Have you ever had a time in your life when you were in terrible pain or misery and you cried out to God, only to feel like you didn’t hear back from Him? I have had that experience many times. I have had times in my life when I was literally on my knees, tears streaming down my face, begging God to rescue me – to rescue me from the pain other people had inflicted on me, to rescue me from the pain I had caused to others and myself, to rescue my children from their own mistakes or from the harm inflicted on them by others – but then felt as if God was simply silent. Now there have been a million times in my life when God HAS shown up out of nowhere and solved problems that seemed unsolvable to me, or provided and protected me in ways that were astonishing. But what about the times when He doesn’t seem to show up? Why??
For over a decade I was in an abusive relationship. I was so depressed, and in so much pain, that at times I wondered if death was my only escape. I felt trapped, alone, and like no one could understand my misery. For years, I cried out to God daily, asking Him to make my abuser more kind, to send someone to rescue me, to help me be perfect so that somehow the abuse would stop. But my abuser never got nicer, no one came to rescue me, and I was never able to be perfect enough to stop the abuse. The cycle went on and on. I suffered in silence most of the time, but at other times, in a desperate attempt to be “rescued,” I would reach out to others for help. By some I was offered kind words of encouragement, some urged me to leave the abuse, some questioned me and wondered if I was just exaggerating and being overly dramatic about the things that I was enduring, and some even told me that good Christian girls must never break their commitments, even if it requires enduring abuse.
I went person to person for "support" (subconsciously searching to be rescued), but no one came and scooped me up to rescue me…Thank God! Yes, I just said, “Thank God that no one came to rescue me.” Let me explain. Since no one came to rescue me, guess who had to rescue me? Yep, it was me! I had to rescue me. And guess how God taught me how to rescue myself? By making sure that no one else rescued me. What I know now is that God did answer every single one of my desperate prayers. He didn’t answer me by specifically giving me what I was asking, because He knew better than me what I needed. He knew that if He had rescued me – pulled me immediately out of my situation – I would have likely ended up right back in a similar situation. So instead, God allowed my pain to get so bad that I was finally pushed to do the hard work of rescuing myself. He provided all of the resources – friends to talk to, support groups to get support from, counselors to guide me, books to find insight from, His Word to provide wisdom – but He forced me to do the work so that I would be changed, not just rescued and left the same.
One of the very first issues I had to resolve was the question of why I so desperately wanted to be rescued. Why did I so desperately want other people to help me make decisions that were actually pretty obvious to make? Was it because I never had a dad who rescued me when I was little? Was it because I was so afraid of judgement from others that I wanted other people to give me approval? Was it because I was just too tired, both mentally and physically, to stand up to people who might not believe me or agree with my decisions? Was it something else altogether? Probably a little of all of those things, but the bottom line is, God knew that if He had simply rescued me from my pain, I’d never be in a spot where I had to even ask myself these questions and work on me.
Today I thank God for not rescuing me all those nights when I begged Him to rescue me. I thank God that instead, He changed me. He forced me to grow up, to face my shortcomings, to face my fears, to grow in strength and endurance, and to stand up and rescue myself from the misery I had chosen. He rescued me in a way that I didn’t know was possible.
If you feel that God is not hearing your desperate cry to be rescued, my friend, please hold onto hope. Perhaps He has a plan that is far beyond, and far better, than the short-term rescue plan that you’ve envisioned. Perhaps He has a plan to change you in ways that you didn’t know were possible, to give you strength you didn’t know you had, and to provide you with a new and better life than you ever could have imagined. It may feel hopeless at times now, but I can assure you that God can, and will, make good out of even the most hopeless feeling situations.
(Original publication date 12/27/2016)
As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today, I am reminded of the inspirational story of Patrick, who endured and overcame great hardship. Born in 385 AD, Patrick was captured and sold into slavery at the young age of 16. For six years, he suffered isolation and the cruelty of his captures, and eventually he escaped and was reunited with his family. Years later, Patrick returned to Ireland, the very place he was subjected to so much pain, and he spent the rest of his days preaching about God’s love. His influence on the people of Ireland and Europe was so great that even to this day we honor his story by celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
One of the most impactful books I have ever read is “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a successful psychiatrist who held two doctorates, one in medicine and one in philosophy. He was well respected and had a thriving career in his native country of Austria, but in 1944 he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. In the three years he spent in Auschwitz and Dachau, not only was Frankl forced to watch the torture and death of countless numbers of friends, he also mourned the loss of his dear wife and child. As Frankl endured captivity, what he began to wonder was why some people seemed to give up in the midst of pain and stress, while others were able to persevere through the unimaginable. After he was freed, Frankl went on to live to the age of 92 and he dedicated the rest of his life to bringing hope and healing to suffering people.
While you and I may not be able to relate to being sold into slavery, or being held in captivity in a concentration camp, what most of us can relate to are the feelings of frustration, pain, and discouragement that come when the world around us seems unfair and out of control. When things at work or at school aren’t going as we’d hoped. When relationships fall apart and we experience the deep pain of loss. When everything we see and hear on the news and on the internet is filled with turmoil and injustice. How do we persevere when life is just not fair?
One thing that St. Patrick and Viktor Frankl had in common was their determination to focus on the truth that they were created for a reason and that their circumstances did not have to dictate how they would live their lives. They didn’t use their circumstances as a reason to treat others unkindly, to give up on people and life, or to deter them from living out their purpose. As a result, they overcame great obstacles and their stories have blessed the lives of thousands and thousands of people.
Just like Frankl and St. Patrick, YOU, my friend, were uniquely created with a purpose! There is nothing – no mistake, no mean person, no unfair circumstance – that can change that. There is nothing random or meaningless about your life, and every decision you make (behind closed doors and in front of others) impacts the world around you, for the better or the worse. Wars, disease, political unrest, and social injustices have always existed. Death, pain, heartache, and trials enter every person’s life at some point. The question should not be how can we avoid the inevitability of trials and frustrations, but instead, how will we respond to the circumstances we will face? Frankl once wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” We can choose to be tossed about by the winds and waves of adversity, or we can choose to stay focused on our own personal mission to be the person we were created to be regardless of the circumstances around us.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl
(If you’d like to learn more about St. Patrick’s story, click here to watch this 10 minute video: St. Patrick – The Real Story )