Anybody ever go through emotionally painful situations? Of course you do.
We all do, some of us live through more tragic events than others, but none of us are exempt.
Because of our family pain over the last six years, I have had to figure out how to process pain in the middle of continuous trauma. I didn’t have counselors or anyone telling me how to do it, our constant emergency didn’t allow me to slow down enough to even pursue professional help. In His mercy, God has given me some strategies, even though at the time I didn’t know He was doing that.
When all is well in life, there is no opportunity to choose hope, no reason for forging a deep faith, no wrestling with hard questions. It is not hard to trust God when there is no pain. When traumatic situations happen though, it forces us to address our deepest beliefs. It launches us into intense personal grappling that can last for a long time. I believe there are many stuck in this place of inner turbulence. It happens under the surface, below things that are talked about in normal conversation. It produces more questions than ever get answered and turmoil deep in the soul that continually churns.
As I said in the previous post, God does not mind our inner battle; He is okay with all of our questions. He welcomes them and is excited about our wrestlings. How can we ever come out on the side of truth without addressing the deepest questions of our hearts? It is the fight of your life to continually believe what you cannot see all while being tormented by what is happening in the natural world that you can see. Many people cannot face the fight, and turn to anything that will distract them or dull the pain. If you choose to push through it, you can eventually come out on the other side with God into greater freedom. Why is it so hard? I believe it is mostly one reason:
In our core, we don’t believe that God is truly good.
The enemy of our souls works very hard to subtly attack this core value, the goodness of God. If he can make people believe that God is not good, they will distrust Him. If I believe He is not good, I will never believe that His goodness is truly for me, that He has only good intentions in my life. I will question everything and never be able to rest in His love or fully embrace Him. I will instead believe lies about Him and His character.
However, if I throw out the lies and come to a sure place that God is good, I will see everything that happens through a lens of his love and perfect goodness. I will know He is active and working on my behalf, and I can choose hope for the future even if my present is not lining up with the way I think it should. It is a war against the enemy to decide, no matter what, that God is good. It’s not an intellectual decision based on only words from the Bible; it is a decision based on the intimate relationship we have with Jesus Himself, where we come to know that we know that we know that He is truly good. When we come to that place, we can’t be shaken from it.
True hope is only found in believing the truth about who God is (good, for us, and always actively working on our behalf) and how He sees us (His children, the object of His love, His friends, His heirs). Hope is the thing that carries us from disappointment back to expectation again. Expectation is what takes us into faith. Faith becomes strong when we make this choice over and over again.
Having a naturally positive outlook in life is a wonderful quality to have. My husband, Jeff, is one of those people who is naturally positive. We would all agree that people with inherent optimism are more enjoyable to be around than those who focus on the negative aspect of every situation. However, hope is not the same thing as positivity if it is not based on the truth. Speaking mere positive words to a person in a devastating circumstance may have a short lived “propping up” effect, but it doesn’t produce true hope. Instead, it is actually fake hope which leads to more hopelessness.
Choosing hope is risky. What if it doesn’t work out the way I hope it will? I can’t make it through any more disappointment. We all have, at some level, a self-defense mechanism for our own protection from further hurt. We have to call it what it really is, fear. Eventually I came to the decision that I would choose hope and believe what God had told me over my fear, even if it felt risky. I would rather believe in the God who is good and works on my behalf, than live in fear of more disappointment.
As I was on this journey, I felt it was very important to teach my kids how to choose hope and process through pain, according to what I felt the Spirit was teaching me. They were already accustomed to me crying often (Carson would say crying was my hobby). I would not stuff down my pain or ignore it. To be as emotionally healthy as possible in the middle of an awful situation, I had to teach them that crying every day was necessary and okay. I demonstrated that sometimes the fight means that we live in great pain while living in great hope at the same time.
Emotional pain and hope can co-exist, and it’s a battle to choose hope while living in emotional pain. I did my best to model what that looked like. Sometimes that means talking about the reality of the situation and how much it hurt while confessing the promises that God has given us. There are many examples of exactly that in the book of Psalms. Other times it looks like remaining quiet because so as not to confess negativity; some days it takes all of my inward strength to just keep moving forward by the hour.
Honestly, I’ve failed at this a lot of days. Most mornings I would have given anything not to wake up and was sure I couldn’t face any more days without physical answers for my son. As soon as I would wake up, dread would choke me. One night I blurted out to God, “Do you even see how hard it is just to wake up in the morning? Are you even here when I wake up?” I put my head on the pillow and fell immediately asleep, hurting.
The next morning as my eyes fluttered open, I heard a phrase. I knew it was from somewhere in the Psalms, as I had memorized it as a child. I grabbed the Bible on my nightstand and found it, Psalm 139:17-18.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!
I was comforted. He had sent me a message in my sleep to remind me that even in the mornings when I didn’t want to wake up anymore, He was with me. I was not alone.
Sometimes processing through pain looks like one thing for one person and something very different for another.
During the summer when Carson was 16, one day we were coming home from a long hard day of appointments at the hospital. He hadn’t been able to eat any of the real food he wanted to eat in years. In our house, food has become Enemy #1. No matter what I prepare for him, even in the midst of reading every label and food policing, we cannot not get enough calories in him. He suffers from constant malnutrition, even in America with plentiful food and medical care. How it hurts to not be able to ever adequately nourish my son, the most fundamental duty of motherhood. Still, through it all, he keeps a sense of humor while battling to hold on to his own personal hope. One of His favorite verses in the Bible is Nehemiah 8:10:
And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks… for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
On this particular day, we were almost home when Carson said, “Mom, let’s go see Applebees.”
“You want to go see it? Why?” I asked. Applebees represented the utopia of his dreams. He was constantly wishing he could just go to Applebees and eat something. It became a plan that someday Applebees would be the place he would go when he was healed. His grandma has been saving all her loose change for years and will someday cash in the piles of change for an Applebees gift card for him. It is planned.
“I think we should just go there and pray.” He said.
“Uh, ok.” I drove straight into the shopping center instead of turning left to head home. My heart was breaking.
And that’s what we did. We pulled into the Applebees parking lot in Newark, Delaware. We looked at it, took a picture of it, and prayed for about ten minutes that God would allow us to go there someday. We declared into the atmosphere that Carson would eat there, that he would be able to order whatever we wanted. He dreamed about what it would be like to walk in and just simply eat.
When we were done, we drove away in anguish. We had prayed. We had felt the hurt. We were hopeful. That day, that was how he processed pain and chose to move forward in hope.
When my mom wants to encourage Carson, she sends him a text picture of her growing group of solo cups full of loose change that are designated for Carson’s Applebees Gift Card Fund. In that way she helps him stay expectant in hope. It’s been 18 months and we still haven’t been able to take Carson to Applebees, but the pile of loose change is still growing.
We have done these sorts of things over and over. When other family members are out eating something we know Carson likes, we make declarations over our own food for him, something like “Carson will eat pizza again with us in the name of Jesus.” People probably think we are crazy and that’s okay. It has served a purpose of solidifying our faith in the goodness of God, even if we haven’t seen our situation physically change. Sometimes we feel a little camaraderie with Abraham (Romans 4:17-21):
Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing. Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping…he never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.
He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises.