“The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard”

It’s a question that has shipwrecked many on their way to faith. If God is good, it always starts, why is there suffering? Why do people hurt? Why do babies die and families fall apart and senseless things happen? Why is there so much sadness?

The question begs for an answer, but needs something deeper than a logical response. It needs hope. From someone who has weathered pain and hard and suffering, but still has hope.

Unexpected

Kara Tippetts’ story in The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard opens with a less-than-perfect childhood, with parents who loved her but didn’t always act with love. Jesus found her in high school, and forgiving her parents was an early step in her new life. Fumbling through her young Christianity, she met and married Jason, and they had plans for the future—their future—but it never went the way they expected. In her 30s, Kara was diagnosed with cancer. Their dreams of church-planting and ministry and doing life together changed with doctor visits and chemo and pain and weakness.

Kara Tippetts died of cancer on March 22, 2015. Her words are still here, though she isn’t, and her story of suffering and seeking God in the midst of it spurs us on to find Him in our own hard things—in our own whys.

We Don’t Write Our Stories

No one ever has time for cancer. Just when things seem to finally be falling into place or life has found that elusive equilibrium, the disease announces its presence and all those other things stop in their tracks. Jason and Kara had just moved with their four children to Colorado Springs to plant a church, and they were full of big dreams and plans—good dreams and plans—to drive a stake in the ground of their corner of the world and claim it for Jesus. They were going to do good things, big things.

“Before cancer, I would have said I was on the journey of seeking grace, but in truth I was manufacturing my own faith. If I found a need, I did my best to meet it. My going, doing, loving was my faith, not my nearness to Jesus. In my mind I knew my efforts weren’t the substance of my faith, but my practice betrayed me. Stripped of my ability, I saw Jesus in a new and profound way.” – Kara Tippetts

Jason and Kara would still do good things. Even some big things. Things like write a blog that eventually had 10,000-20,000 daily visits. Write books. Care for their children. Share their story—even when it wasn’t what they had planned. And it was through never-expected, never-chosen cancer that they stood toe-to-toe with the fact that they were not writing their story. The good things God had for them were not what they had picked, but they were still good.

“I come to you in these pages as a broken woman, realizing that my brokenness may be my greatest strength—that it may be the greatest strength of us all…My season of weakness has taught me the joy of receiving, the strength of brokenness, and the importance of looking for God in each moment.” – Kara Tippetts

Life. Is. Hard.

Some may blame Disney, and others Tootsie Pop Lollipops, but the desire to seek and find satisfying conclusions and happy endings is wired deeper in our humanity than inventions of the last few generations. We want things to turn out right. We want God’s presence to mean the hard things go away, like a child who knows their nighttime fear will evaporate if they could only be with Mommy or Daddy.

That’s what so many of us look for, even though that usually isn’t what happens.

And it’s there in that disappointment that we usually slip up, choose a Christianese answer, and flippantly explain away heartwrenching tragedy. We say “God has a plan” or “everything happens for a reason,” and go back to normal life if we can. We’re not wrong. But we’re far from completely right.

Life is hard, sometimes breathtakingly so. To baptize it with one-liners without feeling the depths of that pain is not only naïve, it’s—wrong.

“What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? How does our story of love change when we look head-on at my absence from this life? How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of the crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” – Kara Tippetts

We don’t have to deny that life hurts in order to have hope. Our hope in Jesus is firm because even when life hurts, Jesus is still there, still in control, and still good.

As Christians, we know that even if we still face our scariest scary—God is good.

“My hope is not in the absence of suffering and comfort returned. My hope is in the presence of the One who promises never to leave or forsake, the One who declares nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:39). Nothing.” – Kara Tippetts

No Easy Answers

In this world we will have trouble. All of us. Just like everyone else who has ever lived. The whys are hard, and there is no easy answer. No complete understanding.

But we do know what God has faithfully shown us before: He is good—now and through eternity, in each and every story He has written. We can bank our hope on this, that Jesus who suffered horrific pain on that cross all those years ago will never give us a trite answer or leave us in the midst of our pain.

What we see as brokenness or tragedy will one day be reintroduced to us as His glorious redemption of our pain. Kara Tippets lives that reality in its fullest glory now, and one day we will, too. Until then, we remember how she shared her life and story with the world, inviting us to follow Jesus through all the whys and pain and hard questions to a marvelous eternity we can’t begin to imagine.

“Grace; it’s all grace. Jesus will be there; He will be wooing, loving, meeting my love, my babies, my community, my family, and you long past the day my words run out that beg you to look for grace—that long for you to know Jesus. Really know His love. It’s His story, not mine. It’s His grace extended, not mine. I have only been a steward of that grace, a simple namer of His unbelievably reckless love that shows up for one broken woman every single day.” – Kara Tippetts

So Much Grace to Share: Why We Never Have to Be Afraid Again

Welcome to the conclusion of the Facing Fear of People series! For earlier posts, start here:

Part 1: We All Do It

Part 2: It’s a Trap

Part 3: Why Are We So Afraid?

Part 4: Tell Me Something True

Part 5: What If We Are Still Afraid?

“I wanna do it!” The two-year-old jerked away as her mom tried to steer the miniature shopping cart. The cart bumped into the freezer display.

Kelsie sighed before answering. “You can do it, Sara, but I am here to help you sometimes.” She held the cart still.

“No!” Sara yelled.

“I’m waiting for you to listen. When you’re ready to listen, you can do it by yourself.”

Sara stood quietly, but still glaring a little. Close enough. Kelsie let go of the cart. “Okay. Let’s go find the apple juice.”

She rolled her eyes as she followed her toddler down the next aisle. April’s offer of keeping both children for a couple of hours had been tempting, but Kelsie eventually decided to take Sara with her in the hopes that this one-on-one time would be helpful long-term.

Sara got to the end of the aisle and Kelsie reached out to stop the cart. “Watch out, honey—there are other carts here.” They waited a minute, then a woman smiled at them and waited for them to go first. “Thanks,” Kelsie smiled. She realized as they walked on that she was still holding onto the little cart—and Sara hadn’t yelled at her once. Small victories. I’ll take it, she thought.

“Mommy, look! We had those at Gigi’s house!” Sara pointed to the blueberry waffles in the frozen section.

“Those were yummy,” Kelsie agreed. “Look, they have strawberry waffles, too. Do you want to take some blueberry waffles home, or try the strawberry ones?” Sara looked hard at the waffle display as she tried to decide.

“Why, hello there—it’s nice to see you!”

Kelsie turned to see Rebecca Peters walking up. For a minute she froze. She thought about the chocolate-chocolate pie from the bakery now sitting conspicuously in the cart, and about the mismatched outfit Sara had insisted on wearing. She remembered Noah’s loud screaming in church the day before, and how she had forgotten to bring back the book she was going to return to Rebecca. The book she hadn’t read.

But in the next instant she remembered what she had been able to catch of yesterday’s sermon. We aren’t sitting here today because we earned our seats, Pastor Wilkes had said. We can only walk into the presence of God because Jesus bled and died to make us His. And if God has welcomed us, we will never be unwelcome.

Kelsie turned with a smile to Rebecca Peters. “Hi, Rebecca! It’s good to see you, too.”

Never Afraid Again

We don’t have to be afraid of each other. Not anymore. When Jesus paid our eternal debt and bought our freedom, He forever broke the hold anyone or anything else can ever have on us. Only He can call us His, and only in His love and grace and power and forgiveness will we ever find our worth and meaning for our lives.

Over the last few weeks, we have explored several different areas of fear of people and how it can sneakily hide out in the crevices of our lives. For me, it has been an exercise of looking deeper into my own life and finding new and deeper areas that need change, and I so hope that you have been encouraged and strengthened through thinking through this topic.

As we live in light of our eternal freedom and the security that comes with that, we may find that people don’t think as lowly of us as we expected. Or we may find that they do. Whichever the case may be, it doesn’t matter anymore: we have the assurance that our standing hasn’t changed because of our latest faux pas and will never be based on our popularity or current social standing.

Eventually, we will probably find others who are still trapped in fear of people. They may not know it. They may not even really show it. In fact, they might act so confident and callous to others that the real insecurities are almost too deep to see. Some of them might try—unintentionally, perhaps—to disguise their fear of not measuring up by pointing out to us how we have missed the mark.

But we don’t have to play like that anymore.

We know we have missed the mark. We know we still fail to measure up every day. But we also know that our lives are based on Jesus’ perfection, not ours, and we can rest in His grace and love and joy even in the most imperfect of days.

When we meet someone who still has that same fear we know so well, we can show them how free they can be. We can extend that same grace we have so undeservedly been given and welcome them, despite the reasons they may give us not to. They are invited and welcomed into this grace, too—into freedom forever.

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Four minutes was a long time for Sara to wait as the adults talked. She tried to open the freezer door to reach the waffles herself, but she was too short.

She looked up at Kelsie. “Mommy?” she said quietly. No answer. Sara looked back at her cart, then back up at the door handle. She pulled the crackers out and put them on the floor. When there was enough room, she swung her leg into the cart and began to climb in. She balanced carefully and stood up. She had almost reached the handle—

“Sara!” Kelsie barely had time to catch her daughter as the cart dropped to its side under Sara’s weight. Chicken nugget packages fell on top of each other, Noah’s baby food jars—thankfully unbroken—rolled all over the aisle, and the chocolate-chocolate cake was smashed upside down in its container.

Kelsie hugged her daughter while a stranger righted the cart and another one set the chicken nuggets back in and a teenage boy started collecting the baby food jars. She smiled her thanks and laughed when someone handed her the smeared chocolate-chocolate pie. She set Sara down. “Okay, girlie,” she said. “I’m glad you’re okay. Next time let’s wait for Mommy’s help, okay? We’ll get the waffles in just a minute.” She held Sara’s hand as she turned back to Rebecca. “Sorry about that. Where were we?”

Rebecca paused. “That was neat, Kelsie,” she said quietly.

Kelsie looked around. “What was neat? How far the baby food jars could roll?” She smiled.

“No, the way you responded.” Rebecca sighed. “When my kids were Sara’s age, I would have been really mad at them for that—especially the pie,” she smiled.

Kelsie looked at Sara. “Oh, I get mad sometimes, too,” she said. “And pie is kind of a big deal.”

“But you were so patient there, so—” Rebecca tried to find the right word. “So full of grace.” She looked away. “I don’t show my kids grace very well.”

Kelsie nodded. “It can be hard,” she agreed. “But then, I’ve been given so much grace, I guess I have a lot to share.”

 

What If We Are Still Afraid?

For earlier posts in the Fear of People series, check out the following links:

Part 1: We All Do It

Part 2: It’s a Trap

Part 3: Why Are We So Afraid?

Part 4: Tell Me Something True

Kelsie took a deep breath as she watched her toddler try to blow bubbles while she played on the neighbor’s driveway. “Here, let me show you,” the neighbor boy said, slowly taking the bubble wand from Sara.

“Your kids are so great, April,” Kelsie said as she watched the teenager help Sara try again. “Sara loves Carson and Makenna.”

“I like them,” April smiled. “But I remember those early years, too—not for the faint of heart, girl.”

Kelsie rolled her eyes. “Maybe that’s my problem.”

“What, faint of heart?”

“I don’t know. I just know other moms who have had their devotions and fed their kids a three-course breakfast and trained for a 5K by this time of day—and we can’t even make it to the grocery store.” Kelsie turned Noah around in her arms so he could see his sister playing.

“That’s great for them, but ‘other moms’ don’t define what you or your kids should be doing. You are not them, you know.”

Sara squealed with happiness as she finally propelled a bubble into the air. She stared up into the sky with Carson as it drifted away on the wind.

“I just need to get it together,” Kelsie said quietly.

“Good luck with that, girl,” April said. “And let me know when you figure it out.”

So, So Hard

So we know our problem. We know it is there and that it is deeply rooted, and we worry (ironically) about how other people probably don’t have to struggle with this. It is discouraging to think others might have a handle on this when we never seem to figure it out.

As Christians, we know we are called to become more and more like Jesus, with the understanding that we will never live up to His example. Even Jesus’ opponents knew He didn’t “care about anyone’s opinion. For You are not swayed by appearances,” they told Him, likely trying to flatter Him into being tricked (Mark 12:14).

Paul adamantly declared he was free of this kind of fear. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?” he wrote to an early church. “Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

It is easy to conclude that only weak Christians struggle with fearing people, and to live with an even greater condemnation than we were already giving ourselves. For shame, us—struggling with this problem that greater Christians left in the dust behind them. We just need to get our acts together and follow those who have gone before us, right? If we only try hard enough we can be better, like Paul.

But then there’s Peter.

Oh, Peter.

Afraid

“‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times,’” Jesus told Peter as they had the Last Supper together (Mark 14:30). True to form, Peter denied that prophecy, too.

But just hours later, he did deny Him—vehemently.

“And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, ‘You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I neither know nor understand what you mean.’ And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.’ But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak.’ And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” – Mark 14:66-72

He lied to cover his fear, lied to a servant girl—a servant of the high priest. He had been with Jesus in person for years, hearing the speeches to swelling crowds, seeing miracles of every kind, watching the daily patience and kindness and love and righteousness of the Son of God. And he denied it all. Would rather pretend he had seen none of it than admit his identity to a servant girl.

It was a low point in Peter’s life, to be sure, but redemption was coming. In a striking gesture of love and forgiveness, Jesus appeared to Peter after His death and resurrection, asking Peter three times if he loved Him. Despite his blunders, Peter was reconciled to a relationship with the Son of God even stronger than he had known when he walked with him in person day after day. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, Peter now had saving faith and the promise of forever with God.

Take Courage, Peter

The book of Acts opens with excitement. During a major Jewish holiday, when Jews from the world over convened in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, prompting miraculous speaking in tongues and Peter’s delivery of a bold speech to the gathered masses. The early church had begun, and would grow and grow—exponentially.

Not long after this conspicuous start, the high priest put Peter and other apostles in jail, but an angel freed them and told them to continue preaching. So they preached some more. Again, the high priest arrested them and now called them to stand before him, accusing them of ignoring earlier instructions to stop this telling of good news.

We’re not sure who exactly said what, but since Peter is the only disciple named we can be fairly sure he at least did some of the talking, culminating with a bold stand: “‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29).

And the man who had cowered and lied to the high priest’s servant girl now stood tall and spoke clearly to the high priest himself.

Can Anyone Ever Really Change?

How we would love, in our human fascination with success stories and self-betterment, to assume that Peter had forever conquered his fear of people. After all, he had just spoken boldly and fearlessly to one of the most powerful people in his world.

But unlike a picture-perfect movie ending, the change didn’t last. Not completely, anyway.

Paul shared a story with the Galatian church. In the same letter where he shared his own victory over fear of people, he told them of someone else who had acted in that fear.

Peter.

Paul tells the Galatians that at a gathering of believers he had scolded Peter in front of others. Why? Because Peter had been “fearing the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12)—he cared more about what people thought than about what God thought.

What was up? Hadn’t Peter left this behind him? Does this mean we never really change? Will our true colors always bleed through no matter how hard we try?

Have No Fear

Peter’s second recorded fall into fear reminds us that we are not the only Christians to keep struggling with this, and his later victories spur us on to keep seeking growth—and victory—in our own lives.

Years later, Peter wrote to early Christians about persecution, urging them not to trouble themselves about it. “Have no fear of them,” he counseled, “nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14-15).

Have no fear, Peter said.

In the same letter, Peter encouraged the women in the church to “not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6).

Says the guy who used to be afraid of a servant girl.

The Story Isn’t Over

So it would seem there is hope for those of us who falter, who go back and forth in fearing and not fearing. The battle for fear of God over fear of people is not something we will completely conquer while we live on earth, and we will have days we struggle more than others.

Just like Peter.

If there’s anything Peter’s story shows us, it is that past mistakes don’t destine us to future failure. Not with Jesus. Through the power and grace of God—and maybe the rebuke of a Paul in our lives—we don’t have to be afraid any longer.

We have been freed from that.