Last night Jim’s mom was thinking back through all the people in her life who had passed on — parents, husband, sister, cousins — and wondering why the Lord left her here. I tried to reassure her that if God had her here, He had a purpose for her. She grinned and said, “To be an example in suffering?” Then she reassured me that though she had had some tough spots in her life, she wasn’t really suffering, especially as compared to some others.
The conversation reminded me of an article years ago in Frontline magazine called “A Psalm for Old Age” by Esther Talbert. We knew the Talberts: we attended church with them for several years before we moved out of state. Esther’s mother-in-law, Jean, had been one of the sweetest, merriest hearts I had ever known. Then she got Alzheimer’s, and it was so sad to see her standing away from everyone looking confused and uncertain. She was one whose situation caused me to wonder why the Lord let some of His children go through such things instead of taking them on Home. Part of Esther’s article addresses that:
Verse 18 of Psalm 71 says, “Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not, until I have showed Thy strength unto this generation, and Thy power to every one that is to come.” As a nursing instructor cherished by her students (of whom I was one), Mom imparted to her young charges far more than nursing skills. To many she was a surrogate mother and spiritual counselor who showed the strength and sweetness, the love and faithfulness of the Lord. Now God is using her to show His strength and power—perfected through weakness—to my husband and me.
There is a reason God leaves the elderly and infirm among us, and it is often not for their benefit but for ours. If we are not too busy and self-absorbed, we may learn the qualities of Christ that we lack and that He desires to mold in us, the transformation of character He intends to accomplish in us, by confronting us with their presence and needs. By the time something like Alzheimer’s strikes, God is about done with His earthly work in someone like Mom. “Why, then, does He leave someone to linger like that?” we wonder. His earthly work in Mom is done, but much of His earthly work in us and others, through Mom, is just beginning. He strengthens us daily to love and care for her. In the gentle rebuke of His mercy, He is molding and changing us—revealing our selfishness, unfolding His fifth commandment in new ways. Only as I myself am moldable will God’s power, in my turn, shine through me to “this generation and . . . to every one that is to come.”
Romans 8:17-18 says, “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Some day that glory will outshine everything else, even the trials of this life that loomed so large at the time.