Far from Whole
6 Steps to Find Hope in the Midst of Pain
Far from Whole (And Far from Home)
Your healing is far from over, and so is your journey home (to Heaven). So, how do you keep holding onto your faith when God feels a million miles away and eternally slow to respond to your prayers?
This article is for the person who has had their soul crushed, their trust violated, and/or their heart broken. I pray the following words will help you feel less alone, and encourage you to keep trusting God, even when the world doesn’t make sense.
How Do I Move On?
I received a heart-breaking email earlier today, as I was preparing to write this blog post. Here’s a snippet from the email:
“The isolation of this past year has only added to my depression and anxiety. I have been so ashamed of my actions, and embarrassed by what I did. I don’t know how to forgive myself and get past the shame and guilt…”
Sound at all familiar?
It’s been one hellacious year, and if you live with mental illness or chronic illness, the loneliness that seems to drag on forever can literally kill you.
In times like this, Thomas the disciple comes to mind. In John 11, the disciples are trying to keep Jesus from going to Jerusalem and getting killed. Young Thomas is the only one who speaks up and basically says, “Let’s go with him and die with him if it comes to that.”
However, as Thomas watches the crucifixion of his friend and teacher, Jesus, he’s presented with a crisis of faith.
Maybe you feel much the same way. You were raised with a strong faith. You’ve been doing your best to live the best life you can. And then tragedy and trauma and grief wrecked your sweet little Sunday school narrative. I’m so deeply sorry. It happened to me, too.
That same email writer asked the following questions [edited for clarity and to protect their confidence]:
How do I move on from trying to die by suicide?
How do I rebuild relationships I’ve broken?
How do I move on from the painful memories?
Recovery Lasts a Lifetime
I’ve said it a million times before: we’re all recovering from something. Whether it’s mental illness, a breakdown, sexual assault, addiction, betrayal, religious abuse, disappointment, family dysfunction...the list goes on and on. Many of us are recovering from things some people cannot even imagine.
So what do you do when you’re in the middle of the mess, desperate for healing, but there seems to be no happy ending in sight?
The tough news is this: you’re going to be here a while. For Thomas the disciple, those three days between the murder and resurrection of Jesus must have felt like an eternity. Even now, when healing doesn’t happen on our timetable, we’re left with a pile of doubt and discomfort.
The best news? I believe there are six universal steps to find hope in the midst of pain.
6 Steps to Find Hope in the Midst of Pain:
Realize that this is going to last a long time.
Healing doesn’t usually happen overnight, so keep holding on. In order to keep holding on, you might need the expertise of a therapist or other medical or mental health professional.
Hear me: God sits with you in the midst of the pain, because it all matters. So let’s not skip the enduring to get to the surviving or thriving. Sometimes you’re just trying to make it through the next hour. And that’s okay.
Embrace difficult emotions.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to trauma and healing. We tend to try and rush through our sadness in order to get to joy, and many of us run from things like lament altogether. But true healing requires that we walk through the process and sit with our feelings for a while. Even strong emotions like anger are still messengers, informing you that a particular experience is important. Emotions come with this standard message, “This matters.” Listen to your emotions and learn from the experience so you don’t have to repeat the lesson again.
Detox your toxic relationships.
For a relationship to be healthy, both parties must feel safe. To be safe, we must first feel seen, heard, and accepted. Safety doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with us; it might not even mean someone fully understands you. But it does mean they’ll take the time to try.
If a person or organization doesn’t respect and cherish you, you have permission to detox them from your life. Yes, this includes your parents, church, and marriage.
Heal your image of self.
Welcome to my soapbox, friend. We’re going to be here a minute, so you might want to take your shoes off and grab a drink.
Have people labeled you and boxed you in? What would it feel like to live the life you choose, rather than the life others think you should live? People try to slap all sorts of labels on us, and we get pretty good at putting ourselves in boxes. But it’s who we are beneath the noise and unrealistic expectations that really counts. Once you become fully aware of yourself by clarifying your goals, feelings, and beliefs, you can begin to live into your true self.
That may sound a little scary. But can I remind you that uncovering the truth of your being takes a long time? Just remember, God calls you beloved. You are already enough, no matter what the haters, critics, and naysayers may tell you.
This week, if you catch yourself being harsh with yourself, trying pausing and interrupting the cycle. Don’t double down by being harsh about your harshness! (“Ugh, there I go again, being a jerk to myself; I really suck at self-compassion.”) Instead, try saying, “No wonder I am this way. Anyone would be. I’m glad I’ve started learning a different way.”
Heal your image of God.
Richard Rohr famously said, “Your image of God creates you. Your image of God creates you. Your image of God creates you.” And he’s right.
If your view of God is rooted in fear, shame, and guilt, you’re likely going to fall prey to performance-based Christianity and fear-based theology. You’ll probably think your outward behavior is the most important thing. And you’ll picture God more like a celestial Santa Claus, making his list and checking it twice, seeing who's been naughty, and who needs to work a little harder next year.
But what if you reimagined a God of loving-kindness and inclusion? How might it change your life to imagine a God who looks more like Jesus?
Exposing (and Healing) Our Wounds
Remember our friend, Thomas? So brave in the face of danger. And equally crushed by the traumatic crucifixion of Jesus.
But I love how the story ends, with Jesus meeting Thomas where he was, the son of God being willing to expose his wounds in order for Thomas to feel safe enough to expose his own fears and doubts. That’s the God I’ve come to know since I started recovering from the very worst day of my life. I pray you find a God like mine, too.
God, please help my friend. The waves are crashing all around them, and they feel like the disciples in a storm-tossed boat, wondering where the hell You are. Have mercy. Send comfort. Remind them that You will never leave or forsake us, even when our finite minds would tell us otherwise. Give my friend the courage to trust you, to find a solid inner circle, and to seek professional help, when necessary. May they rest in Your love today and always. Amen.
For a quick (and FREE) exercise on healing your self-image:
Join the Faith + Mental Health Book Club: Great books. Healing conversations. Safe community.
For the month of April, sign up for my premier course, Emotional Health 101, for just $47. A $50 savings!
Read a free sample of my upcoming book, Hiding in the Pews: Shining a Light on Mental Illness in the Church.
*Portions of this blog post are from my upcoming book, Slow Miracles: A Daily Companion for Healing from Trauma and Loss. Publishing: January 4, 2021, with Broadleaf Books. You can find more information at catchingyourbreath.com/books today.
Announcing: Thrive and Cultivate Summit
I’m thrilled to let you know about this free summit I get to speak at later on in May called Thrive & Cultivate: A Mental Health Summit for Church Leaders!
This summit is all about how to care for yourself, support your team, and lend a helping hand to your congregation’s mental health needs.
As you know, I think mental health as ministry is an incredibly important topic, so I’m grateful to be partnering with an organization that finds value in talking about the topic openly.
Sometimes ministry is hard, and that’s a healthy and okay thing to admit. What’s not healthy is pretending that it’s a walk in the park all the time. We want to equip you with teaching and tools to help you on this journey of ministry and mental health.
Here are the details:
When: May 21-22, 2021
Where: The Internet
How Much: FREE!
Registration opens TODAY. This conference is going to be so life-giving and I want to give you plenty of time to receive your free ticket. All you have to do is visit this link to register.
If you can’t make it on May 21-22, there is a Replay Pass available for purchase. This allows you to view the summit for up to six months after the initial summit dates for only $27. This includes a workbook and some other great mental health resources from myself and the rest of the Thrive & Cultivate team. This price will go up as time goes on, so get the pass at its lowest price while you can!
I hope to see you at Thrive & Cultivate,