Erin felt like her life was falling apart.
Although she appeared on the surface to have everything - a successful career and ministry, a lot of friends, a high self-esteem - she recounted to me the pain in her childhood, the string of broken relationships over the past several years, her kidney disease, the repeated sicknesses, the hospitalization from pneumonia, the decline of her business, the eviction from her home, her broken marriage engagement, and now her diagnosis of breast cancer.
"Each time I get slammed against the wall, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and move on. I pray about it constantly and ask God to show me the lessons He wants me to learn. And still this keeps happening. What's wrong with me? Am I doing something wrong?" she asked as the tears began to fall. "When is enough, enough?"
I sat across the table from Erin not knowing what to say. The words of wisdom I had hoped for wouldn't come. The Scripture verses I'd memorized for situations like this seemed rote and cliché at the moment. Erin was broken...and there was nothing I could do to fix her.
As I watched the tears stream down her cheeks, I thought about how helpless she looked at this moment and how unlikely a picture it appeared to be. This self-reliant, strong-willed, determined, and very confident woman was finally broken. Could it be that she was now at the point where God could rebuild her from the ground up and make her a God-reliant, flexible, focused, and confident woman in Him?
I managed a whisper as I reached across the table and squeezed Erin's hand: "Sounds like God is writing quite a glory story."
As I drove home in silence, I thought about the "glory story" God writes on the fabric of our lives. I thought about the underside of that tapestry, where all the knots and imperfections are, so that the top side can be perfect and intricately beautiful. I thought of this God who has a way of weaving lessons and revelations of His love into the troubles that bombard us in life. And when we are determined to see that He gets the glory for all that we encounter, then the things we go through are not for nothing.
Erin's story wasn't finished. In fact, it was just starting. And a few weeks later when I talked to her on the phone, she sounded much more upbeat. "I think I know why all this is happening to me," she said. "I don't really know God. All this time I've been praying to Him and serving Him, but I didn't really know His character and the full aspect of who He is. Now through the chemotherapy, through the crying out to Him every day, through the way I've been searching His Word for answers, I am finally getting to know Him. I think for the first time in my life, I'm really experiencing Him." Erin may not have realized it, but right there on the phone she was already recounting God's glory story in her life.
What About You?
Is your life looking bitter right now? Are you finding yourself inundated by trials or counting your losses? Perhaps God is writing a glory story in your life for someone else's benefit. Is there someone whom you can pour your life into as you go through your difficulties so God can get a glory story?
It's natural for us to say, "No way. My life's a mess. I can't possibly encourage anyone else because of where I am right now." But I have found that it is the pain in my life that I've gone through and the troubles and trials that make me most effective in ministering to women. The more experience you have in suffering and the more times you walk alone in your trials, the more access you will have to other women's hearts and the wider the doors will swing open for you to help and encourage others in your church, job, or neighborhood who are suffering, too.
A New Motto
My motto for women who walk alone in their trials is "Don't let it be for nothing." Recycle it. Let God redeem it and turn it into a glory story. In some aspects, it's the only way we can keep our sanity because many times we won't understand why we face certain trials. It helps a little when we can see that they made us stronger and they gave God glory.
Here are three things I focus on when life starts taking a downward turn so I can make sure it turns into a glory story rather than a pity party:
1. Respect God's right to do as He will. In Galatians 2:20 the apostle Paul, who was determined to give his life over for God's glory story, said, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Do you believe that? Do you consider your body His and not your own? When we come to that place of denying ourselves any rights and giving God full control, He blesses us in extraordinary ways.
2. Recite often what He's done in your life. By getting into the practice of telling others about Gods' ongoing goodness in spite of the grievances you've faced, your revising and updating your glory story. It becomes your testimony. And because God's blessings and care never end, we will always have new things to tell. By telling others, it also encourages you to surround yourself with support -- gathering other believers and spiritual mentors in your life to hold you accountable, pray for you, and strengthen you when you feel like giving up.
3. Rejoice, for this time will pass. In Psalms 30:5 David sings "Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." This is a promise that the desert of suffering is not forever. It sometimes lasts as long as the night - as long as it takes for you to cling to God in the night and for Him to get His glory - and then morning will come.
The exhortation to rejoice no matter what our circumstances is also given by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:4 "Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!" Paul wrote those words from prison, knowing that his suffering wasn't forever. Perhaps just knowing that your suffering is only for a season will help you rejoice, too - even when you don't feel like it.
As you praise God in your pain, you are singling yourself out as someone who is different...someone who is a bearer of God's "glory story."
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and author of several books, including Women on the Edge, When a Woman Overcomes Life's Hurts, and When Women Walk Alone, from which this article is adapted. For more on her books, ministry and free resources to strengthen your soul, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.
Publication date: February 21, 2013