Cruising down Houston’s Southwest Freeway with a car full of kids, I turned on the radio in hopes of minimizing the cacophony behind me and improving the overall emotional climate of the drive. Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus, Take the Wheel” was on.
As the title implies, Underwood’s debut single is based on a Christian theme. The song tells the story of a young mother with a lot on her mind who hits a sheet of black ice while driving to see her parents for Christmas. She has, what you might call, a spiritual awakening during this near-death experience and asks Jesus to take control of her car and guide her vehicle (a metaphor for her life) to a safe place.
The song got me thinking about something I’ve often wondered about; how do those without faith in God manage navigating through traumatic situations? And what role does my faith play in my ability and success to weather life’s inevitable storms? What would I do if I didn’t have my faith?
I am well aware of how important my faith, specifically my Christian faith, has been in helping me weather difficult times. Research supports that religious faith reduces suicide rates, alcoholism, drug use, and other mental health symptoms and aid in the recovery of mental illnesses.
Faith gives people something to believe in that supersedes themselves and our dependence upon others. It provides a sense of structure and certain foundational guiding truths. Faith also offers us an opportunity to connect over similar beliefs and build community. If I am only reliant on myself- I can fall short. Relying on my spouse, parents, pastor, government, doctor, friends, and family can disappoint me. But my God will never leave or forsake or fail me.
Shield Bearer’s counselors and staff find their drive to fulfill our mission deeply rooted in their faith. However, our clients come to us from various backgrounds, beliefs, lack of religious faith, or anger toward God or all organized religions. Shield-Bearer is committed to meeting each individual wherever they happen to be.
With each passing season at Shield Bearer, I become more and more grateful for my Christian faith. It is a blessing to have it as my firm foundation and my shield to weather any storm that comes. My heart goes out to those who don’t have this resource.
For me, my faith is always my landing spot when I don’t know what to do. When the bottom drops out from under me and when some circumstance that I wasn’t expecting occurs and destroys my plans. When my heart is torn out by tragic news, or when I am just at the end of my rope, and I don’t have the physical strength to pick myself up and “get on with it,”; I have my faith. I pray. I go to church. I lean on words from scripture, or I rest in the knowledge of my faith. Soon after that, I find things start to move in a positive direction. The skies begin to clear, and the forecast begins to look more promising.
We all face struggles. A common metaphor considers the difficult times in our lives as storms, deserts, or valleys. A life-storm could be a broken relationship, a financial crisis, a lay-off at work, or legal problems. It might be a difficult diagnosis, or painful physical issues, the inevitable effects of age, a heart attack, rebellious children, crazy parents or in-laws, or just struggling with an inner conflict you can’t get under control. There are countless examples of life-storms we can and most assuredly will face. Sometimes they can knock us down, like the death of a loved one or some other event that alters our life and possibly our trajectory and plans. These storms can wreak havoc and make it difficult or impossible to adjust afterward.
For some of us, we can find footing rooted in our faith. We know that God is always with us in every storm we go through or face in life. Fear not. God promises this repeatedly in scripture, and for Christians, this is one of those foundational truths. Now don’t get me wrong, many of us forget this truth. It is easy for us to get swept up in the excitement of a terrible storm and experience fear, great disappointment, and hurt due to what is happening around us. This truth, which we all know well, can easily slip from our active knowledge and get distracted by our current predicament. But the truth is, we will face difficulties because the rain will fall and storms will arise. Facing hardships and problems should be expected because they are a part of life. However, we can always rest in the knowledge that God is always with us.
We can find comfort in the knowledge that storms don’t last forever, and neither do hardships.
Another lesson rooted in our Christian faith is that sometimes the things we dread most can be the best things for us. God is our father, and like a good and loving parent, He knows what is best for us even when we think otherwise. Out of his mercy and love for us, God may protect us from some of our pursuits. Challenges in life can help us become more loving and compassionate toward others. Hardships may increase our resilience and make us stronger individuals. Struggling through difficult times may allow us to become more humble, giving, patient, and in general, better human beings. Our pursuit, as Christians, after all, is to become more like Jesus, and our goal is an eternal goal, not a temporal one.
A sense of losing control can often be the most challenging aspect of going through a difficult situation. So many of us like to be in control of our own lives, or at least feel like we’re in control. When a life-storm develops, it’s easy to feel we are losing control. We don’t know what we can do or why it is happening, or how to fix it. We feel helpless, and that is a terrible feeling. I’m taken back to Carrie Underwood’s song, “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” As Christians, shouldn’t we continually ask Jesus to take the wheel? Are we ever in complete control of our lives in the first place? Do we really and truly, deep down in the pit of our soul, want to be driving solo? Circumstances that come when we feel out of control; traumatic situations that blindside us; moments when we think our lives are crumbling apart are opportunities for us to stop and ask our Lord to drive. He’s got the master plan; He’s got our best interest; He’s our father and will steer us to where we should be.
Sometimes the thing we want most in life ends up being the worst thing for us. We hope for it, we plan for it, we work for it. Then one day, we find we’ve achieved it. Maybe we even get more than we had hoped for, and we start forgetting about God. That could happen to any of us if we achieve something but are not ready for it. Much of our time is spent on improving our current situation.
We can look back on those horrible times after we finally get all the success and money and have all the achievements. The times when we lived paycheck to paycheck with health issues, parenting issues, and marital issues, we realized those were the times we were most dependent on God.
Because of that, you realize the hard times were better, spiritually speaking than the easy times. God is equally present in both the good and hard times. Have you ever thanked God for protecting you from yourself?
Our life-storms can teach us things we wouldn’t learn anywhere else.
When the disciples were caught in the horrific storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus came to them during the “fourth watch” and saved them. The fourth watch is the time just before the sunrise. The disciples had been in the storm for at least nine hours battling the wind, rain, and waves. Why would Jesus wait so long to save them? Perhaps he wanted them to exhaust all of their resources and bring them to the point where they depended on Him rather than their abilities. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Have you ever received help during the fourth watch?
Maybe you are entering your fourth watch right now. Perhaps you have been calling out for help about something in particular, and nothing has happened yet. Keep calling. God hears, and He will answer.
God is with you in your sorrow, he understands, and you are not alone. He will give you the strength to get through your storm. Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” When the telephone rings and someone says, “there’s been an accident.” When the doctor says to you, “I have some difficult news.” When your heart sinks, and it seems like your life is going to fall apart. When there is no hope, you must remember the Lord is there with you. You are not alone.
We can look back and say, “Now I know why the Lord allowed it to happen. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Then there will be times when things happen, and we will never, in this life, understand why. What is essential to keep in mind is that we are interested in what is temporarily good, and God is more interested in what is eternally good. And the good is something you may not even see right now. It’s hard to understand that the crisis we face currently is deepening our faith and strengthening our character. If we allow them, hardships can help make us more compassionate and caring people, transforming us for the better.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Why? Because “You are with me. Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.” As Christians, we have the comfort, the assurance, and the knowledge that God will work all things together for good to us who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Without this faith, we are left on our own.
Many of those who seek counseling services at Shield-Bearer do not have a foundation of faith. They don’t have these biblical truths, and the feelings of isolation, loneliness, and despair can easily overwhelm them. They are like the man who built his house upon the sand. “…and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; the house fell, and great was its fall.”
We provide licensed counseling for everyone regardless of their faith background, personal journey, or belief system. But in Jesus’s parable, He doesn’t talk about whether or not the rain will fall, but when the rain falls. Because the rain will fall and storms will come – facing a life-storm is inevitable, and the lack of a sure foundation will impact how each of us weathers our storms. What condolences, assurances, and support can be offered to those who don’t have God’s promises and friendship as a support system?
Just because someone hasn’t decided on faith doesn’t mean they are outside God’s promises. There are many transferable lessons found here that can apply to both those with and without faith.
Focusing on what you don’t want works against what you do want.
This true statement has been reiterated in various popular mantras and social media memes. When our plans derail, and we find ourselves heading down a path that wasn’t what we planned or hoped for, it’s easy for us to feel as if we’ve lost control. At this moment, we might begin a battle with the conditions. We refuse to accept our lives’ reality and fight futility for the life we think should be. Let go, accept reality, and your energy to address your current conditions will return. It’s like knowing you shouldn’t swim against the current because you will likely get exhausted and perhaps drown.
You’ve overcome tough times before, and you will overcome them again.
Storms come and go; they don’t last forever. The one you’re facing now might be a real doozy. Don’t get me wrong. It might be a category five, and you’ve only gone through category two storms in the past. But you know you learned lessons in your previous storms, you know you came out the other side, and you know the skies will clear. Your success rate in surviving storms thus far is 100%. That’s a pretty good record. In previous storms, you underestimated your resiliency, but you surprised yourself. You rose to the occasion, and you will rise again.
No matter how lost, helpless, overwhelmed, and defeated you feel now, it won’t feel this way forever. The emotional onslaught that accompanies difficult times can often be more challenging than the circumstances themselves. Seek help if your emotional response to difficult circumstances knocks you down. When you’re in a tough situation, you should not always trust your emotions. You may need someone outside of your case to help you sort through them. Emotions rise and fall, and they can often lead you in a direction you don’t want to go.
Fear can be the emotion that drives us to experience severe anxiety and depression. Our minds are good at conjuring up all sorts of potential problems and worst-case scenarios. Our brains are wired to protect us from harm and keep us alive; however, this wiring can also go into hyper-drive and create fears that are not based upon reality or likelihood. Focus on what is right there in front of you, and that is based on actual reality. Separate your imagined troubles from the circumstance you are facing at the present moment. It takes practice and sometimes help from a professional, but it is doable.
Emotions cannot always be trusted and need to be evaluated carefully. Before you take action, know that it is okay to feel them. If you try to bury your emotions, ignore them, or shove them aside, they will grow more intense. Recognize how you feel and why you feel that way. Again, parsing through an array of emotions can be challenging and full of nuance. Professionals can help you sort through them. Grieving over a loss, sorting through a traumatic experience, or recovering from a broken relationship can dump a slew of emotions ranging from anger, bitterness, sadness, fear, despair, anguish, disappointment, and frustration. It’s okay to feel them, and it’s normal, and they can each be a part of the healing and recovery process. Emotions are part of being human, and emotions that are not recognized will eventually get expressed in unhealthy and destructive ways.
Reach out. We are stronger together. This might be the hardest thing to do, and it seems to go against human nature. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it doesn’t seem to matter. Withdrawal and isolation are common among those experiencing a life-storm, and we become silent and don’t want to share. This is another nod toward seeking professional help. A counselor provides you a safe place to reach out if you don’t have a support system you feel comfortable sharing your troubles with. People with strong social connections are more resilient and are more likely to successfully bear the brunt of difficult times than those who withdraw and isolate themselves.
Those who possess a religious faith and those who do not can find help, support, healing, and recovery from the bruises and bumps that we get from life-storms. Faith doesn’t remove our problems, but it certainly does provide a transformational foundation for how we weather the storm and come out on the other side.
Our faith transforms our relationship with the storms we experience in life. Having faith enables us to look at our challenges in a new light. We can know that the difficulty has a purpose, perhaps beyond our understanding, but that ultimately, a good can result.