God doesn’t always grant healing and wholeness in this life, a painful reality that came to a head for me in college. I wrestled with the knowledge that God could heal me instantaneously—a small thing for him, surely—and the truth that he didn’t.
By the time I entered college, I’d struggled with trichotillomania—a hair-pulling condition—for a decade. I pulled my eyelashes and eyebrows out every day, even though I hated it and wanted to stop. Neurologically, my brain couldn’t stop itself, and that meant I couldn’t heal myself. Because of the “no” I kept getting in response to my prayers for healing, God seemed silent and distant.
One day, as I felt my frustration toward God mounting, I headed to the prayer chapel. I poured angry, hasty words onto journal pages with dark strokes of ink. I told God he seemed mean and cold and distant and impossible to deal with. I sat there with eyelashes scattered across the pages—ashamed they were no longer where they should have been.
The tears I cried weren’t new, but they felt surprisingly fresh. “I keep asking this question, God,” I cried. “Why? Why won’t you heal me? My hours of praying and begging, even my days of fasting—what have they done? Anything?”
I answered myself: “Nothing. They’ve done nothing! I’m worse than I’ve ever been.”
I wanted to push him away—this God who is all places and everywhere—and I wanted to run from him. I began to understand how people become bitter, how the seeds of anger turn into deep roots of distrust. I’m not proud of my bitterness or the ways I fought God. But it’s the truth: I was mad. In fact, I was offended.
Choice of Offense
When we’ve begged and pleaded with God, and he still doesn’t change our situation, we’re left with a choice: We can offend him or obey him. Offense puts us in the judgment seat. We declare what God should do and how he should work. We’re offended when he doesn’t follow our plan. We point our finger and tell him he’s wrong.
While it’s good to be honest with God, there’s a distinct difference between heartfelt honesty and hostile honesty. Heartfelt honesty comes to God on its knees, crying out with humility and trust. Hostile honesty comes to God pointing a finger. When our honesty turns hostile, we become bitter. We judge him and run from him. By doing so, we reject the very source of comfort we desperately need.
Choice of Obedience
The second choice we have is obedience. We say yes to God, even when we don’t understand him. This option feels harder in the short term. But it’s the only real one if we’re going to continue walking with Christ.
In mercy, God pulled me back from the crag of prideful offense. Through small steps of obedience, he reminded me of his truth and kindness. He softened my heart in two ways. The first way was through a woman named Nita, the wife of one of my professors. She and I met twice a month to talk about my walk with the Lord, to discuss the Word, and to pray.
As we talked one afternoon, my words came tumbling out. My anger, frustration, and hurt bubbled over, and I started crying at the kitchen table. What I remember most is not what Nita said but what she did. She put her hand over mine, and she cried with me. She didn’t chastise or immediately correct. Her hand and her silence let me know I was allowed to feel those emotions. She didn’t force me to be anywhere other than where I was.
When she spoke, her voice was a violin, wavering with emotion but full of deep conviction. “Ann, we don’t always understand what God does or doesn’t do. But we always know—we always know—that he loves us.”
“It just makes the no harder to hear sometimes,” I said. “Because I don’t understand why that’s his answer. It’s hard for me to reconcile his love with the no.”
“I understand, Ann. I do.”
I recalled the losses Nita had endured, the sorrows she had walked through, and I knew that she did understand. Her eyes were glossy, and she took a big breath before speaking again. “But who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35).
I shook my head. “Nothing, Nita.” My voice was a whisper. “Nothing and no one.” Not even a no. Nita’s kindness and truth spoke blessing to me. She pointed me to the Word and offered me compassion. That day, through her, God began to heal my hurt and frustration.
The healing and softening continued as I obediently read the Word and spent time in prayer. As I met with Christ, I couldn’t harden my heart against him. By reading the stories of men and women in the Bible who waited and trusted, I came to trust God’s sovereignty over my life, even when I didn’t understand it. And, as I poured out my heart to him in honest and humble prayer, I came to experience his comfort and love.
Better than Healing
In my obedience of small steps toward God, he pulled me back from offense. He showed me all I really need is Jesus. To walk away offended is more devastating than continuing to deal with any sickness or unwanted condition.
I may not have healing, but I have Christ. And he’s more than enough for me.
Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Ann Swindell’s new book, Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want (Tyndale, 2017).