5 Lessons Learned in Crisis

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV).

Have you ever ridden in a helicopter? It’s definitely the ride of a lifetime! But when you land - now that’s another story. A helicopter landing sends absolutely everything flying in a hundred different directions at ridiculously high speeds. That’s how I live life.

One of the reasons I love the apostle Paul is because he seemed to live the same kind of life. Philippians is one of my favorite books written by Paul; the fourth chapter is one of the most positive passages Paul ever wrote, and it is written in the midst of a helicopter landing in Paul’s life! Paul is in a Roman jail awaiting judgment and possible execution. He could be terrified and doubting God at this point. Instead, he is writing a book about joy and peace. How in the world did he pull that off?

Life is filled with crisis. Each one of us can tell our story about a disaster we are facing or a storm we are going through. If you are a Southerland, you live from one crisis to another. That is just the way my family rolls. I battle clinical depression on a daily basis. I have Scoliosis, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and stenosis in my back. My husband has Afib. He has had three heart ablations and fifty cardioversions. Financial crisis as a result of the above-mentioned medical adventures always seems to be lurking just around the corner. I know many of you have the same kind of struggles. You know what I am talking about. The fact is that all of God’s children deal with crisis. Jesus said, “It rains on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). He also said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Let me share with you what I have learned about dealing with pain and crisis. Character rises to the top over time and under pressure. From that truth comes my prescription and the steps we must take to navigate this world and how we respond to the damage we experience in this world.

We must embrace our pain. We are deeply injured. Pain is always about proximity. We must allow our emotions to flow. We must allow the emotions of others to flow. We must realize that emotions come in a different order and on a different schedule. Some will grieve first. Others will be angry. Some will be in denial. Some will be vocal. Some will withdraw. But we all hurt. Jesus wept. He knows about hurt and hurts with us.

We must guard our hearts. The passage we read from Philippians 4 talks about “guarding your hearts and minds.” That is an important word for us when we face a crisis. Guard your heart against despair. I know your heart is broken. People you love and trust have betrayed you. Your God is still with you. He will never leave you or betray you. The enemy will whisper to you that you are going down. That may be his goal, but it is not God’s plan. Stand firm in your faith and let the Father fight your battles for you.

We must refuse to retreat. We are tempted to use pain and hurt as an excuse to abandon the plan to which God has called us. It is so much easier to simply give up. I know. There have been times when I have literally and figuratively pulled the covers over my head and told God to just go away. It didn’t work. He loves me too much, and He loves you too much to let you give up. He will give you time to heal – not retreat.

It’s funny. Looking back, what I thought would be the biggest disasters in my life turned out to be the most magnificent victories. The mess in the messenger does not negate the message. God delights in using messed up people, broken people. There is a scene at the end of the movie Apollo 13 that I love. The head of NASA is talking to the press secretary, listing all of the things that have gone wrong with the spacecraft. The head of NASA concludes by saying, “This could be the greatest disaster in NASA’s history.” The flight director overhears the conversation, turns to the two men, and says, “I believe this will be NASA’s finest hour.” You may feel that whatever crisis you are facing could be the greatest disaster in your life. That would be the enemy’s plan. Or it can be the finest hour of your life. That would be God’s plan. It is your choice. 

We can comfort others who are in a crisis. 

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV).

On Easter Sunday, I was sitting in the sanctuary waiting for the worship service to begin. Anticipating a large crowd, I arrived early to drop our son Jered off in the nursery. Jered loved the nursery since every nursery worker doted on him. As the choir filed in, a friend slipped into the pew beside me and said, “I think you need to go to the nursery. Something is wrong with Jered.” Jumping up, I leaped over legs, toes, and pews as I raced to my son. I was not prepared for what I saw. In a far corner, lying on his favorite red mat, was Jered, staring at the ceiling, silent and rigid. As I bent over him, searching his beautiful blue eyes, huge tears slid down his chubby cheeks, and he flew into my arms, sobbing.

You have to understand – as a baby, Jered cried only when he was hungry, wet, or sick. He always seemed to be smiling, happy, and content. Something was obviously very wrong. I kissed his forehead. No fever. I checked his diaper. Dry and clean. The snack box I had packed for him earlier that morning was empty. I had no idea what had broken my son’s heart, but I certainly intended to find out. Just then, Mrs. Giles, Jered’s favorite nursery worker, drew me aside and said, “Let me tell you what happened. We had a new little girl in the nursery today. It was her first time in a church nursery – ever. When her parents left, she immediately began screaming and wouldn’t stop. Jered came running and wrapped his arms around her, but she pushed him away. He then brought her his bottle, but she hurled it across the room and continued screaming. Desperate to help her, Jered then found his diaper bag and fished out Turtle.”

Turtle was a small, green-and-blue stuffed turtle we had given Jered during a stay in the hospital when he was seriously ill with croup. From the moment Jered saw Turtle, they were inseparable. He slept with Turtle clutched tightly in one hand, ate with Turtle sitting in his lap or on the table beside his plate, and carefully tucked Turtle in his diaper bag whenever we left the house. Turtle was his most precious possession and an invaluable source of comfort to him. Mrs. Giles continued, “I couldn’t believe Jered was willing to give Turtle to a stranger, but he tried. The little girl took one look at Turtle and threw it in Jered’s face. Stunned, he picked up Turtle, dusted it off, and lay down on the mat. He refused to move and clutched Turtle tightly in his arms. Then I knew. I knew Jered couldn’t stand to see the little girl in pain and was determined to comfort her. When he couldn’t, he retreated, waiting for someone else to help. That’s compassion. 

We can use our pain to offer compassion. Compassion is not just sympathy; it is empathy. When it comes to dealing with difficult people, we mistakenly equate compassion with “fixing” them. Genuine compassion is first able to feel their pain. The more pain we experience, the more compassionate we will be. We must learn to use our pain in the right way, not lashing out but looking within to share the pain of others. There is a choice in every pain, an opportunity in every trial.

Pain makes us focus inward or outward. Pain makes us martyrs or merciful. The choice is ours.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Good Samaritan in the Bible. The Samaritan chose to use his pain and help an injured man. He understood the man’s pain because of the pain in his own life. The Jews hated all Samaritans. The man lying on the road was a Jew. There was no logical reason for this Samaritan to rearrange his plans and spend his money to help this enemy in need. But compassion doesn’t look for reasons or search out limitations. It looks for opportunity. The Samaritan had a choice, just as we have a choice every time we are confronted with a need.

“Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NLT)

Needy people are all around us. We need to adjust our thinking and perspective to search for those in need. We can ignore the need, or we can meet the need by giving away part of the comfort God has given us when we have been in pain. I once saw a refrigerator magnet that said, “I know that God promises to never give me more than I can handle. But sometimes, I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” When trials come and life seems hard, we plead with God to deliver us from the problem when many times, His plan is to deliver us in the problem. As humans, we will never fully understand God – this side of heaven. God is holy and without blemish. God is all-powerful and omniscient. He is the Creator of the universe and yet lives in me. He is the only true, living God! 

We may understand some of His ways and comprehend the reasoning behind some of His plans. We may even come to the place of knowing him on what we call an intimate level, but a full understanding of God is reserved for heaven. Until then, we walk by faith, not by sight. We praise him in the darkness, knowing that the light is just ahead. We trust him for things we cannot see and turn to him in the valleys. Honestly, the thought of serving and relying on a God I can understand is not a reassuring thought. No matter what lies ahead, God is faithful. No matter how hot the fiery trial may be, God will deliver us. No matter what man says or does, God loves and accepts us. So, praise God! Thank Him today for every victory tomorrow holds! Celebrate - knowing that the battle belongs to God and because of that single truth, victory is certain. 

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/MatthiasLindner

Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, Fit for Life, and 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.

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