We all suffer tragedies in life. Sometimes the tragedies affect large numbers. At these times we share the pain. And sometimes the tragedies are very personal.
I've felt the emptiness and the numbness of grief as much as the next person. How many times have we sat in front of our televisions or computers with a look of shocked disbelief? Our eyes have been glued to video screen watching endless reports--knowing that there is nothing new but hoping to hear some new fact. We just want to hear something that will help us understand why it all happened.
Sometimes the answers are just not enough. How can we understand senselessness and depravity? And yet we long for something to make sense.
I know what these questions can do and what seeds these tragic events can plant. Each one of us faces danger when difficult times come. The danger lies beyond the immediate.
Distress can cause feelings of isolation
Feelings do not always represent facts. They are simple expressions of beliefs we hold. Our hearts do not decipher the information or judge it correct or incorrect. It acts as if the information is always right. These feelings also emphasize and expand those beliefs, adding even more ideas. Consider some seeds distress can plant in our hearts.
Distress can make us feel isolated from God.
"How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide your face from me?" (Psalm 13:1).
It is perfectly natural for us to feel isolated in challenging times. After all, there is no way we can see God or hear His voice echoing in the clouds. Sometimes this causes us to doubt Him. It may cause us to question His nature or even His existence.
Difficult times may also cause us to question ourselves. "Am I a bad person?" "Am I being punished for something?"Knowing our nature, it is easy for us to assume the worst about ourselves as an explanation for why things happen. I can't remember how many times I felt like this in my life. My prayers felt like they did not make it past the ceiling. I felt completely alone and completely at fault - empty and wondering if I could ever make it through this life and into the next one.
Distress can make us feel isolated from others.
"How long will I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?" (Psalm 13:2a)When we face difficult times, we get tunnel vision. We assume no one can understand us. Our miseries are so intense, so painful, we forget that others also have suffered. We also tend to think no one cares.
Perhaps that last thought is not meant to be an insult to others but more of an insult to ourselves. There have been many times in my life when I felt like I was not worthy of someone caring about me. If I am such a miserable person, why would anyone care?
Isolation feeds upon itself. These dark thoughts can be amplified by intense situations of grief and distress. At the end of this vicious cycle of self doubt and isolation is nothing but darkness and despair. If you have reached such low points, you are not alone, but you certainly feel like you are.
Distress can cause feelings of hopelessness
"How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; lest my enemy say, 'I have prevailed against him'; lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved" (Psalm 13:2b-4).Distress amplifies the dark thoughts that it helps foster. In times of trouble seeds of doubt and grief are often given permission to grow. The end result can destroy a life. Before that destruction, however, is a sense of hopelessness.
How many people have faced feelings of desperation? Have we all looked at ourselves and truly felt like there was no hope?
I have faced the deep feelings of hopelessness and despair. And then I realized some things.
I realized that feelings do not define me.
I realized that there are some things far more important than whether or not I "matter".
I realized that there is One who created me and deserves my service no matter what I feel or think of myself.
I realized that God's goodness and purity DESERVE my dedication and my life.
And these realizations saved my life.
I was not intelligent enough to discern these things myself. I am thankful that the Word of God taught me these vital lessons. And I am thankful that I paid attention and chose to believe them.
There is ALWAYS hope with God!
"But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me" (Psalm 13:5-6).Feelings are based on ideas. Not all of our ideas are correct, but our feelings do not discern them. The way to change the way we feel is to look at what we believe. Do you have a wrong view of yourself? Do you see your situation in the wrong light?
No one is wise enough to determine what the right information is without God's input. Jeremiah rightly said, "Oh, Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself. It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).
We may look at what others say and think it works. We might even figure some things out over time. But the best way to know the proper view of self and situation is to go to the Bible. Let God tell you what to believe. Let those thoughts be the basis for your emotions and your life.
Don't allow the seeds of distress and bitterness to take root in your heart. Don't follow anyone but the Lord. Jesus said, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). He will provide you LIFE.
Is distress weighing you down? Do you need some help getting through the murky times? Maybe you just need a light to guide your way. Here are some practical things you can do TODAY to make a difference.
- Reach out. You are not alone even if you feel like you are. Make some new friends.
- Reach up. Maybe it sounds cliche, but God has the answers you need.
- Ask yourself why you feel the way you do. What is the underlying idea? This may take a while to find, but it will be good when you do!
- Start reading the Bible. You probably have at least 3 of them. Dust it off and put it in your brain and heart.
- Start reading the Bible for what it says, not what you want it to say.
- Find people who believe in the Bible. I strongly suggest finding a Church of Christ in your area. And now that you mention it, here is where I preach. We would love to see you if you live near us!