This article has been adapted from Lysa TerKeurst’s full interview with Haven Today. To hear her tell the story, click here to tune into “Unexpected Strength” and listen to her full interview along with original messages from Charles Morris on how Christ is always present, even in our darkest moments.
In January 2016, I decided to do 21 days of prayer and fasting. It was going to be a big year for our family because 2016 was a year that three of our five kids were getting married. It was going to be full of life change for us and for our kids, and so I did this 21 days of prayer and fasting to prepare my heart for all these exciting life events.
I got to day 21 and didn’t have this big revelation from the Lord, so I thought it was just a time to grow closer to God. But then I felt the Lord was telling me to pray 7 more days and pray about my marriage, so I did.
On day 28 the Lord very clearly said, Lysa, you’re going to find out some things in the coming weeks that I need to prepare you for today. He didn’t speak to me audibly, but I felt it in my heart. I journaled what God was revealing to me, and I felt like the Lord wanted me to make two promises to Him:
- Trust His timing
- Love your husband
I wrote that in my prayer journal, closed it up, and had no idea that three weeks later I would find out my husband was being unfaithful. It shattered my world beyond what I can even express with words.
If you’ve ever been through something that completely catches you off guard and feel like it’s the upending of everything that you thought was safe and secure in your life—whether you’ve walked through the same circumstance or not—it shocks you in a way that is almost hard to process. And it’s certainly hard to describe.
There are no words that can describe the depth of pain and sorrow I entered into. While I was trying to navigate all of this, my kids were still getting married, so I kept it private. Just a few close friends knew. Art (my husband) and I pursued counseling and tried to get better.
In June of that year, I had made it through two of the weddings before having a pretty severe health crisis. My colon had ripped away from the abdominal wall and twisted around itself. A very strange thing. And by the time the doctors figured out what was going on with me, I almost died.
I had to be rushed into emergency surgery. They had to remove most of my colon and they were very clear with my family that they weren’t sure I would survive the trauma of what my body would experience. I did survive, but it was a long process back.
And so my husband and I continued to pursue healing and counseling amidst everything, but there were a lot of factors that were beyond my control. At one point we hit a pretty devastating spot where reconciliation seemed like it was no longer possible. Of course, in order to reconcile, you have to have two people pursuing that goal. And then right on the heals of that, I found out I had breast cancer.
When I recount this it seems like a quick list of facts I’m going through, but the emotions around all of this were deep. The days were devastating.
When I started writing my book, I had no idea I was going to get diagnosed with breast cancer, and I was writing the book in real time. I didn’t know at this point whether my husband and I were going to make it. I didn’t know if he was going to come back home. I didn’t know to even expect a breast cancer diagnosis, so the words that I wrote in these pages were written in those raw, angst-filled moments.
I remember asking the Lord, “Lord, you’re allowing me to go through this, and I need comfort. I’m also hyper-aware that people are going to read these words, and they’ve been told the same thing as me. They’ve been told ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle’”
And that’s really hard when you know deep down inside of you, this really is more than I can handle.
And when you have heartbreak layered upon heartbreak, disappointment layered upon disappointment, grief layered upon grief, you start to feel like where in the world is God in all of this? So this is what I wrote:
God doesn’t expect us to handle this. He wants us to hand this over to Him. He doesn’t want us to rally more of our strength. He wants us to rely on His strength. If we keep walking around thinking God won’t give us more than we can handle, we set ourselves up to be suspicious of God. We know we are facing things that are too much for us. We are bombarded with burdens. We are weighed down with wondering. And we are all trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense. Before we can move forward in a healthy way, we must first acknowledge the truth of our own insufficiency. Cancer is more than I can handle on my own. I closed my eyes and silently asked God to come and sit in the empty pink chair with me, Art, and the doctor. I needed God to show me His perspective so I set my perspective, but it didn’t come right away and that frustrated me. I was filled with fear and questions like, “Why this?” “Why now?” and “Why me?” [It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, page 112]
I remember those moments when the doctors told me I had cancer—I could not believe it. I just couldn’t because I felt like I had already checked the box of going through hard stuff ✅, going through more hard stuff ✅, going through impossible circumstances ✅. And to place on top of all of that a breast cancer diagnosis, it just seemed almost cruel and unfair.
I remember thinking where do we go from here? What do I do when I get up from this doctor’s office and walk outside? Do you go back to work after you find out you have cancer? Do you call some people but not other people? Like, where are the rules? Where is the book of what I’m supposed to do and what I’m supposed to think?
The biggest lesson God handed me in those moments is that He didn’t want to be explained away—He just wanted to be invited in.
As people read It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, my hope is that they find a friend who knows what it feels like to walk through deep devastation and heartbreak added on top of that devastation. They’ll find a friend who knows what it feels like and that will be comforting. But even more than that, I pray people will get a spiritual orientation to stand on the reality that God is good, while understanding the heartbreak of living in a sin-soaked world.
Especially as Christians, we’re shocked when bad things happen because we love to sing the songs about God being a good, good father. But where we often go off course is that we expect God to be good in ways that we want. God is a good father and He will work eventual good from everything we’re walking through that’s hard, but we can’t hold God to our own script of how we want things to turn out.
The Lord has been teaching me that if I just press into Him, I know He is going to bring good … even if it’s not the good I expect. I need help to see the tangible evidence of His good, even when things aren’t going according to my plan. And the Lord has been faithful to me to show me that just because things aren’t part of my version of good, it doesn’t mean that it won’t be good. It’s just that God’s version of good is different.
God’s redemption is available to each one of us. He will redeem our story, even the parts that go in directions we never thought they would
About the Author
Lysa TerKeurst is president of Proverbs 31 Ministries and the New York Times bestselling author of Uninvited and Made to Crave. She writes from her sticky farm table and lives with her family in North Carolina.
What do you do when God’s timing seems questionable, His lack of intervention hurtful, and His promises doubtful? Life often looks so very different than we hoped or expected. Some events may simply catch us off guard for a moment, but others shatter us completely. Lysa TerKeurst understands this deeply. But she’s also discovered that our disappointments can be the divine appointments our souls need to radically encounter God. In It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, Lysa invites us into her own journey of faith and, with grit, vulnerability, and honest humor.