Hope in the Midst of Hurt
Beneath the snows of winter, tulips patiently wait for spring to bud and blossom.
Let me tell you about someone I happen to know very well. This man was sailing along in life. He had what most men strived for, and at a young age, a beautiful family, home, money, and no debts. He owned his own business and believed everything could be accomplished by a positive attitude and hard work. But then one day this dream life came to a crashing halt. Faced with divorce and the loss of his wife, children, and assets, he became depressed and saw no hope for the future. Although he attended church he did not take his faith seriously. Nevertheless, he called upon God for comfort and to give reason for his hurt, but things only got worse.
Not unlike many other people faced with despair, and in a state of what could be described as temporary insanity, he not only thought of, but actually planned to take his life. After separate visits with his children and his wife (without them knowing of his intentions), he purchased a gun, and on a Sunday forenoon drove his car to a rural area. He loaded the gun, pointed it upward, and I believe as a practice run for what he intended to do, or to give himself blind courage to go through with the act of suicide, he pulled the trigger – but the gun did not go off. He pointed the gun downward, and away from his body, pulled the trigger again, and the gun fired. Dumbfounded, he repeated the action a second time with the same result. Then a third time. Apparently the gun would only fire if it was pointed downward. This strange coincidence caused him to think, and to cancel his tragic intentions. What makes this story even more spellbinding is that this man, later in life, used the same gun when hunting for small game, and although pointing it upward, it never again misfired.
That person was me!
I am no stranger to misfortune and hurt, and I believe many of you could speak likewise. Although I have known those who experienced hurt and grief in their life and handled them without a close relationship with God, in my case, I cannot imagine how that could be possible. For you see, if I had known God at the time of my tragedy, I would have handled things much differently and would have healed much sooner.
We live in troubled times, a time that is unprecedented for most people who are alive today. I have had the opportunity to visit with thousands of people, and rarely do I come upon anyone of advanced age who has not experienced a tragedy of one form or another. But never before have I come upon so many people who are hurting as is the case today. There are ministries on the internet that receive hundreds of thousands of requests for prayer and advice for almost everything imaginable. Many illustrate desperation and despair.
Most people will not escape this world without having experienced the pangs of grief. Although misfortune is to be expected, I doubt if many people are prepared for the event when it actually happens. Few courses are available to prepare us for the unexpected. I used to believe that there was a solution for every problem. I no longer believe that, for I have learned there are some difficulties that temporarily defy solution. Life doesn’t always seam fair. I remember a friend of our family whose son was tragically killed on Christmas eve when a mail truck backed over the little boy’s head while the driver was leaving their driveway. It is at times like this that everyone searches for answers, and even questions God’s role in the tragedy. When this happens it is important for us to have courage and remember that tough times never last forever, and just as every mountain has its peak, every problem will have its eventual conclusion. As the poem goes, “Now I know why the winter birds sing, for in the midst of a blizzard they believe in spring.”
Hidden within the coat of sorrow that we may be temporarily wearing is a silver lining, for out of hurt can come healing, and as Hebrews 11:34 states, “Out of weakness shall come strength.” The place in which a bone breaks and heals will be so strong that it will never break again in that same place. And when we are weak and exposed to the rough bumps of life, we develop strength to overcome future difficulties.
I also believe that God will not let anything happen to us unless He knows that by His grace and through our faith in Him, our problem can be turned into a purpose. We must accept, even if we don’t understand, what Scripture states – that God is a jealous God (Deuteronomy 6:15). There are occasions when God may allow something for which there seems to be no logical explanation (those times when we are innocent of any wrongdoing), to accomplish His ultimate desire. That is the time to believe we can never be harmed when abiding within His Divine will. He must have a reason that will ultimately result in our overall benefit.
Nevertheless, God is good, and it is because of this fact that He may be protecting us or a loved one from a disaster He sees down the road, and one that is not visible now. Maybe that troubled teen that was intoxicated and lost his or her life in an automobile accident, would have been involved in some other act later in life that would have caused much greater distress and harmed many people. It is amazing to think of it; if something had not happened to my great, great grandfather when he was young that seemed bad at the time but changed and saved his life, I would not be here. God planned back then, for my life today.
There is one thing for certain, however, trouble and hurt never leaves us where it found us – it will change us in one way or another. The important issue is how we react to the change, positive or negative. We can choose to become bitter, we can learn from the experience and become better, or we can simply cope with and handle the hurt. Victor Frankl tells the story of how he, a Jew, was brought before the Gestapo in Germany during WWII. They stripped him naked, and noticed he still wore a wedding band and said, “Give us your wedding band.” He stood there, before the Gestapo and peeled the wedding band off his finger, the band that was given to him by his wife who would be exterminated in the ovens. As he removed the band he thought this, “There’s one thing nobody can take from me – my freedom to choose how I will react to what happens to me.” On the strength of that concept, he not only survived the Holocaust, but also developed his whole psychiatric system called Logotherapy. Nobody can take from you your freedom to choose what you will do with what happens to you. Life has a way of coloring your personality, but you choose the colors with your own reaction.
As a result of being hurt, there is the “get even” response that is so natural. Although it may seem right at the moment, getting even with the person who is responsible for your distress is not the right answer. A woman was sitting with another person in a booth behind me in a restaurant I frequently attend, and started to complain to Bob, the owner, about almost everything shortly after she arrived. First it was the seating arrangement, secondly the service, then the food, and finally the temperature of the restaurant. She called the owner over to complain that the temperature was too hot, then it was too cold, and again it was too hot. I guess he finally decided to get even because each time she complained about the temperature, he assured her that he would adjust the air conditioner. As I walked passed Bob after paying my bill I said, “That lady must be driving you crazy.” “No,” he said, “We’re driving her crazy; we don’t have an air conditioner in this place.” If we violate one of God’s rules trouble can be expected. This is usually none of God’s doing. The universe is governed by concrete unchanging laws that result in the fact that for every action there is a reaction. Some tragedies have their birth when we are young – a youth can decide to disobey, drop out of school, associate with the wrong people, and end up in prison or worse. Some problems have their death only after we die – greed, addictions, sexual encounters, homosexual diseases, abortion, and other mistakes are examples of uncontrolled free-will that can follow us through to a lifetime of pain. That is a reason God gave us rules to keep us out of trouble – His Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). That is why Christ gave us the most profound advice for everyday living that mankind has ever received – His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 -7). He said in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”
For anyone who has lost a loved one, you know a very painful kind of hurt and loneliness. Sue lost her only son through a tragic accident some years ago, and our lives have never been the same. The same can be said when your husband or wife died or left you. We never fully appreciate the emotional support we receive from any relationship until that relationship is severed. And then, when the severance comes through a decision, through death, through divorce or through a disaster, suddenly you realize your enthusiasm for life is gone. Have you ever noticed an older gentleman setting alone on a park bench, seemingly staring into space, you sense his thoughts are far away to a much happier time in his life. It may be the loss of his wife, home, business, health, a child, a friend, or anything that has been loved and lost that can bring feelings of grief or hurt.
Sometimes to a grieving person, we need not say a word. Hugs are often better than a “what you should do” approach. It’s okay to grieve and to express our grief in mourning and in tears. Jesus wept – John 11:35. Either we will grieve and heal our hurts, or we will not grieve and postpone and prolong them. A number of years ago, after a hurt in my life, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist. After the meeting, I noticed that he did not schedule another visit. Upon questioning him regarding this he said, “There is no need for more discussion. You are acting perfectly normal. If you weren’t grieving, you would be acting abnormal.”
There are different degrees of tragedies or hurts. Many are avoidable and the result of poor judgment on behalf of the grieving person, while others are due to no fault of the innocent party. Both have devastating effects on us, but in different ways. For the innocent party, it can be gut-wrenching to experience a hurt in which we had no fault, but it can be worse if we have a conscience and are the one who was responsible for the pain.
Many people find their lives are made miserable by guilt, and they carry that guilt with them for the rest of their lives. That is why hundred of thousands of people go to psychiatrists every year. That is why statistics show that ninety percent of the beds in our mental hospitals are there because of patients who have been immobilized by guilt. I once talked with a ninety plus year old woman who told me she sleep walks at night, searching for, and calling the name of the child she aborted sixty-five years earlier. Guilt is a terrible, terrible thing.
The past is an unreal world to which we cannot go back, nor do anything about. But in order for past wounds to heal, they must be cleansed, and I believe that only Christ can blot out the guilt and sorrow that results from past mistakes. It is, therefore, essential that we take accountability for any part we may have played in the unfortunate event, admit mistakes, repent, learn from the experience, and move forward with a fresh attitude.
Hurts lead to depression, and studies have shown that depression wounds the immune system in the same manner as AIDS. This is a reason many people die shortly after the death of, or a divorce from, their spouse.
There comes a time, however, when grieving must end, as prolonged despair displays a lack of trust in God’s ultimate will for our life. Sloth, a member of the Seven Deadly Sins, can include despair if that action causes us to dwell on our hurt, to loose faith, and restricts us from doing good. That is why, in times of stress, loneliness, hurt, and reflection, I advise those who are troubled to concentrate on shifting their thoughts from themselves, and direct their attention to helping others. It is the least practiced, but best advice I have for recovery.
The prayer of St. Francis goes, “Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace. That where there is hatred I may bring love. That where there is wrong I may bring the spirit of forgiveness. That were there is discord I may bring harmony. That where there is error I may bring truth. That where there is doubt I may bring faith. That where there is despair I may bring hope. That where there are shadows I may bring Thy light. That where there is sadness I may bring joy. Lord grant that I seek rather to comfort than to be comforted; To love than to be loved; For it is by giving that one receives; It is by self-forgetting that one finds; It is by forgiving that one is forgiven; It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.” Dwell on those words when troubles overwhelm.
Trials have taught me that if we have faith, God will show us a reason for unexpected hurts, and although we may not understand it at the time, someday it will become clear to us. The song goes, “Through it all I have learned to trust in Jesus – I have learned to trust in God – I have learned to depend upon His Word.”
Tomorrow’s problems will bring God with them, and He will turn all things to our good – if we trust Him.
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