By Leah Gillen
In preparation for the lesson I was about to teach from the Old Testament book of Ruth, I posed the following question to my ladies Sunday School class: “As a child or youth, what was one of the greatest heartaches you’ve ever experienced that, in hindsight, might not have been that tragic of a heartache in the grand scheme of life?” You know the kind…those we experience as children that appear as if our world will fall apart at any moment as a result of this newly discovered sorrow. I made it clear that I wasn’t talking about those heartaches that had lasting effects: divorce of parents, death in the family, abuse, etc. I simply wanted to hear about those that most of us now can look back upon and laugh.
For me, I shared about the time I was in first grade and humiliated by my teacher. To set the stage, I was a rule-follower all the way. I was known as the “teacher’s pet”, because I made good grades, kept my mouth shut when I was asked to, and never disobeyed an instruction given to the class. This particular morning, I had to make a quick trip to the bathroom. Upon returning to my seat, I picked up my pencil to await the words we would soon hear from Mrs. Sizemore, “Now begin your worksheet, class.” To my dismay, Mrs. Sizemore walked right up to me, and asked me to hold out my hand, which she proceeded to smack with a ruler, and then said, “I told you not to pick up your pencil until I said so!”
I was shocked and humiliated. The tears started to pour. I couldn’t even utter words to defend myself. I later learned that she apparently instructed the class not to pick up our pencils until she gave the command to do so. Because I was in the bathroom, I missed that announcement. I never even tried to defend myself. I took the punishment and never forgot about that day the rest of my first grade year.
My heart still hurts a little to remember that 6-year-old girl – wet with tears – all because of an innocent misunderstanding. But, I can also laugh at that one a bit too, knowing now that was one of many heartaches (some much larger and some still small) set to come my way over the next few decades:
- The destroying of my glass figurines by an angry sibling
- The separation and divorce of my parents
- A disastrous move to FL at the end of my 8th grade year
- Two unfortunate remarriages and divorces by my mother
- My high school sweetheart unexpectedly breaking up with me after 18 months of dating
- My pants splitting straight down the back seam while I was standing in the very front of the church one Sunday evening
- Painful surgeries
- Weight management battles
And…this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve had forty years of heartaches, but nothing compares to the sorrow I experienced on May 4, 2011 when my precious husband took his own life. In retrospect…
- That slap on the hand in 1st grade was laughable
- My broken, treasured figurines could be replaced
- I ended up moving back to NC from FL making that move not so miserable after all
- God protected my mother and siblings from those unfortunate marriages
- My high school sweetheart wasn’t all he was cracked up to be anyway
- My split pants…well, let’s just say that’s one I’d simply like to forget about J
- I healed from my surgeries
- I was blessed to be able to give birth to one child – even with minor fertility treatment
- And the weight management battles – well, they wage on – but, that too will be over one day
However, the tragedy of my husband’s death…the sorrow in becoming a widow…the despair and loneliness in losing my helpmate and best friend…I don’t ever expect to look back on this time and think “Aww…that wasn’t so bad after all.” I will never discount this horrific and painful time as being anything less than what it’s been.
However…yes, there’s a however…
The bigger tragedy? You might be asking how I can even imagine a bigger tragedy. Honestly, the most distressful heartache I can imagine is not meeting my Savior face-to-face in Heaven one day. Does that make these dark days easier? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Regardless, the day I enter His arms, He will wipe away every tear and all sorrow will vanquish, and this lifetime of heartache will be completely erased.
For now, I rely on His Holy Spirit to carry me through the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt, trusting that He will do just as He promised. And…when that blessed day comes…this recent heartache will end up in the list with all the others.
“Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
YET I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.”