It was 2010. We sat crammed around a table too small for all of us, but no one seemed to mind. Over the years we had come to love this time away to renew our hearts, eat kettle corn, and play games into the early morning. It was our church’s women’s retreat, but to us it was so much more.
Although the time with friends will always be treasured, it was the message that most impacted me that weekend. The story of the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 was the central theme of 3 keynote sessions. There weren’t many dry eyes at our table. We were increasingly aware of the absence of our sweet friend Amber, at home with her precious 2-year-old who was bravely fighting cancer. As if that wasn’t enough brokenness for one year, there was me, fighting with everything I had for my husband who was already living with his girlfriend while I was barely pregnant with our 4th child.
It’s safe to say our hearts were hurting that weekend, much like Mary and Martha as they laid their brother to rest. We were all aware that sorrow and grief were a part of life in this fallen world, but we clung desperately to our hopes and dreams of the power of Jesus’ healing, like Mary and Martha had done.
That weekend I left the retreat with the words of John 11:40 written on my heart. “Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’”
I believed. And I was claiming the promise that God would restore my marriage. Like Martha, I believed Jesus was good and powerful, making it impossible for Him NOT to restore our family. It didn’t matter how many days (weeks or even months) it had been dead. I was willing to wait until Jesus did the seemingly impossible and I was regularly asking Him for that miracle.
But the days, weeks, and months passed. The resurrection of the marriage I longed for never came. Instead it got more and more dead through remarriage, distance, and increasing ugliness. Over time my faith only increased and grew to know God more intimately than I could have imagined possible. Instead of the healing I wanted for my marriage, He gave me an unshakable faith, a compassion easily moved to action, and a relationship with my kids I would never trade.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have rather seen my marriage restored. Trust me, I believe that’s always the best situation. But I’ve learned to see life through the same lens Joseph did, knowing that God uses the things people intend to harm us with to grow us and accomplish things we can’t even fathom.
Often I look back and wish I had handed the outcome over to God in the first place rather than telling Him what I thought was best. I sure would have saved a lot of tears and brokenness. But none of that was wasted. God used every minute of it. In fact, that reality sank deep into my heart just a few weeks ago when my daughter came home from church.
She was giving me her synopsis of the sermon in words that ministered to me deeply. “Mom, you didn’t really need the sermon. You’ve got this one down. Basically, pastor just said that what we can learn from the story of Lazarus is not to expect a certain outcome from God, but rather to give Him the problem fully and watch for His glory.”
I sat there choking down my lunch, quietly wondering how on earth I had portrayed such a strong faith to this girl. Didn’t she know I had clung to that VERY verse for so many years? To think that she was confident I knew this lesson when 7 years prior, my heart’s cry was completely the opposite. I wanted a very specific outcome and I was willing to do anything to get it.
The familiarity of the circumstances wasn’t lost on me. Except now the tables were turned. No amount of waiting had restored my marriage and I had now been 7 years on the other side of an excruciating breaking that will impact our lives forever. And now to add to the difficulty of life without the support of a partner, father, and friend… I was sitting home from church holding my sick baby as he fights cancer.
Yet here she was telling me that this was one lesson I had mastered. As I thought about her words and the many words of those around me over the past 6 weeks, I realized she was right. I’ve learned this lesson. I’ve stopped demanding from God what I want out of life’s trials.
No, I don’t think divorce is a good idea. Nor do I want my baby to lose this battle with cancer, lose his hair, or suffer even a single ugly side effect. But no amount of demanding things from God will actually benefit me. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, God is unchanging. He can be trusted with a better outcome than we could ever imagine. We don’t have to give Him any ideas. Right now in this very moment my life (and your life) is exactly the way God wants it to be. Even if the circumstances are hard.
It’s our focus on God that brings victory into our lives, not perfect circumstances or desirable results. It’s our ability to face a difficult situation and hand it over to God without clenching shut our fists in despair that will give us the kind of lasting victory we long for.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to ask God to heal cancer, save marriages, or any other specific request. Only that our ability to hand the problem completely to God, focusing on WHO He is instead of what we see Him doing, will ultimately give us greater peace, deeper joy, and the ability to clearly see His glory in whatever outcome we face.
As I write this, it’s fast approaching New Year’s Eve, a day met with hopeful expectation of better. Better circumstances. Better results. Better discipline. We long for God to relieve our trials, remove our pain, and answer our unknowns. But that’s not the best way to face a new year.
If we want real victory in this year’s circumstances, we will need to leave them in the hands of our loving, all-powerful, only-good God. I’ve resolved not even to ask for a specific outcome, time frame, or scenario for this cancer journey. (I know it sounds crazy.) I’m only asking for His glory to be evident to all, because after all, I can’t possibly know the best way to accomplish that!
How to focus on God when life is hard
As you journey into a new year focused on letting God take the reigns in your life, one of the most important steps you must take is focusing on Him through His Word… every single day. Now is the exact best time to commit to spending more time with Him.
Now don’t fall into the super legalistic trap with this or you’ll give up on yourself before the end of January like everyone else. Simply commit to more than you are already doing.
If you are doing nothing, start with 5 minutes a day. If you are doing 10 min, bump it to 20. One thing I’ve noticed over the years about spending time with God is if I’m intentional to just get started, time seems to fly by and I want more and more. And you know what happens? Somehow I manage to find more and more time available, too. But if you try to go from zero to 60, you’ll likely give up before you even get your engine started. So start small and work your way up over time.
To help you on this journey, find some great resources. You don’t have to invent everything yourself, especially if you are new to spending time with God or if you don’t really know where to start. Tools are your best friend. Use them!
I’ve got an entire page full of suggestions here. There are many free printables, plus ideas for some of my favorite Bible study helps.