Reasons? He has many. As he passes several churches during his drive to the park for his Sunday run, he enjoys his solitude. In fact, he reflects on how he can connect with God just as easily—if not more so—on his own. But deep layers of pain, a multitude of rehearsed excuses, and complicated explanations mask a simple reality: Church has not been a safe place for him.
I recently called a friend who has endured more than his share of hardship and weariness. People dear to him, people he loves, have made choices that have caused themselves pain and brought him heartache. When my friend answered the phone, however, his voice was bright.
One Sunday morning, my friend Sally announced some upcoming women’s events to our congregation. Sitting in the back, I made sure she could see my smiling face. Later she exclaimed, “You smiled at me the whole time!” I admitted that the “encouraging smile” idea had come from someone else—my friend Suzy. Several months before, Suzy had beamed at me during a short presentation I made to the church family.
I had plans for how my life was supposed to work out,” my friend David said. “And when things didn’t go as planned, I became bitter and resentful.” Who can relate to David? I definitely can! Often I find myself imposing my expectations on God as rights, and then sulking when they aren’t realized.
I wet the bed until I was 12 years old. It’s hard to put into words the agony of those moments when I would wake up in the middle of the night and find my clothes and sheets were soaked. Ashamed, I would scurry about, trying to quietly change the sheets and my clothes—doing my best to hide the evidence. But it was found out each time, and I felt a deep sense of worthlessness, failure, and disapproval.
During the closing seconds of an American football game, the referee had to make a very difficult, game-deciding call. His decision resulted in one team winning and the other facing the bitter sting of a loss. Furious fans from the losing team ridiculed and threatened the ref for days and weeks. In time he experienced panic attacks and even considered suicide. Doctors diagnosed his condition as post-traumatic stress disorder.
The familiar darkness of clinical depression rolled over Leigh as she sat on the edge of the bed holding a revolver—tormenting voices urging her to pull the trigger. As a Christian wife and mom, she knew this picture was all wrong, but the consuming illness had clouded her mind. Apart from her husband and doctor, no one knew of the daily struggle she faced. Leigh slowly put the gun down, walked out the room, and chose to begin reaching out and sharing her story with others.
Flying back from a weeklong trip to Brazil, my husband and I received an unexpected text. The message from the church’s financial secretary revealed that a certified letter from our county’s board of education had arrived. Having planted a church that met at a local high school, we knew the letter had something to do with our rental agreement. For more than a year, it had been the place our church family called home each Sunday. Our dismay grew when we received the contents of the letter—the board wasn’t going to renew our lease for the building past the end of the year, just 3 short months away.
Since so many people are desperate for work, I’m grateful for my husband’s job. But his retail work with its agonizingly long hours can be ruthless on a family. Accustomed to evening meals and weekends together, my doing life almost as a single mom has seemed like a very long 4 years. One evening, I was feeling particularly tired and sighed to my father that I didn’t know how to pray anymore. After many years of praying for a breakthrough in his own life, he knew how I felt and encouraged me from God’s Word—renewing my hope and resolve.
Yesterday I received a double dose of bad news. In the span of 5 minutes, the words in two emails left me disappointed and doubting that a project I had worked on for years would come to fruition. I wanted to quit. What’s the use? I felt like going back to bed and starting the day over again.
Many people are familiar with the book Gone with the Wind, and even more have viewed the movie adaptation that was filmed in 1939 starring famous Hollywood actor Clark Gable. But what many people don’t realize is that the novel written by Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times by publishers before finally being accepted. It went on to sell 30 million copies. What if Margaret Mitchell had given up after her 38th rejection, as most of us probably would have done?
Roger Bannister was considered the favorite for the 1500m race at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. He planned to retire if he won gold, but an unusual schedule at the Games affected his chances and he came in fourth. Instead of quitting, however, his disappointment spurred him on to continue competing. Two years later he went on to change sporting history. On the 6th of May in 1954 at the Iffley Road track in Oxford, England, Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile in less than 4 minutes.
A man dealing with despair confessed to a Bible teacher, “My life is really in bad shape.” “How bad?” asked the teacher. Burying his head in his hands, the man moaned, “I’ll tell you how bad—I’ve got nothing left but God.”
The memory is vivid. My wife Merryn and I sat in emotional pain, talking. “If this really is our last chance to have a baby and it doesn’t happen,” Merryn said, “I need something else.” We’d spent the past decade trying everything to start a family—IVF treatment, healing prayer, adoption—all without success. We now awaited the result of one final IVF round. “If it doesn’t happen,” she said, her face downcast, “I have to have something else to look forward to.”