Good evening friends,
I’d appreciate your prayers as I had out to Illinois this weekend to speak for the East Lynn Women’s Retreat on Saturday. I will stop by my family’s home in Chicago for Sunday and Monday and I’m looking forward to visiting with my mom who had surgery last Friday. Please pray for her if you think of it. Her name is Alice and she’s battling a staph infection.
Today’s Question:A year ago I finally escaped an emotionally abusive relationship with a young man who proceeded to stalk me for 8 months after I told him to get lost. I was never dating him or even interested. He was merely needy and I was kind. As soon as I realized what he wanted (a codependent girl), I told him “absolutely not.”
Out of anger, he attempted to blackmail, emotionally abuse, and stalk me for 8 months. I am e-mailing you because although this was a long time ago and have tried to work through the pain and fear with God and two different counselors, the pain has never gone away and the fear is something I carry into every relationship.
I want to be free, but sometimes all I see is this: the older adults who didn’t believe that this was happening and didn’t raise a finger, my roommate (who let him into my house), and my Christian community who gossiped, hated, or remained aloof instead of helping. Often my emotional energy is exhausted from trying to take care of myself and trying to be a healthy, firm woman. I am 26 years old. I don’t know if you can help me. The last counselor I went to told me that this happened because I was sinful. I AM sinful. But this runs in another vein as well I think. Can you give me any steps to become healthy again?
Answer: I am so sorry that your counseling experience wasn’t more helpful and that one of your counselors even told you it this happened to you because of your own sin. It reminds me of one of Job’s friends. Job didn’t find that kind of advice helpful either.
Let me ask you to think about a few things that might provide a roadmap toward your continued healing.
Believe me, there is a time for breaking down and needing support and comfort for what happened to you. You wrote that this happened a year ago and he stalked you for eight months. That isn’t that much time that has passed from this kind of trauma. So help me understand what makes you feel stuck?
Ask yourself what would be different about you right now if you were healed and functioning like a healthy 26 year old? You say that’s what you’re trying to do but what does that look like to you?
The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “there is a time to break down” but he added that there is “a time to build up. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together (Ecclesiastes 3:3-5).
Sometimes people find that the worst of times also become the seed bed of the best of times. Although for each person it may take a different amount of time, somewhere in our past problems and even current suffering we need to rise out of the rubble in order to not only cope with what has happened to us, but learn to thrive again.
This is where you start to have a say in what kind of story you are writing about your life. We don’t always understand that we play a very significant role in our own healing process. We can’t always control what happens to us (as you have experienced first hand), but if we want to mature and become healthy people, we must decide what we do with what happen to us. This is the most important part of our story. How you choose to respond to this adversity not only reveals your character, it will shape it.
Let me give you a few things to try which are taken from chapter 10 in my book, Lord I Just Want to be Happy
Look for the Meaning or Purpose: While changed up in prison, the apostle Paul wrote of a very difficult experience and said that it served to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12-13). Paul felt real pain and suffering, but his pain was put in perspective by understanding some of God’s purposes in it.
I want you to write about what happened to you for 15 minutes for four consecutive days. But don’t just vent. As you write, look to make sense of the causes and consequences of what happened. Every day dig a little deeper to extract the diamonds from the rubble. Write a new ending to an old story or close a chapter on an open wound. Let yourself see it in a new way.
Look for the Benefits: When going through a tough time, two questions we can ask ourselves that can help us endure are:
1. What strengths have I discovered in myself, or have the opportunity to develop?
2. What lessons have I learned?
Write about these things. Realize that your experience wasn’t wasted. You will be a stronger person not in spite of, but because of what happened to you. The apostle Paul reminds us that “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
Look for the Good: Although what happened to you was bad, if you look hard enough you might be able to find some elements of good to it. A woman who had recently lost her son in a tragic accident told me, “I’m thankful he didn’t suffer. I’m thankful he died doing something he loved. I’m grateful for so many friends who are helping me through this time of loss.” Although this woman suffered the loss of her only child, looking for the good helped her move through it in a better way then if she only looked at all the negative things.
Much of how we feel about life comes from the way we look at it. Consider this poem by Frederick Langbridge:
Two men look out the same prison bars.
One sees mud, and the other stars.
Both men were in prison, mud and stars were equally present, but I think the man who focused on the stars felt happier than the man who only saw mud. You may feel like your life is a prison and that you have a life sentence. There is no erasing your circumstances or what happened to you but how respond to them and see them now will impact your levels of well-being, not only emotionally, but mentally, spiritually, relationally, and physically.
I want you to understand that there are two types of suffering, necessary suffering and unnecessary suffering. Necessary suffering is important. It helps us grieve our losses and deal with our pain. It is used by God to teach us what’s important and to help us grow up and let go of foolish things. Necessary suffering helps us find God and our true selves instead of losing our way through life with temporal delights and deceptive thinking. Necessary suffering is part of living in a sinful and broken world. Things are not as they should be.
Unnecessary suffering is our poor response to necessary suffering. It rises out of our unrealistic expectations, the lies we believe, our bad habits, and our negative emotions such as self-pity, envy, greed, jealousy, resentment, unforgiveness, pride, and shame.
Don’t short circuit the necessary suffering you’re experiencing through this event. But be mindful that it’s a very short walk into unnecessary suffering because we can’t let go, see the good, control negative thoughts or emotions or forgive the people who hurt us.
Try these steps and let me know how you’re doing. Let me know. I care about you.
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