During my time of seventh-grade bullying, one girl was the primary cause. Supposedly a close friend, she instigated the incidents. Over the years I needed to learn the hard way that I couldn’t trust her. Originally I confided in her, trusting her friendship. Then she betrayed me. Repeatedly. Because she had been my first friend in my new school, it was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that she was acting as my enemy. Finally my mom got me to see, after far too many times of being betrayed, that I couldn’t trust my friend. Then my parents taught me the even harder lesson of loving difficult people by faith.
Loving difficult people by faith.
Loving by faith initially seems to contradict our definition of love. When we think of all the ways we use the word “love,” we usually associate it with pleasure. We love pizza. I love chocolate cheesecake, especially when I make it with Kahlua. Mmmmm. We love great books and great movies. And, of course, we love people. We love all the special people in our lives.
But what about the difficult people in our lives? Don’t we all have difficult people we love? And, if we’re honest, aren’t we difficult to love at times too? My parents taught me the importance of praying for difficult people. But here’s the most challenging part. We’re not allowed to simply pray that they stop being annoying or sinning against us. We need to pray for them in a way that cares about their needs being met. That meant I needed to pray that my frenemy would be happy, that life would go well for her, and that she would feel loved. That meant I could never complain about her to our friends.
God uses prayer to create love.
In his Love is a Feeling to be Learned, Walter Trobischer explains that the feeling of love follows the actions of love. Not the other way around. Infatuation can come first. Or an intense, sudden best friendship. But the feeling of real love follows our learning to love unconditionally, as God loves us. It also comes after we learn to love by faith. My parents gave me a tiny book by Bill Bright that changed my life and relationships: How to Love by Faith. This tiny book taught me how to trust the Holy Spirit to give me his love, as I prayed for the person who bothered me so much. What a revolutionary, biblical concept!
Prayer for others changes us.
To me what was most amazing about this process was that God used it to heal me. He took away my anger, my desire for vengeance, and even much of my pain. As I really prayed for this girl, I began to notice the ways she was suffering and saw that she was lashing out because of her own pain. My changed heart allowed her heart to change–slowly. I didn’t notice the change in her as quickly as I noticed it in myself. But God changed both of us, through my prayers.
Over the years, God has called me back to that lesson many times. Because I forget. When people act nasty toward me, my automatic reaction can be to feel hurt and angry. But each time God brings me back to his lesson of loving difficult people by faith, he brings healing. To me and to the other person.
One day my dad used a silly conversation to teach me about God’s love for me. I had often wondered to my dad how much sense it made to pray to God about everything. What if God didn’t want to do what I asked? If my prayer wasn’t something he thought was a good idea, he wouldn’t do it, right? Would I make him mad by asking?
As an example, Dad asked me what I thought he would say if I begged him for pet chickens. I thought that was silly and told him so.
He suggested that I think of myself as a small child living in a big-city apartment building with my family. Suppose I desperately wanted pet chickens and begged for that. Would he get mad at me for asking him for them?
“No,” said my dad. “I might laugh at the idea, but I wouldn’t get angry. I would explain to you all the reasons it’s an impossible idea. I might have to tell you no many times, but it wouldn’t make me mad.
“He doesn’t want you to be disappointed. He doesn’t want to have to tell you no. But he also knows that some ideas just don’t make sense. Other things you want and pray for could be bad for you if you got them.
“God’s love means he will always answer your prayers in the best way for you—even though it won’t always feel like it. But he always, always, always wants you to come to him with your prayers of whatever you are longing for.
“Just like I love having you come talk to me in my study when you get home from school, God loves having us talk to him about whatever we are thinking.”
As a child, my prayer requests were fairly simple. As I got older, of course, that changed. Then my dad helped me to understand that God also wanted me to come to him and vent when I was angry. Even when God was the person I was mad at.
When I felt abandoned by God because he let me go through traumatic events he could have spared me, God wanted me to vent at him about it. He wanted me to beat my fists onto his chest and ask him why he had let me or those I loved suffer in ways he could have prevented.
My dad didn’t have answers for me when my fiancé left me on my wedding day. But he had taught me clearly that God loved me and wanted to hear from me in my pain.
I didn’t learn the answers as to why God let me experience that traumatic period until years later, but I had learned the most important lesson about it from my dad years before.
Wrestling with God is not unusual for me.
I often feel the need to pound on God’s chest and ask why he seems so slow with his answers. Especially when I’m praying for something good for his children. Hearing “yes” from God seems so essential. And urgent.
But the burden of a parent praying for a child in crisis—physical, emotional, or spiritual—is like no other type of wrestling with God.
And adult children have no fewer scary situations to pray about than young children. The trip home after the week of visiting our recovering daughter and tiny NICU grandson, born not breathing, was a clear example of that.
Heavy-hearted, we boarded the plane to return home. Our week with our daughter’s family following her complicated C-section and resultant repair surgery had ended. But her painful journey continued.
At our first airport, her text had just alerted us that she might need to return to the hospital for IV treatment of a stubborn incision infection. What about her tiny baby, recently released from NICU?!!
Arrow prayers for new mama, for baby, for new daddy, for healing, for stability, and for their peace in their Heavenly Father’s arms. Furiously I sent texts and messages to as many people as I could think of to ask for their prayers before I boarded that plane.
Then my real struggle began: “Lord, why? They have trusted you through so much already. Isn’t it enough? You are a good God. Remember your love for your children! Have mercy on them.”
I cried and prayed through the whole flight home.
And God reminded me that his mercy for my children is endless. In my pounding at his door for answers, he reminded me of his so-much-greater pain in Jesus’ death.
I realized that I often thank Jesus for his suffering for our salvation, while neglecting to thank the Father for the agony he suffered in causing his Son to go through such pain for me and for all who love Him.
His pain was exponentially greater than mine. I am in awe.
Father, thank you for your sacrifice as a parent. Jesus, thank you for your life of sacrifice and death of sacrifice. Holy Spirit, thank you for being with us and offering us your peace through it all.
My daughter’s text had requested prayer that quick healing—after so many failed antibiotics—would prevent her forced return to the hospital. If not, she requested prayer that she would be able to glorify God through her return to the hospital.
That request showed me an example of miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of his people. The Lord reminded me that he brings healing of all kinds.
He said to me, “Peace, my child. Be still, and know that I am God.”
Before God healed my daughter’s body, he healed my heart of a different ailment: the perceived need to be able to take care of my daughter myself. I needed to trust him to do that.
When I was a child of maybe ten, I heard a sermon about the sin against the Holy Spirit.
I don’t remember my response to it in the moment. But evidently the horror of the idea sank deep into me, creating a nightmare. In the middle of the night I rushed into my parents’ bedroom crying and asking for their help. In my dream, I had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. I was sure I was going to hell for committing “the unforgivable sin.” I needed my parents to remind me of God’s unshakable love.
Both my mom and my dad comforted me, assuring me that I was going to be fine. They kept explaining that it was not possible to commit a sin like that while sleeping. I was not convinced! Finally, they explained it in a way that made sense of my fear. If I had committed the unforgivable sin, the Holy Spirit would no longer be working in my heart. I wouldn’t care if I’d sinned or not.
My fear of having sinned unforgivably showed that the Holy Spirit was in my heart and working.
Their love and the love of God comforted me greatly in my parents’ room that night. I learned that nothing in heaven or on earth could separate me from the love of my Father in heaven. Jesus had expressed this love in his sacrifice for me.
What I did not learn until perhaps a decade later is that I had rushed in on my parents in the heat of a very intimate moment.
What I had thought was the middle of the night had only been perhaps 11:30 p.m. Talk about committing the unforgivable sin! My parents’ loving response to me despite my more-than-awkward interruption of them turned out to be a wonderful analogy for me of how much our God loves us. Even when we do really stupid things, really inappropriate things, or cause others lots of pain, he will not leave us:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 37-39 NIV)
How do we convey this powerful love of God to our children? I’m guessing most of us will never have our children interrupt us in such a moment.
Do you have a memory of an incident that gave you a special opportunity to share the powerful love of God with a child? Or did your parents share such a moment with you?