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Christian Women's Magazine | Living a Resilient Life

JBU Fall 2015

By Shelly Esser

It was a beautiful, warm summer day and I had just returned home from getting my hair cut. I heard the phone ring as I stepped in the door and raced upstairs to see who it was. Strangely, I found my husband with his face buried in his hands, clutching the phone. I anxiously asked who it was. With a look of despair I will never forget, my husband’s tear-stained eyes met mine as he choked out the shocking news: his parents had been killed in a car accident on their way to an out-of-state class reunion. 

I couldn’t believe it. I was numb. How could this be happening now? To us? I was a baby pastor’s wife. We had only been at our new church for two short weeks, and I didn’t know anyone. We were so looking forward to being near both sets of parents and our new baby daughter’s grandparents. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be my heart cried. It’s so brutally unfair. “Lord, what kind of welcome to ministry is this,” I questioned.

In a state of shock and despair, we somehow made it through the funeral and unbearably long days ahead. But I was shattered. Tragedy had destroyed the neatly arranged pattern of my new ministry life. I felt loss, alone, powerless, and abandoned. And my faith was stretched to the breaking point.

Slowly, life began to regain some normalcy until my beloved grandfather, who had lived with our family for 14 years, died two months later. It would be my husband’s first funeral. My already broken heart swelled even more as healing wounds were reopened. I again questioned God’s timing.

How could we possibly begin to minister to our new congregation when our own spirits were so crushed? I had nothing left to give; all of my strength was taxed to the limit. It was all I could do to just take care of my baby and grief-stricken husband.

Up until these events, I had been a stranger to suffering. I had experienced just about every other aspect of ministry life except suffering. As I slowly became acquainted with the people in our new church, I soon discovered that it was a suffering group. Like me, there were people who sat in the pews week after week who were broken and hurting, whose lives were messy.

In some mysterious way, God was using my own personal tragedy to prepare me for this new ministry place. Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest said, “If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all, they are meant to make you useful in His hands.” Without the dark stain of suffering that had touched my life, I could not have begun to understand—to empathize—with these wounded people. 

A few months after my in-laws died, a woman in the church lost her husband of 50-plus years. For the first time in my life, I didn’t cower away from someone else’s pain. I knew what to say, how to pray for her grieving heart, and how to be a comfort because I too had walked through deep pain and loss—I could comfort her with the same comfort I had received from God (2 Cor. 1:3-4). 

At that moment I realized God was doing something in me that could not have been possible without suffering. As I began to release the spiritual things He had done for me during those difficult months, He was making them a blessing to others. He was beginning to “make me useful in His hands” by taking me through a multitude of experiences that were not meant for me at all. My brokenness was the very tool for ministry that He was giving me. And to my surprise, He began bringing healing to my own heart as a result. 

This life is going to be full of all kinds of ups and downs. There are going to be those moments—even seasons—of heartbreak, sorrow, exhaustion, disappointments, and even dryness. The tendency is always going to be there during these times to say, “No, I can’t do it. I can’t give my life away for others. I can’t meet that need.” And yet those are the very experiences that equip us to do so. 

Jesus says we can do all things through Christ who gives us the strength in Phil. 4:13. Through His unlimited power, we can minister effectively to others and be useful in His hands in the midst of whatever circumstances He places us in, especially out of the depths of our brokenness. 

As we learn to lay our weak hands in His strong ones, He gives us the necessary resources to do what He asks of us, no matter how difficult; He gives us the tools to live a resilient life.


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