June 10, 2010
by Patrick Lafferty
Love is not resentful.
1 Corinthians 13:5
Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn were two of five students traveling in a Taylor University van in April 2006 when an oncoming 18-wheeler lost control and slammed into their vehicle. All but one of the students perished.
Authorities on the scene identified the lone survivor as Van Ryn and hastened her to a nearby Indiana trauma center. The parents of the other four victims were notified that their children had died tragically. Whitney Cerak’s parents memorialized and buried their daughter days later.
Badly bruised, swollen, and bandaged from the accident, Laura was barely recognizable to her friends and family. Still, her condition improved remarkably and in a few weeks she was transferred to a rehabilitation facility.
In the weeks leading up to her transfer, family members began to notice peculiarities in Laura’s appearance that left them confused. Only when a therapist at the rehab facility asked Laura to write her name on a pad did she awkwardly scribe, “W-H-I-T-N-E-Y.” Confirming that patient Laura Van Ryn was in fact Whitney Cerak, hospital officials had two momentous phone calls to make.
One can scarcely imagine the elation the Cerak family must’ve felt upon hearing that the daughter they thought they’d buried was actually alive and progressing in therapy.
The intensity of their joy could only be rivaled by the Van Ryns’ heartbreak when they came to learn Laura’s true fate. The accident had deprived them of their child. A hasty identification ended up providing them hope, only to steal it away. Can you imagine the potential for resentment to seethe in their hearts? Resentment at the authorities who allowed an oversight to persist for weeks. Even resentment at God, who’d allowed that massive truck to steal four lives in an instant, including Laura’s.
Mark reminded us Sunday of Paul’s admonition that love is not resentful. It does not stockpile a record of wrongs to be used as an arsenal against the one who’s wronged us.
The Van Ryns had been wronged, deeply wronged. Their loss was incalculable, compounded by the subsequent devastation of dashed hope. Rather than take the path of resentment, however, something else led them to a hopeful kind of mourning: the kind that allowed them to grieve but at the same time rejoice in the Ceraks' good news. What led them there was the gospel. As Laura’s mother, Lisa, put it, “The message in our story is one of hope that we have in Jesus.”
You see, the Van Ryns avoided the path toward resentment by trusting in profound truths: that what they have in Christ is even greater than what they lost in their daughter; that the harm that befell their family did not mean God had abandoned them or was unable to bring great good out of that tragic moment; and, of course, that the Laura who left them will one day walk again with them, when the dead in Christ shall rise.
Only by the grace of God and in the power of His Spirit would anyone be able to face the sorrows the Van Ryns did. The path away from resentment and toward love and contentment is nothing less than a work of God.
But His work was not limited to the Van Ryns. For Matt Lauer, who considered it an honor to tell this story to America on Dateline, acknowledged, “I don’t know how long I’ll do this job, but for as long as I do it, I think your families will be the most extraordinary families I’ve ever met. . . . I’m not a deeply religious person, but I am a spiritual person. I just said to someone (Thursday morning) as we were getting ready to do the show, ‘It makes you want to be even more spiritual and makes you want to embrace your spirituality.’ These people have such a positive outlook on life, despite all they’ve been through, and that's because of their faith.”
That Lauer was so moved by the Van Ryns’ faith I think confirms another paradox of the Christian faith: The conditions under which resentment might take root most easily are the same conditions under which God’s glory might be displayed most radiantly. The Van Ryns could’ve rued their daughter’s loss in bitterness. Instead, by God’s grace, their loss elicited love resting on faith. In so doing they validated once again the nature of our God: He turns tragedies into triumphs through trust in His love.
Few of us will face tragedy similar to the Van Ryns’, but every one of us will face opportunities to harbor resentment for wrong done to us. What’s eating you today, due to some slight, deprivation, or wrong? Do you see the opportunity to adorn the gospel by how you face that circumstance? Do you grasp how much you will have to turn to the truths of the gospel in order to find the strength to love whoever landed the blow? A turn not only to the truths, but to the One who spoke and proved them. The first step away from resentment begins with a prayer. To the One who’s already been praying for you—that love would displace it.