Peace, Who Am I Now, Words of Endurance

Few of us like the out-of-control feeling that comes with change, but life is rarely as predictable or controllable as we would like. Our health fails, a loved one dies, a relationship is broken, a job ends. One moment we feel safe, secure, and in control. We know who we are and how we fit into life. The next moment everything changes. We’re unable to manage our time, activities, relationships, emotions, and decisions. We lose our sense of identity and purpose. We feel helpless, confused, and scared.

Changes that limit our ability to “call the shots” in daily life often have a dramatic impact. After discovering her husband’s secret drug addiction, one nurse said, “I went from making critical, life-saving decisions on a daily basis to not being able to decide which shoes to wear. I felt completely incapacitated.” The inability to make daily decisions and the uncertainty of not being able to function “normally” can threaten our well-being and sense of identity.

Jan Dravecky remembers fighting to hang onto control – to hang onto her life and identity as she had known it – while her life spiraled out of control. “Each time I’d get knocked down,” she write in A Joy I’d Never Known, “I’d say, ‘Okay, I’m going to be strong'” Like a weary prizefighter, “I would pull myself up by my own power, by my own strength. But I couldn’t stand up under the unceasing blows: Dave’s cancer, his retirement, his recurrent illness, my parents’ deaths, Paul’s (a close friend) suicide, our unrelenting schedule. Finally, I told God, “I can’t do it anymore. I can’t do this.'”

Most of us, like Jan, don’t surrender control until we have no other option until we’re at the end of our rope.

Although surrendering control is never easy, the benefits are more than worth it. When we finally surrender, when we admit to God that we aren’t in control, that we no longer know who we are, and that we need His help, something amazing happens. Peggy, a recovering cardiac bypass patient, describes it as an immediate feeling of relief. “As soon as you give up the situation, a complete peace washes over you,” she says. “You realize that God is in control, He is good, and He will take care of you. You can relax and rest in His protection, knowing that He is in total control.”

Jan agrees. The more she surrendered control to God and let Him work out the problems and show her who He created her to be, the more she saw that God could do a better job with her life than she could. “I’m so glad that my life didn’t follow my plan, that it followed God’s,” she writes. “Things turned out so much better than I would have planned them.”

Even so, surrendering control isn’t a one-time event. “The peace that comes from giving your situation to God can come and go,” Peggy explains. “It’s like scrambled eggs. You have to work to keep them from running all over the frying pan! It takes a conscious effort to keep your anxious thoughts and worries corralled and surrendered to God.”

It not only takes work to surrender control to God, it takes courage, especially if you’re a “recovering control freak” like Jan. She knows that God wants us to trust Him outside of the plan we have for our lives, but that’s a scary step. Life becomes an adventure when you give up control, Jan says, “because you don’t know what God is going to do next.” Yet she can say with confidence that “everywhere He has led us has ultimately been what is best for us and for His kingdom.”

Despite the feelings of uncertainty, giving up control enables us to receive untold blessings. We benefit from God’s companionship because giving up control requires ongoing communication with Him. We receive God’s peace because we let Him carry our burdens. We find God’s rest because we can trust Him to work out the master plan for our lives. Plus we learn to walk confidently in our true identity of God’s children, an identity that is unchanged by the winds of adversity.


Healing, Who Am I Now, Words of Endurance

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
1 John 3:1

As a psychologist and hospital chaplain, Dr. Ari Shreffler was well aware of the challenges of battling advanced colon cancer. No academic training or clinical experience, however, could prepare her for the impact cancer would have on her personal life. First, she dealt with the radical surgery that left her with a permanent ileostomy. For months, aggressive chemotherapy and radiation rendered her completely exhausted and bedridden. Then a long and difficult recovery robbed her of what little energy she had, leaving her with nothing to give to her husband and sons.

As she reflects back on the losses of her battle with cancer, Dr. Shreffler views the loss of time with her family – especially the irreplaceable time lost with her 13 and 15-year-old sons – as a far greater loss than the physical loss of her colon. Losing one’s colon is indeed a difficult, life-changing event, but being unable to function as a mother was absolutely devastating.

Many people, especially those who are still raising children, have a similar experience. As one mother said, “You simply aren’t available for all of their needs, events, questions, celebrations, and growing pains. You know that those precious moments are gone forever, but there is no way to make up the time that is lost.” The inability to function in these very important areas of life is a crushing blow.

Whenever we lose the ability to function and carry out our daily duties and responsibilities or to participate in the activities that give us a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, our self-worth takes a beating. We live in a world where our worth is often measured by what we do, so our failure to produce or perform – regardless of the reason – is synonymous with failure. And often that failure translates into a crippling feeling of worthlessness.

But God has a completely different point of view. He doesn’t measure our worth in terms of our productivity. Instead, He bases our worth on something that cannot change – our heritage as His offspring. Just as parents love and value their children regardless of the child’s physical emotional, or spiritual state, God’s love and perception of our worth never changes. It doesn’t matter whether we are whole or broken, functioning or floundering. We are still God’s children, make in His glorious image. Our value to God cannot be diminished. This truth is an anchor that holds secure no matter how fiercely the storms of adversity swirl around us.

Dr. Shreffler learned, however, that the truth of worth doesn’t always filter down to our sense of worth. At any given time there may be a vast difference between our God-given worth and our feelings of worth. Part of the reason is because God designed us to work and be productive. In Genesis 2:15, God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it, to take care of it. When we are unable to work, to take care of the things God has given us to do, it is understandable that we feel a sense of loss. What’s difficult for us to remember is that we have experienced a loss of work not of worth. Although we may view our worth in terms of our work, God doesn’t. He always views our worth in terms of our position as His children, and that never changes.

Because of our perspective rather than God’s perspective, it’s quite natural to struggle with our sense of self-worth after we suffer a loss of our ability to work. Dr. Shreffler did. Dave Dravecky did. But what a liberating discovery it is as Dave says, “to learn that our true worth is found in who we are, not in what we do.”

As Dr. Shreffler grew to trust the God who loved and valued her unconditionally, a whole new world opened up for her. She still had overwhelming losses to grieve. She still had a long list of things she could not do, but she discovered that she could always choose to focus on the God who promises to one day redeem all of our losses. By changing her focus, she discovered something else:
“If we allow God to take what we have and use it for His glory, even with all of the losses and all of the pain, He will do amazing things – things we could never imagine! It’s really not about us; it’s about HIm. I’ve needed to learn to come out of myself and allow myself to be a lowly servant of God. If God can use the raven, a quail, and a donkey, God can use a handicapped woman from New York. God can use anyone if we let Him!”


Depression, Loss, Love, Who Am I Now, Words of Endurance

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Isaiah 40:1

When we face a loss of identity, we don’t need someone to give us a list of “right things to do.” Instead, we need a friend with a gracious and understanding heart who can say, “I care for you and accept you where you are today. I’m not here to ‘fix’ you, but I do want to comfort and encourage you as you journey through this place of sadness.” The principles below remind us of the heart attitudes that can help comfort a hurting friend.

Minimize Minimizing. One of the most frustrating experiences is to be with a person who downplays loss, minimizes pain, or ignores it altogether. Peggy Skattebo, who faced her own grief and loss of identity during her husband’s cancer battle, expressed the feelings of many when she said, “There were times I just wanted to scream out, “Can’t anybody see how difficult this is for me?'”

Listen, Just Listen. After his amputation, Dave Dravecky says he “gravitated toward people who were good listeners.” For someone who faces a serious loss, such as a loss of identity, it means so much when “somebody just sits there and listens without trying to give an answer or fixing how you feel. There is so much comfort when they just accept what you have to say and let you lay it out there on the table.” Be careful not to judge your friend’s feelings or expression of emotion. It is a privilege that your friend trusts you enough to be emotionally vulnerable and honest with you.

Tons of Time. Passersby on a city street corner were recently asked how long it takes to grieve the loss of a loved one. Their answer? Two weeks! No wonder those who face grief and loss feel alone. Our society doesn’t understand the pain of working through the death of a loved one, much less the pain of dealing with other significant losses in life. So give your friend time to work through the losses of a changing identity. If your friend gets stuck in a particular aspect of the loss, it may be appropriate to suggest counseling, but resist the urge to become impatient with the grieving process.

Be a Prepared Participant. The journey through loss takes many twists and turns, so it’s helpful to understand what the process may look like. After the initial shock, most people experience emotional numbness, confusion, anger, and physical problems such as headaches or abdominal ailments. They may also experience depression, apathy, decreased memory and cognitive function, and feelings of despair. To make matters more interesting, your friend may exhibit all of these symptoms in the span of an hour! It can be helpful to talk with others who are farther down the road in dealing with a similar loss so that you can better understand what your friend may be facing.

Forget Fixing. Resist the urge to offer solutions. Trying to “fix” the pain of another person’s loss is really trying to meet our own need for closure or relief. There is no magic solution to wipe away the pain of loss. Pain dissipates as it is felt, as tears are shed, as adjustments are made, as we allow God to heal us. It is a tremendous blessing to have a comforting friend through this process. It is helpful to remember that Isaiah 40:1 doesn’t say, “Fix, fix my people.” It says, “Comfort, comfort my people.”

For suggestions on helping a friend who is hurting, we recommend Stand by Me, by Dave and Jan Dravecky.