(I wrote this blog in 2016 and never published it, due to the painfulness of the trial that I was walking through at the time. I hope this can encourage someone who is weary.)
2016 has been a particularly difficult year for me. As we approached Thanksgiving, I started being bombarded with all kinds of negative thoughts. Instead of counting my blessings on my commute I started marveling over all the terrible things that happened starting last January.
This can be a very self-defeating place. Thoughts like, “Why me?” and “What’s wrong with my life?” and “Why, God?” continue resonating through my mind until I feel like hiding under the covers and not coming out for a full year. Many of the difficult things that are experienced in life are things that no one else can see or fully understand, unless they bear the full emotional burden of your life, past and present including relationships, job, and family. This inner struggle can leave one feeling very lonely. Even if you have friends to talk to, you can’t always share every thought and need with every friend. We all know there are boundaries and things that go unsaid. Unsaid things pile up into a big negative bag that we carry around everywhere with us. It creates a feeling that no one understands and no one can make anything better or take away the huge pain or feeling.
1. Balance the Loss with Thanksgiving.
So, as I was praying through all of this, Jesus began to gently remind me that the holidays are not the time for counting my losses. Even though it may be a truthfully gut-wrenching loss, like the loss of someone very close to you- which I experienced this year, it is a time to remember the things in our lives that brings a balance to that loss.
2. Celebrate life.
So, after the Lord gave me this direction, my prayers began to change on Thanksgiving Day. Instead of “What is happening to my life?” and thinking on the things that I have suffered, I began to feel the Lord open my heart to the things that I actually have not lost. Here before me are beautiful children. We lost a close family friend, some have lost a child, others a parent. But still, in the words of a beautiful woman who lost a nephew, “We need to celebrate the living. That is where we focus.”
3. Take baby steps by focusing on all that you have taken for granted in the past.
Thank you, Lord, for this warm blanket. Thank you, Lord for this relationship I still have. Help me not to ignore it in my pain of loss. Thank you, Lord that you are faithful. Thank you that I have the money for a cup of Starbucks coffee. It’s the simple things that we baby step back into the land of the living on.
4. Ask the Lord to help you to change your focus to dwell on the happy memories.
But, then, when tears just surprise us out of absolutely no where or when we can’t stop thinking of the person who is not there, we thank God for the good times we had with them. We remember the joy and the love. Lord Jesus, help me to think on all the fun we had together. Help me to tell the silly stories. Jesus, replace the dark thoughts, the pictures of sickness and distressing images, with warm and happy images of days gone by. Help me to go there to find peace.
5. Pray through the guilt- the true and the false.
It’s easy when you lose a loved one to focus on what you wish you had done differently or to start placing blame…mostly on yourself. We all fall short in every relationship. This should not surprise us. Ask Jesus to forgive you for anything you are feeling major guilt over and ask him to remove all false guilt. If it is false guilt simply pray, “Jesus remove all false guilt from my life. I renounce this false guilt in Jesus name.” Say, “Jesus, I believe you can forgive me for not doing such and such or saying this or that. Thank you for forgiving me. I forgive myself in the power of Jesus’ name. Remove this guilt from me and give me freedom in it’s place.” Then, if there are real changes to make, the only way to go is forward. Make positive changes in the relationships you have now. Spend your holiday hugging more, praying more, giving more and allowing yourself to draw closer to The Lord. Say the positive things you that come up in your heart and give the negative, biting things to God in prayer.
6. Live in God’s presence in prayer.
Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted and the crushed in spirit.” During those most terrible times, God is close…even when you can’t feel him. It’s like the wind. We can’t see the wind. We can see the affects of the wind. In the same way, we can’t see God, but we can see the work of God all around us. Ask God to show himself to you. After my friend passed away suddenly, I spent a long car ride asking God a very pointed question I needed an answer to. He answered it through a cashier at Panera Bread within 10 minutes of my prayer. I was floored. I stood there numb, with tears running down my cheeks in the check out line. It was almost too hard to believe that God would answer so quickly. I honestly think the cashier was shocked, herself, to be used by God to deliver me a message. But, he loves us and is close to us in our time of need.
7. Reach out to friends who are believers.
Some people go into isolation when they are struggling with a loss or a dark time. This is not what The Lord has for us. It can be easy to do this, if you are afraid of being hurt or if you are just feeling too terrible to talk to people. But, God created us for community. God created us for relationship with him and with others. One of the most important functions of the body of Christ is to love on those who are hurting and to be the very arms and feet of Jesus. It is important that people can feel Jesus’ hugs and hear Jesus’ words of comfort. It is important that Christ be glorified and that the grieving be strengthened in their loss. Remember that in Jesus’ darkest time in the Garden of Gethsemane that he reached out to his disciples and asked them to pray with him for an hour? Be like Jesus. 🙂
8. Don’t hide or listen to lies that swirl around in your heart and head.
Do not hide yourself from those who can help you. Do not listen to lies from the devil that your friends don’t care and that no one wants to be bothered. They may be busy, but I can tell you that even though I am a busy person, I definitely want to know if a friend is in trouble or needs help! Many times I hear hurting people say, “I don’t want to bother you” or “I don’t want to look like I am trying to just get attention.”
9. Spend everyday asking God to open your eyes to everything that you do have and everything that he has gifted you with.
In the middle of my pain, I simply would breathe in and thank Jesus for each breath. When I became more intentional about focusing on thankfulness, I do things like try to wrap my brain around the amazingness of the society we live in. We can actually talk to people all over the world at the same time. We can eat exotic foods from all over the world. A bad day for us usually consists of when the heating or air conditioning isn’t just right or our coffee is too dark or too carroty. (I mean an average complaint…not the true losses.) When one lives in America, even if someone is on welfare, they are in the top %1 of wealthiest people on the planet. Just a thought. How are we training our hearts? When our hearts are mending, perhaps it is best to focus on all we have and to trust God with all we do not have. This may or may not help you. It helped me, when I began to see a tiny ray of light.
10. Ask God to truly reveal Christ to you in your suffering.
One of my favorite verses says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow to attain the resurrection from the dead.” Suffering gives us a very close understanding of Christ. You may hear this phrase used by Christians, “Christ came to earth to suffer so he could feel our pain and know our loss.” However, Christ actually carried our pain. He actually felt our very pain, and not only ours, but he carried the sin and pain of the entire world. When we suffer, we can know what he felt on the cross, knowing that it was a drop in the bucket of what he felt and experienced to rescue us for all eternity. Christ suffered for us and with us. He also suffered to give us victory.
Victory is not the absence of a battle. Victory is fighting a battle and winning. If you are fighting a battle today, do not let the enemy Satan discourage or destroy you. Trust the Lord. Ask him to give you a heart of reflection and thankfulness during your time of loss. This is what I have done and I know it won’t take everything away. But, it will put a weapon or tool in your hand to fight against the discouragement and depression that are overwhelming and coming against you. May the Lord bless you with relief this holiday season.