God often teaches us more through our hard times than He does in the midst of our good days. Those who have followed this series know that I attended a conference session by Jennie Allen a little while back. In that session, Jennie encouraged us all to think about the three best moments in our lives and the three worst, and to think about why those moments stuck with us so much. She wanted to know if God used those moments as threads that ran through the rest of our lives, and if not, should we have let that happen? The last three posts I wrote were about my three best moments and how God has used them in my life. I thought I wasn’t going to delve into my darkest moments here, but after praying about it, I decided it would be a good idea if I did. For many of us at the conference, these were the ones that inevitably brought tears, but they tended to be the most meaningful. I have two connected moments I will share here.
The first moment I remember might be vivid because of the outcome. I was 16 years old, by myself in my church parking lot, and I was praying with as much intensity as I had in me that my sister Tiffany wouldn’t divorce her husband Randy. I prayed with all my might that she would change her mind–that God would change it for her. But He didn’t. No matter how hard I prayed and no matter how much everybody tried to talk her out of it, Tiffany still went ahead with that divorce.
If you read my other thread posts, you may notice that this moment is connected to the one I mentioned in Part One, the moment when my dad called me his prayer warrior when I was a little kid. Mostly because of the faith God built up in me, answering my little prayers about parking spaces and lost toys, I knew that God could say yes to any prayer He wanted to. I had learned how powerful He is through my church, my parents, and the Bible. So why didn’t He say yes to this one? It seemed to be obviously in His will–after all, although He gives provision for it in some cases, God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16).
I had prayed with faith, I had seemingly prayed in His will, and I had prayed in His name, but His answer was no. I didn’t know how to pray after that. My faith was shaken, although I never doubted He was good or that He knew what He was doing.
I can’t say that I ever understood why God allowed Tiffany to divorce her husband and cause pain to others through it. He did bring good out of it, including the birth of my incredible nephew Kaleb. I did learn, however, that God allows us to make devastating choices sometimes. He gives us free will even when it causes pain, even when others are begging Him to stop us so the pain will be prevented. He can use us as puppets, and perhaps He sometimes does. After all, Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” He can control us however He wants, but I believe He allows us for the most part to choose to do right or wrong, desiring all along that we will choose right. There are many verses in the Bible to support the notion of us having a choice to do right or wrong (II Cor. 13:7, James 4:17, Prov. 3:7, etc.). My sister simply made the wrong choice, as we all often do.
In light of this, however, I didn’t understand how to pray. I kept praying, but I continued to wrestle with this at some level.
Then, when I was a senior in college, came a second moment, also involving my sister. I remember very clearly when I received a phone call in my on-campus apartment and how I sank to the ground in disbelief when I understood the words of my mother: Tiffany had been diagnosed with acute leukemia.
You can believe that I prayed throughout the time that Tiffany had cancer that she would be healed. This didn’t have to do with a person’s free will, so it was a simple matter of God, who could easily heal anybody of anything, just answering my prayer (and many other people’s prayers) with a yes. I believed to the last moment that He would. I thought maybe He was waiting until the doctors gave up hope before He would heal her completely, causing everybody to know for sure that it was God who did it. But He chose not to heal her that way and brought her home to Heaven instead.
I couldn’t believe He had said no, but my faith wasn’t shaken like it might have been if He had said yes to the divorce request. He had partially prepared me, but it did bring up some of the same questions I had back when I was 16. People, later, would tell me to pray for something or other and trust that God would answer yes. I would think, I know God has the power to do this, but He might not say yes. He hasn’t always said yes to me, even when it was really important to me.
It wasn’t until after a few years after Tiffany’s death that I learned to pray in a new way: “If it’s Your will, God…” I wasn’t going to give up asking God for what I wanted or thought I needed (I have definitely had times of desperate, intense prayer since then), but I started asking in a more humble way: “If it’s Your will…” When I do that, I am able to have the attitude of trust in Him, His ability and His goodness, no matter what the outcome might be. It might sound cliche to some, but I truly trust that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). I trust it because I’ve seen it.
God took the very moments that shook my faith and used them to strengthen my faith, teaching me (among many other lessons) how to pray in an attitude of surrender and trust.