Creative Coping In A Fallen WorldRelated Media
Bible.org’s Women’s Leadership Team collaborated on this article which looks at different ways people try to comfort and soothe themselves in the midst of discomfort or outright suffering.
Suffering creates a “knee jerk” response in most of us. Escape, leave, stay busy, keep away. We want to avoid the pain and discomfort suffering causes. Many escape the hurt by substituting or filling their time or placing their focus on other things unrelated to the present distress.
“In the world you will have tribulation.” These are Jesus’ own words written in John 16:33. If you have lived very long you will agree this is true. Common to all our journeys is personal suffering. We experience troubles in our relationships, our health, our safety, and our financial security. Secondhand suffering affects as we watch others we love or the world that God loves suffer. Becoming a Christian does not mean we will not suffer; in fact, Jesus’ own words remind us that we will have troubles. The question before us is not “Will we suffer?” but “How will we handle our suffering?”
Harold Kushner in his foreword to Viktor Frankl’s masterpiece, Man’s Search for Meaning, states, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
I remember a time when my marriage was the root of my suffering. Our relationship was far from fulfilling for either of us. We both were unhappy on different levels of existence. To escape, I looked for ways to avoid thinking or dealing with the core issues. I found myself shopping every day after work, avoiding going home to an empty house. I could invent any excuse to go to the mall or the store. One day I needed new shoes, another day I needed pencils, the next day I might need a new book. Every day provided a new search to find something to pacify me. Ultimately, it was during this time I discovered a relationship with Jesus Christ that changed everything in my life.
However, I first had to learn that Christians suffer, too. Just because I had a new relationship with God, forgiveness of my sin, unconditional love and amazing grace, I still lived on fallen planet earth. On fallen planet earth, Jesus says we will suffer. Growing up in Christ means not seeking to escape our trials, but trusting God will be with us and ultimately use them for our good.
“Some believe, ‘well he went to the Cross for me, he suffered for me, so I’ll never have to suffer’. That’s immature, not biblical and not true. In fact, it’s through the crosses in our lives that we grow. That’s where we find our brokenness, our humility, our self-awareness, our ownership.” (Rev. Philip Jones)
Work Will Save You
Karla D. Zazueta
Loneliness and his sidekick, Depression, preferred to pounce at 6:02 every morning just moments after the alarm sounded. They showed no compassion, never took a day off, and always skulked around together. Where there was one, there was always the other.
Thirty-something and single with only my cat to warm me at night, I flung myself into my architectural work. And how did work repay? It saved me. It motivated me, rewarded me, fulfilled me, and most importantly, distracted me when my personal life crumbled and my two morning nemeses came to play.
How did work magically do all of this?
- Motivated: When stress and disappointment said, “Don’t get up. Press snooze one more time,” the potential loss of a paycheck motivated well. (My cat was certainly not contributing to paying the bills.)
- Rewarded: Paychecks, promotions, bonuses, an impressive title, and status were rewards that felt like soothing salve on raw, emotional wounds.
- Fulfilled: The empty space left by yet another broken relationship was filled to the brim with corporate responsibilities. Who has time for a relationship? I didn’t. Thank you, corporate career. Don’t mess with this “boss lady.”
- Distracted: Boarding a plane week after week for years on end provided much distraction. Distraction from the fact there was no one waiting at home and nothing more than pickles in the fridge and cat food in the cupboard.
“Work, work, work.” That was my morning mantra. Work seemed like a savior. But it could never fix those early morning moments. It could never make my archenemies depart and disappear. They always waited. They always attacked with their lies, “You are alone. No one loves you.” Work only numbed the pain they inflicted in the mornings.
Sure, I did my morning devotions or lunchtime devotions or evening devotions. It wasn’t 6:05 am to 10:00 pm that was the problem. It was those first few minutes of the morning—those first moments of coming to consciousness—that were the problem. Where was my Savior in those moments?
He was there, actually. He had never left. He was just waiting for my independent spirit to ask for his help. So the day his Spirit prompted me to combat those lurking losers with thanksgiving, my new morning mantra became: “Good morning, Lord. Thank you for being here when I go to sleep and when I wake. Thank you for never leaving me alone.” And from 6:00 to 6:05 am my oppressive opponents cowered in the dark as I spoke to the Creator of the light (Genesis 1:3).
Years have passed since those initial thanksgiving mantras began. I am now married and no longer crushing it in the corporate world. But I’m still prone to being a workaholic—to looking for definition and distractions and rewards from the world.
Our Creator made us to work, yes (Genesis 1:28). But he first made us to want him (Genesis 1:27; Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7). You might not have a dynamic duo throwing emotional punches at you every morning. But I know you have your struggles, for our enemy is constantly on the prowl and continuously spreading lies (1 Peter 5:8; John 8:44).
Consider: What are you running from as you race to work each day?
Digging Deeper: In your early morning moments, where do you find hope? From whom do you find help? How have your workaholic habits distracted you from seeking the real Savior?
“In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3 NIV).
“I will sing of your love and justice; to you, LORD, I will sing praise” (Psalm 101:1 NIV).
For he has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5 NET).
Happily Ever After
"And they lived happily ever after." These are the final words of almost every romantic fairy tale. With hopes high we collide with the reality of a world set against this hopeful outcome. Life in a fallen world inevitably encounters disappointment and disillusionment. Hitting that reality check is painful. What do I do, how do I handle the struggle of life in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people, of whom I am one.
A primary place to encounter this reality check often is in our marriage relationships. A common escape from this painful reality seems to be popular fiction, the romance novel. In North America, romance novels are the most popular literary genre, comprising almost 55% of all paperback books sold in 2004. In 2014 this genre comprised the largest group of sales exceeding mystery and nonfiction. The genre is also popular in Europe and Australia, and romance novels appear in 90 languages.
When relationships encounter natural bumps and disappointment it is easy to distract myself from that reality by escaping to the ideal world of fiction. While fiction is an appropriate diversion, it can potentially become an addiction. Romantic fiction also creates an unrealistic model for comparison to my reality. When I hold my husband to the standard of perfection of the unfailing hero I easily become critical and impatient with a living and growing human. After a particularly difficult season of my judgmental attitude, I knew it was time put away those novels and focus on living with my truly good, but human, husband.
I think one of the attractions to the recent series, Downton Abbey, was to experience a time where manners and culture were valued and love triumphed over adversity. It requires personal reflection and discipline to discern when distraction and escape are an appropriate response to daily struggles versus when they become a substitute for living with Jesus in reality.
Living in unreality will impact our relationships with others and with God. Hebrews reminds us that Jesus lived and walked with imperfect people without illusions. He loved without pretending that people were perfect or should be. Maturity will come as we learn from Him and live with eyes and hearts wide open and willing to acknowledge these painful realities, all the while trusting Him. (Job 13:15, Habakkuk 3:17)
The Medication of Sex
My dentist has a wall plaque that reads, “We cater to cowards.” That resonates with me because I am a pain wimp. Honestly, I don’t know too many people who aren’t. Especially those of us privileged to live in a fully developed country, surrounded by unthinkable riches of convenience and comfort—we easily drift into a sense of entitlement to a life free from pain and suffering. And when there is pain and suffering, we feel entitled to do whatever it takes to alleviate it. Or at the very least, distract ourselves from it.
Unfortunately for millions of people worldwide, the go-to choice for medicating pain and suffering is sex. Pornography addiction is a huge and continuously growing problem for both men and women. Both genders can train their brains to need the “rush” of novelty, a new image or a new story that will feed the lust for more. And where there is porn addiction there can often be a masturbation addiction as well, even among those who have never had any sexual experience with another person.
It is easy to train one’s brain into a cycle of addiction or, at the very least, bad habits. It starts with being triggered by a dependable band of “bad boys”:
Health (feeling bad or unhealthy. When we’re sick we are more open to temptation.)
Any of these feelings drive us to seek relief in the form of some kind of medication. (That’s what this article is about.) It doesn’t have to be chemical medication; anything that provides pleasure and relief works.
Then there is a movement from the desire to find relief to the decision to do something about it. Then there is the movement to move toward the action that will secure the pleasure and relief we look for. The action that moves one toward sexual expression is itself a form of medicine, and it’s like a train leaving the station.
At the culmination of sexual expression, endorphins are released in the brain that produce a sense of pleasure, euphoria, or peace. These chemicals are extremely powerful, which makes sex a substance use issue when the sex is outside of God’s plans for human beings. Not too long afterwards, the high from the endorphin release turns into a low when the brain chemicals are absorbed into the body. This can lead to guilt and shame, negative emotions that beg for relief . . . and one is back at the beginning of the cycle again.
Sex is intended to serve like Superglue, welding together the souls of one man and one woman in a safe, lifelong commitment of marriage. Anything outside of God’s plan will eventually cause problems, including when people use sex (whether solo sex or with a partner) to medicate the effects of living in a fallen world.
Self-Medicating For What Ails Us
In my profession as a hospital chaplain, I see many people who are in extreme physical pain. There’s recovery from surgeries, treatment of chronic conditions, serious accidents, and terminal illnesses to name a few. In the hospital, a primary goal is to alleviate pain by healing the patient when that is possible. During the healing and recovery process, one of the objectives of the medical team is to keep the patient comfortable. Comfort is the chief priority of the patient, family, and medical team.
There is even an area of medicine known as palliative care. Palliative care is comfort care. Most of the time palliative care is chosen when all other options have been exhausted, and in some cases, in conjunction with ongoing treatment. However, the highest goal of palliative care is comfort.
Looking beyond the walls of the hospital there is also a great deal of pain, but this pain cannot be seen through the curtains of the Intensive Care Unit or lying in a patient bed. This pain is internal in the heart and mind of a person. In a fallen world, people are looking for palliative care for the soul.
There is a laundry list of things which can cause pain for an individual; relationship issues, financial stresses, job-related stress, abuse of any kind, unresolved emotional issues, depression, etc. You could add multiple things to this list if you thought about it.
And what do we want when we are in pain? Just like the patients in the hospital, we want relief. We desire comfort. And we want it now. For the believer in Christ, Scripture contains riches for the hurting. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalms 34:18) “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me.” (John 14:1) “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) These are just three of the wealth of verses that can ease a troubled mind.
But as we know, God sometimes does not work instantly. He is not a cosmic vending machine where we insert a prayer or recite a scripture and out pops an answer. Our pain may linger long after our prayers for help have been offered. What to do then? In this fallen world, we have many options.
When an answer or relief doesn’t come immediately, what do we do then? We self-medicate. How do we do that? Many times, it is in the form of a substance. A variety of substances are readily available and anyone can get their hands on something to numb the pain. This usually comes in the form of alcohol or drugs. Many times these are drugs prescribed by our own doctor. The current opiate crisis comes as no surprise.
We can have a drink (or two, or three…) or take a pill. After a matter of moments, we feel better. Moments! Wow, that was fast and it works! The problem is once you sober up, the pain and the problem is still there. Many times, the situation may even be worse. And it doesn’t take long at all for that pattern to become a full-out addiction. If you’ve ever witnessed a family member or loved one (even if you are the addicted person) you know what damage occurs. Many times, the addiction can take the life of the person. If you’re a family member of an addict, you have emotional scar tissue that remains for life.
All this because we self-medicated with a substitute for real healing. God’s word gives us this promise, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
By relying on Scripture and prayer, then following the guidance we receive, we can heal. Our pain can be replaced by comfort. It is not quick. God many times leads us through deep water and sometimes years of healing to achieve His purposes in our life. But know this: God is the Great Economist. He never wastes anything. Your pain and discomfort is not fruitless and will be part of your story, a story you can use to encourage others as they walk their journey. God’s word compels us by Paul’s words, “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
My dear reader, allow God to heal your pain and bring you comfort in whatever way He will. Let your trust be in the Lord, not in yourself. You are loved and created in His image. He is sufficient. Ultimate palliative care is found in God alone.