Tag Archives: prayer

With Friends Like That….

I’ve been re-reading Job recently, and I’ve been struck by the many ways Job’s friends acted morally and spiritually superior – even though they were wrong.  They were wrong about what was happening.  They were wrong about why.  They were wrong about God’s silence, and they were wrong about Job’s response to it.  They were wrong about almost everything.  But, that didn’t stop them.  And because they knew enough to sound credible, they caused Job tremendous grief.

Does that sound familiar?

Does anyone you know ask questions or offer insights that make you feel your struggle is somehow your fault?  That God is withholding your heart’s desire, or punishing you for some reason?  That His silence means He is ignoring your pleas?  That you deserve the life you have – but not the one you want?  That you should just give up and accept your fate?

Take another look at Job.  You’ll get a new perspective on friends like that….

Job’s three friends came to comfort Job not long after his ten children and 11,000 livestock died (all in one day).  Just before they arrived, Job broke out in painful sores from head to toe.  When the friends saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him.  “They began to weep… and sat with him for seven days and seven nights.  No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”

Many counselors call that the ministry of presence.  The friends didn’t offer answers or explanations, only compassionate concern expressed through silence.

But then, Job voiced his feelings about his sudden suffering and they couldn’t resist the temptation to respond.  They could not hold their tongues.  Instead, they indulged themselves in judgment of the friend they’d come to comfort.  They chose to “help” him by closing their ears and opening their mouths.

After withstanding as much as he could bear, Job responded: “How long will you torment me and crush me with words?  I also could speak like you, if you were in my place.  But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.”  Does he sound comforted?  Enlightened?  Not at all.  He’s angry, hurt, and resentful.  These are not true friends — their words only compound his grief and make him doubt God’s faithfulness — and he lets them know it.

And then, Job says, “My intercessor is my friend, as my eyes pour out tears to God….”  In other words, compassionate action speaks louder than words.  Anyone who lifts me up in prayer when I am grieving or struggling is my true friend.  If you want to do more than sit with me in silence, then actively intercede for me with the only One who can truly help me.  That would bring me comfort.

Job’s words equip us to discern who will be the true friends along this journey.  They are the listeners.  The compassionate comforters who do not pretend to know the mind of God.  The untiring intercessors who are driven by our tears to petition the only One with the power to change everything.

Do you have a friend like that?  One who will stand by you throughout this journey?  One who will pray for you when you are too exhausted to pray for yourself?  If you are fortunate enough to have a true friend — or more than one — tell them what a blessing they are to you.

If you don’t have a single friend like that, don’t despair.  You are not in this alone.  Read the lyrics of this hymn (written in 1855) and know that you do have a friend who stands with you:

What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear!  What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! Can we find a friend so faithful,who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer. Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear. May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.”

=========================================================

Find more cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com, and read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Bystanders, Loss, Speaking Up

When Infertility & Ministry Collide: One Couple’s Story

Has anyone ever told you that the Bible is full of good advice?  That it has all the answers?  How did that make you feel?

In my experience, infertile couples tend to feel patronized when someone sends them to the Bible for answers.  Why?  I think because it feels like a spiritual brush-off – like a feigned attempt to help, wrapped in an artificial piety.  And why is that?  Because virtually no one seems to know where to find practical advice for infertile couples in scripture.

And why is that?

Because no one – in the church, or outside it – seems to think that the spiritual questions that accompany infertility are much of a priority… unless they find themselves making the journey.  Then, it takes on a whole new urgency.

I don’t think that irony is lost on God.

Here’s why….

A man and his wife joined our support group several years ago.  They were five years into their quest to conceive.  Still, they hadn’t shared their secret with anyone:  the husband was a minister, and the minister was struggling with infertility.

Week after week, as they processed grief and tried to muster hope, he felt compelled to stand before his congregation preaching on God’s faithfulness.  The obligation he felt to preach something he wasn’t experiencing – and increasingly struggled to believe – transformed the pulpit into a crucible.

At his wife’s urging, he finally stepped aside, and they began driving an hour each way to participate in our Bible study.  Free to express the doubts and fears they’d bottled up for years, they asked:  “Why is this happening?  What are we supposed to do?  How do we change this?  What does God want from us?!”

Now, timeout.  Look at this situation.  A minister came to a group of struggling souls searching for answers.  He didn’t have them.  He couldn’t find them in the Bible.  He felt as lost as they were.  But, he had the good sense (finally!) to ask for help.

Here’s the good news:  he and his wife both found answers, help and hope.  They rediscovered the power of God’s promise, “I am with you always.” And their spiritual lives began to show signs of new life.

One day, soon after the class ended, the wife called me.  She said that the weeks spent in our group had helped them find the peace that had been so elusive for so long.  They’d discovered that they were comfortable considering adoption – for the first time.  They’d completed a profile and, almost immediately, gotten a call.  Twins!  Due to be born in a week!

She started to cry.  “All along we were praying for twins, but we never told anyone.  No one knew… but God knew.  When we got that call, and they said ‘twins,’ we knew He was telling us He’d heard our prayers.”

Why did I share this story?  To say that ministers don’t have all the answers?  That the Bible can seem dense and confusing?  That it’s hard to know where to find actionable advice in scripture, especially in the midst of high-stress  infertility?

Yes.

And to say, it’s okay not to know all the answers.  Even if you’re a minister.  It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, hurt, confused and resentful.  It’s okay to express those feelings honestly and to get help dealing with them.  And yes, it’s okay to admit that infertility is crippling your spiritual life.  God won’t be angry.  Instead, He’ll step into your story.

Not sure where to find good advice in the Bible?  Your minister might not know either.  But you can make this journey together.  If you do, I think you’ll both learn a lot about the goodness of God.

=======================================================

Equip your minister to help you and other infertile couples.  Pass on a copy of Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples or a link to this blog.

Leave a comment

Filed under Hope, Speaking Up

Needing to Know, ‘Why?’

Knowing why I have to do something, or why something is happening, has always mattered to me.  I guess it’s because I didn’t like taking orders as a kid.  “Because I said so” was my father’s justification for most of the demands he placed on me, and I (silently) resented that.  It struck me as an abuse of power, and it left me feeling powerless.

It seemed to me that if something was important, it was reasonable for me to want to know why, and for whoever was in authority to explain that to me.

Many times, as an adult, that same “need to know” trait has made me hesitate to obey God’s commands, or to trust Him in a particular situation.  Especially when there’s no obvious reason why He’d want things to go a certain way, I find myself dragging my feet, waiting for an explanation.

Here’s why that’s a problem:  when I refuse to budge until I get a satisfying answer, my circumstances don’t change.  Like a longsuffering parent with a willful child, God lets me stew in my situation until I humbly acknowledge that maybe trying things His way – even if I don’t understand why – is reasonable.

Is that an abuse of power?  In the midst of infertility, I sure thought so.  I struggled mightily with anger and resentment at God’s apparent lack of interest in my suffering.

Why wasn’t I ovulating?  Why couldn’t I stop miscarrying?  Why was having a baby so hard for us and so easy for everyone else?  Why didn’t our doctor have all the answers?  And if God had them, why wasn’t He giving them to us?  Like a petulant child, I wanted to know, “Why?!  Why?!  Why?!”  I kept silent only out of fear I’d make Him angry.

In hindsight, all that drama looks like a lot of self-inflicted suffering.  Why?  Because if we truly trust God to keep the promise that “all things work together for good,” then there is always an answer to “why?”:  it is part of His plan for our lives.  Sometimes, in the moment, that needs to be enough.

Either we trust Him, or we don’t.

That, of course, is the great struggle of infertility.  Will I trust Him, or will I fight to retain control?

With that as context, I had a big epiphany recently about the injunction “Pray without ceasing.”  I’d read and heard those words plenty of times before, but always wanted to know “why?”  Really, I think I wanted to know, “What’s in it for me?  I get why it makes you feel appreciated, God, but why should I put in all that effort — especially if you don’t seem to respond?”

A few days ago, in a moment of incredible grace, God showed me why.  Now, I know it’s vitally important for infertile couples to obey.  Here are the reasons:

1)      Constant prayer is an acknowledgment of His role in our story.

2)      It means we recognize and respect His authority, and we welcome His powerful presence — even though we cannot control it.

3)      It keeps us talking and listening to the only one with the ability to change anything & everything about our circumstances.

4)      Constant prayer creates healthy boundaries between us and a constant barrage of negative thoughts, worries and doubts.

5)      It enables us to experience moments of gratitude, even when we aren’t grateful for infertility.

6)      It helps us maintain perspective – God’s perspective.

7)      It helps us tune out the world’s messages about instant gratification, and helps us remember that God’s timing is always perfect.

8)      It grounds us in who we are to God, and who He is to us.

Bottom line, “pray without ceasing” is an imperative command because it’s good for us.  It helps us.  It comforts us, renews us, and strengthens us for the journey.

This command is not an abuse of power.  It is a gift.  An invitation.  A chance to draw near to the one who knows our struggles and loves us deeply.  It is a blessing that is available whenever we choose to make ourselves available.

Is that enough reason for you to pray?  It is for me.

=======================================================

For more inspiration and cause for hope, read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples and visit PregnantWithHope.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Battles, Control

Sow in Tears, Then Reap with Joy

It can be very disheartening to hear other couples’ success stories.  We listen thinking they may spark our own hope or offer some inspiration.  But more often than not, someone else’s success just reinforces our own sense of having been singled-out for suffering – compounding a growing sense of isolation and despair.

I had no intention of including infertile couples’ success stories when I wrote Pregnant With Hopein  part, because I’d already worked for nearly a year to transcribe the messages from the infertility Bible study.  But also, I anticipated a negative response from the still-struggling couples who’d be reading the book.

God knew better.

During a long walk, He made very clear that I was not done writing.  I needed to find ten couples to share their stories – in their own words, using their real names.  “That’ll never happen!” I argued.  “No one will agree to that.”

God pushed me to try.

Amazingly, ten of the twelve couples I asked said, “Yes.”

Why was it so important to include their stories?  Because they fulfill a promise of scripture  — one  which God intends to fulfill in your life, too:  “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”

That promise is at the heart of Pregnant With Hope.  It is the common element in all ten of the stories told by the couples featured in the book.

All of them came to our group barely clinging to anything resembling hope.  Most had experienced multiple miscarriages, numerous failed IVFs, and countless trips to doctors’ offices.  Some had also undergone major surgeries, lost family members, battled cancer….  They were completely exhausted by the journey.

Experience had taught them to expect only failure and heartache.  Increasingly, the “experts” agreed:  the odds were not good, and getting worse.  So, they sowed in tears – grieving their losses while continuing to cast seeds of hope.  Some sought new doctors, new tests or new protocols.  Others felt led to plow effort into creating profiles, finding adoption lawyers and scheduling home studies.  All of them chose to trust the God of miracles.

And all ten couples reaped incredible blessings.

They’re all parents now, as are many, many couples who’ve come after them.  Whether by conception or adoption, egg donation or surrogacy, they will tell you with absolute conviction:  this is the baby who was always meant for us.

Why are their stories so inspiring?  Because all ten couples, each in their own way and in the context of their unique story, dramatically demonstrate the power of the prayer:  Thy will be done.  All of them discovered the power of letting go, of trusting God’s timing, and of believing that their infertility was not the end of the story.

On the surface, each journey may have seemed doomed and hopeless.  In the natural, there was no reason to believe joy was coming.  But in the spiritual realm, God was blessing the seeds of hope they’d sown in tears.  He was honoring their faith with His faithfulness.  And they all “reap(ed) with songs of joy.”

Live into God’s promise and you will, too.

=====================================================

Are you sowing in tears with no sense of hope?  Please let me  pray for you.  Email me:  susan@pregnantwithhope.com.

1 Comment

Filed under Hope, Loss

The Gift of Perspective

Before he died, my father was a cancer specialist.  I grew up hearing stories about patients who had become like extended family to him.  Many of them battled terrible forms of the disease with courage and grace – which inspired him, and burdened his heart.  He did everything he could to heal their bodies.  He also took seriously the call to minister to their spirits.

One Christmas, I cross-stitched these words for him, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” [Psalm 118:24].  To my surprise, he hung the framed verse in his chemotherapy room.  I wondered, wouldn’t that rub salt in patients’ wounds?  Who could possibly come for chemo and feel glad for the day?

As it turned out, that little message was a powerful witness.  It reminded patients that every day is a gift full of purpose.  Those who chose to trust God’s purposefulness could truly rejoice and be glad – even when their circumstances commanded otherwise – because they could see past the moment and lean into its greater purpose.

Patients began telling my father that the chair across from that cross-stitched verse was “the best seat in the house.”  Many told him they would rather wait for that particular chair to be available than go through chemo without the power of those inspirational words.  Patients reported feeling blessed by the time spent staring at the psalmist’s verse, even as their IV drips summoned nausea.

Some made the words a prayer, some a whispered mantra, some a silent meditation.  All took them to heart and found strength and hope in them.

And then, what happened?  Was everyone miraculously healed?

No.

Every journey took its own course – just as every infertility journey does.

Then, what really changed?  Here’s what… That little handmade message invited God into an awful place and transformed it into a sanctuary of hope.  The experience of receiving chemo became an uplifting spiritual one, rather than just a taxing physical one.  In many cases, that difference transformed the journey.

Is there any place in your life that needs transforming?  A physical place that represents your suffering and sadness?  Or a psychological place that harbors fears, worries, anxieties and dread?  If so, I urge you to give yourself the gift of gratitude this Thanksgiving.

Claim God’s promises to be with you always, to make all things work together for good, to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future.  And then, put the words of the psalmist before your eyes:

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

See God’s goodness with eyes of faith.  Trust His purposefulness.  And realize that there is so much to be thankful for, even as you make the difficult journey of infertility.

=====================================================

Need more reasons to be thankful?  More hope for the journey?  If so, visit PregnantWithHope.com or read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples

1 Comment

Filed under Peace, Perspective

The Amazing Power of Praise

Some of the best discussion in the infertility Bible study comes in response to what seems like nonsensical advice:  Praise God for what you can’t see happening.  “Why should we, and how could we?” couples ask.  On the surface, the advice sounds ridiculous.  It seems absurdly Pollyanna to believe that seeing the bright side could somehow make it so.

But, it can.

Here’s what I mean.

Our praise releases the power of God into our lives.  When we dwell on the negative, on our feelings of powerlessness and despair, we invite the power of darkness into our spirits.  But, the opposite is also true.  When we concentrate our attention on the goodness of God and our knowledge of His faithfulness, we invite the power of the Holy Spirit to activate the word of God in us.  That changes everything.

“So, what do you thank God for when everything seems to be falling apart?” couples want to know.  “How can we praise Him when nothing is going according to (our) plan?  When the nurse calls with discouraging results… there are no eggs to harvest… the IVF fails… the birth mother changes her mind… our options are limited and the future looks bleak?”

Praise Him for sustaining you, and thank God for hope.  The Bible makes clear that what we see is not all there is.  In fact, it is in walking by faith and not by sight that we can “see” cause for hope.

Still at a loss?  Then speak these words of the psalmist:

But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more… til I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.

Do those words feel relevant?  You want hope.  You’d love to declare God’s goodness to the next generation — your children, who came into your life despite all the struggles of infertility.  Even if it is hard for you to imagine saying these words with conviction, offer them with sincerity.  Pray them with a desire to see God demonstrate that your faith is justified.

“What if I can’t?  How do I praise God when I feel angry, resentful and hurt?”  You acknowledge the truth of your feelings, and then acknowledge a greater, timeless truth:  God is faithful.  How do you do that when you’re awash in powerful feelings?  Voice them, too!  Look again to the words of the psalmist:

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter,… I will praise you for your faithfulness.

“Why praise God when I’m the one doing all the work and experiencing all this suffering?”  Because you’re not doing it alone.  You are surrounded by countless provisions every day, sent to you by the God who loves you and will sustain you.

Bottom line:  If you can’t praise God for His sake, then do it for for your own:

1) Praise strengthens you – It focuses your mind on God, helping you be attentive to His presence, His voice and His will.  That attentiveness strengthens your courage; you know you are not alone.  It fortifies your hope; you know your steps are guided by the One who is with you.  And, it reinforces your faith; as you exercise trust, you build your ability to believe in God’s promise-keeping faithfulness.

2) Praise also anticipates victory – It encourages optimism, regardless of the moment’s circumstances.  It leans into believing what can only be seen through eyes of faith — which delights the heart of the Father.  It makes everything different, even as it appears to remain the same, because it rests in the assurance of a powerful truth:  “all things are possible.”

Learning to trust and affirm God’s promises, despite today’s circumstances, is the great test of faith.  When we say, “Lord, despite what I see, I still believe all things are possible,” He stands ready to prove once again, “those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”

==============================================================

For more inspiration and cause for hope, click this link to visit PregnantWithHope.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Control, Peace, Trust

The Value of Spiritual Support

Why, if her own infertility journey is over, would a woman choose to work with infertile women?  Lisa Graham does it because she has a servant’s heart, and because it is a joy to watch God work in the lives of women who entrust their stories to her.

Seven years ago, after her own journey made her aware of the profound lack of spiritual support for women battling infertility, Lisa was urged to start a prayer group for infertile women.  A friend told her, “You should get women together, share your stories, and pray for one another.”  At first, Lisa felt intimidated by the idea of being the leader.  But another woman agreed to partner with her, and the two of them launched a unique ministry.

“We meet once a month,” Lisa explained.  “We go around the circle and everyone shares what’s happened to them since we last met:  test results, where they are in their cycle, the next doctor’s appointment….  Sometimes, there are losses to share.  And almost always tears.  Then, we anoint each woman with oil and pray for her.  Every month, we say, ‘Jesus is in the house!’  You can feel his presence in the room.”

Talking about infertility makes many people very uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, that includes those who are expected to embody the love and compassion of Christ during times of struggle and heartache.  According to E.W. Carter of the Regional Council of Churches, “Clergy don’t know how to talk about infertility in the 21st century.  So, when faced with the unfulfilled longing for a child, they are often silent.”

That silence can make infertile couples – especially women – feel judged, marginalized and neglected.  Lisa Graham’s prayer group models one simple solution to this problem.

“It’s amazing to me that there aren’t more churches doing this, but we are the only group like this in Atlanta.  Every month, Christians, Jews and non-believers gather together to honor God, to share their burdens, and to support one another.  It is a simple ministry, but it’s very powerful.  We see so many miracles – women getting pregnant after their doctors have said they can’t, women conceiving naturally after IVF has failed… we know God is at work.”

Luke tells the story of the Pharisees insisting Jesus rebuke his disciples for calling out praises to God for the miracles they’ve seen.  Jesus’ response is “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

That is how “alumni” of Lisa’s prayer group — who are now mothers — feel about acknowledging God’s role in their stories.  Many of them return to the group every month to pray with and for other women.  They feel compelled to share the good news of their own experiences with those in desperate need of hope and inspiration.

“We praise God for what He does, and we claim His promises for one another,” said Lisa.  “The rest is up to Him.”

Might you — or someone you know — benefit from a group like Lisa’s?  If so, consider forwarding a link to this blogpost to your ministry team or your doctor.  Let them know there is a simple way to deliver meaningful support.  If you prefer to protect your privacy, feel free to send their contact information to me (susan@pregnantwithhope.com) and I will  send them information information on how and why to start a prayer group.

Remember:  The God who is so generous and faithful that He must be praised or “the stones will cry out” is ready and waiting to help all those who call on Him.  What are you waiting for?

=====================================================

Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Peace, Speaking Up