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When our hearts break, God’s words fall in

Pain often is the best teacher. We are most open to God’s teaching when our hearts are broken.

Jackie L. Halstead | ViewsI have had a number of teachers. One of the most important lessons I learned about my relationship with God was in the aftermath of losing a baby in stillbirth. How could God let this happen to me, a faithful servant?

I chose to punish God by turning away from him. But after three years of hanging on to my anger, I realized in my loneliness that having a relationship with God was more important than understanding God’s ways. I learned that the only thing worse than going through the loss of my baby was going through it without God. I learned to cling to God.

A few years later, my husband was working with a church that became embroiled in a political battle. I watched as my husband and the other minister were mistreated and wounded. The church was in turmoil, and I could not understand why God did not intervene. So many good people were being hurt.

But in my struggle, I remembered the lesson I had learned after the loss of our baby. I remembered to cling to God. He is faithful to give us what we need to endure.
How could God let this happen to me, a faithful servant?
A gift in this particular struggle was that God opened my eyes to the Psalms. Previously, I viewed it as a long book that slowed down my annual reading through the Bible. But now I saw my words and heart expressed by the psalmists. The words jumped off the pages and gave me immeasurable comfort. They were a balm to me.

And I needed them as I experienced another time of struggle. I was recruited by a retreat center and was thrilled to have the opportunity to pour myself into the oversight of its department of education and programming. I wondered why several of the long-term employees had left, but there were reasons given for their departure. More from Jackie L. Halstead

Teaching our children how to pray gives them a ‘connection to God’  A few months later, the real reasons emerged. Our treatment at the hands of the executive director was brutal. I was belittled, told I was worthless, discredited. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt but soon realized that it was her style of leadership.

Unfortunately, the situation continued to escalate. Eventually, I resigned. Those were dark days as I struggled to do my work, grow professionally and live in a Christlike manner. As time passed, I began to internalize some of the negative messages and doubted my worth. I again asked the question, “God, why don’t you intervene?”

God was not responding in the way I wanted and thought would best solve the situation. All I could do was again cling to God and plead with him to change the heart of my employer. It took a toll on both my family and on me.

When God’s people, the Israelites, lived in slavery, they pleaded with God for 400 years. Finally, God answered, “I have heard the cries of my people” (Exodus 3:7). Had he not heard them every year, every day, since they were enslaved? Was this the action of a loving God?
God was not responding in the way I wanted and thought would best solve the situation.
Another of God’s children, Job, cried out to God as he attempted to get his mind around the multiple tragedies he experienced. He wrestled to understand the physical pain, the overwhelming loss of his wealth, his family. I imagine he especially struggled to understand why his children had to die.

Job’s friends had the answer for him. It was clear to them that Job had sinned and was being punished. Job did not accept that answer, and God certainly did not.
God ultimately challenged Job on his attempt to understand the ways of God, whose ways are so far beyond us that he cannot explain them in language we can understand. God told Job to let go of his desire to know and instead to simply trust that God was with him.

During my struggles, I began to learn to trust God. I don’t know why he allowed these terrible things to happen. What I do know is that what I gained during these times was much more than what I lost. I learned to pray fuller and deeper than I had before, and I learned to lean into God’s loving embrace. I learned that, despite the external chaos of my life, I can have internal peace — a peace that transcends understanding, a peace that only God can give.

The questions we ask of God remain, and a part of us yearns to have every situation wrapped up with a neat little bow. But we accept that God is God, and we are not. His ways are above our ways. We learn to be content in every circumstance, following Paul’s words in Philippians.
What I do know is that what I gained during these times was much more than what I lost.
When I wrestle with the pain and hurt in this world, I cling to the fact that God came to earth to show us how to live in this hurting world and serve as his instruments of love.

Jesus was abused, rejected and ultimately killed. He understands the pain we experience. He showed us how to live in this broken world and triumph. He did not give us a pass on the pain of this life. He gave us the gift of the Spirit to be our counselor, to live in us and to pray for us when we cannot pray. And Jesus promised to teach us — to open the eyes of our heart to see ways that we can continue his work in this world. God is faithful and does hear our cries.

There is an old Jewish tale about a student who asks a rabbi, “Why does Torah say we lay these words upon our hearts? Why does it not say we lay these words in our hearts?” The rabbi replies, “Because God knows that our hearts are closed, so we lay the words upon our hearts. When our hearts break, the words fall in.”

Jackie L. Halstead is the founder and CEO of Selah (selahspiritual.com), a nonprofit dedicated to providing renewal and sustenance for church leaders, offering a Spiritual Direction certificate program and services in spiritual formation, relationship enhancement, body spirituality and wellness and emotional/psychological health. She teaches at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., and online for Abilene Christian University in Texas.

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