Every challenge has a lesson in it.
Written by Kimberly Grunden
Who wants difficulty in their life?
I'm guessing I won't get many takers. I haven't met many who will volunteer for the things that might make them unhappy.
I knew this guy who prayed for conflict once. When I learned that guy was praying that God would allow some conflict between him and me, I grew pretty upset. Considering I went on to marry that boy, I’m sure that says something about me. The truth is my gut reaction to his prayer was anger because, at my core, I fear conflict will lead to sadness.
Happiness and ease is what I want most at any given time in my life.
I have experienced the kind of struggles that keep the tears flowing and peace distant.
After battling through several seasons of difficulty in my life, I have come to consider Paul’s words when he tells us to rejoice in all things and have asked, "Can trials really be a blessing?"
Can we really consider suffering to be an opportunity to build perseverance without faking it?
Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned from the many long days I’ve walked through these questions myself.
What we fear, God has already conquered
A few years into being married to my husband, our calendars were filled with baby shower invitations. We watched our friends grow their families and we dreamed of babies of our own.
And while they decorated nurseries, we saw infertility doctors.
While they took prenatal vitamins and learned to breastfeed, I recovered from four surgeries, took 20 nausea-inducing pills a day and threw out dozens of negative pregnancy tests.
And then finally—after five years of tears, medicines, hospitals, scheduled intimacy and two hearts holding on to thin threads of hope—we saw those two little lines. Just two lines that promised to end the longing of our hearts and the emptiness we felt in our home. We were pregnant!
And you can ask Christ to faithfully walk you through it, teaching you how to lose less of yourself within it.
We immediately told our family. They cried happy tears with us, screamed praises with us and rejoiced with us—thanking a loving God who had loving plans.
And then two days later, in a bathroom by ourselves, we lost our first child.
We cried bitter tears, screamed in anger and agony and rejoiced over this life gone too soon … yet still, we thanked a loving God who had loving plans.
And all the while, the sadness mounted.
As it became more difficult not to sink deeper into that emotion and my body refused to return to the surface, I reached out for help. I found a good doctor who I could discuss my physical symptoms with. I found a Christian counselor who would help me process my thoughts and emotions. And I dug into my faith for what it said about life and hope.
I learned about a man named Abraham and read, "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations" (Romans 4:18). I then asked for hope against all hope to believe in the author of life.
I learned about a man named David who had a heart like God's and knew that "the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18) And I asked the Lord to reveal himself as the healer of hearts.
I read about a man blessed with wisdom who wrote, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." (Proverbs 13:12) And like the faithful before me, I reminded God of what His Word said, and I asked for a heart that would be well.
And this time, this season of challenge and pain in my life felt different.
There were still days on the couch. And there were still inconvenient and plentiful tears. But there were also moments from another world that dazzled with joy and overwhelmed me with wholeness.
Depression, like grief, may never go away, but it can change.
It can sting less. It can control less. And you can ask Christ to faithfully walk you through it, teaching you how to lose less of yourself within it.
Although my reality may be marked with pit stops, I found a patient Savior who would cry big bitter tears with me in those valleys with me.
God's love is with us through our brokenness.
Not all seasons of challenge are caused by our own poor choices but many of my times in the valleys were a result of poor choices I had made. These moments of despair brought me back to Christ and led me to realize our loving Heavenly Father allows consequences to teach us about the depths of His love.
In those early years, young and headstrong, I chose all the things the world told me would make me happy. Self-destruction was evident. But the pursuit of the worldly led me to compromise that which was most dear to me. As a result, I sank into depression caused by feeling the devastation I had caused in the wake of my selfishness.
But in that space—where we had to depend on a loving God to care for us, where joy and sadness shared the same tiny breathing space—we were the safest we could ever be.
Friendships in tatters, my integrity lost, I was beaten up as much as I had beaten others, which made the sting of loss that much greater. My pain and sadness could not acquit me of my guilt.
What would God do with me now?
It wasn’t until recently that I began to understand the balance between consequences and love. I’m beginning to see what it looks like to come as a child to my Heavenly Father, heeding the wisdom of Solomon, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:11-12)
Despite all the odds, God made me a mother of four. And these wonderful blessings occasionally, shockingly, learn through trial and error. Similarly, God honors our free will and the free will of broken, imperfect humans we’re in relationship with. Sometimes, that means we’ll encounter consequences and difficulty that is just brought on by our fallen world.
God’s still with us in that.
Difficulty helps us trust God unlike any other time in our lives.
When I was in college, I was deeply moved by Ephesians 1. Starting in verse 7 it says:
“In Christ, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will."
And I thought about the part that says "with all wisdom" off and on for years.
It never made much sense to me that Jesus’ revelation of himself to us, knowing what it cost, would be considered wise. Sacrificial. Benevolent. Merciful, sure!
And then the Lord led us delicately and convincingly to our daughter. A little girl born in brokenness, in need of a loving home, whom we were eager to lavish with love. We immediately adored her. In fact, we could not imagine our lives without her. And nothing about her circumstances could deter us from fighting to be hers.
We would not be legally confirmed as her parents for 14 long months. And in those months, when our hearts were on the line, I realized God's view of wisdom is not like ours.
Many would caution us away from the risk of heartbreak and loss.
But in that space—where we had to depend on a loving God to care for us, where joy and sadness shared the same tiny breathing space—we were the safest we could ever be. Living in the risk that love invites suddenly seemed like the wisest thing.
Had we not chosen what was hard, had we not chosen the risk of venturing out into the unknown, we never would have been in a position to grow in our trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God.
Through the depths, we have a choice to learn how to trust the Lord in the moments we can’t protect ourselves. We learn that giving of yourself, even at great cost, is a worthy thing.
Through it all, I learned that our God is the author of the grace that equips us to press on. He weeps with us, rejoices with us and through the lens of my trials, I learned that it’s sometimes when we are crumpled and crying that we can see His face more clearly than ever.
This article was originally published by RELEVANT magazine on November 6, 2016.
Written by Becky
I am a native Texan who loves all things Texas. My work has taken me in and out of Texas several times, and I was sure that this last move here to the Houston/Katy-area was sure would be permanent.
Not so fast! I was told that I am to head-up the opening team of a new restaurant opening in Lexington, Kentucky.
“Yes, Kentucky. Horse country.”
Needless to say, my first reaction was shock. The shock was followed by disappointment. After all, my wife and I have a wonderful family of faith complete with a couple of irreplaceable spiritual leaders and friends. We love our neighborhood. Our kids love their school. Why Kentucky? What's in Kentucky in for us?
“Leave Tejas again?”
I considered jumping ship...find another company to stay put. And it would be doable. I am no “catch” by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have a good looking resume for a restaurant guy. But just before I tried to take the helm, grab the wheel, take control of my destiny and stop letting others call the shots for me, it dawned on me (more like slapped me in the face!)...
”...THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
In that moment I realized that my actions, my posture, my heart was not leaning on my faith. Rather, I had set my faith aside so that I could try to manipulate what I thought was best. And why not? Don't we all think our way is the best way?
The thing is, as I would come to learn, God’s way is not our way. His way is higher. His way is just, it is righteous, and it is what is best for those of us who believe. We may not agree with it, or harder yet, we may not like it! But as I came to realize, it's time to decide what I am going to follow: the path God is laying out for us (which requires faith) or the path I intend to carve out for myself.
My faith quickly kicked in and brought me a peace that surpasses all understanding. From the moment I turned away from the worries of the world and turned towards Jesus and rested in Him, God began to reveal His “fingerprints.” Exhibit A: my wife was at a popular home decor store and came across this…
The only two states represented! Not FL, LA, TN, OK, CA, NY, none of the usual suspects. Some would laugh this off as coincidence, but being people of faith walking by faith, we know it to be much more.
The God winks started there and have not stopped. Funny, we are to believe in the unseen, which is what faith is, and it was at that very moment, revelation really, that God began to illuminate our path.
Written by Harry
I believe in mermaids because I saw them at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Florida, and I have the t-shirt to prove it.
My grandson does not believe in mermaids; he’s never seen one and thinks I am ridiculous to make such a statement. When I mentioned that I am a truthful adult and couldn’t he just believe me when I said that I’d seen them, he laughed at me. Trying to make a point, I asked him if he believes in platypuses even though he’s never seen one. He replied that of course he believes in platypuses because they are real. I asked him how he knew that and did he have a t-shirt to prove it. He replied with a tone of justification that he knows platypuses are real because he learned about them on a cartoon called Phineas and Ferb, at which point the conversation ended because we were cracking up. It was a silly conversation from start to finish. He can’t go by faith that mermaids exist because he’s never seen one. On the other hand, he believes in platypuses because he received the information from a believable source. Don’t even get me started on defining believable sources.
I believe in God. I believe that He lives in my heart because I had the indescribable experience where my heart opened and God flooded it with absolute faith that He exists. I could type page upon page explaining what happened to me, but there’s a good chance that while my experience would resonate with some, it wouldn’t resonate with everyone because their experiences are different. That doesn’t change the fact that so many people have the same belief system no matter what path they took to get there.
My heart opened, God came in. It would be unthinkable, life-destroying, to try to kick him out.
2016 has been a difficult year for me. It’s been life-changing, marriage-destroying, heart breaking and more painful than any time I’ve ever experienced. I’ve cried more tears this year than maybe my whole life up until this point. I’ve been angry and resentful at God at times, and I’ve told him so. In the middle of my situation, I’ve cried out, “Why me?” and not received a satisfactory answer. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe I have to experience this year, get to the other side of my personal tragedy so that I can move forward on a path that God wants to lay before me. I have to walk it in faith, which is, at times, pretty darn sucky. (I am not sure I should even say that word in a church blog but I think God values honesty over pretty word choices.)
But here’s the thing: though I have not been the perfect Christian during my difficult times, God has been a perfect, loving God despite my angry outbursts, my resentment and tears, my demands for explanation. New people have come into my life with experiences and advice that I would not have sought or understood before. New experiences have shown up at my doorstep that I wouldn’t have considered before. I have grown in ways I couldn’t have before. Though I have anxiety attacks regularly, I breathe through them with the surety that good things are on the horizon because I know absolutely that God is swirling within the mix.
I don’t know how to tell another person how to walk in faith through difficult times. But I can say that throughout this year, God has been in the middle of my struggles. Miracles have happened. Because God lives in me, I have been able to slog through the mud of my life and still appreciate that the rain that makes the mud also provides life to the earth and to me. The tragedy and blessings walk hand in hand, and I wouldn’t be able to see them without God allowing the bad experiences so I can appreciate the good experiences. I believe that I am capable of seeing the blessings because God lives within me. He provides the nuance and color to my life. He gives me faith.
Written by Kathy
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.