By Elaine Knudtson
When God is in our lives, we know that hardships are His opportunity to show His power. Life is not fair or kind; we live in a broken world, but He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. Suffering and persecution is meant to drive us to Christ. “I Surrender All” is the altar cry at these times. “Search Me O Lord “ opens our lives to change. Only His spirit can reveal where that change needs to happen, but the transformative power of a crisis has the potential to either destroy or rebuild us.
I have been working on my family story for a reunion we are having this summer. It has been a blessing to observe the arc of our family through the transformational moments in each generation. Our greatest tragedy is often God’s opportunity for His greatest gifts.
In 1885 Jons Larsson had lost his first wife shortly after the birth of their fourth child. Raising four sons in a small log cabin in Sweden proved to be a challenge. When he remarried and began having children with his second wife, the tiny log cabin forced a life-changing decision. His oldest son was asked to move out and establish his own home. His youngest son, a dwarf, was allowed to stay. However, Louie and Ole, ages 15 and 13 were sent to a farmer in Wisconsin as indentured farm hands. There they were treated cruelly and given unrealistic expectations. Through a series of events, Ole eventually came to Amisk, Alberta under the Canadian Homestead Act in 1909. Shortly thereafter, he made a decision to sponsor his father and step mother, along with their four children, to come to Canada. His act of forgiveness and grace towards the very ones who sent him into exile, became the transformational story for Jons Larsson. Just as Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, only to become the means by which the children of Israel (Jacob) were saved from famine in Canaan, so Ole became the means by which his family came to Canada.
By 1921, Ole had a thriving farm in Amisk , but he lost two of his sons within 11 days of each other to scarlet fever. “Why God?” he asked. He listened and heard, “Because you have made your farm an idol that has replaced me.” That seemed harsh and he could have walked away from God and become bitter. At a time when prayer seemed futile, he sold his farm and built a church. His prosperity was eventually restored, but his greatest legacy is in the lives of the people in the community and in his own family who were influenced by his faith. He didn’t get his sons back, but God changed the trajectory of his life. The church he built still stands.
My grandfather, Nels, came from a nominal Christian home. He married Ole’s daughter, Ruth. She remained faithful to the Lord throughout the years despite watching Nels go through 3 failed businesses that moved her from Amisk to Killam to Wildwood and Edmonton. Nels was a mechanic and an entrepreneur. He owned car dealerships and fixed vehicles. He was good at it, but the war and bad timing left him bankrupt. After the third financial collapse, he returned to Edmonton and gave up the dream of being an entrepreneur. The only work he could find was cleaning wood that had been damaged by a fire; humiliating for someone who had bigger aspirations. During that time he sought the Lord. There was a revival in the church they were attending and it grabbed Nels’s soul. His priorities shifted to the church where he became a secretary/treasurer and faithfully attended over the years. My Dad tells me that his heart melted. When Dad was growing up, Nels was a rigid and a strict disciplinarian. By the time God finished with him, he was beloved, gracious, and full of good humour. God raised him up. Although he never again owned a business, he did become a mechanic, with a steady income, that allowed him to support the family. More importantly, his heart opened to the love and mercy of God. Bitterness was replaced with faith, even in his darkest moments.
I suffered a marriage breakdown in my early twenties just before my daughter was born. Looking to the future I saw nothing but hardship and loneliness. I asked my father, “Why is that my life is so hard when all I wanted to do was serve the lord?” He reminded me of the Lord’s question to Saul on the Road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, how long will you kick against the pricks?” It was my call to surrender to the love, mercy and grace of God. Learning to trust in the faithfulness of God, despite the circumstances, lead me to a lifelong career as a teacher and principal, and marriage to a compassionate man of God. He became a pastor and biblical teacher at several Bible schools and colleges while helping me raise four wonderful children. What might have happened if I had walked away from the Lord at my moment of crisis?
Death of children, loss of vocation, financial devastation, marriage breakdown—this is the stuff of life. God doesn’t make it happen, but he waits there to be our spiritual director, remolding old habits and entrenched attitudes that keep us from being everything He has in mind for us.
I don’t know why we suffer. What happens to us is often beyond our control, but our response is totally our own. Joshua said to the children of Israel, 14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
When the path is dark and uncertain, consider that this may be your transformative moment. May God give you the grace to stand firm in Him.