I couldn't believe what was happening to me. I, Mary Barrett, usually calm, composed, optimistic and positive, was falling apart. I just couldn't cope with the changes that had burst into my life in a short space of time.
I couldn't cope with our recent move. Usually, when we move to another church, we've been able to find a house immediately. This time we had no such hick. Here it was, nine months later, and we still lived in a tiny flat. All of our possessions, save a suitcase each and a small bookcase of essentials, remained in storage. We felt our lives were on hold.
I also was struggling with our new church. We had no honeymoon period as we reeled from one crisis to another. The challenges were such that even King Solomon would have been tempted to ask God for more wisdom!
Neither could I cope with watching our two daughters struggling to settle into their new school, new church and new surroundings. During our cozy chats together, they would confide that they were no longer "happy" and my heart would break.
And my coping mechanism went into overload when one of my sisters found out that her second kidney transplant was failing. My kidney was an exact match. Confusion grew as I longed to give Gerry my kidney and yet I knew my children needed stability and security. Who needed me most, my sister or my daughters?
As a result, I felt overwhelmed. Intellectually, I knew that God had it all under control. I knew He could take what seemed like a tangled mess of muddles and create something good. However, what I knew in my brain, I didn't feel in my heart. I felt distraught. There were too many difficulties and no obvious solutions.
As pastors' wives, we can be sure that at some point in our lives, we are going to face situations that we struggle to cope with. Those "I can't cope" experiences can trickle into our lives in many different disguises: clashes at church, hassles at home, worries at work, problems in our personal lives, or sometimes a combination of everything at once. Some of the situations are shorted; other times we feel as if we are being sucked into a swirling spiral of calamities from which we cannot escape. How do we cope? For me, the remedy was simple. My daughters and I stayed at my parents' home during a school holiday. I spent a lot of time talking, walking, praying, and spending time with God. As a result, I felt much better.
The Bible gives us many snapshots of those who struggled with episodes of "I can't cope." Think of Martha, who, with a pressure-cooker-like explosion, couldn't cope with her failed expectations of Mary. Zero in on Elijah, who at times couldn't cope with the stress of his ministry. Pencil sketch with your eye Moses who no longer could cope with being "Mr. Fix-it" and struck the rock twice, Linger on Peter in the courtyard who couldn't cope with the unexpected as he denied Jesus three times. Each person found relief when their "I can't cope" situation was shared with God. We, too, can do the same. In fact, Jesus very clearly shows us what to do when we just can't take any more. Come with me as we peek in on Jesus' "I can't cope" experience.
Use your imagination and paint a picture of the Garden of Gethsemane using water colors. Draw in the distraught, despairing Jesus pleading with His father to spare Him from the cruelties of the cross. In Mark 14, we find a vivid portrayal of Jesus. He is confronting the reality of His impending death, and He is struggling with the situation.
We hear His voice in the sleepy silence of the night as He passionately pleads, wearily whispering, boldly begging His Father for freedom from the fate He is about to face. His mind is in turmoil as He rapidly paces the garden, His long strides causing His robe to flap urgently about His legs. We see Him dropping to His knees with a thud, hands clasped in prayer, head upturned as He searches the heaven for comfort from God. And we see Him falling onto the damp, dirty ground, His fingers clutching at clumps of slippery grass covered with the evening dew, sobbing as only those in anguish can do. We smell the sense of fear, terror, and horror that engulfs His body as droplets of blood form on His glistening head.
For Jesus, His "I can't" situation was connected with the pain of loss. To be wrenched away from the love of the Father was a death in itself. How did Jesus cope? He did it by turning to the only One who could help—God. As a result, the picture of pain is transformed into a portrait of peace, a peace that promises hope.
In ministry, we experience a lot of "loss" situations. Frequently, we lose the house we have turned into a home, we lose the strangers we have turned into friends, we lose the church members who have become our brothers and sisters. As wives, we lose the jobs that fulfill us, we lose the simple, everyday routines of life that have to be established over again and we may even lose the dreams that we have not had time to turn into reality. Jesus shows us what to do when we go through not only those but other kinds of "I can't cope" situations. We can learn how to cope by studying how Jesus coped.
In spite of the anguish that was bubbling away inside Him, Jesushome, we lose the strangers we have turned into friends, we lose the church members who have become our brothers and sisters. As wives, we lose the jobs that fulfill us, we lose the simple, everyday routines of life that have to be established over again and we may even lose the dreams that we have not had time to turn into reality. Jesus shows us what to do when we go through not only those but other kinds of "I can't cope" situations. We can learn how to cope by studying how Jesus coped.
took the time to be with God. Even when He knew that His time on earth was running out, He still made time for God. Ellen White tells us, "Christ found joy and comfort in communion with His Father. Here He could unburden His sores that were crushing Him." Jesus was able to cope because He had a deep relationship with God. If we want to learn how to cope with the disappointments of life, we must first learn how to experience the joy of knowing God.
When Jesus was crushed by the crisis of the cross, He focused on God. Consequently, He did not lose hope. First Corinthians tells us, "the God of hope will fill us with His joy so that we will abound in hope." So, we can face our "I can't cope" situations with the sure expectations that God will do something about them.
Like Jesus, we need to spend as much time as possible in God's company. Like Jesus, we need to spend constant, unhurried time with God so that we will know in our hearts and not just in our heads, that God has a thousand ways to deal with our unresolvable difficulties. It is only when we sit with God that we will know in our hearts that nothing is beyond His greatness, His power, His wisdom. And it is only when we sit with God that He can fill us with hope. One of the reasons I went through my "I can't cope" situation is that I put aside my time with God to deal with all the other issues demanding my attention, but once I allowed God first place in my life, I had the conviction that God could sort things out.
Why is it that God seems silent when we desperately need Him to touch our hearts? Possibly because our emotions form a barrier between us. Look at how Jesus approached God with His "I can't cope" situation. His first prayers were not "your will be done," but rather"take it away,""get me out of this situation," "I do not want to face this." He talked to God about how He felt. Tell God what is destroying you. When we express our emotions fully to God, we stop seeing problems and start seeing possibilities where God can work.
Janice, a pastor's wife, went to visit a counselor. She talked of the difficult church her husband pastored. She found herself sobbing uncontrollably and apologizing for her behavior. The counselor told her that it was okay to feel sad and cry. Sometimes, as pastors' wives, we cannot express what we feel to anyone, we have no close friends, we don't want to burden our already overburdened husbands, and we feel disloyal to God if we don't respond with a "Praise the Lord" to every situation. But our God is an accepting God who says it's okay to grieve, to hurt, to cry about what is going on in your life. It is okay to share what you feel with other pastors' wives and ask for their support, just as Jesus did with the three disciples He took to the garden.
About six years ago, six pastors' wives and I started a circle of prayer. Each month we mail each other our prayer requests, and every Monday morning we fast and pray for one another. The support we feel from one another is incredible. Sharing what you feel with God and being supported in prayer will make a tremendous difference in the way you cope.
Jesus also shows us that we need to place our "I can't cope" situations into the hands of God by asking Him to deal with them in His way and not our own. We know this, but it is something we struggle with. To hand over to God our plans for what we want to achieve, our plans for those we love, our plans for the way we want to live our lives, can be scary.
As much as Jesus shrank away from the cross, He felt safe enough with God to place His very life in God's hands to do with as He wished. How safe do you feel with God?
God loves us and does not want us to be crippled by our "I can't cope" situations. If you ever doubt His love, just spend some time sitting by the cross. Because of that cross, it is safe for you to place those things that you struggle with in His hands. Because of that cross, you can place your heartaches in God's hands and know that God will unleash His incredible power to work in the most exciting ways.
Remember, though, that giving your difficulties to God may not mean that they will be wiped away with a magic wand. Jesus' "I can't cope" situation was not taken from Him. He still went to the cross. But He was able to face it with firm faith in His Father. Jesus' "I can't cope" situation became the greatest blessing in our lives. Perhaps your "I can't cope" situation may become a great blessing in your life.
Does it all work? Well, we are still without a house. I still can't work as my heart would like, my daughters are still not happy, our church still has its difficulties, and my sister still needs a kidney. Nothing much has changed except me! Instead of saying "I can't cope," I now say "I can hope." I can hope in the God who has the very best planned for my family, hope in the God who loves us too much to let us go through anything that will not turn out to be the blessing we need. Instead of feeling discouraged, I feel excited. I feel joy. I wait with anticipation to see the solutions God has for our problems. And I feel a sense of security and serenity in knowing that my problems are in His hands.
So just remember, when you can't cope, hang on to the One who can give you hope—God!