Life is hard. Disease destroys precious loved ones. Injustice extinguishes innocent life. Dreams are crushed and die. Prayers remain unanswered.
How do I accept the reality of pain and disappointment without losing hope? How do I trust that God might never answer prayer the way I want and still keep asking for a miracle?
I’ve told myself all the usual answers: God is good and he loves me. He is sympathetic to my cry. He knows what he’s doing. Sometimes he answers, “wait.” Working behind the scenes, he will redeem the pain.
I still believe these truths, but I need something more. Do I give up hope of ever seeing what I wish to come true? Is faith continuing to doggedly believe despite every reminder that healing has not yet come? Or is it a total release of all expectation and desire?
Letting go feels like losing hope. The end. That I’ve doomed myself to do without and things will never change. Does God want me to completely give up, to never again expect fulfillment of my desires? If I surrender totally, will God then give me what I want?
Martha of Bethany and her sister sent word to Jesus that their brother was dying. Filled with the pain of Lazarus’s imminent death, they asked for help from the only source of hope they knew. But even though they were close friends, Jesus did not immediately respond to their cry. (John 11:5–6).
Jesus’s delay didn’t look or feel like love. So, when he did finally show up, it makes sense that Martha blurted her disappointment:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”John 11:21
Martha’s honesty induces her friends (and me) to ask the question hanging in the air:
“Couldn’t he have done something to keep Lazarus from dying?”John 11:37
It helps me to see that Martha faced the facts. She didn’t deny the reality that Jesus could have answered her request and yet he chose not to. She expressed what I often feel: It hasn’t turned out the way I wanted it to. You didn’t make it all better. It still hurts.
But I also need to realize that Martha didn’t stop there. She went on to express faith:
“But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will grant you … I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who comes into the world.”John 11:22, 27
Martha stated her belief that Jesus could answer prayer. As her Messiah, he possessed the power to heal, restore, break strongholds, and set people free. Yet Jesus had a bigger plan in mind—to show his glory (John 11:4). First, he acknowledged and validated the sisters’ pain by weeping with them (John 11:33). And then, he gave them back their brother (John 11:35).
So, like Martha, I do not stuff the pain, minimize it, or explain it away. I face the fact of my disappointment. At the same time, I also exercise faith. Sometimes faith is active, leading me to initiate and speak up. Other times it means I wrestle in prayer for those in need. Still other times, faith is calm and quiet, simply trusting.
While my story is not unfolding quite like Martha’s, I can release my efforts, tension, and fear because I know my God is absolutely loving. I have not given up or lost hope. Rather, I surrender to his love and trust that he will be glorified through my journey.
What facts of your disappointment must you face? What does confident faith in God look like for you?
Lord God, you have heard my cries and my heart’s desire. I rest quietly in your absolute love. I trust that your Spirit will carry me to the end that you have prepared for me.