"Does it get any better than this?" I remember asking my wife, Jeannie. Anyone looking at my life in 2004 would have agreed that I was very blessed—a beautiful wife, three remarkable children, a lucrative career in banking, and a passionate walk with the Lord.
Soon afterward, God spoke a clear word to my heart: "I'm going to answer your prayer for brokenness." From that time on, the "wheels started to come off" in virtually every area of my life. My faith in him was going to be severely tested and I was going to embrace the cross and the "fellowship of His sufferings" (Philippians 3:10, NASB) like never before.
I had met my future wife in a lovely English rose garden in the summer of 1978, and from the start, we had a beautiful relationship. After an amazing courtship, we were married in April 1981, including the vows of commitment "for better or for worse." Believing that God had brought us together to use for his glory, we began our marriage and our ministry in central London with a view to leading many people to faith in Jesus Christ. It was a wonderful time of growing in Christ, and we placed our future in God's hands.
In 2005, after 23 wonderful years of marriage and three children, the "better" times rapidly deteriorated into the "worst" times of our lives. Within a period of a few months, our family was severely shaken on every side—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I was betrayed at work, our dog died, and a very close family member was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease. Then on November 8, 2005, our precious youngest son, Alex, 17, took a drug that disoriented him and sent him into a psychotic state, during which he committed suicide. We were utterly and totally devastated and broken. Two months later, my sister, whom I was very close to, passed away. Shortly after this, our eldest son, Ben, came within an inch of losing his life in a terrible accident. With all the grief and trauma, Jeannie's intestines knotted twice and she was rushed to hospital for life-saving surgery. She came close to dying of a "broken heart."
The tragic loss of Alex was too much for Jeannie's heart to bear. Overcome with grief, she blamed me. She blamed God. She blamed everything and everybody. The grief and pain had a devastating effect on our relationship, and life seemed almost insurmountable. I began to dread the weekends, when Jeannie would offload some of her pain and grief on me. Jeannie's once intense love for God and for me was replaced by a coldness and hatred toward us both. Though she had ministered the truth of Jesus Christ to others for years, the devastation of losing our precious son in the most unspeakable way had taken her to a place where she professed that she no longer believed in a God who could be that cruel. She wished she had never been born.
While Jeannie's grief caused her to run away from God, I desperately ran to him for refuge, strength, and comfort for my broken heart. There, in the secret place of his presence and the shelter of his unconditional love, I wept my way to the throne of grace. The Holy Spirit comforted me and I found his grace that sustained me. I realized that I needed to love Jeannie no matter how difficult it might be. God had used Jeannie's love to turn me back to him in college and to redirect my plans for the future. Now it was my turn to help her.
Statistically, divorce is very common following the death of a child by suicide. But by God's grace, he can make a way! I desperately sought God's face, usually praying for our marriage in the small hours of the morning. His promises became my daily sustenance and his presence my very life. Scripture says that "love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:8, NASB) and, by God's grace, I did all I could to love my precious Jeannie. During the weekends we would just be together and during the work week I left little love notes around the house. When Jeannie's grief and pain surfaced in accusation and insults, I did my best just to listen and to guard my mouth from anything that would further hurt her. It was a very painful time, and I would sometimes want to run, but I came to learn, "God is my helper; The Lord is the sustainer of my soul" (Psalm 54:4, NASB).
Gently and graciously, God worked his way back into Jeannie's heart. I watched as God's love began to bring glimmers of light into Jeannie's thinking. Isaiah 61:3 says, "To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified" (KJV). Scripture teaches that God can make a way when there seems as though there is no way, and I have seen this happen over the last seven years. Jeannie and I are more in love now than ever before. Our focus is laser-sharp on making more disciples of Jesus Christ, and part of Jeannie's motivation is to ensure that the evil that visited our household is turned around for God's glory. As she says, "I want to kick Satan in the teeth!"
What we learned
Whatever you may be facing, allow me to encourage you with a few keys:
God's grace is sufficient. This is true for whatever challenges you face, and this grace is available at the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily. Sometimes this is very painful and might seem impossible, but Christ's life in you will strengthen you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Make the secret place of his presence your resting place and pour out your heart to him. We're called to love, and this usually means dying to ourselves. Through the cross comes the glory. The grain of wheat has to die, then it brings forth much fruit (John 12:24). We live to please either the flesh or the Spirit; the two are in conflict (Galatians 6:7-10).
Prayer is incredibly powerful. Be a person of prayer, and also ask as many people as you can to pray for you. Prayer releases God's power and kingdom into your situation.
Be courageous—go for it. To see God's kingdom break through into our families, our health, our finances, our workplaces, etc., we need to be courageous (Joshua 1:9). As we step out in weakness, God steps in with his strength and power (Luke 22:43-44). We start by being courageous in seeking God's face. We go boldly to his throne of grace and pour out our hearts to him, often with deep tears and brokenness. That's where he meets us.
God is working in us to accomplish his eternal will and purpose. There is a bigger plan taking place than we see or understand. Our faith in him leads us to victory (1 John 5:4) and it's our faith that God is looking to grow in anything and everything he permits us to go through. Our faith is based on his promises, so we desperately cling to his word. In this way we get to know and love him more (Philippians 3:10). I thank and praise God for Jesus our Savior and his grace that is sufficient for our every need and situation.
"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die!"—Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Gerard Long is the executive director of Alpha USA. He began leading the way for people of all ages, from all backgrounds, to explore the meaning of life through the world-renowned Alpha course and to "save souls for eternity." Globally, the Alpha course has reached 19 million people in 169 countries and 113 languages.