Have you ever stood before a spiritual fork in the road? One where you know the “godly answer” to your painful circumstances, but there seems to be an impenetrable wall that stands between your head and your heart? It’s the tension between knowing something to be true but struggling to believe it when the evidence seems stacked against it.
No matter what we may be enduring, we usually know the right answer – “Yes, this is hard, but God is still good.” And yet there are times when we say those words and truly want to believe them, but underneath we’re wrestling with, “How can a good and loving Father allow this? I don’t feel his love and care for me right now. No matter how hard I try, I can’t see any way that he can bring good through this.” And yet, if we say it out loud, if we admit what we’re really feeling, we’re afraid we might completely unravel and find out that we’ve been standing on quicksand all along.
It’s hard to admit those thoughts, but I’ve had them all – sometimes without realizing they’re simmering under the surface. And those have been the most testing seasons of all – the ones where God steps over the comfort zone I was sure a “good” God wouldn’t cross, the one where circumstances seem to bear more evidence against God’s goodness and faithfulness than for it. Such as moments when I’ve pleaded for relief when I felt at the end of my rope, only to be met with another painful circumstance immediately after. Or moments when I’ve begged for God to show me his favor during a time when everything else seemed to be against me – only for my efforts to backfire or someone else to receive praise for the efforts I poured out. Or times when I’ve felt a sense of hope or answer to prayer – only for it to fall apart and find myself right back where I started – or worse.
It’s incredibly difficult to navigate these disorienting circumstances. They’re unsettling, faith-shaking, and if we’re honest, it’s easier to distract ourselves and push aside the questions and confusion rather than face them head on.
But face them head on, we must.
Trust the Father who knows the end of the story
The past few months have been agonizing as we wait for God to act in places of genuine need. His “no’s” have been agonizing, when each one seems like another brutal blow of confusion and questions. With continuing trials that seem to have no end, some days have felt like more than I could bear, and at times, it’s sent me into a tailspin of anger, confusion, and a descending cloud of despair.
However, the Holy Spirit recently brought to mind the picture of Mary standing in front of Lazarus’ tomb in John 11, not only grieving the death of her brother, but wrestling with the pain over Jesus’ absence when she needed him the most.
For the life of her, Mary could not make sense of the Jesus she thought she knew. Didn’t he love Lazarus? Didn’t he love her? After all, she was the one who had anointed Jesus with expensive ointment and even wiped his feet with her hair (v.2)! He could have come but he chose not to. He could have saved them from all this pain – but he chose not to. Her pain was doubled as she not only grieved the death of Lazarus, but was hurting and confused by the actions of the One she’d trusted with her life – Jesus himself.
As I pictured that moment, I started to see it from a vantage point that I hadn’t seen before. God brought to mind one of the many moments I’ve had as a parent when I’ve had to say “no” or “not quite yet” for a reason, but my children simply couldn’t understand why I was withholding something that seemed good to them.
One such time was when our children pleaded with us to get a dog. We knew that our pet-loving children would not only enjoy one, but it could be beneficial for them after enduring layers of challenges with chronic illness and trauma. However, despite their pleas year after year, for multiple reasons, it wasn’t wise or feasible at the time.
They would often come to us in tears, struggling to rectify how we could possibly love them as much as we said we did, and yet deny something that seemed so good in their eyes. Little did they know, we finally had a plan in place to pick up a puppy in a few weeks time. But their young minds had a one-dimensional perspective and couldn’t fathom why we weren’t saying “yes” right now!
As they cried, pleaded their case, and asked why we didn’t seem to see or care about how much it meant to them – all I could think was, “My sweet children, if only you could see and know what I do. If only you would trust me and know that I have your best in mind. Everything in me wants good things for you and the day is coming when you will see and understand, but please trust my heart for you until then.“
In my heart as their parent, I was nearly bursting to show them what we had in store for them, but I knew we couldn’t until the plan was in motion and we were in a position to receive it. And yet, even though I knew the end of the story, I ached at the pain and confusion in their little hearts and minds. Even more, it hurt to see them struggling to trust my love for them in their confusion.
As that memory came to mind, it struck me as an image (albeit a very earthly minded and flawed one) of how our Heavenly Father must see us at times. In our desires to know why and cries of confusion, I wonder if he’s thinking, “My child, if only you knew. If only you would trust that I have better in store for you than you can see or imagine right now. Even still, I feel your pain and confusion as if it’s my own. Please trust my words to you and my heart for you, rather than what makes sense in the moment.” (Is. 55:8, Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 3:5, etc)
Trust the Savior who weeps with you in your pain and confusion
Just like Mary standing before the grave of Lazarus, our pain does not only stem from the grief of what we’ve lost or has been withheld, but the pain of not understanding why God has allowed what he has when he has the power to change it. Yes, Mary grieved Lazarus’ death, but she also grieved the hurt and confusion of feeling let down and hurt by the One she knew had the power to save – and chose not to.
We can relate, can’t we? A loss or an unwanted turn of events doesn’t only feel painful because of the circumstances, it’s hurtful and confusing because we know God was sovereign over it and allowed it anyway.
I don’t know about you, but I often need this fresh reminder that God is a compassionate Heavenly Father. Instead of seeing him as a cold and distant God who does what he pleases regardless of its impact on us, we need to remember that he’s the same Lord who wept with Mary at the sight of her grief, as well as the pain of her confusion and hurt over his absence.
Friend, he comforts you and I now as he comforted Mary. “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God” (John 11:40)?
This we can be sure of – God only withholds good when he has something better to give.Tweet
The caveat, however, is that we can’t assume that “better” means “better in our temporary perspective.” If I pray for physical healing, it may not mean God will fully heal me on this side of heaven. Though that may seem best to me, he may know my pain and illness will gradually bring me greater freedom from pride and independence, or being bound to this world as if it’s my home. He may use it to increase the peace and rest of his presence, rather than the relief of the pain. And he may use this unwanted illness as a conduit to speak hope and eternal healing to those around me.
Yet even if he chooses not to bring the answer we desire, we have the ear of our Father who loves us. We can bring him our desires, as well as the confusion we feel over what he has or hasn’t allowed, knowing he can do something about it if it’s truly what’s best for us.
Then we need to remind ourselves of the countless accounts in scripture (and in the lives of believers throughout history) where the middle of the story seemed confusing, chaotic, hurtful, or impossible, only to see the glory of God displayed through the very things that seemed void of God’s love and goodness.
Abraham and Sarah were barren and beyond human means to conceive before God brought the promised offspring in a way that testified to his power alone (Genesis 21).
Joseph was rejected by his family, sold into slavery, humbled, and thrown into prison before he was freed, redeemed, and raised to power at the exact time God chose to use him to save countless lives (Genesis 37, 39-45).
Moses confronted Pharaoh as God had commanded, only for it to backfire and worsen the plight of God’s people. Yet that perplexing turn of events led to showing the world the power of God at work in far greater ways (Exodus 5).
King David was promised to be King, yet then found himself running for his life and hiding in dark, lonely caves long before he sat on a throne, made ready by God to be a King fit to lead his people (1 Samuel 1:21).
Ruth lost her husband, security, and homeland before she was led to her kinsman redeemer and allowed the privilege of carrying on the line of David (Ruth 1-2).
Paul was tortured, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and rejected for preaching the gospel and obeying God’s call, yet generations of believers have been impacted and changed by the example of his testimony and faith (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
And most importantly, Jesus himself was tortured, mocked, and murdered, crying out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), before being raised to life, breaking the curse of sin and death, and providing a way for these temporary sorrows to no longer have the last word.
Friend, right now you may feel like Sarah in her barrenness, Joseph in the pit, David alone in a cave, Ruth grieving her husband with no hope in sight, or Mary weeping at Lazarus’ tomb. But you and I serve the same God who was at work in each of their stories to do far more than they could see or imagine at the time.
Whether we’re grieving a loss, crying out in confusion, or struggling to understand why God may be withholding something that seems good or needed, let’s remember that we are like the child who can only see what’s right in front of us, while our Heavenly Father stands over us with eyes of compassion and says, “Trust me, my child. You can’t yet see the whole story as I do, but I have promised good and I am actively bringing it about. Yet even though I know the end of the story, I feel and carry your pain, confusion, and grief as if it’s my own. I don’t desire you pain, but I love you enough to allow this temporary heartache for your greater and lasting good, and the opportunity for you and others to see my glory displayed through it. Whether it be in your lifetime or the one to come, you will see the glory of God if you believe. Trust my heart for you more than what you can see and understand at this point in the story.”
One day, it will all be made clear. Until then, trust the heart of the Father who knows the end of the story.
Home is around the corner,
To read more on the hope we have in suffering, you can purchase “Hope When It Hurts – 30 Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God’s Purpose in Your Suffering” authored by Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell here or here. Jeff and Sarah Walton’s marriage book, Together Through the Storms – Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts. Or pre-order Sarah’s new evangelistic book – Tears and Tossings: Hope in the Waves of Life.