On the Side: September 2021
Lessons from the Furnace
by Carol Shrader
The census taker arrived just as Wade was pulling in from a long stretch at the hospital. He told me to go on doing what I was doing—cooking supper with three toddlers at my ankles—and he would answer the questions. When the census taker asked Wade how many hours he had worked the week before, I stuck my head out of the kitchen to hear his answer. “All,” I wanted to scream. He worked all the hours. Wade answered 130. I watched at the gentleman looked at his form, looked at Wade and looked back at the form. “Sir, we are only given two squares. Is it ok if I just put 99?”
I was screaming in my head, “NO! He deserves credit for all 130! We all deserve credit for those hours!!!” Thankfully, my brain kicked into gear and I realized the census didn’t give us credit in any way—and 99 would be fine for the purposes of the form. Sigh.
It was in the midst of this, in the throes of residency, when my husband was bankrupt emotionally, physically and spiritually, that I said out loud—more than once—that if any of our children mentioned going to medical school, I would stand at the door of the school barring their entrance with my very body. I couldn’t bear to imagine one of my babies going through the fires that my husband was enduring. It felt like too much.
In the Old Testament, King Nebuchadnezzar summons Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to him to demand they fall down before the god he has made and worship or be thrown into the fiery furnace.
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up’” (Daniel 3:16-18, NIV).
I am not even sure which part of these two verses inspires me the most: That Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were willing to stand up to the king and trust God? Or that in their refusal to bow down, they acknowledge that even if God doesn’t protect them, they would refuse to bow to a false God? Reading the story with the knowledge of what happens next, you almost miss those six words, right? “But even if he does not….” Even if we aren’t saved from death, we still take this stand. Even if we don’t get our way, we will praise you anyway. As we move into yet another school year with this pandemic raging, I am trying to find my “even if.”
And friends, I need you to know that if I were the mother of these three, I would have jumped in front of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and begged them to relent. I would have tried to block the furnace door and save them with my very own strength.
I fear this is far too telling about me as a person. I fear I often get in God’s way as I try to circumvent hard stuff for my family.
Let’s look again at Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego:
“Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, Your Majesty.’ He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’ Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!’ So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.’ Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon” (Daniel 3:19-30, NIV).
I can barely get through the passage without feeling so ashamed of all the good things these men would have missed if I had in fact been able to stand in the way, been able to save them from the “hard stuff.” Oh, if I had been the mother of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and successfully prevented them from walking through the literal fire, I would also have robbed them of showing God’s strength and might. I would have prevented the glory of the Lord from showing itself. I would have prevented the praising of God by King Nebuchadnezzar.
The entire world feels hard right now. And ladies, our husbands are—and have been—walking through challenges that, frankly, I wish I could prevent. Being in the medical community during this pandemic means that in training or out of training, our men are walking into the furnace every time they walk into work.
We could try to bar them from going. We could try to prevent them leaving home with physical restraint. Goodness knows, I have wanted to do just that more than once over the last 18 months. If feels helpless to stand outside the furnace, doesn’t it?
But friends, we are not helpless, we can call on the name of God—on the one who sent His son to walk in to the furnace with our men—to protect them, sustain them and give them the health, wisdom and grace to handle all that comes before them. We can ask God not to let them get burned up in the furnace.
And we can beg God to help us praise Him EVEN IF.
Please know I am praying all of this with you and for you.
Blessings dear ones,
Carol Mason Shrader
Carol Mason Shrader is married to her wonderful Wade, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon in Wilmington, Delaware. Their baby girl starts 10th grade this month, and her adult triplets continue graduate school and adulting. She spends a lot of time trying NOT to get in God’s way in all of their lives. (And so far none have gone to medical school. ; ) )