If I put everything I’ve learned in all my forty-plus years on this earth into one statement, it would be this… life is not simple.
No matter how much I work to improve myself educationally, relationally, personally, I still find that anything I want to see change— in myself, my loved ones, or the world—takes a lot of prayer and more time than I’d like. More than most of us want to invest. Why is that?
In my experience, this happens because prayer works a lot like a crockpot, not a microwave. But we live in a microwave society. The speed of our current lifestyles is what most of us have come to prefer.
But which method produces a higher-quality meal… a crockpot or a microwave?
The generations that preceded us knew that good things aren’t always instantaneous. They even came up with a saying… “good things come to those who wait.” But then they didn’t have 75 mile-per-hour interstates, microwave ovens, and Google fiber®. Have these modern day conveniences affected the way we deal with the non-material issues in our lives too? So much so that we’ve become unwilling to wait for the better meal that God has planned for us, sacrificing quality for immediacy?
As we think about our grandparents and their parents, we see that they didn’t expect everything in warp speed. They were okay with that. They also didn’t throw away things that weren’t working—mechanically or relationally. They fixed what was broken. By work, prayer, mistakes, frustration, grace, breakthroughs, more work, setbacks, more prayer… they repaired what needed mended.
Marriage and family struggles are a common topic in circles of young to middle-aged women and men. I encourage those I speak with to reflect on the positives in those relationships, even as they wrestle through the negatives. I ask people to think honestly about what they could be doing to contribute to the disrupted connection in their relationships. It’s easy to point out how others are hurting us, but are we willing to acknowledge that we may be responding in ways that are equally hurtful to those about whom we complain? Are we either unintentionally contributing to their mistreatment by not meeting their needs, or in callous response to their not meeting ours? Couldn’t we instead be willing to focus solely on what we have the power to change—ourselves. Couldn’t we seek to understand and meet the needs of our spouses, children, parents, and siblings expecting nothing in return and see what God will do? I implore you to pray long while you also love deeply through difficult times when society will tell you to walk away from what doesn’t serve you. While co-workers, family members, and friends will commiserate and add fuel to the fires of pain that you share, I will speak this truth into your life. I won’t tell you what you want to hear. I won’t say, “Oh, he’s such a jerk!” or “I can’t believe what she did.” No matter the issue, marital or familial, I won’t contribute to the breakdown on connection that we all face in our closest relationships by focusing on the other person. I will love you. I will care about your hurt. I will let you complain, but I will not fail to help you see that we each own a circle of responsibility. Like a hula hoop lying on the ground encircling our feet, we are responsible only for what we do ourselves. How we choose to look at life. What we believe about God, and ourselves, and those in our lives. How we choose to act and react to what happens in and around us. We can choose to be a part of the problem, playing tit for tat. Or we can be a part of the solution. If we will choose that, we can watch as God writes our story, growing us and making us into happier, healthier people no matter the outcome of the problems that brought us to Him. Doesn’t that sound more appealing than a pre-packaged nuked response to the world? What if we instead waited to see how God writes our story? What if we chose to keep praying and loving no matter what, and see what God is going to do in and through us?
A 2002 study by the Institute for American Values Center for Marriage and Families revealed that those who stick it out through difficulty find themselves happier five years later than those who give up and end relationships. Divorce has not been shown to bring the happiness it promises, but on the contrary sticking it out does. A full two-thirds of couples who initially reported unhappiness but stayed together (although many admitted doing little or nothing different) reported a higher level of happiness five years later than those who chose to leave the difficult relationship. I believe that if this holds true for the closest of all relationships—marriage, it also illuminates a very powerful truth about any and all human relationships: endurance changes us. Quitting doesn’t.
Working through difficult issues in a relationship isn’t a microwave task, and we’re kidding ourselves if we believe ending a relationship solves anything for either party either. Honestly, personal experience tells most of us that when we’re willing to persevere through difficulty, matters usually improve with time. (Of course, we are not talking about enduring abuse. That is and always will be an exception.) In safe relationships, we all face differences, sometimes long seasons of trial after trial. There are times when it’s difficult to believe the struggles will ever end. And yet, we have probably all felt that moment of relief when we see God provide an unexpected solution or resolution in a difficult situation. If you haven’t, you either haven’t been alive long enough, or your eyes simply have never been tuned to look for Him. We can see little snippets of growth. We can see change happening, sometimes ever so slowly. Growth rarely occurs without our being humbled. Are we willing to wait it out in order to see the dramatic differences God can make in our lives when we learn to pray and wait in the context of a story that He is writing? One paragraph at a time… we must wait… and move according to His pen to see how each new chapter will unfold.
This kind of life requires permanently and repeatedly giving ourselves back over to the process of living in His story, not trying to force our own. And believing always that He really does know better.
To many of us, this can feel like surrendering to constant disappointment and frustration, but we only have to keep our eyes on our Storyteller (not the story) to see that He never stops writing.
Above all, when the story takes a turn we weren’t expecting, we have to disrupt our natural tendency to try to take back control and fix things. Instead, ask, “Lord, what are you doing on this page of my life and how can I stay in Your story?” We are unwise to attempt to write the next scene in our heads and try to force His pen to transcribe what we would have composed. As for me, I choose each and every day to trust that as my Creator, He is also the best Author of my story.
What might God be writing in your life’s story today? Are you willing to trust Him with the pen? Share some of the latest excerpts that God’s written in your life lately, and how you are responding to the story.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Romans 8:28