Wisdom from the Masters for the Care and Maintenance of the Soul
An old farmer heard the worst news a veterinary surgeon can give to a stockman, then murmured the unexpected words, “These things happen.”
James Herriot (1916-1995) writes in “All Things Wise and Wonderful” that farmer Duggleby spoke the words in the Yorkshire dialect, “Aye well, these things ‛appen.”
The veterinary sadly reported to Mr. Duggleby that his pigs had Foot and Mouth disease and must be destroyed. The farmer’s small farm would “soon be a silent place of death,” Herriot writes, “but he just chewed his pipe and said, These things ‛appen.”
James Herriot (pen name for James Alfred Wight) writes about his life as a Yorkshire animal doctor in the 1930s and 1940s in a series of slightly fictionalized books that take their names from lines penned by Cecil Francis Alexander (1818-1895).
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
Herriot remembers often hearing the old Yorkshire expression used by Mr. Duggleby to assess his woeful situation “under circumstances that would make most city folk, including myself, beat their heads against a wall.”
Imagine the faith and courage it takes to accept a grave setback with the words these things happen. Yet, such patience in suffering is not beyond the reach of us all. The Apostle Paul, who knew adversity beyond what most can imagine, declared, “I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances” (Philippians 4:11).
The year 2019 didn’t begin well for me. And now as the year draws to a close, things haven’t much improved. It started in January with the discovery of neurological damage that rendered my bladder virtually useless. When given the news, I was put off with the urologist’s ‛comforting’ words, “It could be worse.” (More about that later.)
Then, in June, when a surgeon attempted to improve the situation, not only was he unsuccessful, but he discovered prostate cancer. Now, as I prepare to undergo radiation therapy, I see blotches in an eye. The eye doctor diagnosed the problem as vitreous degeneration, a condition that carries with it the possibility of retinal detachment. My response? “It figures.”
A week or so ago, I pulled my well-worn copy of “All Things Wise and Wonderful” off the shelf, dusted it off, and began reading. Reading is the best therapy I know for a troubled mind and heart—a highly effective type of heart floss.
Chapter 45, the account of Mr. Duggleby’s pigs, could have been written for my benefit. I said the phrase over and over. These things happen. These things happen. Soon I began looking at the whole series of unfortunate events in 2019 through the eyes of an old farmer that stood helplessly by as the authorities slaughtered his livelihood. “Aye well, these things ‛appen.”
It took just a few re-readings of this chapter in James Herriot’s masterpiece to transform my, “It figures,” to, “These things happen.” The only reason I share with you my few physical setbacks is to demonstrate how it is possible to adapt well to any situation with a “these things happen” attitude.
These three words won’t change the circumstances, but they can change how you cope with them. We can arrive at Mr. Duggleby’s “These things ‛appen” assessment of a situation by internalizing the following affirmations:
At the time, I thought my urologist’s attempt to ease the burden of my affliction with, “It could be worse,” fell woefully short of providing comfort. But in retrospect, I understand his words were heartfelt. He sees hundreds of patients suffering from countless afflictions. Many of them fatal.
Yes, without a doubt, things could be worse. And it’s only by the mercies of the Lord that they’re not. Jeremiah wrote, during his time of distress, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22). Amazingly, we fare far better than we think. Kris Kristofferson wrote:
Why me, Lord?
What have I ever done
To deserve even one
Of the pleasures I’ve known?
Tell me, Lord,
What did I ever do
That was worth loving you
Or the kindness you’ve shown?
Taking inventory of our blessings great and small reveals how much better off we are than we thought. These things happen, but it could be worse.
At one point, I vowed to refrain from sharing my situation with anyone, not even my church family. It seemed that with every recitation of my maladies, I was told about a friend or relative who had the same problem, or worse.
Now I understand that these well-meaning persons intended to convey the truth that I’m not riding this trail alone. Paul reminded the Corinthians, “No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Above all, we know Jesus, the Son of God, faced all the same trials we do and, therefore, comforts us in our time of trouble (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15). God promises never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). These things happen, but we’re not alone.
I don’t mean, as many people tell you, “You’ll make it through it.” There might not be a through it. Some diseases have no cure. One might suffer from an injury for the rest of their life. The heartbreak of losing a loved one may never go away. My bladder will never be well. The surgeon at the Mayo Clinic jokingly confided, “If we can ever do bladder transplants, you’ll be first on the list.”
The Apostle Paul dominates a good portion of the New Testament, which is why I refer to him often. Paul suffered from an undisclosed illness. Whatever it was, bothered him a great deal. He prayed fervently to the Lord for relief. But healing didn’t come. Instead, God gave Paul precisely what he needed to manage his infirmity: Divine power to endure. “He said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Paul also assured the Christians at Corinth that God “will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). These things happen, but we can endure it.
You’ve heard the old saying, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” That means a few rays of sunlight always make it through the dark clouds. Every problematic or sad situation has a comforting or more hopeful aspect, even though this may not be immediately apparent.
King David faced oppression and fell into depression. He wrote of the experience in Psalm 43 and concluded with a solution.
Why are you depressed, O my soul?
Why are you upset?
Wait for God!
For I will again give thanks
to my God
for his saving intervention.
Adversity with God infinitely surpasses a life of ease without God. Being confined for a season or a lifetime provides the opportunity for reading, study, reflection, meditation, prayer, and the like. Above all, we become closer to God than ever before.
Shortly after Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) learned of the tragic deaths of his four daughters at sea, he traveled to meet his grieving wife, who survived the shipwreck. When his ship passed near the place where his daughters perished, the Lord touched Spafford’s heart with the words of a hymn.
As the grief-stricken father wrote, the heavy burden became lighter. No words can describe the profound loss Horatio Spafford suffered. But out of that dark providence emerged a hymn that has comforted and strengthened untold numbers of distressed souls to this very day.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well; it is well with my soul.
Click on It is Well and listen to the hymn’s inspiring words. Reflect on the situation that troubles you and say with Farmer Duggleby, “These things happen.” Remember (1) It could be worse. (2) You’re not alone. (3) You can endure it. (4) It’s not all bad. These things happen.