My oldest daughter, Katie, just left for Africa to serve the Lord overseas for almost a year.
Seven years ago, serving Jesus would have been unthinkable to her. Seven years ago, God wasn’t real to her any more. Seven years ago, she almost walked away from faith.
A few weeks ago, 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.
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.
Seven 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 had left, my kids were a mess, and my body was failing. How could anything good ever come out of unimaginable pain?
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.
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 and I couldn’t see God working in any of it. Well-meaning friends gave me statistics about how vulnerable my daughters were. I knew those frightening stats. And I lay awake at night, afraid. I could trust God for myself – but for my children? That was much harder. And still is. Could God possibly love my daughters as much as I did?
But very gradually, over several years, both daughters came to a deep faith. This daughter, who wanted nothing to do with “my” God, pursued a relationship with the Lord again. She started going to Bible study. Her demeanor softened. She talked about Jesus.
She then started leading a Bible study. The Lord once again became “her” God. And now she is going to serve the Lord in Africa. Somewhere, in the middle of all the pain, God became real to her again. He wooed her back.
As she was commissioned in front of her church a few weeks ago, I cried. Tears of sadness that she would be leaving coupled with tears of joy that God had met her. Those desperate years when the Lord 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 are going to turn out. And they may not get tied up with a bow in this life. We may not see our kids recommit their lives to Christ, or our marriages restored, or our diseases cured. But we can trust that God is in the story. And he is orchestrating the tiniest detail. We may not understand why, 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. And we can be confident that one day, after the last chapter is written, our story will be tied up with a bow with the happiest ending of all.