Picking up from where we left off last time…
4. There is always hope
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
When we’re in the midst of the dark night it can feel like it will never end; the sun will never rise again. But the dawn always follows the night; spring always follows winter. Sometimes it may take weeks, months, even years for the darkness to fully lift, and the process of lightening may be slow and gradual, but in the end the new day will come. Nothing in this life lasts forever, even the worst sufferings and deepest sorrows. These troubles will pass.
There is always hope. Always. That’s at the very heart of the Christian message.
But how can there be real hope if you or a loved one have a terminal or degenerative illness from which there’s no chance of physical recovery?
I’m not going to say ‘expect a miracle’ – I believe miracles are possible but rare, and I don’t want to raise false hopes, though of course by all means pray for God’s intervention. But even if things don’t get better physically, there is still hope, albeit of a different kind.
This life is not all there is; death is never the end; even terminal illness does not get the final say. In the end, Love wins the day. Ultimately, on the other side of this vale of tears, in Christ all will be well. That’s easy for me to say. But with all my heart I believe it to be the truth nonetheless.
5. You can get through this
So however dark and desperate things are, by putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, you will get through this. Things will get better eventually. They may never be perfect in this life, or exactly as they were before, but they will be okay. You will be okay.
You may feel that you can’t do this, but you can. You can. With God’s help and if possible the support of a few good people, you can make it through pretty much anything life throws at you. It won’t be easy necessarily, but it will be doable.
6. Good can come of this
I’ve never liked that passage in James that asks us to ‘consider it joy’ when trials come. How are we meant to ‘rejoice’ at suffering?
But I’ve gradually, grudgingly sort of begun to see what he’s getting at. The trial itself isn’t joy, of course. But somehow, through it or as a result of it, joy can come. By God’s grace, good can be brought out of any evil. That too is at the very heart of the Christian message.
So we don’t try and pretend that the suffering is joyous (that’s either false or masochistic), but we can perhaps start to see something positive in it at least. Through these difficulties, God will grow us and build our characters, our compassion, our trust, our love.
That’s not to say he’s planned these trials for this purpose; but that he can bring good from this, for us and others. And when we’ve gone through it ourselves we may be able to help other people face their own trials.
7. Embrace the ‘negative’ emotions
In the dark times, we can feel overwhelmed by unexpected and uncomfortable emotions, feelings we’re not sure how to handle and which may even seem unacceptable for ‘good Christians’. We may feel raging anger, deep sadness, shame and humiliation, fear and anxiety. The temptation is to feel bad about them, adding guilt to our list of unpleasant feelings, and then to try and push them away.
But repressing emotions doesn’t get rid of them. They just go underground and give rise to other problems (headaches, insomnia, unpredictable outbursts). Best thing is to make friends with them, learn to accept these difficult companions and hear what they’re telling us. It’s okay to feel angry when everything goes wrong, and it may even be helpful. Sadness is exactly the right response to loss.
And whatever your feelings, you can express them to God in all their rawness. Look at the Psalms, full of despair, fear, lament, murderous rage.
So don’t be ashamed or afraid of your difficult feelings. They’re part of you, and you may actually need them.
8. Remember the bigger picture
When life’s hard, our horizons often close in and we can’t see past our problems. It’s like being shut in a small dark room with no window.
But outside our room is a world with light and colour and birdsong, teeming with possibility and wonder. If you can only somehow open a window – perhaps with someone else’s help, or God’s help – you can see it and start to remember everything else. There’s a bigger picture than these present problems. And there’s a longer term than what you’re going through right now. There is something better beyond these troubles.
9. Some practical things
Words of comfort and encouragement are all very well, but it’s the practical stuff that makes the most difference. And there are some things anyone can do, which may not solve all our problems but may at least make things better.
- Express yourself. I find it incredibly helpful to write about what I’m feeling or struggling with. For others it will be talking about it, perhaps to friends, a pastor or counsellor. You may even need to shout and scream about it, to God at least.
- If words aren’t your thing, try expressing what you’re feeling and experiencing in other creative ways. Draw pictures, write a song, dance about it. I find singing out loud – however out of tune –wonderfully releasing.
- Listen to music. Maybe at first pick pieces that match your mood, rather than something overly happy to jolly you out of it (that can maybe come later).
- When you’re feeling rubbish, I know it’s really hard to bother with exercise, diet and good sleep habits. But these simple physical things are hugely important to our physical and emotional wellbeing. You might need someone else to help with this.
- Set goals – achievable things that you can feel good about having done. Tackle something you’ve been putting off, whether it’s DIY, phoning someone or starting to write your novel.
- Try something new. Having a go at something a tiny bit challenging and finding you can do it is an incredible feeling. I’ve just joined a beginners’ ballroom dancing class and it’s really hard but it feels great when I start to master the steps.
- Get involved in something outside your situation – maybe volunteering with a charity or an existing project to improve the local area. Things like this can broaden your horizons, connect you with people and take you out of yourself. And contributing to something that benefits other people can feel really good.
None of these are magic solutions of course. There will be better and worse days, and I can’t promise an immediate end to your difficulties. But by the grace of God you can get through this.
And I leave you with an adapted Serenity prayer which I pray most days:
Lord, there’s so much we’d like to be different in the world and in our lives. Give us the courage, wisdom and strength to change what we can ourselves; the faith to leave with you all that we can’t; and the grace to accept those things which will not change, trusting that you will bring good out of these in the end. Amen.
And here are some more posts about suffering in case they’re of any interest…