As I began to share the story, I could hear that my voice was shaking.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to calm myself. It wasn’t a story I wanted to share, but I knew it was a story I needed to share.
I would have loved to stand before these people with a story of success – a testimony of answered prayer that would demonstrate that God was at work, a tale of triumph and miracles… something that would encourage them.
In reality, the story I had to share was one of frustration and bewilderment. It was a story of a lot of hard work and a great deal of prayer that seemed to achieve nothing – where all the pieces had seemed to be falling into place only to collapse at the last moment into a heap of rubble.
It was a story of disappointment.
And I could see it in their eyes: they were waiting for the twist. As I shared my tale of woe, they were anticipating the moment when it would all turn around – where defeat would be swallowed up by victory and God would come to the rescue, where the loose ends would all be tied together in a bow and we’d reach the happy ending.
Not in this story…
Not yet anyway…
I couldn’t even point to something God had taught me through it all because if I had to go back and do it all again there’s nothing I would change. The only lesson I learned is that sometimes you can do everything right and still it all goes wrong.
In the end I had to be honest. It’s not a neat and tidy story. I haven’t a clue what God is doing or why it didn’t work out.
The only hope I could offer was: it’s not over yet.
God could still turn it around; he could still work it for good; he could have a purpose in all of this that I can’t yet see. Maybe one day I will… or maybe I won’t.
So why did I feel the need to share? Why was I even pleased to be asked to share?
Because several years ago, I sat at a meeting in my former church, and watched as one shiny happy person after another paraded up to the front to share their stories. Every single one of them had a story of something amazing God had done – of an answered prayer, or a miracle, or a situation where he intervened unexpectedly to turn things around.
They were encouraging stories and I enjoyed hearing them, but as the evening went on and every story had a similar neat happy ending, I began to feel that part of the story was missing.
It seemed that to be allowed to tell your story up front, the problems you spoke of had to be in the past tense. Difficulties could only be shared once they had been resolved, or when it was clear how God was using them. There was no room for messy stories, or unfinished stories, or stories that didn’t fit into a neat little box – stories like mine.
I left that night wondering if I belonged. Was this a church only for those who had it all sorted? Was I somehow inadequate or lacking in faith because I didn’t have a happy story to share?
I don’t believe that was the intention at all, but I left convinced that, while we needed to hear the encouraging stories of God at work, we also needed to be honest enough to admit that we can’t always see what God is doing. We needed to hear the stories where it didn’t work out and where we can’t understand, but where we still have hope in the midst of it that God is good.
I was pleased to be asked to share because I want to be part of a community where these kinds of stories are valued, and where they are told, because people can only hear these messy stories if someone is willing to tell them.
After I shared, someone came over and said: “Thank you for sharing that. I have stories like that too.”
It’s not easy, but if it can make one person feel that they’re not alone, it’s worth it.
Jesus acknowledged that “here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” (John 16:33 NLT) Not every story will have a happy ending because we live in a broken world. Yet still we have hope. Hope in the knowledge that God cares and he is with us, and hope in the ultimate happy ending when death and sorrow and suffering will be gone and everything will be restored.
In the meantime, let’s encourage one another – with our happy stories and our sad stories, with our tidy stories and our messy stories, with our stories of miracles and triumph and with our stories of disappointment and confusion, because God is in them all and God can use them all.
As I was writing this post, I was reflecting on how thankful I am to be part of this blogging community where so many people are willing to share both the good and the bad. I began to make a list of people to mention, but I quickly abandoned the idea as the list grew so long. I realised that, without exception, every single blogger I visit regularly is honest about the fact that life can be messy and willing to share the difficult stories as well as the easy ones. Thank you for your faithfulness in doing this, and for the encouragement and hope you bring to others!