The Common Good

Betty Ford and the Trials and Blessings of Life

Life is hard. It is full of pain, disappointments, and challenges of every kind. When hard times come our way, we often ask, Why me? And the answer comes: Why not you? We sometimes think that God has forsaken us, and sometimes God is silent. It is difficult to remember the Biblical wisdom that explains why believers, children of God, the beloved of God go through difficult times. This Biblical wisdom says:

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"Blessed be the God and [Father and Mother] of our Lord Jesus Christ, the [Lord] of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation." (II Corinthians 1:3-7)

When we suffer various afflictions, God will console us with God's own divine love, and when others are going through their various afflictions, we can comfort them with this same love.

Betty Ford, in many ways, lived a blessed life. She was the wife of a congressman who became vice president and then president of the United States. Gerald Ford loved his wife deeply. She was blessed with children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Betty Ford died last Friday, July 8 at 93 years old. However, the blessings of her life came with a price.

She suffered from alcoholism and addiction to prescription drugs. She suffered breast cancer. There is nothing extraordinary in these facts. The extraordinary thing is that she suffered these afflictions publicly with grace and with dignity.

In our current world of "too much information," when we sometimes wish people would be more circumspect about their personal lives, it is difficult to recall a time in our history when nearly everything was secret. There was a time when cancer was a death sentence and people did not speak about it. There was a time when respectable people suffered from drug and alcohol abuse behind closed doors. Betty Ford was instrumental in changing this.

Her honesty about her problems and about her positions on controversial issues -- support of the Equal Rights Amendment and for women's rights -- assures her an important place in American history, and in the history of America's first ladies. When she talked openly about her breast cancer, it encouraged other women to get tested. When she publicly confronted her addictions and started a treatment clinic that bears her name, she encouraged others to come out of the shadows, seek treatment, and live a better life.

At her funeral on Wednesday, July, 12, she was remembered not only for her candor, but for her wish that people of different political opinions could work together as friends to solve the nation's problems. She was interested in civility in the public discourse. Betty Ford was a woman who knew the consolations of God through her own difficult times and she was able to encourage and to console others with that same consolation. Thank you, Betty Ford. Rest in peace. We will try to live the truth you taught us.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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