from Elisabeth Elliot’s Keep a Quiet Heart, p. 46

Because my husband Lars is a Norwegian who would happily eat fish three times a day if I’d give it to him (I seldom do), I often have fishheads and fishbones to discard. I don’t’ like the noise the disposal makes if I put them in there, so I fire them out the window onto the grass. A prompt and thorough garbage service is provided free of charge by the seven resident crows who materialize out of nowhere (nine minutes is the maximum time it has taken them to detect my offerings). Recently I watched one of them attempt to stuff all the pieces into his beak before his buddies had arrived. He carefully picked up everything except one long backbone. Here was a dilemma. How was he to grab the backbone without dropping the beakful he already had? Solemnly he surveyed the scene, stepped slowly around the bone and cogitated. So everything is done by instinct, is it? I don’t believe it. He was reasoning. He made a decision. He dropped the smaller pieces, grasped the bone right in the middle and raised it. Too unwieldy. More cogitation. Then, delicately, he lifted one end of the backbone, bent it around with his claw and picked up the other end. Now, holding both ends in his beak he succeeded somehow (I couldn’t for the life of me see exactly how) in gathering all but a few small bits and flew off, triumphant, to relish his find in solitude.

Is there anyone reading this who is not faced with a perplexity of some sort? Some of you face serious dilemmas. We want to pray, “Lord, please remove the dilemma.” Usually the answer is “No, not right away.” We must face it, pray over it, think about it, wait on the Lord, make a choice. Sometimes it is an excruciating choice.

St. Augustine said, “The very pleasures of human life men acquire by difficulties.” There are times when the entire arrangement of our existence is disrupted and we long then for just one ordinary day–seeing our ordinary life as greatly desirable, even wonderful, in the light of the terrible disruption that has taken place. Difficulty opens our eyes to pleasures we had taken for granted.

I recall one of the times my second husband Add was released from the hospital when he had cancer. I did not suppose he was cured, but just having him at home once more was all I asked for that day. I set the table in the dining room with candlelight as I always did for dinner. I had fixed his favorite meal–steak, baked potato, salad, my homebaked apple pie. As he bowed his head to give thanks in the usual way, I had a sudden urge to do something very unusual–to drop to the floor and clutch his hands and sing “Let us break bread together on our knees.” I didn’t’ do it. Things proceeded in the ordinary way, but there was a new radiance about them simply because we had been deprived for a while, and knew we would soon be deprived again, probably permanently.

Paul said he had been “very thoroughly initiated into the human lot with all its ups and downs” (Philippians 4:12, NEB). He was hard-pressed, bewildered, persecuted, and struck down. God in His mercy did not choose to remove the dilemmas with which he was faced (some of His greatest mercies are His refusals), but chose instead to make Himself known to Paul because of them, in ways which would strengthen his faith and make him a strengthener and an instrument of peace ot the rest of us. Hard-pressed he was, but not hemmed in–God promises that none of us will ever be tempted beyond our power to endure. Bewildered as he was, but never at wit’s end–God promises wisdom to those who ask for it. Persecuted, but never left to “stand it alone”–God promises His unfailing presence, all the days of our lives. Struck down, Paul was not left to die, though some of his rescues were ignominious in the extreme–the great apostle, let down over a wall in a basket, and on occasion making it to land on a chunk of flotsam! Hardly the means he would have envisioned God’s using to fulfill His promises. But on second thought, why not? The absurdity of it all does us good. Life is absurd–on the surface of things–but every bit of it is planned, as Paul goes on to say:

“It is for your sake that all things are ordered, so that, as the abounding grace of God is shared by more and more, the greater may be the chorus of thanksgiving that ascends to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:15, NEB). Maybe Paul’s testimony, which has cheered countless millions, will cheer somebody who still faces a dilemma he has begged the Lord to remove. All of Paul’s were solved, but not all of them in Paul’s way or Paul’s time, Selah.