“The struggle is real,” they say, typically in response to some first world problem.
The baby won’t go down for a nap.
I can’t find a parking spot at Target.
The kids won’t eat the dinner I made for them.
I can’t decide between a pumpkin spice latte or a caramel apple cider.
But what about the times when we truly are struggling? When we encounter tragedy, or loss, or heartbreak? When something so devastating occurs that we question the very existence and love of God? It’s in these moments that the struggle becomes painfully personal, a tug-of-war between hope and despair.
Carrying our invisible burdens
There are so many reasons our lives can be turned upside down, so many ways in which our hearts can be shattered by grief. I would venture to guess that most of us have walked around shouldering an invisible burden of sorrow and heartbreak at some point in our lives while we put on a brave face for the outside world.
I’ve learned firsthand that just because someone lives in a million dollar house doesn’t mean they aren’t living on food stamps. Just because a couple is smiling together doesn’t mean their marriage is healthy. And just because a mom may have a brood of children at her feet doesn’t mean her heart isn’t aching for her babies in heaven.
What to read when your life falls apart
When we are walking through these struggles, our hearts are hungry for encouragement and for hope. In addition to turning to scripture, we want to be comforted by others who have lived through a similar darkness. Today, I’m sharing four books to read when your life falls apart.
These moving and uplifting words from Jonathan Martin were a balm to the soul. As soon as I finished reading it, I wanted to order a box and pass out this book to everyone I knew who was experiencing any kind of loss. From his own story of failure and loss, he invites us to trust God’s goodness. He writes:
“The first discovery of the shipwreck is that we have a higher capacity for pain than we ever could have imagined before we lost, before we failed, before we suffered…The surprise on the other side of the shipwreck is that, while your capacity for pain improved far beyond our wildest reckoning, now you have a capacity to feel everything deeper. You are capable of a depth of empathy and compassion that would have been unthinkable before…And from this new-found capacity for pain, for sorrow, for torment, for agony, for endless waves of grief, comes the biggest surprise of them all—your new-found capacity for joy.”Jonathan Martin, How to Survive a Shipwreck
In this book, Carolyn Custis James lays out our deep need to know God. She tells stories of contemporary women alongside the life of Mary of Bethany to show us the benefits of pursuing God even in our suffering. She gives us permission to bring our hard questions to him, our pain, our confusion, our doubt. She writes:
“Christians may be in denial over this, but the race God has marked out for each of us involves struggle. (…) God’s goal isn’t to make us comfortable here but to help us know him and to intensify our longings for him. Our troubles are not signs of abandonment but are evidence that he is mightily at work.”Carolyn Custis James, “When Life and Beliefs Collide”
Niki lost both her mom and her sister to cancer before getting diagnosed herself. Her book is a testament to the fact that life doesn’t have to be pain-free to be full. She shares practical steps, questions, and prayers designed to help you not just survive, but to thrive in the midst of hardship. She writes:
“Deep down we’re all the same. When life’s storms threaten to drown us we just do our best to keep calm, carry on, and breathe. If I’ve learned one thing along the way it’s that learning to breathe again is a team sport and we all need a little help along the way.”Niki Hardy, Breathe Again
Be Still: Leaning into God When Everything Falls Apart. A 30 Day Devotional edited by Sarah E. Westfall
I had the honor of contributing to this devotional alongside some very talented writers. It’s written by women and for women experiencing loss, tragedy, and heartbreak. Thirty days of devotions will encourage you to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46). Sarah says:
After receiving our son’s diagnosis, I was shattered—the life I expected fragmented at my feet. So badly I wanted to move past the pain, to heal, to feel like I wasn’t suffocating beneath a blanket of grief. But instead, I heard a Voice say, “Be still. Stay. Rest in me.” And that changed everything. This e-book was birthed out of that moment. It is written for anyone in a season of struggle, anyone caught between the life they expected and the one they were handed.
You can get a copy of Be Still on Amazon, and it’s my prayer that these words will minister to you.