When life is hard or trials come, how do you cope? Do you turn to TV, social media, food, alcohol, or another version of escapism? Apart from a very strong desire to reward myself with a latte each time I accomplish an unpleasant task — or experience a victory — I’ve never considered myself a person who uses coping mechanisms. But the truth is, we all do. Consider a few less-talked-about ways of coping:
- Excessive planning
- Looking forward to your next vacation
- Serving at church
- Caretaking of others
These ways of dealing with life seem understandable and, in the case of some of them, even healthy. But they can also be things we use to ignore pain and disappointment in our lives. Here’s an example: I recently discovered that I was bypassing hard emotions by slapping a Bible verse on every situation. I never would have seen this habit as a bad thing. Many times, I’ve comforted myself with truths such as “all things work together for good” or “nothing is impossible with God.”
There’s nothing wrong with claiming and living in the promises of God. However, if I ignore the pain of my situation, I can use Scripture instead of God himself to soothe difficult feelings and ignore the big questions that arise as a result. (Examples: “Why did you allow this to happen, God?” “How could there be a purpose in this senseless tragedy?”)
The practice of using Scripture to talk myself out of pain may work in the moment, but eventually those verses will ring hollow apart from a deep sense of God’s love and care for me. It’s a bit like putting a Band-Aid on a severed artery.
In our humanity, we all share a tendency to self-medicate. Jeremiah 2:13 speaks of this: “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” I think it’s helpful to remember that finding ways to cope apart from God is human nature. We learn these ways of handling pain from our families, and our experiences in life further shape them; they will always be a part of our lives.
Maybe when you experienced hard things as a child, your favorite TV show and a snack brought comfort. Now in adulthood, when life gets rough or scary, you binge watch a TV show and order DoorDash to feel better. Or perhaps you go to more destructive ways of coping.
I want to be clear that if you are caught in an addiction, help and hope are available. God, the fountain of living waters, waits expectantly for you to turn from sin and experience His healing. A professional counselor can help you examine past trauma and your underlying thought processes and guide you on a path of change. Don’t believe the enemy’s lie that you’re too far gone or that change isn’t possible. God is bigger than our brokenness and any damage that has occurred in our lives. And like the father in the prodigal son story, God embraces us fully and in love when we turn to Him.
I was surprised when I recently discovered that I was sometimes “numbing out” instead of facing the hardships in my life. My methods of controlling my pain didn’t always come out in obvious ways. However, each time I made sense of my pain by quoting a Bible verse to myself or soothed my sadness with a pumpkin spice latte — instead of working it through with my Lord — I missed an opportunity to receive His precious comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
God’s Word makes no secret of the fact that we will suffer in this life. We will face sickness, rejection, sorrow, betrayal and death. Each of these things can either push us closer to our sympathetic Savior or push us toward our own methods of coping. Our gracious and compassionate God is there to comfort us “in all our affliction” so that we can comfort others. No tragedy we experience is wasted. When we press into the Lord through the pain, He gives us the comfort we seek and then magnifies it to benefit others.
I recently heard a woman say of a trial in her life, “God did a lot of good through my situation, but not all that good came back to me. He did good in the lives of so many people through this.” That is a perspective on suffering that can be lost when we sidestep God’s comfort in favor of our own coping mechanisms. I’ll still operate out of my default settings at times, but I also desire to press into my pain and share more abundantly in Christ’s comfort.
Copyright 2022 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.