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Finding God's Goodness in the Barrenness of Life (Part 1 of 2)

Original Air Date 04/14/2016

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Blogger and author Sara Hagerty talks about the struggles she's faced with infertility and with the question "Where is God in the midst of my pain?" She offers hope and encouragement to listeners wrestling with hardship as she reminds us of the Bible's promises that God loves us and cares about all of our needs. (Part 1 of 2)

Episode Transcript

Opening:

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Teaser:

Mrs. Sara Hagerty: My question wasn't, is God good? Because I could look at His Word and see that He was and His Word was so real to me at that time, even when that happened, 'cause we had already experienced some other difficulties that brought me to that place. But my question was really, is He good to me?

End of Teaser

John: A reflection from Sara Hagerty about some of the questions that she had towards God in the midst of really challenging life circumstances. And you'll hear her story today on "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, you know what, life is hard. I experienced that, especially as a child and it is a part of life and you've got to begin to understand that. As a Christian, what is the Lord up to? Why does He let His people go through suffering and pain? What's the purpose? And sometimes you can get lost in that and you can question God. You can even become bitter toward God.

But we have a guest today who has walked a long and tough road in so many different ways, not just one aspect of her life has been difficult, but she still holds onto God.

John: Yeah and her story comes through beautifully in a new book called Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things. And we've got details about that at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And Sara's a first-time guest here, Jim.

Body:

Jim: She is. Sara, welcome to "Focus on the Family."

Sara: Thank you very much for having me.

Jim: Man, we have read your book. It is fabulous, just the tone of it, the feel of it, the way you write. I am really impressed and you're a mom of how many kids?

Sara: Five.

Jim: And what are their ages?

Sara: (Laughing) Well, my oldest is 11 and my youngest is 1.

Jim: (Laughing)

Sara: Big span.

Jim: And you just somehow found a place to write a book in all that?

Sara: Somehow in there by God's grace. (Laughter)

Jim: In fact, you said you were kinda compiling this as a family memoir, just to not lose track of those thoughts and those ideas.

Sara: Yeah, I real—

Jim: But it turned into a book.

Sara: --it's so true; I connect with the Lord as I write and so, for me it really was a journey with God to write and process on paper that I didn't really anticipate would be in the hands of other people and you know, sitting by their bedside, but God had a different plan for our story.

Jim: It's so much fun. That's often what He does, huh, that different plan.

Sara: Uh-hm, yes.

Jim: You think you've got it nailed. In fact, talk about how you became a Christian. What was your home life like with your mom and dad and where did God get ahold of you?

Sara: I grew up in a great family. My parents, a very intact family and family was really central to their value system. And when I was 15, I went to a Young Life camp, where I heard about Jesus, not for the first time. I grew up in a Catholic home and so, I'd heard about God and went to church every week, but at 15, it really resonated with me that I could have the opportunity to make a choice to invite Jesus into my heart. And so, on a snowy fall weekend, I asked Jesus to come into my life and was involved in Young Life and came to know Him in high school as being more than just, you know, in the pages of a Bible that sat on my table, but really a God who began to speak to me through His Word.

Jim: And so often that's the difference, isn't it, is that embrace. There's a knowledge of God and then there's the embrace.

Sara: That's exactly right and I think, you know, teenage years are those years where you really grapple with it and think, do I want this for myself? It was a part of my family DNA, but 15 was the time that I got to say, I really want this and Him.

Jim: Now what happened when you were 15? You got pretty intense about your relationship with God, too.

Sara: I did.

Jim: Talk about that.

Sara: Well, somewhere along the way I developed this understanding that following God was like a treadmill, you know, and it was bigger and better and faster and harder and we turned it up and we ran and I had this perspective that as I grew in God, I would turn the treadmill up and my muscles would grow stronger and the output would just be more noticeable and powerful and in some ways, that worked for me for a while. I really had a heart to see non-believers come to know Jesus and as a high school senior, I was reaching out to high school freshmen and telling them about who Jesus was and watching their lives change and so, that worked for me for a while, that treadmill.

Jim: What got your attention? You know, what distracted you? You're workin' for the Lord. You're livin' for the Lord--

Sara: Yes.

Jim: --with some intensity is how you describe it—

Sara: Uh-huh.

Jim: --you know. But what got your attention that maybe you needed some balance in your life?

Sara: Well, it was in my early 20s. I got married fairly young and shortly after I got married, I remember actually being on my honeymoon and I had this straight, you know, 10 days of books and being with my new husband and just space and time. And I remember sitting by the pool and I had my Bible in my hand and I thought, I had kind of an honest reckoning with God, where I thought, I'm reading this like it's a history book. This feels boring to me. And I recognized that You are not boring, but there's some disconnect here.

And it was around that time that I started to pray, "God, there has to be more of You than what I'm experiencing right now." And I didn't put the pieces together that turning up the treadmill and running harder and working harder for God was in fact, emptying me out on the inside, because I wasn't leaning on Him and finding the beauty of His grace.

But He, as He so often does, worked through my story. After that prayer, my life began to unravel circumstantially. And the beauty of what happened in that unraveling is God started to come and say, "Okay, now I'm gonna really whisper to you in this pain."

Jim: What was that first kind of buttress that came out from under your world? How did He get your attention?

Sara: Several months after that prayer and of course, all of this is so crystal clear in retrospect, you know. But when you're living it, it doesn't seem that clear.

Jim: It feels--

Sara: But several months—

Jim: --horrible

Sara: --it does; it really did. Several months after that prayer I started to recognize, wow, the things that I've desired, impact in ministry and souls saved for Jesus and influence are happening and yet, I'm still feeling so empty. And I was grappling with some depression and my husband and I were newly married and stubborn and rubbin' up against each other and goin', this isn't what we thought our first year of marriage would be.

Jim: That's very good, because I think people and I think particularly, women; I'm not sure that men as often have expectations quite as high—

Sara: Yes.

Jim: --as what wives, newlyweds particularly, do. They think, okay, needs will be met. Certain hungers that I've had in my heart will be met and then they get into it and after the honeymoon, you're goin', even during the honeymoon, you're goin', "Okay, that's not there."

Sara: That's exactly right. Who is this man I married? (Laughter)

Jim: Yeah, right. What kind of friction did that create for you? Are you thinkin' I married the wrong guy?

Sara: A whole lot of friction. I wasn't so much thinking I married the wrong guy, but I thought this is not gonna continue to work like this if we continue to be the way that we are. And I didn't have a paradigm. I know who I am and he knows who he is and the two of us together, we are sandpaper against one another.

Jim: Were you fearful at that time?

Sara: I was. I was very fearful. At 23, you're full of expectation for your life and ambition and dreams and to really quickly realize, these things aren't panning out like I thought they were. I felt very out of control.

Jim: To help that person who may be there right now, what were the types of things that you were arguing over? Are they simple things like how you squeeze the toothpaste? Or was it really deeper.

Sara: It was deeper. I mean, we did have some of those simple arguments. Sure, we had different ways of doing life, but they were deeper. I saw life through the lens of this treadmill and in many ways I think the Lord brought my husband, who didn't have the same self-inflicted rules for himself, to bring me out of that. But we hadn't gotten to that point where we saw the groove, the beauty of our differences really bringing the best out of one another.

And so, I would see him walking through life without all these self-imposed regulations and be frustrated. You know, why isn't your treadmill going faster. Why aren't you running harder? And he would see me and go, you're turning your treadmill up and you're not finding God and you're exhausted. Like there's gotta be another way. And so, we both [were] just kinda buttin' up against each other.

Jim: How did you really go deeper then and figure out how to reconcile that? Was that part of the journey over the years?

Sara: It really was. I think the first thing was both of us, now my husband independent of me, that same month prayed the same prayer on his own. We didn't realize it until much, much later. God, there has to be more of You. 'Cause he, although he didn't have the same treadmill, he had been running hard in ministry and had a similar experience and I think each of us, it started us on a journey of going, "God, who are You in Your Word?" We want to see Your face. For me personally, I was saying, I want to know who You are when no one is around and no one's seeing me. I want to know what it's like to have You whisper to me about the parts of me that nobody sees.

And Nate was on his own journey, maybe not asking those questions in the same way, but in a sense, we sort of had to walk parallel paths before we intersected and went, we're both falling in love with this God afresh.

Jim: Yeah.

Sara: And then we can look at each other different[ly].

John: Well, in fact, you had an awareness that you needed something to kind of break that log jam, if you will—

Sara: Yes.

John: --and help you move forward. Do I understand you had a counselor appointment at least?

Sara: Uh-huh, we did and that was some of the mercy of God. So, you know,I got to a point where my heart was so conflicted that I went to counseling and I thought, I cannot even believe I'm doing this. I'm going in the back door. I want no one to see me, you know.

Jim: Why did you feel that way?

Sara: 'Cause I felt like counselors were for the real people who were down and out. I mean, they had to be the real dregs to go to a counselor. And yet—

Jim: They were losing--

Sara: --here I was, yeah, they were losing.

Jim: --the battle.

Sara: That's exactly right and here I was walking up going, there's a white flag here. I can't do this anymore. Little did I know that this counselor would bring such life to my heart and to my marriage. And the first day I met with her, she said, "How much do you think your husband knows of you? And how much do you think you know of your husband?" And I said, "Well, 85 percent, you know. We've been married for a couple months and dating for a year." And she said, "Might I suggest that you know like one percent of one another."

And I laughed and something clicked in my mind as I began to process with the Lord. If I only know one percent of my husband, how much do I really know of the Lord? And it was a little bit of a fire in me like, I want to know more of this God than what I've made Him up to be.

Jim: Sara, let me ask you this when you look at your relationship with Christ and we still have to get to the tough stuff that you're gonna be going through and we're gonna do that in a moment. And we're gonna do that in a moment, but when you look at knowing somebody, I mean, we're talking about the deepest of intimacies.

Sara: Yes.

Jim: In so many marriages and there's seasons for this, that so many marriages, they're superficial. I mean, we're busy. We have young kids. I mean, look at you.

Sara: Uh-huh.

Jim: You got five kids—

Sara: Yeah.

Jim: --under 11.

Sara: Uh-hm.

Jim: I mean, that's busy time; to be even thinking straight I applaud you. (Laughter) But you know, how do you create an environment where you and your husband can be honest with each other and love each other enough to talk with that kind of intimacy? I'm talking emotional intimacy, to be able to be real, so you can know 30 percent or 50 percent and him know you in that way. So many people hearing this are saying, I want that relationship—

Sara: Yes.

Jim: --with my spouse. What would you say to them?

Sara: I would say the circumstances that God has put you in, that you are most resisting may very well be the things that you need to unlock your heart. I remember one particular day. My husband is an entrepreneur and you know, that rubs against someone who wants a linear plan and [regarding] his business, we found out over a period of days that there were some accounting errors and so, where he thought he was actually doing fine, his business was in the red and we weren't gonna be able to take a paycheck. We found that over a series of days.

Jim: And it was big debt.

Sara: Oh, big debt, yeah. And we're not debt people. I mean, this was just like a shock to our system. And he, of course, is feeling everything you can imagine as provider. And we met for lunch, met back at a house where we were staying for lunch and it was in the moment I felt like the Holy Spirit was really overshadowing me. I said, "We're gonna push back the furniture and dance, because this is where we find God."

Jim: Wow.

Sara: And it was really; it was an opportunity. I had messed up dozens of times before them, resenting my circumstances, but in this moment, I was going, we're gonna come out of the other side of this and have known Him and have fallen in love with each other even more in the midst of it.

Jim: I can't describe for you what that must have meant to your husband.

Sara: Wow.

Jim: 'Cause Jean has done that for me and I've got tears in my eyes thinking about it right now, because when your spouse, particularly as a husband, when your wife responds with that kind of understanding, that desire in us to be adequate and to be enough as a man, to fulfill that for you as a wife, when your wife can dance in the moment of panic, that gives you incredible confidence as a man to move in a good direction. And I'm just sayin', for wives who feel like, okay, I'm upset. I'm bitter. Try to seek the Lord in that moment, 'cause your husband needs your confidence and you will give to him in some incredible way.

Sara: Wow and the beauty of that story, you know, I don't know that I could've done that at 23. I think of the Psalm that says, "Deep calls unto deep at the noise of your waterfalls." I had, had years of waterfalls that had been overtaking me and resisting and resisting and I think it was at that moment, not at that given moment, but that season I should say, where I started to realize, I'm gonna, instead of resisting this, I'm gonna lean into it and God, I want to see what You want to produce in me here. And I think that just gives the Holy Spirit an invitation to have us be someone who we couldn't otherwise be to our spouses.

John: Well, if you're resisting some circumstances, as Sara was saying, and you're finding yourself unable to make progress in your relationship with God or with your spouse, we do have caring counselors here at Focus on the Family and we'd count it an honor to talk with you and maybe give you some starting points to find some healing, to get on that road to recovery. And so, call 800-A-FAMILY today. And when you're in touch, ask about Sara's book called Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet. We've got that and a CD or download of this program available, as well.

Jim: Sara, let's get into that nitty-gritty. You pray these prayers. You have an awareness, you and your husband, Nate of where you want to go. You're still strugglin', but the Lord starts to allow some pressure that really hopefully, draws you closer to Him in the end. When it came to infertility, that was one of the battles that you and your husband had. Describe that and the emotion of that.

Sara: I think in the infertility in some ways can be very universal. What I felt can be universal in the sense of what I felt was, I expected my life to go this way and that I would hit these certain markers at this time. And I cannot get it to work like I thought it would. So, infertility was both the ache of, I'm a woman and I was made to create, to hold a baby within my womb and I cannot.

But then also the very real, I'm 30. I'm 32. I'm 35 and I thought that my womb would be open and it's not and there's nothing I can do to change it.

Jim: What would be the immediate response to that, when you talked to a doctor and heard that news? What was the emotion of that? What did you feel at that point? Was it abandonment by God? Or was it what?

Sara: My question wasn't, is God good? Because I could look at His Word and see that He was and His Word was so real to me at that time, even when that happened, 'cause we had already experienced some other difficulties that brought me to that place. But my question was really, is He good to me?

And when I heard that news and I started to wrestle with it, it brought up a lot of inner dialogue with the Lord, you know. Why is this friend blessed and I'm cursed? Why is this friend getting what I want and I'm not? It actually revealed that this had been an age-old question that I had of the Lord. You're good to other people, but not to me. Something must be wrong with me.

Jim: Well, and you're so right to say, "fill in the blank." It may not be infertility—

Sara: Exactly.

Jim: --for the person listening that feels exactly what you just described. You bless them, Lord, but You don't bless me. Do You not love me? Talk about that, because that's where bitterness takes root.

Sara: That's exactly right.

Jim: And many people step off of their relationship with God at that point.

Sara: And that's where I think the dialogue is so critical. I remember going to baby showers, where I had to work myself up to go and then I'd come home and struggle with resenting these women who had what I didn't have, with feeling alone, 'cause they didn't recognize that here I am sitting in this room as they're telling their birth stories and it is such a pain for me, with then this question of God being good to them, but not to me. And it was as if those times were then the invitation of the Lord to sit down and say, "Daddy, this hurts."

Jim: In fact, you are a very good writer. I said that at the beginning and I want to say it again.

Sara: Thank you.

Jim: I want to give you a little quote, to read a quote for the folks, that capture[s] that. You said about your infertility, "My awareness of my infertility was as variable as the rain. Some days it was a drizzle on the backdrop of my story and other days it was a downpour altering my whole day." That is just beautifully said. I mean, again, so many people could put different nouns in there, but that describes that sense of God is with me, God is gone.

Sara: Uh-hm.

Jim: My day is fairly okay; my day is a disaster.

Sara: That's exactly right.

Jim: And you were going through that the whole time.

Sara: And I was and I think that's where the invitation came with God saying, "Talk to Me about it." It sounds so simple, but is it the drizzle in the backdrop of our minds and we just run to our crutches--another shot of caffeine, another escape on the Internet, another fill in the blank, coffee date with a friend for women. I mean, those things are not bad, but ultimately, they can also be an invitation. That pain can be an invitation where God says, I want you to just sit alone with Me and tell me about your pain and find out who I am.

Jim: Did you get brittle though toward God? Did you get angry? How did you express that? Is it okay to get angry with God?

Sara: I definitely think it is. For me, I got angry, but I also feel like that season was when I really got sad and I think sadness was a gift. It was the Lord saying, when you're angry, it's a little bit of a mask of what the pain is underneath. Sadness, it bridges a gap between our broken heart and who He is to the brokenhearted. And so, my tears were like this connecting point between me and the God who says, He's near to those who cry and weep."

Jim: So, you were able to still connect in that way with God.

Sara: Yeah and that is my story that, that pain actually became the most beautiful conversation with God. No more sitting by the pool going, this book is a history book. These pages to me became life, because these pages are full of who He is to the brokenhearted.

Jim: That's basically it.

Sara: Yeah.

Jim: Sara, again I think that insight is so helpful to all of us, not just women struggling with infertility, but so many aspects of life. So, I appreciate that, but it didn't end there. Your dad, about the same time, you got news about your father. What happened?

Sara: Interestingly enough I had just written in my journal, this hard season is over. I mean, I still was infertile, but we had walked through many other hard things and I thought, this hard season is over.

Jim: Light at the end of the tunnel.

Sara: Light at the end of the tunnel, written in my journal and a week later I'm in a sterile hospital waiting room and we hear the doctor say that my dad has been diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer, a very aggressive form and had months to live and--

Jim: Was it a dagger that you felt?

Sara: --it was the worst night of my life. To have gone through these layers of pain and feel like it's over and then be introduced to another wave of pain and to know that we had a journey ahead of us with my dad and then all over again, it surfaced the questions. I thought I understood You, God and You were bringing me out of this and here we are all over again.

Jim: Oh, I mean, it's so tender to describe it that way. And again, did that take you to a good place, a tough place, a bad place? How did you process that with the Lord? I mean, were you questioning Him once again, knock, knock. Lord, here I am. What are You doin' in my life?

Sara: There was a layer of just shock. I mean, we went through a period of time that was shock, but my dad did end up dying 10 months later and I had prayed for years. I think a lot of us can relate to this notion of wanting to know God as Father. In my mind, I thought, I know He's a Father, but I just had never related to God as Father.

And it was always perplexing to me, 'cause I had a great relationship with my dad, so I couldn't put together why it was so hard for me. But I had been praying throughout this whole time, even before my dad got sick. God, I want to know You as Father. And my dad, we buried my dad in October and two months later, actually as my husband and I were driving across the country together, I looked at him and he was in a place of hurt in his own life. We both were continuing to walk through this. And God gave me words for my husband that I didn't even know I had inside of me. I mean, I spoke over who he was and life into him and just I believe God gave me His eyes for my husband, peeled back the veil and I saw Nate through God's eyes.

And that night, as we both sat back kind of in awe of this Holy Spirit overshadowing, that night I went, this is what it feels like to know God as Father.

Jim: If it's not too personal, just so we could get a glimpse of that, what does that look like? What did the—

Sara: Well, I think—

Jim:--Lord show you?

Sara: --for years I had picked at my husband. For years, I had an eye for his flaws, 'cause that's honestly how I think I thought God related to me. God wasn't He always looking at us, wanting to better us and pick out our flaws and point 'em out and move us along a spectrum?

And my husband, who is very strong, just in personality, he just stood steady in that, but on the inside it affected him. And then to have his bride look at all the hidden moments of his life, you know, nobody's seeing these hidden moments, but his bride is and saying, "You're strong and you're steady in God and you're faithful. And when no one's looking, you have integrity." Those were the things that I said to my husband and really, it was like the Lord going, "Sara, I have eyes for you that you can't even begin to imagine. I'm not sitting, picking apart your flaws. I can't wait to tell you how much I love you."

Jim: Sara, that is so powerful, because so many of us in the Christian community, we don't get that. We think God is that coach only in that He wants to pick apart where we're not doin' the job. And—

Sara: Yes.

Jim: --we self-impose that, don't we? We get that—

Sara: We do.

Jim: --imagery of God in that way. But God is not that way. He is in our corner. He's the one there for us, even with our flaws. That's the great news—

Sara: Yes.

Jim: --[that] you don't have to become perfect to be a child of God. In fact, He wants you imperfect so that He can work on those things with you, like a good loving father would.

Sara: That is so true.

Jim: And I mean, it's so awesome the way you're describing it and saying it and I just, for marriages, it is great for us to think in these says, because I think many more marriages would survive if we truly loved each other this way.

Hey, we're at the end of our time. We have covered some terrific ground and I love your heart. I love your writing and your book, Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet. Sara Hagerty, the author, the guest, I want to ask you some more questions and I want to dig a little deeper with some of the other things that God brought you through.

Sara: Uh-hm.

Jim: And let's do that, come back next time.

Sara: Oh, I'd love that.

Jim: All right.

Sara: That would be a great honor.

Closing:

John: Well, we indicated that Sara is an incredible writer and her book will help you walk through those questions that you might have about God. And you can get a copy of the book and a CD or a download of this conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.

Now Sara mentioned seeing a counselor when she and her husband were going through some difficult struggles and it may be that you could relate to that. You might have some real challenges going on in your relationship today. If so, please know that we have caring Christian counselors on staff and they can provide an initial consultation for you over the phone and then refer you to a Christian counselor in your area. There's no charge for this service. We want to be there to help you and support you. I should say that because of call volume, we may have to take your number and call you back, so be prepared for that. But do jot this number down and call please, 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

And when you get in touch, it may be that you're doin' fine, you just want a copy of Sara's book. That's great. Let me ask you as well, to support the ministry. Every day we reach out and provide people with hope in challenging life circumstances, but we need your partnership to continue doing that. Just recently we heard from a mom who shared a very tender note with us. She wrote, "We lost our 29-year-old son in a car accident just under a year ago. I listened to 'Focus on the Family' on our local Christian radio station to keep focused on God and His love and His being in control. Thank you for reminding me of God's sovereignty."

Our heart goes out to that mom and her family in their point of pain. And we want to be there for her through the radio and resources and those counselors I mentioned. And as I said, we can't do this great work without your help. So, please know that no donation is too small and we'll immediately put it to work to make sure that we continue reaching out and helping families. Donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And today, when you contribute, your gift of any amount will allow us to say thank you by sending a copy of Sara's book, Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We'll hear more from Sara Hagerty about God's prompting on her heart to adopt.

Excerpt:

Sara Hagerty: I think this is the story with a lot of adoptions. We think we're gonna go rescue these children, you know, and provide them with such security and the Lord's going, "I'm gonna teach you a whole lot about your worth and heart, as you watch this life become a daughter and son."

End of Excerpt

John: More about God's work in Sara's life tomorrow, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Guest

Sara Hagerty

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Sara Hagerty is a blogger who writes about motherhood, marriage, adoption and faith. She is also author of the book Every Bitter Thing is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things. Sara and her husband, Nate, have five children. Learn more about Sara by visiting her blog, www.everybitterthingissweet.com.