Within religious circles, there is a common mythology that as long as you are good enough or have enough faith, God will give you whatever you want. But what about when he doesn’t? That’s the question author Ann Swindell asks in her recently released memoir, Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want (Tyndale, 2017).
In it, Swindell, a St. Louis mom and college writing instructor, shares her struggle with trichotillomania, an impulse control disorder that causes her to chronically pull out her eyelashes and eyebrows. In beautiful prose, she writes about the feelings of shame, ugliness, and despair that she experienced, as well as her fervent pleas for God to heal her.
“On days when my weakness is most pronounced, I often wonder where God is,” Swindell writes. “I know that he is present, that he is here and everywhere. But sometimes there is a disconnect between my cognitive knowledge of God’s goodness and strength, and my experiential reality. There are times when I can’t feel his goodness and strength—often when I’m feeling my own weakness instead.”
While recounting her own journey, Swindell creatively interweaves a narrative of the New Testament woman whom Jesus healed of a bleeding disorder with which she’d suffered for twelve years. “She had no money left, having spent all she had on doctors who were worthless to help her. Physically, she was worse than she’d ever been before,” Swindell writes. “And then one interaction with Jesus upended her broken life and changed everything.”
Only as Swindell begins to share her own struggle with others does she begin to experience God’s healing in her own life – not in the physically miraculous way of the bleeding woman, but in the damaged areas of her spirit. The truth of the gospel, she learns, is that God loves and accepts us in our weakness and even entered into it with us through the personhood of Christ. “We are not our struggle or our sin or our weakness,” she says. “We are Christ’s. And that is all that we need to be.”
Swindell’s is a compassionate, thoughtfully composed story for those struggling with any unwelcome behavior from which they are seeking to be free. I found it helpful in my own struggle with fear this summer, helping me to turn my focus away from my feelings of inadequacy for not being able to overcome it as quickly as I’d like and instead to acknowledging God’s presence in the middle of my experience. Rather than feeling ashamed, I was then able to better receive God’s unconditional love.
Like the Biblical woman who’d sought healing from her disease, we all inhabit frail, faulty bodies that tend to breakdown when we least expect it. And even when we don’t experience physical healing in the way we desire, we can rest, knowing that we are seen and loved by a God who bends down to enter into our troubles with us.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine.