Don't Discount the Process

In a culture that continually seeks instant access to satisfactory answers to our problems, we generally despise the idea that some things just take time. We want a pill for every pain, a solution to every problem, and we want it now. In some ways, that desire benefits us; it drives us to seek out the new, adventurous, bold. It turns our curiosity to action. In that, the desire for quicker relief provides the fire we need to move us along; it keeps us from stagnating.

Unfortunately, we also lack contentment. We look so much to what we want that we forget to enjoy what we have. Further, we ignore the truth that the process sometimes plays an even more important role than the product. I say this with caution because the point I want to drive home involves grief, trauma, anxiety, depression, and other concerns of the heart. I hesitate to write this because I know how deeply these issues impact so many of us. (Myself included)

The fact that I understand these issues on a personal level, though, means that I see so much value to an honest assessment of what our mentality does to hamper our progress.

We want a cure.

I would love to never again break down in tears for no apparent reason as a memory of a loved one washes over me. I would love to never again wake up in the middle of the night feeling as though I am being strangled. I would love to just up and stop looking over my shoulder in anxiety. I would love a cure to each of these struggles.

Some would say (and I know they would; people have said it to my face before) that if I really had faith in God, I wouldn’t experience those things. If I had really put my trust in Him, I wouldn’t struggle. If I was really saved, all of those things would be but a distant memory.

I hate to break it to you, but even though Jesus is the answer, it doesn’t mean that He is going to take away all of our struggles. Honestly, that sounds like a more subtle version of the “gospel” that says that if we just believe God, He will make us healthy and wealthy. Last I checked, the vast majority of believers throughout the centuries were neither characterized by the best health nor the most wealth. That’s not to say those things are mutually exclusive of faith; I do know of believers who have been blessed with great health or extravagant wealth. I thank God that He does offer such blessings, but I do not desire them for myself. I desire only to serve God and let Him take care of how He will use that.

Similarly, I have encountered believers who struggled with anxiety, depression, drugs, alcohol, you name it. They placed their faith in Christ and He immediately took that away and moved them in a different direction. I also know of men and women who have sought the Lord with all they had and still daily fought with the same old struggles. I know how much they longed to simply be free of those things.

Was God any less good to them than He was to the ones He cured? Of course not!

He simply had a different purpose in each of their lives.

There are things in our lives that are brought on by our own direct decisions to sin; but even those, God has chosen to take completely in some and leave for a lifetime in others. Our experience in that subject does not negate the experience of another. We are not God; we cannot fathom His exact purpose for these things. We can know, though, that from His character, He will be glorified in all of these things.

One might wonder, well, how can God be glorified in the life of someone who repeatedly falls flat on his face back into the same patterns. One example stands out clearly of an alcoholic I knew a long time ago. This person wanted so badly to never again face the temptation to take another drink; this person knew people whom God cured of their alcohol addiction. Yet God never took it completely away. That may sound depressing, and if I told you the whole tale, you would probably weep. Still, this one individual to this day reminds me that no matter what, God will be glorified. This person, by pursuing Christ, by admitting when they failed, by never giving up that fight, showed me that no matter how badly I fall, I still have a choice to let God pick me back up, dust me off, and set me on my feet again.

Whether our struggles deal with sin issues or are simply things we wish we didn’t have to endure, there is no easy solution to them. It’s been less of late, and for that I am grateful, but I have often been asked for a solution to a difficult situation. “You have a degree in psychology. What do you think I should do?” Or, “You’ve been to Bible school. What do you think the Bible says about this?” Or, “You’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff. What’s the best way to handle this?” Somehow, a degree makes me an expert…?

Well, believe me, I’m not. I’m a bit rusty on my psychopharmacology (and I never had a degree in it to begin with), but I’m pretty sure there is still not a magic pill that will cure all mental health issues or things related to them. You know why?

Pills treat symptoms. They don’t treat the problem.

When someone with PTSD takes a medication, the medication treats mood swings, zoning out, other outward symptoms of the disorder. That medication doesn’t take away the trauma this person faced. Until we deal with the trauma, we make very little real progress in treatment. Now, that’s not to say that the medication doesn’t have some value. Sometimes symptoms are so severe that until we manage them with medication, we can’t even begin to get to the root of the problem. But medication alone is not the answer. Thought patterns. Lifestyle decisions. Triggers. These all need to be dealt with, and that requires work.

Grief. Grief is a normal part of human life. The problem comes when we get stuck in it. It’s easy to do; we don’t realize just how active a part we play in the grieving process. We think of grief just as the sadness of loss. It’s so much more than that, though. We can’t force it to come or go; we can’t take some pill to fix this one either. We can, however, be intentional about grieving when it is the right time. Side note, and personal story on this subject… I neglected my own grieving process for an extended period this past year and it caused so much damage, I ended up going to the hospital and being put on medical leave. It took time after that, but it gave me the wake up call I needed to start being intentional and I am happy to say that I am much healthier in many ways now.

These two examples alone show that a process must take place. There must be intention. And there must be work!

The strength comes not from ourselves, though. When we repeatedly attempt to pick ourselves up, we lose it. We can’t hold ourselves up. That’s not how it works. We must rely on God for the strength to push ahead. It’s too easy to become discouraged by hour two of our efforts when they are our efforts. God gives us strength and encouragement when we rest in Him. Even when He doesn’t take it away. The process teaches us so much of who He is. His goodness. His faithfulness (even when we are unfaithful). His grace and mercy. His love. His holiness which convicts us and drives us to pursue Him more fully.

Don’t discount the process; we grow so much more when we learn about who God is. Whether we are able to fully overcome our struggles or we live with them the rest of our lives, the knowledge of our holy, infinite, matchless God is worth the trials that come.