The doctor’s words landed in her heart with a thud. It was cancer. Her world stopped as she thought of her husband and children. They had prayed diligently, hoping for a different outcome. What would they do? With tears streaming down her face, she said softly, “God, this is beyond our control. Please be our strength.”
What do we do when the prognosis is devastating, when our circumstances are beyond our control? Where do we turn when the outlook seems hopeless?
The prophet Habakkuk’s situation was out of his control, and the fear that he felt terrified him. The coming judgment would be catastrophic (Hab. 3:16–17). Yet, in the midst of the impending chaos, Habakkuk made a choice to live by his faith (2:4) and rejoice in God (3:18). He did not place his confidence and faith in his circumstances, ability, or resources, but in the goodness and greatness of God. His trust in God that compelled him to proclaim: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (v. 19).
When we are faced with difficult circumstances—sickness, family crisis, financial trouble—we, too, have only to place our faith and trust in God. He is with us in everything we face.
As we exited the parking lot, my husband slowed the car to wait for a young woman riding her bike. When Tom nodded to indicate she could go first, she smiled, waved, and rode on. Moments later, the driver from a parked SUV threw his door open, knocking the young bicyclist to the pavement. Her legs bloodied, she cried as she examined her bent-up bike.
Later, we reflected on the accident: If only we had made her wait . . . If only the driver had looked before opening his door. If only . . . Difficulties catch us up in a cycle of second-guessing ourselves. If only I had known my child was with teens who were drinking . . . If only we had found the cancer earlier . . .
When unexpected trouble comes, we sometimes question the goodness of God. We may even feel the despair that Martha and Mary experienced when their brother died. Oh, if Jesus had only come when He first found out that Lazarus was sick! (John 11:21, 32).
Like Martha and Mary, we don’t always understand why hard things happen to us. But we can rest in the knowledge that God is working out His purposes for a greater good. In every circumstance, we can trust the wisdom of our faithful and loving God.
Even all these years after losing our seventeen-year-old daughter Melissa in a car accident in 2002, I sometimes find myself entering the world of “What If.” It’s easy, in grief, to reimagine the events of that tragic June evening and think of factors that—if rearranged—would have had Mell arriving safely home.
In reality, though, the land of “What If” is not a good place to be for any of us. It is a place of regret, second-guessing, and hopelessness. While the grief is real and the sadness endures, life is better and God is honored if we dwell in the world of “What Is.”
In that world, we can find hope, encouragement, and comfort. We have the sure hope (1 Thess. 4:13)—the assurance—that because Melissa loved Jesus she is in a place that is “better by far” (Phil. 1:23). We have the helpful presence of the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). We have God’s “ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). And we often have the encouragement of fellow believers.
We all wish to avoid the tragedies of life. But when we do face hard times, our greatest help comes from trusting God, our sure hope in the land of What Is.
By its very existence, a ministry center in Rwanda called the “Lighthouse” symbolizes redemption. It sits on land where during the genocide in 1994 the country’s president owned a grand home. This new structure, however, has been erected by Christians as a beacon of light and hope. Housed there is a Bible institute to raise up a new generation of Christian leaders, along with a hotel, restaurant, and other services for the community. Out of the ashes has come new life.
Those who built the Lighthouse look to Jesus as their source of hope and redemption. When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath, He read from the book of Isaiah and announced that He was the Anointed One to proclaim the Lord’s favor (see Luke 4:14–21). He was the One who came to bind up the brokenhearted and offer redemption and forgiveness. In Jesus we see beauty coming from the ashes (Isa. 61:3).
We find the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, when inter-tribal fighting cost more than a half-million lives, mind-boggling and harrowing, and we hardly know what to say about them. And yet we know that the Lord can redeem the atrocities—either here on earth or in heaven. He who bestows the oil of joy instead of mourning gives us hope even in the midst of the darkest of situations.
A young boy showered my husband, Carl, and me with bubbles as he came running by us on the Atlantic City boardwalk. It was a light and fun moment on a difficult day. We had come to the city to visit our brother-in-law in the hospital and to help Carl’s sister who was struggling and having trouble getting to her doctors’ appointments. So as we took a break and walked along the seaside boardwalk we were feeling a bit overwhelmed by the needs of our family.
Then came the bubbles. Just bubbles blown at us whimsically by a little boy in the ocean breeze—except for what I knew. I love bubbles and keep a bottle in my office to use whenever I need the smile of a bubble break. Those bubbles and the vast Atlantic Ocean reminded me of what I can count on: God is always close. He is powerful. He always cares. And He can use even the smallest experiences, and briefest moments, to help us remember that His presence is like an ocean of grace in the middle of our heavy moments.
Maybe one day our troubles will seem like bubbles—momentary in light of eternity for “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
In 1952 Florence Chadwick attempted to swim 26 miles from the coast of California to Catalina Island. After 15 hours, a heavy fog began to block her view, she became disoriented, and she gave up. To her chagrin, Chadwick learned that she had quit just 1 mile short of her destination.
Two months later Chadwick tried a second time to swim to Catalina Island from the coast. Again a thick fog settled in, but this time she reached her destination, becoming the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel. Chadwick said she kept an image of the shoreline in her mind even when she couldn’t see it.
When the problems of life cloud our vision, we have an opportunity to learn to see our goal with the eyes of faith. The New Testament letter to the Hebrews urges us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (12:1-2). When we feel like quitting, this is our signal to remember not only what Jesus suffered for us but what He now helps us to endure—until the day we see Him face to face.
The news was numbing. The tears came so quickly that she couldn’t fight them. Her mind raced with questions, and fear threatened to overwhelm her. Life had been going along so well, when it was abruptly interrupted and forever changed without warning.
Tragedy can come in many forms—the loss of a loved one, an illness, the loss of wealth or our livelihood. And it can happen to anyone at any time.
Although the prophet Habakkuk knew that tragedy was coming, it still struck fear in his heart. As he waited for the day when Babylon would invade the kingdom of Judah, his heart pounded, his lips quivered, and his legs trembled (Hab. 3:16).
Fear is a legitimate emotion in the face of tragedy, but it doesn’t have to immobilize us. When we don’t understand the trials we are going through, we can recount how God has worked in history (vv. 3-15). That’s what Habakkuk did. It didn’t dispel his fear, but it gave him the courage to move on by choosing to praise the Lord (v. 18).
Our God who has proven Himself faithful throughout the years is always with us. Because His character doesn’t change, in our fear we can say with a confident voice of faith, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength!” (v. 19).
When a good friend suddenly lost her husband to a heart attack, we grieved with her. As a counselor, she had comforted many others. Now, after 40 years of marriage, she faced the unwelcome prospect of returning to an empty house at the end of each day.
In the midst of her grief, our friend leaned on the One who “is close to the brokenhearted.” As God walked with her through her pain, she told us she would choose to “wear the label widow proudly,” because she felt it was the label God had given her.
All grief is personal, and others may grieve differently than she does. Her response doesn’t diminish her grief or make her home less empty. Yet it reminds us that even in the midst of our worst sorrows, our sovereign and loving God can be trusted.
Our heavenly Father suffered a profound separation of His own. As Jesus hung on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Yet He endured the pain and separation of crucifixion for our sins out of love for us!
He understands! And because “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted” (Ps. 34:18), we find the comfort we need. He is near.
Thwip, thwap. Thwip, thwap.
The windshield wipers slamming back and forth trying to keep up with the pelting rain only added to my irritation as I adjusted to driving the used car I had just purchased—an old station wagon with 80,000+ miles and no side-impact airbag protection for the kids.
To get this station wagon, and some badly needed cash for groceries, I had sold the last “treasure” we owned: a 1992 Volvo station wagon with side-impact airbag protection for the kids. By then, everything else was gone. Our house and our savings had all disappeared under the weight of uncovered medical expenses from life-threatening illnesses.
“Okay, God,” I actually said out loud, “now I can’t even protect my kids from side-impact crashes. If anything happens to them, let me tell You what I’m going to do . . .”
Thwip, thwap. Thwip, thwap. (Gulp.)
I was instantly ashamed. In the previous 2 years God had spared both my wife and my son from almost certain death, and yet here I was whining about “things” I had lost. Just like that I’d learned how quickly I could grow ungrateful to God. The loving Father, who did not spare His own Son so I could be saved, had actually spared my son in a miraculous fashion.
“Forgive me, Father,” I prayed. Already done, My child.