Lysa TerKeurst offers hope and encouragement to listeners struggling with life's hardships in a discussion based on her new book, It's Not Supposed to be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered.
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John Fuller: That’s Lysa TerKeurst. And you’ll be hearing more from her today on Focus on the Family about how God is in the midst of difficult, disappointing circumstances. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller, and thanks for joining us today for this broadcast.
Jim Daly: John, we all know what it feels like to be disappointed. It’s the gnawing sensation that it was all supposed to go a little differently, that we were supposed to be different, the circumstances different, and that life was supposed to be different. And it doesn’t always turn out that way, especially - I’m telling you. If you’re a high-control person, this is the kind of program that’s going to help you. I think let go and let God be God in your life more so than where you’re at today. It can be hard to know what to do when we have those feelings. And it’s easy to doubt that God cares about you when you’re going through those kinds of difficulties. So if you are going through that kind of deep disappointment, today, we want to come alongside you with some help, some healing and some perspective from a biblical standpoint. In fact, there’s a verse I want to quote here - Psalms 34:18. It’s probably - besides Proverbs 3:5 and 6 - is my life verse. And that is: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.” If that’s you today, this program is for you.
John: Yeah. That is a truth that will be woven through our conversation with Lysa, I’m sure. We do have resources and encouragement and hope for you at our website focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 1-800-A-FAMILY. Lysa TerKeurst is the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries, a very popular speaker and blogger, and she’s written a number of books, including.
Jim: Lysa, welcome back to Focus. It’s great to see you.
Lysa: Thank you. It’s an honor to be with you guys.
Jim: Let’s move this direction. You wrote this book from a very messy place over the last few years. It’s very vulnerable, which I applaud. It’s so hard for us in Christian life and in Christian leadership, particularly, to be vulnerable. But you’ve done it. Why - I guess is the question - did you feel it would be important to write about this season of your life so openly? What compelled you to move that direction?
Lysa: Well, I think one of the reasons is certainly that the Lord just really strongly led my heart that way. But another reason is, when I was drowning in my own sorrow, I really didn’t feel like I had anyone to go to that could really understand my circumstance. And that was really hard because I’ve always been a person of deep connections and deep relationships. But I was in a very unique situation, not unique in what was happening in my marriage but unique in the fact that I didn’t know exactly how to handle being the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries, being a mom of three adult kids that were getting married that year, five kids total. But three of my kids were getting married in 2016 when everything was unraveling. And um, I just didn’t know how to navigate everything. And it was very hard, and I felt very, very alone. And one promise I’ve always made to myself is when I’ve gone through something hard or something that seemed like, “Wow. This could be so much better if I just had a few other people who had been there, done that who could help me along.” I’ve always promised myself I would help those people coming behind me. Um, I did that with writing books. And to this day, I hold conferences and I have lots of material out there to help people who are interested in being in ministry, speaking and writing. So it fits my natural ministry flow. I love helping people come behind me. I just never thought this would be one of the ways I would help people...
Jim: Right. And we’re going to move into that. But let me take a higher 40,000-foot view of disappointment in the human condition and what we walk through. It can be a number of different things, and we’ll get to your specific story. And it’s not just one thing that you ended up dealing with. Um, why do we set up expectations the way we do as older maybe mature Christians? And we still don’t learn how to manage disappointment. Why is that? Why don’t we have a more mature attitude about things going differently from our expectations?
Lysa: Well, because I think we all set our expectations. And then we have an experience, and the experience doesn’t live up to the expectation. And so the natural feeling that emerges is disappointment. Where this gets complicated is I think, often, in Christian circles, we’re told, uh, you know, when you’re Christian, don’t be disappointed. Like, pray another Bible verse or put a little joy on it...
Jim: Always stay on the mountaintop.
Lysa: Yeah. Um, consider it pure joy, you know? And so, oftentimes, we’re told not to feel disappointment. And so we just kind of push it aside and push it down and put a happy bumper sticker on it and keep on trucking down the road. But the problem is that disappointment is the exact gateway where I think the enemy loves to come in and start to really create an opportunity for temptation for people because the human heart does not take kindly to feeling constant disappointment. At some point, we’re either going to numb that pain, or we’re gonna have to deal with the pain. If we never understand how to deal with the pain, we’ll never understand how to heal the pain.
Jim: Lysa, let’s get into the specific pain that you have gone through. Your husband came to you a few years ago and said what?
Lysa: I wish that the story would’ve been that my husband came to me and admitted what was happening. But that’s not what happened. I discovered it. And I immediately felt like my world was imploding in a way that I never, ever, ever thought that it would. I never thought this would be my story. So, basically, I found out that he’d been having some struggles with some addictions. I found out that first and - and then felt like maybe that explained away some of the behavior that I was discerning wasn’t right. I have a very discerning spirit. The problem is that just because you have discernment, discernment doesn’t give you details. And so that’s where a lot of people live if they’re in close community with someone and they’re feeling like something isn’t right. They’re discerning something is right, but they can’t figure out the details. And that is a really difficult place to live. So that’s where I lived for a long time.
Lysa: Yeah. Suspicion but not wanting to be suspicious. So then it goes from feeling suspicious to, um, feeling, like, “Well, I’m the crazy one,” you know? Because you can only go to someone so many times and say, “Hey, I’m just not feeling right about this or this or this.” And, you know, if you’re discerning something’s not right, but then you’re told everything is right, it starts to mess with your head and really make you feel like you’re the crazy one. So there was about a year where I felt like I am seriously crazy. And I was trying to do everything I could to go before the Lord and really ask the Lord to help me fix wherever I was off emotionally and spiritually.
Jim: It’s not unusual. And often, uh, you know, here, as we’ve talked to various guests, women have an incredible aptitude to look at themselves first. I mean, it’s a God-given thing. I think men, we struggle with that because our egos might be in the way. But women will often say, “Okay, what have I done? Where have I blown it? Am I wrong?” I can imagine all the questions running through your head. Of course, this is Art, your husband, involved in an affair. And I mean, you had to be swirling about what that means. So how did your - you know, kind of your concerns come to light? What did take place, if he didn’t come and talk to you? What happened that confirmed those concerns?
Lysa: Well, it was kind of a slow unfolding. It’s like, you know, I found one thing, and then I found another thing. And all the while - this is the other thing that gets really complicated in this - as a Christian wife, it’s very complicated when you wanna be so deeply respectful of your husband. And so that was a hard line for me to cross, even going to him to confront or to even say harsh things to him or to try to bring this to light. It was just a complicated thing all the way around. And so um, it was a slow unfolding. But finally, I went to him. And I said, “I know something’s going on.” And I had a little bit of proof, and I gave it to him. And finally, at that point, um, he said, “Yes,” that what I suspected was true. He was having an affair. And I was spinning. I don’t even know. It’s like I couldn’t even gather up my thoughts. I felt like my thoughts spun out of my head in a million different directions. And nobody teaches you how to handle that moment.
Jim: Let me ask you this. And I - again, I so appreciate your openness and vulnerability. In many ways, you’ve written the book. It’s out there. Um, of course being the founder of Proverbs 31, um, you know, this is hard stuff. So right there, I just appreciate your heart. The fact is many couples suffer through something like this. I mean, this is a betrayal of trust, et cetera. Describe that feeling of where you were at when it was confirmed, when Art either nodded yes or somehow confirmed that suspicion. What went through your heart? I mean, the - that betrayal, I can only imagine. So what was that like, and what were your words like afterward? And...
Lysa: Well, it was the worst moment of my entire life. I’ve been hurt a lot in my life, but nothing like that.
Jim: It’s the deepest.
Lysa: It is. It’s the deepest shock and pain that you could ever experience. And I always had this script in my mind. You know, oftentimes girlfriends will even joke with each other - “Oh, if I ever found out my husband was doing that, here’s exactly what I would say. Here’s exactly what I would do.” I had a script in my mind, you know, of what I would say and what I would do. But the Lord was so gracious to me. And you know, when the Lord encourages us to pursue Him, it’s in a daily way. And so the Lord really does want us to spend time with Him every day. And I think sometimes it’s - we think it’s because it’s part of the good Christian checklist to do.
Jim: Yeah, sure.
Lysa: But the reality is the Lord sees what’s coming, and He is so compassionate that He wants to fully prepare us. Now, sometimes we don’t slow down enough for His preparation. But boy, our life would be a lot better if we did. I’m so thankful that in January of 2016, before I found out what was happening, I did a fast. It was supposed to be a 21-day fast. And I was praying. But on day 21, I said, “Well, Lord, I really haven’t gotten a revelation, but this has been a really sweet time of connecting with You with more intentionality every day throughout my day. And so now I’m gonna go to the movies and have popcorn.” And I’m just really excited about my popcorn at the movies, you know? And the Lord said, “No, seven more days, Lysa. And I want you to pray only about your marriage for seven more days.” And I was so confused.
So on day 28, I - I went before the Lord. And I said, “Okay, Lord, now it’s day 28.” And this isn’t an audible voice that I’m hearing, but it’s this deep impression. I know when the Lord’s speaking to me. And on day 28, the Lord said something. And I have clung to this. The Lord said to me, “I’m about to reveal exactly what’s happening. But you have to make Me two promises on this day to prepare you for that day. And the two promises is: number one, you’ll trust My timing because the timing will not make sense to you, and number two, that you will absolutely commit to Me that you will love your husband.” And I said, “Well, of course, Lord. I love my husband.” Like, and I - so - and there was about - between that time and when I found out, it was about two and a half weeks. And during that two and a half weeks, I thought of a million different things that it could be. But this was not - the way that the story unfolded was never part of what I thought. But the minute that Art finally admitted to me what was going on, um, I remembered that moment two and a half weeks ago where the Lord had already prepared me to not react out of my flesh. My flesh would have said a lot of crazy things in that moment and probably been justified in doing so. But, um, I remember what the Lord said. And so my first words to my husband in that moment is, “This isn’t who you are. This isn’t who you are. I know who you are...”
Jim: How did he respond to that?
Lysa: “...And this isn’t who you are.” He was shocked because he also had a script in - in his mind of all the crazy things I would do and say if I ever found out. And the script of, “This isn’t who you are,” it stopped him in his tracks.
Jim: Kind of derailed his plan or his thoughts.
Lysa: It did.
Jim: You know, Lysa, I’m thinking, as you’re describing this - and, you know, with that emotion that you had a moment ago, and the Lord speaking to your heart, which is so beautiful, and then His analogies of Him being the bridegroom and the church being His bride and Him communicating to your heart about continuing to love your husband through this, it’s coming from His own experience as our Lord and Savior. This is the way we are. We betray. We’re disloyal because of our sin nature. That has to be in some way such a beautiful connection, for you to say, “Okay, Lord, this must be” - when you had tears in your eyes, think of the Lord’s pain about our betrayal toward Him in our walk with Him when we do things that we know displeases Him, whatever that might be. It can be light. It can be heavy. And that connection you must have had...
Lysa: I’ve gone...
Jim: ...Feeling His heart.
Lysa: Oh, yeah. I’ve gone to Mark chapter 14 more times than what I can even tell you. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve gone to Mark Chapter 14. But it’s when Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane and He is praying to the Father asking God to change the story.
Jim: Let this cup pass from me.
Lysa: Let this cup pass from me. And what’s interesting is just before He withdraws from the disciples, He tells the disciples, “Stay here and keep watch.” And I always thought that was, “Stay here and watch for the detachment of soldiers that I know is coming so that you don’t get caught off guard, so I don’t get caught off guard.” But then it occurred to me: Jesus already knew. He could see. He’s omnipresent, so He could see the soldiers coming. He wasn’t gonna get caught off guard. So I wonder if maybe that sentence has a little bit of a double meaning, like, “Stay here and watch because the soldiers are coming. But even more importantly, stay here and watch me, how I go through this moment of my deepest hurt and sorrow, of my deepest fear.” And then the scripture, right after that - when Jesus says, “Stay here and keep watch,” right after that it says, “Going just a little farther” - just a little farther, so the disciples could still see Him. And that’s when He says, you know, to the Lord, “Take this cup from me. Let’s change the plan. I don’t want this to be my story.” And boy, have I said that so many times. But I love the way that He ends that time with the Lord, nine earth-shaking, hell-shattering, demon-quaking words - “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And that to me has been the prayer that I have often gone before the Lord because, Jim, as I sit here today, I don’t want this to be my story. I don’t.
Jim: Right. Yeah.
Lysa: I woke up this morning knowing I was coming to do this interview. And I thought, “I don’t want this to be the subject matter.”
Lysa: This wasn’t - it really wasn’t supposed to be this way. But I know - I know that God has a good plan in the midst of it. Even if I can’t see the good or feel the good as I’m walking to it and through it, I know. So I’ve had to pray that prayer. “Yet, Lord, here’s all my suggestions, here’s all my angst of fighting against this reality, yet not what I will, but what You will.”
Lysa: And that moment that Jesus had in the garden of Gethsemane has been so profound for me.
Jim: You have felt it.
Jim: I mean, that deep betrayal. And, Lysa, there are other aspects to the story that we’re going to continue to unfold. It just wasn’t this story that occurred in your life. Um, yet, at the end of the program here, to kind of, um, help people, uh, with this particular issue of infidelity - uh, it’s not just husbands that have affairs. Women have affairs too. We get that. But - but speak to that person that may be fearful, where you were prior to Art’s discussion with you and how that unfolded, but they have concern. Speak to that issue of fear. This is the one area where the Lord says you have a card that will allow you out of this relationship - adultery. It’s biblical to divorce for those grounds. Yet, He still says, “I hate divorce.” Reconcile that in the last few minutes here, uh, for the couple that either is now going through it - both of ‘em know what had happened or the spouse who is suspicious something might be going on. What is that way to handle this in a way that does honor the Lord, which I think you and Art are doing? Um, it’s the tough stuff of trying to mend this back together. But speak to the listener who is going, “Lysa, I feel that. I am with you. I know what you’re talking about.”
Lysa: Well, first of all, I want to be very careful to say not every suspicion that you have is going to come to fruition in the same way it did with my story. However, every discernment that you’re having that something’s not right needs to be attended to. And it may be that you’re having discernment because something has not yet happened, or maybe you’re having discernment because it’s like that check engine light. It’s time to go to a counselor and just get some help, or it’s time to get in a small group at your church or get more intentional about bonding together as a couple. So not every suspicion comes to fruition in the way it did with my story, but every suspicion is like a check engine light coming on that something needs to be attended to. So I just want to say that for the wife or the husband that has discovered that there is something profoundly wrong in the relationship, whether it’s an affair or an addiction or, um, any time your spouse is keeping secrets from you - and there’s - there’s other betrayal besides just, you know, physical infidelity. But when a betrayal has occurred, you’ve got to get other people involved. You can’t just the two of you sweep this under the rug and pretend like, “Well, we’ll just keep marching and hope that everything gets okay eventually,” because it’s gotta be attended to.
John: Who - who did you go to then, in that moment, Lysa?
Lysa: Um, I had two very close friends that I immediately called. Um, and these two women helped me navigate what to do and even more importantly, what not to do.
Jim: Yeah. And it’s so good to have somebody you can turn to in that moment. And again, it’s just tough to find people you can trust in that way. Lysa, before we leave today - and hopefully, we can pick this up tomorrow and continue the discussion - in the midst of watching your 25-year marriage crumble and what you and Art were facing in this moment, you experience some physical pain in your family. You ended up in ER, which unfolds the second chapter of your valley journey. Just tell us what took place there. And then we’ll pick it up next time.
Lysa: Well, my counselor kept saying, “Lysa, we’ve got to find ways for you to process this healthy.” So those two friends helped connect me with a counselor that I started to go see. And the counselor kept saying, “Lysa, you’ve got to get the pain and the anxiety - you’ve got to get it out. You’ve got to process it because your body will keep the score.” And my body did. Just about six months into this, my colon um, the right side of my colon ripped away from the abdominal wall. It wrapped around the other side of my colon. It cut off the blood flow and...
Jim: Kind of twisted?
Lysa: It twisted, and um, the blood flow was completely cut off inside of me. And I kept crying out to God to please take away the pain. But God did something even more miraculous than that.
Jim: And it just keeps going. And Lysa, we’re gonna do that. We’re gonna speak to these issues. So for the person that, you know, maybe this is the greatest knife that could go through your heart, of course, with infidelity. It wasn’t the only thing. And I want to ask you right from the get-go: how do you not become discouraged toward God? Those disappointments that we set the program up with in the beginning get deeper. It’s like a swimming pool that just - you’re at the bottom of the pool. And the pool’s getting deeper and deeper and deeper. And I - you can’t breathe, spiritually...
Lysa: That’s right. Well...
Jim: ...Physically, any other way.
Lysa: That’s right. Well, let me clearly state I have gotten discouraged with God, you know? And so - um, but I think one thing that has helped me so much is to not just run away from God and shut off God. I’ve had to recognize there is my physical reality. There’s what I see right now. But at the same time, there’s what God is doing. And there’s always two layers to our story. And if we run away from God, we’ll never even catch glimpses of the better story that God is writing, despite the physical reality of what we’re seeing. And so I’m thankful that I continue to press in to the Lord so that I can even see glimpses enough to know that there’s what I see and at the same time, there’s what our good God is still doing.
Jim: Yeah. Someone recently mentioned to me, “God is always working for your good.” Wow. And it’s hard to feel that when you’re in these kinds of situations, I mean, again, the marital issues and then physical issues stemming from that, I’m sure, the pressure and the stress. Lysa, thank you for this vulnerable discussion in where you’re at.
To you, the listener - if you’re in a spot where your disappointments are great, this is for you. We have help for you. We have a counseling department. You can call us here. You will not shock us or surprise us with your circumstances. We’ve been doing it for 40 years, and we know just about I think everything under the sun. And I would encourage you to do that, to get a hold of us. Let us give you a tool or two to help you process where you’re at, a biblical perspective, what God may be sharing with you in this moment of your life and your journey. People are given stories like Lysa’s for a reason, not just for themselves but for all of us to learn from. And I so deeply appreciate your courage, Lysa, in part one of this discussion to tell us where you’ve come from, what God has done. And you’re still together. I want to make sure people hear that. And you’re fighting together for your marriage. If you can, let’s stay together and pick it up next time. Could we do that?
Lysa: That sounds good.
John: All right. Well, make sure that you call us if we can be of any service to you. Our number to schedule a time with a counselor or to get a copy of Lysa’s book or a CD or download of our conversation is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459 or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Also, John, let me mention to the folks who can help us financially. I mean, 90 percent of Focus is donation-based. That’s how we operate the call center and the counselors and being able to put resources into people’s hands. So if you can give us a gift for any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Lysa’s book,. If you can help us monthly - as a monthly supporter, that’s what Jean and I do - I think...
John: We do the same. Mmhmm.
Jim: ...You do the same. It’s a great way for us to be able to budget around things. We’ll also send you a copy of the book. If you cannot afford to do anything, get a hold of us. We’ll get you a copy of the book because somebody, we believe, will offset the expense of that. And that’s our commitment to you. This is that critical a topic.
John: And you can donate and get the book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or just call that toll-free number.
Jim: Lysa, this has been heavy. And as we come to the end of the program today, um, we need some hope for folks to hang on to. What verse really has sustained you?
Lysa: Well, I’m gonna give you a couple of verses. But I’ll just read a few portions of it. It’s Hebrews 2:14 through 18 and Hebrews 3:1. In Hebrews 2:14 through 18, we are reminded that Jesus was made in humanity. He’s full divinity, but He completely shared in our humanity. He was made fully human in every way in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people. So He knows what it feels like to be human. But listen to Hebrews 3:1 - and this is our hope - “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus.” You’re gonna be so tempted to let your thoughts go in a million different directions. You’re gonna try to want to figure out exactly what to do today and what tomorrow will look like, and how is God gonna redeem this story, and is God even going to redeem this story? Is this person gonna get fixed? Am I gonna get fixed? Are my kids gonna be okay? There are a million thoughts you’re gonna be tempted to think. But here’s my very best advice: fix your thoughts on Jesus. Park your thoughts on the hope and the healing that is always present with Him. Fix your thoughts on Him. He knows what you’re going through. He sees you, and He loves you.
Jim: Yeah. That is good.
John: Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we continue the conversation with Lysa TerKeurst, and once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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