Looking At Hardship Through the Lens of GratitudeToday’s blog post is a guest post from my friend Sharon Jaynes. Sharon’s new book When You Don’t Like Your Story: What if Your Worst Chapters Could Become Your Greatest Victories is a powerful message that is desperately needed. I asked Sharon if she’d put together something to share with you and I’m so glad she was willing to do so!

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Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes marriage is hard. I haven’t met anyone yet who wouldn’t like to rip out a few pages from their stories and toss them in the trash. But suppose we could flip the lens through which we view our difficult chapters.  Instead of looking through the lens of pain, suppose we looked through the lens of gratitude? Then we just might interpret the narrative differently. That’s what my friend Patricia did.

Patricia was twenty-one when she met the charming Rodney. She was visiting her cousin when they ran into each other at the mall. Boy, is he handsome, she thought. Patricia had heard rumors of his partying bad-boy reputation and knew, as a Christian, that she should keep her distance. But secretly, she hoped he would call.

Rodney was intrigued with the cute visitor in town, and when he called to ask Patricia out on a date, she said yes. Everything about Rodney was contrary to her family values and faith, but she felt the tug.

After their first date, Rodney sent Patricia special-delivery letters, bought her expensive gifts, and took her to showy restaurants. The lavish displays of attention were new to this young woman who had lived under the protective care of a loving family. And even though her head told her to run in the opposite direction, her heart told her to stay.

Patricia believed Rodney when he told her he had been saved at his grandmother’s church. Even though he never went to church on Sundays or showed any outward evidence of being a believer, she turned a bedazzled blind eye to his drinking and partying. She closed her ears to the alarm bells going off in her head and looked the other way—avoiding the “Do Not Enter” signs written all over his handsome face.

Finally, when Rodney proposed, Patricia said, “yes.”

The closer the wedding date came, the louder the voice of the Spirit in her said, Run. At one point, Patricia spent several hours with a Christian counselor who cautioned her about marrying someone so different from herself—someone with a totally different belief system and moral compass.

She knew what she was hearing was truth. It was not God’s best to marry this man at this point in his life. But she had convinced herself it was too late. The invitations had been mailed, the wedding dress altered, and the venue secured. Patricia felt trapped. She wiped away the tears, took a deep breath, and went ahead with the wedding—doubts riding on the train of her beautiful dress. At that point, she thought she could save him.

If I could stop right here and have a chat with you, I think you’d tell me, “Hey, I’ve heard this story before. Only the names are different.” And you’re right—this story is nothing new. It’s a rerun. A reprint. A sad classic. An updated version of an old manuscript. Good girl meets bad boy. It happens all the time. But Patricia is not like any character in any story I’ve ever read or seen. Let’s keep going.

It only took a few weeks before Rodney said he wasn’t happy and that he’d made a mistake. Patricia wasn’t happy either. Before their third-month anniversary, Rodney went to a fraternity party at his college alma mater for a weekend of letting loose and drinking up. When he came home, they both agreed to separate. Rodney had played with Patricia’s heart like she was a stuffed teddy bear to be won at a carnival ring-toss booth. He won the prize, but then decided he didn’t want it after all.

A few weeks after separating, he begged to come home. Patricia took him back. They decided to stay together and work on the marriage. “I had made a commitment to God,” Patricia said, “and I was going to keep that commitment as best I could. I forgave him, and we tried again.”

Over the next two decades, Rodney left the marriage three more times—once before their three children were born, and twice after. They lived through nineteen different homes in multiple cities, revolving jobs, rumored affairs, and cycles of financial plenty followed by financial deficiency. Eventually, after twenty-three years, Rodney packed his bags for the last time and left. The divorce was final the following year. That long chapter was over.

Patricia is one of my dearest friends. I lived this story with her. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t leave him. To me, she seemed stuck, but Patricia didn’t feel she was stuck at all. For her, it was a decision to stay. She knew she had biblical grounds for divorce and could leave at any time, but she chose not to.

Just the other day I asked her, “Patricia, why did you stay with Rodney all those years?”

“I prayed and never felt a peace about leaving,” she said. “I knew God was bigger than any problems we had. I prayed that Rodney would see Jesus through me, but he didn’t. Or maybe he did and his rebellious spirit flat out refused to accept it. But I have no regrets. If I had not married Rodney, I would not have the strong faith that I have today. If life had been easy, I think I would have a flabby faith that could maybe quote Scripture but not necessarily believe it. I would have grown spiritually sloppy rather than spiritually strong.”  She continued,

“Because I had to depend on God to provide for me and my children, especially emotionally, I know God as my provider.

Because I had to depend on God’s love for me when I didn’t get it from Rodney, I know the depths of His love for me.

Because I had to stand on God’s Word when the world around me was falling apart, I know the Rock on which my feet are planted. Had I not gone through those difficult years; I would not have the trust in God that I have today. He gives me life. He is my life.”

I don’t tell this story to stir up conflicting opinions on whether or not someone should stay or leave in a similar situation, but to wake up the desire to look at life from a better lens. Patricia did not get stuck looking through the lens of regret and pain, allowing bitterness to color the rest of her life. She flipped the lens to discover the blessings, allowing joy to color the remainder of her days.

That’s something we can all do.

We’ve all been hurt by life in some form or fashion; no one is immune from suffering. But rather than view the pain as our burden to bear, what if we considered it a gift for growing? Healing on the other side of heartbreak is not simply returning to how we were before the rending but becoming better than we would have been without it—someone stronger, someone wiser, someone gentler.

Today, Patricia is remarried to a wonderful man who loves and cherishes her like I had always hoped someone would. Her three grown children are all married and love Jesus. When I watch her laughing and playing with her grandchildren, I’m always amazed that the joy I see in her now is no different than the joy I saw during her dark chapters. She’s a light. Always has been.

How did she do it? How does she do it now? She focuses on what Jesus has done for her rather than on what people haven’t. And she’s grateful. Struggles help remove the fluff of our faith to make it rock solid. Patricia’s story taught her the truth of that. Growth and gratitude are the lens through which she views her story. Perspective makes all the difference in how we interpret the narrative and how we summarize the facts.

Patricia is not bitter or resentful of those twenty-three years. She doesn’t see them as wasted but invested. “I have no regrets,” she says, smiling. “Only blessings. The three greatest being my children, whom I would have never had without him.”

These aren’t the words of a Bible teacher or seminary graduate. They are the words of a woman who trusted God through the darkest chapters of her life and continues to trust him through the happiest ones today. She lives loved every day. Clings to every word in the Bible. Believes them. Breathes them. Battles with them.

As I tell her often, I want to be like her when I grow up.

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What about you? Where are you looking at pain as a burden to bear? How can you flip the lens to see it as a gift to grow?

 

 

 

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