Resources for the Suffering

I don’t claim to be an expert on suffering. Nevertheless, life has been difficult for me the past few years, and I’ve had to find ways to cope with that difficulty. The struggles have made me painfully aware of how weak I am and how much I need Jesus, so in that way they are valuable, but that doesn’t make them easier to bear. So what do you do when suffering comes knocking, as it is guaranteed to do at some point as long as you are living on this earth? How do you handle it? There are many answers to this question, and both healthy and unhealthy responses. But for now I wanted to share some of the ways that I have fought against despair in the midst of suffering, in the hopes that someone reading this will find something to benefit him/her.

Scripture

The most necessary “weapon” to fight against despair is without a doubt the Word of God. I truly do not know what I would do without it. This list is not exhaustive but includes many verses that have sustained me.

Psalm 13, Psalm 22, Psalm 30, Psalm 31, Psalm 40, Psalm 42, Psalm 61, Psalm 62, Psalm 70, Psalm 73, Psalm 77, Psalm 86, Psalm 88, Psalm 103, Psalm 119, Psalm 145 etc., etc. Just read 5 Psalms a day for 30 days, and you’ll have read them all. I love the Psalms because every human emotion can be found somewhere in the verses.

John 16:33

Romans 5:3-5

Romans 8

1 Corinthians 1:8

2 Corinthians 1:5

Ephesians 6:10-18

Philippians 4:6-7

Hebrews 12:1-2

James 1:2-4

1 Peter 1:7-9

1 Peter 4:12-13

Revelation 21:3-5

Music

Red Sea Road by Ellie Holcomb. I could listen to this album on repeat for the rest of my life. Favorite songs: “Fighting Words,” “Red Sea Road,” “He Will”
Psalms
by Sandra McCracken. Favorite songs: “My Soul Finds Rest,” “Put Your Trust in God”
“Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” by Indelible Grace
“The Rain Keeps Falling” by Andrew Peterson
“When Trials Come” by Keith and Kristyn Getty
“Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer” by Keith and Kristyn Getty
“O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” by Selah
“He Will Hold Me Fast” Getty
“My Dwelling Place (Psalm 91)” Getty
“I Will Wait for You (Psalm 130)” Getty (You pretty much can’t go wrong with a Getty song)
“You’re Gonna Be Ok” by Jenn Johnson
“Do Not Lose Heart” by Caroline Cobb
“Lord From Sorrows Deep I Call” by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa
“Weep With Me” by Rend Collective

I have put together a Spotify playlist that I listen to often when I am in need of encouragement. You can find it here.

Books

There are a LOT of books about suffering. I have only read a very small percentage of them. Here are some of my favorites:

Holding On to Hope by Nancy Guthrie
Suffering Is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot
When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper
Polishing God’s Monuments by Jim Andrews
Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolf
The Scars That Have Shaped Me by Vaneetha Risner
Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine
The Promise Is His Presence by Glenna Marshall

Now it’s your turn! What are some resources you have found helpful in painful seasons?. Please share in the comments!

Shoes: A Lesson in Patience

My 2-year-old daughter has a somewhat infuriating affinity for shoes. Try as I might to blame this peculiar trait on my husband (aren’t spouses always the source of the traits we dislike in our children?), my daughter’s love of shoes can only come from one person—me. Even though the size of my waistline has expanded with the years and the 2 daughters I have birthed, my shoe size has been a blessed constant, and therefore few things bring me greater joy than shopping for shoes. So when my daughter started to spend ample amounts of time putting on and taking off her various shoes, at first I thought it was adorable. “She’s starting early with her shoe fetish,” I thought with pride and amusement, watching her fiddle with zippers and delight over velcro and fringe.

Unfortunately, as her affection for shoes grew, so too did her disdain for following my instructions. “Ava, we need to get ready to leave. It’s time to put on some shoes and leave them on,” I would say. She would respond with a howl of despair and throw herself prostrate onto the ground, kicking off one shoe and then brandishing a different one with a triumphant grin. I would grit my teeth, try to patiently put on her shoes, and then say in my best stern mommy voice, “No, Ava, we have to go! Don’t take off your shoes again.” I foolishly hoped for half a second that she would obey my command, but Ava instead would yank off a shoe and proceed to peel off a sock for good measure. This is about the point when I could almost feel my blood pressure rising, and I confess that I have never wanted to swear as much as I have during these daily confrontations-turned-ritual. This is also about the point when Daddy would intervene and firmly put her shoes on and carry her out the door while she screamed in protest.  

I wish I could say these shoe standoffs happened only in the confines of our house, but there have been times in public where Ava has decided to sit down in the middle of a store aisle and take off her shoes. I also wish I could say I have handled these times with grace and maturity, but such responses don’t often become stories we share about ourselves on the Internet, do they? One such occasion found me angrily and impatiently swooping her up into my arms while gathering the one shoe she’d managed to get off, and then finishing my grocery trip with a scowl on my face and heat creeping up my neck while I thought impure thoughts in my head. I was more than relieved to make it back to the safety of our home, where she and I could both cry in private. 

That night, after my husband bathed our daughter, I heard her familiar refrain: “Mommy put to bed.” Honestly the only person I wanted to put to bed was myself, but I sighed dramatically and got up and took my freshly-bathed toddler into my arms. Oblivious to my inner temper tantrum, she snuggled up close and nestled her head into my neck in that familiar way of hers, and my frozen heart began to thaw. As we settled into the rocking chair in her room, she whispered her request for me to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” I obliged, and as I sang, I was reminded anew of how Jesus loves ME, this mama with the short temper to match her child’s, this mama who was brimming over with impatience and self-pity. How many times have I come to God with my own agenda, my own plans, and my own willful disobedience? And how many times has He met me with forgiveness and patience and steadfast love? I offered a silent prayer of thanks–thanks for this child of mine who was giving me daily lessons in humility, and thanks for the Father whose perfect love helps me love better. Tenderness for my daughter replaced the anger I had earlier felt, and I stroked her back and hair with gentleness, wanting to hold on to this holy moment a minute longer. I may have tripped on a shoe on my way out of her room, but still I walked with a steadier gait, knowing that one day I would miss the little shoes cluttering up her room and miss even more the little feet that wore them. 

Whatever Is True

Last week in therapy, the very first question my therapist asked me caught me off guard: “What is something good that happened this week?” I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me far longer to come up with something than it should have (and then what I did come up with is the fact that I am changing medications for what seems like the 800th time. Hooray for progress?). I was not prepared to immediately think of something positive, and this fact just emphasizes the reality that I’m prone to think negatively about my life. Had my therapist asked me to name the worst thing that happened this week, I could have responded quickly, and with a number of things. The brief respite I enjoyed from depression appears to be over, and I have found myself treading in deep waters of sorrow once again (which is why I have been pretty quiet in this space). When my inner world is so gray and cloudy, is it any wonder that I perceive everything around me through the same dark lens? Is it any wonder that, a few months ago when my therapist tasked me with making a list of 100 good things in my life, it took me almost a month to do so?

There must be a better way. And we find that better way in Scripture. Paul, in Philippians 4, encourages believers to fix their minds on certain things, recognizing that what the mind fixates on, it will become. He says in verses 8 and 9, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Notice what it says in the last part of this passage: “the God of peace will be with you.” Paul isn’t just promising that we will have peace when we focus on things that are true and honorable and lovely, etc; he promises that we will have the truest and most honorable and lovely thing of all: God Himself. When we train our minds to think on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise, we shouldn’t be surprised when the object of our thoughts becomes the One who exhibits all of these traits with perfection. The more I turn my thoughts to Christ, the greater my love for Him and the smaller my problems. Does this mean I can just think away my depression? How I wish it were so! But what it does mean is that I have control over my thoughts. I can take my thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. If I’m honest, I spend more time wallowing in my misery than taking my thoughts captive. And when I don’t take them captive, my thoughts don’t turn naturally to positive things; instead they turn to lies and despair, my old familiar companions.

When I was at Timberline Knolls, I went to a few group therapy sessions that were specifically designed for Christians. One particular group talked about using Scripture, worship music, and journal writing as ways to cope with our difficult life circumstances. One day during this group we were instructed to list lies we believed about ourselves. “Well, this should be easy,” I thought to myself, and it was. I was able to easily identify a long list of lies I frequently tell myself. Even knowing they were lies apparently didn’t stop me from repeating them to myself over and over as if they were the truth. Here are some of the lies I wrote down:

  1. I am unlovable.
  2. I am not enough.
  3. I have to earn God’s love.
  4. Being needy is a weakness.
  5. My depression is impossible to overcome.
  6. I can’t be at peace.
  7. Things will never get better.

Of course the therapist didn’t have us stop with identifying lies. She then instructed us to come up with truths to counter the lies. This took considerably longer than coming up with the lies, but when I realized that I could turn the lies on their head, it was easier. Here are some of the truths I wrote down:

  1. I am loved with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) that will never separate me from God (Romans 8:38-39).
  2. I am called and chosen and valued by God (Isaiah 43:1).
  3. I can do nothing to earn God’s love and grace. It is a free gift (Ephesians 2:4-8).
  4. Christ’s power is at work in my need and weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
  5. With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), and in Him I am more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37).
  6. Christ is my peace (Ephesians 2:14).
  7. My pain is temporary and will one day be replaced by eternal glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).

At a time when my mind is prone to believing the lies that come often and without warning, I need the truths of Scripture more than ever. Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving, and I had to fight to be grateful, in spite of the fact that I was surrounded by a beautiful family who loves me. But the truth about gratitude is that so often it, like love, is a choice. Even when I may not feel grateful, even when my thoughts tell me my life is not worth living, I can choose to drown out the lies with the truth and give thanks  for the blessings God has given me. I can seek the Lord and ask Him to help me be grateful and give thanks that He hears me and loves me, even at my lowest.

achievement confident free freedom

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

 

 

When It’s Hard to Pray

Today, like so many other days over the past year, I opened my Bible to Psalm 40. In the margins, written in pencil, is the date 9/13/18, and I pray I always remember what that date means. It’s the day I got my Bible from the security staff at Lakeside. I had to specifically request it because they don’t give you anything but essentials from your belongings unless you ask and only if it passes the safety test (I guess they figured I wasn’t going to try and whack myself or anyone over the head with my Bible). When I was admitted to Lakeside on September 11, 2018, I was unprepared to have to relinquish all of the stuff I packed, and it wasn’t until 2 days later that I realized I could ask to have my Bible. Being without my Bible or any way to read it on my phone (since Lakeside took that away also) felt jarring. I have gone more than 2 days without reading the Bible before, but I felt the loss very acutely being in an unfamiliar, scary setting with unfamiliar people. When I finally did get my beloved Bible, I opened to Psalm 40 first because Stephen had sent that Psalm to me in an email, and I loved everything it said and related so much to its words. I was in a pit and saw no way out, but I hoped and prayed that the Lord would deliver me and set my feet on a rock. I wanted to know that His steadfast love and faithfulness would preserve me and that He does not withhold mercy from me. 

On September 13 I had a hard time believing these things to be true (and sometimes still do, if I’m being honest), but I read the words over and over again nevertheless, underlining them with my stub of a pencil (the only writing implement Lakeside allowed, although I don’t know why because you can totally do some damage with a sharp pencil). I prayed weak but desperate prayers, begging God to help me and be near me and rescue me. I couldn’t believe I was actually in a place like Lakeside. I couldn’t believe that I had come so close to ending my life. And I couldn’t believe–yet–that there was end to the despair that was eating me up from the inside out. But I clung to the words of Psalm 40 and have continued to read them almost every day since September 13.

There have been days when the pain was too deep, when the darkness clouded all rational thought, when I could barely form the words of a prayer. On days like that, I turned to words already written, words expressing better than I could how deep the pit of depression was but also how strong the grip of God is. Praying God’s Word back to Him has been the lifeline I have needed when I feel my grip weakening, when I can’t imagine how to hold on a minute longer. It is in those moments of desperation that He showed me that He always does the work of holding on to me and keeping me under the shadow of His wings while the storm rages. 

One day during my depression found me in the office of my pastor, who has been a  source of counsel and comfort to me. He listened to me tell of my continued despair and doubts in God’s goodness, and he met me with compassion and love. He encouraged me to keep clinging to the Scriptures and to be honest with God about my doubt. He assured me I was not alone. And then he opened his Bible and encouraged me to read Psalm 88 aloud as a prayer to God. I only read two or three verses before I started crying. The words in that Psalm–some of the most depressing words in the whole Bible–mirrored my own feelings so closely that I could not ignore them. I was overcome with the kindness of God, the kindness that led Him to move the writers of the Bible to include such gut-wrenching words. That very same kindness of God led me to my church, to my pastor, to my friends, to my therapist, to my husband–to all of the people who have helped see me through this long darkness. Reading those words back to God as a prayer felt not just like a desperate plea but a holy moment, one on which I can look back and recall the nearness of God at a time when I questioned His very existence. 

On days like today, when hope seems far and troubles so very near, how glad I am to have the Word of God to give voice to the prayers I can’t pray on my own. I can pray Psalm 40 and believe that one day God will put a new song in my mouth, that others will see and put their trust in the Lord. And when that day comes, I will not restrain my lips but will tell of His deliverance.