A while ago, I was leading a group of children in music at the Home of Happiness. They were singing at the top of their voices a short chorus, “O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E, obedience is the very best way to show that you believe!” Little did I know that it would take me a lot to understand the real meaning of the nine-letter word “obedience.”
On May 20, 2006, I found myself clutching tightly the death certificate of Suryakala. Ahead of me was the hearse with Suryakala dressed in a pure white gown similar to what she wore the previous Christmas when she played the angel Gabriel in our Christmas play. The hot air pushed my hair, slapping my face sharply, bringing me back to the reality of what was happening around me. I was numb, afraid to let myself look inside because of the flood of emotions waiting to break out.
Just the day before, I had thought that I had successfully come through a difficult situation and was proud of myself for pulling through it with a brave front. Dad had undergone a major operation, and we had hovered over his bed, very anxious and trying to say the right things for Dad’s sake.
As the time for his surgery drew near, he looked at us and asked us to pray for him. I assured him that we were praying. He shook his head and said, “No, you pray now – aloud for me.” I was taken aback. It was Dad who always prayed and was a strong tower for us in times of need. To see him now, weak and asking for prayer, shook me up. I looked at Mom for some help, but she herself was so visibly shaken that I knew it was up to me to pray. With a lump in my throat, I prayed, pouring my heart out to the Lord to take charge of the surgery. Soon after we finished our amens, Dad was wheeled to the operating room. I tagged along so that I could be with him until the very last moment. I wanted to tell him that we were praying and the Lord was with him, but nothing came out of my mouth. I quickly waved goodbye and fought the lump that rose in my throat as the doors closed behind him. As I took the escalator to be with Mom, I was reminded of a song Dad loves. “Shepherd of my soul, I fully give control / wherever You may lead I will follow, should I meet a mighty mountain or a valley dark and deep / the shepherd of my soul will be my guide.” I certainly wasn’t interested in meeting a mighty mountain or a valley dark and deep.
With the sudden jolt of the vehicle, I was again brought back to reality. We stopped to buy a few garlands and flowers to decorate the final resting place of Suryakala. We were moving closer to the church where the funeral would take place. I busied myself with the arrangement of the funeral, distancing myself from what was happening. I did not want more pain. I mechanically clicked pictures since I thought it was important to Dad, recovering from surgery and unable to attend the funeral. I knew it broke his heart that he would not see the final moments of Suryakala, and I hoped the photos would help.
Soon we were at the cemetery, final prayers were said, and the coffin was about to be closed. It dawned on me that it was over – Suryakala’s life of just 10 years was over. Suddenly, intense sadness overtook me. I was anguished by the cruelty of the illness that had taken her so young, angry about the suffering she had to endure through no responsibility of her own and hurt by the pain experienced by those who loved her – my parents, her own sister and all the kids at the home. I felt distanced from God. To be more correct, I distanced myself from Him. I knew I was doing this because I was fearful of what the Lord might have in store for me next – likely something I had no interest in receiving. I turned away from Him fearing that if I stayed close to Him, He would lead me through even more difficult paths. I remembered Much-Afraid, the girl whom the shepherd calls to come to the high places in Hannah Hurnard’s allegory, Hinds Feet in High Places. For every altar Much-Afraid builds as a surrender of her will, she knows that the shepherd will ask of her a little more and fears that she might not be able to build another one. I could very well empathize with her. I certainly did not want the pain of obedience and surrender to hurt me more than this.
On April 30, we had a simple prayer meeting held in memory of Suryakala. Dad and Mom shared how she had been a happy, quiet child with bright eyes, lent to us by God for a brief time. They commented that we have many from our family in heaven now, waiting for us with all the angels. Softly, very softly, I heard the Lord speak to my heart – “I know what I am doing in each of your lives. I do not make mistakes. Suryakala was not a mistake. I chose carefully an environment filled with love and care for her in which you played a part.” Images flooded my mind of the bright, doe-eyed Suryakala sitting close to my feet, almost hugging my knees, eager to listen to the memory verse and story I would tell her and the other kids every Sunday evening. I could see her eagerly reciting verses from memory and coming forward with a broad smile to receive a picture or sticker from me. It sure was hard to let go of her. But the Lord had counted us worthy to be a part of her life. And that meant a lot.
Slowly, I am understanding the meaning of obedience. I realize it’s not just doing what we think is right or should be right in our limited perspective. I will continue to build altars signifying my surrender of will, obeying His voice, knowing very well that God gives grace for each moment. When He touches some area in our life that He wants to deal with, He provides us with strength to endure and go forward.
For my question, “Is there no other way, Lord, than the pain of building an altar of obedience?” this was the answer I received:
“Is there no other way, O God,
Except through sorrow, pain and loss,
To stamp Christ’s image on my soul?
No other way except the cross?
“And then a voice stills all my soul,
As stilled the waves on Galilee:
‘Canst thou not bear the furnace heat,
If amidst the flames I walk with thee?’”
Our Lord is not a God who asks us to do something and not provide the strength for it. He does even more than that – He walks with us amidst the flames! For He does not ask us to go where He does not lead. That’s my God!