Strategies for surviving and thriving in difficult seasons

by Ryan and Laura Barr.

I asked my good friends Ryan and Laura, veteran missionaries to the persecuted church in Asia, what strategies they might suggest for people who are navigating hard times. No strangers to pressure, isolation and disruption – Ryan and Laura offer these helpful and hopeful strategies for surviving and thriving in difficult seasons.

After nearly a decade living and serving amongst the persecuted church in Asia, we faced our share of difficult seasons. Riots, earthquakes, medical evacuations, isolation from family and friends, and being forced to leave people we love are just a few of the headlines. Many people are facing their own difficult season of life right now due to COVID-19, or some other circumstance. Whether it is job uncertainty because of the shutdown, or the emotional and mental fatigue of having young children and nowhere to go – life might be hard for you right now. Here are a few strategies that we learned along the way that might be helpful and hopeful for those struggling through any challenging season.

  1. Acknowledge the pain of the moment. Grieve what you have lost or are losing. We get it. This is not the American way. We are all taught to just utter, “I’m fine” and move along. Here is what we’ve learned though: In our hard times, people telling us “encouraging things” was usually very discouraging. The best encouragement often came from someone who would just acknowledge the situation for how it was. Pretending that things are fine and good, when they are not, isn’t healthy and can actually be harmful. It is okay to grieve and trust God with your sadness.
  2. Lean into your discomfort and weakness. We are all prone to escapism. That is, we just want to ignore or numb the pain of the moment. However, the Apostle Paul reminds us that His (Jesus) power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) Hard moments often give us an opportunity to reflect on our lives. We sometimes discover sin and weakness we did not even know existed. This is a great opportunity to allow your Heavenly Father to do His refining work in you. It might even give you an opportunity to gently help others along in their journey. However, we must make an intentional choice to evaluate ourselves, spend time in God’s Word, pray and seek wise counsel.
  3. Choose to be Grateful. Our attitude and reactions are choices. In hard times, choosing gratitude can help you reframe your attitude and perspective. Beginning each day with what you are thankful for, especially the small things – sunshine, colors in the trees, hot water, or running electricity at all for that matter –can alter your perspective for the good.
  4. Be mindful of your mental and spiritual diet. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul tells us to “Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.” It is critical during seasons of difficulty to fill your mind with truth, and to be vigilant in filtering out of your mind and heart what is untrue.
  5. Create. It is natural and even normal to consume. We all have emotional, physical and spiritual needs. But do not forget – God made us to create. If you (or your kids) are sitting around only consuming things, whether that be food, media, entertainment, even books, but you’re not creating or working toward a goal of doing something meaningful, that will begin to have a negative effect on how you’re feeling. Rather than growing through the circumstance, you risk a part of you going backwards or potentially becoming emotionally and spiritually numb. Cook. Paint. Plant a garden. Build something. Write something. Create something.
  6. Extend grace–to yourself and others. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. (James 1:19) There is always more going on in someone’s life than meets the eye. This includes your family members. Stress creates opportunities for all of us to demonstrate our worst. When we are at our worst, that is when we need grace the most. The same is true for our neighbors. Cut yourself some slack. Not in pacifying sin, but in thinking you can do everything and be everything. You cannot and were never meant to.
  7. Manage expectations. Unmet expectations might just be the underlying issue to your conflict and burnout. In raw, challenging and new seasons, be mindful of expectations you have of yourself and others. For example, what might be perceived as relational tension in marriage may just be stress caused by outward circumstances. Be slow to make snap judgments. Circling back to the beginning – for married folks navigating hard times together, acknowledge the situation, but don’t take it out on each other. Unify as a team against the problem, not each other.

None of this is easy. But it too shall one day pass. God is faithful And He is making all things new, including you.

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