Not long ago I saw a colorful, captivating picture on a doctor’s office wall. It was clearly a parody of Disney’s movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Remember those jolly little round, robust fellows who whistled, worked, and walked home singing catchy tunes? Good ol’ Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey seemed to make life a bit lighter wherever they went.
The picture on the wall was titled “The Seven Dwarfs of Despair.” I read their names: Spacey, Lonely and Empty (evidently twins), Guilty, Worry, Angry, and Gloomy. For a number of reasons, there was comfort in that picture—life isn’t always the happiest place on earth.
I have to admit; on many occasions I feel more like the despairing dwarfs than Snow White. There are days when I do feel spacey, lonely, worried, angry, gloomy; irritated that my brain functions differently than “typical” brains.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made and also fearfully and wonderfully flawed.
Including everyone on EARTH! Sometimes by choice, sometimes by life, sometimes by genetics, and sometimes allowed by God. I seem to have a good mixture of it . . . these daily challenges which can get messy without taking it all to Jesus. I learned that unless the Lord allows differently, I will always struggle with PTSD, generalized anxiety, ADD, and seasons of depression. The “ups and downs” are often manageable, but not always. Last week, for example, I felt more worried, spacey, and gloomy than I did happy, sleepy—and for sure, bashful is not in my vocabulary.
Let me just say to those who are enduring despair or suffering, I’m so sorry. I’m here for you—I understand!
You will NEVER hear me say words like the following, which often add to our pain rather than comfort. I, and perhaps you, have heard a few of these . . .
- You don’t have enough faith.
- There must be sin in your life.
- Just pray more.
- God heals those who trust Him. You must not be trusting the Lord.
- If you would just do ____ or _____, you would be fine.
- Aren’t you past that yet?
- Some people use sickness as an excuse for getting attention.
- God helps those who help themselves.
- Well, at least you don’t have _____.
- Maybe you need to try a different diet.
While most are said innocently and sincerely, they reflect a need to “fix” people rather than endure their trials with them. After all, life isn’t all about “you, you, you.” However, what does help is to reframe our perspective on mental health and suffering. Paul the apostle was a master at this. Imagine if Paul confided in you about his “thorn in the flesh”? I wonder, would you say any of those things to Paul the apostle? He unashamedly spoke about his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12:7. The passage says his suffering was a “messenger of Satan” used to “torment” Paul. In spite of Paul’s pleading with God to remove the thorn, God didn’t. Yes, our good, loving Savior and Lord allowed Paul’s enormous, debilitating pain to remain in his life (Galatians 4:12–15). How do we make sense of that? How would you respond to that?
Having studied the brain’s functions and connections, I’ve learned there are countless reasons people struggle. For example, have you ever considered those with PTSD who are not war veterans? A number of statistics reveal the following:
- 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives. That’s 223.4 million people.
- Up to 20% of these people go on to develop PTSD. As of today, that’s 31.3 million people who did or are struggling with PTSD.
- An estimated 8% of Americans—that’s 24.4 million people—have PTSD at any given time.
- An estimated 1 out of 10 women develops PTSD; women are about twice as likely as men.
- Among people who are victims of a severe traumatic experience 60 to 80% will develop PTSD.
- Almost 50% of all outpatient mental health patients have PTSD.
- Somewhat higher rates of this disorder have been found to occur in African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans compared to Caucasians in the United States.
- Lifetime occurrence (prevalence) of PTSD in combat veterans is 10 to 30%.
- In the past year alone the number of diagnosed cases in the military jumped 50%—and that’s just diagnosed cases.
- Studies estimate that 1 in every 5 military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has PTSD.
- 15 to 43% of girls and 14 to 43% of boys will experience a traumatic event.
- 3 to 15% of girls and 1 to 6% of boys will develop PTSD.
- As many as 30 to 60% of children who have survived specific disasters have PTSD.
- According to the National Center for PTSD: “Rates of PTSD are much higher in children and adolescents recruited from at-risk samples. The rates of PTSD in these at-risk children and adolescents vary from 3 to 100%.”
- 3 to 6% of high school students in the U.S. who survive specific disasters develop PTSD.
- More than 33% of youths exposed to community violence with experience PTSD.
- According to the National Center for PTSD: “Studies have shown that as many as 100% of children who witness a parental homicide or sexual assault develop PTSD. Similarly, 90% of sexually abused children, 77% of children exposed to a school shooting, and 35% of urban youth exposed to community violence develop PTSD.”
According to The Effects of High Stress on the Brain and Body in Adolescents report from Yale, stress is believed to contribute to the physical and behavioral health problems of adolescents. Of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, 2.3 % have fair or poor health, 5% miss 11 or more days of school because of illness or injury, 10% have smoked cigarettes, and 17% have used alcohol; of adolescents between ages 12 and 19, 18% are overweight. Stress also impacts cognitive functioning, diminishing concentration, memory, attention, and decision-making capabilities.
As we see in the statistics above, many conditions are unrelated to warfare but rather to life in general: abuse, fear, disasters, trauma on many levels, genetic abnormalities, insufficient vitamin intake, sleep, stress, and more.
Anxiety can come from a tremendously unstable environment rife with abuse, fear, bullying, or genetics connected to ADD. This could also cause a great deal of anxiety, food intolerance, insufficient vitamin absorption, or metabolism malfunction. Depression can be triggered by anything from environmental or seasonal issues to toxic substance interference, lack of sleep, genetics, unending caregiving demands, hormones, or major life changes.
With so many possible causes of trauma and suffering, we are all susceptible, and we should all be more compassionate towards those who are suffering. For whatever reason, most Christians who have somehow escaped personal suffering seem to believe if they can “name it and claim it,” we who are suffering can control it. Those who cannot control it are at fault.
Can’t we ONCE AND FOR ALL QUIT THIS BLAME GAME! Stop blaming those who struggle; instead, try loving and serving people who are challenged. Serving is far more difficult. Loving without blaming or dismissing is a necessary skill—a virtue—that needs to be developed.
Paul told us God allowed the pain to humble him and keep him dependent on His Savior rather than relying on his incredible gifts and intellect.
Pain and dependence knock pride out of our lives when we’re willing to accept what God allows. God has allowed my disabling emotional and physical conditions, my children’s enormous pain, and my son’s disabilities for a purpose. All this continues to transform my soul. Not a day passes without dependence upon my Lord to do His work. Not a day passes when the Lord isn’t honored and glorified as I serve Him. It’s all Him, not me.
Where do you stand on accepting others who struggle, are different, or present challenges you don’t understand? Struggles may be from a thorn God has allowed: a disease, a wayward child—whatever reveals our need for a Savior.
Some may be given a “thorn in the flesh” which Christ never defined specifically. This leaves room for a lot of misunderstanding if we are not careful.
Some may be suffering or acting differently due to invisible challenges or trauma.
Do you have a tendency to label or distance yourself from those you can’t “fix”? We were never meant to fix others, so resign from that position. Instead, consider that there are countless reasons why someone may be struggling, come alongside them by asking what they need, and allow God to use you as He wills.
For those in pain, remember Paul’s thorn and know that God is present in your circumstances. Please reach out for support.
Let Me Hear from You
If you are free from ongoing challenges, ask the Lord how He wants to use you in others’ lives.
For us all, what is your greatest struggle with those who are in a season of suffering? Can you sit with them and listen insead of giving cleche’ ansers? It’s a good time to look into Scripture and see how God lived aboung those who hate him. For the record whre are you strutggling the most with pain, what has you feeling God has let you down, will trusting Him make things better or worse? I invite you to the Reframing blog and social media stir up thoughts and questions.; What are some of your most pressing challenges?
Colleen Swindoll Thompson is a recovering idealist; a witty, creative investigator of faith; a compassionate caregiver; a writer and speaker; and a survivor of a shipwrecked life. She serves at Insight for Living Ministries as the director of their Reframing Ministries Department.