5 Things to Remember During Life's Storms

Are you in the middle of one of life's storms? Or, know someone who is?


In the eye of the storm...

This is the season of tropical storms.  The storms of life, however, know no particular season, do they?

Are you in the middle of one of life's storms? Or, know someone who is?

Until I was thirty-nine, I cannot say I had ever been through a personal storm. A few rumbles like thunder maybe, but no violent storm.

One Sunday night, however, on the very day my mother and father united with the church where I was pastor, a storm unleashed its wrath, the likes of which changed everything in my life.

I was young minister serving a big church and I had ambitions as big or bigger. My father had just retired from an illustrious ministerial career himself. I loved him deeply and admired him just as much. I realize today that I was in a kind of competition with him, although I was unaware of it at the time. Much of my young ministerial drive found its fuel in my envy of his accomplishments. I wanted to be as successful as he was and, most likely, more so. As a consequence, I was busy at thirty-nine years of age making a name for myself.

Following their retirement, my parents came regularly to the church I was serving and, one Sunday morning, they surprised me and joined. That afternoon, I took a walk around our neighborhood relishing in my accomplishments and enjoying the recognition my parents had just shown me by joining the church. I was at the pinnacle of my career and quite proud of it.

Before sundown that very day, however, my father suffered a massive stroke. Ten days later, I gave the homily at his funeral and, what's particularly ironic, the funeral was held in the very church he had just joined on the day he suffered a stroke.

The storm.

In the months that followed his passing, my personal and professional life unraveled. I tried to help my mother cope with her grief, even as I muddled my way through my own. Neither of us did very well. Within a year of his passing, I left the ministry, never to return. I went through a divorce, too, and changed careers.

Everything changed.

Storms do that to you, you know.

I was angry. Angry at Dad for leaving so suddenly; angry at God for taking him; angry at the Church for its typically glib explanations for life's personal storms - "Well, I know you're sad, but God had a reason for taking your Dad!" "It was your Dad's time to go!" "God took him because He needed more angels in heaven."

"What kind of empty explanations are these?" It is shallow, narrow theological nonsense still preached in many churches that explains the widespread and growing departure from organized religion or the Church by millions of sincere Christians.


My father's death, and the personal storm that resulted from it, have long since past. But, in the following paragraphs, I share some of the things I've learned along the way. Remember these when life's storm begin to rage around you. Or, within you.

1. Storms come to everyone. Sooner or later and, usually, sooner than later. No one is picking on you.  I know it sometimes feels as if someone may be, especially when the wind and waves are tossing you to and fro emotionally, spiritually, or even financially. Try to guard against the mental noise in your head, noise associated with thoughts and feelings that someone is picking on you...or that nobody cares...or has ever had it as bad as you. Look around. There are always others whose storms make yours look like a spring shower by comparison. Get out of your head, as often as you can. Examine every thought as to its truthfulness. Why? Because most of your thoughts are not only not true, they're not even remotely true.

2. Storms are not personal. Instructive perhaps. But not personal. So, don't take them that way. When you catch yourself thinking such things like, "God is punishing me," remind yourself that such thoughts are the consequence of faulty theological thinking and the mental conditioning that was likely preached at you for decades and drilled into you by sincere, but sincerely misguided religious people. It'll take time, too, to re-program your thinking. For now, recognize that  such thinking will lead only to greater despair...more guilt...perhaps even depression.

This is tricky, I know.  In the east, they speak of Karma. In the west, people will say, "You reap what you sow."

It is true our actions have consequences. But you cannot look at every storm as if it is some kind of Divine reaction to the choices you've made or failed to make in life.

Oh, I suppose you can. But to do so is not likely to lead to anything good and, most likely, just more pain.

What I'd suggest instead is that, when you feel there's a connection between the choices you've made in life and the consequences you're experiencing, why don't you give your attention to what you might learn from the experience...or, what you might pass on to others that might be beneficial to them...or, how you might set the record straight and make amends...and, in the mix of all of this, should you ask yourself, "Do I need a little self-forgiveness here?"

Forgiveness is not making excuses for your choices you've made. Nor is it ignoring the consequences your choices have caused. Forgiveness is simply deciding instead to let it all go - internally. It is the conscious decision to release the heaviness of self-recrimination, punishment, and guilt.

If it helps to ask God to forgive you, then do, too. But stop the unnecessary pleading or begging for God's forgiveness, as if God will not until you've reached a certain, but imaginary degree of self-punishment on the righteousness-meter.

God IS forgiveness. Your task is to forgive yourself.

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Dr. Steve McSwain
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