Facing the Headwind
01 August 1991

Is it really the best thing that can happen to us to have the wind at our back, for life always to be smooth and comfortable?

May the road rise with you and the wind be always at your back.' Our church recently began singing this blessing instead of the time-honoured `threefold amen' at the close of the service. When I began asking myself just what it meant I became doubtful. Is it really the best thing that can happen to us to have the wind at our back, for life always to be smooth and comfortable? That would deprive us of what Isaiah spoke of as `the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord'.

Why pain and suffering are essential for the fullest development of life is a mystery known only to the `suffering God'. They are built into the universe. In the darkness of misfortune, hardship, physical pain or bereavement, we can come to understand more fully the nature of God the creator and sustainer of the whole world. The past ten years of my life, when the road has been uphill with the wind in my face, have brought an enrichment I would have missed otherwise.

For seventy years the wind was mainly at my back. Then it changed. A strong headwind brought several periods in hospital. Then my wife died after fighting cancer for more than a year. In this time of darkness it became obvious to me that even though suffering pain she had joy in her heart. Her triumph gave her a peace I hope to experience when my departure is at hand. Then I had a stroke - a shattering experience that left me partially paralyzed and made it necessary to move into a Home for the Aged.

I had to come to terms with the problem of why God allows pain and suffering. I wanted an intellectual answer from a theologian, a philosopher or a scientist. I was brought to realize that we have to choose whether to believe that God is loving and wise and in control of His world: that is what faith is, believing where there is no proof. When I chose to believe, I gained a new certainty about the love of God, and could see that He had provided for me in a number of ways, including the discovery of a rehabilitation centre which got me back to a degree of independent living, and of the Home where I now live.

From being a vigorous, independent person I have been reduced to a life of inactivity and dependence. I can no longer be too proud to ask for help.
Frustrations frequently arise. I have to do up buttons with one hand; they are sometimes in a mischievous mood and play `catch me if you can' when I am not in the mood for games. In the main I have learned patience and persistence, and usually join in the game with the determination to play to win.

Besides such minor frustrations as doing up buttons, opening milk cartons, unscrewing lids and getting the bumps and wrinkles out of the bedclothes, there are more serious difficulties which take longer to adjust to. After an active life trying to serve God and one's fellows, one is forced to sit in apparent idleness. Milton's lines often come to mind:

`His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest.'

The famous last line sometimes seems inadequate: `They also serve who only stand and wait.' I cannot even stand for long. How does one serve when just sitting in an armchair?

One of the treasures I am slowly discovering is that `being' is as important as `doing'. Those thousands who are speeding `without rest' are not necessarily obliging God by their good works. To learn to be content in whatever state we are in is a treasure we are more likely to discover in darkness than in the sunshine. And one thing I value highly is to find how much kindness and goodwill exist among hospital staffs, voluntary workers and other perfect strangers who offer help.

If I can accurately judge myself, I should say that my whole nature has been softened by the hard going, and made more sensitive to the needs of others against whom the wind is blowing strongly. An understanding sympathy has given a desire to help where possible.

The words of a hymn always move me:
`0 teach me, Lord, that I may teach
The precious things Thou dost impart,
And wing my words that I may reach
The hidden depths of many a heart.'

That is my prayer as I close. Possibly there are `riches stored in secret places' yet to be discovered.

Cliff Magor died at the end of May, a month after writing this article.

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