When You Can’t See the Way

Here are several points to remember when you find yourself in a painful situation.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

              Winston Churchill


Sometimes life is hard. At some time, you will find yourself in a place where you can’t see a way out. You may feel feeling hopelessconfused, lost and helpless. You may feel stuck and hopeless.

Your situation may have been caused by a bad decision, or a failure. It may have not been your fault at all. Because we live in a fallen world, bad things do happen. We experience the pain of a lost job, lost health, or a lost loved one.

When such things occur, our knee-jerk response may be to hide and lick our wounds. We may just sit and ruminate about our situation. We may want to stay in bed all day. We may feel emotionally paralyzed.

Instead, we may react with anger and frenetic activity. We may blame others or ourselves. We may instinctively jump into high gear, with the idea that it’s better to do something, even if it’s the wrong thing.

So what do we do when we experience the valleys of life? Here are a few point to remember when you feel you can’t find a way out of your situation.

  1. You’re not the first one to experience this. Of course, we know that everyone experiences pain in this life. We know it, but we tend to forget it when our pain is particularly strong. Recalling that others have experienced similar situations, or worse, and that they have made it through it, can help us gain perspective.
  2. You’re not alone. Even though we can’t see Him, we are promised that our Heavenly Father will “never leave us or forsake us.” In our pain, we may not feel His presence, but we are promised that He is always beside us, and carries us when we can’t carry ourselves. I love the line, “If we knew who was walking beside us, every step of our day, we would never be afraid of anything.”
  3. Let others support you. When bad things happen, we need to lean on other people. Talk to those who you know would want to be there for you. Don’t be afraid of bothering or burdening them. If they were experiencing a similar situation, would you want them to come to you? Would you be upset if they didn’t? Let them help you in the same way.
  4. Do one step at a time. We have a strong tendency to ruminate about the past or anticipate the future, and such ruminations create much of our pain. In reality, the past does not exist except in our memories, and the future does not exist except in our imaginations. We will never have the resources to deal with the past, because it doesn’t exist any longer. We will never have the resources to deal with the future, because it doesn’t exist yet. We will always have the resources to deal with the present moment. We are told: Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)
  5. Be kind to yourself. Even when the valley is due to your own mistake or failure, it doesn’t help to beat yourself up. Beyond a healthy self-discipline, be kind to yourself. Try to show yourself the same compassion that you would show to a loved one who made the same mistake. If they would deserve such compassion, you do too.
  6. You don’t have to see the whole path. In the midst of our valley, we often can’t see the whole way out, but we don’t have to. We only have to see our next step. You can drive across the United States at night, even though your headlights only show you the next one hundred feet. You don’t have to see the whole route, only the next little bit. But by continuing to drive the path we are shown, we will eventually get to our destination.

Hopefully, these points will help you in your difficult situation. Just remember to keep moving.


Grieving Loss or Celebrating Life

There are several factors that can impact the experience of grief.

As a psychologist, I have had many occasions to help people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, and of casketcourse like everyone else, I have had to deal with my own grief at times. I have learned a few “truths” about grief that I may be helpful.

First, I never try to help someone stop grieving. Grief is a healthy response to the experience of loss. In fact, grief is essential when dealing with the major losses of life. I tell people that trying to avoid, block or stuff grief is unhealthy. I warn them that the feelings will just come out later, in a less healthy form, like depression, anxiety or anger. I use the analogy that grief is a bit like plumbing. It works best if it’s not stopped up.

Second, there are two types of grief, simple and complicated. In simple grief, the person experiences a loss and grieves. The grief is normal and healthy, as noted above. In complicated grief, the loss is complicated in some way. It may be that the person had a negative or love-hate relationship with the deceased person. Feelings of loss accompanied by anger toward the deceased can definitely complicate the grief process. It may be that the grieving person feels there was some unfinished business that now can never be resolved. It can also be that the survivor somehow blames himself for the death of the loved one. In any case, these complicated feelings can complicate the grief process.

Simple grief gradually gets better over time, but the amount of time varies tremendously from person to person, with no proper time period. In simple grief, there are up-and-down days, but there is a gradual improvement. Complicated grief doesn’t improve over time, and sometimes even gets worse. Complicated grief has a greater tendency to lead to depression or anxiety symptoms. If your grief doesn’t seem to be improving, or seems to be getting worse, you may want to talk to a professional about it.

Finally, one’s reaction to grief is sometimes impacted by where the person focuses attention. Many times, we tend to focus our attention on the death or the experience of watching the illness progress to the point of death. We visualize the hospital scene or the dying moment. It is possible to think so much about the death, that we don’t think about the life. The visual images of our loved one in the hospital or dying can fill our minds. We can repeatedly experience those moments. In doing so, we can lose touch with the precious moments of the person’s life. We may have lived with the person for thirty years, and experienced their dying for three months, but tend to think about the three months to the exclusion of the thirty years.

So, it is healthy to let yourself grieve. If your grief is complicated by other factors, talk with someone to work that out. And finally, deliberately focus your memories on the life rather than the death. Be deliberate and persistent in the effort.

COMMENT: Please share your insights regarding healthy vs. unhealthy grief reactions.

The Lies of Suicide

There are many false beliefs for the suicidal person and the grieving loved ones left behind.

In some way, all of us are affected by suicide. Whether you worry about the possibility that a loved one is consideringcasket it, have had a loved one attempt it or die from it, or whether you have grieved with a friend or neighbor when it happened, suicide leaves its mark.

Every year, one million people attempt suicide in the United States. Over 40,000 Americans die from suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in those aged 10 to 24 years. A surprising fact for many, the highest risk of death by suicide is actually older adult men.

Two people in the U.S. will probably die from suicide before you finish reading this article. Worldwide, there is one death by suicide every 40 seconds.

Most people who consider suicide are in the midst of a deep clinical depression. In the moment of the suicide attempt, the person really does lose touch with reality. They may not hallucinate, but they believe things that are untrue. They are momentarily delusional. Here are some of the lies of suicide:

  1. “Everyone would be better off without me.”
  2. “They’ll get over it soon.”
  3. “My life will never get better.”
  4. “There is no help for me.”
  5. “I don’t deserve to live.”
  6. “I’ll show them how badly they’ve hurt me.”
  7. “I have no other options.”
  8. “Nobody cares.”

Unfortunately, many deeply depressed people believe these lies, and they act on them. If they don’t succeed, and when the depression improves, they realize that they were lies, but in the moment they don’t know any better.

Suicide also conveys several lies for the loved ones that are left behind. Their grief is complicated by confusion and many, many questions. They struggle to make sense of the loss. They often blame themselves. Here are some of the lies placed upon the loved ones left behind by a suicide:

  1. “I should have seen it coming.”
  2. “I should have done something.”
  3. “If only I had ……”
  4. “What did I do to cause it?”
  5. “She tried to tell me, but I didn’t listen.”
  6. “He made a decision to leave me.”
  7. “How could she have been so cruel?”
  8. “Others will blame me. I feel so ashamed.”


The reality is that none of us can perfectly predict human behavior. Most people try to do the right, loving thing, based on what they know in that moment. They can’t know what is going to happen in the future. If they had known, they would have done anything to intervene.

We know that this horrible thing should not have happened. Our next thought is to ask who is to blame. We look at every interaction, every missed opportunity. But in the moment, we probably did what we thought was best. We didn’t know. We couldn’t know.

If you have a loved one who is depressed, and you have concerns that they may be considering suicide, talk to them. Ask them if they are thinking about it. Tell them how much it would hurt you if they did something to themselves. You won’t suggest the idea, and you might just give them the opportunity to change their mind.



Viewing Events From An Eternal Perspective

Everyone experiences their share of painful, negative life events. We all experience loss. Sometimes the pain feels depressed_personlike more than we can bare. The pain of grief cannot be taken away, and really, it shouldn’t. We need to grieve when we experience loss. The process of grief is healthy and eventually healing.

However, there are some techniques we can use to ease our grief a bit. I learned one such tool in one of my trips to Thailand. I conducted brief annual clinics for missionaries in Thailand for seven years. The clinics were held at an annual conference of 1200 to 1500 missionaries, and I was asked to attend to offer counseling for those that needed it. The days were full and a very rewarding.

Each morning of the conference, a worship service was held for the attendees. The services were held in a large auditorium, with all of the 1200 to 1500 in attendance. One speaker shared a message that the difficulties in our lives take on a new meaning when we view them from an eternal perspective. He said that we tend to think of our losses in terms of the impact they will make on our remaining years on this earth. We imagine spending our days without the loved one. However, as Christians, we believe that our true existence is for eternity, not just for our earthly years.

As he spoke, I noticed a string tied to his podium and stretching upward all the way to the back ceiling of the conference center. The string had to be at least 150 yards in length. Later in the sermon, he pointed the string out to the crowd. He also noted that, near the podium, there was a small bead on the string. He said to think of our earthly lives as the string that was covered by the bead, and our eternal lives as the full length of the string, plus much more. He pointed out that any painful events that we experience on this earth are only here for a moment, but that we have an eternity ahead of us.

He noted that the years where we will miss that loved one are but a blink of an eye, in perspective to being with them again for an eternity. He then said that the difference between an earthly life of five years or ninety-five years seems enormous to us, but that when seen from an eternal perspective, it is only a moment in time. He asked us to remember that reality when we have to deal with earthly pain and loss.

Now, I fully realize that this perspective can be hard to maintain, when we are in the middle of grief, but I do find some comfort when I remember the string and the bead. I hope you will as well.


Question/Comment: Please share any perspectives or techniques that have helped you deal with grief and loss.

Life’s Roller Coasters

roller_coasterRoller coasters are fun because we know we will get off soon. We can thrill to the ups and downs and unexpected curves because of the flat part at the end, where we slow down, stop, raise the bar, and get off. The experience is pleasurable because we know that it is temporary.

Life sometimes feels like a roller coaster, with its own ups and downs and unexpected curves. Unfortunately, we often can’t see the flat part at the end where we slow down and return to normalcy. We imagine that our present chaotic ride will go on forever. We dread the next fall and anxiously await the next unexpected turn.

It does seem that negative life events often come in clusters. Just when we’re recovering from a jab in life, we’re struck with a right hook, and we find ourselves reeling and unsteady. Our only goal is to stay on our feet, or to put one foot in front of the other.

When you find yourself in the middle of a cluster of negative life events, you have to hang on tighter and realize that you’re not alone.  When life is unstable, we need to lean on others for assistance, advice, support or just their presence.

We also have to recall past negative clusters and remember that they eventually ended and that we survived. There is a lot of wisdom in the phrase, “This too shall pass.”

Most importantly, remember that the roller coaster had a creator, who knew each twist and turn long before you purchased your ticket. Trust that creator to bring you home to the flat part, where you can slow down, step onto stable ground and breathe a sigh of relief.


Question: When you’ve experienced the ups and downs of life, what steps have you taken to hold on and stay the course?


The Truth About Suicide

Every life touches so many other lives. Our decisions and actions impact others in ways we can only imagine. We sometimes fail to Imagerecognize this and assume that our choices will be of little or no consequence to those around us. We’re wrong.

Such assumptions are often made by the depressed person who is considering suicide. Clinical depression is very painful, drastically different from those common, normal times when we feel sad or down. I have heard patients, who suffer with both chronic physical pain and depression, say that the depression is the more painful illness. The thought of continuing to live with such pain often seems unbearable. Dying seems peaceful, an end to the pain. It causes the victim to feel that their current state is permanent, and the thought of years of such existence seems unthinkable. The victim begins to think of a way out.

This illness also tends to isolate. The depressed person tends to withdraw from others. He will often turn down invitations to social activities, preferring to be alone, and often assuming that he won’t be good company. The illness makes the person tend to focus internally, which makes him feel even more separate from everyone else. He feels that he is unimportant, or that he doesn’t belong in this life. Depression distorts the victim’s perception regarding social and family relationships. Those perceptions are wrong.

Depression also causes the victim to feel very self-critical. The person often perceives herself to be inadequate, defective, unlovable and unimportant. She may feel that she is only a burden to her family or friends. She may perceive that others would be better off without her. She’s so wrong.

The distorted perceptions of depression often prevent the suicidal person from seeing the true impact that suicide would have on those they love. He mistakenly believes that his family, friends, co-workers and neighbors will have their lives disrupted only briefly by attending a funeral, and then will go on about their lives. Such beliefs are very wrong.

Having done psychotherapy for over thirty years, I have seen the impact of suicide on family, friends, and even community members. I have had many instances where family members come in to see me because one of their loved ones committed suicide. They feel confused, angry and sad. Mostly, however, they question themselves. They ask what they could have done to prevent the death. They say things such as, “I should have stopped by to check on her.” “I shouldn’t have complained about …..” “I should have seen this coming, and done something. Why didn’t I do something?” They blame themselves. They are wrong, as well. If they had seen the suicide coming, they would have moved mountains to stop the loved one. They didn’t know.

There is an old saying that, “Suicide doesn’t end the pain. It just passes it on to those you love.” This is so true. When someone expresses the belief that their loved ones will be better off if they commit suicide, I ask them to tell me the name of a loved one. I then ask them to imagine they received a phone call saying that this person had committed suicide. I ask them how they would feel. I ask how much it would effect their life. I point out that their loved one will react exactly the same way if they commit suicide.

If you have a loved one who is clinically depressed, and you fear they may have suicidal thoughts, say something. Ask them if they are considering suicide. You won’t give them the idea or suggest it by asking. Then tell them exactly how their suicide would effect you. They need to know the truth. Such candor may help them see that their choices impact those they love. If you’re depressed and considering suicide, make an appointment with a mental health professional as soon as possible. There is hope and there is help!

Question: Do you have any suggestions to help or support someone who has lost a loved one to suicide?