A Christian Approach To Coping With Emotional Pain

“Psychologically, nothing hurts more than being disappointed by the one person you thought would never let you down.” I saw this post on Tumblr today (psych2go, if you’re interested in the source). That’s got to be really painful, but I’m not sure I completely agree that nothing hurts more. The death of a child. The loss of a limb. Accidental blindness. These agonizing events are all pretty powerful contenders for the title, “Hurts the Most.”

You’ll have no trouble getting me to agree with this: there’s a lot of pain out there. Some of it strikes home, pretty hard. When it’s not out there, but in here. When it’s personal, it hurts, and nothing else is like it.

If you’ve read much of my stuff, you know that I’m pretty big on following Jesus. I’m not talking about religious ceremony or church attendance. I’m talking about reading Jesus’ words, and then actually using what he says as a guide for your own life.*

So, today I’m thinking a lot about emotional pain, because I’ve had several conversations with friends in the last few days who are going through quite a lot. I think it might be helpful to write a brief summary of some of the things that Jesus taught about coping with pain. Here. Try these ideas. You might get some much needed relief.

  1. Shout it out. Express the agony. Don’t hold it in.

Mark describes Jesus death on the cross like this:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15:34-37, ESV)

Being strong is overrated. Being real is a lot better. Jesus was real. He didn’t feel any sense of obligation to “die a noble death.” Don’t get me wrong. His death was noble. The noblest. But he didn’t try to hide his sense of aloneness, of utter betrayal, of pain, of loss. His purpose, for me, would be less believable if he wasn’t so… so… genuine.

  1. Surround yourself with friends.

Jesus knew he was going to die. He knew that on that very night he was going to be betrayed, and imprisoned, and tortured. Instead of choosing solitude, he found comfort in companionship. He ate his last supper, and instituted the Lord’s Supper, with friends. He went to the garden with friends. He waited for his betrayer with friends. He remained with friends until he was no longer able to be with friends. Those friends, of course, ran away and left him when the soldiers came. They felt guilty about it later, but Jesus knew ahead of time that it would be that way. He forgave them. My point here is that Jesus didn’t want to be alone. You see, there’s comfort in the presence of friends, even when they can’t do a single thing to change your circumstances. Your friends’ presence is, in itself, a sort of pain reliever.

  1. Forgive.

Jesus was on the cross, in crazy pain, betrayed and abandoned, alone in a crowd. And what did he say?

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34, ESV)

Yes, we can make the logical argument: “Oh, they knew what they were doing, alright! The soldier knew he was holding a nail, and he knew he was swinging a hammer, and he knew Jesus was screaming! He knew. They all knew!”

But Jesus – (how many times has that phrase brought me up short? “But Jesus!…”) but Jesus knows that there’s more than one kind of knowing.

I’m going to tell you a strange truth, an amazing truth. If you believe me when I tell you, it’s because of the power of the Holy Spirit to confirm my words (even if you believe me without believing in him). So, here’s a strange and amazing truth: those nails in your hands, in your feet, in your broken, bleeding heart – those nails hurt you less if you forgive the hammer-wielder. This is from God. It’s a spiritual truth, beyond human understanding.

Conclusion

So, that’s it. Three things. Three things that will help you deal with the greatest pain you have ever felt in your life. (1) Don’t hold in your pain. Express it. (2) Surround yourself with friends. Don’t isolate yourself. (3) Forgive.

Prayer

Father, let this Reader, right now, find some easing of the pain in your presence, in your friendship. Amen.

–Bob Young
[6/28/2017]

Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/author/bobyoung

*In case you were wondering, yes, following Jesus is more than just a philosophy for me. I’m on board with the Nicene Creed, for example. Nevertheless, if you can’t, at this time, accept the spiritual dimension of Jesus’ identity, I will still encourage you to follow Jesus’ teachings and way of life. He makes sense, Friend. He makes sense.

A Slow-Learned Lesson

We are all broken. To one degree or another, the best among us are broken. We’re all in need of some sort of healing, or growing. We all need to be restored, to be put back together.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about brokenness and restoration. Now I’d like to share something with you, something that I’ve only learned through the long, slow, arduous process of repeated breaking and healing.

It is this.

The magnitude of my suffering has never been in proportion to the magnitude of my misfortune. Instead, the magnitude of my suffering has always been proportional to my brokenness.

Hatred, discouragement, bitterness, selfishness, greed, lack of faith, an unwillingness to forgive – these are some of the attributes of brokenness.

These things magnify, ten-fold and a hundred-fold, the effects of misfortune. Misfortune may be an illness, an automobile accident, a house-rending tornado. All of these things are more devastating if you’re broken.

Sometimes our brokenness is a direct contributor to our misfortune. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy, and our brokenness leads to crippling debt, a loveless marriage, a painful betrayal, a messy divorce, or cirrhosis of the liver.

In every case – whether we contribute to our misfortune, or whether it’s caused by circumstances we can’t control – in every case, our degree of brokenness affects both our level of pain and our ability to recover.

Enter God.

I’m going to ask you to do something very hard. I hope you’ll try it.

Instead of appealing to God about your suffering, appeal to him about your brokenness. It is here, in the healing of your brokenness, that your suffering will begin to diminish.

You can approach him again, later, about the suffering. You’ll know when it’s time.

Meanwhile, God can do things in you that you cannot do. He wants to. Why not let him?

–Bob Young
[6/15/2017]

Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/author/bobyoung

How To Keep Going When You Can’t Keep Going

I will not give you a trite answer. There are plenty of those, you know, and I’m sure you’ve heard them. “Suck it up.” “It could be worse.” “Look on the bright side.” “One day at a time.” “You’re an inspiration.” “Be thankful for what you’ve got.” “Pray about it and ask God to help.” To be completely honest, there’s nothing wrong with any of those answers. They’re all true enough. And yet, in the middle of your hardest battle, they seem cliché.

So, here is my attempt to give you an actionable plan for moving forward when everything is pushing you back. There are three things you must have, and three steps you can take.

To begin, here are the three things you must have:

  1. You must have Purpose
  2. You must have Hope
  3. You must have Relationships

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of them. What are these things, really, and how do we get them? At the end of each of the three items, you’ll find an action step.

Jesus showed us the way.

1. You must have Purpose.

Jesus told us about his purpose.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

(John 10:10, ESV)

Jesus came, knowing that he was going to suffer and die for others. And yet, to paraphrase a current slogan, “He persisted.” Purpose. It was his purpose that motivated him to continue, even when he had no place to lay his head, even when entire towns rejected his message, even when betrayed by one friend and deserted by other friends. It was Jesus’ purpose that kept him going.

Your purpose must be large enough to outweigh your suffering.

ACTION STEP: Ask yourself, “Have I chosen a purpose for my life, and committed myself to it without reservation?”

2. You must have Hope.

Jesus saw beyond today’s troubles.

“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(Luke 23:43, ESV)

Hope in the future unmasks the present’s true nature: it is transient. This is not the end. Your suffering isn’t eternal.

During a message one day I asked the listeners to raise their hand if they met any of the following conditions in the last five years: divorce, bankruptcy, unemployment, serious illness, death of a loved one, and so forth. Nearly everyone in the room had experienced one or more of those tragedies.

I said, “I want you to think of your darkest day. As you went through that trial, remember the darkest day. Now, raise your hand if life has gotten better.”

Almost everyone raised a hand.

Friend, do you see? Satan wants you to believe that life will never get better. Today’s crisis is tomorrow’s crisis. And it will be that way the next day, and the next, and the next… But the reality is that our hope in a better future is justified.

Admittedly, you may be facing a long, long trial. There may be no cure for the illness. You may be caring for someone with autism. Maybe you lost a limb in a war. This is for life. There is no five year mark on the calendar, where you can say, “This is the day my trouble ends.”

That’s why we need to understand God’s timeline. Even when the trial is certain to last until death, we can still have hope. I will say it again: hope in the future unmasks the present’s true nature: it is transient. This is not the end. Your suffering isn’t eternal.

ACTION STEP: Look beyond the trial, no matter how long it may be scheduled to last, and see your brighter, and certain, future.

3. You must have Relationships

When I was a little boy, still in elementary school, I asked my dad (who was a minister), “Dad, why did God make us? I mean, I know God created us, but – why?”

Dad replied, “For fellowship. God created us for fellowship with him.”

This answer made no sense to me. Remember, I was still a schoolboy. But I never forgot Dad’s answer, and years later, I finally understood it.

Here are some of the things Jesus said to his disciples on the night of his betrayal:

“Rise, let us go.” (John 14:31)

“No longer do I call you servants, but I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)

“Could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40)

What made this night bearable for Jesus? Was it entirely the strength he received from God? There is that, and I won’t minimize it. In the end, of course, God the Father was the only one who remained. And that, too, is a testament to relationship. But I also won’t minimize the importance of Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. He needed them that night. In the end, they disappointed him – but Jesus demonstrated the value of relationships in the midst of suffering.

We can endure much, much more when we go through life’s trials together. It is beyond the power of mathematics to explain this spiritual truth:

A load shared by two weighs one quarter of a load carried by one.

ACTION STEP: In your struggle, may I give you some advice? Don’t neglect relationships, and don’t use your suffering as an excuse for bad behavior.

Purpose. Hope. Relationships. With these three things, you will survive, and thrive.

–Bob Young
[5/11/2017]

If you found this helpful, may I suggest buying one of my books?
Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/author/bobyoung

Your Big Lock And Chains

Are your chains heavy? Is the padlock impenetrable? Is the steel too hard to cut? Does it require a hammer and chisel that you are too weak to hold?

Friend, don’t be discouraged that you can’t break that lock. You don’t need to break it. God knows your lock’s combination. God has your lock’s key. Just ask God, and he’ll unlock it and set you free.

–Bob Young
[3/17/2017]

Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/author/bobyoung

Effective New Year’s Resolutions

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
(Matthew 3:1-2)

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
(Matthew 4:17)

The start of a new year is a great time to make the decision to repent. Behaviors that cause pain to others need to be replaced by words and actions that bring about relief and healing. And it’s time to stop harming yourself, too. Those self-destructive patterns of thought, habits, and addictions can stay in the old year – don’t bring them with you into the new.

Do you know why most New Year’s resolutions fail? It’s because they are formed of human intent. But John the Baptist and Jesus are kicking repentance up a notch.

Real change is brought about by heavenly power, not human power. Repentance is as much divine as it is human. It comes from the power of God at work within us by his Holy Spirit. It is the Kingdom of Heaven, not the Kingdom of Me.

Are you ready for a year of real and profound transformation?

Then, whether you’re a lifelong Christian or a lifelong skeptic, do this: say, “God, I’m ready. I’m ready to turn around, to change my mind, to change some things about my life. I’m ready to change directions, to change my course, to walk a new path. But, here’s the thing, God: I’ve been ready before. But I can’t do it. I’ve tried. And, always, I end up doing the same things I’ve always done. Same habits. Same anger. Same self-indulgence. Same self-sabotage. So now, God, I’m ready to stop relying on myself, and start relying on you. Please do your work in me. Do those things necessary in my heart and mind to bring about your divine and holy transformation. Let your kingdom – the Kingdom of Heaven – be at hand, right now, in me. And, one more thing, Father: thank you. Amen.”

–Bob Young
[1/2/2017]

A Fractured Christmas

Caught Off Guard

“Why did he do it, Bob? Why? I just want to understand why he did it!”

Her husband had left her. She didn’t understand. She recited her positive attributes to me. She was a good cook. She was a good mother to their children. She was reasonably attractive. She tried to be positive and supportive. But nothing was ever enough. Then, one day it happened.

He said, “I want a divorce.”

Threatened With A Gun

Another woman left her husband after he threatened her with a gun. She took the kids, moved out, and here she was at our church, asking for groceries from the pantry we had in the basement for people in need.

“He wasn’t this way when we got married. I don’t know what caused him to change. Why is he like this?”

The Answer You Must Hear

Have you been hurt, or betrayed, or abandoned? Do you repeat that same question over and over again?

“Why?”

Friend, you won’t like my answer, at least not when you first hear it. But I promise you – I promise! – there is healing in this answer. Are you ready? Here it is:

There is no rational explanation for irrational behavior.

If you’ve spent much time in the Bible, you may not have noticed this, but you’ll recognize the truth of it when I say it: God does not offer an explanation for evil. Evil simply is. Satan rebelled. People rebel. You rebel. I rebel. We could have a world of peace and harmony, but we don’t. It’s broken.

Here’s what God does. In the Bible, instead of an explanation for brokenness, he gives us a way to live in a broken world. In a broken neighborhood. In a broken office. In a broken family.

And when the broken family shatters and flies apart, and we find ourselves separated from the knife-edged shards we once loved – well, God gives us a way to live then, too.

Here’s What To Do

Stop looking at the past. Stop looking for answers. Stop looking for understanding, when there really can be no understanding. Instead, say, “God, what shall I do now? How shall I live – now? What is the way forward? Where do I go from here?”

Why Jesus Matters

Do you know why Jesus matters? It’s not because he showed us how to escape all pain. He didn’t. Jesus matters because he showed us how to live through the pain. How to live with the pain. How to rise above the pain. Jesus showed us how to love, and love again, in a loveless, and sometimes unlovable, world.

It’s Christmas-time, and this is often a time when the old wounds re-open. Dormant hurts awaken. There is a hole in your happiness, something missing, something gone, something that can never come back to you.

An Important Warning

Friend, don’t try to fill this hole with a cheap relationship. There is no quick fix. Cheap relationships cause expensive pain.

A Prayer For You

Father, I ask this blessing for the Reader: give this one a vision of the beauty of your son, Jesus. Let them know the healing and love that flows into them, from you. Give them strength to go on, to be love, to give love. Make them able to look forward instead of back. Give them a hope and a future. In Jesus’ name I ask it, Amen.

–Bob Young
[12/17/2016]

Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/author/bobyoung

If Only You Knew

If only you knew…

Father, thank you for bringing this one here, just at this moment, to read this prayer I’m praying for them. Open their eyes, Father. Open their heart. Open their spiritual ears, and let them hear. Amen.

Friend, God made you. I know you probably don’t catch the full significance of that right now, but you will, very soon. It’s a beautiful thought. God made you. Meditate on that with me for a moment. Have you ever made anything? Think about how it felt. Thing about what caused you to do it – to take the time, and just make something. You loved it, didn’t you? Whatever you made – weren’t you motivated by love, by desire? Before it existed – while it was still an idea in your mind – you loved it. And then you brought it into being.

This is how God feels about you. Before you existed, while you were still an idea in his mind, God loved you. And then he brought you into being.

Have you made God sad? Be sure of this: he hasn’t changed his mind about you. The sadness, in fact, is a sort of evidence of his care for you.

Now, this is where it gets good. Think about this: God longs to fix you. Your circumstances. Your pain. Your sorrow. Your sadness is his sadness, and he wants to bring such a healing, such a transformation in you, that the sorrow turns to gladness.

Give yourself to God. Do it right now. “God, I’m yours.”

Thank you, Father, for opening this one’s heart. Amen.

–Bob Young
[12/2/2016]

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