Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice . . . Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:4-7
I was having one of those days. You know the kind—when nothing seems to go right. I had not had a good night's sleep for weeks. Every muscle and bone in my body ached with fatigue. The children were crabby, whining and fussing and being as uncooperative as possible. The house looked as if a hurricane had swept through recently, but there was no time even to begin the monumental task of putting everything in order, let alone to get ready for the Thanksgiving holiday. Juggling the jobs of wife, mother, homemaker and copastor was just too much. By the time I got to my office at church, I was frazzled and depressed. The papers that sat in patient little piles across my desk only added to my feeling of being totally overwhelmed. Their accusing faces did nothing to alleviate my mood.
I at there, feeling sorry for myself and pondering what should do first. The best I could manage was to group and regroup all the pieces of paper and notes, hoping that by doing so my life could at least have the appearance of a little order. I told myself that I did not have time to begin a big project because I was scheduled to take communion to the homebound members of the church that day. I knew there would be little time for anything else, even though I had so much to do.
More than anything, I wanted to curl up in a quiet room and be alone. I wanted peace and quiet. I wanted to wallow in my bad mood. Yet I did not have the luxury of following my impulse to withdraw from all contact with the outside world. Homebound church members were counting on me. I did not believe I would be very good company, but dutifully, I set out. As I packed the communion kit, I breathed a deep prayer, "Dear God," I sighed, "I feel so lost and blue right now; help me to serve you and to forget my problems for a while."
The first house I came to sat at the end of a long, steep driveway. I had never been there before, but I knew that the Perrys had lived there sixty years. As I stepped through the back door, I saw right away that the house looked as if it had not been cleaned for at least half those years. The kitchen floor was so worn down the linoleum was nearly gone. The walls were cracked and peeling and smudged with dirt that had long ago become a permanent part of the decor. The air was so stuffy that it took all my willpower not to choke as I tried to breathe. But above the smells of poverty rose a more pleasing aroma. A pot of fresh, homemade soup sat bubbling and simmering on one of the burners of the run-down stove.
Love Shines Through
Lucas Perry greeted me with a smile so cheerful and gracious it was like a ray of sunlight in the grey dimness of the kitchen. Following him into the living room, with its worn carpet and saggy furniture, I greeted his wife, Emma, who sat peacefully in a wheelchair. Despite the decrepit state of the room, two things immediately caught my eye. One was the crackling fire in the fireplace, giving the room a comforting warmth as only a hearth can do. The other was the pure love and devotion on Lucas's face as he looked at his wife. It warmed my soul with the divine warmth that only such love can bring.
The three of us sat together, talking and laughing. I listened to Lucas and Emma reminisce about their youth, how they had met, the children they had raised. It was obvious as the minutes passed that despite their poor living conditions, despite the fact that Emma was rapidly becoming more and more unable to do anything, despite the effort it took for her husband to care for her, these were people who were thankful. They were thankful to still be in their home. They were thankful that with the help of visiting nurses and family he could still care for her. They were thankful for the soup that would be their meal for the day. And as we took communion together, they were thankful for the tiny, broken wafers of bread and the thimbles of grape juice that represented the body of Christ. We joined hands and prayed, giving thanks to God for the holy meal we had shared, giving thanks to God for the blessings in our lives, giving thanks to God for the presence of Christ in that home and in our hearts.
As I stood to leave, Lucas's eyes filled with tears. These were difficult days for him, and he knew that soon the time would come when he would no longer be able to care for his beloved Emma at home. Still, he was grateful for their earlier years and for the time they were sharing then. He thanked me for coming, and I felt his gratitude was so deep and so sincere I knew my visit had meant more to him than just a friendly call. The short time I spent there had let the Perrys know the church had not forgotten them. Lucas thanked me, but I should have thanked him. As I left the house, I did not notice what was wrong with it as much as I noticed what was right. It no longer looked as depressing as it had when I first arrived, for the glow of God's love shone with a holy Light from within.
Attitude Is All
By the time I arrived home that evening, after a number of other visits—each as meaningful as the first—the sky was dark, the air chill. Soft snowflakes fluttered in the black sky, dancing like fireflies in the brightness of the streetlights. I clumped up the back steps to my home, opened the kitchen door, and stepped into the warmth and brightness of the house that had caused me so much distress earlier that day. The children greeted me with squeals of delight, oblivious to the turmoil and bad tempers of the morning. I bent down and felt the delightful softness of their cheeks pressed against mine as they threw their welcoming arms around my neck. The house was still a mess. My Thanksgiving turkey was still unstuffed. The neatly arranged piles on my desk at the church were still awaiting my attention. I had not yet spent the time alone I had so craved hours before. Yet instead of curses, all that had so distressed me earlier seemed to become blessings. I thanked God with a heart that had been renewed that day.
I learned something on that bleak, winter day. I learned to rejoice in the Lord. I learned to offer prayers to God with a thankful heart, not a grudging one. I discovered that God's peace comes when we most need it and least expect it. I learned that instead of griping about my problems I should thank God for them, for my problems were actually blessings. I learned that God is present in poverty and suffering and that sometimes the people with the least in life are the most apt to give thanks to God for what they have. Most of all, I saw once again how God's love for us in Jesus Christ has the power to turn even the darkest days into sunlight.