The other day I was sitting around a table with some friends. One woman remarked about a service we had all just attended at our church. The service featured video testimonies of real women who came to Christ through extraordinary situations.
She remarked “these are so extreme. Why do they need to be sharing personal tragedies? Can’t we just hear a testimony about someone coming to Jesus in an every day situation?”
I thought her remark was slightly insensitive, but it also got me thinking. Why are there so many personal testimonies about people coming to Jesus and finding God after going through deep struggles?
The answer, I believe is that God refines us in our suffering and graciously explains why in the Bible: “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this” (Isaiah 48:10). For emphasis, God repeats this reason.
How often have you heard people say, “I grew closest to God when my life was free from pain and suffering”? Um… not a whole lot.
If cancer or paralysis or a car accident prompts us to draw on God’s strength to become more conformed to Christ, then regardless of the human, demonic, or natural forces involved, God will be glorified in it.
My faith grew immensely after tragedy in my own life
I grew up believing in God. As a child I had a children’s Bible and I read it often. I believed in God and Jesus but that was the extent of it. We didn’t go to church or talk about the Bible or God. But I thought “I’m good” and “I got this.”
Then one night everything changed.
This image is so true. Let me just say, I have lost everything and started over again. In my late 20s the man I thought I would some day marry died and life seemed frozen.
The day I found out
It was a bright brisk January morning as I headed into the news station. I was working weekend shift as the news anchor for my home town. It was a shift I dreaded but tolerated. This job wasn’t my dream job but it was fun, I learned a lot and it payed the bills. I opened the big steel door and the whipping wind threatened to rip it from my hands. I managed to get inside, shut the door, and ran to my desk still cold from the morning and trying to warm myself.
I took off my winter gear at my desk and headed over to the fax machine to see what press releases had come in so far. Hmm “slow morning” I thought as I sifted through release after release. Food drive. Fashion show. Mayor speaking. “What’s this?” I said as I looked at the next release in my hand. A police report. A drowning. Two men. Ice diving. Wendling Quarry. I read the names. They didn’t make sense. I read them again. NO. I looked again. The names zoomed at me as the rest of my surroundings blurred. I collapsed on the hard newsroom floor.
The Sports Reporter was the one who got me to focus. He had seen me collapse from where he was standing on the other side of the news room and ran over. He called my name repeatedly. I shifted my gaze from somewhere in space to his face. I stared at him but didn’t really focus. I closed my eyes and crumpled into a ball. I cried.
Somehow I got home.
The crying didn’t stop for days. The man that said he’d “never stop loving” me was gone. Poof. Our happily ever after was disrupted. Taken.
My life changed.
I was depressed for months. If I was to be honest, it was years. Initially I went through dark sadness. I didn’t eat, I barely slept. I cried a lot. Then my sadness turned into something else. For a long time I was mostly angry. Angry at God for taking him away.
The last time I saw him
A few months before he died he visited my apartment. Knocked on the door wearing a black vest and carrying a little black box. He got down on one knee and I asked him to stop. I wasn’t ready to be married. I loved him but I was young, and so was he. So we waited.
A few months later we sat at a crowded restaurant together. It was cold outside and the temperature inside was cozy. The lighting was warm. We had finished our meal and both sat back and looked up at each other at the same time. Content. We held each other’s gaze. After a few seconds he spoke first. “I will always love you. I’ll never stop loving you. Til the day I die.” I smiled back and returned the sentiment. He in the National Guard and had just been called away to tour of duty in the Iraq war and he said he had a feeling he wouldn’t make it back. I kept telling him that was nonsense. He’d go for a few months, come home, and we’d pick right back up. End of story.
That night was the last time I saw him. He dropped me off at my apartment. We both got out of the car, snow on the ground and swirling all around us. Big giant flakes danced on our hair and faces as we walked through the parking lot to the apartment building door. He had borrowed a CD of mine and fussed over when he’d return it because he had forgotten to bring it with him that night. I turned to him, looked in his eyes, smiled and said “don’t worry. I’ll get it when I see you again.”
I never saw him alive again.
After Kevin died I wanted to end it all. My sadness turned to anger with God which then turned into rage. Eventually I came back to sadness. Deep sadness. Then numbness. Then… eventually… I felt okay.
Through my grief and confusion came a hunger for understanding. Through understanding my heart healed, and I thought it was healed completely. I loved again. I was given a family.
I thought I was healed
I thought I had completely healed but it turns out I didn’t fully heal. For years I was fearful God would “take away” my husband or children, just like he had taken away Kevin. I didn’t fully understand God’s love so I was fearful. I was worried maybe he’d take me away from my children before I was ready.
I was scared a lot, imagining the worst all the time. It was a heavy load to carry around all of that fear and worry. I did this for years until it just became too much. Trying to do it all on my own was too much.
Trying to have it all figured out, and prevent every accident, or mishap was too much. When the weight got to be unbearable I finally gave it all to God.
I usually prayed every night before bed. But this one night, this one night it all changed. I got out of bed, on my knees and I prayed to Jesus Christ like I had never prayed before. I repented for all of the anger towards him. I cried for the loss. I cried for the fear. I cried because I felt lost without him. I prayed for forgiveness, healing, love, understanding.
God never game up on me
Even though I had been walking through a long, dark, painful season of grief God never gave up on me. Even though I had given up on him and his love, he didn’t turn his back on me.
A pastor I listen to once said “Jesus doesn’t go where he isn’t invited in” and I remember that always because once I invited him back into my heart and said “I cannot do this without you” I was filled with overwhelming peace and calm. I slept like a baby that night and in the days to come I felt finally return to me again. It was peace that had not been there for many years.
Life isn’t without struggle. But you can move on. It starts with God’s love.
He may not always give us what we want. But he gives us what we need.