Psychologists know that people cope with difficult things better when they can grasp a bigger picture than just the moment they are in. For example, students endure studying hard for final exams better when they can see the prize of a good grade at the end. Workouts at the gym are unpleasant and painful for many of us but we persevere because we want the results of a healthy, toned body.
Life is hard and sometimes very painful. As Christians we are not protected from adversity, but if we can remember the bigger picture, it gives us hope and brings comfort amidst the temporal pain (See Paul’s use of this strategy in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18.)
Practice Looking Through a Wide Angle Lens
I find people’s hope is often in the form of “I hope this will be over with soon” or “I hope God will eventually turn this situation around in my favor.” But the biblical hope that the apostle Paul reminds us of is not for any temporal relief but hope in God’s eternal purposes. When we believe that our suffering is not meaningless and that God has a purpose in it, even if we can’t understand right now, we can endure hardship better (Romans 5:3-5; Romans 8:28,29).
Without minimizing our loved one’s suffering, we must remind ourselves (and perhaps them) that God never wastes suffering. He will always use it to draw us closer to him, closer to others, build our character or give us an opportunity to be a light to others (2 Corinthians 1:3,4). That builds true hope in a good God who loves us and knows what he is doing (Psalm 119:68; Nahum 1:7).
When I remember to look through the wide angle lens, even a minor irritation of getting stuck in traffic can become an adventure in hope. Now I see these aggravating moments as God thrusting me into the gymnasium of spiritual growth with the Holy Spirit as my personal trainer. He is teaching me to be patient and self-controlled, and my children notice the difference. James reminds us that we can experience joy in the midst of our trials, not because they’re painless, but because when we look through the wide angle lens, we know that God uses those trials to build in us the spiritual muscle of perseverance, which helps us run the race of faith with endurance (James 1:2).
I never quite understood why God’s word commands us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As a counselor, I often thought that verse bordered on craziness. But I have learned it is good to give thanks to the Lord.
Life is full of good and bad moments. None of us can pay attention to everything. But recent research in positive psychology reveals that what we attend to affects our sense of well-being and happiness. When we dwell on what’s wrong, negative, painful and difficult, we feel bad. However, if we learn to give thanks and look for what is good, true, right and lovely (Philippians 4:9), we will feel better.
As a family, practice thanksgiving daily. Gratitude goes deeper than instructing your children to say thank you when someone does something nice for them. In addition, teach them to practice looking for what’s good, true and right about difficult and painful situations. For example, when our house was robbed, we talked about our fear and anger but we also looked for what was good about the situation. It was good that we weren’t home at the time. Instead of focusing on what we lost, we looked around our house and were grateful that it was not vandalized and that many precious things were not taken or destroyed. It was good that the robber’s were quickly caught and that no one got hurt in the process.
In addition, when we consciously give thanks in difficult times, we affirm God is good and is in control. Through thanksgiving, we remind ourselves that God is for us, not against us and that his ways are not our ways. Gratitude thwarts Satan’s attempt to get us to feel sorry for ourselves and doubt God’s goodness.
Teaching our children how to think and view adversity is crucial if we’re to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:1). Our natural tendency is to grumble and complain when things go wrong. But when we train our mind and heart to see the big picture and give God thanks even when things appear negative, our attitude changes. We don’t feel as unhappy, negative or critical. Self-pity and complaining soon fades. Gratitude shifts our focus from looking at what we don’t have to being thankful for what we do have as well as giving us a greater awareness of what God is doing.
This mental shift is good for us, good for our children and good for our family. For even in the midst of adversity, especially in the midst of adversity, those who don’t know God are looking to see how Christians handle things.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a well known preacher and author in the 1800’s, said it best when he wrote,
Any fool can sing in the day. When the cup is full, man draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around him any man can sing to the praise of a God who gives a plenteous harvest…..It is not natural to sing in trouble…Songs in the night come only from God; they are not in the power of man.”
Learn more about how we should talk about adversity as a family and handle the emotional fallout in the next part of this series.