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FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Children and Spouses of Troubled Families

SOURCE: Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters

*The Children — Many children of dysfunctional families (termed CODF’s) have to cope with baffling and painful situations.  Children who are subjected to abuse of different kinds may receive little or no help from others, mainly because their teachers, neighbors, and church leaders may not realize their plight.  Without assistance from others, children try to fix themselves.  Clumsily, with childish hands, they suture the wounds, often leaving ugly scars or unhealed lesions that split open in later life.  All of this is an attempt to protect themselves from the abuse.  The home has the power to produce angry, rebellious, or disheartened children.  Families can aggravate serious psychological disorders.  Kids under stress can develop an abundance of physical and emotional problems even while in the womb.  Many scientists how believe that stress can program a fetus to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and other disorders in adulthood.  So sensitive is the brain to its environment that absence of emotional warmth can kill brain cells.  The loss of these cells is devastating during a child’s early years, when brain connections require learning skills for language, math, and getting along with others. As infants, if anything interferes with bonding with their mothers, they may have permanent emotional scars that will influence the outcome of the remainder of their development.  The extent of the damage done to CODF’s depends on lots of factors, for example, when in the life of the child the parent became addicted, how the family reacted to it, how long the addiction continued, and the severity of the abuse and neglect.

Thankfully, despite the severity of the situation, not all of these children will be severely wounded.  Psychologists call them resilient or stress-resistant children. Some CODF’s may have a strong orientation toward personal growth.  They are able to initiate and intentionally engage in the process of self-change.  Second, they may possess a trait termed hardiness.  Hardy people are actively involved in living, believing they can control their circumstances.  Some kids are less affected by their stressful family life because of the presence of another adult in their lives.

The children of troubled families may sometimes feel frustrated and unable to control their own lives. Their helplessness may be compounded by a feeling of failure.  This is due to their trying to solve the problem in their family.  Kids feel responsible for their parents’ problems partly because they are so egocentric, believing they are the cause of most everything that happens around them.  But they also may think they are to blame for the problem because the troubled parent tells them they are.  Taking such responsibility on themselves is usually destructive to children because they are doomed to failure.  Without someone explaining to them that they shouldn’t take the weight of the family on their shoulders, they may continue to do this into adulthood and even have trouble stopping then.  Their failure to solve the family’s problems may make them angry.  Thinking their good behavior will make their parents break free from their dependency or compulsion, they may be upset when they don’t get the hoped for results.  Their anger may take the form of resentment.

Expressing anger is complicated by the attachment the child has for the parents.  Besides needing the parents’ care, children are taught to love and respect them, making it very hard to accept the anger and hatred they feel.  Feelings are mixed – love and hate, pity and disgust, anger and sympathy.  The child plays the same Jeckyll-Hyde role the troubled parent is playing. Fear may also keep children from directing anger toward the parent.  And the “don’t feel, don’t talk” rules will make them keep their anger bottled up inside of them.  This may cause them to resort to sarcasm, forgetfulness, hostile jokes, and other passive-aggressive behaviors.  They may also overreact to normal events and become extremely angry with people who haven’t done anything to deserve such a reaction.

One way CODF’s express anger is by reverting back to an earlier stage of development.  Also, a child may make light of the stressful situation at home or resort to humor to handle it. Additionally, children may be deeply hurt by a parent’s abusive ranting and raving and lack what are known as “self-soothing” abilities.  They lack inner resources to calm themselves in the face of severe stress and intense emotions.  Finally, children in stressful situations may develop a false self.  Instead of the addicted parent’s encouraging the children to express themselves and commending them for it, the parent’s behavior demands that they become something else.  If the parent is also physically or sexually abusive, the squelching of the child’s personality can be extremely severe.

Shame is another emotion that inhibits children’s development of their true self.  Theirs is not a shame for what they have done, but for who they are—an absence of self-respect.  The time between eighteen months to three years is a time when a child gains a sense of autonomy.  Restricting the child, as dysfunctional families are prone to do, may make them doubt and dislike themselves.  Guilt feelings may also develop very early from ages three to six.  In an addictive family, the children may receive little affirmation for their ventures and be blamed for innocent mistakes, causing them to feel guilty for attempts to exert themselves.

They will also be shamed by the embarrassing activities of their parents.  Their shame may also be due to the fact that all children tend to identify with their parents.  Of course, constant parental criticism may result in children’s having little self-respect.  When little children are verbally harangued by their parents, told they are worthless or bad, they will believe these things.  They lack the maturity to realize these messages are lies of an evil, addicted, compulsive person.

Trust will almost always be a problem for the dysfunctional family’s children, too.  Consistent care teaches them that they can rely on others.  If their care is sporadic, harsh, or unkind, they learn to mistrust, making it difficult for them later to form close relationships.  Distracted and disturbed, a dysfunctional family may early breed mistrust in children.  The inconsistency of the wet-dry cycle probably is enough to instill distrust in a child.  Children in dysfunctional families are often compulsive and have a tendency to become addicted to something.  Or they may turn to an addiction as an escape from pain.  The enmeshed family system has taught them to depend on things outside themselves for happiness and satisfaction.  Additionally, children of dysfunctional families are often obsessed with pleasing others.

CODF’s cast themselves in various roles.  The child may choose the role as a survival tactic, or, because each role performs a function in the family system, the system itself will force the child into the part.  Sometimes a specific child will play more than one role or through time switch from one to another.  These roles help the family maintain its dysfunctional homeostasis and can eventually be harmful to the children.  The following are various roles:

Chief Enabler – shelters the addict from consequences of his or her behavior; cost to them is martyrdom;

Family Hero – keeps family’s self-worth, acts as family counselor; cost is a compulsive drive;

Family Scapegoat – diverts attention from the addict; cost is possible self-destructive behavior and often addiction;

Lost child – escapes family stress by emotional and physical separation; cost is social isolation;

Family Mascot – diverts attention from the addict by humor; cost is immaturity and/or emotional illness.

Family members learn “addictive logic” to deny the chaos.  They learn to lie and say the problem doesn’t exist so as not to betray the family.  To survive in an addictive system, children learn to deny healthy responses that tell them they are in danger; they have to keep increasing these dishonest coping skills as their situation worsens.  Also, a torrent of negative thoughts may be coursing through children’s innocent minds:  “I can’t do anything right; I am a failure; I’m not loved; I will be abandoned; I am ugly and bad…etc.”  They desperately need someone to tell them these are lies and help them see the truth about themselves and their families.

*The Spouses — Being married to an addict can be like a ride on a roller coaster – terrifying.  Life is chaotic and unpredictable, up one day, down the next, depending on how the spouse is behaving.  Emotions fluctuate and are mixed.  The dry period, when life is on the upside, inspires hope that it will last, along with nagging fear that it won’t.  In cases of spousal abuse, the cycle is well documented:  abuse followed by remorse followed by forgiveness followed by abuse followed by remorse, and so on.  The same happens in addictive marriages:  The husband manifests an addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober and pleads for forgiveness.  The wife forgives, and the two are reconciled.  The husband manifests the addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober, and on and on.  The spouse will probably be experiencing many of the same emotions as the children – fear, anger, helplessness, loneliness, and the like.  Some will hate their husband or wife, their bitterness created out of years of broken promises and neglect.  Spouses will also blame themselves for their partner’s problem.  Shame too can be intense.  And to cover his or her embarrassment, the husband or wife of the troubled person will strive hard to make a contribution outside the home.  He or she may be driven to succeed in the workplace.  Some will devote themselves to social work or church ministry.  The marriage relationship will deteriorate.  Feelings of love that were likely present in the beginning of the marriage will slowly die as the partner’s addiction progresses.

Three of the most important marital resources – respect, reciprocity, and reliability – will be challenged.  Respect involves conveying to another person (through words, deeds, or simply being present) that the other is of value.  By their irresponsible behavior and neglect of family duties, addicts and the like will not be likely to keep this resource in their relationship.  Reciprocity in relationships refers to the balance of giving and receiving care and consideration.  Not much fairness will be felt in a dysfunctional family where the weight of maintaining the family falls on the addict’s spouse and/or children.  Reliability refers to the expectation that the person will be there for us on an ongoing, fairly consistent basis.  Broken promises and no-shows will destroy this resource.  An addiction, like any other violation of the relationship bond, will chip away at trust.  People married to the addiction/compulsive behavior often convey to their partners that they are not important.  This deterioration of the marriage and emotional struggles of the spouse will sometimes diminish his or her capacity to parent.  Sometimes the spouse, wrestling with the partner’s addiction/behavior, will dump his or her responsibilities on the children.  Because of this neglect, some adult children are angry at the spouse of their addictive/compulsive parent more than they are the one with the addiction/compulsion.

*The Role of Codependency — Codependency is another form of enmeshment.  The spouse of the troubled individual is referred to as the “co-addict.”  This can be described as one person’s addictive patterns aligning themselves with another’s so that there is some degree of systemic collusion or addictive pattern.  Essentially, a codependent is related to another in an unhealthy way.  One person cares so completely for the other that he or she neglects himself or herself, living almost entirely for the other person.  Being an enabler is sometimes part of such a relationship.  Enablers don’t usually consciously do things to help their partner continue his or her destructive behavior.  In fact they will probably attack their partner’s problem with a vengeance, doing everything possible to get him or her to straighten out. Yet, at the same time, they will do things that facilitate their spouse’s behavior.  For example, they will protect their spouse from the consequences of his or her actions:  phoning his boss to report him sick when he can’t go to work because of the addictive behavior; giving money to a wife who has a money related addictive problem; making excuses to the kids for a parent’s absence, and so on.  Then, too, the partners contribute to the addicts’ problem by facilitating the reorganization of the family around them.  Children, too, can play the role of codependent.

Codependents sacrifice unnecessarily and to the detriment of others as well as themselves.  Following Jesus’ example, Christians are encouraged to make sacrifices, but they are not to make senseless ones.  Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself benefited others.  But the codependent’s sacrifices are harmful to the one for whom they are made.  It is not really loving.  Love, as conceived in the New Testament, is concern and care for a person’s highest good.  Preventing an addicted/compulsive spouse from suffering their own consequences is not showing this type of concern and care.  This troubled spouse needs to see the results of his/her lifestyle and choices.  As Proverbs 19:19 says, “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.”  Love is sometimes expressed by not doing something for someone.  Also, codependents need to understand that it is not wrong to care for themselves.  As indicated in Lev. 19:18 and Matt. 19:19, we are commanded to respect others as we respect ourselves.

Some write that codependency is defined as “a pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, self-worth, and identity.”  By this, they mean that people who live in enmeshed families develop a tendency to live this way in general, even with people outside the family.  Symptoms include the following:

* Thoughts and attitudes dominated by the other person: “I think more about your life than mine.”

* Self-esteem related to the other person: “I value your opinion more than my own; I need to help you in order to feel good about myself; I need to be needed.”

* Emotions are tied to the other person: “When you are hurting, I often react more deeply than you do.”

* Interests geared to the other person: “I know more clearly what you want than what I want.”

* Relationship to others is affected by the other person: “I neglect my friends to get overly involved in fixing you; I am compulsive about pleasing others, yet I get upset by their demands on me.”

In selecting a mate, some men and women seem to be attracted to a person who needs their care.  Besides the obvious shortcomings, one major problem of this type of relationship is the powerful dependence these partners have on each other.  They become so enmeshed that they seem unable to function as individuals.  They become so intertwined that it becomes difficult for the other to leave the relationship regardless of how dysfunctional it is.  Codependents will have considerable psychological distress.  They will suffer from poor self-esteem, since they may feel little worth apart from what is derived from rescuing others.  They will also suffer from an extreme need to be needed, making them depressed when they feel they are not.  Also they may have an unhealthy willingness to suffer, somehow believing that suffering for someone will make that person love them; being a martyr will make them feel rewarded.

Despite codependents’ sorry state of affairs, they will have a strong resistance to change.  Leaving the troubled spouse, even as a step toward healing, accountability, and re-creation of the marriage,  is not an option, because they fear feeling guilty, living alone, or not being able to make it financially.

In conclusion, when we or our families experience trouble, we must call upon the Divine weapons and resources that God has provided us.  We must remember that we cannot face the vast array of past and present problems on our own. Therefore, we must keep our focus on the Lord since we don’t know how to deal with these things (2 Chron 20:12b).  He has the willingness and power to do the impossible, demolish the past and present strongholds that have enslaved us, and make us to be who He created us to be (Phil 2:12; Luke 1:37; 2 Cor 10:3-5).

40 Consequences of Adultery

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by David Boehi — Family Life Ministries

If I committed adultery…

  1. My relationship with God would suffer from a break in fellowship.
  2. I would need to seek forgiveness from my Lord.
  3. I would suffer from the emotional consequences of guilt.
  4. I would spend countless hours replaying the failure.
  5. My spouse would suffer the scars of this abuse more deeply than I could begin to describe.
  6. My spouse would spend countless hours in counseling.
  7. My spouse’s recovery would be long and painful.
  8. My spouse’s pain would grieve me deeply and compound my own suffering and shame.
  9. Our marriage relationship would suffer a break in trust, fellowship, and intimacy.
  10. In our marriage, we would be together, yet feel great loneliness.
  11. The reputation of my family would suffer loss.
  12. My children would be deeply disappointed and bewildered.
  13. My grandchildren would not understand.
  14. My friends would be disappointed and would question my integrity.
  15. My employment or job performance would be affected.
  16. My witness among neighbors would become worthless.
  17. My witness to my family would be worthless.
  18. My testimony among my spouse’s family would be damaged.
  19. My service in ministry would be damaged.
  20. My ability to work within the church would be damaged.
  21. I would suffer God’s discipline.
  22. Satan would be thrilled at my failure.
  23. Satan would work overtime to be sure my shame never departed.
  24. My spouse might divorce me.
  25. My children might never speak to me.
  26. Our mutual friends would shy away from us and break fellowship.
  27. I would bring emotional pain to the person with whom I committed adultery.
  28. I would bring reproach upon the person with whom I committed adultery.
  29. If my affair partner is married, that person’s spouse might attempt to bring harm.
  30. My affair partner’s spouse might divorce her.
  31. An unwanted child could be produced.
  32. My part in conception might trigger an abortion, the killing of an innocent child.
  33. Disease might result.
  34. Some might conclude that all Christians are hypocrites.
  35. My business could fail because I couldn’t be trusted.
  36. My leadership among those I have led in the past might also be diminished in impact.
  37. My zeal for ministry would suffer and possibly result in others not continuing in ministry.
  38. My health would suffer.
  39. I might have to start life over again.
  40. This same sin might be visited upon my family for four generations.

It’s a pretty sobering list, isn’t it? What’s even more sobering is that many people will consider these consequences and still proceed in their sin. The fantasy is more important to them than the reality.

The biggest benefit of this list may be in helping us realize the need to set up strict safeguards to ensure that we are faithful in our marriage commitment. If I am convinced of what adultery would do to me and to my family, I will watch my wandering eyes, guard my thought life, and avoid any situations that could put me in harm’s way.

The fantasy is just not worth it.

How do you know when someone is truly sorry?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds.

Hosea 7:14

As biblical counselors, sometimes it’s hard to discern if someone is truly repentant.

Tears are often the language of the heart, but when one is crying in the counseling office, it’s important to hear what the person’s heart is really saying.  The apostle Paul speaks of two kinds of sorrow, worldly sorrow that leads to death and godly sorrow that brings repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).  As Christian counselors, it is crucial that we learn to distinguish between the two especially when we are doing couples work.

Worldly sorrow is a self-focused sorrow. It may contain great emotion, tears, and apologies, but the grief expressed is for one’s self. The person mourns the consequences of his or her sin and what she has lost. This may be a marriage, a job, a reputation, friends and/or family, or can even be one’s own idea of who they thought they were. Here are some of the things we often hear a person say when they are sorrowing unto death.

·         I can’t believe I did such a thing.

·         Why is this happening to me?

·         Please forgive me. – Implying, please don’t make me suffer the  consequences of my sin.

·         Why won’t he/she forgive me? (In other words, why can’t reconciliation be easy and quick?)

·         I’m so sorry (sad).

·         I’m a horrible person.

·         I wish I were dead.

·         I hate myself.

Judas is a good example of this type of sorrow (Matthew 27:3-5).  After he betrayed Christ, he was seized with remorse yet it did not lead to godly repentance, but self-hatred and suicide.

It is natural that we feel compassion for the person suffering such emotional and spiritual pain. However, it’s crucial that we not confuse this kind of sorrow with the kind that leads to biblical repentance, especially when we are working with both the sorrowing sinner and the one who has been sinned against.

Godly sorrow demonstrates grief over one’s sinfulness toward God as well as the pain it has caused others. John the Baptist said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).

Below are eight things I have found that demonstrate those fruits of genuine repentance.

·         Accepts full responsibility for actions and attitudes, doesn’t blame others or situations.

·         Acknowledges sinfulness (instead of “I can’t believe I could do such a thing”).

·         Recognizes the effects of actions on others and shows empathy for the pain he/she’s caused.

·         Able to identify brokenness in detail such as abusive tactics, attitudes of entitlement, and/or areas of chronic deceit.

·         Accepts consequences without demands or conditions.

·         Makes amends for damages.

·         Is willing to make consistent changes over the long term such as new behaviors and attitudes characteristic of healthy relationships.

·         Is willing to be accountable and if needed, long term.

In my work with couples who have experienced grievous sin, I have found that it is not their sin that destroys most relationships. All couples experience sin. The destruction comes when we refuse to acknowledge it. It is our blindness to it and our unwillingness to humble ourselves to get help, be accountable, and repent that makes reconciliation and healing impossible.

7 Truths to Remember in Troubled Times

SOURCE:  Family Life/Dennis – Barbara Rainey

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.

Years ago our family of eight and some dear friends of ours with their two kids vacationed in a small condo on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. It was a beautiful setting and a wonderful time for our families, but one night we were introduced to an experience that Southern Californians face regularly.

At 2 a.m. we awoke to a boom that made us think a truck had hit the building. Then we noticed that everything was shaking. We jumped out of bed and hurried to the living room where all our children were sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. The chandelier over the dining room table was swinging.

It was an earthquake—not very large, but very unsettling. We felt disoriented and confused. We wondered how long it would last and what we should do. The earth is supposed to be steady and solid, and now it wasn’t. When it finally stopped we couldn’t go back to sleep for hours because our fears had been awakened and our security threatened.

Unsettling times

Does our experience describe how you have felt recently? Many Americans have felt shaken by economic instability, racial conflict, mass shootings, and terrorist threats in recent years. Even the current political races have left us feeling anxious, troubled, disoriented. We wonder what to do. We feel afraid as the ground shakes beneath our feet.

Many followers of Christ feel just as unsettled over the unprecedented transformation in the moral climate of our culture. The world’s views on human sexuality, especially, have changed so quickly that Christians are now labeled as bigots for holding to biblical standards. We don’t know how to act, what to say or not say.

And inside our individual homes, many may be feeling disoriented and disheartened because of illness, hardships, failed relationships, or recent deaths of friends or family. Like a friend of ours who just received a cancer diagnosis—her world has just been shaken. Perhaps your world has been shaken, too.

Our stability

A couple of years ago I (Barbara) was reading through the book of Isaiah, and I came across a passage I had never noticed before. Isaiah 33:5-6 says, “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.”

I was struck by that phrase in the middle: “and he will be the stability of your times…” At the time our country was experiencing an economic downturn. Everyone in America was feeling the impact.

When life feels insecure and unstable—not just in the world outside but also inside your family—remember that God is ultimately in control. No matter what is happening around you or how unsteady the world feels, He is our sure and stable foundation.

In many ways, America has been a pretty stable country for the last few decades. But it may not continue to be. When you feel the ground shift beneath your feet, it’s good to remember that Jesus is your Rock and your Fortress. He will be the stability of your times.

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.

When It’s Not “Okay”

SOURCE: Kasey Van Norman, M.A.

Discovering Raw Faith in the Midst of Tragedy

The truth is, no matter the condition of our faith, we all have bad days. And when I’m having a bad day—you know, like barfing for twenty-some hours straight as a result of a toxin that’s flowing through my veins and killing off every cell in hopes of catching the one or two bad ones that could kill me—on those days, I don’t need someone to come along and tell me that it’s all going to be okay.

My experience with cancer is not the first time I’ve encountered this phenomenon.

When I watched my mom spiral into depression after my parents’ divorce, she would say, “It’s going to be okay.”

When I was with my dad every other weekend as a child and watched him take drink after drink, he would say, “It’s going to be okay.”

The day I ended up in the hospital after sticking my finger down my throat one too many times and had literally burned holes in my esophagus and weighed a good eighty-five pounds soaking wet, a nurse told me, “It’s going to be okay.”

After my miscarriage when I was twelve weeks pregnant, my friends told me, “It’s going to be okay.”

As I stood in front of my mother’s corpse at the funeral home, amid sobbing people and a slew of flowers, people came through the line and said, “It’s going to be okay.”

And then, when I shared the news of my cancer diagnosis, I received e-mails and shoulder pats with those dreaded words once again; “It’s going to be okay.”

There have been countless times when I want to stand up and shout, “NO! IT IS NOT GOING TO BE OKAY!”

We live in a broken, messed-up world, and there are some things that are never going to be okay.

Embracing raw faith means understanding that the Christian life also means accepting pain, suffering, and trials. Genuine faith means accepting the reality that life is a continual movement to become more like Jesus. Man-made religion wants to lull us into a place of rules and being just okay, but Jesus rocks our world and calls us to live deeply, whether in times of joy or struggle.

In other words, it’s okay to not be okay.

Better than Okay

God doesn’t guarantee us deliverance from hardship, and following him doesn’t mean we’ll never go through the fire. But he does promise us something better: he doesn’t waste anything we go through. And no matter what happens, he will go through it with us.

God’s grace runs deeper than any heartbreak we will experience in this life. His love goes beyond than any unanswered questions we might have. And God’s purpose and plan for our future can trump any sin, any obstacle, and any defeat we might experience.  He can use the very things that plague us—our most difficult trials—to chisel us into the character of his Son.

That’s something we can’t experience if we settle for okay.

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Excerpted from Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks a Fight by Kasey Van Norman. Available at www.raw-faith.com.

“BUT”

SOURCE:  Tim Clinton/AACC

“You face your greatest opposition when you’re closest to your biggest miracle.” Bishop T. D. Jakes

“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” G. K. Chesterton

Often, the most powerful, life-changing miracles seem to happen in the “buts” of life.

Consider the story of Naaman. 2 Kings 5:1 describes him with glowing accolades.

Commander of the army of the king of Syria.

A great man with his master.

High favor.

A mighty man of valor.

Then out of nowhere – life-altering words.

But…he was a leper.

Think about that. Leprosy. The most dreaded disease of his day. A visible outward malady that in reality defined who he was. Putrefying infected sores that in time caused loss of fingers, toes, nose. Everyone who came in contact with him saw the miserable condition he carried with him everywhere he went. There was no hiding it.

Many Christ followers understand this reality in their own journey. No doubt, many of you are living there right now.

You love God, and you really do believe that God loves you. You read the Word, pray, give your tithes and offerings, attend worship services, desiring to obey and walk in His Spirit.

But…

The doctor gave you terminal news.

But…

Your spouse left, and the hole in your heart grows deeper and wider by the hour.

But…

Your position at work was eliminated, as was your pay check, and you find yourself in the unemployment line.

But…

A son or a daughter rejected a lifetime of nurture and admonition and the relationship is strained, broken and seemingly destroyed.

“Buts” that now seem to define who you are. “Buts” that perhaps even cause you to question God and His plan, much less His goodness. “Buts” that understandably cause you to ask “Where are you God?”

Let’s look again at the well-known Bible story of Naaman. At the recommendation of a young slave girl, he travels to find the prophet Elisha. Elisha sends a servant out to instruct Naaman to go and wash seven times in the Jordan. Albeit reluctantly, and even with quite a bit of raging about how irrational the command is, he obeys.

I wonder how Naaman felt after he dunked himself the first time. No change. The second time. No change. Third time. No change. After number six, he might have been thinking that this was a horrible joke and a waste of time. The anger he had initially felt was returning. Someone was going to pay for this public act of embarrassment.

Have you been there? Faith…trust…obedience…and seemingly no change. You find yourself confused, distraught, and perhaps even a bit angry at God.

Then Naaman dipped the seventh time and “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” 2 Kings 5:14 ESV

He went back to the “man of God,” stood before him and declared, (now) “I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel…” 2 Kings 5:15  ESV

God was in the midst of his pain. Faithfully at work in the “but” of Naaman’s life. Steadfast in His in plan in Naaman’s journey, which ultimately brought Him glory.

And God is in the midst of your pain also. He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t forsaken you. He is faithfully working in the plan of your life, and He will ultimately get glory by taking your storyand making it His story.

Don’t be defined by the “but” in your pilgrimage. Don’t give up. Keep believing that He is God, and that He is good.

Your miracle could be just one more “dip in the Jordan” away.

A miracle that will turn your life around.

A Prayer for Loving Well in the Face of Suffering

SOUrCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

And many followed him [Jesus], and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” Matt. 12:15-21

Dear Lord Jesus, I’m greatly moved today as I ponder your compassionate heart for the broken and suffering. Surely there’s no Savior like you: entering, not running from our chaos; taking, not despising our shame; shouldering, not ignoring our burdens. “Bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks” love your appearing. Justice will be fully victorious because you have been the willing sufferer.

For sure—for gloriously sure, your sufferings as our sin-bearer are over. As the Lamb of God, you offered yourself once and for all upon the cross (Heb 10:1-18). No additional sacrifice for our sin remains to be offered—none!

We no longer have to fear being judged by God for our sin. Your perfect love has driven away all fear of punishment (1Jn. 4:18), anxiety about judgment day (Rm. 8:1), and uncertainty about eternity (1 Jn. 5:13). I boast and rest in your completed sufferings for us, Lord Jesus; and I shout a hearty “Hallelujah!” But, at the same time, I also cry out, “Help me, Lord Jesus, help me.”

Help me—grant me grace to go with you into the sufferings of friends and family; sit longer in the groans and birth pangs of my own heart (Rm. 8:23); and engage more fully in the injustices and brokenness of my community. This is who you are and this is what you’re doing; for your name is Redeemer.

But, like most, I have an aversion to pain and suffering. Like many, I’d love for the Christian life to be an antidote for all discomfort and distress. Like some, I get overwhelmed and overtaxed by the sufferings of others. Here’s my peace, consolation, and ballast, Lord Jesus: you’re not calling us to suffer for you but to suffer with you, and that makes all the difference in the world. We’re called into the fellowship of your sufferings, not into the isolation of our sufferings.

You’ll never lead us into hard places where you’re not present. You’ll never ask us to do anything all by ourselves. You’ll never leave us or forsake us, Lord Jesus. You will “lead justice to victory, and in your name all the nations will put their hope”. So very Amen I pray with peace, in your kind and compassionate name.

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