I was only a few months old when a man named Dave Mostek invited my dad to go to church with him and his wife.
Dave and my dad worked together at State Farm Insurance in Southern California, two young men with young families—one a man of faith, the other a man fresh out of an abusive childhood and war in Vietnam. With a simple invitation, my dad discovered the hope of the gospel. As a result, the course of my life changed.
Whereas my dad lived twenty-seven years without faith, I don’t remember a single day without its guiding force. My earliest memories include images of Sunday church services, flannel-board Bible lessons, hymnals and four-part harmony, and potlucks filled with friends and nine-by-thirteen Pyrex pans of macaroni and cheese. Mine is a rich history filled with both faith practices and community, all of which gave me a solid basis of belief that serves me well to this day.
Even so, a soul needs more than rule-following religiosity to withstand the crucible of human experience. Click To Tweet For the last thirty years, my life has been riddled by a series of significant storms: Divorce and single motherhood. Remarriage, stepfamily, and parenting challenges. Church conflict and division. Foster care and adoption of three children with a history of trauma. Loved ones with serious mental illness and health challenges. My dad’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and his subsequent death. And then a cancer diagnosis of my own: squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue. Not once but three times.
I’m often asked, “How do you still believe, after so many reasons not to?”
That’s a good question. But first, a story.
Before his death, Jesus dined with His disciples. It was Passover, the annual feast to remember Yahweh’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt after hundreds of years of slavery. (See Exodus 11 and 12.) To those seated at the table, it was simply another Jewish celebration. Jesus knew otherwise.
This would be the Passover to which all the other Passovers had pointed. He would be the lamb sacrificed, His blood providing cover and allowing the sentence of death to pass over God’s people, setting us free from our slavery to sin.
I’ve tried to imagine what that night must’ve been like for Jesus, agonizing over His upcoming suffering while also preparing the disciples for theirs. For three years, He’d poured into them, teaching and mentoring them. And yet they still didn’t grasp what was about to take place. They didn’t understand that their hopes were about to be hung on a cross. Instead, like teenagers vying for popularity, they argued about who was the greatest (Luke 22:24).
Which is why, I believe, Jesus turned to Simon Peter, a leader among them, with a few pointed words:
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. . . .”
But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
For much of the last several years I’ve thought about this scene. Later that night, Peter faced his own crucible. Passionate but overly confident, he thought he was ready for the worst. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Jesus could see what Peter couldn’t. Peter’s good intentions would fail him long before he fled that night’s garden. Which is why what happened next is so important.
Hidden in Jesus’ poignant words to a perplexed Peter sit two extraordinary gifts.
First, a warning. “Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.”
Oof. Talk about bad news. It’s not every day you hear the devil is about to eat you for lunch.
And second, a promise. “I have prayed for you, Simon.”
Whoa. Let that sink in. Jesus, the one Peter had declared to be “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), prayed for the man who would, before the end of the night, deny he ever knew Him. Long before the shock of Jesus’ arrest shattered Peter’s confidence, long before he tucked tail and fled in fear, long before he sat around a community fire and told accusing onlookers, “I don’t know the man!” (Matt. 26:74), yes, long before Peter failed, Jesus prayed.
Peter’s spiritual sifting wasn’t a war that would be won by confidence or even the wielding of a sword. Instead, Peter needed the fortifying prayers of the Savior.
A warning (bad news). And a promise (ridiculously good news).
Jesus had all of His Father’s power and authority at His fingertips. Of all the things Jesus could’ve done to mitigate Peter’s pain, He prayed. But he didn’t pray for Peter’s health, his family, his finances, or even his ability to fight back and escape arrest and death.
Instead, Jesus prayed for his faith.
In our places of suffering, we believe what is most at stake are our relationships, family, safety, financial security, health, or even our very lives. We think the diagnosis, divorce, or death is the worst that could happen.
We couldn’t be more wrong.
Storms are a universal part of the human experience. No one escapes suffering or the day-to-day wear and tear on our human existence. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” Jesus reminds us (Matt. 5:45). And “in this world you will have trouble,” He warns (John 16:33). Although our choices impact our path, we can’t control the weather as we walk it. And just as weather reveals the stability of a home, suffering exposes the status of a person’s faith.
Yes, I’m often asked how I can still believe after all I’ve endured. How did I survive so much suffering with my faith still intact? Here is my two-part answer.
First, like Peter, I take no credit for the faith that still grounds and guides me. It’s all grace. Long before I knew I needed Him to, Jesus prayed for my faith. His prayers, His presence, saved me. Save me still.
And second, although the grace of my Father carries me still, my years of following Jesus provided a foundation that helped me weather the worst life had to offer. As Bible teacher Jen Wilken says, “Spiritual disciplines nurture steadfastness. What we repeat in times of ease we will recall in times of hardship.”
The same can be true for you, too. Whether you’re in a storm, coming out of a storm or on the precipice of a storm, the common denominator is the fact that storms will come. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
But have courage, friend. It’s not too late to start building your faith, one practice at a time. Even better, Jesus has already prayed for you, too. So no matter the storm, you’re not alone.
My favorite lines from your essay are these: “In our places of suffering, we believe what is most at stake are our relationships, family, safety, financial security, health, or even our very lives. We think the diagnosis, divorce, or death is the worst that could happen.” Through these sentences you remind us that this world is not our home. The challenge is that it’s the only home we have ever known. As such, we so often forget to have an eternal perspective, especially during trials. For me, one of the benefits of having teachers (like you) or friends who share the same faith is that we can encourage and remind each other of this truth when the going is hard or the suffering is great. Thank you for your essay.
Thank you so much for this book and your others. I appreciate all of them and I’m so thankful for your faithfulness and example to others to remain faithful.
We are going through a church split at this time and wonder if you have any advice as to how we can weather this storm. You spoke about lament and I feel some of that. I have good friends that I’m missing..My husband and I feel like we made the right decision to leave the church because of things that were happening.
Praying for strength for all you do to bless others. May many blessings come to you.
Dear Michele, thank you so for sharing your story and the scriptures. I pray for you to stay strong and may God bless you and keep you.