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What's Going Well? What's not?

In Dr. Henry Cloud's excellent book, Necessary Endings, he includes a chapter entitled, "Hoping Versus Wishing: The Difference Between What's Worth Fixing and What Should End." At a recent staff meeting, our Associate Minister, Dave Faust, asked each of us to consider the following. Prior to the pandemic and social distancing, what things in our lives were going well? And what things weren’t working? This made me think—how do we determine what things are worth fixing and what should end? When do we cling to hope and when should we give up?

I've always believed that I should never give up. Even when I played basketball (which was a long time ago) if my team was down by twenty points with two minutes left in the game, I always believed there could be a miraculous turnaround, and we could come out on top. To me giving up was a sign of weakness and hopelessness, and it even seemed contrary to the way of Christ. The Bible does say, after all, "The one who . . . perseveres . . . will be blessed in his doing" (James 1:25).

On October 29, 1941, at the Harrow School commencement ceremony, Winston Churchill addressed the student body and said, "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up." I think he meant it. But even Churchill recognized that there are times when you need to close a door, end a chapter, or bring things to end, because later in the same speech, he said, "Never give in . . . except to convictions of honor and good sense."

The challenge is knowing when it makes good sense to shut the business down, go ahead and retire, change jobs, or even end a relationship. As Dr. Cloud puts it, "To hold on to `hope' when what you really have is merely a wish is to fail to grasp reality." In hard decisions where we are attempting to discern the difference between hope and a wish, we need to get to the "hopeless moment," where we acknowledge that more of the same does not bring change. When you hit rock bottom, whether it be in a dead-end job, an addiction, or a relationship, it's typically only at that moment that you realize you are utterly hopeless in your own strength and circumstances to turn things around. You can wish your spouse would change or your addictions would go away, but you finally come to the realization that YOU have to change and move forward in your life either in a new environment, business, or direction.

Life decisions are tough. If they were easy, everybody would be moving forward with great enthusiasm in their careers and marriages. Fortunately, for us, we don't have to make those decisions alone. We have the Spirit who guides us into all truth (John 16:13). We have a community of Christ-followers who will encourage and build us up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), even when it means listening to hard truth delivered in love (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 4:15). And we also have the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), which implies that we're willing to read it and apply it to our lives.

Since we’ve all been forced to do things a little differently right now, and many have been faced with the hard decision of whether to keep something going or give it a nice burial, be sure that you're looking at the foundation for your hope. Is it wishful thinking, or have you reached that "hopeless moment," where you know you can't do it on your own? When you reach that point, then you're in the best possible position, because whether the decision is to turn things around or bring them to a close, you are doing so through the leading of the Holy Spirit and the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

"For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).

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I Don't Want To Do This Anymore!

Okay. I admit it. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m ready for this to be over. I’m ready to get back to “normal.” How about you?

We all respond differently to stressful times, and the COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful time multiplied by 100. As this pandemic drags on, many are facing unemployment, illness, death of loved ones, e-learning, or family dysfunctions that have erupted at a higher level than ever before.

And how do some respond? According to the CDC website, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones.
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.
  • Worsening of mental health conditions.
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

The toll on Americans is becoming both palpable and quantifiable. Karestan Koenan, professor at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, cited a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey in which 19 percent of respondents said the current crisis has had a “major impact” on their mental health.

In the Old Testament, we read a story about the great prophet Elijah who called down fire from heaven and who, by God’s power, defeated the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). The very next chapter, however, we see Elijah’s faith crumple in fear.  

“Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, `It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:3-4, ESV).

During this pandemic, there are times my faith has given way to fear. Maybe yours has, too. When Elijah was faltering, God was imparting, and He has been doing that ever since. First, God imparted a messenger to help (1 Kings 19:5). One of the roles of the church is to be messengers of God’s help and grace in times of stress and difficulty.

Second, God imparted His presence (1 Kings 19:11-13). God appeared to Elijah, not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in a gentle whisper. Like Elijah, we need to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10) and find our strength and solace in Him.

Third, God imparted a calling (1 Kings 19:15). God told Elijah to go and serve, for He was not finished with him yet. When we have purpose, we have focus and direction. We may not know how everything will pan out, but we know God is laying out a plan for our lives and future.

You are not alone. When you find your faith faltering and fear rising, turn to the God of comfort, help and strength. Be willing to receive messengers in your life who can help. Be open through prayer, rest, God’s Word and Spirit to receive His presence. Be focused on the purpose God has for you, because, as was the case with Elijah, God is not finished with you yet.

If you would like to check out some helpful resources, go to www.east91st.org/counselingresources.

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