We are starting our six-month coaching group Empowered to Change in January. Most of us probably have spent some time thinking about a few ways we’d like the New Year to be different. Every year, people treat the new year like it’s a magical time where you can start to eat better, sleep better, exercise more, and achieve that long overdue goal. But what if you could write a new chapter to your life story starting now? Maybe nothing in your circumstances changes but what changes is you. And when you change, the story changes. Today’s question is a rewrite of someone’s question because she was stuck in her narrative of what happened to her and she needed some tools to start a new story. Maybe you do too. If that’s you, I’d highly encourage you to check out our group coaching program.
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 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 emailing 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. 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 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.
I want you to think about a few things that might provide a new roadmap toward healing that enables you to start writing a new chapter to your life story.
You say this happened over a year ago and he stalked you for eight months. That’s not much time to heal from this kind of trauma. What makes you feel stuck? What would be different about you right now if you were healed and functioning like the healthy 26-year-old you want to be? Write it down, what does healthy look like to you? For you?
The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “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). Give yourself time to process what happened before feeling impatient with your healing.
Although there is no set time for healing, somewhere in looking at our past problems and even current suffering we stop looking at all the damage and begin to look for the treasures in the darkness (Isaiah 45:3). For example, what might God teach you through this? How might you become stronger because of this? How might this be part of how he uses you in his kingdom work? Oftentimes, the rubble becomes the seedbed for new growth in us.
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). But if you want to mature and become healthy you must decide what you will do with what happen to you. This becomes your turning point and a crucial part of your new story. You get to choose how you are going to respond to this adversity and pain. As the victim or as the shero?
Let me give you a few things you can start to do right now which is taken from chapter 10 in my book, Lord I Just Want to be Happy.
Look for the Meaning or Purpose: While chained 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 write to 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, three questions you can ask yourself that can help you endure and rise are:
1. What strengths have I discovered in myself, or have the opportunity to develop?
2. What lessons have I learned?
3. What have I overcome through this?
Write about these things. Recognize 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 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 than 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 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 suffering can take two tracks. Formative suffering and deformative suffering. Formative 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. Formative suffering helps us find God and our true selves instead of losing our way through life with temporal delights and deceptive thinking. Formative suffering is part of living in a sinful and broken world. Things are not as they should be.
Deformative suffering is our poor response to 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 formative suffering you’re experiencing through this event. But be mindful that it’s a very short walk into deformative suffering because we can’t let go, see the good, control negative thoughts or emotions or forgive the people who hurt us.
Give yourself time to focus on these next few steps and see how your story starts to take a different shape.
Friend, how have you taken control of a story that you didn’t like, but didn’t want to stay powerless or helpless in the midst of it? What did you learn? What was the “before” and “after” once you decided to take back your personal power of deciding how your main character (YOU) were going to walk through your story?
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