Do you remember reading the columns of Ann Landers and Dear Abby years ago? Someone would write and describe their problem or situation, and then they would ask Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) or Ann Landers for an answer. Well, I felt a little like "Dear Abby" when I received an email the other day. A lady wrote to me, someone who was a member of a church that I pastored over 20 years ago. She shall remain anonymous in this blog, but I wanted to share my thoughts about helping others who feel lost in life or confused about their situation.
What attitude should we have towards others who are going through emotional and spiritual battles? What advice or counsel can we give those who are searching and trying to seek God? Read the following email that I received and consider what you would say to this individual.
Dear Pastor Galen:
There is so much I want to change about my life and I really don't know where to begin. I don't want to be as stressed as I am. I don't want to be as impatient with my kids as I am. I want peace in my life. I know that my kids can't have a peaceful life if their mom is always stressed and worried about every little thing. I know I need to dedicate my life to the Lord. It's just finding the trust that I used to have. There is no church here that I want to be a part of. There are too many back-stabbing, two-faced people here. The only church that I know, the pastor seems to think it's OK for my sister-in-law to live with my brother and have her boyfriends in and out all the time. CAN NOT trust someone like that! What do you suggest I do. I know I need to have faith and believe in the good Lord. It's just so hard sometimes. Especially with everything that has gone wrong in my life! Have I confused you yet? LOL
Signed, (Name Withheld)
How would you respond to this lady? How would you encourage and challenge her to find God’s peace and love? What specifics would you share with her to help her get her life on track in spiritual ways?
Here was my response.
Dear (Name Withheld):
Thanks for writing. You are not confused nor are you confusing in how you shared your heart with me. I want to help you so much and have prayed for words to say.
Let me tell you four things very quickly:
1. Don't be too hard on yourself. This phase of life is but a short segment of your whole life. Find a way to accept the difficulties and continue on with faith and perseverance and determination and hope. No one else can make you accept where you are in life. You are the only one. Tell yourself (even if you don't believe it now), "It's OK to be where I am in my life and thoughts right now, because at some point there will be a tomorrow that is better and I will be at peace." Just repeat that over and over, because it is a truth and you must take heart in that.
2. Make changes with purpose. Don't make changes just to make changes. Don't make changes just to make things feel different. Don't make changes just to please others. Changes have to be real and purposeful to be lasting and permanent. The best part of what you said is that your want to change. That is positive and encouraging. Be very methodical and write down what changes you want to make. Make a list. Be realistic and put down things that you can accomplish (by yourself, and with the help of others and most importantly by God's help). Keep a journal of how you are making progress daily and weekly. Just get some paper and write down something each day: (a) how the day went, (b) how you took control of your thought patterns to keep on track, and (c) how you thank God for his continued mercy and grace and comfort and strength.
3. Don't let the negative things around you pull you down. Don't worry about what others are doing that are not helpful, not right or not loving. You cannot control what others think, feel and do. You are only responsible for yourself. So, don't think that others are "supposed" to do the right thing and that they can help you on your life's journey. You will be very disappointed and frustrated and unhappy if you look to others too closely for a perfect role model or perfect encourager. Know that others can be very helpful, but also know that they can also be very distracting or disappointing in their actions.
4. Trust God completely without reservation. God is always waiting for you to surrender your heart and your life fully to him. Turn every part of your life over to him. He is always ready to welcome you back into his wonderful plan for your life. Don't delay. It is not simply saying the words, "Okay Lord, here's my life. Do something with it." It is much more than that. It is saying, "O Father in heaven, I am desperate and needy and hopeless without you. Please help me. I give up trying to do it myself. My life is a mess. Lord, put me back together according to your ways, and I will let you do that right now. I love you because you first loved me and have never given up on me. Even though I don't deserve your love, I accept it. Thank you, Jesus."
One thing I will say is that you need to seek out Christian friends and find a loving church to attend. Keep looking for a Bible-based church that has a heart to minister to the needs of others. Find someone in that church that you can meet with to be accountable for your changes. Meet with that person because you need to have someone who will be dedicated to praying for you daily. Meet with that person to find encouragement and total acceptance without judgment. This person must be mature in the faith, knows how to keep things in confidence and must have a desire to help. That will be a key for you to move forward.
Also, find a time to read the Bible daily. I don't really care what you read. All of the Bible is profitable and good for us. However, you might want to read the Psalms to lift up your heart with encouragement and praise. You might want to read through Proverbs to gain insight and wisdom by seeing life through a godly perspective. If you want to want to learn more about love and fellowship from God's viewpoint, read the little book of First John. If you want to see how God loves you and has a plan for your eternity, read the Gospel of John. If you want to see the power and miracles of God in individuals and in the church, read the book of Acts. If you want to read a good love story, read the book of Ruth. So you see, just start reading and let God speak to your heart as your read his Word.
Lastly, and most important, spend time in prayer. And I don't mean just a quick prayer to end the day. Take time to commune with God on an intimate basis. Pour your heart out to him. Also, take time to just sit and listen to him speak to your heart. It may be difficult or uncomfortable at first, just to sit and not try to be telling God something, but just take time to relax in Him. Allow yourself time to sense God's presence. You may not sense anything at first, but don't give up. Stay focused on hearing from God. He promises to speak to us very clearly with a word that will lift us up and strengthen us for the task at hand.
I hope this is helpful. Write me back at least once a week to let me know what is going on. We love you and are praying for you with great expectations of what God will do!
Signed, Pastor Galen
My prayer is that the Lord will use these encouraging words to help this young lady to seek God more fully to find peace and contentment and joy for her life!