In tough times, like the year 2020, external difficulties are often compounded by our own unhealthy reactions. We get upset and angry. We fall prey to envy and jealousy. We give in to sloth, lust, and gluttony. We take unholy short-cuts to sooth our suffering.
In a fallen world, full of pain, God uses our distresses (and failures) as a catalyst for spiritual growth. By his love and grace, God is molding us into the likeness of his son, Jesus (Romans 5:1-5).
Encouraged by this, we can make a shift from barely coping in hardship to actually flourishing in our life with God and others. When we cooperate with God in small but significant ways, our vices can be changed to virtues.
As a reminder of actions we can take in times of distress, the first five letters of the word “permanent” are a helpful acronym:
Positive Emotions. When we experience negative (or mixed) emotions in distress, we can cry out to God (Psalm 42:11). We can read the Psalms. We can savor good things. We can “count our blessings” in a daily journal. By such practices, positive feelings gain ascendency over negative ones.
Engagement. Work, activities, and hobbies can take our minds off distresses because we are fulfilling our created purpose (Genesis 1:27; Ephesians 2:10). The trouble is: the more stressed we are, the less likely we are to do these things. We may have to push ourselves, but such productive engagement re-energizes us.
Relationships. We are created to be in relationship with God and others (Genesis 2:18). Under pressure we can readily become grouchy, touchy, angry, and mean. Yes, relationships are harder amid trouble, yet for everyone’s sake, ours included, we must persist in starting, developing, and repairing relationships.
Meaning. A purposeful life is not undone by hardship. To be renewed in a holy purpose, we can meditate on the gospel stories to know the will of Jesus better. We can write or tell our own story, both the high’s and the low’s, as a way to re-discover “what makes us tick” with meaning and joy.
Accomplishments. In disheartening times, it helps to reflect on good outcomes from the talents, skills, and gifts that God has given us (Galatians 6:2-5). A daily checklist of what we accomplish can be restorative. As needed, we can keep and review a “running list” of past accomplishments for a long view of God working through us.
God made us in his image to thrive in all of these ways. Suffering can bring out the worst in us. However, when we recognize that God is actively working amid trouble to transform us, we can choose to work with him in these ways for our day-to-day well-being and toward permanent gains in godly character (Philippians 2:12-13).
This post is a tightly condensed version of the second message in a two-part series by Dr. Harvey Payne on January 10 and 17, 2021. Harvey is a lay leader in the Five Forks Brethren in Christ Church near Waynesboro, PA. A child psychologist by training, Harvey is academic dean of the School of Counseling at Divine Mercy University in Sterling, VA.
The full message, titled "PERMA," is available through the Five Forks website. The first message is condensed in the previous BI blog post, "Inside Information." It is available in full on the Five Forks website under the title, “Suffering—Inside Information."