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Wrestling with Loss

Wrestling with Loss

Mike Fisher, Former NHL Star
Carrie Underwood, Singer and Songwriter

By the age of seventeen, Mike Fisher was drafted into the Ontario Hockey League and, shortly after that, into the NHL. The Ottawa Senators selected him in the second round, forty-fourth overall, in the 1998 draft.

“I made my childhood dream,” he remembers. “I made it to the NHL. I was making a great salary. Everything was great on the outside. But inside I was struggling.”

For so long Mike had focused on doing what he thought God wanted rather than developing a real relationship with Him. And he figured that so long as he did the right things, he’d be right with God. Be a good person — meaning don’t swear, don’t drink, don’t have sex outside of marriage — and then God will like you.

But the trouble with such a rules-based theory of God is that it makes no allowance for temptation, failure, or mistakes — which all of us face at one time or another. That happened to Mike in his first few years of the NHL. “I started partying too much,” he says, “trying to make impressions and making friends in the wrong way.”

As the youngest player on the team, he felt a pressure to fit in with his older peers. But when he gave in to that pressure, the dream that was supposed to give him happiness turned into a source of frustration and ever-increasing guilt. “I knew what was right, but I wasn’t doing it,” Mike recalls.

“That was the worst time in my life,” he says, “when it should have been the best. I was letting people down. I was letting God down.”

Mike’s relationship with God had always been stuck in the just-do-the-right-thing gear and had never made it to a place of deeper love and trust. So when he found himself doing the wrong thing, he couldn’t figure out how to make things right with God.

“I still went to church,” he says of those early years, “but maybe I’d be hungover. I tried to pretend like everything was great. But that’s when I started doing a Bible study with my cousin” — a study that would completely change his thinking about God and about his life.

One day the two of them talked through a passage in the gospel of Mark:

If any of you wants to be My follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow Me. — Mark 8:34 NLT

Those words of Jesus hit Mike hard because they contrasted so sharply with the way Mike was living. He had spent all his energies from an early age in pursuit of one thing: hockey. He’d focused mind, body, and spirit on working toward that success. But success in hockey didn’t lead to him feeling successful with God.

Mike realized that God was disappointed in many of the temptations he’d fallen into. But he also realized that God wanted more than obedience to a set of rules.

What God wanted was Mike’s heart — that part of his life that he’d always held back.

If you give up your life for My sake… the passage continues, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? — Mark 8:35-37

“That scripture was for me,” Mike says. “I had reached my dreams. I had money. But my life just wasn’t working, and I knew why. I hadn’t been looking for life in the right places.”

From then on, Mike began to change. It didn’t happen in a day, a week, or a month. But gradually, over time, God began to reshape Mike’s heart.

“God became real to me,” he remembers. “He changed me on the inside. I started to not worry so much about the dos and don’ts and focused instead on pursuing Him. It wasn’t religion anymore. It was a real relationship. It was awesome.”

Mike would learn to rely on this growing relationship with God when he and Carrie Underwood faced the most difficult challenge of their marriage.

Carrie Underwood first rose to fame as a contestant on season four of American Idol. She hailed from rural Checotah, Oklahoma, and brought to the show a powerful voice and stories of feeding hay to the animals on her family’s farm. She’d grown up singing at local talent shows, community events, and the First Free Will Baptist Church. But by the time she began attending university, she had left behind any serious hope of building a music career. American Idol was to be final confirmation that it was time for her to move on.

She’d go on to dominate the season, ultimately winning the season, and become the show’s most commercially successful artist. She has since sold more than sixty-five million records worldwide and has won countless prestigious awards, including seven Grammy Awards. But if her musical success surprised this small-town girl, so has marriage and motherhood.

“I feel like it has exceeded all of my expectations,” she says. “I never thought about getting married or having a family. I don’t know why. There’s no reason for it. I have great parents and siblings. But I’ve always done very well by myself. So having my own family has been a pleasant surprise.”

Mike Fisher and Carrie Underwood met in late 2008, with the help of a friend. They soon began dating and were married by the summer of 2010. But they spent the early part of their marriage living in different countries — she in Nashville, Tennessee, and he in Ottawa, Canada, playing for the Ottawa Senators.

Mike and Carrie had faith in common. They had both grown up following Jesus. But events in their marriage and family would soon push them into unknown territory.

“It sounds wrong when you say it, but it’s one of those bad things that happens to other people,” Carrie remembers feeling. “It’s not something you ever envision yourself having to deal with.”

It all began when they decided to have a second child.

The couple had announced the birth of their son, Isaiah Michael, in 2015. But then, as Mike puts it, “We wanted him to have a little brother or sister.”

“I am a planner,” Carrie adds. “I like to know what’s happening all the time. So we started planning, and we got pregnant again.”

Just a couple of months into the pregnancy, they lost the baby. They prayed and tried again.
They miscarried again.

“After the second miscarriage, I was frustrated,” Mike remembers.

Then came a day when he spoke to God with raw honesty. It all came out — the pent-up frustration and anger, the confusion about why God would allow this to happen.

“I was wrestling with God,” Mike remembers. “I was the most honest I’d been with Him ever in my life.”

And in that moment God answered him clearly.

“I heard Him, not audibly, but I could sense God telling me that we were going to have a son and his name would be Jacob.”

The name of the man who famously wrestled with God in the Bible,1 Jacob became a promise in Mike’s mind. He was convinced that God would give them another child.

But when Carrie miscarried a third time, Mike began to question. “Was I hearing things right?” he wondered.

Carrie was questioning too. “Where is God?” she remembers asking during that time.

The next day, after Mike left to go fishing, Carrie went up to where Isaiah was sleeping. She crawled into bed with him and had a really honest conversation with God.

“Isaiah is such a happy, loving, wonderful child,” she explains. “I never wanted to complain. I never wanted to seem ungrateful. But I told God how hurt I felt. You feel guilty for being mad at your Creator. But I was angry. I needed to either have a baby or not, ever. I couldn’t keep going down this road anymore.”

In any relationship there are defining moments, points in time that reshape everything that follows. Mike and Carrie both had now crossed one of those points with God. They loved God. They trusted Him. But they also felt anger and frustration. It was the end of the honeymoon phase and the start of something deep and multidimensional.

“I will forever feel like I had that moment with God,” Carrie remembers. “I told Him how I felt, and I told Him I needed something. I feel He heard me.”

“That was the only time in our lives where I think we really wrestled with God,” Mike says. “We weren’t demanding that He give us His blessing, the way Jacob did in the Bible. But we were being honest with Him.”

Then, after three miscarriages in just over a year, Carrie became pregnant again. Jacob Bryan Fisher was born healthy on January 21, 2019.

There was a man in the Bible whose job it was to bring terrible news from God to a people who had lost touch with Him. Their prayers had become empty and hollow. They went through religious motions, but never emotions. They loved the scent and feel of faith rituals but had no real desire for their Creator’s presence. In fact, they kept worshiping false gods.

So God determined to bring His people back to Him, no matter what it took. Granting them blessings had failed, but surely they would listen to calamity. So God told them, through Jeremiah, that famine would come and foreigners would invade the land, taking His people into captivity.

But even in sending this hardship, God was still only shouting His love.

“I know the plans I have for you,” He told them through Jeremiah, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future… You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you… and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from the… places where I have banished you.”2

“It’s so true,” Mike says after quoting the same verse. “We’ve had all these mountaintop experiences in life. I always wanted to play hockey, and that’s what I was able to do. Carrie always wanted to sing, and that’s what she was able to do. But this was the first real valley we went through together. God was asking us, ‘Do you trust My will?’”

It was exactly when Mike and Carrie felt most abandoned by God that He leaned in closest to them.

“When you go through the valleys, you really seek Him,” Mike says. “That’s when you learn and grow. He changes you. We don’t understand everything, and we never will. There’s going to be more heartbreak in our lives. We know it’s coming. But I know God is inherently good.

“I realized my goal of playing in the NHL when I was nineteen, and that was probably the emptiest I’d been as a person. It should have been the best, but it wasn’t. That was because I wasn’t living for God. Apart from a real relationship with God there is no true happiness.”

“There are bad things that happen in the world,” Carrie adds. “But through it all I want the people in my life to know that they are loved by God, that they are wanted. I feel like that’s my job, if I could just make everybody feel that they are loved. God has real unconditional love for His children.”

It’s often in the hard spots of life that we can best hear the love of God. Perhaps that’s why He lets those times come. He’s been shouting His unconditional and unearnable love since the day He created you and me. But we don’t always hear Him until things go wrong and we desperately need Him. Then suddenly there He is, exactly where He has always been.

  1. Genesis 32:22-32.
  2. Jeremiah 29:11, Jeremiah 29:13-14.

Excerpted with permission from I Found Love by Doug Bender, copyright e3 Partners Ministry.

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Your Turn

Bad things happen. We live in a fallen, broken world. But, God is with us! He loves us! And, we need Him so desperately! Are you turning your heart toward Him? ~ Devotionals Daily