Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61: 1-2
When I asked Fred Whiteman how old he was, he replied, "I'm 47 on the outside, 31 on the inside. I've had more trouble that most senior citizens, and I still look at life through the eye of a child." What kind of an answer is that? Chronologically, Fred had seen 47 birthdays. Within his chest cavity beat the heart of a man 31 years old--the result of having had a heart transplant. Has Fred really seen more trouble than most senior citizens?
Within a six-month period of time, Fred lost his best friend who died with cancer of the liver, his mother died, and his wife died, having gone to work perfectly healthy one morning, and then dying later that day in what most would term a "freakish accident!" In addition to that, Fred's heart failed him, and even then, following a successful heart transplant, Fred, himself, faced surgery for cancer as well as being sued by the bank where his wife worked. And all of this happened to one man in a period of months. Yes, I think you could say very fairly that Fred has known more trouble than most people experience in a lifetime. When Fred gets to heaven, he may well have some advice for Job himself.
Now, has all of this left Fred bitter and cynical? Not at all, but you do get the feeling talking to Fred that you are talking with a man who has nothing to fear from life because he has faced its bitter challenge and has found the strength which comes from God which helped him meet the challenge. Anyone who faces the fire as he has, either comes through as refined gold by the fire or is burned up by the heat.
How does Fred explain what he has been through? Fred falls back on the fact that we are made by a loving God "for His glory," and he quotes Bob Harrington, who said, "When we can't figure it out, we have to faith it out." Unlike some who face times of difficulty and have nothing to fall back on, Fred is a committed believer in Jesus Christ and has spent most of his life serving the Lord. The words of a popular song go, "When all hope is gone, go into your room and turn on a sad song." Instead, Fred did what the Psalmist recommended, who cried out, "When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I" (Ps. 61:2, KJV). "I never had a moment," says Fred, "when there was no hope!"
Why should one man have so many difficulties? Fred doesn't fully understand, but neither is he spending time trying to solve that question. I suppose anyone who faces what he has gone through becomes somewhat philosophical about the valley through which he has traveled, and he quickly says that difficulty does several things for a person: (1) It gives you a knowledge of yourself which also makes you aware of your intense need for God. It makes you fully understand your humanity and the fact that we live one heartbeat away from eternity. (2) Difficulty produces character in your life and refines the integrity of the heart. It strips you of the desire to play games and to pretend to be what you are not, and (3) It allows God to use you as a witness to other people, showing them that at the point of our deep need God can and does meet His children.
When Fred was asked to talk with three different psychiatrists, one of whom had asked why he just didn't commit suicide, Fred began to explain his relationship with Jesus Christ, and all three psychiatrists, professionals who deal with grief and difficulty every day, were left in tears.
Fred doesn't understand why some face difficulty and grow with it as he has, and why some face similar circumstances and wither; but he knows God will meet you at the point of your deepest need. He's been there and learned that firsthand.
Resource reading: Psalm 61:1-8