Trials Will Show Your Inner Strength

Trials sometimes expose the parts of us that need work, but they can also reveal strength we never knew we had.  This has probably been truest for me in the years my son has served overseas, sometimes in hostile environments.  The worries, the separation, the inability to help him during difficult times were just some of the challenges I faced as a military mom.

Oftentimes we don’t know what we’re made of until we find ourselves in the fire.  We may come out a little burned but we still make it out.

The greater dependency we have on God, the stronger we’ll be.  Anything we try to muster up on our own is sure to be short-lived.  God is our everlasting strength.  He will carry us through; but we have to be willing participants in the process.

Psalm 121 gives us some insight on how to do this.  In verse 1 it says:  I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? 

Lift your eyes up.  Take the focus off your problem and put it on the Problem Solver.

Verse 2 is a great reminder of where our strength comes from:  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Honestly, feeling helpless is the best place to be in the midst of a trial.  You come to understand that God is our only help in times of trouble.

The road might feel treacherous but verse 3 says:  He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber.”

Whether you recognize it or not…regardless if you feel His presence or not…God is always watching over you.  He will hold you steady in the midst of the trial.

Your inner strength is birthed out of an intimate, growing relationship with the Lord.  It’s what gets you to this place of declaration:

The Lord is my strength and my shield;

my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me.

My heart leaps for joy,

And with my song I praise Him.

(Psalm 28:7)

You might also like:

Embracing God’s Will in the Midst of a Trial

Remaining Faithful NO MATTER WHAT

The Biggest Mistakes Made When Someone Is in a Trial

How to Deal with Trials in Life

A Misunderstanding of Sacrifice

I thought I understood sacrifice those sleepless nights I was nursing a newborn or comforting a child woken up by a bad dream.  I thought I knew the meaning of sacrifice by braving the cold and rain to watch my child play football or reading the same story five times in a row.  I thought I got the meaning of sacrifice when I spent my own birthday money on a toy for my child or gave up a career to stay home when my children were young.

Sacrificing my time, sometimes my sanity, and most definitely my wants.

I had a misunderstanding of sacrifice that I wouldn’t come to realize until the later years.  When my role as a mom would change because now they’re adults and I have to bite my tongue just to keep the peace.  When I would have to push aside my need to rescue and allow my children to make mistakes.

Sacrificial parenting is a way of surrendering what I think or want and trusting God with the outcome.  It’s giving up my need to be right or to have my say so that a relationship can stay intact.

It’s hard.  Oh, is it hard.  The heartache it can cause is indescribable.  But so is the wonder in seeing how God can turn an entire situation around or give you glimpses of good in the midst of difficulty.  It’s a reminder that my sacrifice is nothing compared to God’s, who gave up His own Son so that we might have eternal life.

The more I reflect on His sacrifice, the less I focus on myself.  The more I surrender, the greater my faith.  Like Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his son—literally—God will provide my “ram.”  The way that points to God’s faithfulness in each and every one of my children’s lives.

Sacrifice is less about giving up something and more about entrusting everything to God.  It’s nothing about me and everything about Him.

 

Embracing God’s Will in the Midst of a Trial

One of the more difficult things to embrace in the midst of a trial is when God’s plan is completely different than your own, or it doesn’t seem to make sense.  Yet the sooner we welcome His will, the better equipped we’ll be to deal with the process of the trial.

When our family fought a custody battle for our granddaughter that lasted over a year, we experienced quite a few obstacles.  I would say I wanted God’s will done…but my reaction to what that sometimes meant demonstrated otherwise.  The truth was that I wanted God’s will to be done but it had to line up with what I thought was best.

A friend in my prayer group directed me to a song called “Even If” by MercyMe.  I could relate to so much of it—how I was losing bad (as others with wrong motives seemed to win) and how sometimes God would leave mountains unmovable (we just couldn’t seem to get breakthrough).  Yet the plea is that no matter what, our hope would remain in God alone.  That we could say all is well with our soul.  Yes, God can do anything—but even if He doesn’t, will we find the strength to embrace His will?

I won’t pretend this is easy.  I fought it with heels digging in and with a great deal of anger.  How could wrong get rewarded and doing right bring pain?

I’m convinced the trial lasted as long as it did because I fought it for so long.  My stubbornness and what I believed was right became greater than my faith in God.  He loved me enough to keep me in that place until my eyes were finally opened and I came to the realization that He was everything I needed.

Once God broke me (because that was what needed to happen), the focus became seeking Him for the strength to accept His will.  And one day, in the most unexpected and unexplainable manner, everything changed for good.  A hopeless situation became a miracle.  I learned that fighting against God’s will gets you nowhere.  Embracing His will grows our faith and draws us closer to Him.

If you’re going through a particularly difficult trial, take time to listen to this song “Even If.”  Let it minister to your heart and soul and know that even if God doesn’t change a thing, He is our only hope in this world.

You might also like:

Trials Expose What Lies Beneath the Surface

Remaining Faithful NO MATTER WHAT

The Mistakes Made When Someone Is In a Trial

How to Deal with Trials in Life

When You Just Can’t Snap Out of It

Last week’s post, “The Stigma of Mental Illness in the Church” definitely struck a chord in others.  If you could only visualize the internal anguish I felt about writing on this topic.  The feedback I’ve received was worth it.  It’s clearly a subject that needs more attention.

Our moods can be impacted by stressful life events, genetics, hormones, medical conditions, substances (alcohol, drugs, medication) and more.  Pinpointing the cause of depression is sometimes easy and sometimes not.  The one thing I can say for sure is that when it does strike, the person suffering can’t control how he feels.

I’ve been that person who essentially says, “Why can’t you just snap out of it?”  But I’ve also been on the other end, when it’s been asked of me.  If only it were that easy.  Just think happy thoughts—unicorns and rainbows.  Or in the circle of believers, just pray and then you’ll snap out of it.

The reality is that depression can have a vice-like grip on your emotions and thoughts.  Its hold can be so powerful that it seems like an unbreakable barrier between you and God.  No amount of prayer, Bible reading or worship music will make it go away.  In other words, you can’t just snap out of it.

No one wants to feel this way.  The individual isn’t choosing to be depressed.  And yet so often, the “just snap out of it” mantra comes across as the solution.  But if that’s not the answer…then what is?

When you just can’t snap out of it, know that it’s hold over you can be broken.  Psalm 42:11, “Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

Putting your hope in God takes the responsibility off your shoulders to just “snap out of it.”  You can’t manufacture a content spirit and you certainly can’t will yourself to feel joy.  But when we put our hope in God, we are essentially giving it all to Him.  We know that we’re unable but He is more than able.

Hope that you are loved by God.  Hope that just as He has come through for you in past difficulties, so will He now.  Hope that He is working out the perfect ending to this temporary twist in your story.

You discipline yourself to hope by praying…even when it feels like you’re talking to a wall.  You read the Word…even when it makes no impact.  You listen to uplifting music…even when it stirs nothing inside.  These are disciplines that over time will most definitely make a positive difference and help break the chain of depression.

But there are other ways we can find hope—for some, it may mean medication (short or long term).  It may require seeking professional counseling.  Or asking your closest friends to help pray you through.

There’s usually not a quick, easy fix for depression.  Even telling someone to have hope in God sounds so trite.  King David is a prime example of someone who experienced many stressful events in his life.  Yet he verbalized his hope in God.  He spoke it out loud.  He reminded himself of God’s faithfulness.  He declared that his faith was in a trustworthy God.  His circumstances didn’t always change.  But it was hope that enabled him to break free from the chains of depression.

Hope is not a magical key to happiness.  But it is the source in finding strength to get through the battle.  Hope is what carries us out of the valley of despair.  Hope is what brings us peace.  Hope is what breaks the bonds of depression and fills us with joy.

 

Trials Expose What Lies Beneath the Surface

Trials are quite revealing.  They get below the surface level of our faith to the deepest parts of our soul.  This is where fears, mistrust, anxieties and other hidden issues finally get exposed.  Trials peel away the Christian mask to unveil who we really are—not what we’ve portrayed to others or even what we’ve tried to convince ourselves is the person inside.

There was a period of time in which I felt pretty secure in my Christian walk.  My faith remained intact, despite some challenges that had come my way.  And then…well, let’s just say one particular trial seemed to resurface a part of me I had thought was long buried.

You see, there were some issues that I’d never fully dealt with, which were lying below the surface—waiting for just the right opportunity.  Only those closest to me got to see the awful effects of it.

It’s painful and embarrassing to reflect on this time.  There is nothing pleasurable about exposure.  It puts us in a very vulnerable position.  Yet this is where the real work can be done in us, as God begins to peel away the layers.  Exposure isn’t about embarrassment, it’s about getting to the core of our heart, mind and soul.

We can pretend with others—maybe even fool a few.  We can try to convince ourselves that everything is good.  But God will use whatever means necessary to expose those parts of us that need refining.  It’s the only way I can make sense out of James, when he tells us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2).

Not joy for the trial itself…but joy because it means our faith is being tested.   It’s the only way we can grow as a person and in our relationship with God.

Don’t be afraid of exposure that leads to greater growth.  Revealing what’s hidden is the only way to be changed from the inside out.

You might also like:

How to Deal with Trials in Life

The Biggest Mistakes Made When Someone Is in a Trial

Remaining Faithful NO MATTER WHAT

 

The Stigma of Mental Illness in the Church

Mental health—it’s a touchy subject, one that has started to garner a lot of attention through the media but is mostly neglected through the church.  Yet even the media’s focus tends to center on the tragic events that involve someone who finally “loses it” in a violent act.  We don’t hear much about the ordinary, everyday people who are dealing with mental illness.

There is a stigma attached to issues of mental health in the church.  I have heard a wide range of questionable thoughts and opinions.  For instance, some say that depression is a lack of faith.  I’ve also heard there is no such thing as a generational curse of mental illness because Christ set us free.

I’m not diminishing the necessity for strong faith or living in the freedom of Christ.  Yet it doesn’t negate the very real struggle that some believers go through.  And it is no different than someone suffering from physical health issues.

In all honesty, it’s a topic that makes me uncomfortable, so writing this post isn’t exactly “my thing.”  But this is an issue that I strongly believe needs a voice—and not just because it affects me on a personal level—I know there are others out there who have felt the stigma.  Those who have felt shame or embarrassment or even outright denial of the struggle.

It’s not possible to cover everything in one post.  So, it’s probably safe to say that this won’t be my last.  But I wanted to at least open up the conversation.  I would guess that almost every reader knows someone who struggles with mental health or has fought their own demons with it.

Know that first, mental illness is not a sign of weak faith.   Depression was something that King David struggled with—if you don’t believe me, read the Psalms.  Or remember Elijah, who at one point was so depressed he was ready to give up…even asking God to take his life.  I believe that our greatest faith comes from the lowest points in life, the moments of desperation and when we feel the most unable.  Because it’s then we see the power of God move on our behalf…whether that means healing or strength to face the battle.

Second, mental illness can be a generational curse.  Just as diabetes or breast cancer might run in a family, so can schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  My family has a long history of mental illness.  My acceptance of Jesus doesn’t erase this truth.  But it does empower me to break the hold it’s had over us.

It’s an important topic…especially among believers.  Not just to draw attention to it but to point the way to the One who has the answers.

Psalm 42:5 “Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

Remaining Faithful NO MATTER WHAT

 

Dealing with trials is part of life.  We can’t outrun or outsmart them.  We can’t even be a “good enough” Christian to avoid them.  What we can do is remain faithful to God…no matter how hard the road before us, no matter how uncertain things seem or how painful it becomes.

Easy?  Hardly.  Heck, we oftentimes blame God in the first place!

When everything is going right in our life, it’s easy to stay faithful.  But what happens when everything is going wrong?  Or the worse thing we could ever imagine happens?  What if our greatest fears come to pass?  Or a difficult season stretches on for weeks, months or even years?

I almost always think about Job of the Old Testament.  He lost everything that mattered to him.  It’s one thing to have empty pockets and a broken body…but to have all of your children die?  Even the loss of just one I cannot imagine.  And so, I have to ask myself, would I be able to remain faithful if I were in Job’s shoes?  I would like to be able to say yes, that I would…however, I really don’t know.

I know it’s not the Sunday School answer.  But it’s my honest answer.

I’ve been mad at God plenty of times.  Even if I haven’t blamed Him for circumstances, I’ve been sure to remind Him of the power He has to change them.  I might have lost my way and my faith may have been teetering on the edge, but I never fully turned my back on God.  The good news is that even I had, He would welcome me back with open arms.

Deep down inside we know He is the answer to our trials.  And even if He chose not to do anything about what we’re going through, He is the one who will carry us through.

Life is full of unfair events, tragic loss and disappointments.  We have little control over much of what happens.  But we can determine there is no better place to run to, than His arms of comfort.

After all…

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 139:7-12 (NIV)

 

You might also like:  The Biggest Mistakes Made When Someone Is in a Trial

There Is Only One Perfect Father

My dad’s early part of life was pretty rough…which in turn made mine a bit bumpy.  As a child, he was a victim of abuse in more than one way.  When he was old enough, he joined the Air Force and went to Vietnam, where he served on the front lines. He witnessed and participated in some pretty horrific things.

When he came home, he struggled with alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder (it would be the 80’s before we’d start to hear about this form of mental illness).  By then he was married to my mother and was not only raising me, but my aunt.  My mother’s much younger sister came to live with us when my maternal grandfather killed my maternal grandmother.  Eventually my sister came along.

We were poor and mostly lived in bad areas of the city.  There was a lot of fighting and violence in the home.  It was not the ideal upbringing and although I legitimately have every reason to focus on the imperfect parts of my father, I choose instead to remember there is only one perfect Father.

My dad left my mom right after my husband and I had our first child.  It was devastating.  Eventually my dad remarried a much younger woman, who had three children around the ages of 10 and 11.  Suddenly I had to embrace this new family.  It wasn’t easy.  It seemed his new wife got the better of him.  Her children benefited from his improved financial position.  They got to enjoy things, and a side of my dad, that I never did.

My dad changed as he got older.  We became closer and I got to experience the more loving side of him.  He enjoyed being a grandpa to my three children and warmly embraced my husband as his own son.   The latter part of my life with him was much better.  And I got to hold his hand as he took his very last breath just over two years ago.

My dad wasn’t perfect.  No dad is perfect—even the most loving, available and caring one.  I believe with all my heart that he parented the best way he could.  It’s easy to blame our parents for the wrongs in our life or to make excuses for our bitterness because of what we experienced.  Perhaps God’s expectations are a little lower than ours.

I don’t know your story…what type of father you were brought up by, or even if your father has been around for you.  I don’t know about your disappointments or the rejection you felt.  You may not have a single bad thing to say about your dad.  Regardless, he is (was) imperfect.

God’s perfection is what enables us to forgive and see past our own pain to better understand someone else’s pain.  It doesn’t diminish the hard times we’ve gone through.  But what’s the point of having a perfect Father if we can’t enjoy the benefits of it?

It’s His perfect love that enables us to love.

It’s His perfect love that allows us to show grace.

It’s His perfect love that helps us to trust again.

It’s His perfect love that enables us to remember we’ve all sinned and fallen short.

May this Father’s Day be a time of healing…of self-reflection…of determination to forgive…of recognition there is only ONE perfect Father!

 

 

 

The Cure for Soul Burnout

I’ve been exhausted physically, after a sleepless night.  I’ve been tapped out emotionally, when everything is going wrong.  And I’ve been mentally drained by difficult circumstances.

But when all three happen or any one of them seems unending, it can lead to soul burnout.  A nap won’t help.  A comedy won’t make us feel better.  And thinking positive won’t change a thing.

The cure?  Soul rest.

Sounds blissful, doesn’t it?  But how exactly do we get there?

Let Go.

So much of what happens is beyond our control.  We can’t change the circumstances or the people.  Yet oftentimes we expend a large amount of energy in trying to, emptying ourselves of any reserves there might be left.

Letting go is one of the hardest things to do, especially for perfectionists (like me).    I think there’s a couple of reasons why this is so hard.  One is that it feels like we’re giving up…we’ve accepted defeat.  The other reason is that we’re putting more stock in our ability than God’s…we think we know a better way.

True surrender is accepting that we don’t know what to do but God does.  Surrender is recognizing that victory can only come through Him.  And it’s coming to the realization that although we may not understand why things are happening, God remains in full control.

Seek quiet.

The noise of this world can easily drown out the solitude our soul needs.  This includes not only the devices and activities that suck us in but the thoughts that cloud our mind.  I do a fairly good job at letting things go…unless it involves those closest to me.  Then I tend to do the “worst-case-scenario” in my head.  Or I get caught up with my emotions, anger when they’ve been hurt or worry over their circumstances.

Seeking quiet may require a setting aside of those devices and activities.  But it also means taking captive our thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Although we can’t completely control our thoughts, we can choose to not dwell on them.  When we mull something over in our mind, we’re likely to go places we’d otherwise not go.  Even righteous anger can turn an ugly direction if we fail to reign in our thoughts.

Another way we can take captive our thoughts is by refusing to react.  Reactions are usually knee-jerk and come from the flesh.  Prayer is more likely to produce a godly response.  This requires getting quiet before God.  The more time spent with Him and in His Word, the less noisy this world becomes.

Pursue God.

When our souls are weary, sometimes the last thing we think about is reading God’s Word or even going to church.  Prayer feels useless.  Keep pursuing God.  Even if you’re not “feeling it,” don’t give up.  It might not feel like He’s there or that He’s listening.  Yet it’s when God feels the furthest that He’s actually the closest and doing the most work in your life.

Some of my most victorious moments have come after a long time of what appeared to be silence from God.  It only made me more aware (and amazed) of God’s power to work in and through a situation.

Enlist help.

If you’re anything like me, the last thing you want to do is enlist help.  I tend to isolate myself when I’m struggling, which is the very worst thing you can do.  But soul rest isn’t a solo sport.  It’s important to ask others for help, whether it’s in a tangible way or just to have a listening ear.  At the very least, ask those who are trustworthy for prayer.

There was a long period of time in which I experienced soul burnout on my own.  I didn’t turn to anyone.  It was incredibly painful and lonely.  Then a friend invited me to attend a Bible study group.  From the first moment I sat with those ladies, I felt welcomed.  And it didn’t take long before I felt loved and truly cared for through their prayers, words of support and encouragement.  Without their help, I don’t know how I would have made it through.

Soul rest is the cure for burnout.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him (Psalm 62

The Biggest Mistakes Made When Someone Is in a Trial

Going through some personal trials in my own life, I’ve learned what not to do when someone else is suffering.  Although people generally have good intentions, oftentimes they become more of a hindrance than a help to the healing process.  While I certainly don’t have all the answers on how to help someone, I’ve come to an understanding about some of the biggest mistakes we can make.

Mistake #1 – Pretending to understand someone else’s trial

If you have not personally experienced what someone is going through, it’s a disservice to pretend to understand.  It’s okay to say that you can’t relate to their pain.  There is nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know what to say or do for that person.

When my close friend’s husband died in a tragic workplace accident, there was no way I could help her in the grieving process by pretending to understand what she was going through.  I had no words for her…and that’s exactly what I would tell her.  My presence, my listening ear, my care and concern were all she needed.  She wasn’t looking for someone to say, “I understand.”  She was looking for someone to just be there.

If we haven’t experienced what someone else has gone through, it doesn’t disqualify us from helping.  It’s always better to admit we’re at a loss as to how to help rather than pretending to understand their pain.

Mistake #2 – Comparing your pain to their pain

Sometimes we have experienced a similar type of trial, which in many ways can be very comforting to the other person.  But in the midst of their pain, don’t compare what it was like for you to what they’re experiencing.

During the more than a yearlong process of seeking custody and going through the legal system for my granddaughter, I had a friend who was constantly telling me about her own experiences with custody more than 20 years ago.   Her intentions were good, I know that.  But it eventually made me stop sharing with her.

When someone is hurting, it’s hard for them to see past it.  It’s not that we shouldn’t share our insight or experiences, but we have to be careful that the focus doesn’t become about our pain instead of their pain.

Mistake #3 – Diminishing what someone else is going through

Sometimes we unintentionally (or perhaps even intentionally) diminish the other person’s trial.  What is tragic for one person might not be to another.  But that doesn’t make it any less important.

While losing a pet might not compare to losing a spouse, it is still a loss nonetheless.  A demotion might not be as bad as getting laid off…but it’s still discouraging.  A parent who is upset about their child getting caught smoking maybe doesn’t compare to a child hooked on drugs…yet it’s still a disappointment.

Just because it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you or it’s not as big of a trial as what you have gone through, doesn’t mean the person is any less deserving of encouragement and support.  Don’t diminish what someone else is going through…they’re pain is just as real.