When Ken first entered the insurance field, we went without any incoming salary for five long months. We drained our savings, racked up credit cards, and I panicked daily. Novices to such financial lack , we felt a sense of drowning and despair. He never did make any money with that first company, but unexpectedly, another company granted him an interview, hired him and immediately started him with a generous salary.
I nearly said a permanent, earthly good-bye to Ken at the age of 27. A rare form of pneumonia reduced a previously healthy man to a condition of total life support, hovering between life and death for several weeks. Every day I faced the possibility of widowhood and all that meant. God chose to spare Ken’s life and restore his health, in time.
When you read these two stories of hard times in my life, some of you might be tempted to say, “Well, I’m sorry you experienced those things, but let me tell you about MY hard times.” Maybe you ARE a widow or widower. I suspect some of you, in the past or present, experienced much more severe and long-lasting trials than the two above. There are also countless other challenges and mountains that some of you are living through, which will never touch my life.
Regardless of who wins the “my suffering is greater than yours contest,” some people like to engage in, everybody experiences measures of setbacks, roadblocks and destruction. We cannot understand fully, the depth of pain and sorrow a problem brings to each unique individual. Our temperaments, upbringing and past experiences are all different. Something that might flatten me, you may chug through quite quickly. Here are some strategies I’ve learned to help me respond more like the mind of Christ than the flesh of Sharon!
Assess your behavior. Be honest with self-examination. There needs to be an admittance of a problem before it can be solved. I usually get rather snarky and easily irritated when I think I’m handling something, and I’m not. Run your behavior, over the last week, through the Galatians 5:22 filter. Quietly before God, ask him what qualities you’ve not been consistently demonstrating. You may discover you are angrier, more frustrated, fearful, worried, etc. about a situation than you acknowledged. Recognize the truth of where you are because the truth absolutely does set us free.
Stop berating yourself for your reactions. I’ll say things to myself like, “I shouldn’t be this upset about this.” But, I AM that upset. It’s so much better to acknowledge what your genuine feelings are than to try and pretend they aren’t there because they don’t seem very spiritual! Then, instead of scolding yourself, repeatedly, for reacting to things in ways you know aren’t right, you can move on to the next step.
Confront root emotions. Lots of times I don’t respond rightly to life’s challenges. Christ wept over sorrowful situations several times and became quite angry at others, so don’t think we can’t respond with genuine emotion. We need to! The problem is when we drift from righteous emotions and responses to unrighteous ones like fear, worry, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, rage, and even desires for revenge.
Our souls are like a pot of soup with some burned matter way down at the bottom of the pot. Often, we don’t realize that stuff is down there until the fire becomes hotter, bringing the taste of the black stuff all the way up through the whole pot of soup. That’s okay! We need to figure out what that burnt stuff is down there, so we can deal with it.
When we don’t respond in a righteous way to unholy circumstances, there’s usually some junk hiding out in the corners of our hearts. That’s why God allows the heat to go up, to expose it!
Realize God desires to purify us through trials. As much as it pained Job and still bothers us, God is far more concerned about our character than our comfort. He is unwilling to allow us to remain stagnant or worse, backslide. The creator is continually sending circumstances and people our way to provoke those parts of our character that are weak and underdeveloped.
Accept that God allows our trials to advance the kingdom. Job didn’t possess a clue that his story would inspire, comfort and challenge millions through the centuries. We can become so immersed in our situation we lose sight of the fact that God will redeem and use our pains and sorrows to help others get through theirs. Beyond God himself, the best comforters are those who say, “I’ve been in a similar spot, I’m praying for you. Is there anything I can do to help?” You don’t know but that God will use your victories to help keep someone else from totally wrecking their ship on the rocks of hard times.
Next time, I’ll share some more strategies for maintaining your joy and peace amidst hellish conditions. For now, may I encourage you with one more strategy which helps me consistently? Identify someone in deeper waters than yourself. When you are tempted to keep rolling the details of your circumstance over and over in your head, stop. Hand it over to God again and turn your attention to the needs of someone else. Pray for them fervently every time you are tempted towards a negative emotion stemming from your challenge. It works, and it demonstrates faith to God. You are trusting him to handle your stuff while you concern yourself with another’s needs.
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16