The Cycle of Hope: Four Stages of an Upward Spiral

You know that feeling of fear when you sense yourself falling into a downward spiral? A cycle where you’ve been before?

Regardless of what triggers it and regardless of what type of cycle it is—grief, sadness, frustration, rejection, overthinking, or any other type of pain—if you’ve been there before, you feel hopeless. Stuck. As if change is out of your control. There’s this sense of fear that I’ve been here before and hate the ride.

But what if…

What if that spiral doesn’t have to end the way you anticipate?

What if it’s not a downward spiral, but a forward cycle?

What if the pull down comes from misunderstanding how God designed the path to work?

What if instead of being a vortex of defeat it could be a cycle of hope? Continue reading

Yes, I Do Want Your Pity

Pity is underrated.

This is especially true when you have a friend going through a difficulty and you know all the answers to the questions they aren’t asking.

I just finished reading through the book of Job, which has become one of my favorite Old Testament books. (I’ve written a couple of previous posts about Job’s confusion and endurance.) While reading, I noticed again Job’s plea for pity from his friends.

You remember the story. Job lost everything—including his wealth and livelihood, his children, and his health. His friends came to comfort him, but rather than speaking words of consolation, they spoke words of condemnation, suggesting from a variety of angles that surely he was at fault for all that had befallen him and that if he would just confess the hidden sin they assumed he harbored, all would again be well.

But Job didn’t see it that way. He knew that while he wasn’t perfect, he had no hidden sin. As the conversations between the four men continued, Job often turned his words from addressing their accusations to simply crying out in anguish for relief and understanding from God. And multiple times, he asked for relief from his friends’ condemning words.

On one of these occasions, Job pled with his friends for pity: “To him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friend” (6:14).

Pity. Job just wanted his friends’ pity.

Job isn’t the only one in the Bible who longed for pity. Psalm 69:20 tells us that David wanted it as well: “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.”

What is remarkable about Psalm 69 is that it is a messianic psalm specifically pointing to Christ on the cross. Of this passage, Matthew Henry wrote, “David penned this psalm when he was in affliction, and…the predictions were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.”

Read the verse again, and let this reality sink in: Jesus wanted pity. In His darkest hour, He longed for human pity and comfort.

Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.—Psalm 69:20

Sometimes we contrast pity and compassion, dismissing pity as a mere empty feeling. But what if true compassion requires pity?

What if there are times when, like Job’s friends, we don’t see the situation as clearly as we think we do? And what if we don’t have as applicable answers as we believe? What if, in some instances, pity is the best vehicle for giving comfort?

There are two perspectives from which this truth is needful to grasp—when you are the person who needs to give pity and when you are the person who needs pity.

When you can’t “fix it,” you can still give pity.

I think those of us who know that God’s Word holds all the answers for life sometimes forget that we aren’t personally responsible or able to fix everyone’s pain. Sometimes, as in Job’s case, God allows suffering to continue for reasons known only to Him. Sometimes, like Job’s friends, we are too quick to assume what we don’t know and too impatient to listen when visible change doesn’t immediately take place.

But when we can’t “fix it” for our friends, we can still care. We can empathize. We can be okay with not being the hero and just be the encourager, affirming God’s compassion and care as we walk alongside one who is suffering.

Much of the book of Job is a record of the dialogue between him and his three friends. For chapter after chapter, the pattern is predictable. He speaks; they accuse.

But have you ever considered how Job’s suffering would have been made more bearable had his friends encouraged him? What if they had said, “We don’t understand either, but we trust God with you”?

When you need pity, God gives it.

I first noticed the messianic prophecy, “I looked for some to take pity,” during my Bible reading one morning years ago. It came on the heels of a difficult realization that a friend who had tried to fix something in my life which she didn’t understand had given up on caring as well. As I read these words describing Jesus’ experience, I understood in a more profound way than ever before, that He cares.

Jesus understands the need for sympathy. To once again quote Matthew Henry on Psalm 69, “We cannot expect too little from men (miserable comforters are they all); nor can we expect too much from God, for he is the Father of mercy and the God of all comfort and consolation.” (Incidentally, Henry’s parenthetical thought there is a reference to our friend Job: “I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all,” 16:2.)

Even in Job’s case, as poor, miserable Job believed he was cut off from God and was pleading with his friends to just show pity, God Himself was looking on Job with great pity and tender mercy: “Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11).

Pity is a gift.

Whether you are a frustrated friend who can’t seem to get her message of help across to one who is suffering or you are the anguished sufferer, remember that pity is a gift. There are times we need to give it, and there are times we need to receive it.

There are unexplainable griefs in this life. Sometimes God allows His own to shoulder burdens that don’t go away in a single conversation…or decade. Sometimes we do well to listen and care and walk with our friends to the throne of grace again and again—not in a short-lived quest for the perfect solution, but in assurance (and giving reassurance) of “mercy, and…grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

And then, when we pour out our heart and pain before someone from we hope to receive the gift of pity, and they don’t know how to—or just don’t—give it, we do well to remember that God empathizes with us.

The God who pitied Job is the same who Himself felt the loneliness of suffering without comfort. He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15), and He invites you to cast all your cares on Him, “for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

202 Ideas and a Postcard

There are reasons I don’t write blog posts nearly as often as I intend to. And none of them include a lack of ideas. Well, at least not a lack of rough, seed thoughts.

As blog post ideas come to mind, they immediately go into my “post ideas” notebook in Evernote, which currently has 202 rough ideas to come back to later. And just for good measure, I have a dozen or so of these posts half-started in my writing program Scrivener.

So why don’t I post more often?

I tell myself it’s because I don’t have time. Or energy when I do have time. Or that the raw ideas weren’t as good as they seemed the moment they came to me. Sometimes I even write a rough draft and find it wasn’t as interesting or helpful as I thought it would be and never come back to it, despite my intentions otherwise. Many days I have “write blog post” on my to-do list, but it’s just never a high enough priority to end the day with a check next to it.

But today—when I didn’t even have “write blog post” on my list—I experienced something so unexpected that I couldn’t not write.  Continue reading

Why Paul Didn’t Begin a Thorn Ministry

If the Apostle Paul lived in twenty-first-century America, he would have available to him two ministry opportunities he clearly overlooked back in the first century.

The first is a book deal for Visions from the Third Heaven. 

The second is a thorn ministry.

You know how it works: Suffering comes into one’s life, and she then uses that difficulty to start a ministry for people dealing with the exact same issue.  Continue reading

Three Surprising Benefits God Has Given Me Through Reading His Word

Twenty years ago, when I first began reading through my Bible in a purposeful way, with a commitment to myself to read through annually, I had no idea how significantly God would bless me through the pages of His Word.

Yesterday, however, as I completed my annual journey and recorded the date in the back of my Bible, I looked at the previous dates already recorded there, and I began to reflect on some of the events that had taken place during those years. 

These weren’t all easy years. 

Some were full of joy and others full of challenge. Some were downright tumultuous. 

But through the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of these years, I have had an anchor.  Continue reading

5 Suggestions for Your Side of the Counseling Desk

One of the most shocking moments I experienced in a counseling class I took some years ago was not, as you might guess, an extreme example the instructor gave of a counseling experience.

It was at the end of the class when the instructor was thanking us as students for our attention and participation and followed with the admonishment, “Just make sure you stay on the right side of the counseling desk.”

The right side of the counseling desk?

I know what he meant: Place preemptive safeguards in your life so you don’t fall into tangled sins. And he is right. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be so consumed with helping others that we neglect our own walk with God and make excuses for sinful choices leading us to spiritual implosion.

But the reality is, I have spent time on both sides of the “counseling desk.” And we all need both sides.

I’ve had seasons when I sought needed help from ladies who are wiser than me and able to give biblical perspective and truth related to personal struggles or sinful habits I was dealing with. And I’m so thankful for them. Continue reading

When Courage Doesn’t Roar

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, “I’ll try again tomorrow.”—Mary Anne Radmacher

That quote was meaningful enough to me the first time I read it that I still remember where I sat and the time of day.

I saved it immediately, and I’ve used it in teaching since. Whenever I share it in a lesson, I see pens and paper connect as many others want to save it, too. It’s worded with such concise beauty that we easily identify with it.

But there is something about this quote’s appeal that has always troubled me a little. It’s not that the quote is inaccurate, but that it is incomplete. Continue reading

When You Never Experience Infinite…

Almost three months after I moved to Southern California, I innocently asked a co-worker, who was a SoCal native, where would be the best spot to visit the ocean. “I have a couple days free, and I’ve been wanting to see the ocean. Where should I go?”

“You mean, you’ve never seen the ocean? Like, you don’t mean just not here in L.A., but no ocean anywhere?”

“I’m from Illinois. We don’t have the ocean there.”

“You’ve never seen the ocean? Never?

Whatever, I thought to myself. It’s not like I’ve never seen anything that is memorable. I mean, look, she’s never seen unending acres of corn!

That was on Tuesday. Continue reading

A Word of Encouragement on Your New Year’s Bible Reading Goal

So, somewhere around December 31 or January 1, you renewed your resolve to read God’s Word daily. Or maybe you set a goal to complete a new study plan or stick with a specific reading schedule.

You pictured yourself with a steaming cup of coffee, a new journal with freshly-filled pages, and the first hints of sunrise streaming in your window onto your open Bible lighting your already glowing face.

This, you decided, will be the year I really read all the way through. Or, This will be the year I study XYZ topic.

Then January 2nd happened.

Or maybe it was January 10th. In any case, you overslept, couldn’t find your journal under the mess you had meant to clean up the night before, and didn’t feel much like reading anyway. Continue reading

Why You Should Not Compare Your Story to Someone Else’s Quote

There’s something about seeing David Brainerd quotes posted online that makes me smile. Not a discrediting smile (I love his quotes!), but a sympathetic smile.

Brainerd’s journals have moved me profoundly. In fact, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd is the only autobiography I remember setting down mid-reading—not just once or twice, but almost every time I pick it up—moved to fervent prayer. His heart for God freely (and rawly) expressed in those pages, which he believed no one would read as he penned them, is that real and that convicting.

I smile, however, when I see his quotes because his journal was often so contradictory. Like some of us, he encountered extreme highs and lows. But the posted quotes rarely even hint of the contradictions Brainerd lived with.

Take for instance, this quote: Continue reading