Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing devotions pulled from my book Living in the Shadow of Death: Learning to Thrive through Tragedy and Uncertainty. If you want to learn more about this book, scroll down or click here. If you want to read this series from the beginning, click here.
God made us deeply interconnected. Something as simple as a stubbed toe consumes our attention for moments, and when a sprained ankle throbs, our mind struggles to focus on anything else. The heart is no different. When my husband and I argue, my world isn’t right until things are settled. A troubled heart or body leads to bumps in your spiritual life.
Troubled Heart, Body, and Soul
The Holy Spirit is just as truly in us when He makes no sign as when the fountains of joy are overflowing, or the waters of peace are softly refreshing our weary and troubled heart. ~AB Simpson, Canadian theologian and preacher
As disease attacked my husband, I could see the impact on all of us. Imagine the emotions raging through my husband: anger, fear, doubt. He fought shame for those things he had the knowledge to do but could no longer physically handle. I battled anxiousness, powerlessness, and hopelessness. I stumbled into insensitivity and impatience as I felt abandoned and fought resentment.
In her book Holy in the Moment, Ginger Harrington writes, “Thoughts and feelings reveal what we believe in the moment, and many of those beliefs relate to getting our needs met—the really important ones like love” (page 123). This was my problem. Was God good? Could I raise happy children under these circumstances? Would God provide if the worst happened? What if the worst wasn’t death but rather a continual decline? If I wanted to win the fight for my family, I had to come up with the right answers about God.
Different Shades of the Same Color
I like to browse the website Pinterest. One of my boards includes helpful writing tips, including one pin from the Color Thesaurus. A small rectangle divided into twenty blocks, it lists the names of colors and includes a picture of the appropriate shade. All twenty blocks are brown, but each a different hue.
We are like those colors. Maybe your husband isn’t facing health challenges (caramel). Perhaps you have a handicapped child (chocolate) or a rebelling teen (cinnamon). Some readers may have lost their job (mocha) or a bank foreclosed on their home (pecan). Maybe a crisis left a pile of debt (walnut) or a natural disaster took everything (tawny).
Trauma strikes us all.
Whether death comes to the physical body, our dreams, or our plans, it is unwelcome. In You’ll Get Through This, author Max Lucado talks about a week in which his church saw five funerals. As he struggled with his emotions, he wrote,
Death is a natural part of living. Then I self-corrected. No, it isn’t. Birth is. Breathing is. Belly laughs, big hugs, and bedtime kisses are. But death? We were not made to say good-bye. God’s original plan had no farewell—no final breath, day, or heartbeat. Death is the interloper, the intruder, the stick-figure sketch in the Louvre. It doesn’t fit (page 132).
Death, no matter what form it takes, doesn’t fit. This is where my battle raged, wrestling with God over what I believed. Must we muddle through, sloshing from one tragic sludge puddle to the next until finally Christ takes us to heaven? After years of praying and seeking God, my best answer is, “Sorta.” Your situation rests on how you deal with two battlegrounds.
Battleground One: Your expectations
First, what kind of life do you expect? With the hundreds of sermons and devotions I’ve heard or read, fifteen years ago I would have said the pat, Christian answer. Second Corinthians chapter one talks about God comforting us, and chapter four says troubles are momentary. First Peter five mentions suffering for a little while, and Romans five says we glory in suffering because we know it produces character and hope.
As I contended with God, my head knowledge fought against my realities, and my attitude revealed my belief: God owed me a better life. I wanted the obedience of Noah and Daniel without having to build a boat in front of my neighbors or pray illegally in front of an open window. I wanted the rewards of David without having to live in caves among my enemies.
Battleground Two: God’s character
Now, I had to figure out where I was going to anchor myself. Because of my upbringing, I easily repeated phrases like “God only wants what is best for me.” But was this truth from the Bible or pop-psychology that sounds good? This second battlefield, God’s character, is important.
Through the Bible we see that God is love. He can show mercy and is compassionate toward the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned. He’s just, powerful, hates sin, and is jealous for His people. This leads me to two questions. First, if God knows everything, why is He allowing my pain? And what am I supposed to do with His knowledge of my suffering?
Jesus soothes a troubled heart.
My troubled heart kept coming back to John 14:1–3 where Jesus says, Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
Jesus is preparing a place for those who believe. He’s coming back to take us to this place—leaving no chance of us getting lost. And don’t forget where we started. In Psalm 23:6 David writes, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Why would God allow anything to endanger His goal of us with Him forever unless it somehow brings something out in us that is for our good?
Do you struggle with that? I did until I looked at my children. As their mother, I pushed them into situations I knew would force growth. Occasionally, these moments were painful for both of us: refusing to answer an adult’s question for my overly shy girl, requiring her to find the courage to speak for herself; declining to referee between my two boys, forcing them to negotiate with each other. Bits of discomfort lovingly applied. But each step led to a victory that helped mold them into the young adults I am proud of today.
Would God do less for you or me?
Oh, come, Divine Physician, and bind up every broken bone. . . . Oh! Give peace to those whose conscience is like the troubled sea which cannot rest. ~Charles Spurgeon, English Particular Baptist preacher
Now that we’ve looked closer at Psalm 23, the shadow of death, and a troubled heart, we should look deeper into God’s goodness. Starting next week, we’ll consider an important question that Max Lucado asks in his book You’ll Get Through This: “Is God good only when the outcome is?”
This is an excerpt from my book Living in the Shadow of Death. I’ll be sharing more in the weeks ahead, or you can purchase the book on Amazon (other retailers coming soon!).
Does God have a purpose for the turmoil or tragedy you are experiencing? Does a good God allow loss and send pain? How can that lurking feeling of dread for tomorrow be part of abundant life with Christ?
Grief hits us unexpectedly. A job loss, a failed relationship, a health crisis, an unexpected move, a rebellious teen, and other difficult circumstances force themselves upon us, demanding our attention. Fear, insecurity, and loneliness intimidate us into quiet submission and attempt to dictate our choices.
But what if we could shove them out our front door?
With loving concern and unyielding devotion for those facing a loss they never imagined, Carrie opens up her heart to reveal the biblical truths she’s learned through the heart-wrenching turbulence in her own life. She answers questions many Christians struggle with but dare not admit:
- Is God really good?
- Does the presence of pain and loss cancel out the abundant life promised to us?
- How can we follow God when life seems to only bring heartache?
- Is He even trustworthy?
If these are your questions, take heart! Within these pages, Carrie shares some of her very unchristian-like doubts and how she developed an intense faith and abiding trust even while Living in the Shadow of Death.
If you want to dig deeper into this book, you can also buy the journal featuring quotes from the book (links of the Book Page). Also, on the Freebies Page you’ll find a small group study guide and a leader’s guide!