Coming through the fire

Fred Smith relates a real life story of growth through suffering.

By Fred Smith

I thought I knew this man well, but as we ate he shared stories of deep betrayal in business. But he held the course. However, his perseverance in the face of serious business troubles was not his only accomplishment. For the first time he told me of his only child who was a breech-birth born with cerebral palsy. His son was permanently institutionalized in Pennsylvania. The child was eight years old before he could chew. My friend would chew his son's food and put it in the boy's mouth. The boy was ten before he could hold a pencil. But this Dad had infinite patience with him, teaching him scripture and respect for others, particularly those in authority. This was nearly shattered one night when the boy, lacking someone to carry him back to the institution, went up to a stranger's door. He began rattling the mail chute and the homeowners called the police who handcuffed the boy and put him in jail. Everyone failed to notice the big medical tag around his neck. The boy was devastated. My friend had every right to be infuriated but he was not. He wrote a letter to the police chief but didn't mail it before he ran it by one of his close friends - the Police Chief of a major metropolitan city. The chief said, "That's one of the best letters I ever read but the police will not answer it because they never admit they are wrong." However, he did get an answer. He moved quickly to set up a meeting with his son, the police chief, and the mayor, because he wanted to restore the respect for authority in his son's heart.

I asked him if he had always been so patient. "When I was twenty, I couldn't abide anybody who wasn't quick and brilliant, but God has sandpapered my rough edges." He has had enough troubles to purify him. Most of us have just enough troubles to irritate us. That morning I thought about how much I enjoy being with him. He has a certain saintliness about him. I have never known a saint whom I didn't enjoy nor a pharisee whom I did.

As we got up to leave, he said, "Let me give you one verse about suffering and perseverance: "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn thy statutes. Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I keep thy word." He now knows what the definition of true success is.

We can have hope when we know there is meaning in our troubles. Assuredly there is purpose in trials, and even discouraging days can be excellent teachers of spiritual lessons that we could learn no other way. Our constant prayer must be, "Father, what should I get out of this?" God evidently does not want his children comfortable and free from afflictions. We are to be conformable, not comfortable. We learn obedience through suffering. "Thou has enlarged me when I was in distress." The blessings of suffering and the rewards of perseverance are too good to miss.