The Help of His Countenance
A 5-year-old girl was enjoying a picnic with her family one day when she noticed a cluster of older girls yelling nearby. Curious, she moved closer and saw a girl cowering in the middle of the group. She was close enough to hear taunting, and she could see the girl in the center withering before her eyes as the others mocked her.
“You look so stupid.”
“Only ugly people wear ugly hats like that.”
A sense of urgency rose up in the heart of the 5-year-old. She burst through the gathering of jeerers; marched up to the diminished girl; and, with beaming face and cheerful tone, announced, “I like your hat!” Suddenly, the jeering stopped; and the girl with the hat lit up like a Christmas tree.
The 5-year-old girl was my mother. When she told me this story, she said the change in the taunted girl’s face made her own face change and her heart shine.
I remember her story when I read Psalm 42. When David was cast down and disquieted, he said to himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance” (v. 5). Then David repeated himself and victoriously declared, “For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (v. 11). How amazing that a 5-year-old can learn that countenance matters.
Courage, Compassion, and Joy
What could give such a young child the courage to fearlessly enter a figurative pack of wolves and speak up for a wounded soul? How did she know how to serve up compassion with a heavy dollop of joy? And how did she end the bullying and get her loving point across without inciting the wolves? What winsome power she had!
Glimpses into her childhood gave me insight. My mother, called “Little Sissy” because she was fourth born, received Jesus as her Savior very young. She adored her big brother, Bobby, who was born with cerebral palsy. From her earliest recollections, Little Sissy observed the cruelty he endured because of his pronounced limp and withered hand. The paralysis also limited his ability to speak and swallow normally, and he carried a handkerchief that was always wet. All these issues set him up for ridicule. She stood with him faithfully when he was bullied.
Very early in life my mother learned to be courageous because she loved her brother. She learned compassion because she felt his pain. Love was the source of her power, and the result was always joy.
Throughout my life I’ve always marveled at my mother. She was the joy of our home and the best of all of us. She loved fiercely, cared deeply, cried easily, and pursued the Lord Jesus with all of her heart. She prayed about all sorts of unlikely things, from parking spaces to weather reports to trips into town to which flannel shirt to buy for Daddy. Her prayers of intercession were brought before God for any variety of people: the president of the United States, my sisters and me every morning before we got on the school bus, a sad lady she saw at the fair, and even sick animals. Nothing was too big or too small for her to pray about.
And she could laugh. Her laughter was so full and hearty that tears rolled down her cheeks, and everyone laughed right along with her. But when her heart was broken, she wept. I never knew anyone else as deep of soul and delightful in spirit as my mother.
As an adult, whenever I asked her how she was doing, she would invariably respond, “I’m just praising the Lord,” “I’m just believing the Lord,” or “I’m going to talk to the Lord about this.” Whenever I had a problem, I’d call my mother; and she would pray for me then and there on the phone. I always felt encouraged, enlightened, and full of hope when I left her.
At one Mother’s Day fellowship, I talked about my mother and spoke from Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” It was easy to speak about this verse because I had watched her live out its truth my whole life. She didn’t buckle under fear but let her faith fortify her. She lived knowing the help of God’s countenance made her own countenance healthy.
Three days after that event, she passed away. When I saw her lying in the casket at the funeral home, I realized it was the first time I ever saw her that her eyes weren’t twinkling and her arms weren’t outstretched to greet me. I cried for months.
After her death, I realized how much I had depended on my mother. Her example built confidence in my heart. I wanted her courage, compassion, and infectious joy.
She had always reminded me, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10) and cautioned me to love the Giver more than His gifts. I wanted to love the Lord as completely as she did. Her reminder encouraged me to study the names of Christ so I could see His countenance for myself. As I immersed myself in Scripture, I discovered the secret of her joy.
My mother had periscope eyes. She was always looking above her circumstances to see the anchor of her soul (Heb. 6:19); and when she did, she was keenly aware of His abiding presence. She truly believed Psalm 139:7–13 and lived in confidence, knowing God was always with her, smiling at her, and walking beside her. She took the Lord with her when she went to the grocery store, hung clothes on the line, or cooked dinner.
Once, I accompanied her to the nursing home to visit my Uncle Bobby. When we prepared to leave, the residents were lined up in wheelchairs awaiting entrance to the dining room. As she passed by, she briefly greeted them, smiling and acknowledging each one. Heads lifted and smiles of recognition replaced vacant stares, like flowers blooming in her wake. I never forgot that. She saw Christ’s compassion with her periscope eyes. When she showered it around, everyone blossomed.
When someone or something wounded her, up went the periscope to focus on the Lord. She saw beyond the pain. She looked to God diligently “lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble” for her (Heb. 12:15). She had learned that bitter countenances, not hats, make people ugly. Her forgiveness took away the power of people and circumstances to control her attitude. This ability to demand forgiveness of herself astounded me.
When I had questions about the leading of the Lord, she had a formula. “First and most important, pray and know the Word of God. See, honey girl, the Lord will never lead you to do anything contrary to His Word, so you must obey Him,” she instructed me. “Next, you need to have the Lord’s peace ruling in your heart about the decision. And last, look at the circumstances and check that it is the Lord leading and that you’re not barging through doors. Make sure all three things line up, and then pray again.”
My mother’s faith for life was so uncomplicated. “Believe God!” she said. The power behind her courage, compassion, and joy was the unshakable assurance of His presence. Psalm 27:8 says, “When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face, LORD, I will seek.’” By practicing this precept, her life was blessed according to Aaron’s priestly blessing: “The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Num. 6:25–26).
May we live like this: a lifestyle of courage, compassion, and joy because of the hope and security of our salvation and the gift of God’s countenance upon us.