Category Archives: counseling issues

Top Five Worst Comments Christians Make to Depressed Friends

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I must confess something to you. It may come as a shock in light of my 172 posts over the past 14 months of blogging. My husband would deny it, but it’s the truth: Sometimes I am at a loss for words.

I’ll grant you, it’s not often, but I came across a list on line a year that left me speechless for some time. It was a compilation of actual quotes from loved ones and well meaning folks toward their depressed friend or family member. One quote literally referred to finding a prostitute as a solution! I just sat there thinking….

what…………..in………the…………world??????

 

So after a year of not having anything to say, I now feel compelled to speak on behalf of thousands of wonderful people who battle depression. I see them in my office and I watch them try so hard to figure out why, oh why can’t they just feel/be/get better!? Often one of the greatest sources of discouragement comes from church friends and family members who believe it’s “wrong” to be depressed or that their loved one needs to “get over it.” And can I just say, I have come to assume that usually people do the wrong thing for the right reason. So, my guess is many of these comments were well intended, but poorly expressed. Some reflect a general lack of understanding about depression. Some, a few, are simply hateful.

I am not going to attempt to explain all that factors into depression, as that would be another blog for another day. But I do want to share five actual statements off the list I read that are not helpful, and offer some alternatives.

1. “You’d be fine if you had more faith” & “Watch the Passion of the Christ- that should fix you” The implication in both of these is struggling with depression is an indication of spiritual failure. The truth is depression can be (and often is) caused by physical factors, over which the individual has no control. Just as it is not a sin or failure to have a pancreas that stops producing insulin culminating in diabetes, it is not a failure to have your brain stop producing serotonin, nor-epinephrine or dopemine. Your brain is an organ like any other in your body and in this broken world often are bodies do not work as they were ideally designed. Additionally, we live through trauma and dysfunction in this world that can also cause the brain to quit functioning properly. Neither of these scenarios are necessarily in the control of the depressed person.

Helpful alternative: How can I pray for you? or I am praying for you.

2. “Come on, snap out of it!” or “Just go shopping to treat yourself” The implication is there is a fast and simple fix the person is just not utilizing. The truth is for most depressed people it will take time and a combination of medical, emotional and spiritual interventions to fully recover or manage their depression. We’d all like there to be a simple solution, but often that desire comes from a lack of willingness to suffer with someone for the long haul.

Helpful alternative: How can I be a support to you? 

3. “I’m disappointed to hear that” or “For God’s sake, there was no such thing as depression in my day” The implication is the depressed person should feel ashamed of themselves for their struggle. The truth is you can’t shame someone into feeling well. People are where they are, and while you may not like it, shaming them will not help them because they typically feel like a failure already. One of the most common conversations I have with depressed Christians is about their shame over their struggle. That’s not to say the person may not have contributed to their own depression through choices or sin, just as a diabetic may not be following their doctor’s eating plan. But YOU are in no position to make that judgement. Those realizations must come from God if they are needed.

Helpful alternative: I have struggles and brokenness too! God came to us both in our weaknesses and loves us no matter what. 

4. “We were talking about your depression at small group the other day…” You may as well say, Hey- we all sit around gossiping about you and wondering what’s wrong with you! First of all, clearly, don’t gossip. But secondly, be aware that in many circles in the church, Christians feel like they have a second head if they begin to talk about their depression. People get awkward about it. The last thing they need is the feeling that other people are talking about them behind their back.

Helpful alternative: um, how about we just agree to quit talking about people?

5. “Why don’t you just end it all and put us out of this misery?” or “Go ahead and kill yourself instead of always threatening to!” I can only assume these statements were made out of anger or some misguided attempt to prove to the person they really don’t want to kill themselves. Either way this is dangerous at best and hateful at worst. Never, never tell a depressed person their life is not worth living (they already think it) Never imply your life would be better off without them around (they already believe it). Always speak hope, always speak love.

Helpful alternative: I love you, I care about you even if it’s hard to believe that right now. God loves you and cares about you even if you can’t feel it right now.

If you, or a loved one, struggle with depression and are looking for a place to turn, may I recommend a few resources:

Branches Recovery Center Murfreesboro,TN http://www.branchesrecoverycenter.com

Celebrate Recovery  http://www.celebraterecovery.com

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Saving Sanity – Seven Ways to Make it Through Tough Moments

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imageLet’s face it girls- some days it’s just hard to keep it all together. You know those days where you squeeze into pants that are too snug, after over sleeping by 15 minutes so you get out the door just in time to hit all the horrible traffic, while leaving behind a sink full of last night’s dishes, an unmade bed, wet laundry still in the washer (that will smell funny by the time you get home).
Or days where your kids are totally ungrateful, disrespectful and downright ornery while you are trying to find a way to salvage the dinner you just burned after reading the email that your checking account over drafted because you had unexpected car repairs and medical bills in the same week.And sometimes, even though you know deep down this is not stuff that matters in the big picture of life, it feels like all you can see is Polaroid snapshots, not panoramic views. And it is at precisely these times when you must keep handy a little list of ways to stay sane on days that are not. Here is my list:1. Breathe deep. 10 deep breaths slow and steady. It clears your brain, slows your heart rate, improves your oxygen sat’s and lowers your blood pressure.

2. Laugh. There’s no excuse with YouTube and Netflix to not have something funny to watch. Laughter is good medicine. I personally laugh at my kids, my husband and Brian Regan- my favorite comedian. Ooh and Tim Hawkins singing. And also Strongbad. And Ask-A-Ninja. Or in a pinch, like say if your Internet is down, you can imagine that the squirrels are arch enemies. And some speak in English accents and some in Mexican accents. And they trash talk each other for intimidation. (Clearly I have a lot of days I need to laugh….)

3. Baseball Bat Therapy. This is a fabulous way to get rid of pent up frustration and stress. Get a baseball bat. Find a big tree. Make sure it’s in your yard. Beat the heck out of it. Trust me on this- feels.so.good.

4. Sing to Jesus. On days when what you know to be true, simply doesn’t feel true, worship lets you focus on the only One who can help you reconnect to truth. He is sovereign, He is faithful, He loves you, He has saved you, He is constant, He is working all things together for your good and His glory. I personally have learned if I will sing to Him, really worship Him- it transforms my heart and renews my mind.

5. Talk to Another Woman. When you’re on the brink of completely flipping out over running out of nail polish remover, or your kid’s messy room or a voice mail your mother left you- this is no time to involve men or small children. Only another woman can talk you off that precarious ledge without making you feel completely unfit for human interaction. Some issues in life defy logic. The need to have women in your life who understands and can tactfully, ever so carefully, calm you down is paramount. “You are planning to throw the entire dinner into the front yard and make your family eat it like the wolves that they are? Well, of course, of course. But……they probably won’t eat it, ungrateful savages, and then they’ll be whining about how hungry they are later. Sooooo, maybe just go ahead and serve it to them at the table and go get in the bath while they eat. And, you know, perhaps you should just not speak to anyone until like, oh say, next Tuesday. I mean, just to teach them a lesson, and ahem, prevent any calls to the authorities.”

6. Keep a stash of really good chocolate hidden for these moments. This requires no further explanation.

7. Pray and Journal. Lamentations says to “pour out your heart like water before The Lord” and sometimes I can do this in my mind. But sometimes my mind is so jumbled, it helps to write my prayers down. And even just write down all the stresses and hurts and worries and then pray about them. This is different from worship slightly. While worshipping I focus on who God is.
In prayer I tell Him who I am and allow Him refine, redirect or mold those beliefs so they are in line
with what the gospel teaches me.

So, these are mine. Tried and true. What keeps you sane when life feels crazy?

What it’s Like to be a Christian Counselor- Part 2

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Today has been a heavy day around the office here at Branches. Some intense life situations for clients playing out as we attempt to help them navigate storms. Not every day is like that of course, but today has felt a little extra stressful. I decided to write on just such a day, because it is helpful I think, to be honest that at times, counseling can be hard. Weighty. At these times I take great comfort in this verse…

This sits on my bookshelf in my office to remind me on stressful days, that God is still in control. (and I am not)

One of the distinct differences between christian counseling and other types of counseling, is the use of God’s word in our healing. I have a bible in my office that I regularly use to apply God’s truth to a situation a client is facing. Whether we are talking about boundaries, trauma, death, addiction, relational struggles, parenting or anxiety and depression- God’s word has real truth and real application for my clients lives. Some of my favorite moments are when I am listening to a client share a thought or story, and God brings to mind a perfect verse to help them gain insight or understanding. I know it is God who brings the scripture to mind because: A. ever since giving birth to children my memory is ridiculous and B. Luke 12:12 tells us that the Holy Spirit brings to mind what we should say when we don’t know what to say.

My favorite recovery verse sits framed on a table- it was a gift from a client who found that verse freed her to make some needed changes.

Another highly wonderful part of working as a christian counselor is the fellowship and wisdom I gain from my fellow counselors. I work with very gifted and compassionate people, who love Jesus and want to see His work done in the lives of our clients.

Mike Courtney, who founded Branches out of his own journey into recovery and leads (fearlessly, tirelessly, lovingly) our Branches crew, and Bill Robison, my “office neighbor” who I regularly barge in on to ask his opinion on lots of issues and who is usually watching a sermon on- line at that moment (thanks for always pausing your sermon for me!)
Trish Wilson, one of our LPC’s (Licensed Professional Counselor) who helps me remember my boundaries and encourages me to be gracious with myself and Chandy Powell, my other “office neighbor” and fellow mom of teenage sons- who is a few years ahead of me and who reminds me, “this too shall pass” when needed
Tracey Robison, our Clinical Director and an LPC who left private practice for the world of non-profit, because “God told her to” and who subsequently told me to “quit messing around and come be a counselor at Branches too!” (my paraphrase, but it’s basically true, as she is sometimes known for bossing us like a mama bear) and little ol’ me!
This is Bob Schwartz. Bob does not counsel. If he did he might say things like “just stop it!’  (true story) No, Bob volunteers hours upon hours to simply help Branches manage our finances well and with integrity and with the ability to pay the light bill. There are countless other volunteers like Bob who were not around for me to snap their picture, but who bless all our clients, albeit indirectly.

What it’s like to be a Counselor, Part One

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So what exactly is it like to be a counselor? Do you ever get tired of hearing people talk about their problems? Do you worry about your clients when you leave work? What’s the difference between a christian counselor and a regular counselor?

When I am out in my non-work life and friends, or even people I barely know, find out what I do in my work life, I get questions like these a lot. I am always careful in my answers, but have often thought it would be good to explain some of what I do as a counselor, in case as I suspect, the questions might be a way of deciding if going to a counselor is something a person can feel comfortable doing. This will be a two part blog so as not be too lengthy but get to all the questions. Here is my disclaimer: my experience as a counselor is limited to working in a christian counseling center with a brilliant clinical director, a compassionate boss and gifted, caring coworkers. I have no idea how it might feel to be in private practice or work in an environment where you are judged and criticized or overworked. There are many, many variables that could alter the way any one therapist or counselor would answer these questions. This is my attempt to explain my experience and perhaps show why counseling is a wonderful avenue for receiving help.

So, what is it like to be a counselor? Well first, I’ll tell you my official title: Licensed Pastoral Counselor and Temperament Therapist. (fancy!) It means I am first and foremost in the ministry of counseling and I view my responsibility to my clients as one of leading them toward healing by embracing God’s truth in their lives. It also means I can tell you why you don’t like crowds, love hugs, hate being told what to do, enjoy crossing things off a list or wait to be invited before you join a group- God made you that way!  (explaining temperament, often called personality, is one of my favorite things to do) I suppose the best word I can use to explain what being a counselor is like is sacred. People invite me into their deepest pain, fear, shame, dreams and hopes. I get to walk with them through dark valleys and remind them they will come out on the other side. I rejoice with them when they finally realize, often for the very first time, God really does love them. I feel truly honored to be part of my clients’ journeys. Of course in dealing with broken people there are hard moments. Hard because I am just a safe person on the outside in a sense. I have no control over the choices my clients make, or don’t. No control over the other people in their lives who may be wrecking havoc. And ultimately I am reminded that they are in God’s hands and I know His purpose is to love them and expose their need for Him. So when my clients lives go from hard to harder, I pray for them. Sometimes with them if they are willing.

In a typical day I see between 6-8 clients. I take notes to keep it all straight. I return emails. And I depend on God to guide each session. I aim to be three things to my clients: compassionate, consistent and confrontative. (my brilliant clinical director taught me that!) I do not succeed in these every session, every day- but it’s my goal. It helps that I have something called peer supervision. This is where we allow a group of other therapists to help us stay on track as a counselor. It keeps me honest about where I need to have better boundaries, when I need to choose a different approach with a client who is struggling and on a personal level, make sure I am doing okay so I can do my job. This is a common practice in this industry and also peer supervision is a wonderful biblical concept, as Proverbs says “He who walks with the wise, become wise” and “The way of a fool seems right to him, but the wises listen to advice.” (Proverbs 13:20 and 12:15) If you were in private practice you would have to find other therapists to form a peer group. In my counseling center, it is a monthly group we simply attend as a part of our policy.

The most common question I get asked “Is it hard to listen to people talk about their problems all day?” is easy to answer. No. It’s really not. In fact, I like it. Because as they open up and talk about their problems we work on goals to help them get through them. Not all problems can “go away” but we can set goals about learning to cope and establishing healthy community and growing in their faith. I am so thankful people are brave enough to open up and tell me their problems and hurts. That’s where healing begins. You gotta get all that stuff in the light so you can really look at it. I’m not saying however that sometimes what people share isn’t hard to hear. I care deeply about my clients pain, but I don’t carry it myself. The way I have learned not to worry about clients outside of work is to remind myself God is in control of their life and to pray for them. Plus, I just accept that people are where they are. “Everybody gets to pick” is a truth I have to come believe- it’s okay for people to not do it all “right” and I am not responsible for anyone’s life but my own. This keeps me from worrying for the most part, and while I’m not perfect at that boundary, it gets easier the longer I am counseling.

Just for fun, here’s a tour through my office. Remember, when working for a non-profit, you are thankful for free, cheap and donated!

Welcome to my office! Notice the high tech flyer for the Codependency Group created by yours truly.
My somewhat messy desk with my non-working phone and family photos
My clients view from their seats- a favorite Bible story often called The Emmaus Road. I love it for counseling because often we are wondering where God is in our life, only to discover He’s been walking with us all along.
My view from my chair.
My favorite recovery scripture and because counseling can be hard work, I always have Jolly Ranchers!

Let’s Get Real

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One of the words people from my generation love to embrace is authentic. As in “I’m not fake. I tell it like it is. I don’t wear a mask. I’m real.” We sing it from the rooftops. No faking it. If I feel that way, I’m saying it. In fact, “I’m just sayin'” is a tag line we created as a bookend to end many a verbal commentary on someones outfit, opinion or life. I believe this desire to live authentically originated as a reaction to the “Beaver Cleaver” version of life many of us grew up feeling we should project to the world, when behind closed doors our family was anything but. But like all reactions, this motto of “Be Real” often times goes to an extreme that becomes as destructive as it’s counterpart.

The solution is found in scripture and is very clear. We are instructed to “speak the truth in love” in Ephesians 5:15.  (Knowing truth is of utmost importance, because before I can express reality I need to know I’m grounded in it myself.  Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” so a relationship with Him is the first place to go to begin to understand what reality is.) That is the boundary given to create a safe way to both be real and accept others’ realness. If I speak the truth in arrogance, hate, self-righteousness, carelessness or apathy I am not within the realm of God’s will. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul goes as far as to say that without love, my words have as much meaning as an annoying clanging gong. Kind of like when you go to a restaurant that makes all the employee’s come out to sing for a customer’s birthday, but to quiet the joint they bang a gong really loudly. We have a Chinese restaurant we go to that does this. I try to avoid going if at all possible. 

God always gets to the heart of the matter doesn’t He? He created us to be real, and have a real relationship with Him. No hiding, no faking- just broken me coming to Him accepting His love and being transformed by it. From that place of transformational, extravagant love we receive, we can then offer a new reality to others. I can choose to be concerned about their well-being, since my deepest needs have already been met. I can choose to be patient and kind in my words and actions, since God has been so patient and kind toward me. I can express truth, even if it’s painful to others, with the lens of love in place. Without that, I may be simply be a lot of white noise at best. At worst, I may be part of the brokenness another human has to live through. The truth may create a wound, but the love comes to heal it. Jesus’ death on the cross tells me I am more sinful than I ever knew. (ouch) But it also tells me I am more loved than I ever dared hope. The truth, in love.

Living in Extreme’s

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I woke up today with a scratchy throat. No severe pain but the kind that makes you say, “Oh dear. Am I getting sick??!” This awareness resulted in a little conversation in my head about the wisdom of sleeping longer vs. going to the gym. Sleep won out today. However, the internal dialogue went on longer than you might imagine because the truth is I have fear. Fear of not being a faithful exerciser if I miss a scheduled morning. My fear is based on years of evidence that supports it. In the past, I tended to start strong- sort of a boot camp mentality. Than after 2 weeks, or maybe three, some obstacle would present itself and completely derail all my progress. Until guilt, or the inability to fit into my pants, would prompt me to begin the cycle all over again. All or nothing- never worked for me, always worked against me.

Currently I am approaching my entire goal of faithful exercise from a different perspective. Instead of focusing on some specific number on a scale or size I want to be, or even how many times a week I made it to the gym, I am focusing on being grateful for the healthy body God has blessed me with and from that gratitude, I am responding with steps to be a good steward of this body. Exercise being one such step. Rest, healthy eating (we aren’t discussing that one till January!) and taking vitamins are also part of the overall plan. In the past I was simply too extreme. I am attempting to be more balanced and kinder to myself so that on a day when I wake up with a scratchy throat, I can choose to not work out with no guilt or fear.

I’ve noticed with my women friends, there is a strong tendency to live in one extreme or the other:

Have a picture perfect home, or let it be trashed in despair. 

Look perfectly “fixed” all the time, or never get out of sweat pants and baggy T-shirts. 

Have a quiet time every day, or go months without reading God’s Word. 

We swing back and forth like pendulums, reacting to one extreme by going to the other. In my life, I have found I “swing” more when my motives are trying to impress others or prove my worth. Am I keeping my home clean and organized to be thought of as “so together” by my friends or so that my family is blessed by having a comfortable and inviting place to retreat from the world and rest? Because if it’s the latter, it won’t matter if the house looks ready for a photo shoot at all times and I won’t feel like a failure if the floors aren’t vacuumed or there are dishes in the sink. This applies to every area we tend to be extreme in. Examining our hearts and motives can reveal that we are doing the right thing for the wrong reason, which will never yield a peace and joy-filled life.

The Art of Receiving

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If you have a cute little garden you’d like to nurture, you put a fence up. This design  keeps dogs and dandelions and random neighborhood children out, so that good stuff can grow. But let’s say you aren’t much of an expert in gardening. Or maybe you don’t have a lot of money to buy all the plants you want to make your yard cute. Well, then you put a gate in your fence to open it and let your gardening friends come in and bring you begonias or iris bulbs. And let them tell you how to weed, water and care for your yard. Maybe they’ll even pull a weed or two.This is an excellent system, unless you open the gate to let dogs in, and close it when friends come by to help. Who would do that, you ask?Women. We do it all the time. It’s called having reverse boundaries. We let the bad into our minds and hearts and lives. Then we close the gate when the good comes knocking. You know, a friend tells you how great your hair looks and you say, “No it’s awful” (close the gate) but your child says “Mom, you are looking really old” and you ponder on that statement all day (open the gate). A friend asks how they can help you during a hard time and you say “oh we’re fine- we don’t need anything” (close the gate) but your boss asks if you can work late, without pay, after you are already tired out from a really long week and you say “Sure, no problem” (open the gate)

Part of learning to live well, involves learning when to open and close the gate. Today my focus is on the opening part. God has so much to say in His word about how much He loves us. Often though we won’t even receive God’s love into our hearts because we’re holding on to shame and guilt that was paid for at the cross. After we finally allow God’s love in through accepting Jesus’ gift, God, I believe, reaches out to us through other people He puts into our lives. When people see a goodness or gifting or likable part of you, and they offer some compliment or encouragement, do you know what the healthiest response is: Thank you.

That’s it. Just say thank you and allow the good to come in. Open the gate. It’s amazing how allowing the good in really changes us. (I give this as therapy homework all the time, by the way, so if you take the challenge it’s like free therapy.)

And while I’m at it, let me just say thank you to you for reading my blog! I’m so surprised by how many people have been reading my ramblings, but I am grateful to have a way to share my journey in womanhood with you, and am always excited when you share a bit of yours with me!

Broken

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About eight or nine years ago we went through a very strange season of everything breaking down. When I say everything, I mean it was so excessive we began to keep track of all the things breaking and needing to be repaired- cars, our oven, plumbing, doors, cars again, plumbing again, our trampoline, on and on. It was a list of over 30 items spanning the course of six months. In the beginning it was frustrating, annoying, expensive. Then it became funny (almost) and still expensive. Then it turned maddening. Why was God letting all this happen? One time, we came home from a week long mission trip to inner city Atlanta and our plumbing had thrown up in the bathtub. Cleaning that up, after spending a week in the summer heat made for a lot of grumbling on my part. At some point, I just gave up and accepted it. Shortly after, one morning and I felt God show something to me, in my spirit.
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“You know how things keep breaking and just when you get them fixed something else breaks? You know how you are frustrated and mad and think it’s not fair? That’s what loving people is like. It’s messy and they don’t always stay fixed and you get mad and want to quit. Get ready. Loving people is hard because they are broken.” I have never before or since experienced a season like that. It was the best picture of what I was about to step into as God was in the process of rearranging my security driven suburban heart and calling me into unfamiliar places.I’ve been counseling seven and a half years now. It’s every bit as hard on some days as God was prepping me for. I do get mad at the brokenness. Not so much at the people, but at the darkness around them. The harm they have lived through. The harm they create with their sinful choices. The evil plot Satan is always twisting against God’s creation. The way creation itself just breaks down. Broken.

I long for the day when all is made new. When restoration is final and nothing breaks again. But, in the meantime, I know one thing: Jesus did not come down here and march into the depths of hell and conquer sin and death and rise victorious for me to stick my head in the sand! There is a battle. You and I are in it whether we like it or not. It’s messy and you can’t predict the outcome of each skirmish. Sometimes people stay broken. Sometimes they get better only to break down again. And sometimes there is glorious, shocking victory.

Those moments will take your breath away.

You don’t have to be a counselor to get in the battle. There are hurting people all around you, and they need you to love them, fight for them, believe they can be victorious through Christ.

Tonight I’m in prayer over our city and our country. I am praying for those trapped in darkness. But I’m also praying for those who live in light places, to be willing to enter into the pain of others, to be willing to be inconvenienced and to refuse to live in blissful ignorance.

 

In process…..

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One of the things I say all the time in counseling is “It’s a process.” People usually hate it, because I say it when they are frustrated at how hard therapy is and how long it takes to be better. I also just say it because it’s true. And because my amazing clients need encouragement. It’s a reminder that just because I know something doesn’t mean it always translates in my behavior or thoughts or feelings. It takes a lot of trying and failing to begin living a new way. And sometimes the biggest part of the process is just learning what I didn’t know. All in all, lots of process in the therapy world.

In my real life, it’s not much different. Various stages of “getting closer to being done” all around me. My kids are in the process of growing up, so I’m in the process of letting go. My marriage is in the process of growing deeper, so I’m in the process of learning to love sacrificially. My house is in multiple levels of repaired and broken and needs to be updated. My laundry is in the process of getting caught up after a 2 week absence of working washing machine. My body is in the process of aging and fighting aging. My mind is in the process of being transformed. In all these varied processes I sometimes lose focus. I get distracted by the steps and discouraged by my feelings. This is the verse that gets me back on track, every time:

“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering; becoming like Him in his death and so, somehow to attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10)

As I mentioned in a blog 2 days ago, I’m not part of the tatoo craze sweeping the nation, but if I was I would tatoo Philippians 3:10 on me somewhere. Instead I’ve memorized it, quoted and re-quoted it and claimed it as my life verse. I used to be content to know about Christ- but that doesn’t bring you peace. Or lasting joy. Or a changed life. What I have come to realize is it is ONLY in knowing Christ that I make sense of this world around me. As I experience His love shown through the cross, I understand the need to suffer. As I learn to willingly follow in suffering, I begin to experience power. Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. That was a great day. The crowds were excited to call out for a Savior on that day. Soon after, they would turn on Him, and he would experience His greatest suffering. But 3 days after that, He would display power like the world had never seen. So I attempt to follow the process Christ laid out for me. Join Him in suffering to the point of dying to myself, then watch Him resurrect life in me. Over and over. Until He returns and process is complete.

“He who began a good work in you, will carry it on unto completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6)

Beyond the Storm Closet

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Every spring I enjoy certain traditions. I like to give the house a good cleaning. I start thinking about planting flowers. And because I live in middle TN, I clear out our tornado closet. (This is more a necessity than a favorite.) We happen to live in a very volatile springtime area. In fact, just three days ago we were set to hunker down in our closet, if needed. Which all got me thinking about how we survive the metaphorical storms in our life, that can and often do, come during all seasons.

God’s word has much to say about this, and this is certainly not all of it, but a few things to remember, if you or someone you love is in a stormy season:

1. Don’t try to explain the “why” as a way to prove God’s plan or purpose.
When Job went through his lengthy trial, one of the ways his friends tried to help was to offer their theories on why he was suffering. (They got chastised by God himself for this, by the way.) But, I think I understand their dilemma. When someone we love is suffering, and we watch their discouragement, we want to help them make sense of it all. I think we even feel pressured to make sure God doesn’t “look bad”. So we theorize. We come up with plausible explanations for why this is being allowed.  The main problem with this is: we don’t know why! Isaiah 55:8 tells us that our ways and thoughts are not God’s ways and thoughts. A much better approach is to go back to the cross. At the cross, all issues of God’s goodness and love for us are settled. “He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32) The proof of God’s love for you is found in knowing there was no length He would not go to, in order to create a way for you to come back to Him. If he was willing to sacrifice his own son, then what good thing will he withhold? Our perspective on suffering must be filtered through the lens of the gospel. We may not ever know why- but we can be confident that God loves us and is working for our good and His glory in ALL things (Rom. 8:28).

2. Don’t go through it alone.
So often, we try to ride out the storms in silence, not wanting to bother or burden others. But the bible is clear that we are to “share one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2). When we go through crisis or struggle, often we are in shock. Our thinking is not always clear. We need stronger, loving people around us to guide us and encourage us, until we get back on our feet.

3. Cry out to God.
When the disciples were in the boat and Jesus was sleeping below, and the biggest storm of the season blew in, they cried out to Jesus. Not the most poetic of prayers either- they actually woke him up with the question, “Don’t you care that we are going to drown!?” (Mark 4:37-39) This is what I love about that story- we don’t come to God in our strength to “wow” Him into helping us in a crisis. Just come to Him! In your brokenness, doubt, fear, faithlessness, weakness and vulnerability- cry out! As he did for the disciples, he will do for you. Jesus offers peace that is not based on circumstances. Phil. 4:7 calls this a “peace which transcends all understanding”. That means, it makes no sense, but we experience it all the same. Sometimes, Jesus calms the storm. Sometimes he calms your heart in the middle of it, while the storm rages on. It’s God’s miraculous work, but it is real. I see it all the time in the lives of clients, friends and even in myself.

4. Take care of your own needs.
When we go through a trial or crisis, sometimes we just forget to eat. Or sleep. Or pay bills. (Another reason for point 2- see above). But if we follow Jesus’ example throughout the gospels, we see Him take care of what his body needed to keep going. Sometimes he stopped to rest. Sometimes he sent the disciples to get him some food. He delegated responsibility. He slept and prayed and sent people away when he needed time alone. When you are in a stormy season, set limits on what you can and can’t do. Spend time alone with God. Spend time caring for your basic needs. Ask for what you can’t do for yourself.

The old expression says, “March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb.”  When you are in a trial or storm, remember this: The Lion of Judah has marched into the darkest battle ever waged on your behalf and came out victorious! There is no storm you face God cannot see you through.