When Hard and Holy Meet

We all know about less than perfect lives. Yet, we are often surprised when circumstances disappoint us and life hits hard. I am personally familiar with the dance of questions, worries, and fears that fill my mental space when things are upside down in a world where everyone else seems to have a social post that is right side up. I scroll and look at photos displaying everything on point and screaming perfection. Is it me? Is there a reason my life isn’t blessed like others? Is my faith not strong enough? Is God really for me? Is He aware of how challenging things are right now? Hard comes in many forms and sizes, but one thing is certain: every one of us will face difficulties in this life. The question is what will we do with them when they come?

All through Scripture, God meets people in the wilderness, in the barrenness, and in every space that supernatural provision is needed. Life, disappointments, and pain bring us to our knees. Jesus wants to meet us in our need and transform every hard place into holy ground.

I will never forget crying out to God one morning several years ago during cancer treatment. I was full of initial hope upon diagnosis but once I got into the nitty-gritty of the journey, I was full of fear. Daily angst filled the spaces that were once filled with health and strength. I was weakened by the grueling road of cancer and wanted to give up completely. Then I thought of Jesus praying in the middle of His own suffering, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42).

The cup represented the hard circumstance Jesus found Himself in. Realizing I was in the middle of my own cup of circumstance, my prayer was filled with fresh tears and sounded a little different. “Jesus, couldn’t you have stopped this? Couldn’t you have spared me this cancer cup?”

The answer surprised me. What I heard in my head and heart began a change in me. Jesus assured me that He could indeed do anything and that He certainly could spare me from any challenge. If He doesn’t take away or even prevent the cup in the first place, it’s because He has something He wants to pour into me that will draw me closer to Him. This was something I had never considered. I was too busy claiming healing and acting strong in public while secretly crying myself to sleep each night from the fear of the unknown. I began to see that instead of the cup of misery being viewed only as a negative, I could dare to believe God had something beneficial to give me in every affliction. Whoa, what? There was something holy to be found in the cancer cup?

God was beginning to teach me something important and life changing. The difficulties in my life could be a holy tool of transformation if I would learn to lean into Jesus with fresh surrender during every disappointment. When Jesus was facing the cross, He didn’t just pray for the cup to be removed. Next He prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus suffered greatly in the days leading up to the cross and still surrendered fully to God’s will over His comfort. In the midst of my frustration of life being swallowed up by treatments, the clearing of my calendar plans, and fear of the future, I was seeing something new about suffering. I was beginning to see the cup in a new way—as a giving cup because God was with me in it and was working in me through it.

I wiped my tears and left for the cancer center. As I laid strapped down on the radiation table that morning, I smiled realizing that every cup, whether good or bad, has something to give me and that I could live in defeat and chronic discouragement or I could experience grace in every dilemma. The choice was mine. Hot tears began to freely flow. The hard was changing me and the holy promise of God being with me was melting the angst and the fears.

The hard was changing me and the holy promise of God being with me was melting the angst and the fears.

I wish I could tell you that cancer was the only grief I’ve lived through, but it’s not. However, I can tell you this—now I allow every circumstance that I walk through to change me for God’s glory. Each bitter cup is being turned over to God, and in each disappointment I am learning a little more of surrender. Wasn’t that what Jesus was doing in the garden? Hurting and anguished, He requested a change in what He knew was coming. But then, He followed that humble request with a prayer of surrender. God isn’t upset when we ask for a deviation from the plan; He knows us and can handle our personal processing of each predicament. But after that initial prayer, if we will open our hands and let go of our will, in favor of whatever His will might be, we will not only have peace, but we will be given the grace and strength to get through whatever sorrow is on our path. We will begin to agree with the psalmist who believed God was sovereign over his life and because of this, he was not only blessed but also anchored. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:5-6). “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure” (Psalm 16:5 NIV).

Could this overflowing love and security be why Jesus told His disciples that though they would have suffering in this life, they could still be of good cheer? Could we live loved and believe that life doesn’t have to be good to be blessed and circumstances don’t have to be perfect to be beneficial?

Last year was far from perfect. I had a series of medical problems and pain that was beyond what I thought I could endure. My initial response was disappointment in my health and situation. But, as I said, I am learning new things in the tough places in life. I ended the year with peace despite the months being pitifully messy. I knew the Lord’s presence abundantly and learned a little more about surrendering fully, especially when I don’t know the outcome. This I do know—God is always at work in our hearts and lives.

As I am continually learning to walk in courage when life hits hard, these following verses steady my feet on the journey:

  • I look up and focus on the bigger picture: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12b).
  • I take my position as a loved child of God and stand firm: “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf” (2 Chronicles 20:17a).
  • I begin praising Him in the middle of the dilemma for who He is and how He loves: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
  • I ask God to show me what it is He is wanting to teach me through the affliction: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).
  • If another person is involved, I begin to pray for them too: “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28 NIV).
  • I move forward with my day by doing the next thing to prevent being stuck in the pain of my current state of affairs: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

I like to pray Scripture and this is what those verses would look like if I said them in a prayer:


Thank you for being with me in my present difficulty. I don’t like it and would not have chosen it; I know You are with me in it. You can take this trial from me, but if You don’t, I pray that You will give me the grace to grow through it. I don’t know what to do so I am asking for wisdom to know Your will. Thank You that Your love follows me all the days of my life. I might not feel Your love today or see it in people or my circumstances but Your love covering me is the truest thing in my life. I stand on who You are and how You love me. I thank You that I am Yours and being Yours is enough. Amen!

God is always at work in you. Goodness and love are leading the way. Perhaps this is the day to take your hard situation and make it a cup of holy surrender.

Debbie Alsdorf is a grown-up girl, a wife, mom, stepmom, and grandma. She is known by many as a cheerleader of hope. Her mission is to help women live a better story by leading them to the heart of God’s Word and the truth of His love. She has spent most of her adult life in women’s ministry—leading, shepherding, and encouraging women. She is a literary agent with Books and Such Literary Management, speaks internationally, and the author of fourteen books.

Debbie and her husband, Ray, have moved from a lifetime in California to Chandler, Arizona. They have raised a blended family of four children who have blessed them with ten little ones who affectionately call her Grammy. She loves dance parties with the grandkids, silly fun, and a good chocolate donut.

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Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

2 Responses

  1. I thank God for you. My daughter has stage four cancer and she believes God is using this illness for His glory. I’m not saying she didn’t fret or worry, who wouldn’t. She has turned it over to our heavenly Father. When I read your story I was encouraged and blessed. I will share this with her because I know it will encourage her You remind me of her. Thank you and God bless.

  2. Thank you Debbie,
    As Larry & I navigate relationships with our adult children and their choices this is a balm to my soul.

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