WHAT HOPE DO YOU HAVE?

December 27, 2021
The suicide rate in America increased by 24 percent from 2000-2014. The rate is so high now that it has actually decreased the average life expectancy by 3 years. It is the 7th leading cause of death for men and 14th for women. About 50,000 people, an entire small city, die by suicide every year in the United States.

This is not a post about suicide. But these alarming numbers reflect a tremendous loss of hope, not only for those who actually die by suicide, but also those who attempt it, those who can't bring themselves to do it, and those who live with chronically despairing thoughts. I believe it reflects a larger societal trend toward hopelessness.

Many of you thought about suicide when your former spouse left or in the aftermath. Some of you may have contemplated it as a way of leaving a nightmarish marriage. Some of you are trapped in the pain of addiction. Some of you never seriously thought about suicide but, like me, you lost the will to live for awhile. Sometimes the circumstances of life seem so overwhelming and unfixable that we think we're stuck in a pit we can never get out of. Some of you felt this way over the holidays while everyone else seemed to be celebrating.

Just the other day I saw a Christmas movie about an affluent family where the father and husband lost his job and the family consequently lost their income and their home. I have to admit feeling some PTSD as that movie triggered me to relive some of my own trauma. That family received a sort of Christmas miracle. My nightmare dragged on for several years of hopelessness and despair.

In such circumstances as I have described, we often feel like something has gone terribly wrong, that life was not supposed to be this way, and that the cosmos is out of balance. I felt that way. So did Cathy. Our problems took different forms, but were largely the same. We had both been abandoned by our former spouses and felt a lot of emotional trauma over it. Financially, I had reasonably good earning power but had lost a lot financially and had significant debts that I couldn't pay--and getting my earning power back on track was not easy or instant--especially from a void of emotional energy. Cathy had some significant accumulated assets, but pretty limited earning power at the time of her divorce from her kids' dad. My former wife would have described us as "strugglers." What a label to put on oneself.

If you have emotional energy, you can lift yourself out of relationship failure or financial problems no matter how deep you are in. However, when you are in the dark abyss of emotional and spiritual exhaustion, everything you do feels like a total effort. It even feels like a struggle to open your mail. If you are in this spot or sometimes feel you are in it, here are a few suggestions:

1. Accept your path. Try to adopt the thought that God knows what He is doing. If you find yourself in relationship failure and financial loss, believe that God has a plan for you and it has not gone wrong or off track. This doesn't mean you need to stay where you are. But the beginning point of change is accepting that your current reality is part of your story and part of your path. Continuing to think, "It wasn't supposed to be this way" will only keep you in pain.

2. Self care is important. If you are in a deep financial hole or you are recovering from a significant relationship failure, you may believe you have to work every minute possible to get back the things you have lost. You may believe you can't afford to take care of yourself. Your self-care practices are more important in this season of life than any other. I am not suggesting spending hundreds of dollars on spa treatments if you can't afford that. But you can afford something. Take a day off and do something with your kids. Take a few dollars and buy yourself some fragrant bath salts. Go for a walk in the fresh air and ponder the beauty around you. Write in a journal. When I was a mid-single there was a place out in the woods that was pretty easily accessible where I liked to go occasionally to be with God. I called it my sacred grove. I would go out there on a Sunday afternoon, bringing my scriptures and a notebook and I would read and record my thoughts. That didn't cost very much, but it gave me much needed refreshment and a larger perspective. There are innumerable things you can do to take care of yourself and reduce your stress level that are free or cheap. Remember that you cannot give out of an empty well. That includes giving to your children, your employer, your clients, or your creditors. Taking care of your mental health is job one for taking care of all the rest.

3. Do things in bite-size pieces. You may want a quick fix to a large or catastrophic problem that was years in the making. Pray for a miracle. Sometimes God will oblige. But other times, there are things he wants you to learn from passing through the trial. He may have rewards for you on the other end of the trial that are marvelous.

You don't have to wait until the situation has completely resolved to feel better. You can take small steps right away. You can make plans today. You can take a step toward completing those plans today. It might just be opening all that mail that has piled up and putting your own payable debts into a written summary. Just getting your brain around the problem will feel good--even if it makes your stomach turn for a minute or two.

Taking action will help you to feel better--even if it seems like a drop in the bucket. The thing that will help to restore your shalom is if you are moving in the right direction instead of backsliding further. Action is empowering even when it is small. As you progress through small steps, you will build momentum and strength.

4. Remember God. He would not do anything to you that is not an act of love. You may only see the purposes in hindsight, but you will eventually see why you were put through the trials you were. In terms of emotional energy, ponder these words:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11: 28-30.)

Even 2,000 years ago, people labored when were heavily laden with the cares of the world. Jesus promised them (and us) rest to their souls. Avail yourself of this promise and let His love in. Don't stay trapped behind walls of pain and shame. Don't stay in the exhaustion of despair. Open the windows of your soul and let in the light and fresh air. It is there for the taking. "“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).

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