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Posts tagged ‘difficulty’

Suffering: God is there before you get there

SOURCE:  From a post at Counseling Solutions

All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt.Exodus 1:5

Whether or not you know where you are going, there is an abiding truth that is universal and applicable to every person:

Regardless of your destination, before you get there, you can know, rest and trust in the fact that God is already there.

You cannot go anywhere in this life where God is not waiting for you to get there. It is impossible to go ahead of him, to beat him to the punch or step out of his plans for you. In good times and bad, please know that God is ahead of you, waiting on you and ready to take care of you.

In Exodus, God was disrupting an entire nation. The Israelites were being made aware that things had to change. There was turmoil in their land. They were in dire straits. The famine had spread beyond discomfort and families were struggling to make ends meet.

From their perspective they were living in the moment and there was little hope for change of circumstance. It was not clear as to what they should do to resolve their problems. From their limited understanding they had no idea of the plans God had made for them. They could only see their trouble, their present situation.

In Exodus 1:5 the writer is letting us know that the Israelites are in process of leaving their homes and heading to an unknown place. Though the text does not say I’m sure some of them were struggling with the stirring of their nest. They were being made uncomfortable and most certainly some of them were wavering in their faith about these upheavals of circumstance.

  1. Have you ever been in a place where God was re-altering your life?
  2. Have you ever stood in the moment of difficulty and seemingly all perceived options seemed to be lined with personal suffering and difficulty?

If so, then you can somewhat understand what the children of Israel were going through. They were leaving all they knew. This was a total lifestyle change. People, places and things were being thrown under the bus and life was being radically altered and there was nothing they could do about it. They were being moved to another place by difficult circumstances.

It was in this time and place that the writer inserts five little words into the text: Joseph was already in Egypt! This is more profound than just placing a GPS on Joseph’s backside to let the other Israelites know where their relative was located. Most certainly Joseph was found and his new diggs in Egypt became their new diggs.

But it is more than that. This story is also about the how and why Joseph was in Egypt. As you begin to unpack Joseph’s prior circumstances, troubles and journey to Egypt you get the idea that something bigger than suffering was going on here. Then as you read about his rise to prominence and the ensuing famine in the land and the discomfiting of an entire nation, you begin to get a glimpse of God’s kindness to his children through their personal suffering.

  1. Can you see God’s kindness through your suffering?
  2. Are you aware that God is ahead of you?
  3. Do you know that your Father is planning, positioning, removing and inserting his necessary plans to take care of you?

It took the Israelites a long time to realize that Joseph’s relocation to Egypt was orchestrated by the divine and loving hand of God. Regardless of your situation, I can most assuredly tell you that God is already there!

How Do You Spell Relief?

Learning to let your pain lead you to God

SOURCE: Kevin Miller/Discipleship Journal

Have you noticed that life is difficult? It certainly starts with difficulty—for both the mother and the baby. And the end is often difficult. Recently I stood vigil with a friend at his dying father’s bedside. A plastic tube snaked from an oxygen outlet on the wall to a mask over the father’s nose and mouth. The stenciled black letters on his hospital gown rose and fell with every gasp.

Between that beginning and that ending, each of our lives brings some degree of difficulty, some level of pain. Early on we discover ways to soothe ourselves: get a good grade, make somebody laugh, dress up and receive compliments. Soon enough, however, we graduate to more adult methods of relieving our agonies.


We’re all familiar with socially unacceptable avenues for numbing our pain such as alcohol, drugs, or pornography. Yet we may fail to recognize the less obvious “medications” people use to handle life’s disappointments.

Applause.  A Christian musician told me, “On stage you can get the feeling of excitement, the feeling of being larger than life. The lights are on you and people are appreciating and admiring you. You really start to like that experience. It tells you, ‘I am somebody.’ And you can’t get enough.”

Adrenaline.  We can pump up our adrenaline to cover our pain by watching frightening movies, driving aggressively, or booking our lives full of activities. Anger also can bring a rush of adrenaline, making us feel stronger and more in control. Anger can become a defense, an energizer, and even a friend.

Food.  Ah, the pleasure of eating hot corn on the cob with butter melting into it. But food was not given to drown our sorrows. Jan Christiansen confessed in one article, “I’d been hungry for pizza for days. . . . Yesterday was a bad day for me. One thing after another hit me until I found myself in a ‘blue funk.’ . . . It was late. I was depressed, and I ordered pizza. . . . I turned to that food to ‘make it all better.'”

Shopping.  Acquiring more stuff is a useful anesthetic. We can get a surge of pleasure from searching for and then owning something new. I recently stood over a display case filled with PDAs, staring dreamily at the Palm Tungsten with its sleek anodized aluminum case. I nearly started drooling. Later I wondered, What was that about?

Achievement.  Several years ago, as part of a spiritual–life assessment tool, I asked three people who knew me well—my wife, my prayer partner, and my teenaged son—to fill out a feedback form. All three ranked me low on the same statement: “Shows an inner contentment even when things go wrong.” I was surprised, since I see myself as even–keeled. But all three told me, “When work is going well, you’re doing well. When work is not going well, you’re moody and upset.”

Guilty as charged, I realized. I’ve said my identity is based on God’s love for me, but much of it is really keyed to my performance.

My pattern looked like this: Driven to excel and be recognized, I would take on too much. Then when the work began to build, so would the stress. I’d start to think, It would feel so good to be completely caught up. The fantasy of completion (and perfection and accomplishment and reward) would build until I’d dive into my work and stay up till 2 or 3 a.m.—or even dawn. Instead of feeling tired, I’d be flying higher than a kite.

I told myself that I was just a high achiever, someone who pursued excellence and wanted to provide for his family. While there was some truth in that, something in me was taking a good thing such as work and twisting it with indulgence.

Whether it’s through shopping, eating, working, or something else entirely, we want to feel better. Yet the underlying pain remains, because life is difficult. We have no reason to expect otherwise. The Bible doesn’t portray people who were free of suffering, least of all Jesus. Even when He was a toddler, people tried to murder Him. He was abandoned, unfairly judged, and cruelly executed. We’re told Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Is. 53:3).

No, we can’t erase life’s pain. There’s no shortcut to avoid it and no end run around it, so we try to ease it.

God’s–Eye View

We may think it’s OK to medicate our pain as long as our “medicine” is socially acceptable. But God doesn’t look at it that way. God sees us turning to this thing when we’re down. God sees us looking forward to it. God sees our hearts going after it. God sees us asking this thing to tell us, “It’s OK, it will be all right, you matter,” though these are words only He can speak to us. God is not fooled; He sees that our “medication” has become an idol. Henry Blackaby, author of Experiencing God, explains that “an idol is anything you turn to for help when God told you to turn to Him for help.”

In Jeremiah, God cries out:

My people have done two evil things: They have forsaken me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!

—Jer. 2:13, NLT

To grow closer to God, we need to recognize when we have slipped across the line from enjoying something to using it as an idol. We need to stop soothing our pain through ways that were never meant for that purpose.

Don’t underestimate the difficulty of this process.

My wife, Karen, a counselor, once worked with a client who couldn’t control his anger. His outbursts were affecting his wife, his children, and his coworkers. Karen wanted to find out if he could even conceive of living differently, so she asked, “What would your life look like if you got rid of your anger?” He sat silent for a long time. Then he said, “If I get rid of my anger, what will I have left?”

You won’t want to give up your “helper.” But when you say no to the false help, you can say yes to something even better. Henri Nouwen said in an interview,

I cannot continuously say “No” to this or “No” to that, unless there is something 10 times more attractive to choose. Saying “No” to my lust, my greed, my needs, and the world’s powers takes an enormous amount of energy. The only hope is to find something so obviously real and attractive that I can devote all my energies to saying “Yes.” . . . One such thing I can say “Yes” to is when I come in touch with the fact that I am loved. Once I have found that in my total brokenness I am still loved, I become free from the compulsion of doing successful things.

We have to find something incredibly good to replace our chosen pain reliever. Obviously, “something 10 times more attractive” is God. But many Christians would say, “I’ve been having quiet times and doing all the right Christian things, yet I’m not finding my relationship with God powerful enough to deal with my pain. What do I do?”

Coming Clean

The decision to turn away from false help isn’t one of simply adding more “right things.” Rather, you must take the path that leads you into the pain.

Admit your pain.  Few people acknowledge the amount of pain they carry or how heavily they’re medicating it. I know people in their late 40s who still are unaware of (or unwilling to face) the scars they carry.

One friend says, “My family had this idea that we were the perfect family—and we were a good family. But the myth that we were perfect kept us from being honest. . . . It took me years before I could look around and say, ‘My sisters and I are all carrying pain.'”

Health begins with honesty. Are you willing to acknowledge your pain, listen to it, and let it lead you to God?

Confess how you’ve been medicating yourself.  Almost as difficult as acknowledging pain is admitting how you’ve been trying to manage it. Are you willing to confess the ways you have asked a created thing to tell you you’re OK? Harboring an idol is not just a lovable weakness, a little mistake, or a bad idea: It’s serious. Joshua urged the people of God:

Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped . . . and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.

—Josh. 24:14–15

God is all that your idols can never be: your Creator who will rescue you.

Break the escape cycle.  Medicating pain usually follows a predictable cycle.

  • Stress.  Your day goes badly; your week goes sour; the argument gets out of hand. Pressure builds.
  • Fantasy.  You start thinking about this thing that makes you feel better. You imagine how good doing it or having it would feel. The fantasy grows.
  • Indulgence.  You give in: You eat too much, visit the porn site, rage at the kids, buy the PDA.
  • Release.  You feel better.
  • Guilt.  The relief doesn’t last. Almost immediately, you feel regret and guilt. You pledge to try harder, but then stress mounts, and you repeat the cycle.

You have to halt the cycle early to break the pattern. When you feel stress building, you must exercise your will to turn to God rather than continue toward the thing that brings relief. This will require some preparation. Ask yourself, “When am I most likely to feel stress? What would remind me to notice that stress rather than unthinkingly move into the fantasy stage? What would it look like to break the cycle by bringing that pain to God?”

Open your life to others.  Your idols have rewarded you (while damaging your soul). To continue turning from them will be difficult. You need relationships to help you see the hand of God at work in your life.

Meeting with a friend over a weekly sack lunch helped me greatly when I was trying to break the cycle of using work to feel good. As we talked about our lives and prayed for each other, I gradually realized, Tim cares about me even when I’m messed up. And then I began to understand, God must love me like that too. Just as Henri Nouwen predicted, tasting the sweetness of God’s love began to “free me from the compulsion of doing successful things.”

Listen to God.  Scripture is as essential to our spirits as food is to our bodies. We need to hear what God is saying as we read the Bible or worship. Sometimes God also speaks through a caring Christian friend.

Listening to God sounds simple, but we may resist opening our spirits to Him. Why? Once we’re quiet, we feel—sometimes for the first time—the extent of our pain. The rage, the sorrow, the loneliness flood our souls. One writer describes this as “bearing our pain in God’s presence.” It takes courage. Persevere, though, for the word God speaks is the only thing powerful enough to soothe our pain, give us hope, and free us from idols—as I found out several years ago.

The Other Side of Pain

I was jet–skiing on a lake in Wisconsin when I suddenly noticed I was about to hit a high wake from another boat. I felt a slam on the side of my head and seconds later realized I was underwater. When I came to the surface, I felt dazed and nauseated. Soon an intense, heavy headache began.

I went home and read from the Mayo Clinic Family Health book:

About a third of all persons with concussion have a combination of symptoms . . . for some time after a head injury. In addition to headache and dizziness, these symptoms may include insomnia, irritability, restlessness, inability to concentrate, depression, or personality changes such as moodiness.

This became a prophecy for my life.

For several nights I couldn’t sleep for fear of drowning, so I lay in a fetal position on the sofa, unable to control my thoughts: What if I have permanent damage from this accident? What if I can’t concentrate or handle my job? What will Karen do when I’m unemployed? Will she still love me?

I was like a caged animal, scared and wide–eyed.

On the fourth morning, I went to the emergency room, where I sat in a little stall under the fluorescent lights, feeling alone. And then I had a very clear sense that Jesus was standing next to me, His hand on my shoulder. I began to weep in relief and gratitude just to know He was with me.

The doctor put me on an anti-anxiety medication that made me calmer . . . for a little while. I’d be sitting in a meeting at work and suddenly feel as if three Dobermans were charging me. Breathing fast, I’d repeat to myself, Don’t run from the room. Don’t run from the room.

I went to a psychiatrist. In the waiting room I eyed the other unfortunates pretending to read magazines. “You may be here because you need a psychiatrist,” I wanted to yell, “but I don’t! I can pull my life together anytime I want. It’s just that I . . . uh . . . I . . . ”

The psychiatrist put me on a different medication that immediately calmed me. Yet the thought of each day’s work would still slay me. Before, work had energized me. Now the sight of a calendar clogged with appointments made me feel as if I had to empty Lake Michigan with a spoon.

I could see in people’s eyes that they were worried about me. One day a coworker asked how I was doing since the accident. I admitted, “Well, I’m having some problems with dizziness and anxiety attacks.” His lips tightened. Was it concern or disapproval?

Finally Karen said, “Look, you have sabbatical time built up. Why don’t you take two weeks off?”

I balked because I knew everyone would ask about it, and I couldn’t say something such as “I’m going on vacation,” or “I have some writing to do.” How could I say, “I need to get my head back on straight”?

I had always trusted my mind and my ability to work; now I was weak and unable to handle one day. I had always wanted to look good in front of my bosses; now I felt humiliated. My idols of excellence and recognition were being dismantled. All I could do was hope in God and cling to Him.

One day my then–11–year–old son, Andrew, handed me a piece of paper with a Bible reference on it. “Here, Dad. I was reading and thought this was for you.” I looked it up and read,

Therefore, thus says the Lord, “If you return, then I will restore you—Before Me you will stand. . . . For I am with you to save you and deliver you.”

—Jer. 15:19–20, NASB

Each night I read those verses, repeating the words, “I will restore you.” I hung on to that passage like a drowning man hanging on to a life preserver.

God kept His word. When no one could truly help me or understand what I was going through, God loved me and decided, for His purposes and His glory, to restore me. Over the next few months I gradually regained my strength, composure, hope, and balance.

How well I know that hearing from God is the soul’s only hope. With what difficulty I came to realize that my idol of achievement had to be crushed so I might worship God alone.

In life, you and I are going to feel deep, deep hurt. Our instinctive reaction will be to numb that pain. But life and wholeness come when we decide not to dull our senses, but to listen to our pain and let it lead us to God. In His presence, we can say yes to something 10 times greater: His love.

How Can I Pray In The Midst Of Pain?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal

1. “Save me, O God… I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched” (Ps. 69:1, 3).

When you are having difficulty formulating words to pray, read through the psalms and pray along with David and the other psalmists. I have found the following psalms especially helpful during times of pain and darkness: 6, 10, 13, 22, 30, 31, 40, 42, 55, 56, 69, 84, 88, 118, and 145.

2. “Pour out your hearts to him” (Ps. 62:8).

Be completely honest with God about your feelings, struggles, and pain.

3. Be assured that God’s purpose, even in times of testing, is “to do good for you in the end” (Dt. 8:16,NASB).

Surrender your suffering to God daily. Pray that His purposes would be accomplished and that He would be glorified through your suffering. Believe that He works all adversity both for His glory and our good as we accept all from His hand.

4. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Ps. 19:7).

Ask God to guide you to specific promises in His Word that will speak to your pain and sustain you during this time.

5. “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24).

Confess areas in which you are doubting God and His promises. Ask for faith to believe His Word.

6. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Ro. 8:26).

When you are at a loss for words but heavy in heart, ask the Holy Spirit to pray for you in ways you are unable to pray.

7. “He always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Take time to intercede for others as Jesus is doing for you.

8. “I am in pain and distress… I will praise God’s name in song” (Ps. 69:29–30).

Listen to and sing worship music that will remind you of God’s love and power, even in the midst of sadness and pain.

9. “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

Though you may have many unanswered questions about your suffering, begin praising the Lord for what you do know: that He is good (Ps. 119:68), that He is in control (1 Chron. 29:11), and that nothing can separate you from His love (Ro. 8:38–39).

Expecting the Trials of Life

SOURCE:  J.C. Ryle Quotes

Trials, we must distinctly understand, are a part of the diet which all true Christians must expect.

It is one of the means by which their grace is proved, and by which they find out what there is in themselves.

Winter as well as summer–cold as well as heat–clouds as well as sunshine–are all necessary to bring the fruit of the Spirit to ripeness and maturity. We do not naturally like this. We would rather cross the lake with calm weather and favorable winds, with Christ always by our side, and the sun shining down on our faces.

But it may not be.

It is not in this way that God’s children are made “partakers of His holiness.” (Heb. 12:10). Abraham, and Jacob, and Moses, and David, and Job were all men of many trials.

Let us be content to walk in their footsteps, and to drink of their cup. In our darkest hours we may seem to be left–but we are never really alone.

~ J.C. Ryle

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John, volume 1, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1987], 338,339. {John 6:15-21}

What Makes It Hard to Do Your Job (as a parent)?

Here are some factors that can make it tough to validate, nurture and keep your fingers off the “control” button.

Source: Tim Sanford

Your job description is doable.

You can validate and you can nurture.

That’s not to say, of course, that people and events won’t conspire to make your job harder. Here are some factors that can make it tough to validate, nurture and keep your fingers off the “control” button.

1. The judgment of other parents. It’s easy to talk about other parents, evaluating their parenting based on how their teenagers are choosing and behaving. Since moms are often more closely tied to raising children than dads are, they’re especially susceptible to this kind of talking, comparing, and evaluating.

Some parents even do this comparing in the “fellowship” halls of their own churches. Is that fellowship? Is it encouraging and uplifting?

I don’t think so.

The sad news is that it’s so common. Have you been on the receiving end? Did you respond by trying harder to control your teen’s behavior in order to silence the critics?

One lesson I’ve learned as a parent is to guard my mouth and not talk in an “evaluating” manner about another mom or dad. I’ve also learned to guard my heart when I hear others talking about me in that way.

Sure, it’s easier said than done. But nobody said parenting was easy — just doable.

2. Catching up. When a child hasn’t been sufficiently validated or nurtured, he or she can be thrown into an unconscious emotional “survival mode.”

This can put a record like the following on his or her mental turntable: “The only person in this whole world I can trust to look out for me is me. So I will do whatever I think I have to do to get my needs met.”

If you think I’m talking only about a child adopted from an orphanage overseas, think again. Not getting enough validation or nurture can and does happen in our society, even among upper-middle-class, churchgoing, intact families.

These kids can be found on a continuum ranging from mild to extreme. Those on the mild end of the scale are often underdiagnosed and labeled as strong-willed, having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, perfectionistic, “control freaks,” lazy, underachievers, or just plain selfish.

While these may be partly accurate assessments, they don’t tell the whole story. Attempts to help the teen “get his act together” will be met with limited success, because only surface issues are being addressed and not the underlying attachment and bonding problems.

Young people on the extreme end of this scale get noticed more quickly. Their negative behaviors usually are diagnosed as — among other things — oppositional defiant disorder, rebellion, antisocial behavior, or conduct disorder. Even if these diagnoses are correct, they still don’t address the deeper issue of what’s needed when validation or nurture is lacking.

Whether symptoms are mild or wild, the damage can be deep and severe. Professional therapy with a counselor familiar with bonding and attachment issues is in order.

3. Single parenthood. If you’re a single parent, you may be facing a real battle.

Is that an understatement, or what?

I’ve said that dads are supposed to validate and moms are to nurture. Where does that leave you?

Mentors and other healthy role models can be very helpful, though most single parents I talk with say it’s not easy to find such people for their teenagers. And finding them may not be enough. You and your teen may need to wear a path to a counselor’s office — being sure to find a professional who has a working understanding of bonding and attachment issues with teenagers.

Melinda had been a single parent to her son for more than nine years when I met the two of them. Andy was now 13. During our first session I asked why they were talking to a therapist like me, since there seemed to be no real issues at hand.

Melinda explained that she just wanted a “checkup” for Andy and herself, to make sure they were both ready for the changes the teenage years would bring.

As the sessions progressed, it became apparent to me that this single mom had gotten it right. Yes, Andy was an “easy child” as far as personality goes. But Melinda had been purposeful in her parenting, and had kept Andy around spiritually solid men in the church through various activities. She’d given Andy enough nurturing and had done her best to see that he’d gotten as much validation as possible. The situation wasn’t perfect, but for Andy it was enough.

There are many stories like Angie’s — and many like Andy’s, too.

If you’re a single mom, you can nurture and validate your teen. If you’re a single dad, you can nurture as well as validate.

Defining Success as a Parent

Get into the mind-set that everything you do as a parent ultimately is part of validating or nurturing your children.

Regardless of your parenting situation, you can erase “control” from your job description and add “validate and nurture.” While you’re at it, don’t forget all that fine print about paying for things, coaching your daughter’s soccer team, correcting your son’s awful table manners, sitting through countless piano recitals, teaching spiritual values and how to balance a checkbook, driving all over town, disciplining, encouraging, saying no at times and yes at others, setting boundaries and repeating all this as needed.

In doing this year after year, you greatly increase the opportunity for your teenager to choose what’s wise and right. Even though you can’t control the final outcome, you’ve stacked the deck in your child’s favor. That’s what your job as a parent is.

Get into the mind-set that everything you do as a parent ultimately is part of validating or nurturing your children, especially during their teen years — preferably in ways they don’t consider offensive or embarrassing.

And don’t forget that it’s not about being perfect or exactly “right.”

It’s about “enough.”

Relax. You can do these things. And while there may be hard times, you can do them successfully, even if your teenager doesn’t turn out “right” — now or later.

Remember, the results aren’t in your hands.

The clearer you are about this job description, the more able you’ll be to maintain a balanced approach to this thing called control.

Taken from Losing Control & Liking It, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2009, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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