Hello and Welcome. Let’s get started with prayer:
Dear Lord, we give you all our pain and sorrow and guilt. We give you all our tears and heartaches. We remember that Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, that God works in all things and circumstances for the good of those who love Him. Lord, we know that we are not alone and for that we thank you. In Jesus name, Amen.
Remember last session’s bible study? Romans 8, verse 28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”
Please, personalize it. Where it says “in all things” put your problem:
“And I know that in this divorce God works for the good of me, and I love Him.
“And I know that in this widowhood God works for the good of me, and I love Him.
“And I know that in this move, in this new town/neighborhood, God works for the good of me, and I love Him.
How does it feel to you to say these sentences?
I thought that today I would start this session with another quote from the book (great reading, by the way!) “So, Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy!” by Barbara Johnson,
“Flowers can even grow on dung hills, and compost makes great gardens. God is offering Himself to you daily, and the rate of exchange is fixed (not fluctuating!). It is your sins for His forgiveness, your tragedy and hurt for His balm of healing, and your sorrow for His joy. . . Remember, you are not alone; many are in God’s waiting room for what seems like forever, learning lessons, suffering pain, and growing. But the fertilizer that helps us grow is in those valleys, not on the mountaintops.”
The fertilizer, the dung, the compost – the losses and heartaches, will enrich the garden of my life, your life, in the valley.”
Please, take a moment and try to define “survivor” (You must survive before you can recover!).
List 4 characteristics of survivors compared to people who are non-survivors.
*4 men from a Central American country were adrift in their small fishing boat for not just a few days or weeks, but months. Reader’s Digest carried a story about their experiences in the fall of 1990. The focus of the story was on how they survived.
*A plane crashes and isn’t found for ten days. 14 people are found alive. The question asked is, “How did you stay alive?”
*A car crashes through a guardrail on a deserted mountain road and 3 injured people are found alive 5 days later. The question asked of each of them is, “How did you survive that ordeal?”
This is the same question to consider when we experience a major loss, because recovery has to do with being a survivor. Some people resolve their crises and survive. But some do not. What makes the difference?
Your book “Recovering from the Losses of Life”, chapter 8, offers exceptional material on this subject.
First, let us define a survivor:
1.) A survivor is a person who plans ahead, if at all possible, to be prepared for a transition, loss or crisis. Survivors have found ways to cope with what they experience.
Life is full of predictable transitions that have the potential for being major losses unless the question, “How can I best prepare for this and what will it mean to me?” is answered. Typical transitions are identity adjustments at fairly predictable stages of life for both men and women. Examples:
- Those who have children will experience the empty nest, and for some couples this is a major and intense loss and adjustment. Fewer choices to make, less confusion and noise. Old habits, patterns of shopping, cooking, scheduling, all will change. Needs formerly filled by children will be directed to someone else for fulfillment, like communication, affection, companionship. Often the empty nest hits at the same time as the mid-life crisis which increases the likelihood of marital problems. If this is true, then this problem should be anticipated and handled in advance.
- Retirement is a major loss for many people and yet very few anticipate and plan for this event.
- Physical changes or deterioration can be handled well in advance. How? Remember, if you cannot change the problem – change your attitude!
2.) Survivors are those who have learned from the wisdom and experience of others. They do not try to carry the load themselves but look to others for insights which they lack. Find the accepting people and those who know how to minister to you during a loss because . . .
– They do not get shocked easily and accept your human feelings.
– They are not embarrassed by your tears.
– They do not give unwanted advice.
– They are affectionate with you according to your needs.
– They help you recall your strength when you have forgotten you have strength.
– They treat you like an adult who can make your own decisions.
– They may become angry with you but do not attack your character.
– They respect your courage and sense of determination.
– They understand the stages of grief and that grief is normal.
– They too may have been through difficult times and can share those.
– They try to understand what your feelings mean to you.
– They are faithful to commitments and promises.
– They pray with you and for you.
– They do not spiritualize everything.
– They are sensitive to where you are spiritually.
How do you find these people and cultivate their friendship before a crisis hits?
Remember the “Golden Rule”, to treat people the way you want to be treated. NOT: Treat people the way they treat you! Luke 6:31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Read this verse in context, see Luke 6:27-36.
3.) Those who are able to stay on top of the losses in life are not complainers. They handle their feelings well and even though there may be periodic bouts with feeling sorry for themselves, they do not whine, grumble, complain or become bitter. They seem to have discovered the futility of this attitude earlier in their lives.
4) and 5) go together: Survivors are those who have role models and they desire to learn and grow. These role models inspire them through the way in which they handle adversity in their own lives.
The survivors observe what their role models did, how they did it and look carefully at the underlying attitudes.
6.) Blame is absent from a survivor’s life. Blame is a very easy trap to fall into. Often blame stems from our own feelings of guilt or personal responsibility even though we were not that responsible. If a child dies in a car accident, the parents may blame one another, the manufacturer of the car, the doctors, the medic, or God.
In some cases, other people may in fact be responsible, but to fasten our feelings on that issue will keep us stuck in our grief. So much blame is uncalled for and has little bases in reality.
7.) When a major crisis or loss occurs, survivors are able in due time to develop a way to cope with the loss. They identify the problems and learn to respond as though their lives were somewhat within their control. They do not give up on themselves or on life itself. They come to the place where they are able to say, “Let’s see what can be done to survive.”, or as my dear permanently disabled friend put it, “The choice is simple, either you get better or bitter”, or to quote Barbary Johnson one more time, “Pain is inevitable but misery is optional.”
8.) Survivors find a way to live life in spite of what has happened to them. Remember last week’s study from Daniel “Even if He does not”! – They find some way to either excel in an area or to express themselves. One of the pitchers, Jim Abbott, who used to play for the Anaheim Angels major league baseball team has just one good arm, and yet he has overcome that loss. It took years but he never gave up. Determination is a necessary trait to survive.
9.) Even in the midst of grief, survivors can still enjoy life at times and laugh. Yes, it is possible to laugh even when you are hurting. Sometimes we laugh at something a deceased person said or did when alive. Or we laugh at ourselves which can lessen the pain of the loss. Often after a funeral, there is laughter as people visit with one another.
Let me ask you: How do YOU feel when you or someone else laugh during a time of grief?
10.) The person who survives has the ability to be flexible and adapt to new situations. He/she is able to discover strength through a given adversity. This person is able to come up with ways to respond to what has happened to him or her. A survivor does not persist in living life just one way but is willing and able to adapt. A survivor is a person who does not always respond to a situation the same way.
11.) Survivors have faith. Developing a faith perspective on life is the foundation for survival and recovery. Trusting theology also helps us accept what happens in life. We do not always understand life or like life as it happens, but we do learn to accept it.
Or do you understand a cancer ward filled with children under the age of 10? Or the young mother of 3 run down by a drunken driver? Or what about the businessman who was honest and followed the biblical teachings for his company, and failed?
You don’t understand these situations and neither do I.
Some Christians live by self-made assumptions.
– If God loves me then I can expect life to be fair.
– In Genesis 1:28, God tells us to rule over the earth, so I can control what happens to me.
-If I follow Christ and his teachings, no tragedy will happen to me.
-God promised abundant life to Christians, so I will become old and I will be rich!
– You are suffering? Then you must have been sinning.
– If you tithe, God will bless you financially.
It is so important to deal with questions and issues of life before the deep hurts of life confront us. When we don’t, either God gets the blame or we feel something is wrong with God!
Try to remember:
a.) What questions did you raise about God and His presence when you experienced a major loss?
b.) What scriptures were difficult to understand?
Every coin has two sides:
The other side of blaming God is the trap of believing that we are special because of our relationship with Him or because we believe him, or have worked for Him, and therefore He will insulate us from the misfortunes of life.
PAIN-DEATH-TRAGEDY-SUFFERING – When they hit us we feel tormented, and the age-old questions emerge:
- Why does God allow suffering?
- Where is He in our suffering?
- Does it have any meaning?
Richard Rohr, O.F.M., a Franciscan friar, offers these thoughts: Death is not just physical dying, but going to the full depth of things (life), hitting the bottom, falling beyond where you are in control. And in that sense, we all probably go through many deaths in our lifetime. These death blows to the ego/self are tipping points, opportunities to choose transformation. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people turn either bitter and look for someone to blame. So their ‘hitting bottom’ is indeed death for them, because they close themselves to growth and new life.
But if you instead do choose to walk through the depths/ the valley — even the depths of your own sin and mistakes — you will come out the other side, knowing you’ve been taken there by a Source larger than yourself. Surely this is what it means to be saved. It means you’ve allowed and accepted the mystery of transformation, which is always pure gift.
If we are to speak of miracles, the most miraculous thing of all is that God uses the very thing that would normally destroy you—the tragic, the sorrowful, the painful, the unjust—to transform and enlighten you. This is a human transformation to a much higher level of love and consciousness. You have been plucked from the flames of any would-be death to your soul, and you have become a very different kind of human being in this world.
Spirituality is always eventually about what you do with your pain. It seems our culture has lost its own spiritual foundation and center, and as a result we no longer know what to do with universal pain (which Jesus bore on the cross). If we do not transform our pain, we will always transmit it—to our partner, our spouse, our children, our friends, our coworkers, our “enemies.” Usually we project it outward and blame someone else for causing our pain.
This pattern of temporary suffering, falling apart, hitting bottom precedes every transition to a new level of faith, hope, and love.
John Killinger shares an interesting relationship between how we handle the difficulties of life and how we worship:
“Somehow, joy arises from loss and suffering and toil. It is much deeper than the surface of existence; it has to do with the whole structure of life. It is the perfume of the rose that is crushed, . . . Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that God sends adversity to enhance our appreciation of life or to make us more aware of His nearness. Nor am I implying that the fullness of life comes only to those who have passed through deep waters. Rather, I am saying that God is present in all of life, including its tragedies. His presence transforms even these agonizing experiences into opportunities for worship.”
And Richard Exley, a pastor, continues the thought:
“We don’t worship God because of our losses, but in spite of them. We don’t praise Him for the tragedies, but in them. Like Job, we hear God speak to us out of the (our) storm. (Job 38:1). Like the disciples at sea in a small boat, caught in a severe storm, we too see Jesus coming to us in the (our) night. We hear Him say, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) Please, read Matthew 14:9-14 and 22-33
If you have lived for any length of time, you have probably had opportunity to see the different ways people respond to adversity. The same tragedy can make one person better and another bitter. What makes the difference? Choice of attitude developed across a lifetime through spiritual disciplines.
The EXPERIENCE OF WORSHIP provides a deep resource we need to draw upon when everything around falls apart. In worship, the emphases and focus is not upon the person but upon God. Do you see that your theology will affect how you respond to loss? Your response to life’s losses will be directly determined by your understanding of God and how you have worshipped.
We human beings usually put FAITH IN FORMULAS. We feel comfortable with predictability, regularity, and assurance. We also want God to be this way. So, we try to create Him in the image of what we want Him to be and what we want Him to do. It’s like a clay vase trying to create the potter. And when God does not conform to what we have created Him to be, then we get angry and exclaim that there is no God out there. And in a sense we are right, the God we create does not exist – “thank God’!
You and I cannot predict what God will do. Paul reminds us of that in Romans 11:33,
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!”
God isn’t non-caring or busy elsewhere. He is neither insensitive nor punitive. He is loving and sensitive.
God allows us to experience different situations, this is for our growth. God has arranged the seasons of nature to produce growth and He arranges “experiences of the seasons” for our lives for growth also. Some days bring sunshine and some bring storms. Both are necessary.
He knows the amounts of negative or positive pressure that we can handle.
1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us He will, “. . . not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”
God does let us feel pain and experience suffering, just as He allows us to live peacefully, enjoy health, and experience happiness. He allows death, but He also allows life.
He permits choices, in a variety of circumstances, both good and bad.
He does not always give us what WE think we need or want, but what will produce growth and fruit.
We ask God, “Where are you?” But He is always there in the midst of the crisis.
We ask Him, “When? When will You answer?”
As the psalmist cried, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy (my problem) triumph over me?” ( Psalm 13:1-2).
We want Him to act according to our timetable, but Scripture says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7).
We become restless in waiting. And to block out the pain of waiting, we are often driven into frantic activity. This does not help, however, but resting before the Lord does.
Here is a quote from Larry Richards, “When it Hurts too much to Wait”,
‘Often waiting is a time of darkening clouds. Our skies do not lighten. Instead, everything seems to become even grimmer. Yet the darkening of our skies may forecast the dawn. It is in the … deepening shadows that God’s hidden work for us takes place. The present, no matter how painful, is of utmost importance. Somewhere, where our eyes cannot see and our ears are unable to hear, God is.
““““““““““`And God is at work.’
You may not feel that God is doing anything to help you recover. Why? Because we want recovery NOW. The instant solution philosophy of our society often invades a proper perspective of God. We complain about waiting for a few years, weeks or days but to God a day is like a 1000 years and a 1000 years an instant. God made time but is not bound by it.
(2 Peter 3:8, in context 2 Peter 3:3-9)
The ability to develop a biblical perspective on our lives is perhaps best summarized in this verse:
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing (or trying) of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3).
It is one thing to read a passage like this, but it is another thing to put it into practice.
What does the word consider actually mean? This paraphrased version of the same verse might illustrate: “Make up your mind to regard adversity as something to welcome or be glad about.”
You have the power to decide what your attitude will be. You can approach it and say, “That’s terrible. Totally upsetting. That is the last thing I wanted for my life. Why now? Why me?”
The other way of “considering” the same difficulty is to say, “It’s not what I wanted or expected, but it is here. There are going to be some difficult times, but how can I make the best of them?”
Don’t ever deny the pain or the hurt that you might have to go through, but always ask, “Lord, what can I learn from it? Lord, how can I grow through this? How can it be used for God’s glory?”
It is not an attitude of resignation – “Well, I’ll just give up. I’m just stuck with this problem. That’s the way life is.” If you resign yourself, you will sit back and not put forth any effort. The verb tense consider indicates that you will have to go against your natural inclination to see the trial as a negative force. There will be some moments when you won’t see it like that at all, and then you’ll have to remind yourself, “No, I think there is a better way of responding to this. Lord, I really want You to help me see this, consider this, from a different perspective.” And then your mind will shift to a more constructive response. This often takes a lot of work on your part.
God created us with both the capacity and the freedom to determine how we will respond to those unexpected incidents that life brings our way. You may honestly wish that a certain event had never occurred. But you cannot change the fact.
During crisis times as well as happy times of life, our stability comes from our Lord. God’s Word says in Isaiah 33:6:
“He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation (healing) and wisdom and knowledge; the fear (awe) of the LORD is the key to this treasure.”
Yes, recovery is possible.
Before doing the last session together, session #11, please, take your time to read chapters #8 and #9 in your book “Recovering from the Losses of Life”.
Let us close this session with prayer, I am choosing the words of Gerrit Scott Dawson in
CALLED BY A NEW NAME,
Dear Lord, let the words of this poem sink into my heart:
“I hear God’s voice like this:
‘I have not abandoned you.
Though your good health may have forsaken you, I have not.
Those whom you love may have left you, but I did not.
Your plans my have been thwarted, your vision marred, your dreams dashed.
But I am still here, and I have a vision for your life greater that you can yet imagine.’
Lord God, cause me to believe this. Amen.