IT’S QUIET. It’s early. My coffee is hot. The sky is still black. The world is still asleep. The day is coming.
In a few moments the day will arrive. It will roar down the track with the rising of the sun. The stillness of the dawn will be exchanged for the noise of the day. The calm of solitude will be replaced by the pounding pace of the human race. The refuge of the early morning will be invaded by decisions to be made and deadlines to be met. For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day’s demands. It is now that I must make a choice. Because of Calvary, I’m free to choose. And so I choose.
I choose love . . .
No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness.
I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.
I choose joy . . .
I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical . . . the tool of the lazy thinker.
I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.
I choose peace . . .
I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.
I choose patience . . .
I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I’ll invite him to do so.
Rather than complain that the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clinching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.
I choose kindness . . .
I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.
I choose goodness . . .
I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse. I choose goodness.
I choose faithfulness . . .
Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My wife will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their father will not come home.
I choose gentleness . . .
Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my
fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.
I choose self-control . . .
I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ. I choose self-control.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek his grace. And then, when this day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.
One thing I have learned over the years is that a lot of people find it hard to understand why I am a Christian for a very simple reason: to them, a religion isn’t something you choose because it’s true. A very large number of people, when they ask, “Why are you a Christian?” are really asking, “What do you get out of being a Christian? Why do you like being a Christian?” And that is a natural thing to ask…if you are someone who thinks of religion as being a way to get something – to get peace of mind, or to find comfort after your divorce, or to find a god who can cure your cancer. If you think of religion as being useful, rather than as being true, then naturally you want to know what I use religion for, and why Christianity suits my purposes better than any other religion, including the religion of atheism.
Now that has always seemed like an odd mindset to me. It is very obvious, for example, that in most areas of life, mistakenly believing something that is false can get you into huge trouble, no matter how sincere your belief is. Let us say, for example, that you believe the brakes in your car are in good working condition, and you are coming up to a train crossing where a freight train is roaring past at fifty miles per hour. When you push the brake, the sincerity of your belief that you have good brakes will have no effect whatsoever on whether you live or die; if your brakes have in fact failed then you will be dead ten seconds from now. The sincerity of your belief will not affect your fate; it will only affect how surprised you are as you die.
Or again, imagine that you have fallen head-over-heels in love with a woman that everybody around you can see is a manipulative sociopath. It does not matter how seriously you believe that she is the second coming of Mother Theresa; if you marry her, you are hosed.
In other words, in life in general, believing things that are false is a great way to get in really bad trouble, and life doesn’t care about your sincerity. Yet an astonishing number of people think that when you get to religion, suddenly something magical happens and it becomes impossible to harm yourself by believing false things. Religion is just a way to get what you want – to make yourself feel happier, or to have a backup strategy in case the doctor can’t cure you, or whatever. (There are also people who think of religion primarily as Tradition, and they see religion as being about Family rather than about Fact; so if you follow a different religion from your parents you are a bad son, even if you sincerely believe your parents’ beliefs are incorrect. And atheism attracts a lot of people who think religion is Superstition and whose subculture has carefully programmed them to react to any person of sincere religious belief with contempt and scorn. But most people, I think, think of religion as being about Getting What I Want Out of Life – it’s like therapy, and whatever works for you is fine. And most of those people find my attitude toward religion both incomprehensible and disturbing.)
But I have never been able to see any reason to think that religion is any different from the rest of life. Why should we think religion comes with some sort of special pass where there are no consequences for being wrong in your religious beliefs? And besides that…well, I was raised to be honest. Quite frankly, if something is false, I don’t WANT to believe it, even if it makes me feel better, because I do not wish to be either a liar or a fool. If there is no life after death I would rather mourn my parents’ passing bitterly but honestly than comfort myself with a false fantasy of seeing them again in Heaven. I recognize that that is a matter of personal taste – certainly American popular culture is completely dominated by people who don’t think it matters at all whether what they say is true or false, on any subject whatsoever – but it is who I am and I don’t suppose I could change that about myself even if I wished to.
Beyond that, I don’t see how it is possible to read the New Testament and not see that to all of the people who sat at Jesus’ feet and learned from Him, what mattered overwhelmingly about Christianity was that it was true. They are constantly appealing to eyewitness testimony, constantly harking back to the Resurrection and saying, “This really happened,” and there is not the slightest hint that any of the earliest Christians would have countenanced for a moment a statement like, “Look, even if Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, still you’ll be so much happier if you just believe that He did so why not just believe it and be happy?”
So I have always believed that, while a great many positive things could be said about the effects of Christian belief on those who believed it and practiced it, still there was only one reason, at least for me, that could justify being a Christian. And that was, that it was true.
“You should become a Christian because it gives you hope to get through the difficult times.” Okay, but is it true?
“You should become a Christian because it gives strength to people who are too weak to make it on their own.” Congratulations to those people…but is it true?
“You should become a Christian because people who follow the principles of living taught in the Bible are far happier and more joyful than those who do not.” Sounds like a good reason to follow the ethical principles…but are the Christian religious doctrines actually true?
And here’s the thing: Christianity – from its very earliest days – has always said that the following statements are true:
1 There is a God, who is much more like a person than like anything else we know, who created the universe.
2 This God has VERY strong views on what sort of behavior is good and what is bad, and his views are non-negotiable.
3 The life that we see is a highly short-term training ground in which we make choices that determine an eternal fate, in which we are either eternally happy with a joy and bliss that we can’t even begin to imagine, or else eternally wretched with an equally unimaginable degree of wretchedness.
4 Without help from God, the choices we make would without exception cause us to end in eternal wretchedness rather than eternal joy.
5 God has chosen to help, but in a very specific way, through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and “no one comes to the Father except through me” (that is, Jesus, who is the one who said that).
6 Jesus proved His claims were true by rising from the dead – not being reincarnated in anything even remotely like the Hindu/Buddhist sense, but by coming back as Himself, in the flesh.
Now if these things are true, then literally what you decide to do about Jesus is the most important decision you will make, whether you want it to be the most important or not. And if they are NOT true, then Christianity is a lie and no honest person should believe it.
That, at least, is the point I reached long ago, and I have never seen any reason to think I was wrong about the importance of the question.
My testimony, then, is really very simple. I grew up in a Christian family and could see that Christianity “worked,” in the sense that families that truly followed the principles of the Bible were joy- and love-filled families, even in the face of tragedies; and also in the sense that when people violated the principles of Christianity it practically never turned out well for them. But of course I also knew that one of the things Christianity taught was that everything about Christianity that worked, worked only for those who had “faith.”
Now there are some very silly ideas about what “faith” is. (It does not surprise me that some people are silly enough and ignorant enough to think that “faith” is believing things not just without evidence, but in the face of evidence; but what is truly gob-smacking to me is the number of CHRISTIANS who seem to think that “faith” means trying really really hard to believe things that all the evidence says is untrue – have they even read the New Testament??) It is not “believing things that aren’t really true,” or “believing things without evidence;” it is not even strictly speaking “belief” at all, being instead a kind of relationship rather than a mental state. But while “faith” is not the same thing as belief, still belief is at the very least part of faith, or one could say a prerequisite of faith. If you don’t think Christianity is true then Christianity itself warns you that lots of things Christians are supposed to do won’t do you any good, because it is faith that makes them work, and if you don’t believe that what Christianity teaches about Jesus is true, then you can’t have Christian faith.
So when I was fairly young – about eight or so – I started wondering whether I had any reason to believe that Christianity was actually true, other than my parents said so…which I could see wasn’t a very good reason to think something was true. After all, Indian childrens’ parents told them Hinduism was true, and Arabian childrens’ parents told them Islam was true, and Chinese childrens’ parents told them some mix of Buddhism and Daoism and Confucianism and atheism was true. And somebody’s parents had to be wrong; so how did I know my parents weren’t the wrong ones?
I had no answer to that question. So I set out on a journey that took many years, involving exploration to some degree of atheism and agnosticism and Hinduism/Buddhism and Islam as well as the many different varieties of Christianity. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that the evidence surrounding the death of Jesus and the birth of Christianity was very easily explained if you accepted that he rose from the dead, and completely impossible to explain on any other hypothesis. In other words, I reached the point of deciding that there were only two reasons not to believe that Jesus rose from the dead: either you were ignorant about the evidence, or else you were already convinced on other grounds that Jesus could not possibly have risen from the dead and therefore no amount of evidence whatsoever could convince you. And I think I have heard all the arguments that purport to show that there cannot possibly be a God or at least that if there is a God He can’t possibly be the Christian one – and, not to put too fine a point on it, they are pretty stupid arguments.
So by the time I got out of Princeton, I had gone back to being a Christian. (I didn’t wind up back where I started, exactly, because while I wound up believing that the core teachings of Christianity were true – that Jesus was God incarnate, that He died in order to reconcile us to Himself, that He rose from the dead, that He offers eternal salvation to everyone who is willing to accept it, and that our eternal fate depends on whether we accept His offer – still on the whole some of the particular beliefs of the particular type of Christianity I grew up in turned out not, so far as I could tell, to be true. )So I started out Baptist, then turned into an agnostic, then came back to Christianity through Anglicanism. But the important thing is that in the end, after investigating all of the main alternatives, the evidence led me back to the Cross and the Resurrection.
I have never regretted coming back to Jesus, nor have I come across any new evidence or any new arguments to change my opinion that Christianity is true. I have learned a lot more about what Christianity means over the last thirty years; that is certainly true. But from those fundamental convictions – the conviction that the evidence says Jesus rose from the dead, and the conviction that if a man is going to look in the mirror and see an honest man then he has to follow wherever the evidence leads – I have never since seen any reason to wander. Because of the empirical evidence, I can say in absolute honesty:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting.
And because I can say in all honesty that all those things are to the best of my knowledge true, and because I choose to do my best (which isn’t very good but is still my best) to live out those truths in my life by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I can say, and do say, that I am a Christian and a follower of Jesus, so help me God.
但我是谁呢？我有什么资格对那些在极大痛苦中的人说这些呢？我一生中都很健康；不知饥饿为何物；对身体上的疼痛只是略有所知；尽管不配，如今我还娶到一位可爱且虔诚爱主的妻子；我有九个孩子，三个外孙和外孙女，他们身体都很健康；我的父母正要庆祝他们的结婚五十周年纪念日——我，凭什么对一个癌症末期的病人、或一个刚刚埋葬独子的人说，“会好的，会好的，一切都会好起来的”（好像上帝对 Lady Julian所说）……不，我不能够。对那些正在苦难之中的人，我只能将他们的目光指向那许许多多的前辈，他们踏过痛苦的荆棘之路，寻找到了最终的欢乐与荣耀。我只能让他们望向Corrie ten Boom①、Sheldon Vanauken②、还有使徒彼得、保罗……最终，仰望耶稣他自己。
①Corrie ten Boom: 1892年4月15日生于荷兰阿姆斯特丹,1983年4月15日去世于加利福利亚普拉森舍，Corrie是虔诚的基督徒，曾负责一个为脑功能障碍患者开放的教会，在家中也收养了很多孩子。二战中，Corrie和她的父亲及其他家庭成员一起接受犹太人躲在她的家中避难，从而逃过纳粹追捕。她与家人却均因此被纳粹逮捕。她的父亲被捕10天后去世，她的姐姐Betsie ten Boom 1944年在集中营去世，临终前她对Corrie说“苦难的坑再深，也深不过上帝的爱。”她的著作《藏身之处》（ The Hiding Place）被拍成电影。战后，Corrie被邀请至世界各地演讲，分享她在集中营的遭遇和靠着上帝的爱而生发的饶恕。
②Sheldon Vanauken： (1914年8月4日—1996年10月28日)美国著名作家，最出名的书是他的自传《A Severe Mercy》（1977年出版），书中回忆他和太太与英国文豪C.S.Lewis的友谊以及他们关于基督信仰和如何面对苦难悲剧的对话，此书也将被拍成电影。Sheldon与他的妻子Davy两人深深相爱，誓与彼此相伴终身，而且决定两人要分享所有的一切，甚至决定不要孩子以防孩子抢夺了任何一方的爱。他们在遇见C.S.Lewis之后被他的智慧和幽默吸引。Davy首先皈依基督，Sheldon感觉耶稣成了他们爱情的第三者，虽然心不情愿甚至带着恨意，他也被迫接受了基督信仰。随后Davy在1955年因病逝世，那时他们结婚有17年了。悲痛欲绝的Sheldon在C.S.Lewis的帮助下真正认识了上帝和基督耶稣。他终身没有再娶。
Some Highly Inadequate Words on Suffering
My wife, from time to time, brings me questions that cancer patients ask her. She has a touching faith in my wisdom — entirely misplaced, but touching. I myself always think of C. S. Lewis’s imagined conversation with George MacDonald in The Great Divorce:
“But could one dare — could one have the face — to go to a bereaved mother, in her misery — when one’s not bereaved oneself?…”
“No, no, Son, that’s no office of yours. You’re not a good enough man for that. When your own heart’s been broken it will be time for you to think of talking.”
I am not a good enough man to talk of the mystery of suffering; nor have I suffered enough. I offer these few thoughts, unworthy as they are, simply because my wife has asked for my best, such as it is; and her service, and the remarkably brave hearts of the cancer patients she serves, are worthy of my best answer, however unworthy my best answer may be.
God’s purposes in suffering are, to my mind, among the greatest and deepest mysteries of the Christian faith; and nothing sets real Christianity apart from natural religion more deeply than the Christian attitude toward suffering. To enter into the mind of Christ is to find your view of death and suffering undergoing a profound transformation. It is a transformation that causes the saints to desire the day of death like the coming of a long-lost though never-yet-met lover; yet nothing could be further from the truth than to say that the saints are suicidal, for they have an unquenchable love of life and of those around them – and indeed, we Christians’ eagerness for death springs not from a hatred of life or from a desire for oblivion, but from our thirst for the unimaginably greater life of whose mansion Death is the doorkeeper. It is a transformation that brings the mature Christian to a place of sincerely rejoicing in sufferings; yet the sufferings are no less terrifying in prospect and no less painful in reality, and those who accuse Christians of masochism simply show that they cannot begin to imagine the lens through which we Christians see the world.
I do not wish to be misunderstood — suffering remains terrible to the Christian, as it is for everyone else. What the Christian knows is that God does His mightiest work in the sufferings of His saints, that God allows no suffering that He does not intend to bring great good out of, and that any Christian who endures suffering will one day, upon seeing what God has brought out of that suffering, rejoice to have suffered. As Rachael Lampa sings, “I know that God will never waste my pain.” That God calls His followers to suffer, we know; we all sooner or later will face our own personal Gethsemane. That we cannot at present imagine what purpose much of the suffering we see could possibly serve, certainly makes the path harder to walk. And, especially if we have only just recently become Christians and our instincts and emotions are still largely untrained, we very often feel that there can be no purpose that could justify such pain. Emotions are unruly things, and suffering is…well, it is suffering, it is pain, it is awful. Yet we know by faith and by the Word of God and (most of all) by the Resurrection of Our Lord that God’s purpose is always there and will always be fulfilled, to our ultimate joy. However our emotions may batter us, we still know that what St. Paul has said is true: we share in the sufferings of Christ so that we can also share in His glory (Romans 8:17). As he goes on to say in the very next verse, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.”
But who am I to say such things to those in agony? I, who have enjoyed excellent health throughout my life, who have never known hunger and rarely and only briefly known agonizing physical pain, I who today find myself married to a delightful and godly woman whom I do not deserve, I who have nine children and three grandchildren all in excellent health and have just seen my parents celebrate their fiftieth year together — who am I to tell someone who is in the last stages of cancer, or who has just buried her only child, that “all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well” (as the Lord said to Lady Julian)? I cannot. I can only point those who suffer now, to those who have gone before us and trod the path of pain, and found it, in the end, a path to joy and glory. I can only point them to Corrie ten Boom, to Sheldon Vanauken, to Dante Alighieri, to St Peter and St Paul…and ultimately, to Christ Himself.
I can, however, highlight one thing helpful, I think. It is useful to remember where we start, before we know Jesus. Religion has started, for the majority of mankind, precisely as a way to keep from suffering, to avert the wrath of the gods and to enlist their help in our struggles.Imagine that a Christian starts explaining that Jesus tells His disciples, “If anyone wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me.” For most non-Christians, the immediate and instinctive reaction is, “So you’re saying Christianity is useless.” If the Christian God can’t cure cancer, why should any cancer patient bother to pray to Him? And if the Christian God can cure cancer but chooses not to — what are we to make of that?
It’s not just that we don’t want to suffer. We naturally think, as well, that if God likes us, He wouldn’t want us to suffer either. We think that only a sadistic God would ask people He “loves” to suffer pointless pain. (Indeed, to an agnostic that seems the very definition of a sadist: someone who takes pleasure in hurting those he claims to love.) So the natural response that any of us have when catastrophe strikes us down without warning is the reaction Job had: we want to know what God thinks we have done to deserve this. My wife has herself been asked by more than one cancer patient, “What did I do that was so bad? Why is God punishing me like this?”
But here is how much the understanding of the Christian mystery revolutionizes our perspective: when the disciples were flogged for sharing the gospel, Luke records that they left the Sanhedrin “rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). You see the revolution? Humanity’s natural response to suffering is to say, “God must be mad at me; He is making me suffer.” But the Apostles response to suffering was to say, “God must approve of me; He is trusting me with the task of suffering.” As devoutly Catholic Marty O’Reilly says to his heartbroken granddaughter Grace in the movie Return to Me, “It’s the strongest hearts that God gives the greatest burdens to. You can take this as a compliment.”
We know that it is a compliment, because we know the story of Jesus. I think it was Saint Augustine who said, “Deus unicum habet filium sine peccato, nullum sine flagella,” which I would translate, “God has only one Son who did not sin — but He has none at all who have not suffered agony.” The very Son of God, God Himself incarnate, came to earth for one sole purpose: to suffer and die for the world God loves. No one can say that God has an unrealistic, ivory-tower, purely theoretical understanding of pain – He has personally drunk the cup to the dregs and knows our suffering from the bitterest of experience.
The thing is, the agnostic who thinks that God is a sadist is wrong, because he imagines that God not only allows us to suffer, but actually takes pleasure in our pain – otherwise (so goes the reasoning) He would step in with all that Omnipotence of His and do something about it. And this is simply not the case. One traditional prayer for those in trouble or bereavement begins, “O merciful Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men…” Remember the story of Jesus’ friend Lazarus (John 11)? It was God’s purpose to allow Lazarus to die, in order that he could be raised from the dead to show the power of God. Jesus knew this; He knew all along that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead; He knew that His Father would repay Lazarus and Mary and Martha a thousand times over for what they had suffered; He even deliberately delayed going to Bethany for two days specifically for the purpose of giving Lazarus time to die instead of healing him immediately. Yet what does Luke say Jesus did as he stood at that soon-to-be-empty tomb?
He wept. And the people standing by said, “Look how much he loved Lazarus!” And they spoke in all truth.
For whatever reason, God’s purposes in this world cannot be achieved even by God Himself without suffering; and so He chooses to allow the suffering even though He is grieved by it. He knows full well the price of His purposes – He has paid it Himself. But He thinks the purpose is worth the price, not just to Himself but to those whom He has called, as well. We can be baffled by the mystery of how the Omnipotence could will into existence a world in which even He works under self-imposed constraints (though the artists among us are likely to find that rather less baffling than do the engineers). We can speculate as to why He might have such purposes. If we are philosophers we can wrestle with the interplay of omniscience and omnipotence and the freedom to constrain oneself all in the context of a timeless Deity who experiences all His works as a single eternal Act rather than as a succession of events, and we can ultimately come to agree with Augustine that “since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” But in the end we really don’t know what lies in the deepest heart of God’s purposes; it is a mystery we cannot penetrate. In the end we know only a few fundamental truths about the God Who loves us, about the God Who suffered for us, about the God in Whose sufferings we share — but if our heart clings to them with all the passion of faith, these few truths are all we need to know:
We know that in God’s judgment (and He surely knows better than we what is best), it was better to allow evil to exist and then bring good out of it, than not to allow it to exist in the first place. (But He will bring good out of it. There is no suffering that is not meant to end in glory beyond our imagining.)
Yet we know that He takes no pleasure in the evil or in the necessity for the suffering, and he weeps on our behalf as He sees our pain, like every loving father who has ever said to his little princess, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”
And we know that He plays by his own rules: He has laid on us no burden that He has not been willing to carry Himself; He calls us to no path of pain that He Himself has not already walked before us.
We know that in the end there are only two paths: the path that leads to Hell, and the path that leads to the Cross, and that we are called to “have the same mindset as Jesus, who humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Phil. 4:5, 8) But we know at the same time that the Cross is nothing but the door to Resurrection glory: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” (Phil 4:9) “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor 15:5)
And most of all, from Romans 8… “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Before you close the book / turn to the next chapter, will you join me in a prayer?
A Prayer for Those in Trouble or Bereavement
(adapted from The Book of Common Prayer)
O merciful Father, you have taught us in your holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men. Look with favor, we pray, on the sufferings of your servants. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy; nourish their souls with patience; comfort them with a sense of your goodness; lift up your countenance upon them; and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
almost never has a winter, but this year even Houston has had several episodes
of sub-freezing weather. One very cold morning, my husband’s cell phone
suddenly started ringing, and my heart skipped a beat. Sure enough, there was a
problem. The call was from West Virginia, where his parents live. His father
said, “Your mother has had a heart attack, and right now she’s in an ambulance
headed for the hospital.” Oh oh oh oh heavens! My husband immediately began
muttering, “Oh, oh, oh Lord, please don’t take her so soon; we aren’t ready
difficult when your parents live that far away. My husband had been sick with a
fever just the night before, and I had been wondering whether he should call in
sick that day. But after he hung up the phone, he booked a plane ticket and
flew straight to West Virginia that very morning. He rented a car at the
Pittsburgh airport and drove to the hospital where Grandmother was near
Clarksburg, despite the fact that Pennsylvania and West Virginia were in the middle
of a snowstorm. Grandmother stayed in the ICU for three days, sedated and
unconscious. My husband stayed there for a week, serving them with all his
heart and energy. All that time there were serious snowstorms in the North, and
the temperature stayed near and below zero. My husband is always able to find
the silver lining in the clouds, and it was no different this time. He sent me
a picture of himself and told me that after I saw the picture I would not worry
about him being frozen anymore — we could only see his eyes and his nostrils in
the picture, like a soldier armed to the teeth. The kids were asking, “Where is
that terrorist from?”
kids and I do not like how it feels when the head of our household is not home,
still, taking care of grandparents always comes first. So the kids were
cooperative and good. Until he came back, we did not give any thought to that;
it was just what we all had to do. Grandmother had gotten a small cold, but
from that the heart got infected, and then her lungs got full of fluid, and
finally her heart failed. Grandmother has always been very healthy, always
walking around like a young person; a month earlier they had driven thousands
of miles to Houston from West Virginia for Christmas, but this time she had been
to the very door of death before coming back to us. Two weeks later, we started
hearing good news every day. The heart, which had been on the edge, stabilized.
We kept thanking God that the couple will have more time to respect each other
and love each other, more time to be admired by others, a chance to celebrate
their fiftieth wedding anniversary with their children!
Grandmother was getting better, and this unexpected episode in our lives drew
to a close, we went back to our normal, busy way of life. However, something
happened after Grandmother recovered that gave me a lot to think about! One day
my husband and I got thank-you e-mails from Grandmother, while she still was
not totally recovered. She expressed her thanks to my husband and to me and to
the kids, briefly but with genuine feeling. There were a few typographical
errors — obviously she was still very weak while she was typing. My first
reaction was surprise; isn’t it just natural and unremarkable when children are
good to their parents? In China, parents accept ten thousand trials to raise
their children, but few children thank their parents. Then when the parents get
sick, it’s understandable that when their children are good to them, they feel
relieved. But writing a thank-you e-mail — is it necessary??? I didn’t know how
to answer Grandmother’s e-mail. I tried to get my husband to reply, but he was
busy, busy, busy.
one week later, Grandmother wrote another long e-mail. She said she was sorry
that she could not stand the hot weather in Houston, and that therefore they
had to give their children so much trouble by living so far away. She said
thank you to my husband for racing there the moment he heard about the problem.
Although she didn’t know for three days what my husband was doing while she was
unconscious, Grandpa kept saying it was a really good thing that he was there.
She said thank you to me because I took the responsibility of caring for a big
family to make it possible for my husband to fly there and take care of her,
and she said thank you to the children for cooperating and for praying for
them. And she also said thank you to my husband for buying plane tickets for
his sister so that she could fly to West Virginia and take care of Grandmother
after she came home from the hospital and my husband went home…it was very
detailed and sincere, she mentioned every single person one by one. I have to
admit, although I don’t think what we did was worth such a heartfelt outpouring
of thanks, still I was very touched by the gratitude from the bottom of her
always value being reserved. For family members to express gratitude to each
other seems too polite, it seems like pushing people away, denying intimacy,
treating people as if they were acquaintances and not family members, and some
people even call it hypocrisy. Ah, so is it that Americans do not have close
relationships between family members — is that why they spend so much time
saying thank you?? Well, I don’t know about
other American families, but the relationship between my husband and his
parents is very close and they respect each other very much. My husband calls
his parents almost every day. Sometimes he shares one funny joke or piece of
news with them; sometimes they watch a game together over the phone and laugh
at a mistake made by one player; sometimes he discusses a verse in the Bible
with them; sometimes he just tells them the trouble we have in our life and
asks for prayers. It’s not like a phone call between women — their conversation
is always short, yet at the same time full of affection. Not like me…most of
the time I just tell my parents good news, because I worry that bad news would
give them too much of an extra burden. But my husband shares bad news too, as
he knows that they would pray and hand that burden over to God. I envy their
relationship. How much I hope that in the future my son could share all his
happiness and sorrow with me! He would not worry about giving me any burden, he
could throw all those negative feelings to me, whether fear, depression,
failure or any other emotion. And I could be calm; no panic, no blame, no
anyway, that thank-you letter absolutely was not written because the family
relationship is weakened and distant, but simply because it is the habit for
people in their family to share with others the gratitude their hearts feel,
whether the others are strangers or their nearest relatives. For the first time
I really understand that even though I didn’t at all expect gratitude, still I
shouldn’t, just because she expressed thanks, start feeling that she doesn’t
think of us as family members. On the contrary, in my heart I went from
astonishment to warmth, to feeling that I was being honored and understood and
cherished and appreciated and cared for…whatever it was that was bubbling in my
heart, it was beautiful and good and positive.
before their granddaughter’s wedding, when they were helping set up the wedding
hall. Whenever they were separated from each other for a little while in the
middle of all that hustle and bustle, they would be keeping an eye on each
other, and whenever they had a chance they would give each other a little help.
And then they would say, “Thank you,” and then add “I love you.” Watching these
dear grey-haired old people behaving like youngsters who had just fallen
head-over-heels in love, thinking how it really is possible for romance to last
all the way into old age, I stood aside smiling delightedly to myself,
practically intoxicated with joy.
just in our Chinese character that we find it hard to express our feelings. If
a stranger helps us, we will feel gratitude and we will naturally say thank
you, right? But sometimes when our family members take care of us in every
imaginable way, we take it for granted and are perfectly comfortable not saying
thank you. Sometimes we even have a very different attitude toward our family
than toward our friends and colleagues. We are careless with our wording, we
hurl complaints, accusations, contempt, even rage…and we excuse ourselves, we
tell ourselves, precisely because they are family, “No need for disguise, let
the real self flow freely, just relax and be myself…”
know, the true self, before it undergoes the fire of transformation, is always
selfish? We can thank a stranger with a hug to warm his heart; but we can also
use the “true self” to hurt those closest to us day after day. Those people
whom God put nearest to us are the most important, the ones we ought most to
cherish, the ones we ought most to appreciate, the ones we ought most to thank
— because they walk through life at our side, through frost and snow and rain,
never far from us, never abandoning us. Even if they have hurt us before, it’s
just because they have not learned how to express love. Let’s learn to forgive,
to make changes starting with ourselves — more smiles, more thank-yous, more
hugs, more acts and words of love.
says, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the
bones.” Gracious words have more power than we can imagine. Dear one, right
now, can you try to let true gratitude take root in your heart? Can you display
a sincere smile and let a family member hear your gratitude? It doesn’t matter
who they are. If you can’t say it, then write it on a piece of paper or a small
card or whatever. You will definitely make someone’s day brighter!