Excerpts from C.H. Spurgeon’s sermon, ‘KEEPING THE SOUL ALIVE’, from the 27th of March, 1870.
She fled home with her family to escape a severe famine in the land. She became widowed as she lived among a strange people. She watched her sons die, leaving behind their widows, without a child to call their own. She was named Pleasantness – in her Hebrew tongue, the name was Naomi. After all that she had seen, who could have had the heart to contended with her when she cried, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [Bitterness], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me”..?
Look at life through Naomi’s eyes for a minute. What do you see..? Do you see any sign of hope..? Till where the eye could see, even till the horizon.. I could see nothing that could possibly have given Naomi an incentive to take another step forward. There could have been times in that phase of her life when living seemed a pointless exercise. But even when life seemed vain, Naomi was in truth fulfilling an extraordinary purpose….
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Naomi though was oblivious to that extraordinary purpose. Could she have ever known that her widowed daughter-in-law – Ruth the Moabite – whom she was leading toward Judah, was a chosen vessel in the eyes of the Lord..? The woman whom God found worthy of honour above every woman in Judah in her time..? Through whom, over a millennium later, at the time appointed, the Messiah whom the people of Israel awaited, would be born..?
Or could Naomi have known that the restoration and the future that she so dearly did seek was never far from her..? When Naomi returned to Bethlehem from her tragic sojourn in Moab, she lamented, ‘I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty’. She must have considered Ruth’s presence in her life insignificant [though Naomi’s love for her could never be questioned] in light of all that she had lost. But we do know – through the Book of Ruth – how the script turned out, don’t we..? God didn’t bring Ruth to Bethlehem to remain a destitute. He exalted her in stature. And Ruth – who was once considered insignificant by Naomi – cared for her mother-in-law with such a love, that the Bible notes that she was ‘more to her than seven sons’.
For we walk by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:7
Though all these events were soon to take place, from where Naomi stood, the future was masked by the veil of time. Yet.. in the face of utter devastation and amidst the hopelessness, what did Naomi do..? In the simplest of terms, she did two things: kept living and kept loving….
Kept living..? Is that even worth mentioning..? Perhaps not for some of us. But for some, that may be a be a real challenge that we wake up with each day. The adversities may pull us down from time to time, but the worst is the ever present burden of a vacuum in our hearts where there should have been hope. To those of you I would say, JUST KEEP LIVING. The Lord who turned the bitter waters in the life of Naomi, pleasant again, and brought her out of the pit of hopelessness, can do the same with you.
And Naomi did keep the love burning bright, even in the darkest of times. There lies a challenge that is before each of us who are walking the hard road. How often do we allow the bitterness of our situations seep into our being, that we allow it to tarnish our relationships with the people around us. But Naomi could still empathize. She remained full of love and compassion. In her widowed daughter-in-laws, she saw two women who could still have a future, living far from her than with her, and she pleaded with them to leave. Imagine this.. Naomi was willing to face life all alone as an aged woman, if only her daughter in-laws could have a better future….
Our lives can at times seem to be taking us on an endless downward spiral.. sinking from one level of bitterness to the next. The search for a reason to live could seem as futile as can be, but from the life of Naomi, we can see that there is a world beyond the horizon. Our hope can come from places that we yet cannot see….
Until then, we need to ask ourselves, even as life seems like an aimless walk in a maze.. what beautiful plans are we unknowingly living out..? Who/what are the Ruth’s that God our Father has placed in our lives that we are oblivious to..? I pray to Him, that through quiet whispers He will remind you at your time of need: ‘Keep living. Keep loving.’ Trust Him – the God who makes bitter waters, pleasant again….
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
There are times we all go through when the days of life are as dark as night with stormy clouds hovering above. You know within that there is light above those menacing clouds, but you just can’t see the light with your eyes. There is a deep longing within you to see those clouds disappear. There is a hope that you’ll soon bathe in light but.. when..? Each passing day is another mighty wave thundering on the sides of the ship called Faith that you’re sailing on.
Though we may never fully understand why God chooses to let us traverse such days, we can trust that He will never leave us to face them alone. In the days that followed my mother’s passing, those clouds that hovered above my head were darker than ever before. But even in those darkest of times, His footsteps were ever present beside me. He provided comfort.. the extent of which I could not believe was possible.
One of the ways He reached out to comfort me.. to make His presence known, was through music. In particular from a certain YouTube channel named TheNCrew EliEli. One of their videos that deeply touched my troubled soul was Stephen Nasby’s version of the hymn ‘Be Still My Soul’. And that is what I wish to share with you today.
If you’re going through days where the clouds are dark and the wind and the waves are just too strong for you to bear, remember to tell yourself:
Be still, my soul;
The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them
While He dwelt below.
Sunday Quiz: Where was Jesus born..?
Well, that is an easy one, right..? You likely answered Bethlehem and you would be right. But.. I want to share a little bit of trivia about Bethlehem – the City of David.
When the Israelites gave names to people/places, they chose for a name a meaningful word/string of words in their own tongue – which is still a common practice in many cultures around the world. Naturally, names in the Bible carry more significance to the Hebrews than it does to us – people who do not speak/understand Hebrew. Consider this, every time people called out to Jesus by name in Judea, they would’ve been effectively calling Him as ‘God is Salvation’. See, the name to them meant more than the sound of the syllables in His name.
Now.. we can get back to Bethlehem. Bethlehem too must have a meaning, right..? Of course it does. The prefix ‘beth’ signifies ‘house’ in Hebrew. There are many names that begin as such – Bethel, Bethesda and Bethsaida come to mind – which all signify that they are a ‘house of’ something [or someone]. What is that something, here..? The second part of the word ‘lehem’ signifies bread in Hebrew. So.. Bethlehem put together becomes ‘House of Bread’.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger.”
Our Saviour spoke many amazing things. Amazing things like claiming to be the ‘Bread of Life’. And we do know from scriptures that the Saviour who claimed to be the ‘Bread of Life’ was born in a manger in the ‘House of Bread’. How mysteriously beautiful are His ways….
Life has been a lot more down than up since Easter this year. Mummy fell severely ill with a lung infection. After a phase of improvement post hospitalisation, her health started detoriating gradually until the Lord took her to be with Him. All the while she was kept in sedation, denying us an opportunity to say any meaningful last words in this life.
She was the sweetest person I have ever known. Truly. I depended on her a lot more than most other sons depend on their mothers – for care and comfort – right through the 26 years of my life and she has never failed me. She had to go through a lot, first with the cancer and its treatment. Then even as she was putting up with it with a smile on her face and lots of cheer in her heart, the infection caught hold of her – refusing to let go – adding pain upon pain.
‘Ma was a woman of strength, but all that strength was concentrated in her inner being. On the outside she was as delicate as a flower. Yet somehow she managed to make full use of her brittle frame to serve as many as she could – denying herself what many would consider as basic needs.
Things of the world didn’t attract her much. There was very little that she wouldn’t let go of, if she knew that in letting go, it would be of better use to another – or even if it could just put a little smile on another’s face. But she cared for people. A lot. I wish she had kept back a fraction – even a small amount – of that care for herself. But then, that was her being her.
Her siblings tell me, that she was so always, even as a child. Not too easy when you’re the middle child. But it’s not as though she wasn’t loved, being neither the youngest or the eldest of the lot. She was a darling to her parents. I mean, why wouldn’t they love this little girl who was quiet, bashful and meek in the truest sense of the word..? Yet at the same time, she was crafty and resourceful and always willing to be of help.
In her passing, I got to hear some stories of her from her younger days that reflect these words in her life. Her elder sister told me of how when they would get a pack of assorted biscuits or any treat rather – in a time when such surprises were rare – her siblings would fight it out for the best piece, while mummy would quietly wait till everyone had what they want in their hand so that she could have what’s left over in the pack. Eating whatever is left over/what’s least desired – a habit which I could testify that she carried on till the day she was diagnosed with that dreaded disease.
The same sister was the one who picked mummy’s wedding saree due to circumstances. ‘Ma didn’t even mind fore going that most cherished choice, aunty said. She told me, “she never complained”. I told aunty that ‘ma loved that saree. The fact that she wore it on many festive days is testament to that. And it was in that saree that she was draped in as we laid her to rest.
Her younger brother told me how to him she was a nurse at one stage in her life after he got gored by a bull under his lip and was afraid to tell their mother. He was afraid that he’ll be scolded. So mum decided to spare him more pain and looked after him with the little nursing skills she had till his wound healed. Amachi – my grandmother – didn’t know this story till much later on in life. To her youngest brother – who was much younger than all her siblings – she was a mother, teaching him to brush and helping him to put on his shoes before school, he told me.
When I think of all that I heard from people during these days, she was all that she was to them and more for me. A mother who didn’t just take up the occasional role of a nurse for me as a child but even later on as a grown up, she was a nurse for me for four years before becoming sick – and even for a little while after she knew she had cancer. For a major part of those years I was completely bed ridden, and heavily dependant on her. She worked during the day, and I demanded work from her before she left for work and as soon as she came back. She slept late, and at times at night I have disturbed her short sleep for my needs. There’s not a day or moment when she complained for all that she did – rather that precious smile of hers was what I woils always get in return. Even when I hardly appeared grateful for all that she has done for me – even at moments like that when in my foolishness my tempers flared – she never lost her calm. She never saw herself as a person worth fighting for – even though she was among the rarest of people who was.
She was my financier – as my dad loves to pull her leg over [though he wasn’t any less of a spender for my desires]. Any request I had, was granted – unless of course, she felt it wouldn’t do good to me. The cost was never a constraint. Though we didn’t have any money isssues, we were a family in the middle class bracket, yet I lived the life of affluence as a child. No friend of mine could’ve easily guessed that I came from a middle class family – until they saw my mother perhaps. Not that she lacked style – she could pull off elegance with ease – but she spent so little on herself that her dressing hardly reflected the high positioning she reached in her career. As a child, I was ashamed of that at times. I wanted a mother who was stylish and all that, while my mother seemed so keen to be anything but. I’m glad though, that that part of me changed as I grew up under her influence. That I saw the beauty in that simplicity long before she passed. I admired her more than any man or woman for her beauty and style.
The pain of being separated [even if it is but for a short while] from such a beautiful person is one thing. To have such a huge void in your life. To know that while you write the lines of your life you wouldn’t be able to write it with her by your side, to read and appreciate or to disapprove and correct. That has been something I have dreaded for long. But there is something worse. Even worse than having to watch this woman – the sweetest of them all – endure physical and mental agony. The guilt that weighs in on you when you start to think of the things that you could’ve done – that might well have spared her this suffering, or at least have made it more bearable – but did not do.
And it is in the midst all this guilt and pain that I realise which of all that I have received from my mother is the greatest gift she gave me. Introducing me to my Lord and Saviour – Jesus Christ. The source of all the comfort that I find in these trying times.
She never sat me down and made me study the Bible. At least, not that I could remember. When I was little she would read stories from a Children’s Bible. But even then the tales I loved to listen to were of people like Noah or a David or a Jonah. Jesus and the New Testament tales were not the ones I loved the most. No that wasn’t how she introduced me to Him. She lived a life that held on to His principles. Through her I learnt what is mercy and forgiveness. Through her I learnt what is patience and what it means to never act in anger. Through her I learnt the joys of giving. Through her I learnt impartiality – a trait my sister would testify to. Through her I learnt what is humility. I learnt that all these were good [, though at many times I couldn’t act the way that I knew was good]. And when the time came for when I finally met the Lord and got to know Him as a person, I knew that He was and is and ever will be, all that is good.
He is the Truth that keeps me in the race, to keep me from giving up. His promises take away my anxiety and sorrow. When the Bible says in Romans 8:28, that “All things work together for the good to those who love God”, there is a peace knowing that there is a purpose to all this chaos – and a good one at that – even if I am at a loss to explain how. But I do not just believe that all this will work together to the good for me and those who are alive in this world, but for my dear ‘ma too. For she believed in Him and loved Him. Though our time here on Earth may come to an end, there are still many more days reserved for us, days where we can enjoy His goodness for eternity.
Death is but a sleep to those who have come to the Lamb. And that is the promise that fills my heart with cheer. This separation is only for a moment. For eternity we will be together – mummy and all our loved ones and me and the Lord. I so long for that day, when I will see her smiling face once again. And I will. For,
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
1 Corinthians 15:52
“You’ve been a sweet daughter, a loving sister, a devoted wife, a cherished friend and a perfect mother. You’ve given it your all. You’ve given it your best. Now take a rest that you well deserve until that blessed reunion in our Lord’s Kingdom. See you soon, ‘ma….”