False unity

by Kim Aasland (October 2022)

This carving in Venice’s Santa Maria dei Frari Basilica unwittingly illustrates the weight of cultural oppression in the name of unity.

When we all speak the same language, wear the same clothes, observe the same holidays that means we are unified, right?  Or is this just surface uniformity?  What is the source of true unity?

It’s an age-old story.  Powerful rulers come in, take over a variety of peoples, and in the name of “unity,” establish a common language and culture.  The Roman empire used the exact same layout for every new city they established.  Latin was the language of the empire and had a strong unifying force.  Later when the Roman empire fell, the Roman Catholic church took over many of its functions:  courts, armies, record keeping, assisting the poor, etc.  And they kept the Latin.  Latin morphed from the language of the empire to the language of the church and later the language of the universities.  On the outside, this makes sense.  Everyone can communicate.  You can attend a Catholic mass anywhere in the world and know what is going on.  You can share intellectual ideas and scientific discoveries.

The Soviet Union was very similar.  All the “republics” had the exact same apartment buildings,  factories, bread, buses, and vodka.  All train schedules were in “Moscow time” even for completely different time zones.   In the 1975 Soviet movie, The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!, a man ends up in the wrong city by accident but is convinced he is in the right place because everything looks the same.  In the USSR, everyone spoke Russian.  It was the language of the government and the language of the schools.  It brought about “unity,” well, that is it forced a unity of Russian language because without it you could not get a university degree or a good job.

But at what cost?  This type of unity is not real, not heart-felt.  It is a surface, forced unity and greatly resented.

We have many modern stories of enforced “unity” going on in our world today.  One is the Uigher population in China.  When I visited Xinjiang province in northwest China back in 2007 I was surprised to see brand new, enormous highways that had been built in a relatively poor and obscure part of China, home to the Uigher, Moslem population.  My friends explained that these roads were built as part of a resettlement plan to move Han Chinese into the area so that the Uigher population would change from being the area’s majority culture to the minority culture which is exactly what has happened.  Now all schools in Xinjiang are in Chinese, not Uigher which is the world’s oldest Turkic language. But now it is in danger of dying out because of the government policies in China. And as many are aware, China has instituted “re-education camps” to force the Uigher population to assimilate through force, often brutal.

In strong contrast is the nation of Kazakhstan where I lived for 16 years.  Kazakhstan became independent in 1991. When we arrived in 1995 there were vestiges of Soviet culture everywhere such as statues of Lenin, streets named “Sovietskaya,” etc.  Watching the process of change towards becoming a strong, independent nation was fascinating.  One of the first steps that the government took was to make Kazakh the official language of the country and to require all government officials to become fluent.  Kazakhstan also renamed many of its streets and cities after famous Kazakh people and even moved the capital to the center of the country to indicate that this land did not belong to the Russians.  It worked.  I saw an increase in pride of speaking Kazakh, embracing Kazakh cultural arts and practicing Kazakh culture.

But…it was easy for Kazakhstan to replace one type of cultural master with another.  The new ruler was oil.  When oil was discovered, money flooded into Kazakhstan.  Suddenly where there had been a cash economy now there were banks and credit cards.  Where there had been oil tankers on the side of the road there were now fancy gas stations.  Instead of the only shopping option being outdoor bazaars and small neighborhood stores, there were now grocery stores and shopping malls.  In villages with no running water everyone had a cell phone.  To be clear I am not against progress and making our lives easier.  My concern is that we not lose the core of one’s culture in the midst of progress.  Kazakhs were nomadic for centuries and had been known for their connection to nature and their love of the steppe, horses, yurts, family and poetry. But few Kazakhs venture out on the steppe now.  When we forget where we came from we are easily assimilated into whatever is the culture of power at the moment.

Another pitfall of seeking to promote cultural diversity is the problem of violent extremism.  Kazakhstan has tried to honor all cultures since its inception, codifying into law religious freedom.  However, it’s tricky because Kazakhstan is not that far from Afghanistan, land of the Taliban, and Kazakhstan must safeguard against extremist subgroups who seek to tear the nation apart.  So Kazakhstan does put limitations on religious activities. The US wrestles with similar issues, being very diverse from state to state and even within states and having a high value on freedom of expression which  can so easily morph into extremism.  It is not a simple matter to find the line between national unity and allowing for individual beliefs.

The book of Revelations contains a beautiful vision of every tongue and tribe and nation and people worshiping in heaven.  This to me is the core of true unity – to have the same love, being one in spirit as stated in Philippians 2:2.  Some in the church have embraced this cultural vision.  St. Jerome created the Vulgate, translating the Bible into the language of his people.  The eastern Orthodox church was one of the earliest to allow services in the language of the people and allowed patriarchs in multiple countries as opposed to the one central leader. Wycliffe Bible translators have translated the Bible into a plethora of languages, many remote and spoken by few people. As Lamin Saneh explains in his book Translating the Message “To be grounded in your culture and to be a faithful Christian are complementary” (97). The aim of Jesus, as I understand, is not to create one people who all worship God in the same way and have the same culture, but to multiply his glory by revealing the gospel in multiple languages and cultures.  

 There is a way in which the church is like-minded because we have the same love and the same spirit. That’s real unity.  We have the same love, but different cultures and languages.  The beauty of this is that one culture may  illustrate a specific aspect of the glory of God more accurately than another culture.  Everyone reflects aspects of God but  no one culture on its own reflects it all.  Cultural diversity is not to be feared but embraced. It’s not a question of either/or but both/and.  Yes, it is helpful to have a common language.  Yes, it is nice to have recognizable brands.  Yes, it is good to make our lives easier.  But we should also press into that which makes us unique and bring to the common table what others do not.  It is essential to encourage unity which embraces diversity rather than passing off uniformity as a guise. In that way we are all enriched and the controlling force is a love freely shared rather than a system imposed on us by those more powerful.

The Sisters

For my beloved daughters by Kim Aasland (September 2022)

My daughters

They are the brave ones
The sometimes overlooked ones
The ones who have withstood trauma that young people should never have to bear
The ones who pressed forward with life
Believing by faith that better days were ahead

Armed with truth

How strong their impulse to give life
How valiantly they fought
How courageously they withstood the ravages of illness and death
Refusing to be defeated
They drew together, not apart

Never unkind to others
Near to my heart
Emotionally wise

How I love them
My brave, beautiful, tender girls.
How they bring life to me always
And tenderness to the world
Extending grace upon grace upon grace

Now as always
Affecting the world for good
Offering life
Maintaining hope
Inspiring faith

How I wish I could take this heartache away
How thankful I am that we stand with each other
I could not be more proud and grateful
For my brave, beautiful, tender girls.

The Dust Bunnies are Greedy

Kim Aasland (July 2022)

The dust bunnies are greedy
They clamor for my time
Take care of us, they shout

Right next to them the dust on the table shames me
What kind of a woman are you? it scolds
The Matterhorn of dishes joins in the chorus,
Bad mom, bad mom, it cries

And let’s not get started on the cobwebs…

But the whisper of the wind is speaking my name
The chorus of birds soothes me
My soul says, there are secrets here to be revealed
If you will just sit still

So I’m at a crossroads
Clean house or clean soul?
When I put it that way the answer seems obvious

I will sit at the Master’s feet
I will seek out treasures

Upon hearing that, the house goes to sleep
It will be there when I get back.

When You Don’t Fit

June 2022

Sometimes I feel like this tiger lily – bold and bright but unusual and seemingly out of place

The problem is that I don’t feel like I fit here in America.  Too much of me is African and Central Asian.  I love too laugh loudly and cry deeply and feel my feelings to the bone.  I love to hold another woman’s hand and stroke her hair because she is my friend and I care deeply about her.  I say what I think and ask questions I “shouldn’t” and I want to know everyone’s story. 

 A while back my husband told me about an assignment he gave his anthropology students to find someone who is different from themselves and ask them their life history.  I was like – why is that an assignment?  I do that all the time.  But I guess most people don’t.  My 19 year old daughter explained that kids of her generation don’t ask personal questions as much because there are too many hot-button topics out there.  That makes me sad.  I have a dear friend who thinks very differently than me about vaccines and politics and such but we talk easily about it and laugh at our differences.  Friends like that are few and far between.  Friends who want to hear my deep heart and tell me theirs are few and far between.  It makes me feel kind of alone in this world, or at least in this country that I call my own.  

Since my son died I have become even more aware of these differences.  The people that have been most helpful to me are those who have been through deep waters and understand what grief feels like and are willing to talk about it.   They also don’t fit because our culture tries so hard to sanitize grief and keep it at arms’ length. I get the feeling that for the rest I may make them mildly to moderately uncomfortable because I am an example that yes, bad things do happen to good people and no, God doesn’t always spare your children.  As my husband so insightfully said to me, people choose their theologies based on what is most comforting to them.  So if you haven’t known deep loss you believe that, if you have enough faith,  anything can be healed because that gives you comfort that you will be spared.  But if you have known deep loss, you think differently.   My friends who have known sorrow understand intuitively that what I really want is just for them to share my deep grief and to remember my son and to agree with me that it shouldn’t have happened this way.   I appreciate the way Kazakhs come running up to the house of mourning with wailing.  

People who are willing to go to deep places and talk about the hard things are the ones who have brought life to me.   Many have experienced tragedy and injustice as racial minorities and foreigners in this country.   Others have walked with someone suffering mental or other illness, or have themselves walked that path. These friends do not try to pretend.  They just feel with me.  Jesus, the man of sorrows, asked his Father to take the cup away but He did not.  So Jesus drank it saying, “not my will but Thine be done.”  Job, having lost everything, said “though He slay me yet I will praise Him.”  Jesus and Job are also my friends in suffering.  But suffering here in the land of plenty can be a lonely venture.   Grief is sanitized and fixed in one hour seminars and support groups.  And this is the path my family and I walk, as do many others. 

I don’t really have a nice, neat lesson to wrap up this blog post with. So I’m just going to let it stand as is. If you also don’t fit it, let me know. Maybe we can have coffee and share our stories.

Liminal Spaces and the God who Hides

May 30, 2022

A liminal space is a place between two worlds.   A liminal space can be a cave which is both on top of the earth but also in the earth.  It can be a beach which is the physical space between ocean and land.  It can be adolescence which is the temporal space between childhood and adulthood.  It can be  moving back in with your parents after your freshman year of college for the summer feeling like a new person but coming back to a familiar place that no longer feels the same.   It can be an airport which is the space between two destinations.  It can be moving to a brand new city that doesn’t feel like home yet but eventually will. When a close family member passes, it is the emotional space between feeling like they should still be walking on the earth and accepting that they are not.

I have often lived in the space between two worlds.  There is my home country, the USA, where I have spent about half my life and then there are my host countries (Canada, Turkey, Italy, Austria, Nigeria and Kazakhstan) where I have spent the other half of my life.  When I’m in one, I miss the other one.  I don’t think my experience is unique to me.   We all have places set vividly in our minds where we no longer exist but are still very vivid to us, whether it be our elementary school, our old neighborhood, a previous job or many other places and/or times significant to us.

I had an interesting insight not long ago.  I know that I often seek out new places to go and new people to meet.  I’ve always thought this was because I like adventure and I get bored easily.  But recently I have begun to wonder if part of my desire is to situate myself in liminal spaces in order to gain new insights and revelation.

Liminal spaces are to be embraced, for they come infrequently but with the potential for great insight.  We do not always live in liminality.  Often our lives are routine, normal and comforting.  But when we find ourselves in a liminal space, that can be an amazing opportunity.  It is like a portal into understanding through which we step outside of our normality and examine what is often too familiar to be recognized.  When we travel, we frequently  find our senses heightened and insights begin to enter our mind.  We see our existence with fresh eyes and realize new truths.  We perceive our home that we have left in a different way.  But this liminality is fleeting.  We are wired as humans to get used to our surroundings.  So after a few weeks or months, what was once new begins to feel normal and we lose those special senses.

It’s like God.  He is all around us, permeating every minute of every day.  Yet we don’t perceive the meaning of each moment because it is just too much to take in.  It takes special intention to find Him many times. I have my students do an exercise called “Fifty Things” in which they pick a random hour they were awake the day before and make a list of fifty words or phrases to describe that one hour.  Students are stunned when they slow down time to find out how much actually occurred during that one hour.  Being limited, we cannot possibly take in this level of understanding of every waking hour of every day.  So meaning stays hidden from us.

We don’t often talk in our Western Christianity about God hiding Himself.  Usually we focus on how clear His presence is from His creation, that the heavens declare His glory.  But what of the verses entreat us to seek what is hidden?  I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. (Isaiah 45:3)  Later in that same chapter, Isaiah writes Truly, You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior! (Isaiah 45:15).  God isn’t always obvious.  Sometimes He hides Himself and His truth and calls on us to seek it out.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  (Jeremiah 29:13).

Why would God hide Himself?  Why does it take special effort or circumstances to gain insight? As is written in Proverbs 2: 3-5:  Indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of GodIt must be that the seeking causes us to value the treasure more, as with the man who found a pearl in a field and sold everything he owned to buy that field (Matt 13:44-46).

When we find ourselves in a liminal space our immediate inclination is often to try to find a way out of it.  We don’t like feeling uncomfortable and uncertain.  We don’t want to question what we used to be confident of.  However, I would urge you to consider viewing this space as an opportunity to be embraced.  Don’t distract yourself by trying too quickly to make the place feel like home.  Don’t numb the strangeness only with comfort.  Instead, press into it.  Write down your questions and your insights.  Ask God what He is speaking to you in this new place.  Dialogue with trusted people about how this liminality is affecting you.  There is great treasure hidden in these times, just waiting for you to seek it out.  The liminality breaks up the soil that usually covers it making the ground much easier to dig through to uncover the riches.  Don’t waste your discomfort.  See what God has for you in the liminal space.

Poppy – For all mothers everywhere

By Kim Aasland (May 2021)

This is Poppy, the hummingbird that nested on our front porch in spring 2021. I wrote this for her when i thought her chicks hadn’t made it. Miraculously, I was wrong, which brought a resurrection joy to me.

We all come from inside a woman.
That’s the only way.
Someone was generous enough to house us inside her for 9 months
All our limbs and blood and brains and waste
Full of dreams and hopes for our life as well as hers.
And then having ushered us into the world, she continued to feed us, house us, and take care of our waste.
And she loved us. Not perfectly, because she is human, but God-like in her provision of our all in all.

For us she bled
For us she agonized
For us she cried

Her power is so awe-inspiring that something rises in the world to put woman down, to belittle her and use her.
And yet she loves. Not perfectly, because she is human, too.

Poppy sits with her chicks
They didn’t make it
But she sits with them anyway
She is bearing witness to their life.

For those of us with children who didn’t make it
We bear witness to their lives.
For those of us whose children walk on this earth, our desires for their well-being never cease.

To all mothers we say thank you.
Thank you for the blood, and the tears and the exhaustion. You carry the human race forward
And in carrying us you carry the image of God.

How My Book Came to Be

Kim Aasland (April 30, 2022)

Visiting Lake Sayram back in 2006 with our children (L to R: Our friend Tate, Nate, Linnea, Erik, Laura, Naomi and Kim)

NEWSFLASH: My book is now available for purchase on Amazon in paperback and Kindle form. You can order it here: White Swan and the Heavenly Lake.

I literally cannot believe I’m even writing this post.  It seems so weird to think that I actually wrote a book and am going to publish it.  What the what?  White Swan and the Heavenly Lake is the title of the historical fiction book I just finished writing.  My aim is to release it during the first or second week of May 2022, but before I do that I wanted to tell you all a little bit of the back story of how this book came to be.

Back in the summer of 2002 I was living in Kazakhstan with my husband and four children who at the time were 13, 11, 8 and 3.  Some dear friends of ours who also lived in Kazakhstan and were fluent in Chinese invited us to take a kind of backroads trip to China with them and another family who also had young children.  It was the adventure of a lifetime!  We didn’t travel to the usual tourist stops of Beijing and Shanghai, but instead travelled overland by bus and train through the western border of China into the Xinjian region of China which is largely Muslim and has significant Uigher and Kazakh populations.

The trip could be a book in itself but suffice it to say there were plenty of adventures including pushing our way through enormous crowds at the Kazakhstan-China border on foot with ten young children, trying to keep our overnight bus driver awake so he didn’t crash while driving through the back roads of China, eating “beer beans” for breakfast, having our kids comment on the cute mice on the restaurant floor only to realized they were rats and, well, like I said that is a different story.

Back to my book.  As we traveled up from the Chinese town of Ili into the mountains towards a beautiful and mysterious mountain lake, my friend told me an origin story about the Kazakhs living in China.  The tale was alluring and something in my spirit grabbed hold of me and said This is significant.  When we arrived at Lake Sayram at sunset,  its mysterious beauty made me understand why the tales and fables surrounding it were so compelling.  This land is the home of the original Kazakhs, some of whom still live in yurts following the traditional way.  In this modern age, so many Kazakhs have lost touch with their ancestors’ deep connection to the earth and also to their Naiman roots in Nestorian Christianity.  I knew I had to delve into this and learn more.

Fast forward five months to November 2006 and it was the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which  focuses on helping people write their novels.  The idea is to write about 1,500 words per day for 30 days during the month of November.  And that’s what I did, along with research on the Naiman who are one of the predecessors to the Kazakhs.  Now, remember that this was sixteen years ago.  Facebook had barely started two years prior.  There were few good self-publishing options.  I wasn’t sure if the book was any good.  So I stuck it up on a virtual shelf and forgot about it.  I knew it was there in my computer, but I didn’t know if it was any good or what to do with it.

Then in  March 2022 my daughter Laura asked me to look for an old video and I began going through old external hard drives.  I didn’t find the video, but I found the historical fiction novel I had written. I downloaded it onto my laptop and began to read it.  It was such a strange experience; I remembered the story, but it almost felt like someone else had written it.  And I actually liked it.  I thought I would read this book!  

Mock-up of my book cover

Now here’s what really blew my mind.  Without giving too much of the plot away, I have to tell you that I wrote about things in the book back in 2006 which actually later happened to me in my real life.  Sixteen years ago I wrestled through circumstances faced by my characters which I had no idea I was later to actually experience myself.  I still find this hard to believe, apart from God’s foreknowledge.  Also, this is why the book had no ending.  There were experiences I had to go through in my life, really tough situations, before I could write the ending.  When God brought the book back to my attention, I knew exactly how to end it. 

So I have spent the last two months editing the book, adding chapters, a glossary and character list, writing the ending and a few extra chapters. I read it aloud to my husband a few chapters a night and he encouraged me to move forward with publishing it. So here I am. The verse that comes to mind is Proverbs 13:19a, “A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul.”

If there is a lesson to be gleaned here, it is that God is always at work.  Sometimes the purposes He gives us take a long time to accomplish.   Sometimes He allows very difficult circumstances in our lives.   But if God has put a vision on your heart, don’t give up.  You never know if today might be the day He brings it back to you and accomplishes it and you stand back, amazed.  That doesn’t negate the dreadful of the tragedies we have faced.  But it does give me hope for an ultimate good outcome one day in heaven.

You did not take the cup away

by Kim Aasland (Easter Monday 2022)

In my Holy Week readings I noticed that something shocking: when Jesus asked for something, God said no but when Satan asked for something God said yes. Why?
This is the paradox of Easter Monday: Yes, Jesus is risen from the tomb. Yes, we have everlasting life in Him. But also yes, in this world we still groan.

You did not take the cup away
I asked
I pleaded
I said I cannot drink this
But You gave it to me anyway

The enemy demanded permission
To sift me like wheat.
And You gave it to him.
Why? I thought I was the one asking nicely.
I thought I was your child.
My Father, why have you forsaken me?

I wish I could read the end of the story
Flip to the back of the book so I could know the outcome for sure
And decide if the book was worth reading.
But it doesn’t work that way with us creatures stuck in time

Instead I drink my life
Sweetness and bitterness
Joy and tragedy
Because I have no choice
My options are trust or despair
And I know where despair leads
So I choose trust

You said You would pray for me that my faith would not fail
And You must be doing that because here I am

You never know

April 4, 2022

Look at the nations!  Observe!  Be astonished! Wonder!  Because I am doing something in your days – You would not believe if I told you. (Habukkuk 1:5)

As a history teacher, I tried to help my students put our current world configuration into perspective.  It can be challenging to keep in mind that our country, the United States, has only been a nation for less than 250 years.  That is nothing, a drop in the bucket compared to some of the long lasting dynasties and peoples.  After all, China has existed as an empire and then a state for more than 3,000 years and probably much longer if you go back before written records.  The Roman Empire lasted almost 1,500 years. I have always reminded my students to never assume that the United States would always exist.  Democracy is a fragile entity.  And when the attack on the Capital occurred last year, I had first-hand confirmation of how easy it would be for our country to collapse.

We quickly get lulled into the feeling that things will always be the way they are now.  We like to feel like we have some semblance of control over how our lives go and our country goes.  I think the pandemic took a big chunk of that confidence away.  But we still feel it.  I think that our language in church unwittingly reflects how we think we are the ones in control rather than God.  We pray using such terms as we invite You, we allow You, we give You permission as if God couldn’t just totally override our comfortable situations at any time.  I know that the intent is good – we are indicating an openness to what God is doing.  But instead of praying:  God we invite Your presence wouldn’t it be more accurate to pray more like this?  Thank You that You are here with us; help us to perceive You and join You in what You are doing.

We need to get back to the concept that God can do whatever He wants without our permission or control.  If you study biblical history or know much about the  history of the world you will see that more often than not what happens next is unexpected.  Consider Habakkuk 1:5:

Look at the nations!  Observe!  Be astonished! Wonder!  Because I am doing something in your days – You would not believe if I told you.

I remember well listening to a sermon by John Piper about prayer.  It was back in the 1980’s and he was urging us to not give up on prayer.  I distinctly recall him naming oppressive countries and regimes that seemed impossible to ever change:  the USSR, Romania, East Germany, North Korea.  He exhorted us to not give up praying for change because we didn’t believe situations could ever change.  I remember him declaring so loudly that the microphone reverberated throughout the building “How…do…you…know?”  In other words, God is completely free to make nations rise and fall as He pleases.  And sure enough, not that many years later my husband (boyfriend then!) and I were sitting on the couch watching with gaping mouths as the Berlin Wall was torn down before our very eyes

Listen to the words of James:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” James 4:13-15

So how do we live with the you never know?  First, with humility and trust, acknowledging that God can and does do whatever He wants. When something devastating and terrible occurs like what happened to our family, we continue to trust in God ,hoping against hope that God knows and has His good purposes.  My belief that my son is alive and well in heaven is what sustains me day by day as I learn to walk with the limp created by the worst thing that can happen to a parent.

  Secondly, with observation of our own lives and situation.  I often ponder why exactly God put me in the time and place He did.  I am an American woman living in the 21st century.  I could have been an Aztec man living 2400 BC. But here I am.  One thing I know to be true is that I have freedoms as an American that others don’t have.  So I should make use of those on behalf of others. I should employ my voice on behalf of the oppressed.  I should travel to other nations to minister there.  And I have sought to do those things.  Another reality of my life in the 21st century  is readily available technology which gives me access to the four corners of the earth.  I try to use this for good and not ill, keeping in touch with people in Kazakhstan and other countries where I used to live, leading online Zoom Bible studies, talking with missionaries across the oceans to encourage them.

Yes, we never know.  Yes, we serve a God who is wild and untameable. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:8).  Yes, many unexpected and difficult things will happen in our lifetime.  And yes, we can trust the One we don’t always understand.

In this world you will have trouble (part two)

Hebrews 11:39 “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” 

Sometimes when we pray, the first thing that happens is that things get much worse. When God finally talks to one of His people after 400 years of silence, He instructs Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand that he let the Hebrews go.  God neglects to mention that the very first thing that will happen is that the Hebrews’ life will become much harder.  Instead of letting them go, Pharaoh gives them even more back-breaking labor.  Surely Moses must have been tempted to doubt God at that point.

Sometimes when we pray we don’t get the answer we hoped for.  Actually, it seems that many of the stories in the Bible do not have happy endings in this life.  David loses multiple children.  Moses did not get to go into the Promised Land.  Paul and most of the apostles are martyred.  Look at Hebrews 11 to see some of the sufferings the children of God have had to endure: 

Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—  the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”

  The 21st century Western church needs to take a good, hard look at its teaching about suffering.   We do not necessarily receive what is promised in this life.  As Paul writes in Hebrews 11:39 “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”  Read that again.  None of them received what had been promised.  That is reality.  And when you only showcase the triumphs, those who are suffering end up feeling dishonored, like they are doing something wrong.

 Knowing that suffering is a normal part of our walk with God is immensely helpful. I remember going to a missionary conference at which John Piper spoke on 1 Corinthians 15:9 “ If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  He asked us what in our lives was pitiable, going on to say that if nothing was then we needed to look at how we were following Christ.  At the time I was living in a mud brick house in Central Asia without a working bathroom.  Those words brought great comfort to me.  Now, I am living in a much more comfortable place but I am in a season of deep grief and loss over the death of my son.  So yes, I am pitiable.  Yes, not all my prayers were answered.  But yes I still believe.  Why?  Because if for this life only I have had faith, there really was no point.   

So, yes, the church does need to present testimonies of those who have seen their prayers answered.  But we also need to honor those who didn’t get the healing they had hoped for, who are still infertile, who still deal with chronic illness.  They have a story to tell, too, of the worth of Christ.  Their story may actually be of great help to others.  They show the value of God no matter what as in Habakkuk 3: 17-18 “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”  Honoring those who are sorrowful and weak instead of only those who are joyful and strong is the only true way to be the body of Christ.