What to do When Life Sucks

file000637797981Even when things are going well, life is hard. Worse, things often don’t go well. Bad things, painful things, even terrible things are pretty common occurrences in ordinary life. Divorce, injury, illness, death, cancer, chemotherapy, estrangement, abuse, rebellion, drug addiction, arrest, job loss, bankruptcy – you get the idea. Sometimes it’s you personally; other times it’s loved ones. You suffer either way.

This is our universal experience. One of my former pastors used to say that it seemed to him that pretty much everyone was either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis, or heading into a crisis. He might be right. Personally, I’m under a little job stress at the moment, but I’m doing okay overall. Not so for many of my friends and relatives who are going through tough times right now. Perhaps you are too.

I can’t tell you exactly what you should do about your particular situation, but some general principles apply. Here are some of the ideas I’ve been sharing with my loved ones about what to do when life sucks.

  1. Try to keep a bigger perspective. This can be very hard. It’s seems to be human nature to create disaster scenarios, to think that a problem represents “the end of the world.” Remember that other people have been through divorce, bankruptcy, loss, or whatever and have come out okay. This to shall pass. Things will get better, and this is not the end.  From a heavenly perspective, every trouble in this life is minor. Paul had this to say, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) Few of us will be able to get here in our suffering, but it can help to keep these words in mind.
  2. Take it one day at a time. The bigger perspective helps avoid despair over the situation, but the opposite is true for day-to-day living. Keep the “small perspective” for the action steps. As an example, reviewing all the potential actions and reactions of divorce proceedings can cause overwhelming anxiety, fear or anger. It’s better to focus on the near-term, what action is necessary today? Do today’s work today, and all tomorrows will be just another today. Many addicts have achieved sobriety on this principle.
  3. Find gratitude. No matter the crisis, we are all blessed in many ways. Take some time and identify your blessings. Be grateful for what you have and what’s going right in your life. Even in the crisis, there may be elements of blessing. For example, if you’re financially insolvent, living in American under U.S. bankruptcy law is a big blessing. A caring and expert oncologist may be a clear blessing to a person with cancer.
  4. Live healthy. The body, mind and spirit are one. This is no time to make things worse through bad habits. Comfort foods feel good for an hour or two, but are not the answer. Eat clean. Don’t overindulge; perhaps even fast a little. Avoid junk food. Be careful with alcohol or psychoactive medications. Here, less is more, and none might be best. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Do all the “right stuff” for good health.
  5. Let your friends help. Make an effort to connect with friends. Isolation makes everything worse. No matter how embarrassing or shameful, tell someone about the trouble. Just telling another person can be a big relief. Secrets corrode us from inside. Beyond listening and emotional support, friends may provide advice or tangible assistance such as a ride to the doctor’s office or babysitting for an afternoon. Accept their help.
  6. Use professionals. In my field of medicine, most doctors will agree that one should not be his or her own doctor. Same here. Get the right help. Find doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, counselors, or other professionals as appropriate who are expert in the issues at hand. Express your fears, goals and concerns, and ask questions. Rely on their counsel.
  7. Pray.  Pray for help, strength, healing, or peace. Ask for what you need and want. God has all power. He is not surprised or overwhelmed by anything bothering you or me, and he listens to and answers prayers. Remember, “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) For followers of Jesus, there is no situation (even those of our own making) in which God will not help us. No sin or crime will cause God to withdraw from us. Paul says, “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) God may or may not “solve” the problem the way we would like, but he will help and (I believe) you will know it. If you have never called on Jesus, this would be a good time to start.
  8. Surrender. Surrender the outcome to God. Surrender yourself to God. Trying to control everything and everyone simply will not work, and it will harm you emotionally and spiritually.   Give up your own will for his, know that God is “handling it” and find peace, peace to persist.
  9. Persist.  Things take time. Divorce proceedings can take a couple of years. Teenage rebellion can last beyond the teenage years. Emotional healing is often a slow process. God’s working in the situation, but you still must show up and do some hard things. Just keep at it. In life you only “lose” quitting. Don’t quit.

Personally, I’ve used all of these ideas at times when my life sucked, and I can testify, they work! What’s been gradually sinking in over the years is that these are the very same things I should be doing when life is going well. So either way, “life sucks” or “life is great,” or somewhere in between, I know they’ll work for you too.