“I can’t live with her gone!” “I don’t recognize this violent nation!” “Stop these panic attacks!” As a Biblical therapist, I listen to angry people, sorrowful people, and many individuals struggling through their worst trials. When my teaching career ended after a routine surgery gone awry, I was left in pain and depressed. Thanks to the encouragement of others, I decided to get parallel degrees in counseling and biblical studies. Since then, I’ve been better able to offer encouragement and hope, while also finding encouragement and hope myself.
Now, quite a few years into my ministry, I can see God’s hand in every step of my journey, and I treasure and use every bit of wisdom he has shared with me. When people are hurting, confused, or just stuck, I share God’s hope to help them shake off the grip of negativity, by walking the following four avenues.
Hope returns when we let God be God
Many of my clients over-fix (admittedly, I struggle with this too). We shoulder the problems of friends, family members, and colleagues, rarely saying “no” to their requests. This intensifies stress as we over-commit and find ourselves overwhelmed.
One strategy for moving from overwhelmed to hopeful comes from Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ,” and from Galatians 6:5, “For each one should carry their own load.” How do these seemingly conflicting passages play out in my own life? Before I “fix” a problem for my daughter Cory, I need to ask myself, “Is this something that she can and should handle by herself?” If it is, I need to politely tell her so. When I carry a friend or family member’s load, I enable her to evade responsibility, and I tamper with God’s design. Fixing or enabling overburdens me because it usurps God’s role. Yet, God loves me, and he invites me to surrender that role back to him and retrieve our hope.
Hope comes from reaching out in kindness
When we stop carrying loads for those who can and should carry their own, we find extra time and energy. With that, we can help a friend carry a burden that needs multiple bearers, or simply reach out to others with acts of kindness. This could be as small as smiling at an overworked cashier or a harried mom. I encourage a client (we’ll call him Mike) to try this. When he does, Mike says, “I told my waiter – in earnest, ‘You’re doing a great job.’ His face lit up. I don’t think anyone has ever said a nice word to him on the job.” Danni (name changed) is a client overcoming grief. She agrees to try an act of kindness. “My neighbor Peggy is elderly. She can’t drive, and I rarely see her out of the house.” Danni reports back the following week with a smile. “Peggy was relieved to have a ride to the store. I took her shopping, and we got ice cream. She hugged me tightly, and she agreed to go to church with me this Sunday.” Kind words or a small act of kindness lift the spirits of those around us. The responses from our kindness to others, in return, fill our hearts with hope.
Hope comes when we convert grumbles to gratitude
Another way that I encourage my clients (and my own family) to shake off the grip of negativity and find hope is to keep a gratitude journal. I distribute I am Grateful Journals to friends and family members. I take out the journal at dinner time and review my day with my family, and we share three blessings or things we found particularly cool that day. This changes my focus from grumbling about an irritation to the good things about the day. By making gratefulness a habit, my focus changes from negativity toward hope.
Hope comes from expert assistance
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of treatment that helps people problem solve. It allows my clients to conquer difficult situations by changing the way they think and act. I incorporate Philippians 4:8 as a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy technique for changing despair to hope. The verse says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” It inspires us to stop ruminating on painful things.
It’s important to connect with someone we trust (pastor, therapist, counselor, social worker, nun) in a safe environment and process our pain, grief, and trauma. In between and post-processing, we should concentrate on positive things like beautiful sunsets and children laughing. It tells us to stop brooding about the mistakes we’ve made and look preferably toward the noble things that we do. Instead of concentrating on falsehoods and rumors, meditate on the truth by sharing a devotional or Bible study with friends.
Hope diminishes when trials and misfortune linger, but we don’t have to allow hope to disappear. We amplify hope by quelling the urge to “over-fix,” and allowing friends and family to carry their own loads. We increase that hope by dumping the grumbles in favor of gratitude. Hope magnifies when we turn away from pain and malice and focus on everything true, noble, lovely, and praiseworthy. We can find something beautiful every day to walk toward. After all, today only happens once. Let’s live it joyfully.