There is an old story told about a man who was hiking one day, who slipped on the side of a steep mountain, and found himself hanging by a small branch (on which he was able to catch himself) over a deep canyon. In desperation, he cried out, “HELP! Is there anyone who can help me!?”
Surprisingly, he heard a voice from below him. “I can see you,” the voice said, “but you can’t see me. I’m not far below you on a substantial outcropping of rock. Here’s what you have to do: you just have to let go. You can’t see me, but I can see you. Just let go, and everything will be fine.”
Looking down at the deep precipice beneath him that he could see, the man was silent for a moment as he pondered what to do. Finally, he lifted his head and yelled out, “Is there anyone ELSE who can help me?”
Sometimes, we hear answers to tough situations that may be (theo)logically correct, but not very satisfying. We understand that God allows evil because he allows choice, but it doesn’t seem like much of an answer when almost weekly we hear about some new perpetration of craziness and evil (mass shootings have almost become a regular part of our news cycle). We hear the standard theological answers regarding “why do bad things happen to good/innocent people” and we understand them, but they don’t seem enough. We want to cry out, “Is there anyone ELSE who can help me?”
I’ve wrestled through more difficult situations than I care to remember in my life journey, and along the way I’ve found a few ideas that have helped me hold onto my faith. If you’re struggling with your CNN feed, or your own personal situation, perhaps these simple suggestions will help.
Idea #1: Pray…HONESTLY
In Philippians, Paul reminds us to bring EVERYTHING to God in prayer and supplication (Phil. 4:6-7). In difficult times, I’ve often taken this to mean I can argue with God not just over what I do believe, or what I should believe, but what I don’t believe. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, praying deeply about what I am not believing in a given moment (i.e, that God watches over every hair of my head, or the hairs of the heads of others – spoken as a man who has reason to doubt about hair in general), is one of the most faith-building things I’ve ever done. I’ve learned that God can take it.
The more honest I am about what I’m feeling/experiencing/believing, the more open my heart is, and the more God can do the kind of open-heart surgery on me that enables me to continue to believe. I’ve found great comfort in praying my deepest longings and strongest doubts – because I’ve experienced God answering those prayers in powerful and surprising ways.
Idea #2: Find Perspective
Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is safety.” This, I believe is God reminding us to take our blinders off.
When things get rough, one of my first impulses is to go inward. It’s easier to manage my pain and focus away from it when I don’t have to talk about it. However, in almost every difficult experience I’ve ever faced, a key to not just managing but healing my pain has been sharing what I am wrestling with in the company of trusted friends.
I can remember a few years ago sharing a deep sense of failure around an issue in my life with a small group that I was a part of. I did so hesitantly, fearfully – I looked down as I shared and even as I spoke I could hardly get the words out. To my surprise, when I looked up – I saw an entire group with tears in their eyes. I knew I wasn’t alone. And the group shared words of truth with me that literally turned my perspective on its head. I had unknowingly burrowed down into a hole – hearing the thoughts of others brought me into the light. A new perspective is often found when we share our struggles and seek out the wisdom of the body of Christ.
Idea #3: Remember to Hope
What I don’t mean here is “don’t forget to hope!” I literally mean “remember…in order to hope.”
Over and over again in the scriptures, people of faith are called specifically to remember. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is shot through with this command (and I don’t use that term loosely). Ever thought about why?
When I am in a bad place, remembering what God has done in the past helps me to realize that he is not absent. I remember that during other difficult times, I’ve thought he was gone – only to find that he ultimately always shows up (albeit not on my preferred schedule). In one of my favorite Psalms, the writer says…
Why are you in despair, O my soul? Why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.
O my God (just read that phrase out loud to hear its honesty!) my soul is in despair within me.
And the answer to all of this? The next verse…
Therefore, I remember you…
Apparently, remembering and hope are tied to one another so closely that they could be called two sides of the same coin.
So, the next time you are hanging by a branch – whether it’s the latest news from the latest craziness in the larger world, or the all-too familiar stab of internal pain from something far too close to your heart – don’t just yell, “Is there anyone ELSE who can help me?”
Instead, let go. Pray your heart out, share honestly with a friend, lean into God by writing a paragraph of thanksgiving in your journal for a specific way he’s shown up in the past. You may find that your act of release enables a new release of God’s power in your life, that results in a whole new experience of faith.
Even when it seems like there is no faith to be had.