In my grandparents’ house, my grandmother, Ruth Graham, had a little room where she would pore through the Bible. A student of God’s Word, she had multiple translations laid out across a desk, opened to the same passage, with notes and observations scribbled in wide margins.
Above the desk hung a solitary woven crown of Jerusalem thorns, much like the one forced onto the bleeding scalp of Jesus during His crucifixion. It was a constant reminder to my grandmother of the price paid for her sins and salvation.
Near the end of her life, as her body was deteriorating and she was overwhelmed with pain, she spent most of her time in a bed in that very room. Once, as I sat with her, she winced in agony, but didn’t say a word. As the hurt subsided, she acknowledged the crown of thorns and said, “If my Savior could endure so much for me, I have nothing to complain about.”
She was called home into eternity on June 14, 2007, free of pain and in the presence of Jesus.
As I write this, our world is being pulled downward in the suffocating quicksand of fear and panic. Some are afraid for their lives or the lives of their loved ones. Many are worried about their financial situations, both immediate and long-term. Others are concerned about the risk of societal breakdown and political upheaval.
As the comforts we’ve known are yanked from our grasp, I believe there are three things we could learn from my grandmother and how she approached her mortally difficult and painful journey home.
First, spend time in the Word. A large part of what gave my grandmother the strength to face the valley of suffering was her reliance on Scripture. Because she had committed so much time to studying it, the promises of God were hidden in her heart (Psalm 119:11). They were right there with her during her darkest and hardest days.
You see, the Bible is a living book. It holds boundless wisdom, guidance and encouragement. In a badly broken world, the Bible anchors us in eternal truths.
We need to remember that “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10). We can take comfort in understanding that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). We can find hope in the knowledge that “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
If the worldwide pandemic is forcing you to slow down, take the time to meditate on Scripture in a way that may very well impact the rest of your life, and potentially your eternity.
Second, my grandmother understood that her present suffering was not unprecedented.
She realized that even Jesus bore excruciating physical, emotional and spiritual pain. He suffered lashes, the crown of thorns, and the savage spikes that held Him to the bloodied cross. Jesus experienced the betrayal of His earthly friends and separation from His Father.
From the heavenly realm, Jesus faced mortal agony. “Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
It is very likely that you are dealing with deep issues at this moment. Maybe they’re related to the COVID-19 virus, or maybe they’re battles you’ve been fighting for months or even years. Perhaps—like my grandmother—you know that your time on earth is nearing a close.
You may be so far into despair that you don’t know what you’re going to do or how you’re going to survive, but please understand: Jesus knows your sorrow, because He felt sorrow. He knows your rejection, because He was rejected. He knows your tears, because He wept.
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus experienced every emotion that you are experiencing, and as “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), He loves you.
Finally, realize that this world isn’t the end. Whatever you are facing today—whether it’s short-term or long-term—is temporary. For followers of Christ who call upon Him as Savior, we have faith that our present struggles will one day fade as we close our eyes in this world and wake up in the presence of Jesus.
In fact, let me take it a step further and say this: For believers, death is our friend. You see, Jesus conquered sin and the grave with His sacrifice and resurrection. Because of this, death has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55) and now serves Christ—it ushers us into His presence. Death opens the door to eternity, where we truly belong.
This doesn’t mean life (or death, for that matter) will be easy. We will suffer, grieve and feel overwhelmed. We may still endure broken relationships, cancer or job loss. Jesus says clearly in John 16:33 that we will face pain: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation.”
However, as believers, we can cling confidently to the second half of verse 33: “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” When the hardship of this realm fades, Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).
My friends, global pandemic or not, life is hard. Suffering is universal. I wish that were not the case, but it is.
Cling to Jesus. Keep your eyes on Him. Rather than drowning in the pain of this world, sink deep into His Word. Remember that He suffered as well, and—because of His great sacrifice—your present situation is not the end. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
Above: Will Graham prays for Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains before they depart from BGEA headquarters to offer spiritual and emotional care in New York City.
Photo: Thomas J. Petrino/©2020 BGEA