Last time I was suggesting ways we might respond to times of global trouble such as now. But what about responding to the times of trouble in our own personal lives?
I keep coming back to suffering, because it bothers me. But mostly I’ve approached it from a theoretical, theological perspective – wrestling with the imponderable age-old questions of why there’s suffering and whether God’s to blame.
Now though I’d like to take a more practical approach. I’m pretty sure there are people reading this who are going through hard times, some maybe terribly hard times, and I’d like if possible to offer something more practically and emotionally helpful than a theological discussion.
Of course, when you’re in the midst of suffering, it’s likely nothing anyone can say will seem (or be) very helpful. And many things people (including Christians) say, meaning to help, are either deeply unhelpful, or else are mere empty platitudes. So I offer these thoughts cautiously, aware that the best response to someone else’s sufferings is rarely words or ideas, but rather presence, and maybe practical assistance.
And for those who aren’t struggling now, that’s brilliant, and I really hope your life continues to be trouble-free. The chances are though that at some point something difficult will come along, perhaps out of the blue. Preparing to face the bad times may be one of the most important things any of us can do in the good times. And of course we can be there for others who are right now going through the mill.
Problems and pains come in many forms and with many causes; there’s no one-size-fits-all. It may be some major trauma or tragedy, or more likely just minor daily frustrations and difficulties that mount up till they seem overwhelming. And we can be blameless victims or we can sometimes bring our troubles upon ourselves. But whatever the type or cause, there are a few things I think we can hold on to.
You’re not alone
“Life is difficult” – M. Scott Peck
“Everybody hurts” – REM
At some point, life throws something nasty at all of us – bereavement, break-up, redundancy, illness, crime, bullying, financial problems, or just a string of Monday mornings.
When we go through dark times, we often feel utterly alone; that no-one else can really understand or share our troubles. But the truth is that there are always others who are going through the same feelings or experiences, or who have gone through them before and lived to tell the tale. That’s not to belittle your troubles, but simply to say that you are not on your own. Everybody hurts, sometimes.
And it’s often possible – and usually helpful – to find and connect with some of these fellow-strugglers for mutual support. The internet can be a wonderful thing. I’ve been encouraged simply through writing this blog how many others have wrestled with similar issues and problems to me.
And for people of faith, we can perhaps hold on to the knowledge – often despite the outward appearances – that God is with us. The One who has made himself incarnate in us understands our pain and shares our sufferings, and ultimately will redeem them. But I know it can sometimes be pretty hard to experience that as a reality when we’re really going through it. Sometimes it does just feel that God is absent or doesn’t care, and maybe the best we can do is yell at him in our hurt and frustration. He can take it.
Help is available
Again, when we struggle or suffer we often feel no-one can help us, or maybe we just don’t like to ask for help. And sometimes we just want to crawl into a hole and lick our wounds in peace, alone.
Nonetheless I’d urge you not to cut yourself off from people entirely. Whatever you’re going through, there are others who will understand, who may be able to help and who would be glad to be asked. If we don’t have close friends or families we can call on, there are decent churches and professional counsellors fairly readily findable through the internet or the phone book.
Or again, it may be that the best help will come from a support group of others who are struggling with the same issues you are. There’s honestly no virtue in suffering alone. And it almost always does help to talk to someone, perhaps with the proviso that it’s someone you can trust and who won’t respond with criticism or judgement like Job’s ‘comforters’.
I’m not saying that anyone else will necessarily be able to solve your problems; that may be something only you can do, or your difficulties may not the kind of thing that can be ‘fixed’. But others can support, encourage and help you through your trials and make it all far more bearable.
For me, I’ve found seeing a secular counsellor/therapist incredibly helpful in managing my particular kinds of issues. Others may prefer a spiritual director, life coach, mentor or some other kind of adviser.
Don’t blame yourself
When things go wrong we often think we must be to blame – perhaps we’re being punished for misdeeds, or perhaps we’ve simply brought this trouble on ourselves through bad choices.
Of course, we’re all flawed humans and we do quite often contribute to our own sufferings (which is annoying). But blame and self-blame are never helpful responses. Even if it’s entirely our fault (which is rare), we can have compassion on ourselves, accept our weakness and see it as something we can work on, not something to beat ourselves up about. Everyone messes up sometimes, but that doesn’t need to define us.
And in many cases it simply isn’t our fault, at least not primarily. It may not be anyone’s, not even God’s. We often want someone to blame, someone to take responsibility. But sometimes rubbish just happens, as part of being not-yet-perfect people in a not-yet-perfect world. It may not always have a reason – though that doesn’t mean it can’t come to have good meaning and purpose in the end.
I’m out of space this time. So next time – there is always hope; you can get through this; and good can come of it – plus a few practical things you can maybe do…