Let’s face it. Being single and Christian is hard. It’s even harder to find that person you want to spend the rest of your life with. There are so many factors to consider: age, personality, looks, and spirituality. It can all become a blur. How do you even figure out if someone is a match for you? What does God have to say about it? Here are five powerful secrets to finding Mr. or Mrs. right as a young Christian single.
The first thing to consider is whether you and the other person are serving the Lord. One of the first things I discovered about my wife was that we were both passionate about serving God and looked for ways to bless others.
In fact, I met my wife preparing for a short-term mission trip. The funny thing is it wasn’t love at first sight for either of us. We continued to serve together at different times and in different places for about four years.
One day I looked up and I realized we were spending a lot of time together and I had stars in my eyes.
You can’t find the right person for you if you are putting on a mask in public. The person you attract will be drawn to the mask and not the real you.
So don’t be afraid to share your real opinions about things. Put your likes and dislikes on full display.
Yes, some people will be repelled but the right people will be drawn to you. Now, don’t get me wrong.
You don’t want a clone of yourself who thinks and believes the same way you do. You want someone who will be attracted to your authentic self.
Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
I grew up in a small storefront church in Los Angeles. Most of my family still attends this church.
My heart will always be there, but staying within this circle made my choices for a mate slim.
Once I got out and started becoming involved in leading a Bible study on campus, and eventually going overseas on short-term mission trips, the dating pool started to widen.
I started meeting different people and more people who were going in the same direction I was going. That all started with me stepping outside of my comfort zone.
Decide That You are Dating to Marry
This should be a no-brainer for Christians but oftentimes we just date people because we don’t want to be alone.
I can remember hearing a sermon about marriage and being a single Christian man. The pastor said that if we’re not going to a hostile mission field or secluding ourselves in the Amazon jungle to find a cure for cancer we need to plan to get married.
That basically put me on blast and I started actively seeking to find the wife God had for me.
Be willing to let go
The last secret is this: Be willing to let go. Sometimes the person you are dating is not the right person.
Still many people go on dating someone when they know that they don’t want to be with this person for the rest of their life.
There are more red flags than a Chinese political rally yet the person still holds out hope that maybe they will change. Most of the time they will not.
It’s best to stop holding on to hope that this person will change their ways or their basic personality traits. When you do that your perspective on the situation changes.
You begin to compromise. You want the relationship to work so badly that you will do anything to make it happen.
Eventually, either you both move on after wasting time or you end up marrying them and committing to a person who is not for you.
A column by Dr. Minnie Claiborn, Ph.D., a licensed counselor, life coach and author.
There are seven basic areas wherein all human challenges lie. One of these is our relationship with self. We form many of our opinions of ourselves based on what others around us say to us and about us, or how we interpret what they say and do.
In some respects, we do come into the world with a “blank slate” and we write on it based on how we are treated. Some of us encounter rejection, abuse, abandonment, and many other hurtful experiences from our primary families or caregivers when we are young. From these experiences, which may be accompanied by ugly words, we often form unhealthy opinions of ourselves.
I had a young woman client once who in her mind and experience did not fit the societal standard of beauty. When she told me that she had been raped, she asked with incredulity, “Why would anyone rape me?” Her opinion of herself was so low, she felt so unattractive, that she was amazed that even a rapist would want her.
On the other hand, I observed a young lady whose body shape and physical features also did not meet the society standard of beauty, yet she exuded self-confidence. I discovered that she was a daddy’s girl, had a loving, doting mother and had married a man who also adored her.
Many young men who were not affirmed by their fathers suffer from a sense of insecurity, fear, rejection, lack of self-identity and a lack of belonging. Other people contributed to our being broken, but God can heal us (Luke 4:18). We can’t go back and change what was said or done to us or about us, but with new information and truth, we can change how if affects us.
Truth trumps facts. Divine truth (truth from God’s perspective) is greater than the facts of our experiences and thoughts. If you were not told that you are beautiful, or handsome or valuable by anyone else, know that God made you and He thinks you’re all of that (Psalm 139).
How do you change a wrong or bad opinion of yourself? Put God’s Word in your mouth and speak it to yourself out loud. A good place to start is by saying, “God loves me.” The entire Bible bears witness to that truth. I have witnessed the power of Scripture-based affirmations. An affirmation simply means that you affirm and agree with what is being said. Here is an affirmation that you can use every day that will help you to begin to have a winning relationship with yourself. You might know it in your head, but you need to SAY it over and over so that your subconscious will receive truth and your conscious thoughts and behaviors will begin to change. God told young Joshua to meditate on His word day and night and he (Joshua) would have prosperity and good success (Joshua 1:8). I suggest that you say this out loud at least five times per day until you know in your soul that it is true.
AFFIRMATION: God loves me. God accepts me. I love and accept myself. I invite God to change the things that do not please Him and things that are detrimental to me.
When should you start having sex? I was reading through a question posed by a 16-year-old young lady. Here is what she asked this online community of relative strangers, “My friend is wondering what other people think. She is 16 and so am I. I think that it’s fine around the age of 16 if you use protection. She thinks that it’s fine whenever.”
I have a 16-year-old daughter myself and imagined that these people were responding to my daughter. That was pretty disturbing to me from the young lady who says she started at 13 and has loved it ever since to another 16-year-old who confirmed that yes 16 is indeed the perfect age.
While there were a few cautionary responses to this young lady, I began to wonder to myself what would I tell this young lady myself. In fact, I personalized it more. What would I tell both my 16-year-old daughter and my 22-year-old son?
Rather than giving them a specific age or situation (e.g., “when you find the right person”), I would tell them why I remained a virgin until I got married. Yes, despite biological urges, social pressures, and even some “close calls” on my wedding night at the age of 22 I had my first sexual experience. I’m proud of that.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I mentioned some “close calls.” I wasn’t an angel. Honestly, there were some heavy petting episodes that I am not particularly proud of. But, there was something in my mind that would not allow me to “go all the way” to consummate the deal. Based on my religious convictions, I just didn’t think I could live with myself if I just let go.
Why did I wait? Some might call it fear. Others might say avoiding shame or guilt. I’m sure all of these are true at some level. But, looking back, I really do think God was protecting me in some ways. I didn’t want God or my family to be disappointed in me. I didn’t want to give away something that I could never undo. That is about as sophisticated as my thinking was during those years.
Now with many more years of experiences and knowledge, I can better articulate (even making a Top 10 list) why I am so glad that I was a virgin when I married. And, most of these same reasons explain why I have stayed and expect to remain faithful to my wife alone.
This article isn’t intended to call out or guilt anyone who chose to be sexual before marriage. Whether you are glad you did or regret it, it is done. You aren’t defined by it either way.
But, I do hope this is a salute and source of encouragement to others like me who choose to wait. I also pray that it will encourage those like my children and others like the 16-year-old posing the question when to start having sex to think carefully.
Top 10 Reasons I’m Glad that I was a Virgin When I Married
Reason #10: I can write this blog post
Well, its true. I could never write this blog post if I wasn’t a virgin when I married. But, there is a bigger point about the ability to be a living example of what is possible even when culture runs counter to it.
I want to be able to deliver my message without any sense of hypocrisy. I want to be a model for like-minded others. Sometimes, people just need to know what’s possible. How many times have you seen someone achieve some milestone and said to yourself “If they can do it, I can do it.”
If you desire to save your full physical, emotional, and psychological expression to share in a covenantal relationship then my message to you is that it can be done. If you’re a teen with high school pressures, I remember those days of feeling left out and lonely. If you’re a single adult, I remember the awkwardness of some dating relationships during my college years.
I’m proud to represent and give voice to my value of premarital abstinence.
Reason #9: I know exactly how many kids I’ve fathered
There has been much attention, especially in urban centers, about the issue of fatherlessness. There are far too many socioeconomic variables impacting this highly publicized area for me to address here.
Suffice it to say that every man involved in creating a child is responsible for being a father to that child. Being a father is more than some vain conquest or bragging rights. Fatherhood is a lifetime commitment to sacrifice and develop your young. If you are not consistently engaged, you’re not a father. You’re a sperm donor.
The reality, however, is that many men don’t even know kids that they have fathered. Granted, there are clearly situations where this is intentionally withheld from him. But, there are far too many situations where either the mom isn’t sure of paternity herself because of being involved with multiple partners or the man has literally or figuratively disappeared without a trace.
Personally, I know that I have fathered two children. I have and will continue to sacrifice for my kids. They and their mother know my lifetime commitment to them.
Reason #8: Never worry about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
Given that neither I nor my wife had any sexual partners outside of our marriage, I have literally never in my life worried for one second about contracting a sexually-transmitted disease.
While some suggest that “safe sex” is the answer, most objective people acknowledge that the only safe sex is no sex if you are thinking of STDs and pregnancy. I just think in my own marriage of those times when we were using condoms in our own family planning efforts. We had so many mishaps even in our carefully “controlled” setting. When these mishaps occur, think of the psychological angst and physical exposure you feel until a test validates that everything is fine.
In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports nearly 1.5 million cases of chlamydia, nearly 335,000 cases of gonorrhea, and more than 15,000 cases of syphilis (each representing an increase over 2011 figures). And, this isn’t even dealing with chronic diseases like HIV. You can access the report here. And, as you might guess the CDC confirms that the greatest increase in these diseases is among young people ages 15-24—with young women facing the greatest long-term health risk.
I am so grateful that I never have to carry this psychological burden.
Reason #7: I have never coerced or encouraged a woman to have sex for which she wasn’t ready
Physical intimacy is done best among mature people. But, so often it isn’t—resulting in many (especially women) with regrets about giving themselves sexually when they really weren’t ready to do so.
I suspect I would have felt guilty for a long time if I ever fostered such regret.
Reason #6: Proof that it can be done
Nobody can tell me that it can’t be done. I’ve spoken with quite a few males over the years trying to convince me that it is not realistic to expect a guy to remain celibate for so many years.
That’s bull. I’ve done it. And, so can you.
And, if you’re a parent wondering if it is realistic to have this expectation for your child. Yes, have the expectation. And, voice that expectation to them. They can do it with the right encouragement. But, if they choose not to, you have done your part to offer guidance. But, be sure to continue your efforts to engage and guide them even if they don’t make the choices that you prefer.
Reason #5: Sense of pride in being obedient to my religious convictions
Much of my thinking about premarital sex is rooted in my Christian faith tradition. These convictions have been instilled in me since I was a young boy. Granted, I wasn’t given any tools or systematic education to help me live out these convictions. But, clearly, I believed that God desired me to wait until I was married to have sex.
Now, I realize that there are many Christians who choose sexuality outside of the marital context. And, that is between you and God.
But, I also know many Christians who carry around a sense of guilt that their behavior is not aligned with their convictions. They feel like hypocrites. Many of them decide to leave the faith to avoid the cognitive dissonance that they experience. Others just live with a residual sense of guilt.
At least in this area, I feel a sense of pride that there is an alignment between my faith and my behavior. I talk boldly because I don’t worry about any hypocrisy. There is no guilt or proverbial “skeletons in my closet” that I worry about.
Reason #4: Give the gift of celibacy to my wife
Though I can’t say I was mature enough to appreciate this when I got married, in retrospect, I am grateful I could give this gift of celibacy to my wife—especially because she was a virgin herself.
Though possibly less than in the past, there continues to be a double standard for men and women. Men are not typically stigmatized by their sexual conquests while promiscuous women are often cast in a negative light.
It means a lot to me that my wife was a virgin when we married. She saved herself as a gift to the man she would marry. And, I am honored that I could give the same thing back to her.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that your marriage is any less special if you came into the relationship with sexual experience. For you, the key is to give the gift of monogamy to one another. That too is something to be quite proud about.
Reason #3: Debunk the notion that guys only want “one thing”
Men have a reputation (often justifiably so) that when we are in a relationship that we ultimately only have one thing on our mind. All of the flowers, the candy, the dinners, and the engaging conversation are ultimately about coaxing the young lady to the bedroom.
Given that I did not pursue sexual intercourse in any of my dating relationships, I am proof that not all guys are only interested in sex. I wanted companionship. I wanted to have fun together. I wanted intellectual stimulation. I wanted closeness. But, I expected sex to only happen after matrimony.
Yes, there are some guys who are focused on sexual conquest or self-centeredness to getting their own biological urges satisfied. But, there are many guys like I was with a much broader view.
By the way, this is a big issue even after you get married. We husbands have to avoid the trap of coming across as only wanting sex from our wives. We need to give spiritual, emotional, and physical intimacy to have a thriving marriage.
Reason #2: My wife is my only frame of reference
I have had sex with one woman in my life. And, I enjoy it.
Because I’ve never had any better or worse partner, I have no point of comparison. There are no memories of prior enjoyable experiences that might leave me disappointed in any aspect of our physical intimacy.
Sure, we have our sexual miscues as does every long-term relationship. And, yes, I’m sure even after more than 25 years that we still have plenty to learn about maximizing our physical intimacy.
But, I am so grateful that I can never compare my current experience with anything I’ve ever experienced before.
Reason #1: I can encourage my kids to do as I did
And, my number one reason that I’m glad that I waited is what I want to express to my kids.
I will never have to say “do as I say, not as I do”. My wife and I have had conversations with them over the years about our expectation that they commit themselves to waiting until marriage to have sex. We can speak with authority.
Of course, I have no idea if they will heed our advice and prayer. But, they will always know in spite of what the culture presents to them that their parents did it. In this area as in many others, we want to model our values and our faith to our children and future generations of the Arnold family.
As I said at the outset, my intent is not to judge anyone else’s sexual behavior. It is simply to reflect on my own gratitude and model for those with like values.
I’d love to hear your thoughts for and against what I’ve suggested here.
Christmas is a stressful time for many, so not surprisingly it’s also known as the season for arguments.
Some assume it’s because we share the time with family members, who we’re more likely to argue with because of bottled-up resentment or some other annoyance we’ve been secretly nurturing. Others put it down to alcohol.
But, in either case, under normal circumstances, people are usually adept at keeping potentially hurtful comments to themselves. So why is it that we’re more likely to say things we might later regret during Christmas?
Over the past three years, we’ve been studying why people say things they later regret. Released this week in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, our research discovered in eight experiments over three years the same variable consistently explains why people disclose things that cause them anguish.
From innocuous faux pas to more serious disclosures of secretive information, in each experiment we found “arousal” explains tendencies to disclose information that probably should have been concealed.
Christmas is stressful, and stress leads to chronic arousal. When people are aroused, they’re more likely to say things they probably shouldn’t.
So what is arousal? And why does it cause people to say things they later regret?
Essentially, arousal is the degree to which an individual is awake and alert. You might assume being awake and alert would increase rather than decrease the accuracy of what we say – but this appears not to be the case.
The reason is that arousal uses up so-called “cognitive resources” — basically brainpower. Because there are less conscious cognitive resources available for controlling what comes out of our mouths, our minds default to more automatic, and seemingly less considered, responses. When we lose conscious control over what we say, it becomes more likely we’ll disclose information that we would otherwise keep to ourselves.
Our research finds that information we’re usually careful about concealing, such as secrets and very personal information, is more likely to be disclosed when we default to more automatic responses. We found arousal makes people reveal more personal information, disclose secrets, reveal incriminating information and share frowned-upon experiences with strangers.
In our first experiment, we asked participants to write dating profiles. We evoked arousal with half the participants. They disclosed more embarrassing, emotional, intimate and even incriminating information on their dating profiles than those who were relatively relaxed.
A posthoc study found those people who disclosed such information were less likely to be chosen for a date. The study suggests people who aren’t chilled out are viewed as less ideal partners.
In our second experiment, we found people were more likely to disclose times when they said mean or malicious things to others online, suggesting that arousal increases the disclosure of information that people do not normally like to disclose. Relaxed people, it seems, are better at concealing information and keeping secrets.
In our third study, we evoked arousal by getting people to jog on the spot for 60 seconds. The results found participants were more likely to share embarrassing stories (open up to others) after physical exercise. Usually, people might disclose personal information like this to friends and family, but it seems people are more likely to open up to strangers when aroused. This finding suggests that doing physical exercise together might be a better way of getting to know someone than more docile pursuits such as sitting around.
It seems that lowering arousal is the key to gaining more control over what we say. The problem is that the times when we ought to be careful — such as job interviews, media engagements, important work meetings, or romantic encounters — are often arousing, and it is not easy to remain calm and relaxed.
So what are some things people can do to minimize unintended disclosures and save the family from a memorable Christmas for the wrong reasons?
Some techniques are known to reduce daily stress levels and are useful for situations when we’re most riled up. These approaches include consciously controlling your breathing and listening to chilled music. Other techniques for longer-term benefits mirror the advice of health professionals – reduce how much coffee you drink, eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep.
Not only do these steps make you healthier, they also reduce your stress levels and ultimately your control over what you say.
So when you’re opening your pressies or digging into your turkey this Christmas, try to chill out and relax. Turn on the music, breath deeply, and reduce the chance of saying something you might later regret.
Loving bravely is risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may ridicule you for doing so. That’s the kind of love I want to give this Valentine’s Day.
This Valentine’s Day, I’m gonna try something different. Something brave.
Brave, as in, “this-year-I-will-forgo-typical-expressions-of-love-and-instead-donate-to-her-favorite-cause” bravery.
No, that’s not what I’m planning. I’m just offering that as an example. Eschewing a gift for a donation is the kind of thing that you only do when you really know somebody well, because if you’re wrong, you will pay for it. (All the married men should be nodding their heads right now.)
That’s what I mean by brave. Something unexpected that shows how much you care, something that might seem reckless, but is, in fact, very meaningful.
I have some work to do in the bravery department. Holly and I have been married for five years now, and unfortunately, I set the bar pretty high when we got engaged.
A friend of mine was the worship director at a megachurch in the area, and his band was planning on covering Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love,” for their worship service, since they were doing a series on relationships. So he asked me in advance to write another rap for it and bust it out during the service. So I upped the ante, and with their permission ahead of time, I wrote the rap verse as my will-you-marry-me speech, and during the middle of the song, I jumped off the stage and came down to where Holly was sitting, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry me.
It was so romantic.
Afterwards, I got mad cool points for going to such a length to surprise her. Afterwards, everyone kept echoing the same sentiment: Man, that was so brave.
Far be it from me to revise, as my grandmother used to say, even a jot or a tittle from the Bible. However, if I were to bring any editorial changes to an iconic biblical passage, I would choose 1 Corinthians 13, and right after “love is patient, love is kind,” I would add a third clause: “Love is brave.”
‘Cause seriously … ladies dig bravery. And for good reason.
Think of great leading men in popular films:
• Cary Elwes throwing himself down the hill in The Princess Bride.
• Bruce Willis fighting the terrorists in Die Hard.
• Will Smith trying to express his feelings in Hitch.
These are characters who found themselves in unfamiliar territory, and against all odds, they chose to do something good to help someone else, and found themselves being stretched (or in Smith’s case, swollen and contorted) beyond capacity in the process.
These are universal themes, for sure, but the common element here is bravery: the massive chutzpah required to stare down adversity and do the right thing anyway. It’s the stuff heroes are made from.
It’s important, though, that we not get confused about what bravery is, and more importantly, what it isn’t. Being brave, for example, is not the same thing as simply going against the flow.
Awhile back, I avoided seeing the last huge James Cameron blockbuster, mostly because I figured I already had a pretty good handle on how it ended (the boat sank), but also because I got tired of the hype. I just decided at some point that I’m going to be The Guy Who Never Saw Titanic, just to show up everyone else who thought it was so great.
The sad part is, I’m tempted to do the same with Avatar, even though I’ve read countless reviews and articles (including this one by UF’s Todd Burkes) that suggest that it’s a film experience worth having. It’s like I’d rather be the guy who didn’t see it, even if it means I miss out on seeing a great film.
Being contrarian is quite a marketable skill these days, because if you want to be a celebrity in today’s celebrity-saturated media marketplace, you have to do something to stand out from the rest of the pack. The quickest, easiest way to do that is to find a stance that is accepted as conventional wisdom, and then oppose it as vociferously as possible. This is why the Internet is full of people who oppose relatively normal things, like certain typefaces, or even lowercase i’s next to capital letters.
(If you didn’t get that last reference, it’s ’cause you didn’t follow the link to the word “tittle” earlier. Go ahead, it’s not naughty or anything.)
This desire to stand out, in my opinion, is why former-NBA-journeyman-turned-culture-critic Paul Shirley recently penned a crude diatribe suggesting that Haitian citizens are culpable for their deplorable living conditions. Even though there are points he made that I agree with, I don’t think it was a particularly brave thing to say. He was looking to get a reaction, and he got one. People will accuse Shirley of many things, but loving too much is not one of them.
Loving bravely is not just taking an unpopular stance; it’s risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may, in fact, ridicule you for doing so. Obviously I’m not privy to all the details, but it seems to me that, by choosing to stand by her husband, Gayle Haggard chose to love bravely. It’s possible that Elin Nordegren Woods may be choosing similarly.
This is the truest essence of love, and as Christians we see it all over the Scriptures.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
This idea of sacrificial love, of doing for others what they cannot do for themselves, is one of the foundational principles that underscore all the worldwide efforts at Christian evangelism. And evangelism, as we all know, takes on many form — some subtle, and some not so subtle. The best strategies are ones that require truth and vulnerability, but still are basic and doable.
I’m reminded of “The Best Stuff In the World Today Café,” a cool little ditty by Take 6 with a nifty analogy of evangelism imagined as a downtown restaurant:
Time for lunch, my stomach said
I left the office to get fed
I had dined at every place on Main
My appetite was ripe for change.
And there stood this old restaurant
I had never seen before
And a stranger in an apron
Came bursting through the door and said
‘Welcome to The Best Stuff In the World Today Cafe
We are all believers in a better way
We were served as customers not so long ago
Now we are all waiters, we thought you oughta know’
It’s a clever song, and given the abundance of vocal talent in Take 6, I could probably listen to them sing pages of HTML source code and still love it.
Still, I wonder … what would happen if we really tried this? What would happen if I really grabbed someone off the street on an average Sunday morning and told them, “I don’t care what you planned to do, you gotta try this Jesus thing?”
I don’t know what would happen.
And that’s why it’s such a scary proposition in real life. Maybe that person would undergo a dramatic, Paul-on-his-way-to-Damascus conversion to Christianity. Or, maybe that person would give me the stink eye and say, “Dude, get your hands off me.” That’s why it’s such an act of bravery to put yourself out there like that.
And whether we recognize it or not, this holiday that we celebrate every February 14th, the one that was seemingly invented by purveyors of greeting cards, flowers, stuffed animals, and expensive chocolates … you know, Valentine’s Day?
Its origin is rooted not in empty sentiment, but in bravery.
• The name “Valentine” is derived from the Latin valens which means “worthy,” and which bears etymological resemblance to our English words “valor” and “valiant.”
• The holiday itself has roots in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, where it was known for centuries as the feast day of Saint Valentine
• All the romantic sentiment related to love and courtship that has been traditionally associated with this feast originated with works of art like Jacobus de Voragine’s thirteenth century Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) and Chaucer’s fourteenth century poem “Parliament of Foules”
• The name St. Valentine is actually an umbrella name for a number of martyred figures throughout church history, many of whom were known for various acts of kindness and bravery
• These acts include marrying and otherwise providing aid to Christians persecuted under the reign of emporer Claudius, and restoring the sight and hearing to the daughter of the jailer who subsequently imprisoned him
You put all that together, and it becomes evident that all of the sentimentality on display every year is just our society’s misguided yearning for a purer, less self-centered version of love than what we see in the movies, on television, and in gossip magazines.
It’s misguided because, sadly, we as a society keep returning to those same movies, TV shows, and gossip mags to inform our ideas of what true love looks like.
That’s why it’s incumbent on us as Christians to show, as Paul said, a more excellent way.
So this Valentine’s Day, I say be brave.
I can’t tell you what that act of bravery should be, because it’ll be different for all of us. Maybe it’ll mean being honest and really sharing feelings and issues that you would rather keep buried. Maybe it’s going out of your way to show your spouse that you love them, and doing so in the way that they really appreciate, rather than the way you happen to be good at.
Maybe it’s just stopping, out of the blue, just to say, “I love you.”
But whatever you decide, step on out there and do it.
And if it involves rapping a marriage proposal in the middle of a Sunday-morning worship service, don’t tell them I sent you.
We don’t mean to lie, but when someone asks us how we’re doing, it is much easier to say that we are “fine” or “blessed” than to tell the whole truth. The reality is that we are not always fine. There are times when we are going through hell. We face personal hell—conflict in close relationships, failing health, toxic work environments, financial struggle, church hurt, and other distress. If that wasn’t enough, in the age of moral decline, we are also going through hell in the social and political landscape of our lives with political maneuvering, state-sanctioned violence against Black people at the hands of police, pervasive patriarchy and gender inequality, and racial disparities in education, employment, healthcare, and housing. Even if you are not distressed personally, with increased access to information, we are constantly bombarded with bad news, which can wear on our hearts and minds. Whatever hell you are going through, we offer these eight suggestions to pull yourself up:
Breathe: In times of stress and hardship, notice your breathing. Often when we are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, our breathing tends to be shallow. Research has shown that deep breathing lowers stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. A simple breathing technique to try is to sit upright, shoulders relaxed, arms resting by your sides, with your eyes closed. Inhale through your nose for five counts, then exhale through your mouth for five counts, repeating this process 3-10 times. If you find yourself in a persistent state of hell, make time daily for deep breathing to help release tension and stress. Deep breathing won’t make the issues go away, but it will calm you and clear your mind to face the issues.
Pray: In moments of trial, prayer is beneficial for many reasons. First, it invites us to pause and connect with God—to be reminded that we are deeply loved and are not alone. Second, prayer gives us an opportunity to release our burdens to the One who is able to bear the weight of all that we carry. Lastly, prayer reminds us that the hell we experience on earth is no comparison to the joy we will experience in the eternal presence of God, filling us with hope and power to forge ahead despite what we are facing.
Phone a Friend:In addition to divine connection, human connection is vital to our well-being. In particularly burdensome times, talking with a friend—whether via text, telephone, or in person—has a way of lifting your spirits. Be sure to connect with friends who will listen deeply and empathize with you; I am reminded of the story of Job in the Bible when he was going through hell and his friends showed up. They cried with him and sat with him in his pain. Their presence comforted him greatly and did not become a nuisance until later in the story when they began to insert their thoughts and opinions about what he was going through instead of simply being with him.
Play:In our culture and society, play is viewed as children’s business or trivial, but I would argue that play and movement are necessary for well-being, especially when in the midst of hardship. Think about it: In elementary school, even the most stressful days and bickering amongst friends was cured by a game of kickball, double-dutch, or running around on the jungle gym. Recreation has a way of creating us again and invigorating us for life. My preferred play is running. Join a pick-up game of basketball, head to the bowling alley with friends, or dance with reckless abandon with your children. Whatever you do, allow yourself to engage in an activity that brings you joy and gets you moving!
Count Your Blessings:There is something about a posture of gratitude that helps to encourage us. When going through hell and everything seems to be going wrong, recounting the aspects of life that are going well and the people and things we are grateful for is an instant mood lifter. There is a saying, “I have more to be thankful for than to complain about” and when we think about and name our blessings, the pressure of our problems is allayed.
Repeat a Mantra: Mantras are typically not associated with Christianity; however the word mantra simply means to think. It is a thought, word or phrase repeated to inspire, motivate, ground, or calm an individual. A mantra can be a quotation from Scripture that encourages you to persevere through tough times or a phrase that cultivates and strengthens your faith and resolve in times of suffering. I have a friend who when faced with obstacles that appear insurmountable repeats the mantra, “God is bigger!” It’s has helped her get through many distressing situations.
Extend Yourself Grace:Sometimes we can be especially hard on ourselves, even when we are going through difficult times. The reality is that the expectations we have of ourselves we would never have of others if they found themselves in situations that mirror our own. When I am going through hell, trying to keep things together, I find it helpful to treat myself the way I would treat a friend. This means reminding myself that I’m doing the best I can or permitting myself to rest. It also means speaking kindly to myself when I fall short.
Recognize that this is temporary:In the moment, it often feels like the hellish experiences that we are having will last forever, but the operative word in the phrase going through hell is “Going.” When facing various trials and tribulations, it is important to remember that where we are is not where we’ll always be; There will come a day when this hell will be a distant memory, and a testament to your grace, strength, resilience, and resolve.