It was late, and she was crying now. Her marriage had been hard—hard for a long time.
I think it was there that I really saw Him, though He’d been there the whole time. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is a little like an I Spy book to me. Knowing what He looks like, I’m learning to spot Him among the clutter of circumstances, ones He’s meticulously arranged.
I want to tell you what He looked like, there in that hotel room, where she was just so tired of waiting for God to change things. Even there, in her road-weary face that longed for a break in being “tough” and strong—I saw Him making beautiful things out of dust, as the song goes.
He’d already been working there for years.
This kind of waiting reminds me of what it must feel like to be lying on the ground, holding on to something precious over a cliff: your muscles, fatigued and burning as your grip slips, your heart pleading and knocking in the hollow of your chest. If you’re there, your hands sweating and slipping, I want you to picture someone lowering Himself beside you, taking over your weary hold. Where your biceps and forearms were failing, His are able and unmoved. His voice and your relieved muscles speak of presence, of release to infinitely more capable hands.
He’s there. And here are a handful of the ways I knew He’d be there for her.
- I knew He would give her the know-how and the courage to love well, even when her husband didn’t reciprocate. It was the work He’d already done for her; for me—to love even when someone’s heart is cold or hard or indifferent or just clueless.
- I knew He’d give her the wisdom to know how to love him in each particular circumstance. I’m learning sometimes that wisdom doesn’t come immediately (as I wish it would!), but with the experiences God gives, slowly crafting us to be more intuitive, more understanding, more discerning. That it must be chosen and sought with diligence and personal investment.
- I knew her perseverance wasn’t her slogging it out alone. The Holy Spirit was like the ultimate simple machine—where we apply effort on our end, but He multiplies it infinitely, leveraging shocking beauty from what was once hard and unmoving.
Earlier in my own marriage, I distinctly remember a certain stoplight. (That’s not a metaphor; it was a real, physical one, blinking red). My husband turned toward me and said something like, “I’m sensing God wants me to work on being gentler.”
The light turned green, and we pulled forward—but my brain was still back at that stoplight. After months of seeking to talk to my husband about gentleness, I decided that in the end, I had little power over changing him. This wasn’t my territory anymore. But you can imagine how baffled I still was to have the answer to prayer in front of me at that stoplight.
A decade later, I see God wasn’t crafting my husband in the image of my gentleness, but through His image in my husband. And God’s answered my prayer far greater than what I thought to ask.
- He’s “filling in the blanks.” Philip Yancey writes,
Paul says that Spirit lives inside us, detecting needs we cannot articulate and expressing them in a language we cannot comprehend. When we don’t know what to pray, he fills in the blanks. Evidently, it is our very helplessness that God, too, delights in. Our weakness gives opportunity for his strength.
- He is with her, forging hope in the middle of a fire. She’d been hoping for a long time, there in that gray twilight of waiting. It reminded me of a certain Saturday in history, that vast, barren grief stretching between a man dying and a mind-blowing resurrection. The truth: I don’t know when my friend’s relief and answer and astonishing new life will surface from behind stone. It may be eternity when her faith becomes sight.
See, her hope cannot be in God granting her request alone. Paul David Tripp writes, Remember the biblical principle of idolatry: Desire for a good thing becomes a bad thing when that desire becomes a ruling thing. God very well may answer my friend’s prayer—or, like those at Jesus’ death (their political conqueror of the Romans, now himself, conquered)—He may have an entirely different resurrection in mind, in an entirely different time. Hope for her, I told her as tears melted to her chin, may look like Plan B for awhile. It may look like God meeting her with other solutions for the needs that clawed at her inside.
- I knew that in the windy, gaping cavities where my friend longed for intimacy and someone to know her, God will be her true husband, loving her. Even there, He drew her with His relentless kindness. He was whispering to her in so many small, intricate ways, like a man presenting his beloved with her favorite flower. I see you.
If you’re there in the waiting, your body and soul aching with the weight of your marriage, I’m praying right this minute for presence—and that you’ll spot Him as He overcomes on your behalf. Honestly, as He does in all pain, some of the overcoming to be done is in our own hearts.
May you find Him there, in the fire.