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Archive for the ‘Encouragement’ Category

Too Overwhelmed To Pray

SOURCE:  Jenny-Lyn de Klerk

Your Helper in Prayer: Spurgeon on the Holy Spirit

When I think of Charles Spurgeon, my mind goes to one story before anything else. I once heard that when Spurgeon’s depression flared, his wife Susanna propped him up and pushed him back into his chair so he could continue working. I was so taken aback by my imagining of this scene — it made me think about all of the times me and the other women in my family had been that low in depression. Spurgeon’s weakness ran much deeper than work-related stress, and was not just a symptom of physical exhaustion.

This kind of weakness is hard to overcome. Spurgeon touches on this deep weakness in his explanation of the Holy Spirit’s help in prayer. The reason the Father gives us his Spirit to help us pray is because we are weak; we don’t know how to pray properly, we often don’t feel like praying, and we struggle to put our worst life pains into words.

Spurgeon brings out the beauty of this doctrine by explaining that God is not angry because of our failures in prayer, but has compassion on us as his children. Instead of acting the disinterested King who says, “if you do not have grace enough even to ask properly, I will shut the gates of mercy against you,” God says, “I will write out your petition for you, I will put it into proper words and use fitting phrases so that your petition shall be framed acceptable.”

“If you cannot put two words together in common speech to men, yet [the Holy Spirit] will help you to speak with God; ah! and if at the mercy seat you fail in words, you shall not fail in reality, for your heart shall conquer. God…never reads our petitions according to the outward utterance, but according to the inward groaning. He notices the longing, the desiring, the sighing, the crying…

God knows our needs without hearing words, like a mother knows the needs of her baby when it “makes very odd and objectionable noises, combined with signs and movements, which are almost meaningless to stranger” but are understood by the mother who “comprehends incomprehensible noises.” If that were not intimate enough, the Spirit even claims our groanings “as his own particular creation.”

Prayer is for your own benefit and comfort—it’s an “outlet for grief” and a “lotion” to “bathe our wound in.” Rely on the Spirit to help you know what to say in prayer, and in the worst times, when you do not have the words or the strength to say anything, know that the Spirit is propping you back up into your chair so you can press on.

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Why God Gives Us More Than We Can Handle

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

The next time someone says that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, point them to Judges 7. God’s instructing Gideon to take on over 100,000 enemy soldiers with just 300 fits in the “more than you can handle” category. Imagine how Gideon and his servant, Purah, must have felt trying to come to grips with a humanly impossible assignment.

Standing on the side of Mount Gilboa, Gideon gazed over the Valley of Jezreel, which sprawled beneath him northward toward the hill of Moreh. The valley was a sea of tents, teeming with more than 100,000 Midian warriors.

That morning, the Lord had judged Israel’s army of 32,000 too big to face Midian’s. Israel would think more highly of himself than he ought to think when God gave him victory. So Gideon had sent home whoever was afraid. When 22,000 hit the road, Gideon had to quiet his own fear. Now Israel was outnumbered ten-to-one. But God was with them and armies had overcome such odds before.

Oddly, the Lord considered these odds still too much in Israel’s favor. So in obedience to the Lord’s instruction, Gideon brought his small, thirsty army down to the spring of Harod. And he gave his servant, Purah, the strangest command of his brief military career: “Observe all the men as they drink. Have every man who laps his water like a dog stand off to the side.”

Gideon supervised the selection, but when so few were being chosen, he just let Purah finish the count and he climbed back up Gilboa to pray and survey.

It wasn’t long before Purah emerged from the trees. “So what’s the total?”

“Three hundred, sir,” said Purah.

Gideon chuckled to himself. “Three hundred.” He looked back toward the human hoard in the valley and was quiet for a moment. “That’s less than I expected.”

“Yes, sir,” said Purah. “But thankfully, three hundred doesn’t reduce our strength much.”

Gideon breathed deeply. “No, Purah. The three hundred are not the reductions. They’re the army. The others are the reductions.”

Purah stood dazed for a moment, staring at Gideon. “The three hundred are the army?”

Gideon nodded slowly, still looking into the Midian-infested Jezreel.

“But that’s not an army! That’s how many should be guarding an army’s baggage!”

Purah stepped up beside Gideon. Together they watched smoke columns rising from ten times more cooking fires than they now had warriors. Purah shook his head and said, “Even if we were all like the mighty men of old, three hundred could not overcome 100,000.” He paused. “And we aren’t mighty men.” Another pause. “And there’s more than a 100,000 down there.”

Both were silent for a while. In the quiet, the Lord spoke to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.

Then Gideon said to Purah, “During the exodus, how many mighty men did it take to destroy Egypt and its army or part the Red Sea?”

Purah thought briefly. “None.”

“How many did it take to tear down Jericho’s walls?”

“None.”

“How many did it take to feed two million of our people in the wilderness every day for forty years?”

“None. I get your point.”

“The mightiest are those who trust in the Lord and obey him, no matter how impossible things appear.”

“In our people’s history, the mightiest have not been the strong warriors,” Gideon said. “The mightiest have been those who trusted in the Lord and obeyed him, no matter how impossible things appeared. He has promised us that Midian will be defeated. He has chosen only three hundred of us. We will obey; he will act. And when Midian falls, it will be clear to everyone who felled him.” Then he looked at Purah and smiled. “Maybe the Lord just needs us to guard his baggage!”

Purah didn’t laugh. He only replied, “Should we dismiss the others?” Gideon nodded.

Later that night, in the tiny camp, Gideon lay praying. Every plan to mobilize 300 against 100,000 seemed ludicrous.

Suddenly, he was aware of the Presence. He sat up, his heart beating fast.

The Lord said, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.

Purah woke to Gideon’s nudge and whispered words, “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?” Purah whispered back, getting up quickly.

“To the Midian camp, just you and me. The Lord has something he wants to show us.”

They quietly crept toward the nearest Midian outpost, veiled by the clouded sky, and saw two inattentive guards talking. Just as they got within earshot, one said, “I had a strange dream before being woken for duty tonight.”

“Tell me,” the other said.

“This cake of barley came tumbling into our camp, crashed into the tent, turned it over, and flattened it.”

The other guard looked at him alarmed and said, “I know what that means! The cake can be none other than Gideon, the son of Joash! God has given us all into his hand!”

Gideon and Purah looked at one another with the same stunned expression.

Cast Your Cares

With renewed faith, Gideon and Purah roused their mini army and launched a night attack. This threw the Midians into a panic and they slaughtered each other in confusion. It was a rout. Not one of Gideon’s three hundred perished in the battle. God gave them more than they could handle to force them to rely wholly on him.

“God gives us more than we can handle to force us to rely wholly on him.”

When we’re confronted with an impossible situation or trial, Gideon’s three hundred preach to us that “salvation . . . is from the Lord” (Psalm 37:39) and “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). These are no domesticated platitudes. God really intends for us to cast our all on these massive truths and for them to give us more-than-conquerors confidence and peace (Romans 8:37), no matter what we face.

It is not hyperbole to say that the defeat of our sin that Jesus accomplished on the cross dwarfs Gideon’s victory. Compared to overcoming God’s wrath against our sin, defeating 100,000 Midianites was very small. And if God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?

God certainly does give us more than we can handle. And he does it “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). If you’re facing some overwhelming adversary or adversity and you wonder how God could possibly deliver and work it for your good (Romans 8:28), then take heart. He is granting you the joy of experiencing the reality of Judges 7, Romans 8, and 2 Corinthians 1.

10 Strategies For Responding Effectively To Criticism

SOURCE:   Rachel Fintzy, MA, LMFT/PsychCentral

It’s generally not fun to be at the receiving end of criticism. Also, there’s no doubt that some criticism is mean-spirited, hostile, and not really meant to be helpful. However, often we can learn a lot from constructive criticism. The challenge is to resist becoming defensive, which reduces our chances of actually learning something from the situation.

Some tips for receiving critical feedback in effective ways:

  1. Respond calmly. Resist the impulse to jump in and begin defending yourself with an angry tone. Instead, take a few deep, slow breaths. Don’t talk over the other person, although this can be extremely difficult. When we feel cornered, which often happens if we perceive the other person to be attacking us, we can go into lashing-out mode. Instead, try to speak with measured and respectful tones, at a relatively slow pace. Try to keep bitterness out of your tone.
  2. Manage your anxiety. Watch your inner dialogue. What are you telling yourself about what the other person is saying? Are you lambasting yourself for “horrible” behavior? Are you catastrophizing, believing that all is lost concerning the professional or personal relationship? Or can you mentally and emotionally step back just a bit and reassure yourself that the other person probably (more on this below) has the best interests of your relationship (be it personal or professional) at heart?
  3. Determine whether the criticism is constructive in nature. This sort of helpful criticism generally contains specific and productive suggestions for change, and refrains from making global statements such as “you never” or “you always”. Constructive criticism often comes in a “sandwich” format, meaning that the initial statement consists of a positive comment, followed by the critical note, and concludes with another positive or encouraging sentence.
  4. Consider the source. Is the other person generally positive? Or are they mostly critical of others and tend to complain and push blame onto other people rather than focusing on possible solutions? If it appears to you that the other person is more of the “pointing-a-finger”, angry, and/or narcissistic type, try not to take their words personally. However, you could still look for a potential grain of truth in what they say. For instance, if they state, “You always make things more difficult than they have to be”, consider if in at least one instance you might have done so. You could respond with, “Yes, I wasn’t adequately prepared for our meeting last week and took more time than usual to explain our project’s status”. Or, if you can’t think of such an example, you could respectfully ask them to provide you with one, so you can understand their criticism more clearly.
  5. If you’ve decided that the criticism is constructive and that the other person has good intentions, try to lower your guard (again, easier said than done). Try to keep in mind that the feedback is meant to improve the situation and pave the way for better times to come.
  6. Try not to defend yourself and make excuses. Certainly you’ll want to offer an explanation if you’ve been accused of something you did not do. However, even in this case it helps to hear the other person out first, before asking if you could offer your perspective. People like to feel heard, and your accusing party is no exception.
  7. Make a plan for addressing the criticism. For example, if you’ve been told that your latest report contained a number of grammatical and numerical errors, state that you will spend more time reviewing your work, and possibly run it by a colleague, if appropriate, before turning it in. You could add that you welcome further feedback.
  8. Thank the other person for their feedback, especially they’re also being kind. It’s not easy to give constructive criticism, due to the potential of the receiving party feeling hurt, demoralized, or angry. Put yourself in their shoes. Showing appreciation to them can go a long way in contributing to a congenial and cooperative atmosphere, whether further helpful discussion can take place, now and in the future.
  9. Feedback can be a gift. Most of the time there is something to learn from the situation and to therefore be grateful for. Have you previously received similar feedback? How can you use this information to improve your performance at work, enhance your relationships, grow as a person, or all three?
  10. Don’t be too hard on yourself. None of us is perfect. None of us is a mistake. When someone points out areas in which you could use some more training, where you could be a bit more diligent or detail-oriented, or more aware of other people’s feelings, this is not an attack on your character as a whole.

Finally, stay confident. You have many strengths, and a thoughtful person would point these out as well. However, even if they don’t, try to remember your strong points and thus counter all-or-nothing thinking about your value as a person.

5 Ways to Make Small Gestures Count in Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW/The Gottman Institute

One of the things that Jake appreciates about Kristin is her way of showing love through her actions. Jake puts it like this: “When I come home after a long day and Kristin is there, she usually gives me a hug and wants to know how my day went.”

According to a new study by researchers at Penn State University, you don’t need grand gestures to show your partner love. In fact, this team found that small gestures, such as hugging, holding hands, and regular acts of kindness all top the list of how most Americans report feeling loved and appreciated.

Kristin explains: “It’s the everyday moments that matter. Jake and I have found that little things make a difference. When I forgot to pay my cell phone bill, Jake noticed it lying on the counter unopened and quickly called in the payment so it wouldn’t be late.”

Look for ways to show love with small gestures

In The All Or Nothing Marriage, psychologist Dr. Eli J. Finkel explains that many easy actions, or “lovehacks,” aimed at improving your relationship can be done in five minutes or less. For instance, you can write your partner an endearing and charming love note, hold their hand, or give them a hug. Think of fun and special places to leave love notes.

Create daily rituals of connection

Dr. John Gottman recommends spending at 15-20 minutes daily having a stress-reducing conversation with your partner. Examine the schedules of family members and determine when there is a dependable time you are both available. Consider enjoying a daily walk together or unplugging and talking about your day over a cup of your favorite beverage.

You can create other rituals of connection, too, such as a six-second kiss (which Dr. Gottman calls “a kiss with potential”) before leaving the house or when coming home, or making sure to text each other throughout the day with positive, loving messages to help you both feel connected.

Make a habit out of using kind and polite words such as please, sorry, and thank you

Would you rather go to bed resentful, or would you prefer cuddling with your partner after repairing an argument? Studies suggest that couples who apologize when they’ve hurt their partner’s feelings (even if done so accidentally) and grant forgiveness have a more successful marriage. Apologizing and taking responsibility is an antidote to defensiveness, which is one of four negative behaviors that Dr. Gottman proved to consistently lower the quality of a relationship. And when you can make repair attempts, like apologizing after an argument, it helps to decrease tension and make you feel more connected to your partner.

Take action and offer support to your partner

This can include helping them complete tasks, run an errand, or finish a project. These positive actions lead to interdependence. As you coordinate your plans with your partner, you create a sense of purpose and shared meaning in your marriage. Creating a larger context of meaning in life can help couples to avoid focusing only on the little stuff that happens and to keep their eyes on the big picture.

In The Relationship CureDr. John Gottman explains that the small, intentional moments of kindness and connection have more power than isolated, excessive gestures when it comes to creating and sustaining lasting love. Therapist Liz Higgins, LMFTA, informs us that Dr. Gottman’s motto is “small things often,” which includes turning towards your partner as much as possible to create a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not important to celebrate big events such as anniversaries and birthdays with more grand gestures of love and romance, but just don’t forget to offer little, daily kindnesses to your partner, which are the most important gestures of connection.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The Penn State University research team discovered that actions speak louder than words. “We found that behavioral actions—rather than purely verbal expressions—triggered more consensus as indicators of love. For example, more people agreed that a child snuggling with them was more loving than someone simply saying, ‘I love you,’” Heshmati said. “You might think they would score on the same level, but people were more in agreement about loving actions, where there’s more authenticity perhaps, instead of a person just saying something.”

Kristin reflects: “I never realized the importance of doing simple things to make Jake feel loved until he pointed it out. Growing up, my family wasn’t very affectionate but Jake lets me know how much a kiss on the lips and an embrace means to him.”

It would be easy for Kristin and Jake to neglect each other’s needs since they have two school-age children. Their sons both have demanding after school activities and play soccer on the weekends. However, Kristin and Jake embrace the notion that in order for their marriage to thrive, they need to pay attention to each other on a regular basis and intentionally turn towards each other’s bids for connection.

Jake speaks: “Kristin loves and appreciates me. Since we have kids, we make sure to go out for dinner at least once or twice a month by ourselves. We also show our love by the small things we do for each other like sending each other a loving text message during the day.”

In order to feel alive in your marriage, you need to put effort into spending quality time together—with an emphasis on giving small gestures of love. Responding positively to your partner’s overtures for connection will help you bring out the best in one another and keep your marriage fulfilling. Give your partner the gift of love and appreciation in small ways every day!

Why You Should Not Mix Compliments with Criticism

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Several years ago, my son and I had a brief conversation that has really stuck with me.

My Son: “Were you there for the first quarter of my game, Dad? I started!”

Me: “I didn’t get back into town and to the game until the second quarter…but you did great!”

My Son: “Oh.”

Me: “But you really need to start eating better.”

My Son: (Silence)

So, what was wrong with what I said? Well, he understood my flight was late and so I missed the first quarter. And my compliment was good. But, the “but” was the problem. Instead of just praising him for his accomplishment, I criticized him for his eating habits. And that criticism crushed the compliment.

Looking back, I realize that the words I had spoken weren’t the same words my son heard. The moment I said, “But you really need…” what my son heard was, “What you did was good, but not quite good enough.”

So what did I take away from this experience?

First, I learned that compliments should be strong and specific. Saying “great job” or “good work” is a good start when complimenting. But it’s even better to say something like, “I’m so proud that you made the starting team. You persevered and worked really hard to get there.”

Second, I learned that criticism should not be mixed with a compliment. Criticism can be so loud to the listener that he won’t even hear a compliment when they are spoken at the same time.

Third, I learned that it’s important to compliment exponentially more than criticize. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Giving your child a strong compliment can greatly inspire and propel him forward. Criticizing your child, although necessary at times, can quickly take the wind out of his sail. In a previous post, I shared some things you can do to increase your compliment to criticism ratio.

Relationships/Marriage: The Grass is Greener Where You Water It

SOURCE:  Kyle Benson / The Gottman Institute

After studying more than 3,000 couples in his Love Lab over the last four decades, Dr. John Gottman has discovered that the most important issue in marriage is trust.

Can I trust you to be there for me when I’m upset?

Can I trust you to choose me over your friends?

Can I trust you to respect me?

Couples that trust each other understand that a good marriage doesn’t just happen on its own. It needs to be cultivated.

These couples express appreciation for each other. They brag about each other’s talents and achievements. They say “I love you” every day.

Even in the heat of conflict, they consider the other’s perspective. They are able to empathize with each other, even when they don’t agree, and they are there for each other during times of illness or stress.

They understand that the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. As Neil Barringham says, “The grass is greener where you water it.”

Building trust

Trust is built in very small moments. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner.

One single moment is not that important, but if you’re consistently choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship—very gradually and very slowly.

When this happens, the story of your relationship begins to turn negative. You begin to focus on your partner’s flaws. You forget about their traits you admire and value.

Eventually you start making what researcher Caryl Rusbult calls “negative comparisons.” You start to compare your spouse to someone else, real or imagined, and you think, “I can do better.”

Once you start thinking that you can do better, then you begin a cascade of not committing to the relationship, of trashing your partner instead of cherishing them, and building resentment rather than gratitude.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains this phenomenon in dating.

Building trust and commitment requires intentional effort. Here are fives ways to invest in your relationship.

Turn Towards Bids for Connection
Bids are the building blocks of lasting love. In one study of newlywed couples in Dr. Gottman’s lab, couples that stayed together turned towards each other 86% of the time, whereas couples that eventually divorced only did it 33% of the time. That’s a big difference.

When bids fail, as they inevitably do in all relationships, seek to repair. Remember that repair attempts are the secret weapon of emotionally intelligent couples.

Flip Your Internal Script
Negative thoughts cause you to miss 50% of your partner’s bids, according to research by Robinson and Price. This makes it difficult to build trust.

Learn to separate specific relationship problems from the overall view of your partner. Make an intentional effort to replace negative thoughts with compassion and empathy.

Ritualize Cherishing
The best way to keep yourself from making “negative comparisons” is to actively cherish your partner. Get in the habit of thinking positive thoughts about each other rather than thoughts about someone else.

Think about the things you appreciate about your partner and tell them. Thanks for being so adventurous with me. You’re such an amazing cook. You’re such a great dad.

Learn to Fight Smarter
Happy couples complain without blame by talking about what they feel and what they need, not what they don’t need. They are gentle and they give their partner a recipe to be successful with them.

Schedule a weekly State of the Union meeting to discuss areas of concern in your relationship.

Create We Time
It’s easy to find excuses for not dedicating time for your relationship. We’re too busy. We work a lot. We’re always with the kids.

Find time go on dates, ask each other open-ended questions, and continue to create rituals of connection that allow you to connect emotionally. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. Choose each other, day after day.

God’s Ministry of Disappointment

SOURCE:  Amena Brown/Christianity Today

In pain and confusion, I’m finding that God is, indeed, close to the brokenhearted.

I thought I’d be pregnant by now.

Full stop. Hard return.

I will sit a few minutes after writing that sentence. I want to highlight and delete. I want to press backspace, as if a button on my laptop can keep that sentence from being true. I imagined my mid-30s differently. I thought my guest room would be a baby room. I thought I would have smiled at my baby shower by now, gentle hand on a round belly. I thought by this time, I’d have a calendar full of playdates and plenty of funny kid stories to tell.

Instead, it’s just my husband and me. This isn’t a bad thing. This is in fact enough. My husband and I are a family. Having a child doesn’t start our family. These are the things I tell myself when people whose manners exist somewhere between well-meaning and none of your business search the torso of my shirts with their eyes, trying to discern if I am hiding a pregnant belly from them. These are the things I remind myself of when enduring conversations that start off as small talk and turn to the dangerous territory of statements that stab you right between your heart and your unanswered prayers.

“Are you pregnant yet? Are you trying?” they ask, followed by intrusive suggestions and weird home remedies. “Don’t wait too long,” they say, as if we are waiting this long because we want to. “Have you thought about adopting?” they say, followed by a story of a random couple who adopted a child and then surprisingly had a biological child. As if we haven’t walked beside our friends as they journey in the honor of adoption, as if adoption is a consolation prize or busy work while we wait for the “real thing,” as if adoption should only be plan B.

Mostly we smile. Nod. Change the subject. Sometimes we get angry and frustrated and not so polite. We don’t tell anyone how these conversations make us cry when we are alone. How we hold our breath until the awkward conversation is over, until the dinner has finished and the plates have been wiped clean. We say less and less. We don’t even make comments about the future children we dream to have. We realize we are too fragile for the pointed questions and the oversimplifications.

A journey through heartbreak

I ask myself all sorts of things. Does true womanhood really hinge on a woman’s ability to become a mother? Why do I hold myself to this ticking biological clock and some ridiculous social media standard that says I should have children by now? Is my identity wrapped in checking off some arbitrary list of achievements? Does my life not matter if I am not married with kids, with a certain income bracket, with a house in a certain neighborhood, with a list of ways to describe my cool life to people I meet at parties?

Our journey to one day having children has not been blissful, innocent, joyous, or as easy as I expected it to be. It has been a journey of loss, heartbreak, delay, doctor appointments, test results, delays, stress, frustration, more appointments, more delays. Hope seems to be a liability too expensive to carry in the face of so much disappointment.

My relationship to God and my feelings about prayer became tumultuous. I found myself wincing in my faith, praying cautiously because I don’t want to deal with asking God for something when I think he will disappoint me. How do I keep going to God and asking when it seems like his consistent answer is no or wait? How do I keep believing the God who says no or wait when he knows how much that no or wait hurts me? How do I believe that God actually has my best interests at heart?

I spent the first year of this journey saying things like, “We are not these people. We are not the people who watch all of our friends around us get pregnant and have babies while we have no idea when it will happen for us.” I learned there is no such thing as “these people.” We don’t get to choose. Everyone carries a load; we don’t get to say what load, how we’ll carry it, when we’ll get it, or how long it will last.

The painful truth

I grew up as a church teen in the 1990s. In my church context, it was an age of believing the gospel could be connected to prosperity, that in the name of Jesus we could not only find love and peace, but also Benzes, McMansions, future husbands (also known as Boaz), future wives (also known as Proverbs 31 women), land, larger paychecks, and awesome shoes. Whether you named it and claimed it or marched around it six times in silence and the seventh time while blasting your loud trumpet, believing these things would bring you the answers to miraculous prayers became a way of life.

Sometimes I watched those prayers work. I watched people of faith pray for the sick, and the sick were healed. I watched church members move into houses the lender had nearly laughed them out the door for attempting to buy. I watched Boazes and Proverbs 31 women find each other, marry, and have pretty babies. So for years, I assumed this was the walk of faith. You see something you want, you pray and ask God, and you quote God’s Word that applies to said request. You focus your positive thinking on the fact that God is powerful enough to answer and that he will do all in his power and with his unlimited resources to fulfill your request.

Then I grew up. I am learning the painful truth that even when you pray and ask God, even when you quote back to God the applicable Scriptures, even when you walk around the object you are praying for six times and play your trumpet on the seventh, God doesn’t always answer the way you want him to.

What do you assume about a God who does this? He must be mean, cold, distant, unloving, inconsiderate. He must be more human and less holy, right? He must care about other people more than he cares about you. He must not see how hard you’ve tried to be good/honest/righteous.

Sometimes God is the great leader in the ministry of your disappointment. Sometimes you don’t get the job you prayed for. Sometimes the Boaz/Proverbs 31 woman you thought you were supposed to marry doesn’t even want a second date. Sometimes you want a Benz and you can only afford a hoopty. Sometimes God allows you to be disappointed. Sometimes you learn through tears, heartache, anger, and frustration that God is not a yes person.

God is near

I didn’t want to write my story this way. I wanted to have a happy sitcom ending. I wanted to be able to tell you this story from the lofty place of prayers answered. I wanted to spend a short time telling you this hard time we had and spend most of the time telling you the amazing story of how that all changed. But I’m not there yet. I don’t know when I will be. I don’t know if I will be.

Some people said this would be a season, and maybe it is, but it hasn’t ended yet. It’s gone on longer than I thought I had the strength to walk. Sometimes I get so weary all I can muster in prayer is “God, help me.” And sometimes no words come, and I trust he hears the things my soul wants to say when it hurts too much to gather the words to express.

I’m learning to accept this mystery of God. There are many things about God I will come to know or understand, and there is plenty I will never know, never understand, never be able to put words to. I’m learning the truth of Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” This means that when my pain hurts me deeply, God understands, God listens, God is near.

I wish I had answers. I wish I could predict the future. One of the limits of humanity is knowing only exactly what we know right now, right where we are. One thing I want my soul to remember is that life isn’t always good, humans aren’t always good, but God is good. Always.

I don’t say that because it’s convenient. I don’t say it to silence the frustrations, doubts, and questions. I say it because our tears and frustrations and doubts and hurt feelings and anger matter to God. I say it because I know how scary hope can be when you’ve lived with disappointment so long. I say it because I’m living every day trying to hold the tension of fully trusting in a God my humanity will never completely understand. As I sit in that tension, my heart still wants to believe in the God whose love is found in prosperity and poverty, in answers and in questions, in disappointment and in miracles.


Taken from How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself by Amena Brown.

 

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