Two Responses to Valley Experiences

Spring and early summer is typically when local communities gear up for Relay for Life; an organization whose tagline “celebrate, remember, and fight back” inspires its participants to raise money for cancer research for the American Cancer Society (relayforlife.org, 2014). It’s also the time of year that triggers a flood of memories from my own experience with cancer.

I frequently refer to my encounter as “the valley of the shadow of death” because those were some of the darkest hours of my life. It was an emotionally charged journey, filled with questions and uncertainty about my tomorrows. “Will I live?” “Will I die?” “Will I always feel this miserable?” These represent just a few of the questions that reverberated through my mind at any given moment. During periods of tribulation our faith is often tested and we learn what we are made of. People usually respond to valley experiences in one of two ways:

1. Grow closer to Jesus – These folks make an intentional decision to grow closer to Jesus; it doesn’t happen by chance. Although their suffering seems unbearable, they cry out to God in raw pain and He answers in tangible ways resulting in growth and greater intimacy.

2. Move further away from Him – Moving away from the Lord in times of tribulation is also a choice, although it may not always be a conscious one. Sometimes, people simply drift from God; usually because He did not answer them in the way that was hoped for.

After some deep soul searching, I chose to grow closer to Jesus. So I sought Him with my whole heart and in the midst of my suffering, I found Him walking with me, holding me, wiping away my tears and equipping me with promises I could hold on to. The most tangible promise God gave me came from 2 Chronicles 20:15-17:

15 “…This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you’” (italics added for emphasis).

Are you currently walking through your own “valley of the shadow of death?” Perhaps your valley isn’t cancer, but the death of a loved one, job loss, financial woes, a wayward child, infidelity, divorce, you fill in the _____________. Choose your response to your valley experience wisely my friend. Refuse to waver in your faith, even in the face of uncertainty. Go out and face whatever mighty army is coming against you and commit this truth to your heart…when God fights, God wins!

6 Reasons to Seek Therapy

Everyone experiences periods of stress, sadness and loss. Successfully navigating through those seasons in life is challenging enough, but what if you are not successful in working through negative or even positive life events? You might find the quality of your mental health compromised.

Psychotherapy can be a potent tool for resolving many of life’s problems, but you shouldn’t see your shrink for every little problem life throws your way either. You don’t have to be “crazy” or on the verge of a nervous breakdown to go to therapy. So how do you know when it’s time to call a professional? How bad do things need to get before you seek help? When you’re dealing with debilitating depression or you get stuck in the grief cycle,  the signs might be obvious, but at other times, it might not be so cut and dry so you shuffle through life until things become unbearable.

Most people don’t go to counseling until things reach the “unbearable” point, prolonging their misery and angst. The obvious truth here; however, is the sooner you seek help, the quicker you will be on the road to recovery and feeling better. In fact, it might actually make the problem worse by avoiding professional help so, before things get to the point of being unmanageable, here are six reasons to seek counseling now:

1. The problem is causing significant distress

Deeply intense emotions such as explosive anger, overwhelming sadness, fluctuating moods, complicated grief, or anxiety that impairs your ability to function may be signs that counseling is needed. If you are having thoughts of suicide, thoughts of harming someone else or if you are participating in self-injurious behaviors (i.e. cutting, burning or choking), seek help from a professional immediately. Disturbances in your normal sleep patterns such as sleeping too much, trouble falling or staying asleep, withdrawing from family and friends, and appetite changes, can also be telling signs that its time to talk with someone. Therapy can also help with strained relationships and marital conflict.

2. You’re self-medicating in order to cope

It is easier to numb the pain by self-medicating than to deal with the issues that are causing the problems in the first place. However, not dealing effectively with your problems creates new ones and makes a bad situation worse. If you are self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, or food [to name a few] and you need one of these substances to get through the day in order to deal with life stressors, it is a sign that you are trying to numb feelings that need to be addressed in counseling.

3. Something traumatic has happened

If you have a history of sexual trauma, emotional, physical or spiritual abuse, neglect or some other traumatic event that you have not fully dealt with, counseling could be a powerful tool in bringing necessary healing.

4. You’re stuck in the grieving process

Not everyone who has experienced loss (even major loss) needs counseling, but if you find yourself stuck in the grieving process and you’re unable to move forward, you might find therapy helpful. Grief can get complicated and doesn’t always resolve on its own. Some people respond to grief by withdrawing from family, friends and activities while others over engage and throw themselves into relationship after relationship. Counseling can be effective in working through the grieving process and help you to unpack suppressed emotions.

5. You no longer participate in activities or with friends

You avoid the things that used to bring enjoyment, including family and friends. Perhaps you feel you’ve lost direction or no longer find purpose or meaning in activities that you once could not live without. Many people pull back in seasons of painful emotions. This could be a sign that something isn’t right. Seeing a counselor might help bring clarity or assist you with a new start.

6. There’s no medical cause for your physical symptoms

Mood disturbances can cause a host of bodily aches and pains such as recurrent headaches, neck and muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems, general fatigue, frequent colds and a diminished sex drive. If your doctor has been unable to find a cause for your physical symptoms, it might be time to call a counselor. It just makes sense that when we are emotionally sick, our bodies are negatively affected.

If you do decide to give counseling a try, it doesn’t mean you’ll be in therapy forever. Many people feel better after one session and a lot of problems can be resolved in under ten sessions. Talking about your thoughts and feelings with an empathic, supportive person can not only make you feel better, it can be life changing by bringing about the emotional healing you desperately need.

Therapy can provide you with the tools for transformation. You can learn new coping skills, improve relationships, and build the life you’ve always envisioned for yourself. What are you waiting for? Lets get started!