I turned 30 years old last fall. As I think back over the year of 2017, I see that the biggest life lesson I learned is how to steady my heart even when it’s breaking. This was not a quick or easy lesson. For about 18 months, I prayed that God would help me not to walk around feeling like a martyr when my circumstances were painful. I wanted to see past my pain to still be a blessing to others, but I knew that I was often falling short of that goal. It’s one thing to dominate my conversations with friends about my hardships for a season, but when that continues over a year, enough is enough. It’s one thing to be heartbroken and exhausted for a season, but at some point, I had to say, “This is my life, and I have to exude the joy of the Lord instead of the pain of Mary.”
Recently I saw this quote by author Lysa TerKeurst: “Just because we’ve been hurt, doesn’t mean we have to live hurt.”
I paid attention to Lysa’s quote because I knew some of what she had been through in the past few years: her husband’s unfaithfulness and substance abuse, her diagnosis of breast cancer and a double mastectomy. Still in the midst of all that, she had the faith and resolve to say, “Just because we’ve been hurt, doesn’t mean we have to live hurt.”
I wrote down her words because this was exactly what I had been trying to grasp over the last year and a half.
In October, I spent an evening by myself at home, determined to get the house clean. As I did the dishes and swept the floors, I reflected over the past month. I sat down on the stool at my kitchen counter and sighed. So much had happened in that month, and as hard as I was trying to be strong, I was still hurting and knew I needed to help myself process the events of the past few weeks. I grabbed my laptop and started typing it all out. I knew that I could send this to one of my friends as a way to vent. I typed 14 pages single-spaced. Fourteen pages of personal attacks, losses, heavy decisions, etc. Yes, that month had had more than its fair share of challenges.
Yet my spirit was not shattered in the way it had been before. God had built up my emotional pain tolerance.
A few weeks later, I went to my childhood friend Amy’s bridal shower. I had forgotten to get her a gift, but I promised to get her one soon and joked with her that my presence was her gift. Amy hugged me and said that it was a gift enough that I came. I was smiling that whole day because I was so happy for her. My friends and I had the opportunity to spend a few hours talking after the shower ended, and I could feel the shift taking place in my heart. I wasn’t focused on my own pain; I was just cherishing my friends.
Life’s challenges have the potential to make me bitter and depressed. But these days I thank God that life’s challenges are making me cherish the people who love me and to take full advantage of the moments I have to love them too. It’s a mystery, it’s a miracle, it’s something I’m over-the-top grateful for: God is making my heart bigger. Because I’ve been hurt and know that others walk around with similar pains and aches of everyday life, I’m more determined than ever to love others well.
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.