Prone to wonder
Embracing the mystery of sad news cycles
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In the first volume of his prayer book Every Moment Holy, author Douglas McKelvey includes a worthy meditation for weary news-readers: “A Liturgy for Those Flooded by Too Much Information.”
McKelvey taps into the news-induced anxiety of absorbing “more grief, O Lord, than we can rightly consider, of more suffering and scandal than we can respond to, of more hostility, hatred, horror, and injustice than we can engage with compassion.”
I thought of this prayer recently when news broke of a local tragedy: Robert Lesslie, 70, a beloved physician in nearby Rock Hill, S.C., was murdered in his home on a sunny afternoon, along with his wife, Barbara, 69, and their two visiting grandchildren, Adah, 9, and 5-year-old Noah.
National news picked up the story: Former NFL player Phillip Adams fatally gunned down the family and two repairmen working outside before returning to his parents’ nearby home and killing himself. Police haven’t indicated a motive.
Hundreds showed up for a prayer vigil at a park three days later. Lesslie had treated residents in the area for decades, and he later founded a local hospice center. (Even the police spokesman announcing the murders said Lesslie had been his pediatrician when he was growing up.)
Lesslie was an elder at First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Rock Hill, and he authored a handful of books about watching God’s providence at work in the trials of the emergency room. He volunteered as a physician for Camp Joy, an annual Christian camp for people with special needs, and Barbara led lively Bible studies for the campers.
Last spring, Lesslie and grandson Noah stood outside Westminster Towers, a Rock Hill retirement and nursing home community, and played bagpipes to elderly residents quarantined to their apartments. Among the hymns: “Be still my soul: when dearest friends depart, and all is darkened in the vale of tears.”
Bagpipers played at the funeral for all four Lesslies in April, but not just sad songs: “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” The classic hymn includes a line about why we need God’s mercy even when we’re aware of His grace: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”
As sinners we’re prone to wander from God, but as grievers we’re also prone to wonder about God’s purposes: When hardship strikes close to home or in the grueling news cycles unfolding before our eyes, we sometimes wonder: Why this disaster, why this illness, why this pandemic, why this turmoil?
In the Scriptures, Job wondered the same thing: Why did God allow so much calamity to befall him suddenly? His friends offered unsatisfying answers aimed at neatly summing up God’s ways (still a modern-day temptation), but God pressed Job to consider a different kind of wonder—the wonder of His creation and power and might: “Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?”
Even in suffering, such wonders point to what G.K. Chesterton wrote in his meditations on the book of Job: “The secret of God is a bright and not a sad one.”
Lesslie was pondering that secret just months before his own sudden death, as he wrote about heaven. He imagined someday “walking with Barbara in a field of lush, green grass, surrounded by gently rising conifer-cloaked hills. The words of Jesus will echo through that glade—‘Behold, I make all things new.’”
And he wrote about the greatest reality awaiting those who trust in the resurrected Christ: “One day, when I depart this body and find myself in the presence of the Lord, my time, however it will be measured, will be filled with the praises and the wonder of Jesus.”
Whether we’re prone to wander from God, wonder about His purposes, or wonder at His mercy and power, the prayer we need is all the same: “Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.”
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