I Have Hope
Jeff and Sarah Walton have learned to make God's Word central to their daily lives. Sarah, who suffers with Lyme's disease, and Jeff tell how walking through the ups and downs of life has brought them to a place where they can honestly say, as Job did, "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you." Together they share how God is using their trials to build up and comfort others in the body of Christ.
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Together Through the Storms: Biblical Encouragement for Your Marriage When Life Hurts (2020, The Good Book Company). They have four children 13 and under and are members of the Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, IL. Sarah is also the co-author of the award-winning book ...more
Jeff and Sarah Walton have learned to make God’s Word central to their daily lives. Together they share how God is using their trials to build up and comfort others in the body of Christ.
I Have Hope
Bob: There’s a verse in 1 Peter that talks about being grieved by various trials. It goes on to say that those trials allow for the “tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, and glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Jeff and Sarah Walton know something about having your faith tested by trials.
Sarah: Pain is pain, and it can look at lot of different ways. We have grown so much in having the eyes to see other people, who are hurting, and to know what has hurt us when people have said unkind comments or insensitive. We’re much more careful in how we say things—and wanting to give people the space to be able to grieve, as well, and not just want to move them past it—there’s all sorts of things you learn in that, but then you want to give that to others as well.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, June 24th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. No one wants to go through trials; nobody likes pain, but the Bible says there’s purpose in our suffering. We’ll hear more about that today from Jeff and Sarah Walton. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Dave, you’ve been around weight rooms for a few years; right?
Dave: Are you saying that because I’m so big? [Laughter]
Ann: You can tell because he looks so good.
Dave: My biceps are popping out.
Bob: I know that, years ago, you actually used to lift the weights yourself.
Dave: Oh, years ago; that’s funny. [Laughter] That’s funny. Honey, do I still lift weights?
Ann: You—yes, you do.
Dave: Not very heavy ones, but—
Bob: If somebody wants to develop those strong, rippling muscles—[Laughter]
Ann: Where is he going with this one? [Laughter]
Dave: This isn’t even funny.
Bob: —it does require that, at some point in your weight training, you have to add more weight/more resistance for the muscles to get stronger; don’t you?
Dave: Yes; you do, Bob.
Bob: That thought came to mind in the midst of the story we’re hearing this week. We’ve got Jeff and Sarah Walton joining us. Guys, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Jeff and Sarah: Thank you.
Bob: You guys have been through 16 years of weight training—[Laughter]—maybe a dozen years, where it’s been pretty intense for you guys—it’s been spiritual weight training. Every time your muscles get a little stronger, the Coach comes along and says, “We’re going to add a little more weight to this and see what we can develop here.”
I don’t presume to know the mind of God, and the providence of God, and exactly what’s going on, or the purposes for that; we can drive ourselves crazy. In fact, your book, which is Together Through the Storms, is a book that takes the Book of Job in the Old Testament, and takes your circumstances and your marriage, and says, “There are some parallels here.”
Job went to God at the end of the book and said, “So I think I’m due some answers here.” How did God respond to him, Jeff?
Jeff: He did not give him the direct answer that he wanted. From that, we can pull a tremendous amount of wisdom. God ultimately revealed Himself to Job; we see that in the end. Job wrestles—throughout the whole book: “Who is God?”—and leaning back on His promises.
I think one of the biggest things that is so easy—as I’ve read the Book of Job prior to this—it fits right in the middle of the Bible; but yet, I did not realize the full context. Job is writing this, and it could be one of the oldest written words that’s in the Bible. Putting that into context, Job did not have the Bible to refer to—the Old Testament.
Looking at what he was wrestling with—going through the blow after blow, day after day, of the trials, and the pain, and the grief; and then wrestling through the loss; and being separated by his wife, more relationally—I think, at the end, seeing him come to the fact that he demanded answers from God. Yet, God did not give him the answer in the way that he wanted; but He gave him, ultimately, more of Himself.
How true is that of ourselves? When we go through trial after trial; we want a specific answer/as reason to why we are suffering. Yet, if he gave us that answer, the next time a trial would come, we’d want an answer for that one. Then, we’d want an answer for the next one.
But unless He gives us just who He is—if He can just strip away everything and say, “I want you to be dependent on Me, solely”—end of question—“I want you to trust Me because I am God, and I am sovereign over all things.” That should be enough for us, to find hope in a Savior like that.
Bob: It was enough for Job, who ends the book by saying: “Now I have seen You. I put my hand over my mouth, and I can rest in that”; right?
Sarah: Yes; if you think about—even as we become Christians—we would say, “I believe God is sovereign.” But when we are faced with something that doesn’t seem like God is sovereign, and we have to wrestle with that, and we choose to come to see: “God actually has been sovereign in this,”—then we know it in reality.
That’s what’s happening with Job. He believed these things about God; but after all these different losses, at the end, he was then able to say, “Now my eye has seen You, because I have seen these things to be true.”
Bob: The losses you’ve experienced started kind of early on in your marriage. Your son was born, had a fever that spiked; that led to ongoing health challenges—and continuing to have the same level of challenges and the same frequency that he had back, when he was one and two years old?—is that right?
Sarah: Yes; it’s changed somewhat in its nature. We found some medication has helped to some extent; he has done well. He’s now doing well in school, which has been a gift. But it is a constant struggle for him. What’s really neat is, on his tenth birthday, he gave his life to Christ.
What was really neat is—how we shared there was a very clear spiritual battle over him. For a year, we had him repeat a prayer, up on the wall that Jeff had written. A lot of nights, he would either scribble it out, or he would rip it up, or he would refuse to pray it; so we would pray it over him.
Jeff: During all this, he was just denying Christ, and pushing up against all of our beliefs. I remember so many nights—of being in tears and trying to fight back [tears]—when I’m trying to talk through things, maybe in his room. To have your son tell you that he doesn’t believe in Christ tore us to pieces.
I committed to praying with him. Sometimes, it was through just me praying that; because he did not want anything to do with it; but other times, he would grit his teeth and he say, “God, if You are real—and I don’t believe in You, God—but if You are real, will You come save me?” There were some other sentences onto that—of really wanting him/probably more of my crying out as well—but wanting him to see that: “You have nothing to lose; cry out to God; repent. We have a Savior that is ready to comfort and bring peace, and to bring light to where it is so dark in our house.”
By God’s grace, we saw that clearly; and we’ve seen the fruit come from that.
Bob: The breakthrough moment there—what happened in him that caused him to go, “Okay; I’m ready to pray that prayer”?
Sarah: It was very clear. I was going through an episode with him, and part of what was very heartbreaking is he hated the struggle just as much as we did.
Dave: Yes; it sounded like he was in torment.
Sarah: It is; that is pretty much the best way you can describe it. It was like something else was tormenting him. He would either feel like our enemy, in the way he was treating us, or he would be in a heap on the floor sobbing, crying out: “If there’s a God, why wouldn’t He change me? God won’t do anything. I’ve asked Him so many times.”
Jeff: There were so many days, where he had that conflicting spirit in him, where he would do something that was really, really hard—whether it was verbal or physical—then, later, screaming out, “I don’t—
Sarah: —“I don’t want to be this way. Help me, help me, Lord, not be this way.” It’s heartbreaking, as a parent.
Ann: Oh, I would sob!
Sarah: Oh, I did; years after years, I sobbed and sobbed. It created this tension in us, as parents, of feeling: “I hate this behavior! It’s so hurtful!” It would exhaust us, and yet we felt heartbroken for him at the same time.
Ann: —because he hates it too.
Sarah: Exactly. I remember this one night—it was a long, long battle with him. I was in his room with him for, at least, an hour-and-a-half/two hours. At that point, you’re just physically and emotionally depleted; because it’s like an all-out war.
He just fell down; I think he ended up yelling out, “I want to stop, but I just can’t!”—which is a frequent phrase of his. I said: “Ben, I know you do. That is why the only thing I can offer you is the Savior; because I can’t make you stop, either. But I know He’s powerful enough to meet you here. He is greater than this.”
I had said that before, but there was something different about that night. He just fell into a heap on the floor, and he started crying. He said: “I want that! I want that! I just don’t know how.” I talked him through what Christ has done for us, which we had talked to him about so many times.
I made it really personal for him; I was like, “I know you feel”—deep down, he feels such shame for what he has done, and what he does do, and how he comes across, and the ways he has hurt us; he carries that. I talked to him about how Christ covers that shame, and Christ has taken that on the cross, and He offers it to him.
He ended up giving his life to Christ that night. You could just see the joy beaming on the kid’s face. It was like he had just been given the best gift he could ever have.
I think what’s really neat for us—that’s been a gift from the Lord, because he still struggles neurologically—there were times where I’m like, “How do I believe that he’s really been changed?—because I still see these awful things coming out.” But he never once mentioned Satan again. He, after that, has truly desired to grow in the Lord; he wants to do Bible study with my dad. He wants to serve in AWANA as a little AWANA leader. When he is in those good moments, he just thrives. Then, he comes home and struggles in an incredibly intense way.
There’s that constant battle that’s still going on—that we cry out for freedom for him—because there are many days he just doesn’t want to go on in it anymore. But we, now, have this hope that we can keep pointing him to: “There is a day where this is going to end.” And what a hope to have, because I can’t guarantee that’s going away in his lifetime.
Ann: I love your honesty, your authenticity, and your rawness in your book. And even, Jeff, you talk about learning how to lead your family. You have this honest prayer in there, like: “Lord, how can I lead my family when I feel so weak?”
Jeff: Yes; I felt that, and I still feel that, in a tremendous way—both for leading Sarah and leading my kids—feel my inadequacies greatly. I think, through these trials and these storms that we have faced, God continues to strip layers away. By His grace, strip away the pride that’s in me/the self-righteous attitude that’s in me, and reveal more of Himself to me.
I think that has been one of His greatest gifts—is through all of this—now, that perseverance in me/endurance that He has truly, and still is, certainly, growing in me to lead and lay down my life in a whole fresh, new way that I wasn’t doing before.
Bob: There are three people we have not talked about yet; and they are Eliphaz, and Bildad, and Zophar. [Laughter]
Sarah: Oh, those three.
Jeff: They are not our kids. [Laughter]
Ann: You mean my neighbors?
Jeff: Those aren’t the other three. [Laughter]
Bob: Those are Job’s three friends in the Book of Job who, at the beginning of the book, are amazing friends to him—who then turn into not-so-great friends, right? [Laughter] I’m thinking about them because, for you guys to go through what you’ve gone through, you have to have a network—a community/some amazing friends—who have come alongside. If you’ve tried to do this without that, I don’t know how you make it.
When did you realize: “Without community/without people, who we can lean on, we’re not going to survive this,”—do you remember?
Sarah: That was probably part of another aspect of why we felt we needed to move. We were probably about 25 minutes from church, which to some people is nothing; but in a suburban community, where usually if you go to church, you live within five to ten minutes of it. We were trying to be plugged into a Bible study, but it was hard; people didn’t really want to come out to us very much—it was harder to travel on weekday nights—things like that.
We had my parents, who lived in the area, who were God’s provision for us at that time, especially when he was on call; they were on my emergency call 24 hours a day. It did come to the point, where we realized how much we needed the support—not just practically-speaking—but we needed the support spiritually.
Sarah: That has been such a gift. It has made things, that would otherwise be really challenging for us; it’s made it really feasible. The Lord has very graciously provided a few friends, especially, who know the deepest parts of our struggle.
Dave: As you look forward, I sense hope. Part of me is like, “Can that be real?” How do you find hope?—because hope is visceral. You can lay in bed without hope, and you don’t want to get up. And if you have hope, it can drive you/motivate you. Do you have hope? And if you do, where does it come from?
Jeff: I think the biggest thing for me is that hope is not something that I can just find on one day and allow that to carry me through this life. For me, and I know for Sarah as well, the biggest thing that we can do is start our day in the Word—and not let it just be a one-time morning and then close the book—but “What does that look like of trying to carry that out through our day and being more intentional in our prayer life?”
Not that we are certainly perfect on any of those fronts—but wanting God’s Word to be what is central to our life and our marriage. It is a daily being brought back to His truths and remembering. And then, reflecting in our own marriage—remembering His faithfulness—so when we do face the next storm, recalling to our mind how He brought us through the last one.
We don’t have all the answers; but yet we know He is faithful, and He is good. Through that, if we can walk with that endurance and that persevering spirit—it’s only by His grace that we are here today and still somewhat liking each other—right? [Laughter]
Sarah: Usually. I’m going to actually—what you just said is in the Bible; it’s in
Dave: Gee whiz! Look what I just pulled up on my—
Bob: Is that what you pulled up?
Sarah: Yes; that’s one of the pinnacle verses that have been for me, that: “…through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
That’s really been a very clear picture of what the path has looked like. It has been one storm after another, but we can see how God has grown our endurance through each one. Now, we respond differently to each one when they come. The hope comes from the endurance; then we see the character of Christ growing in us. That is what fuels that hope, is that we see that He is active and alive in us, which means He’s doing something through this. We don’t have to know the end of the story.
Bob: How is your marriage better today than it was five years ago?
Sarah: It’s totally different. I would say we got along with each other; but we had to be surface, because it was all we could handle. The Lord took us through quite a tornado—I don’t know: maybe a couple years ago or a little less than that—where He allowed all those feelings to surface and things to come to the surface that we had pushed to the side for too long. That was probably the lowest point in our marriage, that we didn’t know if we could go on from that.
What I remember very clearly is I had a strong desire for Jeff to be able to know and understand what I had been going through. I kept trying to explain it to him in so many different ways; it never got anywhere. The Lord finally brought me to the point—we have a chapter in the book that says, “You Can’t Change Your Spouse’s Heart”—that, I think, to me, has been the most pinnacle realization in our marriage. As soon as we start looking to each other to think the other person’s the solution to our problem, we always go nowhere good.
Sarah: As soon as we turn our eyes to Christ and His Word, which is what we started doing, we realized, “We are not going anywhere good by trying to change each other or convince each other to see our position here.” I started going to the Word and praying honestly: “Lord, I feel like I need Jeff to see these things. To me, it seems like it would help if he could understand and enter into this. But I have to trust that You know what he needs to see more than I need to. I need to fix my eyes on You more than I need to fix them on him.” He started doing the same thing.
All of a sudden, our conversations became just a little more fruitful. They weren’t easy; we had to go through really hard conversations and deal with some really, really challenging things. But we started to grow trust in our relationship again. We started to see the other person, not trying to change us, but seeing that they honestly wanted to grow themselves, which pulls you together/draws you to each other.
That increased, and there was some really awesome things that God did. It was like He just blew walls down in an amazingly short time for something of the things we had going on for a really long time. It was really His grace. He started to restore our trust in our relationship. He started to teach us to communicate better about things that we didn’t want to have to tell each other. It affected all parts of our marriage—intimacy, obviously, was a hard part, too—that began to grow in the trust area. That was a really sweet, clear evidence of God holding on to us.
He doesn’t want us to stay just surviving; He wants to grow us. He wants us to be in a place, where we are thriving in Him. We can’t thrive in our marriage unless we’re thriving in Christ.
Bob: What you described—around here, we call that “going vertical”—isn’t that what we call it?—right? [Laughter]
Dave: I hope so!—vertical marriage.
Dave: That was/I mean, as you were saying that, yes; that is a beautiful description of what it means—“I’m not going to find life from my spouse,”—although, that’s good—
Sarah: Yes, it’s a gift!
Dave: —I can find good things—“But I can only find real life from Christ.”
I’m not kidding—sitting here, listening to you, [and] reading your book—you model that.
Ann: You’re inspiring.
Sarah and Jeff: Thank you.
Dave: It should give other families and couples—and even single people that are going through a storm—hope.
Bob: I’ve got to squeeze this in—because when you asked about hope—and you guys both went to Romans 5—I went somewhere else; I went to Lamentations 3. I have to read it; it says: “This I call to mind; therefore, I have hope,”—so what do you call to mind when you don’t have hope?—“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul; therefore, I will hope in Him.”
You guys are a great illustration of that. Your book is so helpful in that regard. We’ve got copies of your book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Thank you for being here, and for sharing your story, and bringing us in on the inside of it.
Sarah: Thank you so much.
Jeff: Thanks for having us.
Bob: I want to bring in David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife®, who has been listening in on our conversation this week as we’ve been talking about the challenges you guys have gone through. I think a lot of our listeners were probably nodding their head, thinking: “We’ve had our own challenges. Our marriage has been through storms, and that can be discouraging.”
David: Yes. It is a normal part of life on this side of heaven. At minimum, the challenges are an invitation from God to trust Him and know Him more intimately.
I’ve been listening to Jeff and Sarah’s story. It’s been surfacing for me the value of learning how to lament well. It reminds me of another conversation we had on FamilyLife Today with Steve Argue, when he said, “The enemy of faith is not doubt; it’s silence.” Difficult life situations and circumstances can introduce doubt about God’s goodness and His power. That’s not always a problem. The problem is when we don’t process those doubts, and we just try to stuff them and ignore them.
A third of the Psalms are psalms of lament. Lament is expressing raw and honest prayers to our sovereign and compassionate Abba Father. It’s a form of worship that I’m grateful Jeff and Sarah have modeled really well.
Bob: Thank you, David; that’s helpful. I hope our listeners will get a copy of Jeff and Sarah’s book, Together Through the Storms. It’s a book we’re making available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners. We think this is such a helpful book; we want to provide it to anybody who can make a donation to help with the ongoing support of this radio program and all that we do, here at FamilyLife.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to introduce you to a couple who were deep in debt—I mean, deep in debit with no clear path out—and yet they found a path. They decided to take the debt issue seriously. We’ll introduce you to Brian and Cherie Lowe, and they’ll share their story with you tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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