What are you all reading on summer vacation? My friend, Anna Anderson, commented about a book she just read at the beach and I asked her to write something about it for the blog. Maybe it will be one you would like to pack in the suitcase:
On the bookshelf of the beach house where we recently vacationed, I found a treasure: Sabina Wurmbrand’s autobiography, The Pastor’s Wife. I usually prefer autobiographies to biographies, and I have not changed my mind since reading this one. Transparency with humility resonated on every page. Sabina writes of the trials and suffering that she endured as a Christian in post-WW2 Romania. A Jew in Bucharest during the German-occupation, she lost most of her extended family in the Holocaust, only to face the next wave of persecution as a Christian under Communism.
First her husband, a pastor, disappeared, and then the authorities came for her. For the next three years, she lived in severe deprivation, both in prison and labor camps. Interestingly, her account really did not center on her physical suffering, which reduced her and her fellow workers to eating grass in the fields where they worked. They lived in absolute squalor, at times denied even the most over-looked blessings of our existence, like circulating air and sunlight. They endured abuse by their guards, which threatened Sabina’s life more than once.
Instead, she focused on her inward journey. And not the author’s alone, but what she could read in those that suffered beside her — prostitutes and other common criminals, Gypsies, the Romanian aristocracy and elite, as well as political prisoners, and idealists who had fought for Communism, only to be betrayed by comrades reaching for the next rung of a ladder they had sworn to destroy. It was regret that haunted them most as a never-ending reel of misdeeds played in their minds and drove them to despair and eventually insanity. Sabina’s journey led her instead to a deeper understanding of the gospel and the sanity of seeking Jesus, as suffering did the promised work of purifying, and she found true His words, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
There are so many lessons to take away from this book, yet it will take a conscious effort to retain them. Sabina’s world seems far away this morning as I sit at my computer in my bright kitchen overlooking my garden beds. What I believe I have glimpsed through Sabina is something of the essence of our lives, interred in our abundance until it is dug up and revealed as life or death within us. There is nothing like the winds of suffering to separate the chaff and prove to us what has substance in us. On page 85, Sabina wrote this:
“Society” women were often the most pitiful. Life was harder for them than for anyone. They’d lost most, in the material sense; and they had fewest inner resources to fill the gap. A rubble of old games of bridge, hats, hotels, first-nights, lost weekends and lovers rattled about in their heads like junk in the back seat of a car. Their nerves gave way first, as did their soft white hands ….Those of us who had faith realized for the first time how rich we were. The youngest Christians and the weakest had more resources to call upon than the wealthiest old ladies and the most brilliant intellectuals … (who) when deprived of their books and concerts, often seemed to dry up like indoor plants exposed to the winds. Heart and mind were empty.
Since our return from vacation, I have been concentrating on 1 Timothy 6 to combat the ever-present temptation to forget what my life is about. Is it not a blessing to be surrounded by reminders of transience as well as transcendence? I was busy airing out clothes that had begun to mildew in our basement, when I began to see corruption everywhere—its work without, and more especially its work within, that leeches on the corruptible. And I ask God (yes, with trepidation) for a pure heart unto the sweet blessedness that Sabina tasted, that I might use what time and energy are left me to seek the kingdom of “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15,16).
Anna Anderson is a housewife theologian from Greencastle, PA. She and her family attend Hope Reformed Presbyterian Church in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania