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Archive for the ‘Grieving Loss’ Category

Family Wounds Are Slow to Heal

SOURCE:  Max Lucado

Family wounds are slow to heal.

I hope your childhood was a happy time when your parents kept everyone fed, safe, and chuckling. I hope your dad came home every day, your mom tucked you in bed every night, and your siblings were your best friends.

But if not, you need to know you aren’t alone. The most famous family tree in the Bible suffered from a serious case of blight. Adam accused Eve. Cain killed his little brother. Abraham lied about Sarah. Rebekah favored Jacob. Jacob cheated Esau and then raised a gang of hoodlums.

The book of Genesis is a relative disaster.

Joseph didn’t deserve to be abandoned by his brothers. True, he wasn’t the easiest guy to live with. He boasted about his dreams and tattled on his siblings. He deserved some of the blame for the family friction. But he certainly didn’t deserve to be dumped into a pit and sold to merchants for pocket change.

The perpetrators were his ten older brothers. His brothers were supposed to look out for him. Joseph’s next of kin were out of line. And his father? Jacob was out of touch.

With all due respect, the patriarch could have used a course on marriage and family life.

Mistake number one: he married a woman he didn’t love so he could marry one he did. Mistake number two: the two wives were sisters. (Might as well toss a lit match into a fireworks stand.) The first sister bore him sons. The second sister bore him none. So to expand his clan, he slept with an assortment of handmaidens and concubines until he had a covey of kids. Rachel, his favorite wife, finally gave birth to Joseph, who became his favorite son. She later died giving birth to a second son, Benjamin, leaving Jacob with a contentious household and a broken heart.

Jacob coped by checking out. Obstinate sons. Oblivious dad. The brothers needed a father. The father needed a wake-up call. And Joseph needed a protector. But he wasn’t protected; he was neglected. And he landed in a distant, dark place.

Initially, Joseph chose not to face his past. By the time he saw his brothers again, Joseph had been prime minister for nearly a decade. The kid from Canaan had come a long way.

Joseph could travel anywhere he wanted, yet he chose not to return to Canaan. He knew where to find his family, but he chose not to contact them.

He kept family secrets a secret. Untouched and untreated. Joseph was content to leave his past in the past. But God was not.

Restoration matters to God. The healing of the heart involves the healing of the past.

So God shook things up.
All countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands. — Genesis 41:57


And in the long line of folks appealing for an Egyptian handout, look what the cat dragged in.

Joseph heard them before he saw them. He was fielding a question from a servant when he detected the Hebrew chatter. Not just the language of his heart but the dialect of his home. The prince motioned for the servant to stop speaking. He turned and looked. There they stood.

The brothers were balder, grayer, rough-skinned. They were pale and gaunt with hunger. Sweaty robes clung to their shins, and road dust chalked their cheeks. These Hebrews stuck out in sophisticated Egypt like hillbillies at Times Square.

They didn’t recognize him. His beard was shaved, his robe was royal, and the language he spoke was Egyptian. It never occurred to them that they were standing before their baby brother.

Thinking the prince couldn’t understand Hebrew, the brothers spoke to him with their eyes and gestures. They pointed at the stalks of grain and then at their mouths. They motioned to the brother who carried the money, and he stumbled forward and spilled the coins on the table.

When Joseph saw the silver, his lips curled, and his stomach turned. He had named his son God Made Me Forget, but the money made him remember. The last time he saw coins in the hands of Jacob’s older boys, they were laughing, and he was whimpering. That day at the pit he searched these faces for a friend, but he found none. And now they dared bring silver to him?

Joseph called for a Hebrew-speaking servant to translate. Then Joseph scowled at his brothers.
He acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them. — Genesis 42:7


The brothers fell face-first in the dirt, which brought to Joseph’s mind a childhood dream.

“Uh, well, we’re from up the road in Canaan. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”

Joseph glared at them. “Nah, I don’t believe you. Guards, put these spies under arrest. They are here to infiltrate our country.”

The ten brothers spoke at once. “You’ve got it all wrong, Your High, Holy, and Esteemed Honor. We’re salt of the earth. We belong to the same family. That’s Simeon over there. That’s Judah… Well, there are twelve of us in all. At least there used to be.
The youngest is now with our father, and one is no longer living. — Genesis 42:13


Joseph gulped at the words. This was the first report on his family he had heard in twenty years. Jacob was alive. Benjamin was alive. And they thought he was dead.

“Tell you what,” he snapped. “I’ll let one of you go back and get your brother and bring him here. The rest of you I’ll throw in jail.”

With that, Joseph had their hands bound. A nod of his head, and they were marched off to jail. Perhaps the same jail where he had spent at least two years of his life.

What a curious series of events. The gruff voice, harsh treatment. The jail sentence. The abrupt dismissal. We’ve seen this sequence before with Joseph and his brothers, only the roles were reversed. On the first occasion they conspired against him. This time he conspired against them. They spoke angrily. He turned the tables. They threw him in the hole and ignored his cries for help. Now it was his turn to give them the cold shoulder.

What was going on?

I think he was trying to get his bearings. This was the toughest challenge of his life. The famine, by comparison, was easy. Mrs. Potiphar he could resist. Pharaoh’s assignments he could manage. But this mixture of hurt and hate that surged when he saw his flesh and blood? Joseph didn’t know what to do.

Maybe you don’t either.

Your family failed you. Your early years were hard ones. The people who should have cared for you didn’t. But, like Joseph, you made the best of it. You’ve made a life for yourself. Even started your own family. You are happy to leave Canaan in the rearview mirror. But God isn’t.

He gives us more than we request by going deeper than we ask. He wants not only your whole heart; He wants your heart whole. Why? Hurt people hurt people. Think about it. Why do you fly off the handle? Why do you avoid conflict? Why do you seek to please everyone? Might your tendencies have something to do with an unhealed hurt in your heart?

God wants to help you for your sake. And for the sake of your posterity.

Suppose Joseph had refused his brothers? Summarily dismissed them? Washed his hands of the whole mess? God’s plan for the nation of Israel depended upon the compassion of Joseph. A lot was at stake here.

There is a lot at stake with you too. Yes, your family history has some sad chapters. But your history doesn’t have to be your future. The generational garbage can stop here and now. You don’t have to give your kids what your ancestors gave you.

Talk to God about the scandals and scoundrels. Invite Him to relive the betrayal with you. Bring it out in the open. Joseph restaged the hurt for a reason.

Revealing leads to healing.

Let God do His work. The process may take a long time. It may take a lifetime.
Family pain is the deepest pain because it was inflicted so early and because it involves people who should have been trustworthy.

Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. — Romans 12:2


Let Him replace childish thinking with mature truth (1 Corinthians 13:11). You are God’s child. His creation. Destined for heaven. You are a part of His family. Let Him set you on the path to reconciliation.

Joseph did. The process would prove to be long and difficult. It occupies four chapters of the Bible and at least a year on the calendar, but Joseph took the first step. After three days Joseph released his brothers from jail. He played the tough guy again. “Go on back. But I want to see this kid brother you talk about. I’ll keep one of you as a guarantee.”

They agreed and then, right in front of Joseph, rehashed the day they dry-gulched him:
Then they said to one another, ‘We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us’. — Genesis 42:21


Again, they did not know that the prince understood Hebrew. But he did. And when he heard the words, Joseph turned away so they couldn’t see his eyes fill with tears. He stepped into the shadows and wept. He did this seven more times. He didn’t cry when he was promoted by Potiphar or crowned by Pharaoh, but he blubbered like a baby when he learned that his brothers hadn’t forgotten him after all. When he sent them back to Canaan, he loaded their saddlebags with grain. A moment of grace.

With that small act, healing started. If God healed that family, who’s to say He won’t heal yours?

For Reflection

Listed below are several words and phrases that characterize some of the hardships and dysfunction evident in Joseph’s family. Which issues have marked your family?

❑ abandonment
❑ troubled marriage(s)
❑ premature death
❑ hatred
❑ sibling rivalry
❑ favoritism
❑ severe grief
❑ disregard for others
❑ parental abdication
❑ guilt
❑ deception
❑ betrayal
❑ infertility
❑ resentment
❑ abuse
❑ extramarital relationships
❑ harsh treatment
❑ brokenness
❑ self-absorption
❑ secrecy
❑ neglect

Part of the healing process includes unearthing the details — the specifics of how you were hurt — and inviting God to relive those experiences with you. What help do you need from God? How do you want to experience His presence, comfort, or guidance?

Coming face-to-face with old hurts can be disorienting. When Joseph first encountered his brothers again, he withheld his identity, spoke harshly, made false accusations, jailed them, released them, put conditions on their departure and return, held one of them hostage, concealed powerful emotions, and was secretly generous to them (Genesis 42:6-28). What conflicting thoughts and emotions surface when you consider the possibility of engaging old hurts and the people connected with them?

Joseph’s path to reconciliation with his family was long and difficult, but it began with a small act of mercy and grace — he loaded his brothers’ saddlebags with grain and quietly returned the silver they had paid for it. A gift, free and clear.

What small act of mercy and grace do you sense God inviting you to extend to someone in your family?

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Excerpted from You’ll Get Through This by Max Lucado, copyright Thomas Nelson.

In a Season of Loss, Release Your Grief

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8b NLT).

The Bible says when you go through a season of loss, the first thing you need to do is release your grief.

Tragedy always produces strong emotions — anger, fear, depression, worry, and sometimes guilt. These feelings are scary to us, and we don’t know what to do with them. When we have experienced a major loss, these enormous feelings bubble up within us. If we don’t deal with them now, it will take us far longer to recover.

Some people never directly deal with grief in life. They stuff it. They push it down. They pretend it’s not there. They play like it doesn’t exist. And that’s why they’re still struggling with emotional stress from losses that occurred 20 or 30 years earlier.

There’s a myth that says God wants you to walk around with a smile on your face all the time saying, “Praise the Lord!” The Bible doesn’t say that anywhere.

In fact, Jesus taught the exact opposite. In Matthew 5:4, he says, “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (NLT). It’s okay to grieve. When people are Christians, we know they will go on to Heaven, so we need not grieve like the world. Our grief can be different. We grieve because we’re going to miss them, but we can also be at peace because we know they are with God.

What do you do with your feelings? You don’t repress them or stuff them deep inside you. You release them — you give them to God. You cry out to God, “God, I’m hurt! I’m grieving! This is a tough one to take.” If you want a good example of this, read through the book of Psalms, where many times David spills his guts and says, “God, I’m in a tough time right now. I am really, really hurting.” You cry out to God, just like David did.

Psalm 62:8b says, “Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge” (NLT). If you are going through a loss right now, please understand that if you don’t release your grief, it will pour out eventually. Feelings that are pushed down fester, and eventually they explode in a much worse situation.

Release your grief first so that God can begin to heal your heart.

7 Truths to Remember in Troubled Times

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Dennis and Barbara Rainey/ Family Life Ministry

Concerned about economic, political, racial, and moral instability in our culture?  Disheartened by struggles in your personal life?  Here’s what to focus on when the ground shakes beneath your feet.

Dealing with the hardships of life

Life will never be easy. We will always face problems and hardship. That would be true even if our culture felt more stable than it does today, for the Scriptures promise us, “In the world you shall have tribulation.”

So how will we deal with loss, with grief, with fear, with suffering? How do we respond when things don’t go our way? And how do we teach our children to face the hardships of life?

Christians today need to know more about God, more about ourselves, and more about the mission God has given us. Here are seven things to remember:

1. God is alive. He has not disappeared. He is eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing, just as He has been from the beginning of time. As Isaiah 40:28 tells us, “… The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

2. God never changes. Psalm 90 (KJV) begins, “Lord, Thou has been our dwelling place in all generations … even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” Inspired by these words, Isaac Watts wrote the following verses in the enduring hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” They remind us that our fears, though circumstantially different than his in ages past, are still the same:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

We all fear the loss of life, health, freedom, and peace. We fear the unknown future. But do you know who will be with us? Jesus, the One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

3. God offers eternal life. If you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior, your sins have been forgiven because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. You are a child of God, and as Romans 8:38-39 tells us, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is encouraging.

4. God has won the battle. He has defeated death. History will culminate in Christ’s return. No matter what we experience in the world, we can find peace in Him. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

5. God is still in control. He is not surprised by anything going on in the world, or in your life. He is the sovereign, omnipotent King of kings. Even in times of uncertainty and chaos, Romans 8:28 (NASB) is still in force: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” So is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB), which tells us, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

6. God will provide for your needs. Especially in times of economic uncertainty it’s easy to grow anxious about the most basic things, like whether we will keep our jobs, or whether our families will have enough to eat. But in Matthew 6:26-33, Jesus tells us we should not be worried about what we eat, or what we will wear:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 

7. God has given us good works to do. Jesus’ words also remind us that there is more to life than meeting our daily material needs. When we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, we operate according to His priorities—we’re concerned about building our family relationships, and connecting the hearts of our children to God’s heart, and impacting future generations by proclaiming Christ. We’re concerned about God using us to reach and influence others with the gospel. That’s what life is really about.

Second Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ. Have you considered that your best opportunities to fulfill this role—to represent Christ and His Kingdom—may come in times like these when so many need help and encouragement?

Consider this: If you are feeling troubled by the instability in our world, then many of the people you encounter each day are concerned and fearful as well. What makes you different is that you have a firm foundation in Christ. This is an opportunity for you to shine. If you have built your home on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27), you will remain unshaken. That in itself is a witness to the watching world that there is something different about Christians. And if you then reach out to help others who struggle without that foundation, that makes you rare indeed.

When life feels insecure and unstable, focus on these timeless truths. Read the never-changing Word of God with your spouse and to your children.  No matter what troubles we are experiencing in our world and in our families, He is in control. He will not abandon us. He will provide for us. This may look different than you expect, but His promises have not expired in the 21st century.

10 Things You Must Know About Infidelity and Cheating

SOURCE:  Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW

I can’t tell you the number of people who tell themselves early in marriage, “If my spouse ever has an affair, I’m outta here.” And then it happens. Their spouse was unfaithful.

That’s when reality sets in. It’s easy to think you will leave if your spouse betrays you, but when confronted with the reality of divorce and dissolving your marriage, the stakes are really high. It’s not that overcoming the devastation of infidelity is easy, it isn’t. But it can be done.

In fact, believe it or not, most people decide to stay in their marriages after infidelity. The important thing is to address the issues that might have led to the infidelity and get the necessary help to recover.

Divorce isn’t the solution, particularly when the unfaithful spouse is remorseful and devoted to changing. Here are some things you need to know if you are dealing with the fallout of infidelity in your marriage.

1) Betrayal is in the eye of the beholder.

Many times people want to know the definition of betrayal. To some, it is about having intercourse and other sexual contact with another person. To others, betrayal is more about one’s spouse feeling emotionally connected to someone else — late conversations of a personal nature with a co-worker, or an on-going, intimate friendship with another person.

To others, it is secrecy. This may involve secret email accounts, cell phones, Internet behavior, or an unwillingness to share information about whereabouts, spending habits, or life plans.

The fact is, there is no universal definition of betrayal. When two people are married, they must care about each others’ feelings. They don’t always have to agree, but they must behave in ways that make the relationship feel safe.

Therefore, if one person feels threatened or betrayed, his or her spouse must do some soul searching and change in ways to accommodate those feelings. In other words, betrayal is in the eye of the beholder. If you or your partner feel betrayed, you need to change what you’re doing to make the marriage work.

2) Infidelity is not a marital deal breaker.

Many people think that affairs signal the end of a marriage. This is simply not true. Although healing from infidelity is a challenging endeavor, most marriages not only survive, but they can actually grow from the experience.

This is not to say that affairs are good for marriages — they aren’t. Affairs are very, very destructive because the bond of trust has been broken. But after years of working with couples who have experienced betrayal and affairs, I can vouch for the fact that it is possible to get marriages back on track and rediscover trust, caring, friendship and passion.

3) Most affairs end.

It’s important to know that, while affairs can be incredibly sexy, compelling, addictive and renewing, most of them end. That’s because after the thrill wears off, most people recognize that everyone, even the affair partner, is a package deal.

This means that we all have good points and bad points. When two people are in the throes of infatuation, they are only focusing on what’s good. This is short-lived, generally speaking. That’s because reality sets in and infatuation fades. If the betrayed spouse doesn’t run to a divorce attorney prematurely, it’s entirely possible that an affair will die a natural death.

4) Temporary insanity is the only sane response.

Because betrayal is so threatening to marriage and so devastating, many people feel they are losing their minds when they learn that their spouses have been cheating. They can’t eat, sleep, work, think, or function in any substantial way. This causes another layer of concern and self-doubt which often leads to depression and anxiety.

It is important to know that finding out that one’s spouse is cheating can be extremely traumatic. In fact, current research suggests that betrayed spouses exhibit symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It is a major loss and as with most losses, betrayal is intensely disorienting and distressing.

5) You are not alone.

When infidelity occurs, the betrayed spouse feels alone and lonely, but it is essential to keep in mind that countless people have experienced the same problem and have felt the same way. This offers little consolation when one first learns about his or her spouse’s affair, but over time, it can take the sting out of feeling so out-of-sorts.

It would be wonderful if everyone upheld their marital vows, but the truth is, that doesn’t happen. It should, but it doesn’t. The good news is that there is a great deal of support available because many people have walked in your shoes and can be empathetic to your feelings.

6) It helps to get help.

But beyond talking with those who have experienced infidelity in their own marriages, it helps to get professional help. Feelings that surface after the discovery of an affair are often so overwhelming that it is difficult to know what to do to begin to get one’s marriage back on track.

A good marriage therapist or a marriage education class can help lead the way. But be certain to seek help that is “marriage-friendly.” Some therapists believe that infidelity destroys the fabric of a relationship which cannot be repaired. These therapists declare marriages dead on arrival. It is essential that you get a good referral if you want your marriage to recover.

7) Healing takes time.

Although people naturally want to be pain-free as quickly as possible, when it comes to healing from infidelity, it just isn’t going to happen. In fact, if things are “business as usual” too quickly, it probably just means that intense feelings have been swept under the carpet.

This will not help in the long run. In order for a marriage to mend, it takes a great deal of hard work to confront all the necessary issues. This takes time — often year — to truly get things back on track.

When couples enter my office and they’ve been dealing with the aftermath of infidelity for a year or so and they are still struggling, they think something is wrong with them. When I hear that, I tell them that nothing is wrong with them because the pain is still fresh and the news of infidelity is hot off the press. Yes, even a year after learning about betrayal isn’t a very long time.

Healing from infidelity is a slow process for most people.

8 ) Count on ups and downs.

One of the most frustrating and confusing aspects to the healing process is the fact that just when people think things have improved and are resolved, there is another major setback. This is not surprising at all.

That’s because the path to recovery is not a straight line. It is jagged and beset with many, many ups and downs. I tell people that it is two steps forward and one step back. Unfortunately, when people have a setback, they believe that they have slid back to square one. This is not the case. Every setback is a bit different.

And as long as there is a general upward trend, progress is being made. Maintaining patience is difficult, but it is absolutely necessary. Don’t give up when there has been a relapse. Just get back on track.

9) Don’t be quick to tell friends and family.

It is important not to be too quick to tell friends and family about the problem of infidelity. If everyone in one’s family is apprised of the infidelity, even if the marriage improves, family members may not support the idea of staying in the marriage. They may pressure the betrayed spouse to leave.

So while emotional support during this rough time is absolutely necessary, it’s important to get professional help or talk to friends or family who will support the marriage and be less judgmental. Those people should have the perspective that no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes and as long as the unfaithful spouse takes responsibility to change, marriages can mend.

10) You won’t forget, but forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.

When there has been infidelity, people just don’t forget about it. In fact, they don’t ever forget it. What does happen is that memories of the discovery and the pain tend to fade. The thoughts about betrayal become less frequent and less intense over time. In fact, people should NOT forget because we all learn from our experiences, both good and bad.

And although people don’t forget betrayal or affairs, forgiveness is still mandatory — not to let the unfaithful person off the hook, but because holding a grudge shackles people to the past. It is bad for one’s health, both emotionally and physically. There is no intimacy when there are grudges. Life is painful because there is a wall separating people. When betrayed spouses allow themselves to have feelings of forgiveness, life lightens up. It is freeing. Love begins to flow again. Letting go of the past begins to make room for happiness in the present. Forgiveness isn’t meant for the unfaithful, it is a gift betrayed spouses give themselves.

Secret Wisdom in the Wake of Suffering

SOURCE:  Marshall Segal/Desiring God

Wisdom may be as basic a human need as air, water, or shelter.

We all need guidance and direction, and we need it today and every day.

If you don’t think you need wisdom, then you need it even more than the rest of us. We make decisions every day that require wisdom — in choosing what to do or not do, in meetings at work, in loving our spouse, in our routine at home, in parenting our children, in weathering heartache and suffering.

Job was starved for wisdom in the wake of perhaps the greatest personal tragedy ever recorded. He lost one thousand oxen and five hundred donkeys to thieves (Job 1:3, 14–15), and his servants watching over the animals were slaughtered (Job 1:15). Only moments later, fire fell from the sky and burned his seven thousand sheep, along with the servants tending them (Job 1:16). Then, all three thousand of his camels were seized in another raid, and the servants responsible for them murdered (Job 1:17). Lastly, and most tragically, Job’s own sons and daughters all were killed — seven young men, and three precious girls. A strong wind struck their house, causing the roof to collapse on them (Job 1:2, 18–19).

Can you imagine not just losing one child but ten — and all in one horrifying moment?

Job lost his ten children that one afternoon, along with almost everyone else he loved and almost everything else he owned. Then Satan even attacked his body, spreading sores from his head to his feet (Job 2:7), adding awful pain and irritation to his already unbearable grief and distress.

Few, if any, have known suffering like Job.

The book is one long, excruciating wrestling with why — an impossible mountain climb to wisdom in suffering’s dead of winter. Why all of the oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels, Lord? Why did they have to kill my servants? Why give me the blessing of ten children — knit together delicately, delivered safely, held and raised lovingly, prized immensely — and then ripped right out of my arms? Why add insult to injury, covering my grieving, lonely body with agony? Why?

Who Sinned That Job Should Suffer?

Job says, “Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12).

He’s listened to his well-meaning, but misguided friends fumble for answers for more than twenty-five chapters now — most of their counsel and advice spent accusing him of wrongdoing, presuming the waves of suffering fell on him because of some unconfessed sin. While he did misspeak at times (Job 38:2), Job carries a confidence that God is not punishing sin, but doing something profound and mysterious in all the sorrow.

His friends play the naïve and simplistic role of Jesus’s disciples — “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). What sin did Job commit to deserve loss, death, and pain like this? With less clarity, but great faith, Job echoes what Jesus would say hundreds of years later, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). It was not because of sin that my livelihood was stolen, or my servants killed, or my sons and daughters crushed, but because God, in great love and mercy, wants the whole world to see his glory.

And in his infinite wisdom, only God knew exactly how that will happen — in Job’s life and in ours.

The Author and Fountain of Wisdom

Where is wisdom like God’s found? Job says, “It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air” (Job 28:21). We will not find the right answers in the world — in newspapers, books, schools, or with Google. The world is filled with knowledge, opinion, and passion, but is starving for wisdom. So where should we turn when we’re searching for wisdom — for answers — in the midst of disappointment, suffering, and tragedy?

“God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure, when he made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder, then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.” (Job 28:23–27)

Only one holds the wisdom we need in the blinding, deafening wake of pain and loss. He sees everything everywhere all at once, and all the time. He weighs and wields the wind — imagine how hard it would be for Job to say those words after seeing his dead children.

God weaved the world with wisdom and runs the world with wisdom, including every drop of rain, every cool summer breeze, and every hurricane-force gust.

Fear the God of Comfort

But how do we search the infinite mind of God to find comfort for our sorrow and hope for our future?

Job goes on, “[The Lord] said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding’” (Job 28:28; alsoProverbs 3:7). Are you asking Why? in the midst of terrible suffering or sudden tragedy? Draw near to the awesome God of the universe, and away from every other way people try and deal with their pain. Forsake sin and all its empty promises to heal and comfort you. Run, instead, to the Author and Perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2), as well as the loving Father and Worker in your pain (Romans 8:28).

The fear of the Lord is not terror, but awe-filled faith. “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied” (Proverbs 19:23; alsoProverbs 14:27). Christians live and suffer with a fearful rest and satisfaction in God. The believers in the early church walked “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). One kind of fear breeds clarity and comfort, rather than anxiety and confusion. Isaiah says, “Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:13–14).

If God and his wisdom are our comfort and confidence, we will walk away from foolishness and evil. Satan makes sin even more tantalizing in suffering — brighter colors, louder notes, sweeter smells. But faith knows the comfort we need is waiting in the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). We do not envy sinners (Proverbs 23:17), because we know that disaster and confusion — not freedom, clarity, or healing — are the fruits of sin.

In the face of devastating news, our gut reaction and temptation might be to doubt God or run from him. But heart-wrenching wisdom and understanding are not found anywhere deep inside ourselves or somewhere far from God, but woven into his wise and sovereign love for us.

We cannot capture or completely grasp his wisdom, but we can worship him and trust him with all the painful unknowns in life.

It’s Never Too Late for Jesus

SOURCE:  desiringgod.org /Constantine Campbell 

Death is the great enemy, though many of us live in denial of it.

Our culture tries to hide death. We don’t see bodies in the streets, as in some parts of the world. Corpses go straight to the morgue or the funeral home — out of sight and out of mind. Many of us have never seen a dead body. Fewer have witnessed a person actually die. We would rather not think about death, we don’t like to talk about it, and we’d prefer to pretend it won’t happen to us.

But it will happen to us. In fact, in one hundred years from now, everyone reading this will be dead. Does that sound harsh? That’s because it is harsh! But it is also true.

Only as we confront the reality of death will we appreciate the hope of resurrection. There is nothing like death to make us desire resurrection.

John 11 begins with a sick Lazarus. His sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:1–3). But Jesus does not go right away. He delays. In fact, he waits two days — until Lazarus is dead (John 11:4–7, 11, 14) — because he knows exactly what he is about to do.

Grieving with Hope

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was approaching the village, she went to meet him, while Mary remained seated at the house (John 11:20). This is a little strange, isn’t it? Why does Martha go out to meet Jesus while Mary stays put? Is it simply that Martha is the more active of the two? Is it because she is the one who gets things done, while Mary likes to sit (Luke 10:38–42)? Maybe. Or maybe there is something else going on.

Martha’s words to Jesus must have been hard to hear: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Given his great power and the signs he has performed already, Martha believed that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But what she says next is extraordinary: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). Martha does not know the end of this story, as we do. She has no idea what Jesus is about to do and she does not expect him to raise Lazarus from the dead. And yet she expresses hope even after death has occurred. It is as though she is saying, “I don’t know what you can do now, Jesus, but I have hope that you can do something.”

Jesus immediately comforts Martha by saying, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). He tells her exactly what he plans to do, but Martha misunderstands: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). While she misses Jesus’s direct meaning, her response is a good one. She expresses hope through theology. Martha holds to the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead that will occur on the last day (Daniel 12:1–2; John 5:28–29).

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus takes Martha’s belief in resurrection at the last day and redirects it toward himself.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26a).

I don’t think Martha understood at that moment what Jesus said. How could Jesus be the resurrection? What does that mean? Why does resurrection occur for those who believe in Jesus? While she may harbor such questions, she responds again with belief when Jesus asks, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). “Yes, Lord,” Martha says, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).

But why does Martha respond this way? Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life, and Martha says yes, you are the Christ. What is the connection between the Christ and resurrection? Again Martha shows herself to be a theologian as she seems to understand the connection. In 2 Samuel 7:12–13, the LORD promises David that one of his offspring will rule on the throne that God will establish forever. If this Messiah is to rule forever, then surely he will not be ended by death. Either he will never die, or if he does die, he will not stay dead. There is thus a connection between resurrection and the Messiah, and Martha seems to understand that.

Grieving Without Hope

While Martha exhibits hope through theological insight, Mary’s interaction with Jesus is noticeably different. While Martha immediately went out to meet Jesus, Mary doesn’t go until Martha gets her (John 11:28). Then it is striking that Mary says the exact same thing that her sister said to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

Mary utters the exact same words as Martha. But do they mean something different? Notice what Mary doesn’t say. She does not follow up this statement the way Martha did, with the words, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). No, Mary just says that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death — period. But now he’s dead, so that’s that. There is no hope expressed.

It seems like Mary did not entertain the idea that Jesus could do anything now that death has come. Death, after all, is the great enemy. Jesus might be able to heal the blind (John 9), turn water into wine (John 2:1–12), and prevent death (John 4:46–54), but no one can do anything about death once death comes. Right?

Mary’s lack of hope in the face of death is understandable. Sure, Jesus is powerful and can do amazing things, but even today no one can do anything about death. With all our advanced science and medicine, the best we can do is delay death. We can put it off a while. But we cannot prevent it from happening in the end. And once it happens, there is nothing we can do about it. The finality of death is clear to all humanity — past and present. Mary accepts this finality and there is no hope.

Jesus Can Always Do Something

Jesus’s response to Mary also contrasts Martha. After Martha expressed hope, Jesus comforted her with the amazing words that Lazarus would rise again and that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. But what is his response to Mary? There is no word of comfort. There is no theological promise. He just says, “Where have you laid him?” (John 11:34).

But it’s also interesting to note Jesus’s nonverbal response to Mary: “When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was angry in his spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Most translations smooth out the phrase, “he was angry,” but this is what the text literally says. It is smoothed out because it is not clear why Jesus is angry. Why is he angry when he sees Mary’s grief?

The usual explanation is that Jesus is angry at the tyranny of death. He is angry to see what death does to relationships and to those left behind. It is awful. It is wrong. This reason for Jesus’s anger makes sense, but there might be another explanation. Could it be that Jesus is angry and troubled because Mary grieves as one without hope? After all, he was not angry in his encounter with Martha, who expressed hope.

In fact, Jesus gets angry a second time (John 11:38), but this is in response to what Mary’s fellow mourners say: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37). Ignoring the paragraph break, Jesus’s immediate response is again to become angry. Could it be that he is angry because they too lack hope in the face of death? Yes, the crowd knows Jesus is powerful — he opened the eyes of the blind man — he could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But once death has occurred? Not even Jesus can do anything about that, right?

Wrong.

Neither Martha nor Mary knew that the story would end with a resurrected Lazarus. Mary saw death as the end, and not even Jesus could fix that. But Martha put her theology to work together with a trust that Jesus could always do something.

We should be more like Martha.

How to Deal With the Grief of Infertility

SOURCE:  Eddie Kaufholz/Relevant Magazine

When you or someone you know is hurting.

My wife and I have been trying to have a child for almost two years and we fear, due to some issues surrounding infertility, we will not be able to. We are beside ourselves with grief and need help—from anywhere. So I’m writing to see if you have anything to offer us. Sorry it’s not a more clear question, I don’t really know what I’m asking.

Normally I’d give the person who asked this question a playful alias just to lighten the mood a bit, but today, that doesn’t seem right. Not with this question, and not with the countless people who will be reading this and hoping—longing—for an answer that provides some respite from the grief.

I bet today and the many yesterdays haven’t been what you expected them to be, have they? Of course not. A few years ago, you and your significant other were eating a lovely dinner at your favorite Thai place. One of you looked at the other one and said, “Hey, do you think we should start trying?” And in a moment, you both realized you were on the road to parenthood. Jitters, fear, excitement, nursery Pinterest boards—it all flooded over your pad Thai and into your relationship. Weren’t those fun days? Wasn’t it nice to have hope?

And then something happened. Month after month, when there was a blue line instead of a pink plus, hope started to fade—and dread took its place. Then one of you said—again at the same Thai place which now feels more like a tragic reminder of some distant happiness—“Should we see a doctor?” So you did. And the doctor said there may be “some complications.” And the walls of the sterile doctor’s office blurred and the words began to jumble. You realized your hope had succumbed to infertility.

It is the worst. Just the worst.

Which leads us to the fundamental question: What can make infertility less terrible? Not, “What can make it better?” because “better” to you, right now, looks like a child in your home. And while I could give you Christian truths and platitudes about how there are many people who, for one reason or another, never had children via biology or adoption and are living happy lives, that’s not helpful for you right now. You want your babies. I understand.

But I would like to submit four quick thoughts for you to hold onto while you traverse the uncertain road ahead:

Let People In

One of the mistakes everyone makes in life is believing if we say nothing, problems will go away or somehow get better. We do it all the time. If there is ever even a distant, faint whisper of shame or embarrassment, we go M.I.A.

Unfortunately, with couples who are having a difficult time conceiving, sometimes shame somehow enters the equation and they silently suffer. Maybe they feel there is something “wrong” with them physically or that God is smiting them for previous indiscretions. Or maybe they just don’t want to be a burden to others. Whatever the case, so many suffer in silence. This cannot continue.

If you are experiencing infertility, you have to tell people you love and trust. Not because it will make it all better, but because you can’t take the hit of a monthly funeral alone. People need to cry with you and shoulder the burden with you. People need to bring you food and help you take your mind off of it for a night. You and your significant other can’t do this alone. Those who love you want to do so not just in thought but in deed. You won’t overwhelm them. They want to be there for you now, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon.

Try Not to Strategize

I fear I may be overstepping with this point, but I’d like to float this idea past you. What if you all stopped thinking about tomorrow (as much as is realistic)? The nature of infertility is that you’re making decisions on a daily basis that are massive, overwhelming and life-changing.

However, these decisions are not everything. Ultimately, we have no control over children being brought into this world. The best doctors and adoption lawyers can’t simply will your child into existence. Truthfully, any child showing up in someone’s home via adoptive or biological means is nothing short of a miracle.

So, because it’s a miracle, and because it’s really out of your hands, what if you tried (again, as much as is realistic) to stop. Stop worrying that today’s shot of medication may or may not result in future complications that even further complicate a confusing situation—yuck. Who could possibly know what’s right and wrong? Well, God knows (more on that in a moment). But you don’t, so make the best decision you can for today and accept that you can’t control the entire road ahead.

I acknowledge, even as I’m writing this, that what I’m asking you to do is impossible. You may even be slightly frustrated with me suggesting that you loosen your grip a bit on all the strategizing. But what if for one moment of one day you weren’t as riddled with fear and dread over a decision? I’d love that for you. And I’d love for God’s narrative to take a front seat to your thinking.

Get Real With God

The relationship between those who are suffering (you) and He who is in control (God) can get very complex. To that end, Here are two articles over the past weeks that I hope will fill out this section. In summary:

1. You can get angry with God. For real. You can, and you should. It’s not helpful to pretend that it’s all OK, and it’s helpful to get into a real tussle with Him. Be with God exactly where you are, and trust that He can handle your worst (and love you through it). You’re His child, and your pain is His.

2. If you’re too hurt to pray, it’s OK. Really, it is.

This Isn’t Your Fault

Finally, in the quiet moments of infertility, the darkness creeps in and the reasons for “why” begin to point to you. This is a lie. The abortion, the physical abuse on your body, etc., etc. begin to be the reason for all of this infertility pain (in your mind).

Hear me say this: What you’re going through isn’t your fault. Yes, a doctor’s report may point to a specific issue with someone’s family history or bodily functioning. But really—really—those issues are not what makes or prevents babies from coming into this world. What makes it happen is a miracle. An everyday, common and not at all common, miracle.

To Parents Who Have Lost a Child

SOURCE:  ccef.org/Alasdair Groves

Losing a child is the most difficult and painful experience I can personally imagine.

What do you say to someone who has lost a child?

What can you say? And, perhaps more importantly, what does God say?

In preparing a talk about this for CCEF’s conference earlier this month, 1 I found myself praying “Lord, here is what I know: you have words for those whose children die. You have comfort. There is something overwhelmingly real and true and good that you have for those who lose a child. Help me, help us, find it.”

While I tried to draw out a number of themes from Scripture in the talk, one of the places this prayer led me was to write a letter as I imagined how our loving Father might speak to parents in their grief. Since several people have asked me to pass along the text of that letter, I thought I might make it more broadly available as a sort of open letter expressing the direct and personal care with which Scripture speaks to parents who have lost a child. My prayer is that these words will be a refreshingly personal touch point with your Heavenly Father as you struggle through this unspeakably agonizing experience.

My dear child,

I remember walking through the Garden that day toward my children, knowing what their choice to listen to the tempter was going to cost their children for generations, including the death of their own boy, Abel. I knew utterly, even then, the grief you would taste so many years later. My heart breaks for you, my child. Indeed, I sent my son, in part, so that you could see him weep at the tomb of Lazarus, and know that my heart is undone by the grief of loss, even knowing that hope is just around the corner.

Like your brothers and sisters in Bethlehem whose little ones were murdered by Herod after that first Christmas, and countless others over the centuries who found themselves burying a beloved child, you are part of the voice heard in Ramah. I hear you with Rachel, weeping for her children, rightly refusing to be comforted. So know this: I have prepared a bottle to catch the tears I knew you would shed.

And I say to you also what I spoke through your brother Jeremiah: I declare that there is hope for your future. I will yet turn your mourning into joy, and not by some trick played on your emotions! No. I will not forget your grief and tears. But I WILL comfort you and I will give you gladness for sorrow and you will be satisfied with my goodness.

My delight and joy in the redemption I am working, and my utter victory over death, is beyond expression. I am waiting breathlessly for the day when you will get to see it too. When you will be able to see it the way I do. When you will say that even this anguish does not compare with the shalom and wholeness of the way I have abundantly more than restored what now is broken. For behold, I am creating a new heaven and a new earth and I will rejoice and be glad in my people. No more shall the sound of weeping and distress be heard among you. NO MORE shall there be a son who lives but a few days or a daughter who dies unexpectedly. Instead, I will lose none of those I have given to your older brother. And I will make my home with you and with all my children — indeed I have prepared rooms already. Together with them, you will build homes and inhabit them, you will plant vineyards and eat their fruit, and none will suffer or die on my holy mountain. I am the resurrection and the life.

Be patient still a little longer. I am coming.

Love,

Your Father

1 Audio available here.

God Doesn’t Want You to Always Feel So Guilty

SOURCE:  relevantmagazine.com/Jason Jones

After my son, Jacob, died in an accident while I was asleep in the house, I struggled with debilitating guilt.

Guilt can be powerful.

For the first few years after the accident, it felt like an all-consuming force that I couldn’t let go of but one that I wanted desperately to run away from. I hated myself so much for all the things I could have done differently that day.

I felt so ashamed, angry, stupid and unworthy. I felt like a failure as a dad and a husband. The weight of carrying the guilt was something my therapist and I worked on for quite some time. Session after session, we would talk through it. There were a lot of tears and painful discussions.

Eventually, my therapist was able to help me realize some truths that slowly started to sink in over time. None of it was overnight. And none of it was like a light bulb moment to point to that instantly made me feel better.

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on.

Therapy is like a farmer tending to his garden. You keep watering and picking weeds, and one day you show up and something starts sprouting out of the dirt. You just have to keep showing up to do the work. During that time, I learned some really important realities while working on my guilt:

We Aren’t Defined By Our Mistakes

Early on, I beat the heck out of myself over what happened. I felt like I had failed my family. Most of all, I felt like I had failed Jacob.

The shame was permeating my entire identity. This caused unhealthy behavior, added stress and was a strain on my marriage and my ability to be a father to my daughters.

Through therapy, though, I was able to realize that one accident or mistake doesn’t define who I am. I’m still a good person, husband and father.

Healing Can Start When You Accept Responsibility

This step was incredibly difficult and took a very long time for me to work through. Although I definitely felt it, I was scared to death to say that I had any responsibility in Jacob’s accident. I fought as hard as I could and as long as I could to not accept it.

I was terrified to think what it meant about me that my decisions may have led my son’s death. What does it say about me as a father? Does it mean I am a bad person? Am I a terrible father? Did I fail my family? Am I worthy of being loved?

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on. This put me on a hamster wheel of personal torture that I couldn’t figure out how to get off of.

Thankfully, with hours upon hours of working with my therapist, I was able to get to a place where I could bear the guilt without it continuing to rule my life. Bearing the guilt meant I had taken and accepted responsibility for what I could have done to prevent this accident. There were things I could have done differently. I accept that. I bear that guilt, but it doesn’t control me anymore.

Giving Up Is Not an Option, No Matter How Bad It Gets

There were times when I wanted to die because I felt like such a failure in my guilt and shame. I thought about how I wouldn’t have to feel this way anymore and I would be with Jacob.

But, then I would quickly realize the amount of pain I would leave the rest of my family in. What a wreck I would leave behind. My therapist would tell me, “All you have to do is think about getting through each minute, each hour, then each day. Get out of bed and put your feet on the ground. Take a step, then another step. One foot in front of the other and keep breathing.”

It felt like torture at times, to keep going, but I knew inside that I could not give up. I couldn’t give up on my wife and my daughters. And I couldn’t give up on myself. No matter how hard it gets—you can’t give up.

This summer, I stumbled upon a song from a band called Colony House that really resonated with me.

Two of the members of Colony House, Will and Caleb Chapman, are sons of Steven Curtis Chapman and Mary Beth Chapman. Back in 2008, one of Mary Beth and Steven Chapman’s daughters was killed when she accidentally ran out in front of Will’s car when he was driving up the driveway at their home. It was a total accident and terrible tragedy. From interviews I’ve seen, Will struggled with a deep sense of guilt after the accident.

In the song “Won’t Give Up,” Colony House sings about those feelings. The song starts:

I wear the guilt upon my chest
Cause I feel like I’ve earned it
And keep the bloodstains on my hands
To show that I’ve done this

Oh how I wish I could escape that day
Take back time and make everything OK
But I can’t

Oh, the pictures in my head
They roll like the movies
I shut my eyes to cut the thread
But my memory shows no mercy

It was like someone climbed into my head and pulled out how I felt and then wrote a song about it.

It ends like this:

Too many dreams I didn’t want to dream
Too many nights alone where I can’t sleep
I’ve got the devil on my back
Trying to take home from me
But I see Jesus out in front
He’s reaching back for the lonely
Reaching back cause He loves me
I take His hand because she loved me

No I won’t give up now

Sometimes our guilt feels like it’s taking a hold of us and dragging us into hell. It’s like our past mistakes are yelling at us through a megaphone, constantly reminding us of what we’ve done.

But I can tell you it is possible to find freedom from what can seem overwhelming and paralyzing.

Healing can begin when we accept that we are human and we all make mistakes. And the transformative healing takes place when we accept that our mistakes don’t define who we are as a person.

To the Sons and Daughters of Divorce

SOURCE:  Paul Maxwell/Desiring God

Few things are more traumatic than a car accident — 2,000 pounds of steel and glass bending and scraping, with no respect for the limits or boundaries of the human body inside. There’s a path of healing that every victim of a serious accident must take.

Children with divorced parents have experienced a different kind of violent, traumatic collision. And every child of divorce must likewise walk a path of healing. It will, of course look different for different sons and daughters, but no one can deny that the emotional and relational bleeding needs attention, likely long after the papers are filed.

A chorus of adults with long-divorced parents will dismiss in unison: “I’m not broken, thanks very much. I’m not a project. I’m fine. It’s not even a big deal. I’m not a victim, and it certainly doesn’t deserve this much attention.”

I totally get that.  Depending on the day, I might say the same thing if I read my first two paragraphs.

My parents divorced when I was nine. I’m not a victim, but the break still broke me. It wounded me in ways I could not control. Years later, because I didn’t have the resources to work through things as a nine-year-old boy, certain forms of brokenness seem native and normal to me.

Divorce “attacks the self, because the self is formed within the belonging and meaning provided by the family. When it is destroyed, the threat of lost place and lost purpose becomes a reality. Without place or purpose, one becomes a lost self” (Andrew Root, Children of Divorce, 21). More than losing myself, though, I lost the ability to relate to my heavenly Father. I certainly didn’t think that God had anything to say, or even cared, about the mangled, overturned vehicle in our living room. I’m sometimes still tempted to think that way today. But he does. He speaks. And he cares.

Right now, we’re just focusing on what you (and I) experienced, and how you can heal. This isn’t meant to judge divorced parents, or to deter parents from getting divorced for legitimate reasons (abuse or adultery). The point is to see how, as children of divorce, Jesus Christ is a light in dark places, a hope for the broken, confused, and lonely. We will piece together some themes from Scripture to explain how God understands and relates to children of divorce, in ten points.

Divorce Does Affect You

1. Everyone in a family is organically, emotionally, spiritually connected.

Paul explains, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). While not the main point of the text (primarily speaking about marriage between a believer and unbeliever), we can note three things:

  1. The family is a unit — an organically connected singular entity (“because of his wife . . . because of her husband . . . as it is”).
  2. The child’s spiritual well-being is interwoven with the integrity of their parents’ marital well-being (“made holy . . . made holy . . . they are holy”).
  3. A broken marriage, therefore, has breaking effects on the child (“Otherwise your children would be unclean”).

2. For a child, experiencing a divorce is experiencing a violent storm.

Malachi argues, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:15). Ah, yes. “What was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” In the Hebrew, “A child of God.” What does the child experience? The Lord enters the scene to explain what happens to a child when parents fail to guard their marriage “in the spirit”: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Malachi 2:16). There is always violence in divorce — a scary, violent, destructive storm within and all around the family.

Divorce Tears What Cannot Be Torn

3. Divorce does not just separate parents.

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). “I know.” We use a metaphor for divorce: “It’s like getting gum out of a rug. It can’t fully be done.” Okay. We forget that the spouses aren’t the only ones who get “separated.” The gum metaphor certainly doesn’t capture what happens to a child of a divorce. A marriage can be separated, at least in some ways; A child cannot. A child is an irreducible unit — a singularity cannot be separated from itself. And yet, we are. What the parents experience relationally, the child experiences internally.

4. Divorce separates you from you.

So when your parents — your first example and measure of relational unity and security — were separated, you were torn in a way that a human is not built to be torn. There is no “gum” and “rug.” There’s just you. You’re one “thing,” and now you feel like you’ve been cracked in half into two things. Even if you don’t experience the emotion explicitly, you still feel and experience and respond to the tension, because the separation is real.

Regardless of whether the divorce was justified or biblical — completely aside from any of those questions — divorce was a violence you experienced. What man “separates” in divorce happens to you, too. What happens between Mom and Dad happens in you. “There is no soundness in my flesh . . . because of the tumult of my heart” (Psalm 38:7–8). The effects are far-reaching, often more than we are immediately aware. Depression, anxiety, addiction, anger, compulsions, and distractions, are all possible effects of being torn, and very often, we are not even aware that these things might be related to the “accident.”

Facing Brokenness is Freedom

5. Brokenness is not unrighteousness.

Scripture uses many different metaphors to speak ethically, but theologians have used at least two terms that are relevant here: the “forensic” and the “renovative.” The “forensic” is legal. It’s declarative. It’s right and wrong. Scripture uses the terms “righteous” and “unrighteous” for the forensic (Acts 24:15). The “renovative” is felt — it’s inside of you. It is helpful and hurtful. Scripture uses the terms “holy” (1 Timothy 2:8) and “broken” (Psalm 44:19; Psalm 69:20; Proverbs 29:1; Ephesians 4:22). To put it in a crass and reductionistic way, the forensic is the external evaluation, and the renovative is the internal state of affairs. In order to heal, we need to be able to distinguish between our brokennesses.

6. You didn’t do anything wrong, but you still have to heal.

Popular therapy for children of divorce will say again and again, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” That’s a forensic category. And it’s true. Your parents’ divorce is not your fault. But, unfortunately and tragically, it still breaks you. You are still, in a real way — in an on-the-ground, in-your-fibers sense — overwhelmed by weight too heavy to lift and twisted in knots too complex to untie in a single counseling session.

The choice given to the child of divorce is not whether or not they should experience the brokenness of their parents’ divorce, but whether they will consciously process or unconsciously suppress the breaking. Henri Nouwen explains, “What is forgotten is unavailable, and what is unavailable cannot be healed.” Likewise, to intentionally face the reality of being broken is not to face defeat, but healing.

Facing God After Divorced Parents

7. Marriage and divorce communicate something about God’s love.

Parents represent in a priestly and prophetic way, for good or ill, Christ’s attitude toward their children (Ephesians 6:1-4). This happens, not only in the direct relationship of parent-to-child, but in an exemplary and indirect way in the public, parent-to-parent relationship lived before the eyes of the child (Ephesians 5:25-33).

And so, in divorce, parents communicate a view of God’s love that speaks more powerfully than words. It is important to recognize, then, that there will always be a painful proverb in the back of your head that has its root in that experience. It’s not the same for everyone.

“Love doesn’t last.”
“Failure in love is always my fault.”
“I need marriage to escape my loneliness.”
“I will never get married.”
“God’s ready to leave me any moment.”
“My love isn’t enough to keep people together.”
“I’m not enough.”

All lies.

But lies are powerful when they have good material to work with. Divorce is a fertile ground for lies of justified self-hatred. Children of divorce, myself included, have always searched too hard for love. Like the song goes, “I fall in love too easily; I fall in love too fast; I fall in love too terribly hard for love to ever last.” We are searching for a sense of home, a way to convince ourselves the lies in our abandonment and loneliness won’t have the last word.

8. God’s has a special affection for you.

What do we see in the texts we’ve looked at so far? A condemnation of the divorced? No. It’s not even about that. What do we see? God’s caring hand for the child. For you. Even if you’re an adult. These texts are God speaking, and naming violence that you’ve experienced. Malachi 2:15 is God saying, “You’ve been in a car accident, and you need to heal.” He says, “I’m looking after you. My eye is on you. You are my child.”

We see God’s protective care for children of divorce. We see the structures that he has set up to care for the weak, and his grief over the violence that breaking these structures does. God is the lifter of weight. He is the untier of knots. His specialty is in redeeming — in healing, restoring, and strengthening. His forte is in trauma, and in complex pain — not always in fixing or explaining right away, but in being-with (Isaiah 43:2).

He has a singular and unique affection for you: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). That verse probably means nothing to you. In fact, it may make God feel further away. The ‘father’ pictures in Scripture have never been anything but painful for you. That doesn’t change the fact that God does show perfect and intimate compassion to you the way a good father should. He does.

Facing Others After Divorced Parents

9. God is building you to help others.

Through sorrow and tragedy, God gives you an awareness of the world. A sixteen-year-old with divorced parents is, in a sense, more aware of the world around them than the same sixteen-year-old without divorced parents. We all fight through adversity, of whatever kind, so that we can fight for the weak down the road.

“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:10–11).

These verses flip suffering on its head. If we had divorced parents as a child (and faint, because it’s too much for us), it is so that we can rescue others when we’ve been made strong. In the end (and even in the midst) of your healing path awaits a unique strength that will not only deliver you, but will allow you to carry others through the same journey, fighting the same voices, healing the same wounds, building the same faith and perseverance.

10. Reach out to others who have walked this hard path.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” To put it tritely, experiencing the divorce of parents is just really, really hard. There’s no escaping that. It comes with tears. It comes with being very afraid. It comes with anger. You carry the bitter weight of having divorced parents.

I don’t presume to know your situation, what your parents are like, or what your family has gone through. All I know is that it must be extremely painful, and that God knows your pain. By his grace, it will not destroy you, but make you stronger (Isaiah 42:3–5). Paul realized that he went through an affliction “so that [he] may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is a man who once “despaired of life itself” who now “[does] not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). He learned to be strong because he was weak (2 Corinthians 12:9), and God is still using him to comfort Christians in chronic and excruciating pain all over the world.

I don’t think I have found more help in my own journey of healing than in seeking help from others who have walked the same paths — who have had to do the hard work of finding Christ through the weeds of having divorced parents. Look for other sons and daughters — of God, and of divorced parents — and walk with them.

You are not pathetic. You are not alone. You deserve to be deeply loved, and you are deeply loved by God. He will carry and keep you.

 

Forgiveness, Grief, & Healing

SOURCE:  Living Free/Raymond T. Brock, Ed.D

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”Colossians 3:13 NIV

Forgiveness is one of the most difficult tasks to be accomplished in the process of working through grief.

If we are honest with God about our hurts and disappointments, he will lead us into the freedom of forgiveness.

Sometimes it will be another person you need to forgive: the deceased for dying and leaving you, the medical personnel for not saving your loved one’s life, or someone you think may have contributed to your loved one’s death. You might even be struggling with forgiving yourself for those last words you did; or didn’t; say.

Forgiveness is never easy, but we remain prisoners of those we fail to forgive. Forgiveness allows us to be released from the hold another person, living or dead, has on us.

Are you struggling with unforgiveness?

Consider taking these thoughts and feelings to God today. Be honest with him and allow him to help you. With the help of his strength and his love, you can overcome. Only then can you move on to complete healing and a future filled with hope.

Father, thank you for forgiving me for every failure, every sin. I’ve let you down so many times, and yet you continue to forgive; and to love. Help me be more like you. Help me to forgive those I’ve held things against. Help me to forgive myself. In Jesus’ name …

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These thoughts were drawn from …

Handling Loss and Grief: How to Face Losses in Life and Grieve Christianly by Raymond T. Brock, Ed.D.

THE DARKNESS OF CHRISTMAS

SOURCE:  Courtney Reissig/The Gospel Coalition

Until one year, when it didn’t.

I had been married a little more than a year when my first dark Christmas hit. I had every reason to think I would be bursting out of my normal clothes and growing a little baby. But I wasn’t. There were no food aversions, no bouts of nausea, and no need for stretchy pants. The baby inside me had stopped growing weeks before. I was devastated. I felt little Christmas joy that year; there was only Christmas ache and a longing for what might have been. It wasn’t my last sad Christmas, as we waited for God to provide us with children. What was once such a happy family time for me, suddenly became a stinging reminder of the very thing I wanted most but still lacked—a family filled with children of my own.

Whenever we talk about Christmas we think about happy, joyous times, and that is most certainly the case for many. In the years since our first loss, we’ve had Christmases of joy and Christmases of sorrow. We know the feelings of both. But for others, Christmas can carry a dark cloud of sadness, a sadness that never seems to let up and is only exacerbated by the happiness swirling around you. For some, Christmas is a reminder of the darkness of painful circumstances. It carries no tidings of great joy. Maybe you are facing your first Christmas without your spouse or parents. Maybe you are reminded every Christmas season of your longings for a spouse. The loneliness can make celebrating the holidays too much to bear. Maybe your table is missing a beloved child who is wayward, and things never seem the same without him. Maybe your parents are divorced and you shuffle between two houses on Christmas day, while your friends spend family time together. Christmas feels isolating and meaningless when all is not as it should be.

Whatever darkness you are facing this Christmas, know this: with all of the songs and festivities that point to good cheer and great joy, Christmas recalls darkness unlike any we will ever experience, but a darkness that brought light into a fallen world.

Mary’s Soul-Piercing Pain

While Christmas is about the dawning of great joy in the coming of our Savior, it also foreshadows the darkness of his crucifixion. Simeon told Mary of her son’s purpose, that a sword would pierce her own soul (Luke 2:35). Mary, the woman whose heart warmed for her son with every kick in the womb. Mary, the woman who nursed and diapered the very Son of God. Mary, the woman who loved and raised her son like any other mother would do. And while he was no ordinary son, he was still her son. Bearing the Son of God did not make her numb to the often painful realities of motherhood, and her pain would be excruciating. No earthly person felt the weight of Christ’s purpose like she did. While many were rejoicing at his coming, she would one day face the agonizing grief of watching her son suffer on the cross for her sins and our sins.

It’s easy to idolize Mary as a super-human vessel, ready to do whatever was asked of her. While she was certainly godly, she was still human. She was still a mother. This is what Simeon is getting at in his prophecy. With the atonement for our sins came the motherly pain of Mary. As she stared at that little baby in the manger, she may not have fully understood all that was going to take place, but God the Father did. The birth of our Savior carried an ominous shadow of the darkness to come.

God’s Chosen Pain

Mary may not have fully understood what Jesus was sent to do, but God the Father knew of this imminent grief and ordained it to be (Isa. 53:10). Jesus knew what was expected of him, and he agonized over the grief and suffering waiting for him at Calvary (Luke 22:39-46). With every shepherd’s praise and magi’s gift, the Father knew that the perfect fellowship would soon be momentarily broken for sin. In her book When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote of the Father and the Son’s grief at the cross:

The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind from every century explodes in a single direction. “Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!” But heaven stops its ears. The Son stares up at the One who cannot, who will not, reach down in reply. The Trinity had planned it. The Son endured it. The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished. God set down his saw. This is who asks us to trust him when he calls on us to suffer.

With the joy over this little baby in the manger came the promised reality that the joy would soon turn to momentary grief. We have a perfect heavenly Father who knows what it means to grieve over loss. The darkness of our Christmas is not foreign to this God. He is not aloof. He is present with us, because he knows us deeply and walks with us in our pain. He has endured deep pain, too.

When we think about Christmas and are heartbroken to face another holiday with tears, we have hope. While Mary faced heart-piercing grief as she birthed her son, this grief was for the good of us all. While God the Son suffered at the crucifixion, by this suffering we are healed (Isa. 53:5), and he is a great high priest who can sympathize with our sufferings (Heb. 4:15).

Whatever darkness you face this Christmas, it is not the final word in your life. It may be lifelong. It may feel like it will never let up. It may threaten to undo you at times. And it is real. But we can grieve this holiday with hope that one day the baby who came in a manger will wipe every tear from our eyes and make his blessings flow for us forever (Rev. 21:4). The darkness that hovered over his cradle did not win. And it won’t win over us either.

7 Things to Remember About Healing From Past Pain and Tragedy

SOURCE:  Teryn O’Brien/Relevant Magazine

Healing after tragedy strikes is a long, hard process. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re going through it.

At the beginning of this year, I was still grieving the alleged murder of one of my dearest friends, and I was feeling hopeless that I could ever find peace and healing again in life. My creativity and passion for life had shriveled up, and my heart was completely numb.

At some point, all of us will feel the impact of tragedy—whether it’s pain from our past that gets brought back up, the death of a loved one, or even just the onslaught of horrific events around the world that we hear about on a daily basis.

Over the summer—after a month-long illness, meaningful counseling sessions, and many intense times with God—He worked healing in my heart in some incredible ways. Here are some things I learned about healing from past pain and tragedy:

1. It’s OK to Stop Doing Something That’s Hindering Healing, Even if People Expect You to Do It.

This summer, I took a break from blogging because I was only feeling obligated to do it. There was no real passion or joy left. I felt guilty about that, but when I stopped, I felt so much relief. As soon as I gave myself some space, I was able to really focus in on some important things—like healing and writing a book. Over the summer, my joy has come back. I even started missing blogging a little.

2. Slowing Down and Resting is Really Important.

God really spoke to me during my month plus of illness, and it’s because I had ample time to listen.

This summer, I got sick for over a month, which ruined nearly all my summer plans. While it makes me sad that I didn’t get to go on some of my expected adventures, the illness forced me to slow down. I couldn’t even concentrate, my head hurt so badly some days. So I did nothing. I read (when my head didn’t hurt). I wrote (when my head didn’t hurt). I processed. I healed emotionally, physically and spiritually. God really spoke to me during my month plus of illness, and it’s because I had ample time to listen.

3. Sometimes, You Just Have to Let Yourself Feel All the Emotions.

At the beginning of the year, I was trying really hard not to feel anything. My heart was numb. Well, the dam broke this summer, and I was feeling things so intensely for a while that I thought I might be going crazy. Every day was up or down. I’d be so angry one day and then so full of joy the next.

But through all that, I was able to process some very buried emotions that needed to come out. I detoxed from past wounds that had poisoned me for years. My heart cleared and cleansed, and I settled down, and I found peace. But it only came by being completely emotionally honest, which is always scary, because it feels so out of control.

4. You Never Realize You’re Healing Until You Look Back and See How Far You’ve Come.

Needless to say, when I started the summer, I was in a really bad place. I didn’t think I could ever heal. Gradually, a change has come. I can feel it in the beat of the rain and the whispers of the wind. Something changed this summer. I softened. My hardened heart softened.

Healing takes time. It’s easy to look at myself and see all my faults and how imperfect I still am. But then I think back to a year ago, and I realize that I have grown. It’s been up and down and backwards and forwards and sideways, but yes, the growth is there.

5. Forgiveness is Vital to the Survival of Any Pain or Tragedy.

Through my healing process, I learned to choose forgiveness over bitterness, cynicism and hatred. I forgave. It’s been a hard, hard battle in my heart, but now that I’ve made the choice, I feel so much lighter.

Forgiveness helps you release the stifling control of the past; it drops away from you like a stifling cloak so you can move and breath and dance once more. Forgiveness doesn’t make you forget the past, but it changes the way you relate to the past. It’s a process, and it will probably never stop. Now that I know it’s truly important, I’m willing to choose it again and again, over and over, for the rest of my life.

Forgiveness doesn’t make you forget the past, but it changes the way you relate to the past.

6. Love Never Fails.

I’ve realized that love is worth it—even if you’re hurt in the process, even if the world thinks you’re strange to love, even if you lose those you love.

It’s not violence that frees us. It’s not war or vengeance or hatred. It’s not being more clever or cruel or calculating than the people around you. It’s love. I want to be a loving person. I want to give, even if the world takes and never says thank you. Love heals our broken hearts.

7. There is Always Beauty, Even in the Darkness.

This world is often so dark and painful. It seems like so much unrest and war and hatred is spilling all over. But there’s so much beauty, too. It comes in the smallest ways—when the sunset strikes clouds blossoming with red, when you share laughter with friends over a silly inside joke, when you take a small step toward reaching out to love another. It’s all beautiful. Let’s fight for that beauty in the way we live our lives.

The road to healing is never easy, and I will assure you that these lessons are very difficult to learn. I’m not sugarcoating the painful agony of love, forgiveness and healing. Learning these lessons is the hardest thing anyone will ever do, and it will take a lifetime of practice.

But I’m here to tell you—it’s worth it.

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Teryn O’Brien works in marketing at Penguin Random House, LLC, and has written for ChurchLeaders.com and various other online magazines. She blogs about brokenness redeemed in the light of God’s greater story at terynobrien.com and is writing a fantasy fiction trilogy. Follow her on Twitter at@TerynOBrien.

Abandonment: Who/What Fills the Hole?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You, Lord, alone make me dwell in safety and confident trust.” (Psalm 4:8 AMP)

The desire to have a good relationship with our earthly parents is normal. But many of us have had little or no relationship with our earthly fathers and mothers. That lack leaves a hole inside us. A hole we need to fill. That search often prompts us to look for love . . . security . . . happiness in the wrong places.

Men who had no father figure as a child have questions about who they are as men. They tend to become just like their absent father . . . and hate themselves for it. Poor gender identity creates vulnerability for other difficulties, even homosexuality. Women who grew up without a father sometimes avoid men altogether or develop distorted perceptions and inappropriate expectations of men.

In the case of an absent mother, children often grow up without nurturing and do not learn to be nurturing parents themselves. Men may have difficulty relating to women.

Where are you looking for love and security? Whom do you expect to satisfy your needs? How are you trying to fill that emptiness inside you?

There is only One you can always trust. In the above scripture, the psalmist says he can lie down and sleep in peace because He knows God is protecting Him. He knows God is trustworthy.

Are you looking in the wrong places for hope and peace and acceptance? Look up and reach out to your heavenly Father. He is waiting for you . . . with open arms.

Father, a hole was left in me because of my absent parent. I’ve tried to fill that hole in many ways but now I realize I’ve looked in all the wrong places. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for being my heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …

 Restoring Families: Overcoming Abusive Relationships through Christ by Janet M. Lerner, D.S.W.

Death: Shall We Weep or Rejoice? (or both?)

SOURCE:  John Piper

When a Christian dies, shall those of us who remain weep or rejoice?

The biblical answer is both, even simultaneously.

I saw this in a new place as I was memorizing my way through Philippians again. I had never noticed before the emotional contrast between Philippians 2:17–18 and 2:27.

An Invitation to Rejoice

In Philippians 2:17–18, Paul is describing the possibility of his own death as “drink offering on the sacrificial offering” of their faith. He is willing to die in the service of strengthening and purifying their faith.

Then he says, if that happens, “I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (verse 18). Not only does he rejoice at the prospect of his own death, but he tells them to rejoice with him.

He already told them why he rejoices at the prospect of his death: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Presumably, that is why he thinks they should rejoice also. They love Paul. So when Paul is “with Christ” that will be “far better.”

Jesus spoke this same way to his disciples: “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). The Father in splendor is greater than the Son in suffering. What a liberation was coming when the Son’s work here is done and he returns to the Father’s glory! So, he says, if you love me, rejoice at my departure.

Experiencing Intense Sorrow

But that is not the whole story. Ten verses later in Philippians 2 Paul praises Epaphroditus because “he nearly died for the work of Christ” (verse 30). But then he did not die. And Paul is glad. Here’s what he says: “Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (verse 27).

God had mercy on Paul, lest he should have sorrow upon sorrow. In other words, he did not let Epaphroditus die so that Paul would not have that grief on top of all his other burdens.

So when Paul said, “Rejoice with me,” at the prospect of his own death (Philippians 2:18), that was not the whole emotional story. Paul would have experienced “grief upon grief” if Epaphroditus had died. And this is not because Epaphroditus was unprepared to die. He was as ready as Paul: “Honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ” (2:30).

The Complex Harmony

What should we conclude from this?

We should conclude that our sorrows at the death of a believer are joyful sorrows, and our rejoicing at the death of a believer is a sorrowful rejoicing. There is nothing hopeless about the sorrow. And there is nothing flippant about the joy. The joy hurts. And the sorrow is softened with invincible hope.

This is why one of the most common watchwords of the Christian life is “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Sorrow and joy are not merely sequential. They are simultaneous. This is not emotional schizophrenia. This is the complex harmony of the Christian soul.

Therefore, when a Christian dies, don’t begrudge the tears. And don’t belittle the joy in the lover’s eyes.

10 Suggestions for Healthy Grieving

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

Part of my work is helping people grieve. Or at least learn how to grieve. It’s not one of my favorite parts, because it always stems from the reasons why they need to grieve. It means hurt. Brokenness. Pain. Disappointment. That never feels good.

Yet the fact remains…part of living in a fallen world…is living among the thorns. We must learn to grieve because there will always be reasons to do so.

As much as we need to know how to grieve, however, I continually meet people who either don’t know how or refuse to allow themselves to grieve. I’ve even met well-meaning believer who believe they shouldn’t. The Scripture is clear. We do grieve. We simply don’t grieve like the rest of the world.

So, here are 10 suggestions for healthy grieving:

Don’t deny the pain – It hurts. Admit it. Be honest with yourself with others and especially with God. If it’s anger…tell it. If it’s profound sadness…say it. You’ve got to grieve at some point to move forward, and you’ll grieve sooner and better if you’re honest about the need.

Learn to pray – Grieving can draw you close to the heart of God. See that as one blessing in the midst of pain. The Scripture is clear…draw close to God and He will draw close to you. He is close to the broken hearted. Use this difficult time to build a bond with God that you’ll never regret having.

Remain active – You may not feel like being around people, but if you’re normally a very social person, discipline yourself in this area. Granted, some people were never very social, even before their grief. We shouldn’t expect much more from them in grief, but even for them, community matters. Don’t shelter yourself from others.

Stay healthy – Eat well and exercise. Sleep as regularly as you can. Stick to a schedule. You’ll need the strength to carry you through this time.

Help others – There is a special blessing that comes from serving others that can help you recover from your own pain. Serve at a soup kitchen. Deliver toys to needy children. Find a way to give back and you’ll invest in the health of your own heart.

Journal your thoughts and feelings – One day you’ll be glad you did. You’ll see the process God has taken you through and the healing He has allowed you to experience. You’ll need these reminders again some day.

Give it time – Grieving doesn’t complete itself in a day…or a week…or even a year. The depth of the pain always is relative to the time of a sense of recovery. And, some pain never leaves us. We simply learn to adapt to it. We learn to find contentment and even joy in the midst of sorrow and loss.

Share your story – You help others when you allow others to see you share and understand their pain. When you hide your story, you deny others of the privilege of healing through your experience.

Get help when needed – Don’t suffer alone. There are times all of us can use professional help. Don’t be ashamed to seek it.

Remember hope – If you are a follower of God…the best days are still to come. Even in your darkest days, remember, one day…every tear shall be wiped from your eyes.

You can get up, recover and move forward again even stronger than you were before, but please don’t fail to grieve.

It’s necessary. Vital. Healthy. Natural. Even Biblical. (1 Thessalonians 4)

Grief: Letting Go Of What We Can’t Keep

SOURCE:  John Townsend/Beyond Boundaries

 Grief: What It Is and What It Does for You

Grief helps us process the reality of loss. Simply put, grief is letting go of what you cannot keep. Grief requires accepting, both mentally and emotionally, that something you loved and valued is no more. There are many areas of life in which we can experience loss and for which we need to grieve:

• The dissolution of a marriage
• The end of a dating relationship
• Family ties that break down
• Friendships that end
• The death of a loved one
• Career opportunities that don’t materialize
• A relapse into addiction after years of sobriety
• Declining physical health
• Financial setbacks
• A trauma that forever mars an otherwise happy childhood

These represent important and life-changing experiences. However, just the fact that you have experienced losses doesn’t mean you can’t have a great and meaningful life. People endure great losses, like the ones mentioned earlier, and still have lives that are full and rich. The process of grieving losses is what helps you to deal with them and move on. This process is especially important when it comes to relational losses.

Grief helps you redirect your energies and focus on what you can have and what is good in your life. It provides a way to clear out regrets and hurts as a way to make room for the new. And grief converts a wound into a memory. That is, when you learn the process of letting go, the pain you feel in the present moves down your neurological pathways into your memory banks, where the past resides. In the memory banks, you can review the past, understand the past, and learn from the past.

Without grief, the wound never becomes a memory. You remain stuck in reexperiencing the hurt and hard times over and over again. Much like someone who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, people who fail to grieve experience a cycle of repeated thoughts and feelings, almost like flashbacks, that offer no relief. Grief ends this cycle and recalibrates your mind.

Six Components for Grieving a Lost Relationship

When it comes to the loss of a significant relationship, there are six essential components necessary for grief to do its work.

1. Acknowledge the Attachment
We get attached to people. That is the draw. And without an emotional attachment, there is nothing to grieve. This may seem obvious, but it is important to state it. The greater the grief you feel, the greater the love you have for the person you lost. And you can’t instantly undo the attachment. In the context of a relationship, you can’t simply stop feeling your feelings for someone just because the relationship is severed or changes. As we’ve noted before, the pain you feel is a good thing; it is a sign that you are alive inside.

2. Accept That You Can’t Control the Loss
Grief requires that you give up control of the other person’s decision and admit that you do not have the power to make him or her love you or move toward you. You are accepting a type of helplessness: “focused” helplessness, not the global helplessness of the victim position. It’s focused because you can choose to let go, choose to let your feelings out, choose to let other people in, and choose to even tell the person you don’t want the relationship to end. But in the end, you must accept that the other person is in the driver’s seat of his or her own life and path, toward you or away from you. You are, in that specific arena of life, helpless, because you don’t have permission or power to change the other person’s decisions.

This is a difficult area for most of us. No one wants to feel helpless. It renders us vulnerable and unable to make things happen the way we would like them to. I recently spoke with a woman on our radio program who described how her ex-husband had called her every day for the past four years — after the marriage had ended. He was unable to accept that the marriage was over. Some people think if they have one more talk with the other person and say the right thing at the right time, they can undo the alienation. Others think that if they become more lovable and attractive, that will work. The extreme cases engage in stalking behaviors. All of these behaviors are driven by a failure to accept the reality that one cannot control the loss of a relationship.

We resist helplessness when we don’t want to lose love. However, the sooner you can allow yourself to experience focused helplessness — to admit that you have no control over the other person’s decisions — the better off you will be.

Jesus allowed himself to experience focused helplessness by restraining his own power to make us love him: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). It is a model for us: if the All-Powerful could restrain his might to let people go, we who are finite in power can do the same.

3. Name What You Valued
When you value someone, you affirm that he or she is important to you. When the connection is over, there are certain aspects of the person and the relationship that you miss the most. These are the values you have to grieve. Here are some examples:

• Warmth: he was accessible and moved toward you
• Vulnerability: she allowed her weaknesses and insecurities to emerge
• Structure: she could focus and get things done
• Intellect: he was smart and interesting to talk to
• Honesty: he could hear and tell the truth
• Spiritual values: she loved God and helped you become closer to God
• Acceptance: she could care about you even with your failings and imperfections
• Personal values: he had similar values about love, family, and relationship
• Culture: your backgrounds meshed well

Sometimes, the value you need to grieve is connected to specific memories as well. It could be a trip you took or a private joke you shared. It might be a time of deep intimacy in which you were very close. Perhaps it was good times with the family.

Why is it important to name the specific things you valued? Because you must say good-bye to the entire person, not simply the negative parts of the person. You cannot walk away from the things you disliked, which may be the things that ended the relationship, without also saying good-bye to the things you loved as well. A half grief is never a healing grief.

Here’s another way to think about it. Chances are you’ve been in a situation in which a friend is sad about a relational loss, and you want to help. So you do the most instinctual and protective thing, which is to trash the other person! You might say things like, “I never knew what you saw in him.” “You are better off without him.” “He doesn’t deserve you.” Such statements are well-meaning and probably encourage your friend for awhile. But it also distances her from what she needs to say good-bye to, which is what she valued.

Moreover, it sets her back. The ungrieved “good parts” stay inside her mind and heart and haunt her. That is why some people can’t get over a past relationship or why they find other people who aren’t so good for them but remind them of what they missed. It is better to help your friend say things like, “I know he was controlling, but I do miss the good times.” In that way, she is able to begin letting go of the whole person.

You need that as well. When your friends trash your ex, instead of feeling like a righteous victim, tell them, “I know she was all that, but I have been missing the good things, and I need you to let me talk about those too.” It might feel a little humiliating — how can you be so weak that you still have feelings for a person who mistreated you? Go ahead and push through the humiliation. It just means you were attached to someone with both strengths and weaknesses. And you are valuing the good so that you can say a complete farewell.

4. Surround Yourself with People Who Are Comforting
Grief is letting go of something we can’t keep, but nature abhors a vacuum. It is hard to let go of a relationship all by yourself, because there is a vacuum inside where the person used to be. In other words, you will continue reaching out and desiring the other person even though you know the relationship is over. Having people around you who have the capacity to comfort can help to fill the vacuum.

The process of comfort begins with God, “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). How do you know if someone has the capacity to comfort? By the degree to which they remain present with you when you grieve. Being present means they don’t try to give you advice, cheer you up, or change the topic. That’s what people who are anxious about their own losses do. But people who are familiar with loss know how to just be with you. They give you eye contact, are sometimes quiet, and sometimes are just empathic. Allowing yourself to be comforted by others not only salves your grief, it also greatly reduces the power of the vacuum.

You may have little experience with grief and letting go. I find that many business people, for example, will simply move on from a bad situation or relationship without feeling their sadness. It is important, however, to be intentional about grief and not skip over it. Otherwise, you run the risk of never being able to fully let go of a person or lost opportunity in your past.

5. Allow the Sadness
The emotion of sadness encompasses both longing and mourning. When you are sad, your heart feels downcast. Tears may come. Even though you may have to wait for these emotions to come — you can’t manufacture them at will — there are things you can do that will help you access your sadness.

• Intentionally set aside time to step away from your busy routines and activities and settle into a quiet place.
– Think about the person you lost.
– Recall the negative aspects of the relationship, but don’t allow yourself to stay angry or to get sidetracked by an internal argument about how wrong it was.
– Remember the good aspects of the relationship and the warm times.
• Meet with a friend or counselor and tell him about the things you remember and your experiences with the other person.
• Ask a friend to play the part of your difficult person in a role-play conversation, in which you say what needs to be said: “I care about you, and even though it’s been hard,

I always will. Good-bye.” If you are going to talk to the person, this will help you experience the feelings and fears ahead of time. If you don’t have the opportunity to talk to the person, the role-play can still help you work through what you feel and resolve it.

Some combination of activities like these can help you get out of the doing mode and into the feeling mode. Then you will more readily access the sad emotions that must come. By welcoming your sadness, you allow your feelings to simply catch up with and ally with your thoughts about the reality of the loss.

6. Give Yourself the Gift of Time
Time is like an oven. It takes all the raw ingredients of grief and loss that we’ve talked about so far and cooks them up into something new; it transforms them, creating a new way for you to experience your loss. You cannot microwave grief. However, you can speed up the process by taking time and devoting energy to working through this process. Alternatively, you can also prolong your grief, sometimes forever. You don’t want that for yourself. You want to get it done right so that you can move on.

I once worked with a couple whose adult son, Brian, was a drug addict. He had rejected their help and the relationship they wanted to have with him. He was determined to go his own way and saw no reason to involve them in his life.

Brian’s father mourned the loss of his son over a period of several months and eventually began to invest his energies into other pursuits and family relationships. Brian’s mother, however, hated the idea of sadness — it was uncomfortable, and she did not like the sense of being out of control. So she would allow herself to feel a little sadness and then go through periods of “getting herself together.” She would tell me, “I’m done with this grief stuff. I have accepted that Brian doesn’t want us in his life. That’s his choice, he’s a grown-up. It’s time to move on.” And every time, within a few weeks she became lethargic, had trouble concentrating, and felt weepy about her son. Then she would be a little bit sad again, followed by another round of being “done with it” again.

I felt bad for her. She had come from a professional family in which sadness was seen as a weakness, so the feelings caused a great deal of shame and self-condemnation within her. I told her, “Maybe you’re done, but I doubt it. This is the fourth time you have struggled with your sad feelings like this.” Then I turned to her husband and said, “Why don’t you tell her how you feel about her sad feelings about Brian?” He looked at her and said, “You’re the only other person in the world who understands what we are going through. When you allow yourself to feel our sadness, it brings me closer to you and I feel hope for us.” When she heard that, she began to soften. She was able to stay with her sadness and slowly did make steady progress — instead of the false starts and stops — in letting Brian go.

While some people such as Brian’s mom resist their grief, others can get frozen in a permanent state of grief. They access their sadness, but something breaks down, and they cannot move on. So they continue years of living in loss and have difficulty being happy. Sometimes the breakdown is due to isolation and not having enough safe people with whom to process their loss. Sometimes it is because they idealize the person they lost and can’t imagine anyone could replace them; they build a mental shrine to that person. People whose spouses or parents have died often suffer from this. Making another attachment seems disloyal to the other person’s memory, so they sacrifice their opportunities for a good life in the future on the altar of the life they can no longer have.

If you think you may be frozen in this way, it will help to make a list of the positive and negative qualities of the person and reflect on them. This is not dishonoring to the individual. It is simply a way to allow you to say good-bye to the real person, so that you don’t stay stuck in seeing only the good parts.

These six components have an order and a structure to them. They work. But remember that grief has its own pace as well. One part may take more or less time than you expected. Don’t attempt to force or control your grief process. Give yourself margin within the components. In time, you will be able to let go of the relationship and move on.

Grieving a Living Person

Letting go of a relationship when the individual has passed away is no easy task. However, it can be even harder in some ways when the person is still alive. This was the case with Brian, whose parents had to grieve the loss of their relationship with him. As the saying goes, where there is life, there is hope, and if you know the person is still breathing, it is easy to imagine scenarios, conversations, and tactics that could return and restore the relationship. We all have hope somewhere inside us, the anticipation of a future good. We need hope, because it helps us endure a difficult present, knowing that the future will be an improvement. However, when that capacity for hope attaches to a person simply because he or she is alive — not for any sound reason that makes sense — it is a vain hope.

If this is your situation, you don’t want to waste any more time on vain hope. The only thing it does is slow down your ability to move beyond boundaries and into great relationships. You may need to focus on this issue. Here are a few ideas that might help:

• Tell yourself that you still have a death to deal with: the person is not dead, but the relationship is.
• Write down the evidence you have of the loss and reflect on it: the divorce paper, the person has another relationship, there is no change in the person’s toxicity.
• Ask a friend to tell you why he or she thinks the relationship is over and listen to it from his or her perspective.

Giving up vain hope doesn’t mean that relational miracles don’t occur. I have seen many dead connections resurrected. So be open to the possibility. But let go. You can enter sadness and still leave a door open at the same time. It sounds like it can’t be done, but it can in this way: you are putting your energy and focus into the next steps and the next relationships. But you are not God, and if God miraculously changes the situation, you can respond to that. Move ahead, but let God be God.

But what do you do if the relationship is not over? For example, say you are married, and it is a hard marriage, but you want to keep the commitment and repair whatever is broken, even though it is painful. Is this a matter of grief? Yes, it still is. It is not about letting go and saying good-bye to the person or the relationship; they are still in the picture. But you do have a loss: the loss of the good that was there.

There were good days and times of connection and happiness before things began to go wrong. It may sound strange to grieve the lost, good parts of your relationship and still relate to or even live with the person, but the idea still holds: you have suffered a loss, and it must be grieved. Don’t prevent yourself from grieving just because you are still in the relationship. The loss is still real and important to you.

If the relationship never had a good season, how do you grieve that? For whatever reason, character issues, disconnection, control, manipulations, addictions, and even abuse could have been the norm from the beginning of the relationship. Obviously, you can’t grieve that — there is nothing in the relationship to grieve. That is, except for one thing: the hope. That is, the hope of what you wanted to happen. You grieve your dreams and desires for love, connection, success, partnership, acceptance, or support.

We generally begin a friendship, a family relationship, a business relationship, or a courtship with some sort of hope of a good outcome. Why else would we try to connect in the first place? If you are in a situation in which you feel there is nothing good about the relationship to grieve, you can grieve your lost hopes and what did not happen. Again, I need to say that I have seen relationships that were stillborn and never fulfilling that, with work, began to thrive in health and intimacy. So if the structure of the relationship still exists, I encourage you to continue working for a better future, while at the same time saying good-bye to your dreams of the past.

You Have Nothing to Fear from Grief

Allow me to add a bit of perspective here, especially if concentrating on grief and understanding its nature are new to you. Grief doesn’t have to control or consume your life. Depending on the situation, it can take days or it can take years. How long it takes all depends on how important the relationship was to you, whom you choose to help you along, and how focused you are in the process. But don’t be afraid of your grief. You can have a good life and still let go of that which is no longer yours. Take it from wise King Solomon, “A sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:3).

Grief is like the weather; it’s always changing and often unpredictable. It is more organic than systematic. So while you are in the season of letting go of the relationship or a part of the relationship, allow yourself to engage in it and embrace it. Your grief will subside, and you can regain joy and positive feelings. Then another wave of grief will likely return. But the process works in such a way that each time you engage in grief, the bottom — the lowest part of the sadness — should be a little less severe and a little less dark. And in time, you will be yourself, actually more than yourself — because you have integrated and metabolized the loss of the relationship and learned from it.

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Townsend, J. (2011). Beyond boundaries: learning to trust again in relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission

SOURCE:  Rick Warren/American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC)

“Your illness is not your identity,” Pastor Rick Warren shared this week. “Your chemistry is not your character. It’s not a sin to be sick.”

Returning to the pulpit for the first time since his son Matthew’s tragic suicide in April, Warren broke away from his notes to talk frankly about his grief and the challenge of living with his son’s mental illness.

According to USA Today, “Matthew Warren, after a lifetime of struggle with depression, shot and killed himself in what Warren at the time called ‘a momentary wave of despair.’ ”

“I was in shock for at least a month after Matthew took his life,” Warren said. In a world where many Christians often feel the pressure to “put on a happy face,” Pastor Warren’s honesty is refreshing.

“For 27 years I prayed every day of my life for God to heal my son’s mental illness,” Warren said. “It was the number one prayer of my life…And it didn’t make sense.”

As Christian counselors, we must remember the daily challenges facing family members of an individual who struggles with depression, addiction, an eating disorder, or other mental health concerns.

“How proud I was of Amy and Josh, who for 27 years loved their younger brother,” Warren said. “They talked him off the ledge time after time. They are really my heroes.”

As churches and communities we need to rally around and provide support, care and a listening ear to those who live with the daily reality of mental illness, reminding them, as Warren said, that their illness is not their identity.

“It’s not a sin to take meds. It’s not a sin to get help. You don’t need to be ashamed.” This message needs to reverberate through churches all across our nation, where misunderstandings about mental illness and false theology that “faith is enough” often results in unnecessary suffering.

In Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s MissionAmy Simpson points out, “Mental illness is the sort of thing we don’t like to talk about. Too often, we reduce people with mental illness to caricatures and ghosts, and simply pretend they don’t exist.”

“They do exist, however. Statistics suggest that one in every four people suffers from some kind of mental illness—from depression to schizophrenia and beyond.

Many of these people, and the family and friends who love them, are sitting in churches week after week, suffering in stigmatized silence.”

Simpson reminds us that people with mental illness are our neighbors—our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to love them and care for them.

What can churches do to help advocate on behalf of mental illness? Simpson offers several starting points:

  • Get help if you’re struggling. Break the silence by telling your story.
  • Get educated about the issues—read, learn and seek to truly understand.
  • Talk about mental illness and address common stigmas—in the pulpit, small groups, etc.
  • Build genuine relationships—don’t just help as a “project.”
  • Ask families living with mental illness how you can help with practical needs.
  • Accept people unconditionally—look past their diagnosis and see the real person God created and loves.
  • Start support groups for families living with mental illness.
  • Collaborate with local mental health professionals.

“There are people with mental illnesses in every church, whether this is known or not,” one church leader writes. “Jesus came to love and serve everyone. He feared no one. All churches can learn to serve the Lord better in caring for His people.”

In the midst of unspeakable grief, Pastor Warren shared, “God wants to take your greatest sorrow and turn it into your life’s greatest message.”

How does God want to use you to help those struggling with mental illness and their families?

Christian counseling is far more than a career…it’s a calling to minister and offer hope to those who need it most.

Loss Is Real, But So Is Jesus

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Loss Is Your Door to His Stability

When we are children, the reality of loss is a lesson taught and learned very quickly. Missing a meal, seeing the needs of others met before our own, watching a mother’s attention focus on a newborn sibling, losing a beloved toy, losing at games, loss through parent’s divorce or job relocation, death of a close family member, or death of a pet. Perhaps the worst to absorb is the loss of innocence through abuse or extreme life circumstances.

Life is filled with many kinds of loss. And regardless of the cause, one thing is certain: all loss hurts. We recover quickly from some losses. But others take months or even years to absorb and process. Certain losses are temporary while others are permanent.

Nowadays, many people are facing the loss of their jobs because so many businesses are closing or downsizing. This kind of loss can be devastating to anyone, but especially to the breadwinner of a family. Even losing a second job may represent a threat to survival, credibility, identity, or stability for our spouse or kids.

Job loss can produce many emotions, but fear is usually at the root of any uncomfortable response. Will I lose my home? My child is leaving for college this fall—will I have to break the news that it will be impossible? We have built up credit card debt trying to keep our heads above water … what now? Who will respect me? Will our marriage survive this pressure? Will she still love me? Do I still have worth and value to anyone?

These concerns are very real and can seem extremely threatening. If we keep our eyes on the waves of hardship, we will sink into despair and hopelessness. This is the time when it is difficult … but also imperative … to focus on Jesus, not on the problems. This is the time to remember that He, not that job, is our source of value, peace, security, comfort, redemption, and abundance.

We may go through some real challenges. We may have to tighten our belts and make some sacrifices. These struggles are not easy, but with Jesus, we have hope, and more importantly, a powerful peace. Our jobs may be gone and the economy may be falling apart, but God has not changed. Step back from the hardship and see your life from God’s perspective. If you think He has abandoned or persecuted you, think again. It is because of His mercy and loving-kindness that we are not already obliterated by the adversity.

Today, dig into the areas where you struggle or have experienced some recent hardship. What is the fear at the bottom of the issue? Infuse Jesus’ teachings into your fear, let Him bring healing and comfort to your pain. Then re-evaluate your struggle through these new lenses. Remember, great and abundant are His stability and faithfulness in all things. How you handle loss is your decision, so choose well.

My Father and Lord, This economy and my finances have left me feeling angry and fearful. Help me to regroup … to remember that You are here, that You love me and my family, and that You have a plan. Help me remember that this economy, my recent loss, or any other adversity have not taken You by surprise … and that You have already made a way for me. Thank You that Your compassion never fails and that Your stability and faithfulness are abundant. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who provides my stability, Jesus Christ; – AMEN!

The Truth
It is because of the Lord’s mercy and loving-kindness that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great and abundant is Your stability and faithfulness.  

Lamentations 3:22-23

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

Rachel Weeping for Her Children — How should Christians think and pray in the aftermath of such a colossal crime?

SOURCE:  Albert Mohler

Rachel Weeping for Her Children — The Massacre in Connecticut

Thus says the LORD:  “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”[Jeremiah 31:15]

It has happened again.

This time tragedy came to Connecticut, where a lone gunman entered two classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and opened fire, killing at least twenty children and six adults, before turning his weapons of death upon himself. The young victims, still to be officially identified, ranged in age from five to ten years. The murderer was himself young, reported to be twenty years old. According to press reports, he murdered his mother, a teacher at Sandy Hook, in her home before the rampage at the school.

Apparently, matricide preceded mass murder. Some of the children were in kindergarten, not even able to tie their own shoes. The word kindergarten comes from the German, meaning a garden for children. Sandy Hook Elementary School was no garden today. It was a place of murder, mayhem, and undisguised evil.

The calculated and premeditated nature of this crime, combined with the horror of at least twenty murdered children, makes the news almost unspeakable and unbearable. The grief of parents and loved ones in Newtown is beyond words. Yet, even in the face of such a tragedy, Christians must speak. We will have to speak in public about this evil, and we will have to speak in private about this horrible crime.

How should Christians think and pray in the aftermath of such a colossal crime?

We Affirm the Sinfulness of Sin, and the Full Reality of Human Evil

First, we must recognize that this tragedy is just as evil, horrible, and ugly as it appears.

Christianity does not deny the reality and power of evil, but instead calls evil by its necessary names — murder, massacre, killing, homicide, slaughter. The closer we look at this tragedy, the more it will appear unfathomable and more grotesque than the human imagination can take in.

What else can we say about the murder of children and their teachers? How can we understand the evil of killing little children one by one, forcing them to watch their little friends die and realizing that they were to be next? How can we bear this?

Resisting our instinct toward a coping mechanism, we cannot accept the inevitable claims that this young murderer is to be understood as merely sick. His heinous acts will be dismissed and minimized by some as the result of psychiatric or psychological causation, or mitigated by cultural, economic, political, or emotional factors. His crimes were sick beyond words, and he was undoubtedly unbalanced, but he pulled off a cold, calculated, and premeditated crime, monstrous in its design and accomplishment.

Christians know that this is the result of sin and the horrifying effects of The Fall. Every answer for this evil must affirm the reality and power of sin. The sinfulness of sin is never more clearly revealed than when we look into the heart of a crime like this and see the hatred toward God that precedes the murderous hatred he poured out on his little victims.

The twentieth century forced us to see the ovens of the Nazi death camps, the killing fields of Cambodia, the inhumanity of the Soviet gulags, and the failure of the world to stop such atrocities before they happened. We cannot talk of our times without reference to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, Pol Pot and Charles Manson, Idi Amin and Ted Bundy. More recently, we see evil in the impassive faces of Osama bin Laden and Anders Behring Brevik. We will now add yet another name to the roll call of mass murderers. His will not be the last.

The prophet Jeremiah knew the wickedness and deceit of the sinful human heart and asked the right question — who can understand it?

Beyond this, the Christian must affirm the grace of moral restraint, knowing that the real question is not why some isolated persons commit such crimes, but why such massacres are not more common. We must be thankful for the restraint of the law, operating on the human conscience. Such a crime serves to warn us that putting a curve in the law will inevitably produce a curve in the conscience. We must be thankful for the restraining grace of God that limits human evil and, rightly understood, keeps us all from killing each other.

Christians call evil what it is, never deny its horror and power, and remain ever thankful that evil will not have its full sway, or the last word.

We Affirm the Cross of Christ as the Only Adequate Remedy for Evil

There is one and only one reason that evil does not have the last word, and that is the fact that evil, sin, death, and the devil were defeated at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. There they were defeated conclusively, comprehensively, and publicly.

On the cross, Christ bore our sins, dying in our place, offering himself freely as the perfect sacrifice for sin. The devil delighted in Christ’s agony and death on the cross, realizing too late that Christ’s substitutionary atonement spelled the devil’s own defeat and utter destruction.

Christ’s victory over sin, evil, and death was declared by the Father in raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the ground of our hope and the assurance of the final and total victory of Christ over all powers, principalities, and perpetrators.

A tragedy like this cannot be answered with superficial and sentimental Christian emotivism, nor with glib dismissals of the enormity and transience of this crime. Such a tragedy calls for the most Gospel-centered Christian thinking, for the substance of biblical theology, and the solace that only the full wealth of Christian conviction can provide.

In the face of such horror, we are driven again and again to the cross and resurrection of Christ, knowing that the reconciling power of God in Christ is the only adequate answer to such a depraved and diabolical power.

We Acknowledge the Necessity of Justice, Knowing that Perfect Justice Awaits the Day of the Lord

Charles Manson sits in a California prison, even now — decades after his murderous crimes were committed. Ted Bundy was executed by the State of Florida for multiple murders, but escaped both conviction and punishment for others he is suspected of having committed. Anders Behring Brevik shot and killed scores of young people in Norway, but he was sentenced to less than thirty years in prison. Adolf Hitler took his own life, robbing human courts of their justice, and Vladimir Lenin died of natural causes.

The young murderer in Connecticut took his own life after murdering almost thirty people, most of them children. He will never face a human court, never have to face a human accuser, never stand convicted of his crimes, and never know the justice of a human sentence.

But, even as human society was robbed of the satisfaction of that justice, it would never be enough. Even if executed for his crimes, he could die only once. Even if sentenced to scores of life sentences to prison, he could forfeit only one human lifespan.

Human justice is necessary, but it is woefully incomplete. No human court can hand down an adequate sentence for such a crime, and no human judge can restore life to those who were murdered.

Crimes such as these remind us that we just yearn for the total satisfaction that will come only on the Day of the Lord, when all flesh will be judged by the only Judge who will rule with perfect righteousness and justice. On that day, the only escape will be refuge in Christ, for those who knew and confessed him as Savior and Lord. On that day, those who are in Christ will know the promise that full justice and restoration will mean that every eye is dry and tears are nevermore.

We Grieve with Those Who Grieve

For now, even as we yearn for the Day of the Lord, we grieve with those who grieve. We sit with them and pray for them and acknowledge that their loss is truly unspeakable and that their tears are unspeakably true. We pray and look for openings for grace and the hope of the gospel. We do our best to speak words of truth, love, grace, and comfort.

What of the eternal destiny of these sweet children? There is no specific text of Scripture that gives us a clear and direct answer. We must affirm with the Bible that we are conceived in sin and, as sons and daughters of Adam, will face eternal damnation unless we are found in Christ. So many of these little victims died before reaching any real knowledge of their own sinfulness and need for Christ. They, like those who die in infancy and those who suffer severe mental incapacitation, never really have the opportunity to know their need as sinners and the provision of Christ as Savior.

They are in a categorically different position than that of the person of adult consciousness who never responds in faith to the message of the Gospel. In the book of Deuteronomy, God tells the adults among the Children of Israel that, due to their sin and rebellion, they would not enter the land of promise. But the Lord then said this: “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” [Deuteronomy 1:39]

Many, if not all, of the little children who died in Newtown were so young that they certainly would be included among those who, like the little Israelites, “have no knowledge of good or evil.” God is sovereign, and he was not surprised that these little ones died so soon. There is biblical precedent for believing that the Lord made provision for them in the atonement accomplished by Christ, and that they are safe with Jesus.

Rachel Weeping for Her Children

The prophet Jeremiah’s reference to Rachel and her lost children is heart-breaking. “Thus says the LORD:  ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’” Like Rachel, many parents, grandparents, and loved ones are weeping inconsolably even now, refusing to be comforted for their children, because they are no more.

This tragedy is compounded in emotional force by the fact that it comes in such close proximity to Christmas, but let us never forget that there was the mass murder of children in the Christmas story as well. King Herod’s murderous decree that all baby boys under two years of age should be killed prompted Matthew to cite this very verse from Jeremiah. Rachel again was weeping for her children.

But this is not where either Jeremiah or Matthew leaves us. By God’s mercy, there is hope and the promise of full restoration in Christ.

The Lord continued to speak through Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.”
[Jeremiah 31:16-17]

God, not the murderer, has the last word. For those in Christ, there is the promise of full restoration. Even in the face of such unmitigated horror, there is hope.“There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to your own country.”

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Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.,serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

Responding to the Connecticut School Shooting: Six “T’s” for Helping Kids through Trauma

SOURCE:  Tim Clinton/American Association of Christian Counselors

Today, an unspeakable tragedy took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Fox News reports that 26 people are dead; 20 of the victims are elementary age children. It’s horrifying, mind-boggling and surreal—an unspeakable evil and every parent’s nightmare.

Pray for the families of the victims and the entire community of Newtown during this confusing and desperate time. Around the dinner table tonight, there will be many conversations about why tragedies like this happen… and questions from kids about whether or not they’re safe, especially at school.

As one mother on the scene put it, “I’m in a state of shock. I don’t know how I’m going to handle having [my daughter] know… about the whole situation.”

Trauma is best understood as any event that shatters our sense of safety. Immediately, one can become hyper vigilant—overly sensitive and set on emotional alert. Fear rules, especially in kids. The pictures online screamed of the horror. In these moments, children need adults who are attuned to their emotions and tender to their needs.

 Six “T’s” for Helping Kids through Trauma

Togetherness. This is a night where your kids need to have you close. They need to know they’re safe. Pull in together as a family. Pray together. Be together. The antidote to trauma is safe, loving relationships. Coddle your children a little bit more. Stay in close proximity to them, particularly if they’re anxious or afraid.

 Touch and Tenderness. Touch is an expression of affection that reinforces proximity and closeness. It produces a calming affect. Fear makes our minds race and wander, but tender touch dispels it. Hold a hand. Stroke your children’s hair. Let them sit in your lap. Wrap your arms around them. Kiss them. Be present emotionally. If they’re acting out a little bit with anger, rebellion or defiance, it very well could be a fear response. Be sensitive to their behavior.

Talk. The questions will come: “Will a shooter come to my school?” “Why did he hurt those kids?” Be present, sensitive, and don’t offer pat answers. Engage them in age-appropriate discussion. Contrary to what many of us believe, talk doesn’t perpetuate anxiety—it helps to reduce it. Avoid graphic details, but don’t skirt around the issue. Become a safe place for them to bring their questions.

Truth. Fears of the unknown can paralyze us. Anchor their hearts in truths like, “Not everyone in the world is bad. You’re safe now. God loves us and is close to us.” Remember, our kids absorb us. Your mood, thoughts, and actions directly influence theirs. These truths flow through you—Mom and/or Dad. Share the promises of God’s Word with your kids. Pray for, and with, them.

Triggers. Someone screaming. A door slamming. A siren. What children experience or see on the news can deeply affect them. Don’t let your kids get overdosed with the news stories and all the gory details. This can lead to nightmares, excessive bouts of crying, deepening fear, and not wanting to attend school. Be attuned to your children. Don’t react to their emotions, respond lovingly.

Time. Don’t rush or ignore this process. Over the next several days, we will all be flooded with information about the shooting. Keep your life as normal as possible. Sameness and routine reinforce the message of safety for your kids. Your family stability over time will help dispel their fears.

Our children are not immune to the darkness and brokenness of our world. We may think that if we ignore this incident, our kids won’t know about it or feel the impact. Nothing could be further from the truth! Our kids need parents and teachers—those who have influence in their lives—to be emotionally present and invested, especially in moments like these.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Tim Clinton, Ed.D., (The College of William and Mary) is President of the nearly 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), the largest and most diverse Christian counseling association in the world. He is Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care, and Executive Director of the Center for Counseling and Family Studies at Liberty University. Licensed in Virginia as both a Professional Counselor (LPC) and Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Tim now spends a majority of his time working with Christian leaders and professional athletes. He is recognized as a world leader in faith and mental health issues and has authored or co-authored 20 books including his latest, Break Through: When to Give In, How to Push Back.

Loss: Divorce Brings Grief … and Changes

SOURCE:  Living Free

“Who are those who fear the Lord? He will show them the path they should choose …” Psalm 25:12 NLT

Divorce is the ultimate relationship loss. When marriage problems end in separation and divorce, the loss is experienced by the entire family. Divorce can leave the family in suspended animation as custody and child support battles rage long after the initial disruption.

Recovering from divorce involves working through a grieving process, much like when a spouse has died. It also involves making choices. You might not have had a choice in getting a divorce, but you do have a choice in your response. Will you hold on to bitterness and anger … or will you forgive? Will you give up and give into despair … or will you trust Jesus to help you rebuild your life? Will you walk in fear … or will you place your faith in God to guide you and help you?

Divorce can bring one of the most intense pains possible into a person’s life, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Jesus loves you and wants to help you. If you will commit your ways to him, he will guide you in making those choices … he will give you the courage you need … and he will restore your hope. With him all things are possible.

Lord, forgive me for the poor choices in the past. Right now I have to make so many decisions. I need your help. Help me to choose the right path … the one that is right for my family, for me and, most of all, the one that is pleasing to you. In Jesus’ name …

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

These thoughts were drawn from …

Handling Loss and Grief: How to Face Losses in Life and Grieve Christianly by Raymond T. Brock, Ed.D.

Loss: Downsized or Fired?

SOURCE:   Living Free

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!” 

Psalm 139:13-18 NLT

In these days of industrial downsizing, as many as 3.5 million workers are laid off or fired each year. Loss of a job can produce anger, guilt, grief and fear.

If you have recently lost your job, you might be feeling like a complete failure. It is vital for you to understand that your worth is not measured by what other people think of you—it is measured by God’s love for you. And his love is unlimited and unconditional.

While it is important to evaluate your own job performance and learn from any mistakes you might have made, it is also important to remember that you are precious to God and he wants to help you through this loss.

Remember—you are special. Not because of what you have or haven’t done. Because God made you and his workmanship is marvelous! His thoughts about you are precious. When you wake up each morning, he will still be with you!

Evaluate what has happened, learn from it, forgive if you’ve been treated unfairly … then move on, trusting God for his plan for you, his help, his love and his strength.

Father, help me to remember that my worth is not determined by what I’ve done or not done … it’s not determined by what other people think of me … but it’s determined by the fact that you designed me, and you loved me enough to send Jesus to die for me. Thank you for loving me … thank you for caring … thank you that with your help, I can move one with hope. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Handling Loss and Grief: How to Face Losses in Life and Grieve Christianly by Raymond T. Brock, Ed.D.

Divorce: The Ultimate Relationship Wound and Loss

SOURCE:  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Divorce: Despair or Trust?

Divorce is the ultimate relationship wound and loss.

When marriage problems end in separation and then divorce, the loss is deeply experienced not only by the couple, but also by the entire family. It even impacts friends and often the coworkers of that family. Divorce can leave the family in suspended animation as battles usually rage for many years after.

Recovering from divorce involves working through a grieving process, much like when a spouse has died. It also involves making decisions. You might not have had a choice in getting a divorce, but you do have choices in your response. Will you hold on to bitterness and anger … or will you forgive? Will you give up and give in to despair …or will you trust Jesus to help you rebuild your life on Him and not on your marriage or your spouse? Will you walk in fear … or will you be courageous to face the future God has for you? Do you trust you, marriage, your ex-, or God?

Satan and your flesh, filled with insecurities and hurt, will try to influence your me-centered focus to give up, to feel like a failure, to feel no hope is possible, and that you’ve lost everything. You have to resist these lies and distortions. Remember, Satan is the Great Deceiver. This is the only character trait he has to present and relate to the truth.

Divorce can bring one of the most intense pains possible into a person’s life. But you don’t have to go through it alone. Jesus loves you and wants to help you. If you will commit your ways to Him, the Holy Spirit will guide you in making those hard decisions … He will give you the courage and peace you need to be clear-minded … and He will restore your hope. With God, all things are possible.

Today, if you are thinking about divorce, STOP! Get some wise counsel as this is not God’s plan, (but sometimes acceptable) and therefore will be a nightmare for you and a lot of loss for many.

If you are divorced, dive into the Bible and get to a church based Divorce Recovery group so you can process and heal using Biblical truths and lenses. If you are a child from divorced parents, really examine the lies that divorce embeds in your mind about you, your parents, and relationships. If you know people in these situations, be there to help them genuinely heal and see God and life more clearly, because Satan really uses divorce to suck the soul out of people and make them his puppets. If you are married, commit to grow your marriage and express your love to your spouse. Life is your decision, so choose well.

Prayer

Dear Father God, forgive me for the poor decisions I have made in the past. I know divorce saddens You. My hurt and loss seem unbearable at times. Please help me access the strength, power, peace, and comfort You provide to overcome. I know that through You, I will not just overcome, but even thrive as a result of learning through these experiences to put all my eggs in Your basket alone. Right now I have to make so many decisions. I need your help. Help me to choose the right path … the one that is right for my family and for me, and most of all the path that pleases You. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who shows us what step to take next, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.

Psalm 25:12

 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

Matthew 19:6

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

DEATH Hurts, But It’s Not The END!

You Are Not Alone

SOURCE:  Taken from a devotion by Living Free Ministry

“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39 NLT

Thoughts for Today

If you are recently widowed, you might be finding it almost impossible to move beyond the mourning period, especially if your marriage was a long and fulfilling one. Beginning each new day may seem like an overwhelming task. The loneliness may seem unbearable at times.

It is important to remember that you are never really alone. God is there with you. Nothing can separate you from his love. Open your heart to Jesus. Let him love you and fill you with his peace. Your new road may still be difficult, but with Jesus it will be possible.

 Consider this …

God can make this a time of growth and renewed intimacy with him—if you want him to. But you have a choice. As time moves on, you can choose to dwell on your loss and on what might have been. Or you can choose life … appreciating the time you had with your spouse, but beginning to move on, praising God for the many blessings you still have. And remember that the Lord isn’t finished with you. Choose to rise each morning, asking him to help you accomplish the purpose of that day’s journey.

Even with positive choices, recovery will take time.

Learn to take one step at a time, trusting Jesus and basking in his comfort and love.

Prayer

Father, I thank you so much that I can trust in your presence and your love. I need your help to get through this. I take great comfort in your promise that nothing can separate me from your love. In Jesus’ name …

A Purpose in the Pain

Source:  Ligonier Ministries

A Purpose in the Pain: An Interview with Joni Eareckson Tada

by Joni Eareckson Tada

Tabletalk: For our readers who are unfamiliar with your story, would you share how you became quadriplegic?

Joni Eareckson Tada: For years, I was one of those who insisted, “Handicaps happen to other people, not me.” But all that changed on a hot July afternoon in 1967 when my sister Kathy and I went to a beach on the Chesapeake Bay for a swim. The water was murky, and I didn’t bother to check the depth when I hoisted myself onto a raft anchored offshore. I dove in and instantly felt my head hit something hard — my neck snapped and I felt a strange electric shock. Underwater and dazed, I felt myself floating and unable to surface for air. Thankfully, Kathy noticed my plight and quickly came to the rescue. When she pulled me out of the water, I saw my arm slung over her shoulder, and yet, I couldn’t feel it. I knew then that something awful had happened. Later, at the hospital, I learned I had severed my spinal cord and would be left a quadriplegic for the rest of my life. I was devastated.

TT: When you first discovered that you would never use your arms and legs again, what went through your mind and how did you cope with this reality?

JT: Lying in the hospital, I recalled that just months earlier I had asked God to draw me closer to His side. Now, stuck in bed, I wondered if my paralysis was His idea of an answer to that prayer. If this was the way He treated new Christians, how could He ever be trusted with another prayer again? Obviously, God’s ways were far different than mine, and, for a long time, that idea both frightened and depressed me. But where else could I turn? To whom could I go? I remember praying, “God, if I can’t die, then show me how to live.” Many days afterward, I would sit in front of a Bible, holding a mouth-stick between my teeth and f lipping the pages, praying that God would help me put together the puzzle pieces of my suffering.

TT: Which passages of Scripture have given you encouragement during your struggles with disability and cancer?

JT: Psalm 79:8 says, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need” (NIV). Basically, I wake up almost every morning in desperate need of Jesus — from those early days when I first got out of the hospital, to over four decades in a wheelchair, it’s still the same. The morning dawns and I realize: “Lord, I don’t have the strength to go on. I have no resources. I can’t ‘do’ another day of quadriplegia, but I can do all things through You who strengthen me. So please give me Your smile for the day; I need You urgently.” This, I have found, is the secret to my joy and contentment. Every morning, my disability — and, most recently, my battle with cancer — forces me to come to the Lord Jesus in empty-handed spiritual poverty. But that’s a good place to be because Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3, NIV).

Another anchor is Deuteronomy 31:6, where God tells me, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified [of quadriplegia, chronic pain, or cancer], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (NIV). I’m convinced a believer can endure any amount of suffering as long as he’s convinced that God is with him in it. And we have the Man of Sorrows, the most God-forsaken man who ever lived, so that, in turn, He might say to us, “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.” God wrote the book on suffering and He called it Jesus. This means God understands. He knows. He’s with me. My diving accident really was an answer to that prayer to be drawn closer to Him.

TT: How important is it for a person with a disability to have the support of his or her family and church during such times?

JT: God never intended that we should suffer alone, that we should suffer for nothing. This is why spiritual community is so important to a person who has undergone a catastrophic injury or illness — his family and the church keep him connected to reality, help ascribe positive meaning to his pain, bring him out of social isolation, and point him to the One who holds all the answers in His hand. Without family and the church, a person with a disability is adrift in a sea of hopelessness. We must not let that happen.

TT: How would you encourage someone who has recently been diagnosed with a permanent illness or disability?

JT: First, it’s okay to cry; it’s important to grieve. Romans 12:15 shows us that God doesn’t expect us to stifle our tears, so we shouldn’t expect it of each other. It’s a hard thing to first swallow a bad medical report or the birth of your child with a disabling condition, and it takes time to digest the reality. But sooner or later, we have to put aside the Kleenex and start thinking, start searching out God’s heart in the matter — because it’s not enough to merely cope or adjust; God wants us to embrace His purpose for the pain a s good and acceptable (Rom. 12:2b).

TT: What is the best way to help nondisabled people view disabled people as more than just the sum of their disabilities?

JT: Inside every person using a wheelchair, a white cane, or a walker is a person who is just like you, someone with hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, opinions and views, and memories of childhood and vacations. Try to look past the strokeravaged body or the blind eyes or the wheelchair to see that this individual is an image-bearer of God — a person with human dignity and life potential. And look for ways to help that person discover his innate worth and purpose for living — realizing that he can help you discover the same.

TT: Your most recent book is A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’ s Sovereignty. Can you tell us why you wrote this book?

JT: For more than ten years I have dealt with chronic pain (very unusual for a quadriplegic like me). Piled on top of my quadriplegia, at times it seemed too much to bear. So I went back and reexamined my original views on divine healing to see what more I could learn. What I discovered was that God still reserves the right to heal or not to heal as He sees fit.

And rather than try to frantically escape the pain, I relearned the timeless lesson of allowing my suffering to push me deeper into the arms of Jesus. I like to think of my pain as a sheepdog that keeps snapping at my heels to drive me down the road to Calvary, where, otherwise, I would not be naturally inclined to go.

TT: How doe s Joni and Friends International Disability Center impact the world today?

JT: I’m honored to lead a gifted team of like-hearted believers who are passionate about making Jesus real among people around the globe who are suffering from all sorts of disabilities and diseases. Through our Wheels for the World outreach, gifted physical therapists travel with us to hand-fit needy disabled people in developing nations to wheelchairs. Plus, we give them Bibles and do disability ministry training in local churches. Joni and Friends also holds scores of Family Retreats each summer across the United States and around the world, serving more than thirty-five hundred disabled children, adults, family members, and volunteers.

I pray that God will give me many more years of strength and stamina so that I can continue to do the work He’s called me to. It’s why “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” That’s my paraphrase of Acts 20:24 and, for me, it’s what makes me get up in the morning with a smile.


Joni Eareckson Tada has lived in a wheelchair for more than forty years due to a diving accident at age seventeen. She is the founder of Joni and Friends, a nonprofit organization founded in 1979 to accelerate Christian ministry in the disability community through various outreach and church training programs. Joni and Friends has distributed more than thirty-eight thousand wheelchairs worldwide through Wheels for the World. Visit http://www.joniandfriends.org to learn more. Joni is also an author of more than forty-five books, including When God Weeps and A Lifetime of Wisdom: Embracing the Way God Heals You.

Broken Relationships

SOURCE:  Living Free Ministry 

“Be kind and compassionate to one another,forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 NIV

Thoughts for Today
If you are divorced or have recently experienced a broken engagement or separation, you probably are having painful feelings of rejection. The sense of loss felt in these situations can be overwhelming. You thought you were secure and now you suddenly find yourself on your own. You might even have children to care for and inadequate resources of time and money.

Even though you have been rejected by someone very close to you, your attitude toward that rejection is your choice. You may choose to allow the pain of rejection to dominate and define the rest of your life, causing bitterness, depression and self-pity. Or you may choose to forgive the one who has hurt you, to accept your singleness—at least until God leads you in a different direction—and to move on with your life … making the most of each day.

Consider this … 
Even with positive choices, the pain won’t immediately disappear—but it will begin to heal. The time and money challenges will still be there, but you will be able to start dealing with them.

We live in a society of “quick fixes,” but recovering from this kind of hurt is a process. Learn to take one step at a time, trusting God to strengthen you and allowing him to love you.

Prayer
Father, help me to forgive. You have forgiven me of so much, even though I didn’t deserve it. Help me to forgive and to begin rebuilding my life. I know I can only do that with your strength, your love and your guidance. Thank you for freely giving me all this and more. In Jesus’ name …

“Should I Try to Forget My Past?”

SOURCE:  Dr. Robert Kellemen

As a biblical counselor, people often ask me the important question, “Should I try to forget my past?”

I first respond with a one-word answer. “No.”

Then I respond with a blog-size answer using the words:

• Remember

• Reflect

• Repent/Receive/Renew

• Reinterpret

• Retell

• Resources

Remember

Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t forget the past. It’s impossible. More importantly, it’s ungodly.

Memory is our God-given capacity to store and recall what we have experienced and learned. Remembering is part of our design by creation—before the fall into sin. “Remember” is used 167 times in the Bible (NIV), thus reminding us of the importance of remembering.

Some people mistakenly interpret Philippians 3:13 to mean that we should try to forget our past. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” The Greek word for “forget” does not mean not to remember, but not to focus my attention on. More importantly, the biblical context is whether Paul would focus his attention on his works of the flesh, attempts at self-righteousness, and putting confidence in the flesh, versus focusing on Christ’s righteousness and the power of Christ’s resurrection.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is a testimony to the biblical value of remembering. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia” (2 Cor. 1:8a). Throughout the epistle, Paul recalls and rehearses a litany of past suffering.

Reflect

In a similar way, the Psalms are a biblical testimonial to the power and value of remembering face-to-face with God. I call it reflecting.

People typically ask about forgetting in the context of dealing with past suffering—being sinned against, or dealing with past sin—sinning against others. I believe that attempting to refuse to remember our past can actually be a symptom of sin.

Trying to suppress past memories of pain (either regarding our suffering or sin) can be a refusal to face and deal with life. It can be an attempt to deal with pain apart from God. We could compare such attempts to self-sufficient “coping mechanisms” such as drinking and drugs—where we try anything to numb our pain, emptiness, or guilt.

In my book, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I describe how the Psalmists, Job, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul remember face-to-face with Christ through “candor and complaint/lament.” In biblical candor, we’re honest with ourselves regarding our past and present. In biblical complaint/lament, we’re honest with God regarding our past and present.

Rather than attempting to forget, we are to bring to mind past external events and our current internal thoughts and feelings and bring them to Christ. As I put it in the book, “No grieving, no healing. Know grieving, know healing.” Reflecting on our past is our admission to ourselves and God that we can’t handle our past on our own, that we desperately need Christ.

Repent, Receive Grace, Renew

When our memories of the past relate to our past sin, Christ’s soul-u-tion is to remember, repent, and receive grace. “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:5).

In Psalms 32 and 51, David models remembering, repenting, receiving grace, and renewing his life by God’s Spirit. Rather than trying the impossible and sinful mental activity of suppressing the memory of his sin, David recalls to mind his sin against God. He repents deeply not only of behavioral sin, but of heart motivational sin.

Having repented, David receives grace—he accepts God’s gracious forgiveness and prays for shalom—a conscience at peace with the God of peace. He then prays that the Spirit would renew a right spirit within him so that he could turn from his path of sin (put off) and return to the path of righteousness (put on).

Reinterpret

But what do we do with our emotional agony when we remember past suffering—being sinned against? God’s Word is clear. We never forget, we re-member.

Think about that word: re-member. To put our memories back together again, to shape our memories through God’s eternal grid.

In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I use the life of Joseph to portray how God wants us to remember and then reinterpret our past with spiritual eyes. There I call it “weaving.”

In Genesis 50:20 and 45:4-8, Joseph refuses to forget. He calls to mind his suffering past with these words. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

In the Hebrew, the word “intended” can be used in a physical sense for weaving together a tapestry, such as Joseph’s coat of many colors. It can be used in the metaphysical sense in a negative way for weaving together an evil scheme or plot, such as Joseph’s brothers did. Or, it can be used in a positive sense of God weaving together good out of evil.

How do we deal with our past suffering? We look at life with spiritual eyes by bringing to bear God’s eternal narrative, spiritual 20/20 vision, and larger story perspective. Weaving is re-membering—to create wholeness using God’s perspective to bring meaning to our suffering.

That’s how, like Joseph, we find hope when we’re hurting. That’s how, like Joseph, we grant forgiveness to those who have caused our suffering. In so doing we can say, “I grieve, but I don’t despair.”

Retell

Being human involves shaping our personal experiences into stories or narratives. That’s part of our God-given capacity of memory. We shape our sense of self and who we are in Christ from our retelling of our experiences.

As spiritual friends, it is when we listen carefully and compassionately to one another’s most important stories that we gain access to how our friends are attempting to make sense of themselves in the context of their past experiences. Our one-to-one relationships and our small group meetings should be places where we retell our stories.

In God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I discuss how the retelling process moves us from “weaving” to “worshipping.” In worshipping we are committed to finding God even when we can’t find answers. We are committed to knowing God more than knowing relief from our past. We worship God by retelling our stories like Joseph did—in a way that honors and glorifies God and His role in redeeming our past (see Genesis 45:4-8).

There is no power in forgetting our past. God doesn’t want us to pretend. Of all people, as Christians we must be the most honest about our past. We must remember, reflect, repent/receive/renew, reinterpret, and retell.

Resources

Two biblical counseling resources that I think you will find helpful in dealing with your past are:

• God’s Healing for Life’s Losses: How to Find Hope When You’re Hurting by Bob Kellemen.

• Putting Your Past in Its Place: Moving Forward in Freedom and Forgiveness by Steve Viars.

The “Empty Nest” Syndrome

SOURCE:   American Association of Christian Counselors

                          Mourn the Loss and Prepare for Change

When your kids leave home, it’s okay to be sad for a while. Change, in many respects, is loss. Likely you remember your child’s first step, first day at school, tenth birthday party, and other momentous events that are past and gone forever. Talk about these moments; reflect on the gift and joys of the parenting experience in its entirety.

                         Work on the Marriage

The hardest point of marriage, statistically speaking, is just before the “launching phase,” when kids are in their teens. Perhaps now that the children have left home, this is a good time to take a look at your marriage and try to rebuild some intimacy that may have been lost over the last few years.

                          Get Involved

If you are experiencing an empty nest, chances are you have a lot of newfound free time on your hands. Though you may need some time to reflect on and even mourn the life changes that have occurred, you need to get involved in social or community events. This can take many forms. Perhaps there is a church outreach ministry or some type of volunteer work that interests you. Or maybe there is a golf club or couples bowling team you both would enjoy. Or maybe this is a good time for you to entertain some old friends.

                          Enjoy Being a Mentor

Even though your kids have moved out, it doesn’t mean they won’t be coming to you for advice as they experience a plethora of dilemmas and challenges they have never experienced before. As a wise parent, you have a lot of life experience to share. Though you now relate to your child as an adult, your mentoring relationship with him or her is far from over.

                          Find Personal Meaning and Worth

Often when kids move out, one or both of the parents begin to suffer a lack of meaning or personal worth. They might think (sometimes subconsciously) that if they are not parenting their child they are good for nothing. They may feel rejected because their child is no longer dependent on them. If you are experiencing these emotions, try replacing your faulty thinking with truth: you still have value; people still love and need you; you are now free to discover God’s greater purpose.

                          Mentor and Help Others

If your child is completely grown and independent, not needing your further guidance, you should celebrate your superb job of raising such a strong and capable adult. Now you may be interested in helping some other children or teens in the church or community who could benefit from your excellent mentoring.

Biblical Insights

[Jesus said,] “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.” Matthew 19:5

Launching one’s kids into adulthood is a part of raising kids. Note that the above verse does not say, “Grown-up children should stay with their parents and depend on them for their material and emotional needs.”

At some point, parents need to let their children venture out and the parents need to return to or renew the vows and commitments of their marriage.

And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it… So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Luke 2:42–49

It must have been quite a parenting journey for Mary and Joseph. The release of Jesus to the eventual death on a cross was by no means easy.

Steps To Helping One Through Grief And Loss

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

                                                        Be Patient

  • Encourage the person to give himself whatever time that it takes to heal emotionally.
  • Encourage the person to keep a routine, get lots of rest, and not try to attempt too much but to direct his energies toward healing.

Maintain Friendships

  • Encourage the person to let others comfort and share in the journey toward healing.
  • Encourage one not to become isolated but rather to seek meaningful connection with others.
  • Make a list of friends to call.
  • Locate a grief support group.

Feel the Pain

  • Help the person understand that the intensity of the pain is normal and that eventually it will begin to subside. The pain will probably never disappear completely, but it will become bearable.
  • Trying to avoid the “terrible pain” only prolongs the grief.
  • Trying to avoid a loss by hiding the feelings will only cause problems in other areas — emotionally, spiritually, or physically.
  • Dealing with loss in a healthy manner can be a major avenue to growth and life-transforming change.
  • The person must move forward by experiencing the grief, while at the same time rejoining the living through acts of giving and receiving.

We are healed of grief only when we express it to the full. —Charles R. Swindoll

“Normalize” the Feelings of Grief

  • Grief encompasses a number of changes. It appears differently at various times, and it comes and goes in people’s lives.
  • It is a normal, predictable, expected, and healthy reaction to a loss.
  • Grief is each individual’s personal journey and his manner of dealing with any kind of loss — no matter how minor or severe it may appear to others — must be respected. It should be gently challenged only when prolonged in a manner that is detrimental to the person and his relationships.

Healing

  • Help the grieving person process any felt guilt and anger.
  • Help the person redirect his energies from excessive “if onlys” and wishing that things could be different to instead focusing on healing.

Biblical Insights

Then David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son. 2 Samuel 1:17

Expressing sorrow is a healthy response to grief. David poured out his sorrow in words that honored the anointed king and his son.

Putting grief into words is a healthy way to handle the pain and honor those who have died.

He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:3, 4

Isaiah’s words communicate the suffering of the One who loved us and died for us.

In our deepest moments of grief and loss, we need only look to Him on the Cross and realize that He understands. He alone can heal the wounded heart.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”John 11:25, 26

Because of sin, death comes to all (Romans 5:12–14). Many try to ignore death, not wanting to think or talk about it. But feared or embraced, expected or not, death still occurs.

In every pang that rends the heart, the Man of Sorrows has a part. —Michael Bruce

Jesus experienced those emotions at the death of His good friend Lazarus. Jesus knows the pain of loss and uncontrollable sorrow. He knows the incredible power of death.

It is natural to feel sad and mourn the death of a loved one. But in our times of sorrow, we can let Jesus hold us in His compassionate arms, knowing that He understands.

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14

The Thessalonian believers wondered what was happening to their fellow believers who had died.

Believers have the ultimate assurance. We believe that Jesus died, rose again, ascended, and is coming again; and we also believe that He will bring with Him those who have died.

One day, all believers will be reunited in the grandest reunion ever seen!

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Revelation describes a better time and a better place, however, where grief and loss will not exist: heaven.

No matter what we experience here, God promises a perfect future with Him. Through the hard times of today, we can trust this hope for the future.

Rising Above Clouds of Discouragement

by Billy Graham

January 17, 2011 – My home in North Carolina is on a mountain nearly 4,000 feet high. Many times we can see below us the clouds in the valley. Sometimes thunderstorms come up, and we can see the lightning flash and hear the thunder roar down below, while we are enjoying beautiful sunlight and clear skies above.

Many times I have sat on the front porch and watched the clouds below. I have thought of the clouds of discouragement and suffering that temporarily veil the sunlight of God’s love. You may have a cloud hanging over your life. You may be in a hospital bed or you may be suffering discouragement and bereavement.

The Bible has a great deal to say about clouds, for they are symbolic of the spiritual forces that obscure the face of God. The Bible indicates that clouds are given to us for a purpose, that there is glory in the clouds. In Exodus 16:10 we read, “They looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.” Without the clouds there would be no shield from the burning sun. There would be no lavish sunsets; no rain; no light; no beautiful, picturesque landscapes.

Often when we board an airplane, the sky is overcast. But as the plane climbs up through the clouds, we emerge into a sun-drenched world far above the dismal and disappointing things of Earth. If we could only see our clouds from the other side, as we do when flying above them in an airplane, their radiant magnificence would take our breath and our worries away. These same clouds that are hanging low in your life, and look so dark from the underside, would look totally different if you could see them from God’s vantage point.

I want to remind you of some of the clouds that hide from you the beauty of the face of God.
First, there is the cloud of suffering. I received a letter from a woman suffering on a hospital bed in the last stages of cancer. She did not ask that God would relieve her of suffering or raise her up, but only that God’s grace would be sufficient through the trial of suffering.

The Bible teaches that human suffering is an integral part of life. Job said, “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). Our life has its beginning in suffering. Life’s span is marked by pain and tragedy, and our lives terminate with the enemy called death. The person who expects to escape the pangs of suffering and disappointment simply has no knowledge of the Bible, history or life.

To this dear woman on her hospital bed I would say, “Look toward Heaven, look beyond the clouds, and you will see that the sufferings you are undergoing here are nothing compared to the glory that God has prepared for you there.”

Tell me why the gardener trims and prunes his rosebushes, sometimes cutting away productive branches, and I will tell you why God’s people are afflicted. God’s hand never slips. He never makes a mistake. His every move is for our ultimate good. The knowledge of this caused Paul to sing, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

My beloved suffering saint, everything is under control. His will for you is being wrought in the whirlwind and in the storm, and His blessed presence is in every cloud of distress that crosses your pathway. The Master Gardener is purging your life so that you might bring forth more fruit and more glory to Christ in this world and in the world to come.

Another cloud that obscures the sun and distresses us is the cloud of discouragement. Many of the great Bible heroes became discouraged: Moses in the Sinai desert, Elijah when he heard Jezebel was searching for him to take his life, and David when his son Absalom rebelled against him.

Discouragement often comes when we don’t get our own way or when things don’t work out the way we want them to. The children of Israel thought that because they were God’s children they should be spared adversity and trouble, that Canaan should be captured without a struggle. But this was not God’s plan. It never is. We must be willing to die to self before we can know the real meaning of life. We must often bleed before we can be blessed, and a cross must be endured before the crown is to be worn.

Discouragement is the very opposite of faith. It is Satan’s device to try to thwart the work of God in your life. Discouragement blinds our eyes to the mercy of God and makes us perceive only the unfavorable circumstances.

There is only one way to dispel the blighting cloud of discouragement. If you are counting on your own strength and ingenuity, you are doomed to continued discouragement. But the Bible says, “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14).

I have never met a person who spent time in daily prayer and in the study of the Word of God and was strong in faith who was ever discouraged for very long.

Third, there is the cloud of disappointment. I received a letter from a 19-year-old girl on the West Coast whose fiancé had just broken off their engagement. Her heart was crushed, and life no longer seemed worth living. I wrote to tell her that it is not always easy to trace God’s designs in our ill-planned hopes and dreams. But rest assured that if we are called according to His purpose, and if we love God, all things do work together for good. Who are we to dictate which way the winds of Providence shall blow, or how the Pilot of life shall maneuver our ship through life’s storms? The psalmist said, “He … guided them by the skillfulness of his hands” (Psalm 78:72).

Yes, clouds will come. They are part of the fabric of life. But by God’s grace we need not be depressed by their presence. Like the misty billows that float above us, they protect us from the brightness of the sun; they reveal the glory of God, and from their lofty height God speaks to us. Like the children of Israel, we are travelers to the Promised Land. As the Israelites traveled through the wilderness, the Bible says, “The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way” (Exodus 13:21).

One of the best ways to get rid of discouragement is to remember that Christ is coming again. The most thrilling, glorious truth in the world is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. When we see pessimism on every side, we should remember the Bible is the only book in the world that accurately predicts the future. The Bible is more current than tomorrow morning’s newspaper! And the Bible says the consummation of all things will be the coming again of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. … I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

If your life is dark, depressing and gloomy today, Christ can turn your dark clouds inside out. The sunlight of His love can still shine into the darkest part of your life. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

When Bad Things Happen

(by Billy Graham Rapid Response Team)

In the wake of the Haiti earthquake and the remaining devastation, many people ask, “Where was God?” Through life, there are many of our own personal “earthquakes” and other disasters, whether it be the death of a loved one, an unwanted divorce, a wayward child, or a terminal illness, to name a few. Read below for some of the most commonly-asked questions about life’s challenges and get biblical answers.

What does the Bible say about why we suffer? God created us because He loves us. God never intended for tragedy and prejudice, wars and hatred, lust and greed, jealousy and pride. God meant for Earth to be a paradise, a place where here would be no death.

But a man and a woman, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God. This act of rebellion said, “I don’t need you, God. I can build my world without you.” As a result, mankind must suffer and die. Physical death is just the death of the body, but the spirit lives on. If your spirit is separated from God for eternity, it will be lost forever.

God has provided a rescue in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Gen 3; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4; Psalms 46:1-2

Is God angry with me?
No, God is not angry with you. In John 3:16, the Bible says that He loves everyone. However, because we live in an imperfect world, we all deal with good and bad. God is aware of everything that happens and has the ability to take what was intended for evil and use for good. The evil in this world does not render God powerless. It is quite the opposite. He promises to not only be with us but, if we are willing to live life as He created it to be lived: in relationship with Him, to guide us into a life where we can have peace and live without fear.

John 3:16-17; Romans 8:28; James 1:1-4; John 10:10

Why me?
It often feels like difficult circumstances are directed at us. We live in an imperfect world, and the Bible says that it rains on the just and the unjust. We all live through painful and uncomfortable things. Who are we trusting when those things happen to us? Are we self-reliant or do we rely on God? If we reach out to God in time of need, then we are accessing the One who created the universe. The Bible says that He is waiting for our response. He has already made the invitation through His Son Jesus. Why you? Because He loves you. He wants you to look to Him so He can rescue you and bring you peace.

Romans 5:8; John 11:1-44

What good can come out of this?
There are no easy answers, just simple ones: growth and glory. We grow because when life hurts, we pay attention and we find out what is real and whom we can trust. In the Bible, in James 1:1- 4 tells us when we face trials, we can see it as a positive thing in our life because ultimately we are going to grow from it. That’s hard to realize when our pain is all we can see and feel. But, after you’ve experienced life as a follower of Jesus, and you’ve experienced His faithfulness, then you know it’s true.

The other answer is a bit more complicated, and it is found in a Bible story about a blind man that Jesus heals in John 9. The man didn’t do anything to deserve to be blind, and when asked why the man was blind, Jesus answered, “So you can see who I am.” He healed the blind man so that the blind man and everyone around him would be amazed by the supernatural power of Jesus and know that He is Who He say He is. It was the best gift He could give them, and us. We are attracted to greatness. God is the greatest of them all and He desires to be with us.

James 1:1-4; John 9; Romans 8:28

How do I recover spiritually from this?
The natural response is to deny that you are affected by the crisis. The truth is that crisis affects everybody it touches, but it affects each person differently. David, in Psalms, tells his soul to praise the Lord. He was in a dark place emotionally, but he knew that praising God was necessary and that calling on Him could effect the outcome of the situation. Psalm 42 and Psalm 88 are Psalms of lament. The writers were despondent, yet they sought God in spite of feelings. Counselors will tell you that feeling will follow fact. So, there are some things that we should do to recover:

” Acknowledge your need for God.
” Read God’s Word, the Bible (or listen to it on tape or DVD. Psalms is a good place to start).
” See if there are others who will pray with you.
” Look for ways to serve others.
” Stay connected with a body of Christ followers (small group, activity group, service group, church).
” Find small ways to be thankful and ways to express that to God and others.

Psalm 9:10; 34:17; 50:15; 145:18-19; James 5:13-16

How can I be strong when my life is falling apart?
When life is difficult, we look to God and find out that He has grace. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Bible tell us that His grace is sufficient for you, for his power is made perfect in our weakness. First, we must give our situation and life to God; this is the hardest part, because we feel more secure of we think we are in control of things. Once we give these things over to Him, He is going to give us the ability to stand up and endure.

It is hard to admit weakness. That is what it takes to act in humility and allow God to take control of your situation. Acknowledge to God that He needs to bear your burdens because you can’t anymore. Jesus longs for you to come to Him and know Him personally.

Matthew 11:28-29; 2 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Peter 5:7

Depression: Lamenting Our Losses to God

by Bob Kellemen, Ph.D.
 
When experiencing grief, sorrow, or depression, one of the most important responses is to face our suffering face-to-face with God. To do this deeply, we need to understand and practice biblical lament.

The biblical genre of lament expresses frankness about the reality of life that seems inconsistent with the character of God. Lament is an act of truth-telling faith, not unfaith. Lament is a rehearsal of the bad allowed by the Good. Lament is vulnerable frankness about life to God in which I express my pain and confusion over how a good God allows evil and suffering.

When we lament, we live in the real world honestly, refusing to ignore what is occurring. Lament is our expression of our radical trust in God’s reliability in the midst of real life.

According to Psalm 62:8, if we truly trust God, then we’ll share everything with God. “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Drawing Near to God

Psalm 73 is a prime example of Lament. Asaph begins, “Surely God is good to Israel” (73:1). He then continues with a litany of apparent evidence to the contrary, such as the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the godly (73:2-15). When he tries to make sense of all this, it’s oppressive to him (73:16). He then verbalizes to God the fact that his heart is grieved and his spirit embittered (73:21).

His lament, his complaint, drew him nearer to God. It did not push him away from God. “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand” (73:23). He concludes, “But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge.” (73:28).

It was Asaph’s intense relationship with God that enlightened him to the goodness of God even during the badness of life. “Till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. . . . As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O LORD, you will despise them as a fantasy” (73:17, 20). Spiritual friendship with God results in 20/20 spiritual vision from God.

Asaph illustrates that in lament we come to God with a sense of abandonment and confusion (Isaiah 49:14; Jeremiah 20:7; Lamentations 5:20). We then exercise a courageous, yet humble cross-examination. Not a cross-examination of God, but a cross-examination and a refuting of earth-bound reality with spiritual reality.

Being Real and Raw

That’s exactly what occurs in Jeremiah 20:7; Lamentations 5:20; and Psalm 88:18. In all three passages, it appears by reason alone that life is bad and so is God. Yet in each passage, God responds positively to a believer’s rehearsal of life’s inconsistencies.

In Job 3, and much of Job for that matter, Job forcefully and even violently expresses his complaint.

What’s the point of life when it doesn’t make sense, when God blocks all the roads to meaning? Instead of bread I get groans for my supper, then leave the table and vomit my anguish. The worst of my fears has come true, what I’ve dreaded most has happened. My repose is shattered, my peace destroyed. No rest for me, ever—death has invaded life.

In Job 42:7-8, God honors Job’s complaint saying that Job spoke right of life and right of God. God prizes lament and rejects all deceiving denial and simplistic closure, preferring candid complexity.

You Are Never Alone

Depression, by its very nature, causes us to feel alone, separated, alienated. Lament, by its very nature, helps us to feel connected, in relationship, in communion—with God. Never suffer alone. Never battle depression without God. Lament to God. Tell Him your painful external circumstances and your internal hurts and agony. God invites you to make use of your suffering, to admit your need for Him in your pain, and to rehearse your feelings of depression (external and internal) before Him.

Psalm 72:12 assures us, “For he will deliver the needy who cry out” (KJV—when he crieth). Psalm 34 reminds us, “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:17-18). God’s good heart goes out, especially, to the humble needy. When crushed in Spirit, turn to the Holy Spirit. When battling depression and feeling comfortless, lament to the Comforter.

Don't Waste Your {Cancer}

by John Piper (June 25, 2007) (adapted by Bill Bellican)

NOTE: This excellent devotional by John Piper gives us a higher view of life and our circumstances no matter what we might insert in place of cancer. In no way is the intent meant to minimize the magnitude of the seriousness of what you are facing. However, it does call us to look at our situation from an eternally caring and wisel God’s point of view to enable us to transcend our present life difficulty. Bill Bellican.

I write this on the eve of prostate surgery. I believe in God’s power to heal by miracle and by medicine. I believe it is right and good to pray for both kinds of healing. Cancer is not wasted when it is healed by God. He gets the glory and that is why cancer exists. So not to pray for healing may waste your cancer. But healing is not God’s plan for everyone. And there are many other ways to waste your cancer. I am praying for myself and for you that we will not waste this pain.

1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God. It will not do to say that God only uses our cancer but does not design it. What God permits, he permits for a reason. And that reason is his design. If God foresees molecular developments becoming cancer, he can stop it or not. If he does not, he has a purpose. Since he is infinitely wise, it is right to call this purpose a design. Satan is real and causes many pleasures and pains. But he is not ultimate. So when he strikes Job with boils (Job 2:7), Job attributes it ultimately to God (2:10) and the inspired writer agrees: “They . . . comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). If you don’t believe your cancer is designed for you by God, you will waste it.

2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “There is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel” (Numbers 23:23). “The LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God. The design of God in your cancer is not to train you in the rationalistic, human calculation of odds. The world gets comfort from their odds. Not Christians. Some count their chariots (percentages of survival) and some count their horses (side effects of treatment), but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7). God’s design is clear from 2 Corinthians 1:9, “We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” The aim of God in your cancer (among a thousand other good things) is to knock props out from under our hearts so that we rely utterly on him.

4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death. We will all die, if Jesus postpones his return. Not to think about what it will be like to leave this life and meet God is folly. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning [a funeral] than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” How can you lay it to heart if you won’t think about it? Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Numbering your days means thinking about how few there are and that they will end. How will you get a heart of wisdom if you refuse to think about this? What a waste, if we do not think about death.

5. You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ. Satan’s and God’s designs in your cancer are not the same. Satan designs to destroy your love for Christ. God designs to deepen your love for Christ. Cancer does not win if you die. It wins if you fail to cherish Christ. God’s design is to wean you off the breast of the world and feast you on the sufficiency of Christ. It is meant to help you say and feel, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” And to know that therefore, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 3:8; 1:21).

6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God. It is not wrong to know about cancer. Ignorance is not a virtue. But the lure to know more and more and the lack of zeal to know God more and more is symptomatic of unbelief. Cancer is meant to waken us to the reality of God. It is meant to put feeling and force behind the command, “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD” (Hosea 6:3). It is meant to waken us to the truth of Daniel 11:32, “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” It is meant to make unshakable, indestructible oak trees out of us: “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:2). What a waste of cancer if we read day and night about cancer and not about God.

7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection. When Epaphroditus brought the gifts to Paul sent by the Philippian church he became ill and almost died. Paul tells the Philippians, “He has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill” (Philippians 2:26-27). What an amazing response! It does not say they were distressed that he was ill, but that he was distressed because they heard he was ill. That is the kind of heart God is aiming to create with cancer: a deeply affectionate, caring heart for people. Don’t waste your cancer by retreating into yourself.

8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope. Paul used this phrase in relation to those whose loved ones had died: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). There is a grief at death. Even for the believer who dies, there is temporary loss – loss of body, and loss of loved ones here, and loss of earthly ministry. But the grief is different; it is permeated with hope. “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Don’t waste your cancer grieving as those who don’t have this hope.

9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before. Are your besetting sins as attractive as they were before you had cancer? If so you are wasting your cancer. Cancer is designed to destroy the appetite for sin. Pride, greed, lust, hatred, unforgiveness, impatience, laziness, procrastination – all these are the adversaries that cancer is meant to attack. Don’t just think of battling against cancer. Also think of battling with cancer. All these things are worse enemies than cancer. Don’t waste the power of cancer to crush these foes. Let the presence of eternity make the sins of time look as futile as they really are. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25).

10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ. Christians are never anywhere by divine accident. There are reasons for why we wind up where we do. Consider what Jesus said about painful, unplanned circumstances: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12 -13). So it is with cancer. This will be an opportunity to bear witness. Christ is infinitely worthy. Here is a golden opportunity to show that he is worth more than life. Don’t waste it.

Remember you are not left alone. You will have the help you need. “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
By John Piper.  Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700 .

Also see:

f.a.i.t.H., Facing an Illness through Him (a ministry connected to Central Church)

Understanding the Six Needs of Mourning

If you are hoping for a map for your journey through grief, none exists. Your wilderness is an undiscovered one and you are its first explorer.

But when we are in mourning, we all basically have the same needs. Instead of referring to stages of grief, I say that we as mourners have six central needs. Unlike the stages of grief you might have heard about, the six central needs of mourning are not orderly or predictable. You will probably jump around in random fashion while working on these six needs of mourning. You will address each need when you are ready to do so. Sometimes you will be working on more than one need at a time. Your awareness of these needs, however, will give you a participative, action-oriented approach to healing in grief as opposed to a perception of grief as something you passively experience.

Mourning Need #1: Accepting the Reality of the Death.
You can know something in your head but not in your heart. This is what often happens when someone you love dies. This first need of mourning involves gently confronting the reality that someone you care about will never physically come back into your life again.

Whether the death was sudden or anticipated, acknowledging the full reality of the loss may occur over weeks and months. You may expect him or her to come through the door, to call on the telephone or even to touch you. To survive, you may try to push away the reality of the death at times. But to know that someone you love has died is a process, not an event; embracing this painful reality is not quick, easy or efficient.

Mourning Need #2: Letting Yourself Feel the Pain of the Loss
The need of mourning requires us to embrace the pain of our loss – something we naturally don’t want to do. It is easier to avoid, repress or deny the pain of grief than it is to confront it, yet it is in confronting our pain that we learn to reconcile ourselves to it. You will probably discover that you need to dose yourself in embracing your pain. In other words, you cannot (nor should you try to) overload yourself with the hurt all at one time. Sometimes you may need to distract yourself from the pain of death, while at other times you will need to create a safe place to move toward it.

As you encounter your pain, you will also need to nurture yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. Eat well, rest often and exercise regularly. Find other with whom you can share your painful thoughts and feelings; friends who listen without judging are your most important helpers as you work on this mourning need. Give yourself permission to question your faith. It’s OK to be angry with your God and to struggle with “meaning of life” issues at this time.

Mourning Need #3: Remembering the Person Who Died
Do you have any kind of relationship with someone after they die? Of course you do. You have a relationship of memory. Precious memories, dreams reflecting the significance of the relationship and objects that link you to the person who has died are examples of some of the things that give testimony to a different form of a continued relationship. This need of mourning involves allowing and encouraging yourself to pursue this relationship.

But some people may try to take your memories away. Trying to be helpful, they encourage you to take down all the photos of the person who died. They tell you to keep busy or even to move out of your house. You are living in a culture that teaches you that to move away from – instead of toward – your grief is best.

Following are few examples of things you can do to keep memories alive while embracing the reality that the person has died:
” Talking out or writing out favorite memories

” Giving yourself permission to keep some special keepsakes or “linking objects” ” Displaying photos of the person who died
” Visiting places of special significance that stimulate memories of times shared together
” Reviewing photo albums at special times such as holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.

Mourning Need #4: Developing a New Self-Identity
Your personal identity, or self-perception, is the result of the ongoing process of establishing a sense of who you are. Part of your self-identity comes from the relationships you have with other people. When someone with whom you have a relationship dies, your self-identity, or the way you see yourself, naturally changes.

A death often requires you to take on new roles that had been filled by the person who died. After all, someone still has to take out the garbage, someone still has to buy the groceries and someone still has to balance the checkbook. You confront your changed identity every time you do something that used to be done by the person who died. This can be very hard work and, at times, can leave you feeling drained of emotional, physical and spiritual energy.

Many people find that as they work on this need, they ultimately discover some positive aspects of their changed self-identity. You may develop a renewed confidence in yourself. For example, you may develop a more caring, kind and sensitive part of yourself. You may develop an assertive part of your identity that empowers you to go on living even though you continue to feel a sense of loss.

Mourning Need #5: Searching for Meaning
When someone you love dies, you naturally question the meaning and purpose of life. You probably will question your philosophy of life and explore religious and spiritual values as you work on this need. You may discover yourself searching for meaning in your continued living as you ask “how” and “why” questions. “How could God let this happen.”” “Why did this happen now, in this way.” The death reminds you of your lack of control. It can leave you feeling powerless.

You might feel distant from your God or higher power, even questioning the very existence of God. You may rage at your God. Such feelings of doubt are normal. Mourners often find themselves questioning their faith for months before they rediscover meaning in life. But be assured: It can be done, even when you don’t have all the answers.

Early in your grief, allow yourself to openly mourn without pressuring yourself to have answers to such profound “meaning of life” questions.

Mourning Need #6: Receiving Ongoing Support From Others
The quality and quantity of understanding support you get during your work of mourning will have a major influence on your capacity to heal. You cannot – nor should you try to- do this alone. Drawing on the experience and encouragement of friends, fellow grievers or professional counselors is not a weakness but a healthy human need. And because mourning is a process that takes place over time, this support must be available months and even years after the death of someone in your life.

Unfortunately, because our society places so much value on the ability to “carry on,” “keep your chin up” and “keep busy,” many bereaved people are abandoned shortly after the event of the death. Obviously, these messages encourage you to deny or repress your grief rather than express it.

To be truly helpful, the people in your support system must appreciate the impact this death has had on you. They must understand that in order to heal, you must be allowed – even encouraged – to mourn long after the death. And they must encourage you to see mourning not as an enemy to be vanquished but as a necessity to be experienced as a result of having loved.

Healing in your grief journey will depend not only on your inner resources, but also on your surrounding support system. Your sense of who you are and where you are with your healing process comes, in part, from the care and responses of people close to you. One of the important sayings of The Compassionate Friends, an international organization of grieving parents, is “You need not walk alone.” I might add, “You cannot walk alone.” You will probably discover, if you haven’t already, that you can benefit from a connectedness that comes from people who also have had a death in their lives. Support groups, where people come together and share the common bond of experience, can be invaluable in helping you and your grief and supporting your need to mourn long after the event of the death.

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