Two and a half years ago, our almost-adopted daughter died.
We thought she would live. We thought God would work a miracle. We thought there was no reason why God would have brought us all the way to a baby’s bedside in the NICU, only to be left with empty arms.
We didn’t understand what God was doing. We didn’t understand why He wouldn’t move the way we expected. We didn’t understand why we had to journey through loss again. After the miscarriages. After the failed adoptions. After all the years of infertility.
Last year, when the two year anniversary of Annie’s birth and then death came– I almost came apart. I cried in the morning, then in the afternoon, and then as I fell asleep. For days.
A friend gave birth to a beautiful, perfect little girl that month and I held her during Bible Study and ached from the top of my head to the soles of my feet.
I cried out to God, asking Him all the questions that are all wrapped up in all my fears. Is there something wrong with me, Lord? Some reason why I’m not good enough, not loved enough, not something-enough, to mother a baby? Is there a reason why I can’t bear one or adopt one? And why, oh, why, did you give me all this desire and hope, only to leave me empty and aching?
We always end up back here, don’t we?
Back to this place of wondering why. Back to these questions of God’s goodness, or God’s love, or whether or not God even cares at all.
And the truth hit me again.
This is the ultimate battle. The heart-issue that is at the center of every other thing in life. It’s the bloodiest war we’ll ever face– where our greatest sorrows slam into us on every side and we are given the choice of two paths. One of surrender that leads to a soft heart and life–or the one of anger and bitterness that leads to a hard heart and death.
It’s the same battle that Job won, and David won, and Peter won, and Paul won.
In fact, it was David who said it, in Psalm 16. He told us that God is the one who sets the boundary lines into place, and He sets them in delightful places. Not that everything in our life brings us joy, but that everything in our life can be used to soften our hearts to the Father.
- The battle for Job was whether or not he would harden his heart to God in the face of losing everything he held dear, even his own health.
- The battle for David was whether or not he would harden his heart to God in the face of threats and hardship and ultimately his own sin.
- The battle for Peter was whether or not he would harden his heart to God in the face of his own failures and his life being threatened, then eventually taken.
- The battle for Paul was whether or not he would harden his heart to God in the face of discouragement, beatings, misunderstandings, imprisonment, and betrayal.
It’s the enemy’s ultimate temptation, fed to us with glee. It’s what he dangles before each of us, in the most important battle we’ll ever face.
“If God doesn’t give you what you want, then why surrender to Him?” He taunts.
In the face of all the hard stuff in life, will we fall for the enemy’s lie? The one that says, “If there’s a god at all, then He’s not really good, He doesn’t really love you, He isn’t actually trustworthy…”
Or, in the face of the hard stuff, will we choose to soften our hearts? To turn your face toward the Father. To acknowledge that in this world we will have trouble, but take heart, He has overcome the world.
We’re all being taunted by the enemy of our souls.
You, me, your neighbors, your friends.
God knew we would be. That’s why He whispered the words through all of history– why the same story is repeated over and over through Scripture: Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…Hebrews 3:7
And it’s why He gives the promise, back there in Ezekiel. The one where He whispers and shouts and pleads– not the cries of a powerless God, nor an angry God– but the compassionate cries of a loving Father, who is pursuing His beloved children. The very children who are listening to the taunts of an enemy who has enslaved them to a life of agony and then points at their Father saying, “Never trust Him– He’s the author of this mess.” When in reality, the Father is only here, in this mess, because of His great compassion, His unrelenting love.
And that Father says quietly, in the voice that even the winds and waves obey, “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you choose to die, my people?” [Ezekiel 18:31]
And His promise shudders through the earth, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” [Ezekiel 11:19]
Here I find my ultimate battle. In the face of my hard stuff… the infertility that scrapes me raw, the loss of baby Annie that leaves me hollow with grief, the beauty and agony of raising older adopted children, the settled sorrow of the failed adoptions and the way my heart was splintered over the daughter-who-never-came-home. In the face of all of it– will I harden my heart against God?
Against the Father who followed me into the mess of this world and pursues my heart with unrelenting passion and love? Against the Father who has never left me or forsaken me, even when it means He has to face my anger and accusations and unfiltered agony? Against the Father who captures every tear I’ve ever cried and whispers promises of redemption into the depths of my sorrows?
Dear God, save me from myself. Save me from a hard heart. Give me a heart of flesh. Soften me from the inside out.
Beloved friend. I don’t know your sorrow–
but I do know your battle.
It’s the same one I face every day. It’s the temptation to turn your back on the only one who can save us. To harden your heart in the face of your hard stuff– the stuff that is bloodying your life with pain.
The death of the one who was so precious to you.
The rejection from the one you thought loved you.
The emptiness of broken dreams.
The sharpness of your own failings.
The loss of something you treasured.
The mistreatment at the hands of someone you trusted.
The sorrow that slices you and withers you and makes your soul crack with agony.
Don’t lose this battle, dear one. Don’t surrender to the enemy– the one who is trying to drag you to death. Don’t give him the satisfaction of turning you from the only place you’ll ever find relief.
Choose the path of life. Choose to soften your heart when the hard stuff comes. Choose to cling to the Father who willingly follows you into the mess, and offers you comfort in the middle of life’s most agonizing sorrow.
Want to know more about my journey of learning to delight in the God-Who-Speaks-Promises? You can find the whole story in my latest book, Counting Grains of Sand.