by Jackie Halstead
September – December, 2006

“Blessed be your name . . . when the sun’s shining down on me, when the world’s all ‘as it should be,’ blessed be your name. Blessed be your name when the road’s marked with suffering, when there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your name . . . you give and take away . . . my heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be your name.” (from Blessed Be Your Name by Matt and Beth Redman – on the CD “Desperate” by The ZOE Group)
The words are easy to sing . . .
But to bless the Lord in the midst of physical or emotional suffering?
Can I feel close to God when he takes away?
I want to tell you the story of two women to show different angles of this dilemma. The women were alike in some ways: married to ministers and dedicated to the Lord. They differed in their response to suffering.
The first was in her late twenties. I’ll call her Joan. She was pregnant and she and her husband had a two-year old. They had been married eight years. Joan had dedicated her life to following God and being his servant. Of course she sinned at times, but they were “little sins.” She honestly desired to do what God wanted. It was therefore tremendously confusing when they lost their second baby, a stillbirth. This sent her into a tailspin. Why would God do that to her? Hadn’t he seen her dedication? Wasn’t he aware of the consistency of her Christian walk? How could he betray her like this?
She decided to punish God by turning away from him. No one recognized the depth of her pain and the change that she had made. She knew how to play the game. She continued with the “Christian” life: she taught ladies’ Bible classes, organized potlucks, taught children’s classes, visited the sick.
But Joan was not walking with God. How could she walk with someone who repaid her devotion by letting her baby die? She knew he did not cause the death of the baby, but after all, God is God. He could have kept the baby alive.
The “punishment” continued for three years—three very lonely years. Having walked with God all her years before the loss of the baby, she had never before been alone. Now she experienced a depth of loneliness that was excruciating. It was much worse than the hurt and confusion over the stillbirth. At the end of this time, she admitted to herself and to God that walking with him was about the relationship, not about the blessings. God was not her servant, she was his. She made the decision to dedicate her life to bringing glory to God whether she understood the situation or not. She was not going to be apart from him again.
The second minister’s wife was a few years older, in her thirties. I’ll call her Rebecca. She had two small children. The church her husband worked with was going through a difficult political battle. There was so much pain. As with Joan, this woman could not understand why God was allowing this to happen. Many innocent people were being hurt and the faith of many was being challenged. Why didn’t God intervene?
She was confused and deeply hurt, but unlike the first woman, rather than turning away from God, she clung to him. She did not understand his seeming lack of response, but she did recognize that God is God and he was ultimately in control. She allowed him to walk with her in the midst of the pain. She daily poured over the Psalms—seeing her heart and her pain on the pages. The hurt was intense, but she was not alone. The God of the universe was holding her!
Rebecca and Joan are familiar because they were both me at different times in my life.
I learned a critical lesson with the death of our baby—this life is about God, not me. My role in this life is to dedicate myself to bringing glory to God and furthering his kingdom. It is about his plan, not mine.
Sometimes it takes catastrophe to open our eyes and hearts, but not always. We all have within us a God-hunger. We go about our lives alone; seeking to fill this hunger with all manner of substitutes. The ones most often mentioned are the “bad” substitutes: drinking, drugs, immorality. But more than that, we fill that hunger with substitutes that are applauded. We substitute relationships, busy lives, recreation, work, ministry—all good stand-ins, but still not God. We fill our lives with many good things and wonder why we still feel the hunger. We feel distant from God.
Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength.?That sounds all-encompassing, doesn’t it? Jesus does not say “love God most of the time, but you really need to first devote yourself to ministry.” He tells us to love God with our whole being!
The answer lies in understanding who God is. This is not a grandfather figure who stands ready to answer our every desire. This is the creator, the author of the day and night, the God who questioned Job. At some level we understand the magnitude of this God we serve.
In the midst of the busyness and struggle of life, however, we forget who he is and the promise he has made to never leave us. We forget the comfort and peace he consistently and constantly gives.
I do not want to imply that we are always happy with God. Even though I clung to him during the church battle, I knew that he could stop it. I spent many days struggling with him and pouring out my pain and frustration. When I could not voice my hurt and anger, I used the words of David and the other psalmists. But I did trust in his goodness and recognized that he would work the situation for the sake of the kingdom. It was bigger than me.
Of course now I can see good that has come from both situations. That often is the case, isn’t it? Hindsight is 20/20. But the key is what one does when in the midst of the pain. Do I turn away from God in my anger or do I cling to him and let him walk beside me as I struggle through? I am sure it saddens God when we turn from him, yet the one who is punished is not God, but us. With God walking beside me, I will hold on to the lessons I learned.
In the words of the song (Psalm 56, 57), even when God “gives and takes away,” “My heart will choose to say, ‘Lord, blessed be your name.'” I choose God.
Listen to an MP3 excerpt from “Blessed Be the Name” as performed on The ZOE Group’s album, Desperate.New Wineskins

Jackie HalsteadDr. Jackie L. Halstead is Chair of Department of Marriage and Family Therapy at Abilene Christian University. Her growing interest in spiritual direction, silent retreats and contemplative prayer have been a blessing in her teaching, speaking, counseling, parenting two daughters, and partnering with her husband, Randy. She above all enjoys spending time outside enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. Jackie can be reached at [].
If you enjoyed this article by Jackie Halstead, you may also appreciate “A Grateful Heart: Discovering the Practice of Examen” and Leaven: The Christian Response (to The DaVinci Code)?

Leave a Reply