and friends all conspired to give them their keenest relish.
‘You have learned in your own heart,’ I said, ‘that all trials are not evils.’
It was with eyes up-turned to heaven, and gushing over with tears, not tears of sorrow, but gratitude, and with a radiant countenance, that she answered, in a tone so mild, so rapt, as if her heart were speaking to her God,—‘It has been good for me that I have been afflicted.’