Have you ever looked around at your life and assumed that nothing is ever going to get better? That the hard things will just get harder and the good things might disappear? That there’s no point in hoping anymore because it will only lead to disappointment?
When my husband left our family nine years ago, my adolescent daughters and I were reeling. We never imagined we’d be a splintered family. All we knew were unbroken families, and suddenly we weren’t in that group any more.
We struggled to find our identity together and establish our new normal. I didn’t like the way my life story was unfolding, and I mourned what I had lost. In my mind, intact families had kids who were drawn to God. They laughed together and talked around the dinner table. They whispered heartfelt prayers at night and respected their parents’ authority.
Our family didn’t do those things anymore. At one point, both of my daughters wanted nothing to do with God. God had let them down. They didn’t want to trust him again.
The Middle of the Story
And yet last fall, my oldest daughter Katie left for a year to serve the Lord in Africa. Eight years ago, serving Jesus would have been unthinkable to her. Eight years ago, God wasn’t real to her any more. Eight years ago, she almost walked away from faith.
On the Sunday that her church commissioned her, the sermon was on Joseph. The pastor said, “Don’t be so focused on what God has taken from you that you can’t see or believe that God will do something through you.”
Those words hit me hard. He went on to quote from Paul Miller’s powerful book, A Praying Life, “When confronted with suffering that won’t go away, or with even a minor problem, we instinctively focus on what is missing, not on the Master’s hand. Often when you think everything has gone wrong, it’s just that you’re in the middle of a story.”
Often when you think everything has gone wrong, it’s just that you’re in the middle of a story.
Hardest Year of My Life
That one sentence kept coming back to me throughout the sermon. It’s so easy to focus on what is missing and not on God’s hand when you’re in the middle of a story. When every day feels like an insurmountable struggle, and the details of the present are all-consuming, it’s impossible to imagine anything else is happening.
Eight years ago, we were in an excruciating part of the story. It felt like an unending nightmare. In fact, it was probably the hardest year of my life.
In the middle, all I could see was what had gone wrong. What God had taken from me. What seemed irredeemable and broken. I felt that I had lost everything. And I didn’t believe that God would do anything through me or through my circumstances. My husband was gone, my kids were a mess, and my body was failing. How could anything good ever come out of this unimaginable pain?
Why Wouldn’t God Answer?
Talking to my oldest daughter one afternoon in 2010, trying to help her make sense of what had happened, was one of the lowest points for me. I told her that God would walk us through the current crisis. She stood up, threw a Kleenex box at me and yelled as she walked out of the room, “Stop talking! Just stop! I don’t want anything to do with your God.”
I sat there, stunned. I wasn’t sure what to say. This precious daughter, who had been baptized two years earlier, had decided that my God wasn’t her God. She had prayed and trusted and waited for the Lord to change her family situation, yet nothing had changed. Things had gotten worse instead. Her prayers felt pointless, and her faith was crumbling along with our family.
I so wanted a happy ending, tied up with a bow. A restored marriage. Faith-filled children. A pain-free body. I was convinced my daughters would only trust God if their prayers were answered exactly as they were asked. After all, they wanted godly things. Why wouldn’t God answer them?
Night after night, I had prayed earnestly for them and with them. I knelt by their beds and we talked to God together. But after a while, they grew disinterested in prayer. Nothing seemed to be happening.
This Wasn’t the Plan
After years of praying with seemingly no results, I too was tempted to give up asking for change. I knew God was at work, but I couldn’t see any evidence of it. I wanted to protect my children and to give them everything I thought they needed to have a strong faith, but I simply couldn’t. Nothing was in my control. All I could do was cry out to God and wait.
I despaired for my daughters and for myself as darkness seemed to press in on every side. This wasn’t the plan I wanted for my life — or for theirs. I felt helpless and hopeless as I couldn’t see God working in any of it. I lay awake at night, afraid.
I could trust God for myself — but for my children? That was much harder. It required much more faith.
More to the Story
Despite my fears, very gradually, over several years, both my daughters came to a deep faith. This daughter, who wanted nothing to do with “my” God, pursued a relationship with him again. She started going to Bible study. Her demeanor softened. She talked about Jesus.
She then started leading a Bible study. God became “her” God again. And now she is serving him in Africa. Somewhere, in the middle of all the pain, God became real to her again. He wooed her back. Those desperate years when he was silent, he was not absent. He had been there all along.
We are all works in progress. And we are all in the middle of our stories. We don’t know how things will turn out. We do know, however, that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). He gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Romans 4:17).
But at the same time, our stories may not look the way we planned. Nothing may look like it’s tied up with a bow. We may not see our kids return to Christ, our marriages restored, or our diseases cured. But we can trust that God is in the story. And he is the author, orchestrating the tiniest details for our final good. We may not understand why things happen, but we can be certain that God has a glorious purpose to the pain we are enduring.
I’m still in the middle of my story. And so are you. While none of us know the joys and trials we have yet to encounter, we do know that Jesus will be with us through them all.
And we can be confident that one day, after the last chapter is written, our story will be tied up with a bow in the most glorious way possible.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to desiringGod.org where this article first appeared.
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