Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Struggling Alone

This is our fourth installment of our “Bouncing Back” series. We’re talking about how we can be spiritually anchored so that we may weather any storm. We won’t break – we can bounce back. We’ve talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. We’ve talked about rejecting hopelessness and holding on to hope. Last time we discussed embracing change instead of fearing it. Today we talk about bouncing back through our deep relationships.

People who have strong connections are more resistant to stress. The more real friendships you develop, the more resilient you’re going to be because you have a strong support network to fall back on.

Surround yourself by people who make you feel good and further your development. Poet John Donne once said, “No man is an island”. People who know more about the issue than I do say that the more we isolate ourselves, the more we increase our stress and frustration.  Al Gore said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech,

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

were-here-to-pump-you-upAnother quirky element of being part of community is that other people can also have an impact on our effort levels.  If the person next to you is working hard then it increases your work ethic.

I have seen this in the gym and at Command PT time and again. If you’re paired with someone who puts out minimal effort, your own effort will diminish. If you’re with someone who is PUMPED UP and giving maximum effort, your own efforts will improve!

Why be part of a deep and authentic community?

  • We were made to exist in community

Genesis 1 lays the groundwork for it. Every time God creates something, He steps back and says, “It is good.” But out of the ENTIRE created world, there is only ONE thing that is “not good.”

It is not good for man to be alone.

So man goes on a quest to find a perfect partner. None can be found. So God takes matters into his own hands and creates woman, the perfect partner for man, and thus the first community was established. We were built to exist and thrive when we take care of each other in community. Which leads us to the next point —

  • Taking care of others takes care of yourself.

Being of service to others is a powerful way of stoking resilience. Researchers have found that serotonin is used more efficiently by people who engage in acts of kindness. That means the more you do kind things for others, the happier and more resilient you will be. It’s almost like we were created to do good works. If only there were a Bible verse that could back up this theory…

Oh, wait:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

 

  • Authentic Community helps us bounce back

Community groups help us as we wrestle with difficulties. AA, NA, Bible Study Groups, take your pick – being plugged into communities gives us resources and support to manage difficult times and not break. The Apostle Paul talks about this kind of thing in his letter to the Romans:

Romans 15:1-3 ~ We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.

And, in the end, this is about what real family looks like. It’s not about shared blood – it’s about choosing to be an intentional part of a community of like-minded people. People who spur us on. People who won’t let us quit. People we impact and who impact us. People who keep us from breaking.

This is family.

 

I won’t quit. I have impact. Pain isn’t permanent. I will not break.

Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Struggling with Change

Welcome to our third installment of our “Bouncing Back” series. We’re talking about how we can be spiritually anchored so that we may weather any storm. We won’t break – we can bounce back. We’ve talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. We’ve talked about rejecting hopelessness and holding on to hope. Today we talk about facing down change.

Last week I read a quotation from writer H.P. Lovecraft:

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

Change-1080x675Those are some DEEP words. I’ll be totally upfront with you – I’m one of those people who fear the unknown. And nothing brings about the unknown faster than change. It can be change in your job, change in your family, change in your social status, change in the government, or ANYWHERE else in life.

Change brings the unknown.

The unknown brings fear.

People who are know more than I do about psychology note that humans LOVE certainty.

Uncertainty registers as an error, gap, or tension in the brain: something that must be corrected before one can feel comfortable again. That is why people crave certainty. Not knowing what will happen next can be profoundly debilitating because it requires extra neural energy. This can diminish memory, undermine performance, and disengage people from the present.

Humanity has been wrestling with change and uncertainty since the dawn of time. From ancient philosophers, to Kansas, to Bill and Ted, the reality of change and the transitory nature of life has overwhelmed us.

This is a prevalent theme of the biblical book Ecclesiastes:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

When we’re faced with change, many of us will freeze. Change becomes overwhelming and breaks us. Even the writer of Ecclesiastes felt overwhelmed by the permanence of change. That word “meaningless” in the King James English is “vanity.” It literally means “transitory” or “impermanent.”

Life. Is. Change.

But change doesn’t have to break us. How can we bounce back in the face of overwhelming change? Here are a couple tips:

  • Acknowledge the change. One of he most important thing to do when change is happening is to acknowledge it. Running and hiding from your problems never solves them. It may delay them for a bit, but acknowledging them is the best way to move towards overcoming the difficulty.
  • Face your fears. Go through each fear brought up by the oncoming (or already present) change and write down what you would do if that fear came to pass. It’s about shifting perspective. The Apostle Paul wrote about shifting perspective:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ~ For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Instead of focusing on the seen here and now, shift your gaze to that which has REAL permanence – God! Scripture declares that He NEVER changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God who never changes is walking beside you through all of your changes. He is facing them with you, so focus on that instead of the change.

  • Seek support. Many of us don’t like asking for help. The Christian community was DESIGNED to be a source of support for the believer. We ought to be taking care of each other. You should know that I have your back, and I should know that you have mine. Change is less scary when you’re going through it with someone you know and trust!
  • Switch out fearful thoughts with positive ones. Getting back to hope, we can choose to focus on positive aspects of pending change. For example, one of the changes people fear the most is death. Paul takes the idea of passing into the next life and puts an incredibly positive spin on it:

1 Corinthians 15:50-52 ~ I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Make it a habit to focus on the positive things that change can bring.

You’re not going to be able to escape change. But it doesn’t have to break you. Realize that change is a normal (albeit stressful) part of life. But it IS a normal of life. Back to Ecclesiastes, the writer says in a very famous passage:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Change is gonna come. But it won’t break you.

I won’t quit. I have impact. Pain isn’t permanent. I will not break.

Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Maintaining Hope

This is number two in our “Bouncing Back” series, where we’re dealing with being spiritually anchored so that we can weather any storm. Last time we talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. Today we’re talking about maintaining hope.

Hope is a funny thing. We’re willing to pay good money for hope. We probably don’t think of it like that, but we do. That’s the power behind the infomercial. These infomercials blast us day in and day out (and in the wee hours of the morning when there’s no regular programming on t.v.). These “as seen on tv” products are trying to sell hope – hope that buying a particular product will be the miracle to cure whatever troubles us. Like the Snuggie.

C’mon, people!

It’s. A. Backwards. Robe.

But it calls out to us and gives us hope that life would be better if we just had…. This is the power of the infomercial – it plays off of hope. My wife and I used to be in the habit of having cable news playing in the background during the day. I realized that we needed to stop when my then-5 year old got to me after work one day and said, “Daddy, we need to get a sunsetter!”

No, baby girl, we don’t NEED one. Not at all.

But humanity believes that these little doses of hope will make life better. But the emotion of hope is something that comes and goes. These temporary things cannot be enough to sustain long-term hope. Lasting hope has to be rooted in something much deeper. Lasting hope must be rooted in something bigger than ourselves or the stuff we fill our lives with.

Lasting hope is spiritually anchored.

The Bible talks a lot about hope, and the people who need it.

For the oppressed will not always be forgotten;
the hope of the afflicted will not perish forever. (Psalm 9:18)

I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. (Lamentations 3:24-25)

You see, when we talk about bouncing back from life’s troubles, it is hope that gives us the bounce! And while we sometimes think that troubles kill hope, hope and affliction can co-exist.

Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. (Romans 12:11-12)

The Apostle tells us to rejoice in hope WHILE TELLING US TO BE PATIENT IN AFFLICTION! They’re happening simultaneously. In a nutshell, then, hope is about holding on to that better tomorrow in spite of the difficulties of today. But how do we develop hope?

  • Build a future focus.

We get so caught up in today’s troubles we lose sight of tomorrow. But we know that everything in this life is temporary. Life itself is temporary! We’re all headed towards that same destination – the grave. But the Christian has hope beyond the grave, for we know the day is coming when we stand in the presence and perfection of God. This hope has sustained Christians through the worst time and persecutions imaginable.

Don’t be so caught in the “here & now” that you lose hold of the “there & then.”

  • Work on a path to tomorrow.

We know that life will get tough. Obstacles are going to hit. Instead of letting them stop us, we need to plan our path towards tomorrow. Asses your life like it’s a number line.

numberline_0-30

If the obstacle has your life stuck at 5, don’t try to jump to 30. Ask what it’s going to take to get to 6. Then, when you find your life is at 6, ask what you can do to move up to a 7. The point is you keep at it little by little.

I have a friend who was convinced that God had a certain destination for his life. The problem was that obstacle after obstacle kept being thrown at him. It was discouraging. A mutual mentor of ours told him, “If you believe this is where God wants you to be, you CANNOT stop trying. Do EVERYTHING to keep moving in that direction.” It took years but it finally happened!

  • Finally, recognize God’s plan in your life regardless of personal circumstances.

Sorrow doesn’t have to diminish hope. God can work through your suffering. God and work in spite of your suffering. Hope remains, because it’s grounded in God’s activity, not our changing circumstances. I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul who prayed earnestly that God would remove a personal obstacle, his “thorn in his flesh.”

Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Your obstacle may never be resolved the way you want it. It doesn’t stop God’s grace from being present in your life. Hope stays, no matter what happens today.

Let’s hold on to a better tomorrow.

I won’t quit.
I have impact.
Pain isn’t permanent.
I will not break.

hope-hero

Bouncing Back From Unbeatable Obstacles

Sometimes life throws some horrible stuff our way and we face all sorts of obstacles. Too often those obstacles, those life crises, have a way of driving us to our breaking point. When we break we reach a point where ending our lives seems like most viable option. As of a couple years ago, the suicide rate in America is about 13 per 100,000. So how do we avoid getting to the point where we break? Since we can’t avoid crises for an entire lifetime, the issue is not about getting away from obstacles but rather learning how to bounce rather than break.

glassThink about a glass that’s slammed on the floor. It’s going to shatter. But replace the glass with a super-ball, one of those rubber balls that kids love to play with (no matter how many times you say, “DON’T BOUNCE THAT IN THE HOUSE!). No matter how hard you slam that ball down, it won’t break.

It simply bounces.

This is the perspective we need to get to when we think about the crises and difficulties in our lives. And the first step in becoming people who bounce instead of break is this:

Stop seeing obstacles as unbeatable problems.

Little EngineThink about The Little Engine That Could. This poor little engine was tasked with trying to get all the toys to the remote town. His only problem was that there was a great big mountain standing in the way. But he doesn’t let the obstacle sit in his mind as an unbeatable problem. Instead, he begins attacking the mountain and tells himself, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” Eventually he does!

Yeah, yeah, I hear you. That’s a kid’s story! Fair enough. How about an adult example from the Bible? I’m talking about the 12 Spies of Israel? As God was bringing the Israelite nation out of slavery and to the land of promise, Moses sent scouts ahead to check out the land and look for potential pitfalls. While the land was perfect for the people and produced excellent crops, the scouts encountered a crisis.

They reported to Moses: “We went into the land where you sent us. Indeed it is flowing with milk and honey, and here is some of its fruit. However, the people living in the land are strong, and the cities are large and fortified. We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we are!” 

So they gave a negative report to the Israelites about the land they had scouted: “The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of great size. 33 We even saw the Nephilim there—the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim! To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them.” (Numbers 13)

Only 2 of the scouts, Caleb and Joshua, thought it could be done. Everyone else thought the obstacle was unbeatable – and that was with the promise of God on their side! Because of their lack of faith and trust, only Caleb and Joshua ended up getting into the promised land. The rest never made it out of the wilderness. While we’re not dealing with God’s promised land, there’s a principle that rings true about the crises that we face:

Believing something to be unbeatable defeats you before you even get started.

Can you imagine a boxer who gets into the ring thinking, “There’s no way I can beat this guy.” He won’t. Likewise, when we face crises we must start with an understanding that nothing is insurmountable.

Just because an obstacle is in your way doesn’t mean you stop moving! – when there’s a mountain in your way you figure out a way past it. You go around it. You climb over it. You dig under it. If you have to, build a fricking airplane. My point is that you have to exhaust EVERY avenue – every option – to overcoming the problem. You never.stop.moving!

The Bible talks a whole bunch about overcoming trials and/or troubles. Just a couple, for example:

  • Jeremiah 1:19 ~ They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

  • John 16:32-33 ~ “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 I recognize that we don’t get to claim someone else’s promise for ourselves. I’m not an ancient Israelite worried about invading armies, so God’s promise to deliver from people fighting against is not aimed at me. There is a general principle in the Bible, though, that affirms that God IS present with the faithful and will aid in helping us persevere and overcome difficulties and trials in life.

Heck, Jesus PROMISES that we’ll have troubles in life. Anyone who tells you life will be a piece of cake is either lying to you or trying to sell you something. But in spite of the troubles, we have the promise of a present God to be with us.

So in a nutshell, how do we work on getting over the insurmountable?

  • Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope is what allows us to bounce instead of break. Rather than fixating on the problem of today, maintain a future-oriented outlook. You are a person who has value and worth – this world is impacted JUST because of your presence in it. So anticipate a better tomorrow.
  • Memorialize your problems and your victories. When God was leading Israel under Joshua, they came to the Jordan river and didn’t have a great outlook for crossing. But God stopped the waters so the people could cross. Afterward, they decided to memorialize God’s work:

So Joshua summoned the 12 men he had selected from the Israelites, one man for each tribe, and said to them, “Go across to the ark of the Lord your God in the middle of the Jordan. Each of you lift a stone onto his shoulder, one for each of the Israelite tribes, so that this will be a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.” (Joshua 4)

Remembering what God did in the past helps us as we go through crises today. We know that God HAS acted and we have reasonable hope that He WILL act again!

  • Take it in bite-sized chunks. It’s like that age-old joke: How do you eat an elephant? ONE BITE AT A TIME! Lame joke, I know, but you get the idea. Overcoming your crises may not be an instant thing. It could take time. Some days you’ll feel like you have the strength and speed of a gazelle. Other days it will be all you can do to take baby steps. Just.Keep.Moving.
  • Finally, talk to yourself. Pump yourself up. Motivate yourself. When I face difficult things I actually talk out loud (when no one else is around!). I say things like: I got this! I can do this! This, too, shall pass!

There are numerous examples of people who faced difficulties before finally overcoming and succeeding.

  • Thomas Edison was told as a kid, “You’re too stupid to learn anything.”
  • Dr. Seuss was rejected by 27 publishers for his first book because they thought it was no good.
  • The story goes that Elvis was fired after his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry and was told to go back to driving a truck.

No obstacle is worth breaking over. We don’t have to break.

Live your life by the mantra:

I won’t quit.
I have impact.
Pain isn’t permanent.
I will not break.

Be someone who can bounce.

Boiling Water