Saints of the Fire

There are many people I genuinely love to spend time with. Their presence is easy and enjoyable; laughter and good conversation come readily. And I leave our times together feeling like I have friends here in New England; I feel less alone, more at home. I treasure them.

Then there are people whose presence I leave feeling refreshed in the deepest parts of me, feeling challenged and inspired to be a better wife, a better friend, a better follower of Jesus. These moments, these dear people, are more rare—and I don’t usually realize it until after they’ve departed. It’s then that I release a deep, satisfied sigh. This is fellowship in its truest sense—bigger than a building, bigger than a planned event, bigger than just a few simple people spending time together.

I had one of these moments recently at a retreat, when I met a dear woman I will call, so as not to embarrass her, Alice. Someone introduced me to Alice; “she would really benefit from your workshop on pain,” I was told. I quickly realized this: Alice did not need to be in my workshop; in fact, she was much more qualified than I to teach it.

She understood the health struggles I experienced over the last year and a half, and she understood the added frustration of being hit with health problems right at the beginning of marriage, that which should be such a season of joy and delight filled instead with questions and doctor’s appointments. She looked at me with clear blue eyes—eyes that had seen decades of physical pain, dozens of surgeries, the loss of the ability to do or to eat what she liked, and challenges with struggling children—and those eyes pierced to my soul: “I can tell you, Diana, whatever comes for you, He is enough and He will walk with you through it. No matter what may come, you are not alone.”

Any number of fellow Christians could say this, and it would be a statement of truth. But few can say it with such conviction or with so much at stake in its truth. But this dear one had stood for years upon years in the fire, no relief in sight, no answers, no miracles of healing. She stood in the fire—and was not consumed. She stood in the fire—and saw that God was present there, in the fire, with her. Like Paul, the Lord did not remove her “thorn in the flesh”—her body was broken and weak. But like Paul, it was precisely in this deep weakness that the Lord’s strength shone through most brilliantly. And I can tell you, when her eyes looked deeply into mine, I knew—Alice was one of the strongest people I had ever met. In her eyes I saw a sure, quiet confidence. In her eyes I saw the compassion of Jesus.

When people share testimonies at church, they are often ones of victory and miraculous intervention. The difficult circumstances of life are typically past-tense. These stories are valuable and should be told. But we also need to hear testimonies from the Alices in our churches. We need to hear the testimony of someone whose victory looks more like defeat and whose miracle is simply the strength to keep living. We need to hear the story of “long obedience in the same direction,” even when what life has thrown at us isn’t pleasant and doesn’t make sense. We need to hear stories of faith so desperate that the Gospel is all we have to live for. For it is these stories, I believe, that allow us to see the costly-bought saints in our midst.

Their stories should not invoke our pity, for the people who tell them do not typically want it. What they want is to invoke praise for our God’s great faithfulness and strength. They want us to hear, as Job said, after everything has been stripped away, “I have seen Him. And that is enough.”

I pray, as Alice did, that the Lord does not ask me to follow down a road like hers. But there is a part deep within me that longs to have a faith as deeply-rooted and fire-tested as hers, to have eyes shining with sure, quiet confidence that whatever road I may walk, He goes before and behind, to be able to say, “I have seen Him. That is enough.”