Truths from Past Reflections: The Oddest Thing

Truths from Past Reflections: The Oddest Thing

Tuesday November 22, 2022


From a reflection that I wrote many years ago now, but filled with raw truths about life and death and trust in God that are still valid and relevant today...




The oddest thing happened the other day.

I was in our church’s pastoral staff meeting. Together, we were studying Psalm 131: commenting on the contentment of a child fed and satisfied at its mother’s breast – reflecting on the humble, quiet, hopeful trust of a man or a woman in God amidst the oftentimes incomprehensible struggles and adversities of life. 

And then, for some reason, even though I had not thought about this particular man in many years and certainly had forgotten his name over time – he very clearly came to mind. Just like that. Out of thin air. I can’t even remember what exactly we were talking about at the time that reminded me of him.


Harold Harrington. A Reformed Presbyterian pastor and teacher who I’d met through friends in the early 1980’s in Ottawa, Canada. A wonderful, wise, gentle, learned man of God. I still remember him after all this time, mainly because of a heart-breaking story that he told me one night so many years ago, and because of the astounding and awe-inspiring way that he shared it with me.  


It was the story of his 8-year old daughter Gretchen walking off to Vacation Bible School in August of 1975 as she had done many times before – of her never arriving there – of her not coming back home – of her being searched for by over two-hundred volunteers over several days. And then, of her dead body eventually being found in a State Park nearby…


I still remember, in fact I can still feel the heavy pain in my heart, as I recall Reverend Harrington sharing his agonizing story with me. He spoke slowly, quietly – I listened, stunned. Both of us wept. And I, in my relatively young faith at the time, sat there struggling to make sense out of such a, to me, senseless tragedy.

“Why God? Why did You allow this to happen? Why didn’t You intervene? How could You have watched something so horrific happen to such an innocent little girl? How could You have permitted such a devastating ordeal in the lives of Your faithful servants?” I asked God. I pleaded with Him. I fought with Him. His answer was silence.


So I asked Reverend Harrington. His response, amidst his tears, was one of solid faith and humble trust. He didn’t understand it either. He had no answer as to the “whys” and “hows” of what had happened. But he told me that he knew in Whom he had chosen to believe, and that he was convinced that He was able to guard what he had entrusted to Him until the final day. No, it didn’t make sense. No, it wasn’t right. Yes, it hurt beyond words. Yes, it nearly killed him too. But, he was convinced that, whether it seemed to be so or not, God is always always good. He must have been clinging to the words from Psalm 27 as he spoke to me: “I remain confident of this:
 I will see the goodness of the Lord
 in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart 
and wait for the Lord.” (13-14) For him, somehow even Gretchen’s seemingly untimely and tragic death fit into God’s good and perfect will, and although he could not at all understand it, he was willing to accept it.


In time I came to see that, in the face of such incomprehensible loss, Reverend Harrington had chosen the route – not of haughtiness and bitterness and hatred regarding matters beyond his understanding – but of humility and quietness, trust and hope in a God who knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) and who surely does all things well (Mark 7:37). Like a child: with a humble heart – not concerned and anxious over matters too great for his small mind to comprehend – with a satisfied, calmed and quieted soul – and with a constant hope in the provider, the sustainer and the lover of his life. As Psalm 116:7 reads, “Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”


So why is this reflection called "The Oddest Thing"?

Well, one odd thing is that I would have remembered all this in one split second while we were studying and reflecting on Psalm 131 in our pastoral staff meeting last week.

And the even odder thing is this: when I went online to find a picture, or a biography or something about Harold B. Harrington, what I did find were three of his sermons. I clicked on the first one, entitled Trusting Like a Child, and there was the wise, gentle, learned man of God that I had remembered, preaching on Psalm 131 – of all things!


Now, isn’t that just the oddest thing?