Daily Guideposts from 10/26/96:
Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. (John 15:2)
“Cut back the grapes,” I once ordered my teenage son, and went on about my work, vaguely aware of the young figure chopping away. When I looked up later, I was aghast. He’d cut the vines clear to the ground!
“You’ve ruined them!” I wailed. “We’ll never have grapes again.” It looked hopeless. We had to build a big fire just to get rid of what he’d cut down. Yet the next year the vines grew back stronger than ever, the grapes so abundant they bowed trellises – more than enough to give away.
And I think that applies to my life, too – those terrible cuttings and trials by fire. I look back sometimes, shocked but grateful as I remember the pain and problems I had to suffer. I wept and protested at the time; I only wanted to be spared. Yet now I realize how essential they were to my growth. How much pride and self-pity had to go, how much hostility and unforgiveness. Habits that only made the tribulations worse and disturbed my faith in God.
Why didn’t God answer my prayers? Why did He let bad things happen? But I finally understood. Experience taught me: When we suffer, He wants us to be strong and to learn from what we must endure. To grow in sympathy and understanding, so that we can help others in their times of crisis and despair. Only then can we, too, bear abundant fruit.
Dear Lord, please help all those who are hurting. Comfort them as You and Your children have comforted me. – Marjorie Holmes
The devotion above was in the 1996 issue of Daily Guideposts. I received the book from Dad as a Christmas gift every year, up until he died. The year my brother Jackson died, I was reading Daily Guideposts every morning after I woke.
Jackson died on October 26, 1996. I’m sure I read that day’s devotion without even a second thought as to what the day would hold. A few hours after waking, I got the call from Bonnie that Jackson had died. He had simply let go and moved on. That call literally changed the entire course of my life. It was the first brick in a huge wall I built between me and God. I was angry at God for letting Jackson die. After all, I had made a bargain: if God would keep Jackson alive, I would do anything He wanted. I would be a “good girl” and go to church and pray and be nice and a model citizen and all that jazz. Bonnie’s call broke the covenant between me and God. I turned away from Him and didn’t give Him the slightest peek into my heart for many years.
Some time later, I went back to that day’s devotion in my Daily Guideposts. I thought maybe there would be some answer to make sense of that awful day. When I read the last paragraph, it kind of pissed me off. It said:
“Why didn’t God answer my prayers? Why did He let bad things happen? But I finally understood. Experience taught me: When we suffer, He wants us to be strong and to learn from what we must endure. To grow in sympathy and understanding, so that we can help others in their times of crisis and despair. Only then can we, too, bear abundant fruit.”
The truth is, I didn’t WANT to be strong or learn or endure. I didn’t WANT to “help others in their times of crisis and despair.” And I most certainly did NOT want to bear “abundant fruit.” Give me a break! I just wanted my brother back!
Tonight, fifteen and a half years after my brother died, I came across that devotion and read it again. It makes me ache for that devastated girl I used to be, the one who turned away from God and hardened her heart for years because she thought He didn’t keep His promises. My heart falters to think I turned away from the One who could have carried me through all those years of grief.
But in turning away, I learned the answer to the question, “Why did He let bad things happen?” Through the deepest pain and complete fracture of the life I used to know, I learned what the author wrote is true: “To grow in sympathy and understanding, so that we can help others in their times of crisis and despair.” In the last fifteen years, I have learned the truth written by another author in 2 Corinthians 1:4 that says, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.”
God didn’t cause Jackson to die. He didn’t break a covenant with me. He didn’t abandon me or turn His back on me. In fact, He wanted to hold me closer but I wouldn’t let Him. I scorned Him and spat at Him, and blamed Him for my loss. Because of how deeply He loves me, He allowed me to do that and didn’t force me to turn back to Him. He just kept loving me, bringing good to me, and patiently wooed me with his love songs until my ears were open to hear them again. It took almost five years, but I eventually hit an even deeper low than the one I felt on October 26, 1996. And at the bottom of that despair, the only one who was left beside me is the One I scorned. He loved me and gently whispered to me until I found my way back into the light.
And guess how He did it? With yet another Daily Guideposts devotion. But that’s a story for another time…