A Work-Out Plan For The Soul

You do not realize now what I am doing,

but later you will understand.

John 13v7

Sometimes life is so beautiful and right and perfect, it takes your breath away.

I’ve been relishing a lot of days like that lately. My Grands skipping over to my house on the pretext of an errand, really just wanting to check in on us. Duke with his curiosity and Scarlet with that Cheshire grin that seems to ask,

How could Amma and Pops possibly fill their time without us around?

My life is rich and good, filled with relationships I treasure and work I love.

Yet there are other times in each of our lives when the bad of real life pollutes our days, socking us with ugliness— days when the summer sky is obscured by a dirty grim haze.

We don’t take pictures or post bright and cheery quotes surrounded by flowers on those days. No emoticons sprinkled through that part of the story. Smiley faces just don’t cut it; we don’t parade bad days on Instagram.

Instead, we ask questions no one wants to answer.

We whine— some of us on the inside where no one sees; hidden grief at the not okay-ness of today.

Others are all out-loud about what irks them; spitting up sour milk like my little grand-girl, Birdie, who heaves and spits and dribbles, leaving a trail of goo behind.

I have heard the questions— posed many of my own. I’ve tossed those queries into conversations and heard the sputtering response; listened as someone who cares tries, and fails, to answer.

Why? Why is this happening to me? How come life is so hard?

 And the worst question of all, the one that signals a soul suffering the onslaught of an enemy’s arrows;

Why did God let this happen?

 Right now, in the midst of my very-good-days reality, I am watching two women suffer. Women I know well. Honest women who do not pretend that all is fine when all is most certainly not fine. Theirs is genuine hardship, real hurt.

When I’m with one of these women, I get splattered with spit up. She can’t seem to help it any more than my little Birdie can help regurgitating all over anyone who dares comes near. She wants someone to rescue her, to make it better, to bring back the good days. She hurts. She lashes out, not even knowing she’s hurting others in the process.

The other woman is handling her hurt with dignity and calm, a restful presence even as she struggles with injustice. She stops herself when her heart inevitably circles back to the yuck, knowing, believing, holding to the words of Jesus:

“… later you will understand”

And I watch and I listen and I wonder, what would I do? How would I respond? How will I be when real life isn’t all hunky-dory, as it is right now? When the pressure builds and it’s all I can do to swallow hard. Which choice will I make?

The way of grace or the way of goo?

Two women, two responses. I want to be the gracious woman. Of course I do, and so do you. But how?

Is it possible to prepare for ugly days? To ready ourselves for those times when we cannot see the sky and we wonder with an urgency that borders on obsession if we can possibly endure even this—

I think the answer is yes. In fact, I know it is. And so I’m making myself a list.

Not a do-this-and-you’ll-be-fine kind of list, but more of a work-out plan for my soul. A way to strengthen myself in God.


  • Learn to thank God for both the good and the not-so-good. Because sometimes when I am grateful for good days, I fail to acknowledge that no one, least of all God, promises that everyday will always be good.
  • Learn the limitations of sympathy. Because no one can make it better and all the spilling of our souls onto another only makes us sick of ourselves.
  • Learn who can handle my rawness. Because not everyone can, and not everyone should. Honesty is beautiful, but hard times bring out the parts of ourselves that are hidden and real and really stinky.
  • Learn to grieve with God. Because really, He is the Comforter. No one else comes close, no one can fix it, no one should. But when I bring Him into my mess, He carries me close and I feel the calm, sweet relief only He can give.
  • Learn to curate what I say to myself. Because seeing life through Spirit-eyes, hearing hardship through Spirit-ears, changes everything.
  • Learn to ask the right questions. Because the wrong questions just sink me deeper into messy muck. Instead of, why me? How about trying, Father, what is this about? What are You asking from me? Please, Lord, will You show me Your beauty even in this?
  • Learn to sink yourself into the stories in Scripture. Because they are given for our instruction, written down for us to see, and learn, and know how God works in the middle of our messes.
  • Learn to see beauty every day. Because it’s there, these glimpses of God’s magnificence. And the relishing of His sweetness lingers long after I’ve passed by. Breathe it in deep enough to permeate your soul.

Two women. Two ways to deal with the invasion of hardship.

One whose soul glows, growing more and more beautiful as she finds once again that her hope is in God. That He is real in the midst of hardship, that He is close and present even when He doesn’t make it all better.

The other, stuck and struggling, seemingly immune to the Spirit’s whispers. Hurting people because she’s hurting. Unhelp-able because the only help to be had isn’t enough to make the hurt go away.

And me: watching and learning. Knowing I am prone to obsessive spit-up. Purposing to learn and practice and be alert now so that later, when every day isn’t all sunshine and sweetness, I will know how to be strong in God.

Can you add to my list?

Because I think we need to learn from each other how to be people permeated by beauty even when life isn’t beautiful.

From my heart,


August 16, 2016
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6 comments... (add a comment)

  1. Karen

    This was good for me to read. I recently lost most of my hearing (in my good ear) after a cochlear implant. I am climbing a mountain and trying hard to find the grace needed to trust God more. It has been hard on my husband too. I am not the same person. We can’t communicate like we used to. I have only been implanted one month so am still quite deaf. His tolerance is waning. I am feeling disabled, unloveable and sorry for myself. Although I try not to obsess (spit up) I find it so easy to go down that road. Your post Diane reminded me to lean on God and not others. Thank you.

    • diane

      Karen, Hang in there! It takes quite a while to re-learn how to hear. But when you do, it’s so delightfully crisp and clear- nothing at all like hearing aids. I will be praying for you as you do the hard work of learning to hear again.

  2. Learn this automatic response for times of crisis- God is good when my worst “what if” does not occur. He is also good when that fear comes true. He will give me what I need for that moment, not necessarily before.

    • diane

      Excellent Debbie. So simple: God is good and nothing ever changes that truest of all truths! Thank-you.

  3. Lara

    Thank You for writing such a beautiful article.
    I am going through a very hard time in my marriage and for the last year lashing out because I am not seeing any changes and not wanting a divorce. My marriage has not changed for the better and I become resentful and wonder why This has to happen. I know God can do anything but I have not been in a place to ask him to open up the truth and have lived in my anger and hurt that I can’t see God anymore.
    While I was reading your article, I realized that I could be handling this very different and going to God instead of wallowing in my pain. Looking in the mirror of my anger I can’t see anything but ugliness and living in that space only darkens the path.
    I ask for prayer that I can heal my hurt in other ways and not through anger and resentment.
    Thank You again for posting this article.

    • diane

      I am praying… for help and for rest in the deepest part of you. I have discovered the greatest sense of rightness when I invite God into my messes- He grieves with you! He designed marriage to actually be a picture of Jesus’ love for us, His bride. So when it goes bad, it hurts Him too. Yet the comfort He gives that absolutely no one else can dish up to you… it’s the real thing. Yes, there’s confession of sin (aka anger, bitterness) but that confession feels more like a letting go of the pressure that’s building inside your soul. So… you’ve a sister here in the Northwest praying for you as I take my walks in the woods.

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