In his book, Hope for the Troubled Heart, Billy Graham tells the story of a man who was the only survivor of a shipwreck. He washed up on the shore of a remote island, completely alone. He managed to build a hut on the island for shelter, and he put everything he had saved from the wreck inside the hut. Every day, the man prayed to God for help. He scanned the horizon for ships that might be passing, and waited for rescue. But as the sun set on each passing day, his hope faded a bit more.

One day the man was out searching for food when a storm suddenly came up. From a distant mountaintop, he watched as lightning struck his hut down on the beach, instantly igniting it. He ran as fast as he could, but by the time he arrived back at his shelter, he found it completely burned to the ground, and everything inside was lost.

He was devastated. Now he had absolutely nothing to give him any comfort in the midst of his despair. How could God let this happen to him?

The man sat on the beach with his head in his hands, unsure of what to do. But soon after, he looked up to see a ship approaching the island. When they had brought the man aboard, the captain told him, “We saw your smoke signal and hurried here.”

The man had only seen a burnt hut, but out of tragedy, God brought a blessing. The shipwrecked man fell to his knees to thank God for sending the storm that caused his rescue.

The moral of the story is obvious: sometimes what seems like tragedy to us is actually how God is bringing about the answer to our prayers. It often takes a painful or difficult circumstance to get our attention and to open our minds and hearts to God’s plan and to the truth of His promises.

Of course it’s not easy to believe that when you’ve been dealing with something painful for a long time. Maybe you can relate to the words of David in Psalm 13. It begins,

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

He sounds like a guy who’s ready to give up. He’s crying out to God, “Have you forgotten all about me? Don’t you care anymore?” You have probably wondered that at some point. In hard times, God often seems distant. This is when the words of Psalm 56:8 give us hope:

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

God cares about our pain, our sorrow, our worries, the things we stress about or care about or freak out about. Every bit of it is not only important to Him, but he promises to help us navigate all of those feelings and troubles.

If you’re in the midst of a painful season in your life – it could be a failed relationship, a career setback, financial regret, or something else entirely – let me remind you that this is when you should pray for God to help you see beyond your up-close, momentary struggles, so that you can get a view of the bigger picture of how He might be at work in your life. Your own “burnt down hut” might be a smoke signal of grace in disguise, but you’re too close to the ashes to see it for what it is.

Ask Him for the faith and strength to trust His plan. Philippians 4:6-7 says,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That verse is a promise that God will help you by giving you peace and comfort, and by reminding you that there is always hope. David trusted God’s promise to never leave or forsake his people, which is what gave him the strength to end Psalm 13 the way he did. Just when you think it’s going to be a sad story all the way through – “Am I on my own here, God? Have you tuned me out? Do you even remember me? – he makes a sudden 180 degree turn in verses 5-6:

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”

There’s a picture hanging on the wall in my office of some street art that Banksy created a few years back. The image of a little girl losing her balloon in the wind is a sad one. But the caption says, “There is always hope.” Every time I look at it, it reminds me that even when something that’s meaningful to me seems lost or broken – or when I make a mess in my life that causes pain that is self-inflicted and I have to deal with the guilt, shame, regret and frustration – God has promised to never leave or forsake me. Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always.” He meant that for you too, even when whatever “it” is, is your fault.

So if something in your life has burned down around you and you’re staring at a pile of ashes today, take heart. It may just be the beginning of God bringing about something better, something beautiful, something good. It may take a while. It usually takes longer than we want it to. But if there is air in your lungs, there should be hope in your heart that God is not done writing your story yet.

God has not forgotten you. He has not stopped listening or caring. He has not given up on you. There is always hope.