I swoon when the princess gets her prince.
I cheer when the hero saves the day.
I like neat and tidy. It’s the (recovering) perfectionist in me.
I was reminded of this again when, like millions of others, I recently watched the movie The War Room.
The movie told the story of a couple with a cold and strained marriage, the husband on the verge of committing adultery. Their relationship with their daughter was equally distant and dysfunctional. This was a family on the brink of complete and ugly disintegration.
Through a divine meeting with a tough, but kindly older woman, the wife begins to reconnect with her faith and pray bold, passionate prayers.
By the time the credits roll, the couple’s marriage has been restored, the relationship between daughter and parents is repaired and thriving. Adultery is averted. The fraudulent, unemployed father finds redemption and a new job.
It’s a great story. Prayer is powerful and life-changing! But as I sat there watching, I couldn’t shake this aching in my soul.
I thought of the years of countless prayers — tear-soaked, desperate, faith-filled prayers — that I have prayed over painful circumstances in my life. Prayers that weren’t answered in a Hollywood-sort of way. As I watched this family cruise off into the sunset, I longed for my own happy ending.
God has answered my prayers many times. Sometimes quickly. But more often, answers are years in the making. It’s not neat and tidy. And it’s rarely in the storybook, happily-ever-after, all-my-problems-have-vanished way I’ve envisioned.
What do we do when we don’t get to ride off into the sunset right away — or perhaps not at all? When you pray and nothing changes? What can we do when our deliverance is elusive, but our pain is very real? Here are a few things that have helped me:
Love like Jesus.
Often the “thing” we want to change is actually a person. A husband. A wayward child. A co-worker. A boss. A friend. A parent.
When I’ve asked for God to change others, I’ve found that He’s far more interested in changing me — my attitude, my lack of trust in Him and my blindspots about my own behavior.
He’s challenged me over and over again to practice agape love in my challenging relationships. He has not always had a willing student. But I have seen the awesome transformation that occurs in my heart when I listen to the Teacher.
So what exactly is agape love? A few enlightening definitions:
Agápē embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and serves regardless of circumstances.
Love as revealed in Jesus, seen as spiritual and selfless and a model for humanity.
Who does that? Who loves without expecting anything in return?
We’re not Jesus. On our own, we are not capable of this kind of love. It’s impossible. It is not in our human nature to give or love without expecting anything in return. I’m not suggesting that we become doormats or that we don’t voice our opinions or concerns. Absolutely not.
Agape is about interacting with others — even those who are so very difficult — in an attitude of love. Even when we disagree. Even when we’re being attacked or misjudged.
I know. It’s not a popular thought.
When we make the choice to do that, it empowers the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. Our hearts begin to soften. We can often actually begin to have compassion for that other person. We gain a peace that isn’t dependent on another person’s behavior. Yet, often they change, too. There are no guarantees. But agape love creates an environment for God to work in his or her life and heart.
It can get discouraging when it doesn’t happen as quickly as in the movies. I’m impatient. Maybe you are, too. Keep on loving. We never know when our breakthrough is coming.
Seek the Healer, not the outcome.
As I have walked out my chronic illness journey, I have desperately wanted healing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. When we’re in pain, it is difficult to want anything but to be out of pain. To be delivered from our circumstances.
However, over this past year, I’ve begun to seek the Healer more than the healing. And He’s delivered. Just not in the ways that I thought. I’m still sick. I’m still in pain. But I’ve been healed from the lie that God doesn’t see me, because He’s reminded me in such sweet, tangible ways over and over again that He does.
I’ve been healed of the belief that I can’t really be happy and joyful until I’m well. God has been giving me the ability to find joy even as I suffer. Because it is anchored in my relationship with God, not my ever-changing circumstances.
Invisible Wounds: Hope While You’re Hurting is available on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback versions. $2.99 on Kindle for a limited time.
Look to His past faithfulness.
In the Old Testament, God delivers the Israelites from plagues and slavery. He parted the Red Sea for them. He dropped food from heaven to nourish them. And yet time after time, they quickly forget what God has done for them and begin to moan and lose heart.
I am an Israelite. So many times, I only focus on my current circumstances and suffering. It only leads to depression and bitterness.
When I look back at the many times and the many ways that God has cared for me in the past, I gain hope. He may not provide in my timing or in my way, but much of the time, I’m grateful for that.
I have such a finite view. I’m learning to trust that the God who knows all and sees all knows what’s best for me.
Remind Yourself of Truth.
When we’re in pain, our emotions become our truth. We feel that God doesn’t see us. We feel that God doesn’t care about our pain. We don’t understand how a good God could allow us to suffer.
The truth is that God allowed His own dearly loved Son to suffer — precisely because He loves us so much.
I love this quote from author Tim Keller: If we again ask the question, “Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?” and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, now we know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.
No, we may not get the fairytale, Hollywood ending. I still can’t help but long for it.
But I know that when I quit trying to change the script and chase an outcome, I experience the joy, hope and love that God so freely gives.
More and more, I’m letting go of the pen and trust Him to write my story. So can you.
Download this FREE Prayer Journal, a companion to my new book, Invisible Wounds, when you subscribe to my weekly newsletter! To subscribe, simply enter your email address below:
Invisible Wounds: Hope While You’re Hurting is available on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback versions.
Every time I read Melinda Means, I feel like I’ve encountered the heart of Christ. In Invisible Wounds, she goes one step further. She shows me how Christ is holding my heart in his Hands, and how He holds me gently – every wound, every broken place – to bring wholeheartedness to my life. This book is for any woman who is hurting today, any woman who needs to know that hope is one heart-cry away.
It’s rare to find someone who will share her wounds with the kind of vulnerability Melinda does … Her voice is powerful yet tender. She will challenge you and encourage you at the same time. And chances are, you’ll laugh and cry…and maybe even find yourself nodding with a deep understanding as you read the hard-earned wisdom in these pages.
~ Carey Scott, author of Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life
Melinda shares her battle to find hope and hold onto her faith as she copes with the challenges of her personal debilitating disease, as well as the condition of her precious son. She allows you to see and feel her struggles and numbness all while being transparent about her doubts and questions about God. Her book will bring much-needed inspiration to others who have invisible wounds, too.
~ Amy Lykins, Executive Director of Business Development at Proverbs 31
Melinda understands so well this often-hopeless journey of hidden pain. To the woman who thinks no one sees—this book is for you. To the woman nursing hurts that don’t seem to heal—this book is for you. And, for every one of us (including me) who needs a God-sized reminder that only Jesus can help, this book is for us. Make sure you get two copies—someone you know needs hope while she’s hurting, too.
~ Joanne Kraft, author of The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids
In Invisible Wounds, Melinda gets real and encourages us to do the same. It’s through this realness that we can find grace from God and stronger relationships with others. Stories from Melinda’s life, her friends’ stories, and examples from Scripture all work together to help readers view their hardships as the training ground for growth. I’m excited to have this book to recommend to the special-needs parents that I minister to each day.
At some point in our lives, each of us has dealt with the fear, pain, doubts, and discouragement that Melinda writes about in this book. She describes beautifully how to address the lies the enemy places in our hearts. Melinda also helps us see that through our relationship with God and the promises we receive through knowing Him as our Lord and Savior, we can overcome these wounds. I am encouraged as I journey through her words and feel that through this book, Melinda will reach women as seeds of hope and love are planted—ones can only be found through Christ Jesus.
~ Cheryl Goss, Founder and President of Connecting Ministries
In Invisible Wounds, Melinda courageously opens the door to the inner struggles of a woman’s heart. She reminds us that God wants us to give him the depth of our pain so that He will show us His presence. With approachable wit and grace, Melinda’s words are a soft balm to our open wounds, providing healing and restoration to weary souls alike.
~ Christen Price, speaker, blogger at christenprice.com and author of Practice Hospitality and Invited (releases March 2017)