A number of years ago I started to withdraw from God's people.
Being involved in church seemed impossible because of family problems. My children had abandoned their faith. My husband's passion for God had cooled, and our marriage was taking such a hit that I wondered if it could survive much longer. My prayers seemed futile.
When I went to church, each time someone asked, "How are your daughters?" or celebrated their children's godly lives, my pain rushed to the surface.
When someone asked, "Where's Steve?" or bragged about their wonderful marriages, self-pity threatened to smother me.
No one else is suffering like me, I decided. I'll just stay home seemed like a brilliant idea, but the Lord urged me to stay involved.
Reluctantly, I returned to church, and over time, to a women's Bible study. Slowly, I discovered God desired to use his people—even at their most imperfect—to help me navigate rough waters. Here's what I learned along the way.
Be Honest About Struggles
Often I was tempted to keep problems hidden, pretending, "All's right with my world."
Yet as I mustered courage to open up, I noticed my honesty freed others to remove the "my life's perfect" masks and share their heartaches. This caused me to feel connected.
Some people seemed uncomfortable when I bared my soul (maybe they didn't want to "catch" what I had), but most thanked me repeatedly for my transparency.
Allow Others to Minister to You
My honesty led to people offering me counsel, hugs, prayers, wisdom from the Word, and at times their tears.
As I humbled myself enough to listen, godly women helped me view my pain and hard times from God's perspective—a testing of my faith and a means to grow. I repented for believing the lie that all my difficulties were God's punishment for my failings as a wife and mother. I allowed women to help me win the battle against fears, doubts, and unbelief.
Caring believers encouraged me to stay in prayer and the Word and to trust God's timing. I embraced James's words: "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:16). I felt my soul being healed and matured—instead of just feeling grieved that my loved ones' weren't.
Fellow Christians also helped me see how God was answering prayers for my family life—a little at a time. Gratitude grew.
Once I was ministered to, I was able reach out to others whom I discovered had similar spiritual battles.
Avoid Taking Hurtful Statements Personally
One day in my women's Bible study, I told of my daughters' struggles. The leader of our small group responded, "My daughter wandered from the Lord for a little while, but friends and I just prayed for her, and she's fine now."
"Just" and "a little while" hurt. That day I beat myself up for my lousy prayers and choosing ineffective prayer partners over the years of my prodigal daughters' rebellion. Once again I felt tempted to go home and stay there until all was well.
A hurtful statement a speaker said from the pulpit was, "I must have done things right since my kids turned out so well." That communicated to me: "Elaine, you've done everything wrong."
When I prayed about these statements and many others, the answer the Lord gave each time was, "Forgive them, for they do not know not what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
Unintended hurtful words made me aware of times when I've said things without thinking—when I'm in a good place and refuse to mourn with or even be perceptive of those who are mourning (See Romans 12:15). Through hurting in a group setting, I've become more compassionate toward and sensitive to noticing those who hurt.
Expect a Blessing
When I'm feeling the worst emotionally and a voice in my head shouts, Stay home! that's when I need Christian fellowship. Those are the times I'm most blessed. These days when I resist an urge to stay home, I expect a blessing, and I get one. God also allows me to bless others—especially by speaking truth when they're believing lies I've believed.
The voice telling me to stay home isn't God's, but the enemy's. He wants to keep Christians isolated and hates when we bless and strengthen one another. God rejoices when we do.
Another bonus of staying connected is having fellow Christians to bring progress reports to and people to celebrate with when God answers prayers. For instance, we celebrated that my younger daughter's emotional life has stabilized, she's returned to church, and is seeking a closer walk with God. My older daughter isn't as anti-God as she once was, and I can see her heart softening. And my husband's back at church, is dealing with emotional issues, and working hard at being a better husband.
What blessings I and others would have missed if I'd stayed home until the storms of my life passed.
Elaine Creasman is a writer who lives with her husband in Florida.
Copyright © 2011 by the author and Christianity Today