“Even in the darkest of circumstances, when life is not what you ordered, you can learn to begin again.”
– Jan Eves, a remarried widow with five children

Several years ago, I endured one setback after another: medication problems, relationship issues, and personal projects that failed to materialize. These piled up and resulted in a major faith crisis for me.

Month after month, I battled giving in to despair. Sharing my inner pain with a few friends and my therapist helped. But, except for two friends, most changed the subject, or simply gave trite “spiritual, judgmental” answers like: “You shouldn’t feel that way…You need to read your Bible and pray more…”

Feeling isolated and misunderstood, I read whatever I could find to keep my hopes alive and buoy my spirits. To stay afloat, I read numerous books, articles, and poems by people who had made it through the dark nights of their souls.

Some of their words infused my heart with a new optimism. Reading their stories and perspectives jarred me into being open to some new opportunities for my life. Out of that tortured, lonely time, I wrote a book,Abandoned and Betrayed by God: Surviving a Crisis of Faith to offer help and hope to fellow strugglers.

Finding new hope in life to replace your traumatic experiences can be a valuable exercise that keeps you moving through your dashed expectations to the other side. This is not always possible. Your pain may be too deep, and you may be wise to see a therapist for insights and support. However, most of the time, after a while, you can begin to think in new terms about your future.

Recall Your Past Successes, and God’s (or your Higher Power’s) Past Interventions

Unquestionably, when you are in the midst of any kind of critical time, it’s easy to be so inundated with your current problem that mental-spiritual amnesia blots out all your previous personal successes, and awareness of God’s working in the past. Catching brief glimpses of His actions can make a huge difference.

The Simon Wiesenthal Foundation in Los Angeles is dedicated to keeping the memory of the WWII Jewish holocaust alive in order to prevent future atrocities. Its motto is: “Hope lives when people remember.” (italics mine)

You can use your memory in one of two ways: one is not helpful, the other will make a huge difference. The first way you can use your memory is simply to do what comes naturally in difficult times. You keep recalling instant replays of all your failures, hurts, and unfair treatment, focusing your anger at life, people, and God, and how they’ve misled you and orchestrated your broken dreams. Unfortunately, this use of your memory can keep you locked into in the bad past, trapping you in self-pity, bitterness, and cynicism.

Whenever I started doing instant replays of the events that I felt caused my inner misery, I noticed how quickly my thoughts turned negative. I soon sank into the spiritual quicksand of despair. All I could do was obsess over my losses and dread the future.

Sadly, some people have worked so hard and are so fixed on their goals that when a setback wipes out their plans, they collapse in self-pity, anger, substance abuse, or other mechanisms to numb the pain of their loss.  This doesn’t have to happen.

The second way you can use your memory will instill you with hope and endurance. This way takes deliberate effort to change your focus. It means calling to mind the instances when God has acted on your behalf, as well as through the difficulties of other people whom you know. This mental exertion can give you strength to gut it out through your terrible upsets and give you hope that things will eventually get better.

Strangely, reasoning with my memory actually helped my outlook become more upbeat. When I chose to think about past instances of God’s faithfulness to me and others, I was able to hang on, do whatever I could to survive, and wait for Him to intervene. I thought through that since I’d lost hope in the past and still recuperated, I could recover from this testing. If I could be rescued once, then I believed, I could be delivered again. This mental exercise actually helped my attitude to become more flexible, more optimistic.

Visualize a New Outcome for Your Life

Periodically, I pondered how I might move beyond my wounds and even use them to help others.

It may seem too simplistic, but ultimately, I found all strategies, sooner or later, meant that I had to give myself adequate time to process my pain, and exercise my faith in new ways.

Professor Kathryn Greene-McGreight, authored, Darkness Is My Only Companion. In her book, she shares her struggles with serious depression and mood swings, and candidly described her reactions to God’s seeming absence in her life of pain:

 “…even in my abandonment, I remembered even if only foggily that God had good plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11), plans for welfare and not for evil, to give me a future and a hope. It was painful to remember this, and I had to keep reminding myself over and over.”

Visualizing a different outcome for your life can be a useful tool in moving forward through a difficult personal crisis. Obviously, surviving any kind of setback is a highly individual matter. There’s no simple formula. You’ll probably need to try a number of routes until you find a path that works for you.

The Bottom line for me and countless others: Life is all about recovery. Living in a broken world as a damaged person means that life is a series of new beginnings!

And rebounding from devastating losses and ruptured faith is, at core, an attitude-faith issue that requires resolve, discipline, and perseverance…as well as input and support from others.

Yes, I and countless others have found that it’s never too late to begin again. And no matter what your circumstances, if you are willing to work at accepting reality (but not necessarily “liking” it), changing your outlook, and redeeming your shattered dreams, there’s always the opportunity to start over…and over…and over.

As you consider re-tracing old steps, or taking new ones, please ponder these…

Words from sideline “Watchers, Wannabees:

“Any powerful idea is absolutely fascinating, and absolutely useless until we choose to use it!”
– From Richard Bach’s book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

I shot My Arrow    
I shot my arrow into the sky.
I hit no thing. How it did fly.
I hit no thing for I did not try.
I just shot my arrow into the sky.
-Author Unknown

Spring is past
Spring is past,
Summer is gone.
Winter is here,
And my song that I was meant to sing
Is still unsung.
I have spent my days
Stringing and unstring my instrument.
-Author Unknown

Words from “Try-ers,” Do-ers…

“When it is dark enough, men see the stars.”
 Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If you don’t learn how to flex, you’ll always be bent out of shape!”
– Author unknown

“Behold the turtle—he makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.”
-J.B. Conant, former president, Harvard University

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
– Author Unknown

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of the deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold, timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

“Man’s finest hour, his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear, is that moment he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious.”
-NFL Coach Vince Lombardi

How about trying these suggestions for making a new start:

  •  Recall God’s past interventions in your life or the lives of others
  •  Visualize a new outcome for your life

As you step out, may you discover:

healing for your hurts,

improved energy,

a new openness for possibilities,

rejuvenating adventures,

faith-stretching experiences,

deep satisfaction,

and the fresh fun of laughing at yourself and life!

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Hi, I'm Jim. I've been through the emotional wringer. I've been a successful pastor and leader and a loving father, but I've also been suicidally depressed. I'll teach you the techniques I used to heal myself, and give you the tools to reclaim your life and move forward!

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