Hope Returns

Aug 18, 2014 |Susie Shellenberger
Hope Returns

When everything falls apart, it's not the end.

Jill was studying to become a youth pastor. She was enjoying her college classes and didn't even mind the Greek. She loved serving as a youth intern at a large church near campus. Things seemed to be going great — until the night she was date-raped.

Her "true love waits" promise seemed to have no meaning anymore, so she removed her purity ring. Her world fell apart. She lost interest in classes, resigned from her internship and eventually dropped out of college. Her dreams were crushed, and she no longer wanted anything to do with ministry.

* * *

Jonathan was 19 and had been married for just three months when he received the devastating news that his parents had been killed in a car accident. He and his new bride took in his 10-year-old sister, and Jonathan put his dreams of college on hold. Though his 18-year-old brother was mostly able to care for himself, he still depended on Jonathan and his wife — a lot.

With no degrees — or way to pay for college — Jonathan and his wife worked odd jobs. Though he felt his life falling apart around him, Jonathan clung tightly to his faith.

"When you lose almost everything," he says, "you quickly learn what matters. And what matters are the things that last eternally."

Dealing with financial pressures, unfulfilled dreams and questions about the future, it would have been extremely easy to slide into depression or walk away from church, but this couple remained faithful to the God who promised to never leave them.

* * *

Maybe you haven't experienced devastation such as rape or death, but you have faced disappointment and hurt. Perhaps you've lost hope and are wondering if life will ever get any better. Let's look at five truths that can help you feel hopeful again.

1. God hasn't left you.

Sometimes Christians are tempted to think that when life falls apart, God falls apart with it. Your world may crash, but God remains faithful, in control and understanding of what you're experiencing. That important opposite-sex relationship that fell apart, the job interview that fizzled or your best friend moving away has no reflection at all on your relationship with God. The hard times aren't a heavenly signal that He has left the building.

Need proof? ". . . behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

"It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed" (Deuteronomy 31:8).

"I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

You'll notice when reading books about Christians being persecuted for their faith (Heavenly Man, Brother Yun; Captive in Iran; Singing Through the Night; Red Runs the River) the persecuted are praising God in the midst of life falling apart around them! If we can learn this secret, we'll see the sun shine again.

2. Keep on keeping on.

When disappointment hits you so hard you feel as though you can barely breathe, stay steady. My mom died 11 years ago. I lived in Colorado Springs, Colo., and my dad lived in Oklahoma City. I asked him if he wanted me to quit my job, move home and just help him with life. I'll never forget his answer: "Let's not make any changes for one year." Great advice!

Don't make fast changes. This isn't the time to purchase a new car to make yourself feel better or the time to spend money on a cruise just to get away. Though you may want to leave, be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). Keep going to work. Stay involved in church. Maintain your routine as best as you can.

Remember, right now you're emotionally vulnerable. This means you're an easy target for spending money or making quick decisions you'll later regret. So determine to simply continue on with the details of your life.

3. Dive inside the Word of God.

Use this time to saturate yourself with the Bible. If you haven't been reading the Bible consistently, determine to set up a regular devotional or quiet time in your life now. I make it a point to read at least one chapter in the Bible each morning before I even leave the house. It helps prepare me for whatever I'll face during the day. It's like putting on my "spiritual armor" (Ephesians 6:11-17).

Reading the Bible will give you the protection you need to face a cruel world. It will also provide the comfort you need when your world falls apart. "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18).

This is a great time to print out some verses on notecards and put them in places where you'll see them often: on your dashboard, bathroom mirror or above your light switch. Here's one I memorized years ago to help me through harsh times: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

4. Be extremely selective with friends.

Some people feel a need to share with everyone around them the devastation they experience. Allow me to caution against that. I encourage you to choose very carefully with whom you share. People may notice you're discouraged (sometimes it's tough to hide that), but be aware of the fine line between curiosity and concern.

Choose a very small number of genuine friends who are truly concerned — not simply curious — about your life. I remember sharing a particularly difficult time with a friend and her response was, "Well, God just has something else for you." Though she meant well, it came off as glib. I needed someone to hurt with me. So choose someone who will reach out and take your hand, pray with you, cry with you — someone who will genuinely strive to understand what you're experiencing and how you feel.

5. Be accountable.

When your world falls apart, it's natural to want to sleep a lot, skip meals (or go the opposite way and stuff yourself), back out of church, shun friends or even skip work. Allow one trusted friend to hold you accountable. You're less likely to stay in bed all day Saturday if you know your friend is going to call at 10 a.m. and ask what you're doing. Accountability can be an extremely helpful ingredient in the healing process.

What You Want

Your desire is to be able to move on ... to feel the sun shine on your back again ... to laugh until your sides hurt. No one wants to wallow in hurt forever. But it's your choice.

Remember Jill? The college student who was date-raped? Let's fast-forward 10 years later. She never went back to college and is working in a department store. She doesn't have many relationships, still refuses to go to church and simply lives with the emptiness. There's nothing wrong with a department store job — but her dreams were much higher. She had specific goals. Jill wanted to influence and shape young lives, mentor teens to become godly disciples and take part in church growth.

What about Jonathan and his wife? We'll fast-forward 20 years with them. They never got to attend college, but his wife started her own house-cleaning business and has a full schedule. Jonathan has an amazing voice and is in full-time music ministry as a concert artist performing 150 concerts a year. Both are happy, fulfilled and now have children of their own.

When your world falls apart, you have a choice: Throw in the towel, or get on with your life. You can create a "second-best" life for yourself, or you can remain faithful to God's perfect plan for you. Christ wants to help you move forward. Let Him.

"And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (1 Peter 5:10).

Copyright 2014 Susie Shellenberger. All rights reserved.

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