Better advice for those in a painful season of life

We’ve all been in seasons of life that we wish would get canceled like a bad sitcom. Poof. Over with. Done. Moving on to the next season. Unfortunately, life isn’t usually as quick to pull the plug on a painful season.

Painful seasons of life also come with well intended advice and maxims from our family, friends, classmates, pastors and so on. Common words of “wisdom” offered to a soul in a dark valley often go like this:

“You just got to let it go…it is what it is…put it behind you…stop caring so much”

It’s likely that I have offered similar words of “encouragement” to people. However, I’ve learned through the years that these words don’t always lead to peace, comfort or relief. Usually, they produce is apathy, disillusionment, and bitterness. What if there is a better approach than just letting go or accepting painful circumstances with the mantra, “It is what it is”? I think there is.

Here are four suggestions to those who like me have been through or are going through a season of life that isn’t what you dreamed it would be.

1) Instead of letting go, give it up. Coming to grips that we are unable to control much of our life is a healthy and wise realization. However, just “letting go” doesn’t change your reality. I believe a wiser approach is to “give it” to your Heavenly Father. This may seem as if I’m over-simplifying or over-spiritualizing matters, but consider this. When we, by faith, acknowledge God as the Sovereign King of the universe – and thus our lives, it produces hope. Hope that though we are not in control, He is in control. Though we don’t see the future ahead, He does. Just chalking things up to cosmic fate may work as a bandaid to a hurting soul in the moment, but it just leads to despair and hopelessness later on.

2) It is as it shouldn’t be. Pain, suffering, depression, poverty and injustice are the result of a sinful and broken world. “It is what it is” implies that what is broken around us is broken for no reason at all except that it is broken. Recognizing that what is broken around us “Is not as it should be” reminds me that there is a reason and purpose – even for the pain we experience in life. The reason is sin and the purpose is to point us to a Savior. C.S. Lewis acknowledged this when he wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” This point of view doesn’t change my circumstances, but it does change how I see them.

3) What is behind me isn’t nearly as important as what is before me. Moving on can be very helpful and wise when we’re in a unhealthy relationship or a miserable job. But what are you moving towards? Just moving on might result in making the same mistakes over and over. Moving toward the One who knows and plans the future leads to delight and wisdom. It also means we don’t have to hang our heads in guilt and shame. I love how David looked to the future with faith in his Heavenly Father:
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life…and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Psalm 138:7-8.

4) Keep caring…for others. It’s amazing how quickly anxiety leaves me when I turn my focus from my burden, to another’s burden. When you find yourself praying for others you quickly forget your own problems. When you leverage your pain to empathize with a friend – the pain has purpose. Nothing helps heal the pain of abuse like coming along the abused and offering a hand thats says, “I understand”. Your failure can become the pathway to success for someone else.

It’s okay and even good to desire for a new reality. Pray for the painful season in your life to come to an end. While you do, lean into the goodness, sovereignty and faithfulness of your Father in Heaven. He’s at work making you a glorious testimony of His mercy for the ages to come. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

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