Envy is near the top of my list of temptations. I’m not jealous of those who own diamond rings, luxury cars, or gorgeous mansions. I don’t pine for designer fashions (well, maybe Christian Louboutin shoes!) or red-carpet fame
. What I envy is the way some people seem to glide serenely along, as if exempt from painful experiences like illness, financial worries, and family discord. Deep down I know that no one’s life is all that perfect. But I still wonder why some people’s days seem to run like the proverbial “well-oiled machine” while mine are, all too often, more like a computer with a very bad virus that crashes every five minutes.
These past few weeks have been particularly tough. My beloved cat hurried out to meet my car, accidentally dashed into the back tire, and was crushed. The very next day, my ninety-one-year-old mother, who has been steadily declining, took enough of a downturn that it was time to place her in hospice. In the same week, the Internal Revenue Service made a mistake on my tax return (yes, their fault!) to the tune of nearly $100,000; it may take up to a year to correct it. Not to mention some car problems and worrisome health issues of my own.
Given the way life feels right now, those old familiar tugs of envy are close to the surface, and I’ve been finding it harder to pray. God has seemed more distant. Because of that, it was both a gift and a lesson to read Turning to God in Tough Times: Prayers to Comfort the Heart and Sustain the Spirit.
An Understanding Heart. The book’s author, Joan Guntzelman, is a spiritual writer and professional counselor who “gets it.” She gets that
Often our joys and delights are knocked aside by suffering and hardship. No matter how hard we try to avoid the painful aspects of life, they pop up when we least expect them. They challenge us as we try to cope with and conquer them. Sometimes our efforts are successful, and we find a way to ease, repair, or remove the hardships. At other times they claim the upper hand, and we struggle to find a way to live with them and to ameliorate their effects and the suffering and pain they bring into our lives.
Not only that: Guntzelman truly understands that when we are struggling with the grief that comes with having to put a parent in hospice, or the worry that arrives with trying to figure out how to pay for a broken axle when money is already tight, or the strain that automatically accompanies any dealing with the IRS, it’s not easy to pray. In fact, sometimes it’s almost impossible. She knows that when our words fail us, we need to rely on someone else’s.
A Quartet of Qualities. Turning to God has four things going for it that make it perfect for use in “tough times.” First, it’s clear that this author has encountered challenges and found the courage and grace to live through them. With topics ranging from the need for physical healing to worry to work and more, she offers a realistic perspective on most of the major kinds of suffering people experience—whether readily apparent or more concealed (because the reality is that we all do experience tough times: it’s simply part of being human).
Second, everything she writes is rooted in Scripture. I find comfort in starting with the actual word of God when I pray, and each of these selections begins with an appropriate Bible verse. When words are hard to come by, the Word always provides solace.
Third, readers are not allowed to play the “poor me” card. (Oh, darn! As a charter member of “Whiners Anonymous,” I was all ready to get mine out!) Instead, we are encouraged to avoid becoming victims of suffering: by recognizing how we sometimes contribute to our own suffering, by becoming informed, getting support, fighting bad habits, and refusing to allow our pain to derail our spiritual life. In short, Guntzelman encourages her reader to take action, while always being bolstered by the support of prayer.
Which brings us to the final reason this book is so valuable: It’s concise. When you are in pain, the last thing you want or need is a long treatise. Each of the one hundred selections in Turning to God consists of a brief meditation and an original prayer, along with a Scripture verse or two. The entries are short enough to cover in a few minutes, but profound enough to give you comfort through the day.
Never Alone. I found encouragement throughout this book, but none more so than in this reflection from the entry “God Will Provide a Way Out.”
At every stage of our lives, we are faced with times of testing that challenge us and give us choices to make and directions to choose. Through difficult times, or when we are unsure of what to do, God walks with us, supporting us and encouraging us to make the right choices. How important it is for us to trust God in these times of testing! God will give us a “way out” of our troubles and will not test us beyond our strength.
Often in the last few months, I’ve felt as if I was at the end of my strength and then some. Now that this new book has found a home on my bed stand, I can pick it up in both literal and figurative darkness and be reminded that God is with me at every moment.
Now if I can just remember to pray its words regularly: “Help me to get through my hard times so that I can move forward to receive the new blessings you want to pour out on me.” Pour them out, God. I’m ready!
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker lives in Oregon.
Turning to God in Tough Times: Prayers to Comfort the Heart and Sustain the Spirit, Joan Guntzelman (softcover, 112 pp.), is available from The Word Among Us. Click here to read an excerpt.