Once upon a time, there was a lovely season when Valentine’s Day was my favorite holiday. It wasn’t due to grand romantic gestures or socially-sanctioned chocolate binging; I cherished our tradition of the Valentine Tea. Three generations deep, the girls in our family would gather around a magnificent table to use our best manners, nibble on treats as pretty as they were delicious, and connect in important ways. My precious mother-in-law initiated the tradition when my daughter – her first grandchild – was just three. Thoughtful and deliberate, Sarah had a knack for making things beautiful and memorable.
From Rachel’s pre-school years through college, we’d look forward to the Valentine Tea, and it never occurred to me that one day it would stop. For a year or two I downplayed the signs that something was amiss. Probably, I just didn’t want to believe that what was happening, was actually happening. But the time Sarah mistook a glittery heart decoration for candy, our sweet tradition sputtered to a sorrowful end. Sarah’s mind was gradually stolen by the bully of dementia.
Life is a gift and life is beautiful, but sometimes life is plain hard.
We all face giants that threaten to slay us. No one is immune to tribulation. A diagnosis, infidelity, the prodigal child. A breach of confidence. Financial uncertainty. Betrayal or injustice. An enslaving addiction we hate beyond measure.
When life becomes a runaway train throttling out of control toward a cliff, what are you to do? How do you respond? Do you become paralyzed with grief or fear? Are you tempted to give up or shake your fist at God? Does your faith wander or whither?
There’s no shame in a knee-jerk response born out of our humanity and emotions. I’m ever-thankful to God that through the power, strength, and leading of His Spirit, our very human first response to heartache seldom remains our final response. Seeking and being surrendered to God changes us and how we respond to our circumstances.
When David battled Goliath, his weapons didn’t compare to the giant’s javelin, spear, and sword. As a shepherd, all he had was a stick (a staff) and a sling. Isn’t this the way of God, for Him to equip us with what we need, when we need it? To the bystanders looking on, it must’ve looked like David didn’t stand a chance. But God used simple tools David was already familiar with to defeat his enemy.
When we’re in pain or when life’s inevitable battles come our way, we also have familiar tools at our disposal.
Here are six simple things that have helped me when life gets really hard:
Remember that God is always with you. Knowing you are not alone makes a huge difference. God is ever-present, eager to impart His strength and comfort. Isaiah 41:10 says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Do you see how this is about what God will do? We don’t have to conjure what God has already offered.
Pray. Prayer is powerful, helping us to find peace and clarity. Even if you’re struggling in your faith, prayer maintains a connection to God. We can pour out our hearts to God regardless of what we’re feeling, trusting Him to do what’s best. Psalm 107:28-29 says, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”
Practice self-care. It‘s so easy to neglect our own needs. But taking care of ourselves helps us to cope. Meditate on Scripture. Eat healthily. Make sleep a priority. Go for a walk. Do something creative. Refreshing your heart, mind, and body matters.
Be thankful. It’s easy to be thankful when life is good, but a challenge when you’re suffering. Still, practicing gratitude is a fierce act of obedience that comes with a blessing. Philippians 4:6–7 reminds us to, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Supernatural peace arrives on the coattails of gratitude.
Invite others into your pain. Community is reflected in the Trinity; God is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yes, God is with us, but Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens. Some things are just too heavy to carry alone. Drawing from 1 Corinthians 12:24-26 we read that “God has so composed the body…that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together….” Whether a friend, your small group, or church leader, it is life-giving to have someone else praying for you, listening to, acknowledging, and empathizing with your hurt, speaking truth to you, and maybe even offering insight or resources from a similar experience. We are not designed to go it alone.
Cling to the Word and truth of the Gospel. The Bible isn’t an instruction manual but it’s the primary means through which we know God and learn about what’s important to Him. We get to meet Jesus, observe His life, grieve His death, and celebrate His resurrection. He is no stranger to hard things, but His story is one of good news! No matter what we’re facing, we have a Savior who’s acquainted with our sorrow, who can identify with our pain, and who promises us life everlasting. Our heartache serves a purpose because it can loosen our grip on this world and remind us we aren’t made for it, anyway.
When life gets really hard, it’s paradoxical to me that the things that help me most are actually pretty simple.