(For us, some of them have been death of a parent while he was driving to our wedding, miscarriage x3, job loss, unexplained illness, hurting/sick relatives, an unexpected move, car accidents, the loss of community…)
Here is what I have learned to do in moments when the world goes chaotic around me:
- Remember God's faithfulness. This is no trite slogan. He is dependable. He is the eternal God who provided manna in the desert and a way through the sea. Isaiah 63 says, "I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praiseworthy acts of the Lord." Remind yourself, audibly (say it out loud) and/or visually (write it and keep it in front of your face), of what he has done for you before. Name every single thing He brings to mind. Times of sickness, need, sorrow, pain, will come to your mind. Remind yourself of every time He has been faithful to you or anyone you know in any way. He meets every need we have, and so many wants as well. He is always, incredibly, overwhelmingly, wonderfully faithful. Every time. Always.
- Be still. The tendency is to want to churn. Especially if something is hurtful or confusing. But stillness-- forcing my heart to be still before the LORD-- allows me to listen to what's most important and tune out all the chaos. Do not be anxious. Focus on Christ as the foundation of everything.
- Trust in God. Mindfully. Prayerfully. Fully. Intentionally. Truly, what this means for me practically is that in those moments when every single need is popping into mind, that I remember that God knows everything I need. That I express my need to Him, and keep on--moment by moment-- choosing to rest in Him.
- Hunker down and hug the people closest to you. Even if it's the kid who has done something foolish. Even if it's the husband you still feel frustrated with because he made a costly mistake. Even if you're not sure it means anything or changes anything. Even if it feels hollow in the moment. Keep hugging.
- Let the people closest to you "hug" you. It is so tempting, when we are in need, to tense up and keep people at arms' distance. But you have to choose to abandon your pride, abandon the illusion of self-dignity and independence, and let them in. This doesn't mean you expose your wounds to anyone at all, but let the people closest to you be close enough to hug you and hold you while you weep. Let them help you, bring dinner, do your dishes… let the Body of Christ BE the Body when you need them.
- Ask for forgiveness the minute you realize you need it. When you are in a tight spot, attitudes will come out. The ugly things that can at other times stay hidden below the surface-- your desire for peace and quiet, annoyance with mess, frustration with someone's tone of voice-- come out at times when stress is higher and patience is lower. Ugly things surface and make themselves known. So, rather than growing bitter, defensive, and divided, ask forgiveness. This is an opportunity to realize how much you need to grow, and an opportunity to grow, more like Jesus.
- Keep talking. This is huge for Doug and I. Even if it's speaking hard truths. Even if it's asking a question out loud that both of us know for certain we don't know the answer to. Just keeping on turning toward God and toward one another with our communication has been EXTREMELY important in the times of greatest stress in our lives.
- Take the long view. Put this "momentary affliction" in light of all the other things that have happened in life and all of the good. Eternity is a long time, and God's plans are bigger than we can see from our tiny perspective here.
- Stay connected to God, as a branch stays connected to the vine. Keep drawing life-giving sustenance from His Word. Pray. Lift your hands to worship His name. Offer a sacrifice of praise to the Lord Almighty, even-- especially-- in your pain.
- Be thankful. Less than two weeks ago, we were faced with an incredibly difficult set of circumstances. Instantaneously, our lives went from relatively stable to completely out of whack. Within a couple hours, the Lord reminded me to start a "thankful list." It really is of mental, spiritual, emotional, attitudinal benefit to list out and counsel your own heart to be thankful for every possible thing. Start a list…. and keep adding to it.
- Do the next thing. Just do the next logical, right thing. Fold the laundry. Put the milk away. Change the baby's diaper. Feed the dog. Do the next thing. Keep doing what makes sense and put one foot in front of the other.
- Keep an eye toward what God is doing. Recently a friend of mine died, after ninety years on this earth. I remember when her husband died, after they'd shared fifty-nine years of marriage, and how broken-hearted she was. One day at our weekly prayer meeting, she told me that she often looked toward the eastern sky and wondered if God would let her see Jesus come back. Even in her grief, she was prayerfully plugged into God's work, and she had eternity in view. We can do the same. Keep your eyes attuned to what God is doing around you.
God has so many things to teach us in moments of shock, pain, grief, frustration, hurt, and sorrow. These twelve habits have helped me to turn to God in those moments in my life, to hear what He is saying, and to focus on His goodness even amidst the difficulties. I hope they will help others, too.