Catastrophe seems to strike everyone in a uniquely painful way. For us, the diagnoses of our daughter, Lydia, with a rare form of epilepsy brought our family to its knees.
Although Lydia is very young, she has already experienced uncontrollable seizures, two brain surgeries, peripheral vision impairment, and when she lost her ability to eat she got a feeding tube surgically placed. Even after all of that, she is still universally delayed and cannot walk or talk, and she continues to have seizures.
For us, Lydia's medical needs are a crisis, but crises come in myriad of shapes and sizes. For some, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one tips their world upside down. For others, it may be the betrayal of a spouse or grinding poverty that shakes reality.
No matter what the source of a crisis, remembering these things can help you draw closer to God at the time when you need him most.
1. God has not abandoned you
It is easy to feel like no one understands the true depth of your pain and that heaven does not care. But that is not true. God loves you and has not abandoned you despite your desperate circumstances. Some of his most loved servants constantly faced difficult situations. Joseph of Egypt was kidnapped by his brothers, sold into slavery, and then imprisoned before things eventually started looking up for him. Do not despair when things go terribly wrong.
2. You are not being punished, but you may be being shaped
It would be naive to think that all of our crises are spontaneous - we usually have at least a small part to play in their development. But it would be equally silly to think that your crisis is a punishment from God. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. And sometimes bad things happen to the rest of us to give us the chance to grow into being good people.
3. Choose whether your crisis will make you harsher or kinder
Use this hardship to grow into something beautiful. In our house we have a sign that says, "Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over it became a butterfly." It is completely optional to learn from your trials and to have an open heart; and because it's not mandatory many people don't choose to travel that road. They become embittered and cynical.
One day when I returned home from an exhausting trip from the hospital with Lydia a friend commented how tired she was because her child had a minor illness. I almost shot out a biting comment loaded with sarcasm for that "poor mother" but I caught myself in time. I vowed right then that I would never belittle another's pain just because it didn't seem to "equal" mine. I promised myself that I would have more empathy for mothers who were worried about their children and not to one up them or ridicule their heartache.
Choosing to have an open, loving heart will allow you to better love others, and it will allow you to better receive love from others even in times of great distress.
4. See the good all around you, even in the thick of hard times
It's easy to let the crisis become the center of attention, and sometimes rightly so. But it's also important to come up for air.
There is God-given beauty, life and joy all around us, but we have to set aside our worries and fears long enough to enjoy them. If you are having a hard time seeing the good around you, try keeping a gratitude journal, spend more time in nature, serve someone outside of your home, or listen to uplifting music.
5. Tell God everything - the horrible, angry, fearful things as well as about the small successes and the simple pleasures of your day. Prayer and meditation are one of the most important things you can do for your well-being during a time of crisis. You may feel conflicting emotions simultaneously. You may feel and act in ways that are not up to your normal level of behavior. God wants to hear about all of it - the good, the bad and the ugly. He cares about the minutia of your life, and he wants to get you through the ugly, celebrate with you the good, and help you change the bad. So just lay it out there. He really is listening. I promise.
6. Read the scriptures daily
Prayer is how we speak to God. The scriptures are how he speaks to us. Words of comfort and guidance to make it through your crisis are within the pages of the scriptures. If you turn to them, God will give you personal insight into your problems through the lives of his followers in former times. Memorize a favorite scripture that brings you comfort and draw upon it when you are feeling particularly low.
7. It will not last forever
Although some trials may last longer than others, no crisis lasts forever. That's because this life is not the sum total of our existence. At some point, things we suffer here will be made right. Betrayals will be paid for. Broken bodies will be fixed. Broken hearts will be mended. Until then, take a deep breath and remember that everything will be alright in the end - if it's not alright, it's not the end.
When we turn to God in times of crisis, our burdens are lifted, and we are able to keep going and keep growing.