• Topic > When Life Hurts

    Guilt and Forgiveness

    In his book Human Universals, anthropologist Donald Brown lists more than four hundred behaviors that he considers common across humanity. He includes such things as toys, jokes, dances, and proverbs, wariness of snakes, and tying things with string! Likewise, he believes all cultures have concepts of right and wrong, where generosity is praised, promises valued, and things like meanness and murder understood to be wrong. We all have a sense of conscience, wherever we’re from.

    The apostle Paul made a similar point many centuries ago. While God gave the Jewish people the Ten Commandments to clarify right from wrong, Paul noted that…

    Heavy but Hopeful

    In a Peanuts comic strip, the very enterprising character Lucy advertised “psychiatric help” for five cents. Linus found his way to her office and acknowledged his “deep feelings of depression.” When he asked her what he could do about his condition, Lucy’s quick reply was, “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.”

    While such light-hearted entertainment brings a momentary smile, the sadness and gloom that can grip us when real life happens is not that easily dismissed. Feelings of hopelessness and despair are real, and sometimes professional attention is needed.

    Lucy’s advice wasn’t helpful in addressing real anguish. However, the writer of…

    Hard Ground and Tender Mercy

    When James was just six years old, his older brother David died tragically in an ice-skating accident. It was the day before David’s fourteenth birthday. In the years that followed, James tried his best to console his mother, Margaret, who in her deep grief sometimes reminded herself that her elder son would never have to face the challenges of growing up. In James Barrie’s fertile imagination, decades later that same idea would burgeon into inspiration for a much-loved children’s story character who never aged: Peter Pan. Like a flower pushing its way through pavement, good emerged even from the hard…

    A Strong Heart

    In his book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, co-authored with Philip Yancey, Dr. Paul Brand observed, “A hummingbird heart weighs a fraction of an ounce and beats eight hundred times a minute; a blue whale’s heart weighs half a ton, beats only ten times per minute, and can be heard two miles away. In contrast to either, the human heart seems dully functional, yet it does its job, beating 100,000 times a day [65–70 times a minute] with no time off for rest, to get most of us through seventy years or more.”

    The amazing heart so thoroughly powers us through life that…

    Storms of Fear

    In a TV commercial I saw recently, a woman casually asks someone in a group watching TV, “What are you searching for, Mark?” “A version of myself that doesn’t make decisions based on fear,” he responds soberly—not realizing that she was just asking what he liked to watch on TV! 

    Whoa, I thought. I wasn’t expecting a TV commercial to hit me so profoundly! But I related to poor Mark: sometimes I too feel embarrassed by the way fear sometimes seems to direct my life. 

    Jesus’ disciples also experienced the profound power of fear. Once, as they headed across the Sea of…

    To Be Human

    “Mr. Singerman, why are you crying?” asked twelve-year-old Albert as he watched the master craftsman construct a wooden box.

    “I cry,” said Isaac, “because my father cried, and because my grandfather cried.” The woodworker’s answer to his young apprentice provides a tender moment in an episode of Little House on the Prairie. “Tears,” explained Mr. Singerman, “come with the making of a coffin.”

    “Some men don’t cry because they fear it is a sign of weakness,” he said. “I was taught that a man is a man because he can cry.”

    Emotion must have welled up in the eyes of Jesus as he compared…

    Never Alone

    “It can be an affliction more harrowing than homelessness, hunger or disease,” wrote Maggie Fergusson in The Economist’s 1843 magazine. Her subject? Loneliness. Fergusson chronicled the increasing rates of loneliness, irrespective of one’s social or economic status, using heart-wrenching examples of what it feels like to be lonely.

    The hurt of feeling alone is not new to our day. Indeed, the pain of isolation echoes off the pages of the ancient book of Ecclesiastes. Often attributed to King Solomon, the book captures the sorrow of those who seem to lack any meaningful relationships (4:7–8). The speaker lamented that it is possible to…

    Free at Last

    Twenty long years passed before British journalist John McCarthy—a five-year hostage during Lebanon’s grueling civil war—met the man who negotiated his release. When McCarthy finally met U.N. envoy Giandomenico Picco, McCarthy simply said, “Thank you for my freedom!” His heartfelt words carried great weight because Picco had risked his own life during dangerous negotiations to secure freedom for McCarthy and others.

    We as believers can relate to such hard-won freedom. Jesus gave up His life—enduring death on a Roman cross—to secure spiritual freedom for all people, including each of us. Now as His followers, b we know “it is for freedom…

    The Deepest Places

    Victor Hugo (1802–1885), a poet and novelist during the social and political upheavals of nineteenth-century France, is perhaps best known for his classic Les Miserables. Over a century later, a musical adaption of his novel has become one of our generation’s most popular productions. This shouldn’t surprise us. As Hugo once said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

    The psalmists would have agreed. Their songs and prayers provide us with honest reflections on life and its inevitable pain. They touch us in places we find difficult to access. For example, in Psalm 6:6,…

    Unbreakable Faith

    After doctors diagnosed their first-born son with autism, Diane Dokko Kim and her husband grieved facing a lifetime of caring for a cognitively disabled child. In her book Unbroken Faith, she admits to struggling with adjusting their dreams and expectations for their beloved son’s future. Yet through this painful process, they learned that God can handle their anger, doubts, and fears. Now, with their son reaching adulthood, Diane uses her experiences to encourage parents of children with special needs. She tells others about God’s unbreakable promises, limitless power, and loving faithfulness. She assures people that He gives us permission to grieve…

    Breaking the Cycle

    David’s first beating came at the hands of his father on his seventh birthday, after he accidentally broke a window. “He kicked me and punched me,” David said. “Afterward, he apologized. He was an abusive alcoholic, and it’s a cycle I’m doing my best to end now.” 

    But it took a long time for David to get to this point. Most of his teen years and twenties were spent in jail or on probation, and in and out of addiction treatment centers. When it felt like his dreams were entirely dashed, he found hope in a Christ-centered treatment center through a relationship…

    When the Floods Come

    I live in Colorado, a state in the western US known for the Rocky Mountains and our annual snowfall. But the worst natural disaster in my state had nothing to do with snow, but rain. The Big Thompson flood occurred on July 31, 1976, around the resort town of Estes Park. When the water finally receded, the death toll was 144 lives, not including livestock. In the wake of that disaster significant studies were done in the area, especially in regard to the foundation of roads and highways. The walls of the roads that withstood the storm were those filled…

    The Christmas Gift of Speech

    A post-surgical stroke had robbed Tom of his ability to speak, and he faced a long rehab journey. Weeks later, we were pleasantly surprised when he showed up at our church’s Thanksgiving service. We were even more surprised when he stood up to speak. Searching for what to say, he jumbled his words, repeated himself, and confused days and time. But one thing was clear: he was praising God! It’s possible to have your heart break and be blessed at the same moment. This was that kind of moment.

    In the “pre-Christmas story” we meet a man who lost the gift…

    Prayer of the Broken-Down

    “Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there, and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope.” That prayer is whispered by a broken-down George Bailey, the character played by Jimmy Stewart in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. In the now iconic scene, Bailey’s eyes fill with tears. They weren’t part of the script, but as he spoke that prayer Stewart said he “felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn.” It broke him.

    Bailey’s prayer, boiled down, is simply “Help me.” And this…

    Facing the Battle

    Not long ago I met up with a group of friends. As I listened to the conversation, it seemed like everyone in the room was facing some significant battle. Two of us had parents fighting cancer, one had a child with an eating disorder, another friend was experiencing chronic pain, and another was facing major surgery. It seemed a lot for a bunch of people in their thirties and forties.

    First Chronicles 16 recounts a key moment in Israel’s history when the ark of the covenant was brought into the City of David (Jerusalem). Samuel tells us it happened in a moment…

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