Kristen Clark & Bethany Beal: When Life Spirals Downward–Who am I?
Pummeled by disappointments, we can lose sight of who we are; who God is. On FamilyLife Today, Dave & Ann Wilson host authors Kristen Clark & Bethany Beal, who get real about looking for God in deep grief.
About the Guest
Pummeled by disappointments, we can lose sight of who we are; who God is. Authors Kristen Clark & Bethany Beal get real about looking for God in deep grief.
Kristen Clark & Bethany Beal: When Life Spirals Downward–Who am I?
Kristen: “What do I believe about God?”—I think that's the biggest question—is our identity starts with what we believe about God/who we believe God truly is. Because when the fires come, when the valleys come, when the trials—the unfulfilled longings/the prayers that seem like they're unanswered; and we're praying them year and year on end, and nothing is changing—really, it puts to the test: “What do we actually believe about God?”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So 30-plus years ago, when we moved to Detroit to be the Detroit Lions chaplain,—
Ann: I remember that.
Dave: You remember that; you were there.
Ann: I was there. [Laughter]
Dave: —I remember being really excited: NFL team, new city, new ministry. I remember—
Ann: —done with seminary; yes.
Dave: Yes, I just finished seminary; and “Here's what God had for us.”
I remember our buddy, Pat Richie, was just named the San Francisco 49ers chaplain—good friend of mine—and I said, “Dude, you're going to like the losingest team ever! [Laughter] I feel so bad for you, man. The 49ers are terrible; they're never going to win anything.” Well, 30-plus years later, Pat Richie has five Super Bowl rings. [Laughter]
Bethany: Oh, no.
Ann: But you’re not bitter.
Dave: And I have zero.
Bethany: No! [Laughter]
Dave: I have one playoff win in 33 years. I'm just telling you that was not part of my plan; I thought: “I'm going to go to a team that's going to win. It's going to be just: ‘I'm going to be a Super Bowl winning chaplain.’”
Ann: This really bothers you; doesn't it? You bring it up often. [Laughter]
Dave: I just can't believe that was what God had for us. Now, it's over; and they're still losing. They can't blame the chaplain—because they used to blame me—that I wasn't a good enough chaplain. But no; the reason I thought of it is so many of us have stories, where: “Here's what my plan is…Why isn't God matching up?”; and it seems different.
We have Kristen and Bethany back in the studio with us, who wrote a book called Not Part of the Plan. It's exactly what so many of us have experienced. So anyway, welcome back; we really enjoy having you guys back at FamilyLife Today.
Kristen: Thank you.
Bethany: Thank you so much.
Ann: We listened yesterday/we've kind of gotten into their stories a little bit.
Dave: I’ve got to notice. You did laugh when you heard how many games we've lost in Detroit. [Laughter]
Bethany: I was just thinking of all of the rewards you have in heaven for serving the Lord!
Dave: Oh, is that what it is?
Ann: Or else they’re Cowboy fans, and they can't relate to what you said.
Dave: They are from Texas.
Bethany: We are more basketball girls; you know, being from the tall family—6’ 1” and all—we're kind of more the basketball—
Bethany and Kristen: We love the Spurs.
Dave: Yes, I get it.
Ann: Well, Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal are sisters; and they have a ministry together. You've written five books;—
Dave: —[ministry] called Girl Defined, by the way.
Ann: You have a podcast; you speak around the country; you do conferences. You really are having a ministry.
How would you/if you had to say it quickly: “What does this ministry do?”
Kristen: Yes; we help girls and women, all over the world, discover God's design for their womanhood—
Dave: Yes, I saw one of you—
Kristen: —in a nutshell.
Ann: That's good.
Dave: —I saw you guys talk on one of your podcasts, or YouTube, and you had a sweatshirt on that I still remember. I know I'm going to get the exact phrase wrong, but it defined what I think Girl Defined is. Tell me if I'm right; it said: “The One who designed you should define you,” or something like that.
Bethany: Ooh, ooh.
Kristen: Look at you!
Bethany: Our bestselling shirt: “THE ONE WHO DESIGNED YOU GETS TO DEFINE YOU.”
Ann: It’s because he’s a pastor, and he wordsmiths—
Kristen: “The one who designed you gets to define you.” [Laughter]
Dave: Say it exactly how it is.
Kristen: “The one who designed you gets to define you.”
Kristen: So we feel extremely passionate at Girl Defined not to water that down—not to be afraid/not to be ashamed—because Christ, obviously, is our strength/He is our boldness. We want other women to know: “It doesn't matter if you feel so weak, Christ/He is your strength. He is strong when you are weak, and you can follow Him/you can live for Him. That's truly where true purpose, and peace, and worth, and value is found.”
Aren't all of us looking for that in so many different places, and striving after whatever it is?—because we want to have value/we want to have worth. Our entire ministry is just focused on that, like: “There is God. He loves you so much, and He has a plan for your life. But He also has so much to say in His Word that is extremely clear. We're confusing ourselves by, like: ‘Did He really say…?’ And then we wonder why life is so confusing. It just goes back to basics.”
Ann: And yet, you’re also saying that, when you follow those ways, that's where you'll find freedom;—
Ann: —that's where you’ll find meaning; that's where you'll find hope.
Dave: Yes; let's talk about the identity piece that you just brought up a little bit. Because, as we talked yesterday, Not Part of the Plan is all about how His plan didn't match up with your own plan. I mean, we've experienced that, too—I mean, I’m making a joke about the Detroit Lions—but in real life, there's hard things that we struggle/we go through the dark; we're angry.
We talked yesterday about miscarriages/infertility. You [Bethany] get pregnant, where you're [Kristen] on your third miscarriage. There's anger; there's disappointment. Talk about understanding your identity.
Dave: The Designer defines you in the middle of tragedy; because it feels like, if you don't know that, you're in trouble; but if you do, you can walk through it.
Ann: —because the tragedy will define you.
Kristen: Oh, yes.
Bethany: Oh, yes; well, and I think we also believe the lie that, if we are following God, that life will be easy.
Bethany: We think: “If I put my identity in Christ, and then everything is going to go my way,”—kind of like God is a vending machine. And you see a whole movement of people leaving the faith, based off of that, like: “Oh, you know, this was so damaging to me. I saved sex for marriage; I never got married,” and “Look; now, you know, I didn't get that thing I wanted.”
We kind of view God through this lens of: “I put this in; He gives me this out.” Life can be so disappointing when we view God through that way. I know that was so hard for you [Kristen], dealing with that, like, “God, are You even good?”; you know?
Kristen: Right, right; because in my mind, the good life was to have children—just have biological children—to start a family with my husband. That was my dream—that the Bible calls children a blessing—so I'm thinking, “God, I'm praying a biblical prayer here. Why aren't You answering?” and “Then, when you give me this desire, I get pregnant; then you just take it away.”
It really tested my identity, like: “What do I believe about God?”—and I think that's the biggest question—is our identity starts with what we believe about God/who we believe God truly is—because when the fires come, when the valleys come, when the trials—the unfulfilled longings/the prayers that seem like they're unanswered; and we're praying them year and year on end, and nothing is changing—really, it puts to the test: “What do we actually believe about God?”
I know, for me, after my third miscarriage, which I thought for sure that one was going to stick—the pregnancy was so healthy—saw the heartbeat at 8 weeks. My doctor was saying “Wow, everything looks great.” Hormones/everything was on track; and so, for the first time in my entire marriage—it was eight years at this point; had those two early miscarriages—I started to hope. I started to think, “This is the one that's going to stick.” I was still a little hesitant to fully go there. I didn't want to think about names, because I was too scared. I didn't want to think about baby showers. I’m just like taking it one day at a time, but I started to hope.
And so, when I opened up my heart to hope again, and then at 11 weeks, I went into my doctor’s appointment—and she said, “I'm so sorry; there's no longer a heartbeat,”—that news hit me like a gut punch to my chest like nothing ever had. I went home—and I remember my identity was shaken—because what I started doing is questioning everything I knew about God. It didn't/it wasn't so much about me; but: “God, who are You? Why would You allow this to happen? You say You're good in Scripture, but there's nothing good about this. You say you're kind; this is cruel.”
And what I was doing was filtering God's character through the lens of my circumstances rather than filtering my circumstances through the lens of God's character; right? Did you catch that?—such a difference. Everything I was feeling—the real loss, the real pain, the grief—I grew up in church; I was a believer from a young age. I just remember feeling almost scared, like, “Where am I going to land?”—like—“I don't even know how to process this,” and “Who is God?”
I know, from my heart, what I had to do to remember my identity in Christ and to remember who God was—is I, literally, Google®-searched names and attributes of God: “Who is God?”—because I couldn't even remember. I found a 30-day devotional, basically praying through the names and attributes of God, one day at a time. I knew/I was like, “If I don't do something, I am going to just land in a pit and never get out of this,” and so just one foot in front of the other.
I needed truth to inform my emotions about who God was. I would take one attribute/one name of God for one day, and I would read it; and I would meditate on it. And I would read all of the Scripture that this little devotional had listed out for where to read about that name or attribute of God.
Ann: And where was your heart at that time? At first, were you just doing it because—
Kristen: Yes, just going through the motions,—
Kristen: —feeling almost numb. It's like I didn't even want to open my Bible; because I was so angry at God, that I'm like, “I don't even want to give You the time today. You/how could You say You're good? This is so painful,” and it really was. It was just a step of: “I know, in the depths of my heart, that God is who he says he is. I'm going to try to lead my emotions by His truth, but I don't even know if anything is going to change.”
But it is amazing, when God's Word says that it is living and active; it changed my heart slowly, one day at a time, for 30 days. I am telling you: by the end of those 30 days—I wasn't completely over my grief or the loss—I mean, the longing: it’s still there; it was still painful—but my soul was revived.
Ann: Did it take you awhile for the feelings or the emotions to come back?
Kristen: Oh, yes; yes—for like the love for God—I would say, after 30 days of just reading about who God is, and His character, and asking God to help me believe that.
Ann: Yes, because you had to lament and grieve.
Kristen: Right; yes, and still; there's a healthy process of that. But I think a prayer we can pray—for anyone who's in the midst of that valley—is just to say: “Help my unbelief! I don't even want to believe this about You, but this is who You say You are. And You even say that You can turn my ashes into beauty, that You can make good out of what feels so bad.”
You see all of these stories in Scripture, where God has done that; but for your story, you're like, “I don't know if that's true. I don't know if God can do this.” I just remember even praying, “Help my unbelief! Help me to believe that You are who You say You are.”
God wants to answer those kind of prayers, and He did over many weeks/many months. It's a long journey; it's not an instant fix—but God, He does draw near to the brokenhearted, even when we don't feel it—I know, looking back now, He was never far away.
Ann: And that's where you found your identity in the midst of crisis.
Dave: Well, here's a question from a husband: “Talk to us guys”—who are maybe watching our wife, sister, mother—“but I'm thinking of our wife, go through something like that,”—and then, and again, I'm not saying we're not going through it; but we're just your partner—“how do we/what's/what can we do? What shouldn't we do? What should we do to help a woman go through something that's dark?”
Ann: What do you think, Bethany?
Bethany: I mean, now that I have personal experience—I wish I didn’t, but I do—I think you know, me and my husband, it hasn't been that long for us; so we are still having those conversations. There's still a lot of moments that are just very hard and raw.
But we were just talking the other day. I was saying: “It's hard because the woman is the one who physically”—with a lot of these; at least, pregnancy losses, that sort of thing—“she's physically going through it. And there are regular monthly reminders like, you know, your dream is not a reality.
I think, for me, it's been very important to communicate to my husband what is helpful; because he is so loving, and he wants to be there for me, but he doesn't always know exactly how. Because he might bring it up, and I might just burst into tears. So he's like, “Should I bring it up?” “Should I not bring it up?”
We've had those conversations, like, “Hey, it's really, really helpful for me, especially when we're at home in a safe, private setting, for you to ask me about my heart: ‘How are you doing?’ ‘How are you feeling?’—you know—‘What are your thoughts?’ just to really dig in and show me that he cares in that way and that he still feels. Because, for him, he does think about it/he does care; but he often isn't expressing it in the same way that I am. So I wonder/I'm like, “Does he even care anymore? Has he just moved on? Are we on to the next thing?”
Or we'll talk about, you know, with friends, what the past year looked like. I'm like, “The biggest things in my year were that we had two miscarriages. Like that was the hardest thing that happened that was, you know, when we're talking about like [mimicking a teacher-like voice]: “Well, it was/you know, I am done making an interesting year.” And I'm like, “Yes, but we lost two babies.
Ann: Yes; “Why aren’t you talking about our babies?”
Bethany: So it's really important for us to communicate about that; and for me to tell him, like, “I need to hear how you feel. I need to hear what you're thinking. I need you to ask me, especially in private, how I'm feeling. And to just know, like one week I might be doing great; and I'm like [excited voice]: ‘This is amazing. I have all these dreams, and ambitions, and hopes; and I'm going to do all this stuff.’” And he's like, “Wow, you know, you're doing better.”
Ann: “You’re over it.”
Kristen: Yes, yes.
Bethany: But then the next week, it comes crashing down.
So just explaining that to him. I know that can be hard for us, as women, to open up. We just want our husbands to kind of magically understand us sometimes, and to know our feelings and our emotions. But for me, I've realized I really need to open up and communicate that to him; because he does love me, and he does care about me.
I think that's true for so many husbands, especially those that are listening right now, who are saying: “I want to love my wife well,” “I want to love my family well.” I think just asking her: “How can I love you through this? How can I support you through this? When do you want me to ask you about this? How can I communicate in a way that helps you to know I do care?—that I may not express it in the same way you do, but this impacts me, too; I am sad.”
And just communicating about that, I feel like has drawn the two of us so much closer together; and I know that he cares, and that he thinks about it. And he knows now when to ask me about it—you know, if we’re like the middle of church or the middle of a friend’s house—he's like, “Hey, babe, you know, how are you doing with the miscarriage?” and I'm like [tearfully], “Aww, please not now!” [Laughter] So communicating about that has been really helpful for us in our experience.
Dave: I mean, that was like a clinic—the last couple minutes—to a guy. I'm thinking: “There's some guy, just was handed from his wife, ‘Hey, listen to this podcast.’ He's like, ‘Oh.’”
One of the things you said, Bethany, was: “Ask me how I'm doing.” Here's what I thought—because Ann said to me/said that to me, in good times as well as dark times—she said, “If we go on a date—if you just looked across the table and said, ‘So how are you?’—she goes: “I might tear up, because you don't ask me enough.”
I'm like: “I sort of don't want to know. [Laughter] I'm hoping you're fine”; right?—like: “We're good; right? Okay; good. Let's go to a movie.” Sometimes that's what we want to do to avoid it. But it was just like—in the darkness, for sure—but even in the times that things are good, it’s like: “Honey, how are you?” and “How are we?”
Dave: Is that something you would say, Kristen?
Kristen: Yes, yes. It's so interesting, after the first miscarriage, we were two years married—and still have a long way to go in our marriage, just growing and learning and understanding each other—but we learned after that first one that the way a man grieves and the way a woman grieves is so different. I felt a lot of the same things that Bethany just described, like I felt like he was moving on pretty quick. Later on, as we dug deeper, and I was feeling pain from his/almost like he was avoiding the topic, not bringing it up; and he's/and he just honestly said, “I just felt like, every time I brought it up, you would cry; and I didn't want to make you cry”; right? And so, just like Bethany said, that communication.
Then, as the wife, being okay with your husband grieving in a different way than you. I started feeling a little bit bitter in my heart, I remember, toward my husband; because I wanted him to express his grief in the same way. Because then, that would communicate to me: “Oh, he's grieving just as deeply.”
But we had many heartfelt conversations; and he just said, “You know, I mean, think about a typical week, like you probably cry more than me just in general,”—thinking, “That's probably true. I cry 20 times/maybe 100 to your every 1. You [male] cry once a year; I cry 100 times a year, just for whatever is going on in life.” So it's true; we grieve differently. And I had to learn to be okay with that.
I know, for women, that can be hard; because we want to see a certain thing and feel like, “Okay, we're on the same page”; and if it looks different, we feel like we're disconnected. So communication was huge for us as well.
Dave: And is there a way—you shared earlier about you sort of digging out by studying the attributes of God over 30 days by yourself—is there a way, as a couple, when you're going through something hard together, you can dig out together? What/what thoughts do you have on that?
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal on FamilyLife Today. We'll hear Bethany’s thoughts in just a second; but first, as you can imagine, we've had to make some tough choices, again, this year, like everybody else. We're hoping that, through the generosity of people, like you, we can continue to reach your home and all the homes that need help and hope for the relationships that matter most.
This is an especially unique and critical time of year to donate; because we've had some friends of the ministry come alongside us and offer to double your monthly gifts, for 12 months, up to $300,000 when you become a monthly Partner right now. And on top of that, when you give this month, as our thanks to you, we'll send you a bundle of resources, including two books: one, Not Part of the Plan by Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal, whom you've heard from today; and two, A Lifelong Love by Gary Thomas.
So become a monthly Partner; have your gift doubled for a year; impact families for the glory of Jesus; and get a bundle of books. Sounds great to me. You can give right now at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 1-800-358-6329; that's 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, now, back to what couples can do as they go through tough times together.
Bethany: I mean, for the two of us, my husband is incredible at leading us in prayer. That's something I'm really grateful for, and something he's done from the beginning. Throughout this time, he's been amazing in the morning/in the evening. It doesn't have to be long, drawn-out hour sessions of crying out to God, but just praying and trusting our future.
Also, just him leading us and reminding, like, “Hey, look we have our little son Davey; and this is so amazing.” There's just even bringing those bright spots/like remembering there are some joyful things going on.
But I would say for us, personally, him leading in prayer and not being awkward about it/not being weird about it, just saying, “Hey, let's do this. Can I pray for us? Can I pray for you? Do you want to pray?” That's been really, really helpful.
Then something else we just started that's been really helpful in connecting the two of us is we're going through just a year devotional. It's not a huge commitment; it's shorter. We have a toddler, so our times alone for Bible time together aren't that long. Sometimes, the toddler jumps on the head in the middle of it; and it's fine. But it's really simple, very short commitment.
We're doing one by Tim Keller through the Psalms, and it's just a great way to bring up conversation. The Psalms are/have so much emotion in them; so it's been amazing just to see like, wow, emotion is good; but the psalmist and the songs/they always go back: “But God/but God is our strength,” “But God is good; He is our refuge.” And so that, in particular, going through a year devotional through Psalms has been so healthy and healing. It's drawing us together, reminding us, “Hey, we're in this together; we're on the same team.”
You kind of want to remember there are some good things in life, too; so just having those moments, where we can connect, that's been helpful for us.
But I know you [Kristen] went through an amazing book that really helped you and Zach; right?
Kristen: I know there could be some wives listening, who may think, “Well, my husband isn't an incredible leader;—
Ann: —“and he would never do that.”
Kristen: —he would never initiate.” I think you can initiate in the marriage and say, “Honey, I am struggling. I want to pull together, but I'm struggling to even know how to do that. Can we do something together?”—
Ann: That’s a good way to say it.
Kristen: —and even bringing it up.
I know, for me, I was the one, after the third miscarriage—when we both felt so shattered, and so broken, and confused—we had practice grieving together, so I will say we were a lot better the third time, just navigating that process as a married couple. I remember looking over at my husband and just saying, “I need to do something that's going to fuel my heart/that's going to give me a hope.” Because I was doing the attribute study on my own; but together as a couple, I said, “What can we do? Can we/right now, can we get on Amazon® and buy a book/buy a study?—something that's going to help us, as a couple, know how to walk through this grief together?”
So he literally got on some different Christian websites and started looking up resources for grief. We ended up ordering a book on Amazon, in that moment; came in the next day, and we just started reading it together. We would sit down, and we would just read a chapter at a time. We had had—he took off work, so we had some time—and we devoured that book, I think in like a week, just reading and sitting down, reading a chapter. It was life-giving because it was all about finding hope in the midst of loss/in the midst of a tragedy. And us reading this gospel hope together, as a couple, and then talking about it and then crying, and working through the emotions, that was so healing for us.
And it really gave us tracks to run on. I know, as couples, sometimes, we feel like we're spinning off in different directions. It brought us together and gave us a clear path of how we could move forward together as a couple.
So wives listening: “Don't be shy to even say, ‘Hey, honey, can we find something that we can go through together? Because I need that.’”
Ann: I thought it was really wise that you were very vulnerable and said “I'm really needing something. I'm really/I'm really struggling here.” Because if we approach our husbands, like, “Hey, here's what we need to be doing,” or “Why aren't you leading me?”
Dave: She never ever did that. [Laughter]
Bethany: Oh, I've never done that either. [Laughter]
Ann: But I think it's wise to say, “I need you right now, and it would help me if we could do something together.”
Dave: And I think, as men, we love to be needed. There's something in us that wants to rescue/that wants to be there. When our wife says, “Hey, you should do this”; we're like “Oh”; but when she says, “I'm needing…”—not “I need you…”—“I need help here.” I think most of us are like, “Okay;—
Ann: “I want to help.”
Dave: —“I want to help, and I can help. I can meet you where you are and take us vertical.”
We wrote a book called Vertical Marriage, which is like take your marriage vertical. I think that is what you're saying. It's like: “Just go vertical.” There’s a lot of things you can do horizontally, and they're good: we can go to a counselor; we can help one another out.
But when you turn vertical, and look up and say, “God, we need You. We need help,”— and when a man leads his wife there, or even when the wife initiates it, something changes; because now, the supernatural is accessed. The Holy Spirit can say, “Okay, I'm going to go somewhere in your heart and your soul that you're not able to get to. I'm going to go there,”—and to go there, as a couple, even though it's hard.
And maybe it's a lament together, or even an angry prayer; but if you go together, something intimate happens. It's deeper than anything, because you're going through something hard together. But when you do it together, vertically, He meets you right there.
It could be prayer. I know for Ann and I, when she was going through the death of her sister, it was putting in a worship song on and listening. There were times she couldn't sing the words but just cried through it; and it was like: “Here we go; we're going vertical, and God’s meeting us right there.”
So I would say to a man that's listening right now—maybe your wife told you to listen today—I'm speaking to you and saying: “Man, you be the guy. You be the man in her life that says ‘Honey, I want to lead you, and I want to meet you where you are. Let's invite Jesus into this and see what He wants to do.’”
Shelby: That's Dave and Ann Wilson with Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal on FamilyLife Today. Let me remind you: you can get their book, Not Part of the Plan: Trusting God With the Twists and Turns of Your Story, when you become a monthly Partner at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you could give us a call at 1-800-358-6329; that's 1-800-“F,” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be talking, again, with Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal about the importance of needing to know the heart of the Creator in order to trust Him. The more you know Him, the more you know yourself, really; because the biblical story is really our story. Join us for that tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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