Have you ever faced a situation where you experienced a sense of little or no control? Perhaps you have been in a situation where you had no influence over what would happen, no matter how hard you tried to change it? In the following article I will explore two important life events from personal experience and what they taught me about control. I will propose that acceptance is an effective approach in dealing with unpredictable life events, and finally linking this with faith and finding comfort in God’s promises.
In times of uncertainty it is natural to have feelings of sadness, loneliness, boredom and anxiety. For many, these are uncomfortable feelings that demand to be dealt with, most commonly by way of avoidance. If we have ever stopped to think about why we do this, we do not have to look far to the everyday challenges we face in the material or physical world. We encounter all sorts of issues that require a level of problem solving. For example, if there was a bear chasing after us, we could get rid of this problem by throwing rocks at it, a spear, set a trap or shoot it. Or what about if there was bad weather? You could avoid it by hiding in a cave, seeking shelter somewhere else or moving to higher ground. Problem solving strategies are useful and necessary for our survival going a long way back into our past. Given this approach is so effective in the ‘outer world,’ we assume that it works the same way with our ‘inner world’ – that is, our psychological world of thoughts, feelings and emotions. Unfortunately, problem solving our emotions is ineffective and, in most cases, increases our suffering and pain.
Many years ago, someone close to me was diagnosed with a mental health disorder. This disorder is characterised by the experience of delusions, their thoughts and feelings are distorted and do not reflect what is happening in the ‘real world.’ Trying to have a conversation with someone who is actively experiencing delusions is the most frustrating experience. For me it brought up feelings of helplessness, sadness and guilt. Moreover, it was frightening, and I realised how powerless I was because of how little control I had over what was happening. In a more recent situation, my wife and I, pregnant with our first child, were given news by a medical professional during a routine appointment that there may be complications arising from what they had picked up in a recent scan. This news made us feel worried, anxious and helpless. Again, we were reminded about how little control we had over the situation or outcome.
When facing uncertainty, it is not the situation as such, that is difficult to deal with, it is making sense of our thoughts and feelings that presents the biggest challenge. The material world can be dealt with by practical problem solving, however we cannot approach the psychological world in the same way. Avoidance is the most common response to difficult emotions; it is also the characteristic that is common across almost every mental health disorder that exists. It might look like distracting yourself and keeping yourself constantly busy. Does this sound like you? Or just focusing on the positives and avoiding any conversation or experience that might bring up those uncomfortable feelings you have been trying to get away from. Other manifestations of avoidance include denying the truth and reality of the situation, instead acting like everything is under control and has little impact on your life. These approaches are futile and increase suffering in the long term. Instead, it calls for a more effective approach, one that involves acceptance and trust in God.
Acceptance can be described as recognising a situation/experience/circumstance for what it is, as an objective fact, without judgement. It is neither liking or approving of the situation or seeing it as positive or negative. It just is. It is acknowledging all the thoughts, feelings, sensations and urges that come with the situation and giving yourself the permission to sit with it, to feel and experience it. A feeling of worry is quite normal during times of uncertainty. Actually, worry has a very good function in that it helps us to re-examine what is important in our life and what we want to put our energies towards. During times of economic uncertainty, worry tells us that how much we value our financial independence and helps us to re-prioritise our lives, to take steps towards spending time doing more of what is important to us and in line with our values. Sadness is a normal response when dealing with loss, and it enrichens the experience of relationships. Without sadness we would not understand or experience the full depth and richness of relationships and their importance in our lives. It is truly tragic when one feels they must resort to avoidance of such feelings!
As followers of God we can be reassured by the hope of Jesus. God is faithful, keeps His promises and will protect and strengthen us during times of trial (Psalms 119:90, 2 Thess 3:3). He will work through all circumstances regardless of the outcome. He will always give us the resources to handle what comes our way (1 Cor 10:13). He encourages us to pray with thanksgiving and requests (Phil 4:6). The reassurance for His followers is that He works for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). In the personal stories that I mentioned earlier, it was not that God provided a positive outcome for us during trials, rather, it was that regardless of what was happening or what the result was, He taught us lessons about trusting in Him. In fact, it was during times of challenge that He revealed His character to us the most. God’s Word assures us that as followers of God, He will never leave or forsake us (Deut 31:6, Heb 13:5). God teaches us about acceptance in that there is no situation that is beyond God’s plan and control. He has never broken a promise and has shown that He is faithful and trustworthy throughout the generations. For this we can take great comfort in knowing our future is secure in Him. Rather than trying to control our emotions or situations when things get difficult, we can accept them for what they are, be reminded of God’s faithfulness, and hand over control to Him.
by Robin Ma