My friend told me that I have a problem with anger.
But I have been told it is healthy to “get my anger out.
I am glad you asked because there is so much confusion in the church about this issue, so it would be good to talk about.

In the last 30 years or so, we have seen a big swing in the way that Christians look at anger. Back then, it was almost all seen as sin. And, there are a lot of verses that tell us about the danger of anger, for it can be a very destructive emotion. As Proverbs 27:4 says, “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming.” We all know what it feels like to be on the wrong end of someone’s rage attack. Because of this teaching, many people were very out of touch with what they were feeling, and a lot of anger went hidden and suppressed. It did not mean that people were not angry, it just meant that the church often did not give them very helpful ways to work it out, especially people who had been really hurt in life and were sitting on a lot of pain and anger. They were often times just stuck with it.

About the same time, the world of psychiatry was getting into the understanding that hidden anger could cause sickness, and play a major role in a lot of psychiatric problems, like mood problems, procrastination, and blocks of intimacy, among others. So there was a big push in assertive training and an emphasis on “getting the anger out.” We saw people begin to scream and let it fly, thinking this was “mental health.”

It did not take long for this popular view of anger to make it into the church and Christians started going to counselors who were into that kind of expression of feeling. The church followed the culture. Although some people were helped, others were not because of the shallowness of this approach, and in some ways this is what is still around today. There are those who feel anger is wrong and just sinful. Then there are groups and others that are turning people into terrorists in the name of “growth.”

I do not think the truth is in either of these extremes—suppression and being nice even when we hate someone; or in “letting the anger out,” and hurting people so we can be “healthy.” I believe good mental health is what the Bible teaches. It has a three-pronged approach to solve the problem: awareness and honesty, correct orientation, and active movement.

Awareness and honesty has to do with making sure we know how we feel. If we are angry, we need to both be aware of it and feel it. Suppressed or repressed anger is not good for anyone, and if something is wrong in our soul, we need to know it. So it is very important for you to know you are angry and to have someone to talk it out with. (Psalm 139:23,24; James 5:16) That does a lot to get us back connected to our souls so we are not divided inside. If you repress or suppress anger, the Bible teaches and research shows that to be dangerous. It turns into bitterness and character problems. (Hebrews 12:15)

Gaining a correct orientation has to do with figuring out what the anger means. Is it good or bad? Anger can be both good and bad, like any other emotion. We are created in God’s image and have anger like Him when something good is violated. It is good to be angry when something we value, like love or freedom is violated. Our anger is an emotion that rises us to protect what we value. “Abhor what is evil.” (Romans 12:9)

On the other hand, we may be angry to protect something evil, like our own pride. While anger is a protective emotion in the holy sense, we as imperfect sinners can get angry to protect aspects of ourselves that are not so holy, such as pride, control of others, defensiveness, etc. If we become aware of anger that is protecting something evil, we need to know we have a problem. In good anger, we find there is a problem on the outside, like someone who has trespassed against us. In “bad anger,” we know there is a problem within ourselves.

Sometimes it can be both. We may be angry over a true violation that occurred, such as child abuse or some past hurt. But, we are taking it out on the wrong person today. There was a real violation, but it is not that person.

And then there is active movement to solve the problem. If we find that our anger was about our own selfishness or immaturity, we need to work on that part of our character and use the anger as a signal we have some growth and repentance to do. If it is about a past hurt, we need to deal with that. If we find we are angry for a good present reason, then we need to use it to solve the problem with the person who has trespassed against us. We need to go to them and talk it out, not with the emphasis of blowing them away, but to solve the problem in the relationship and move to reconciliation and forgiveness. It is good for them to know they have sinned against someone and your anger was the clue to this. Use it to help them. (Proverbs 27:5) But do it in a loving way, forgiving them at the same time you face the problem in the relationship. In your anger, do not sin, but reconcile in love. (Ephesians 4:26)

If you do these things, you will neither be out of touch and into unhealthy suppression, nor will you be a screaming crazy person. You will be what Jesus calls a “peacemaker,” and that is what we need more of today.

I have been getting in touch with a lot of anger towards my mother.
Do I have a responsibility to talk to her?
You have asked a question that a lot of people wonder about. The first thing to do is to get with someone wise and talk it out, getting good feedback about the issue. If there is real hurt and things that have happened, then you need understanding and healing for that. Express the pain, and understand what has actually occurred.

Second, get a good understanding of your part of the problem. If there are attitudes you need to own up to and confess to her, then do that. Forgive her, and ask for forgiveness on your part.

Then thirdly, if possible, you do owe it to her to work out the conflict and the forgiveness and reconciliation process. That can get tricky, based on how bad the relationship is, but it is always incumbent on us to try to reconcile. As Paul says, we are to be at peace with others so much as it depends on us. (Romans 12:18) It is always God’s wish for us to reconcile as much as is possible, and that would be good for both of you.


Why are Boundaries necessary?
Because God is behind the concept of boundaries. According to the Bible, this need is fundamental in the creation of mankind. God created us to be free, and to act responsibly with our freedom. He wanted us to be in control of ourselves, and to have a good existence. He was behind that idea all along.

But as we all know, we misused our freedom, and as a result, lost it. With the loss of freedom came the loss of self-control. The results of losing self-control are displayed in a wide variety of miseries. Consider a few of the alternatives to self-control:

– Controlling relationships where people try to control each other.
– Faith that is practiced out of guilt and drudgery instead of freedom and love.
– Being motivated by guilt, anger and fear instead of love.
– The inability to gain control of our own behavior and solve problems in our lives.
– The loss of control to addictive processes.
– These are to name just a few. It is no wonder why the need for Boundaries is felt so deeply.

In fact, these issues are so dear to the heart of God, He says it was one of the motivators for the sacrifice of Christ Himself: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) Jesus died to set us free: from sin, from the devil, from the world around us. And that is the essence of what Boundaries teach—freedom.

From The Simple Scoop on Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud

Aren’t Boundaries selfish?
No. Many people think that boundaries are about selfishness and are at their root, self-serving. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Boundaries are about freedom, and freedom is always meant to have, as it’s ultimate fruit, love. As Paul says, and we would echo to anyone who uses boundaries in a self-serving way.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13,14)

Boundaries are about God’s restoring freedom to you and me so that we could take control of our lives to be able to love Him and others. Ultimately, that is the fruit of boundaries, to love out of freedom, and with purpose.

From The Simple Scoop on Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud

I like to help others but sometimes I feel like I am being used.
How do I sat “no” when someone asks me to help them?
This problem is one that many people have. Sometimes it because of pushy person who is insensitive and does not really think how their behavior is affecting you. But often, it is the miscommunication of the one who is “giving too much.” The miscommunication is this: my heart is saying “no,” but my behavior is telling you “yes.”

Regina was a sweet woman I worked with many years ago. I walked into her office one day and asked how she was doing. Immediately her eyes welled up with tears, and she began crying. At first she tried to hide it, but then she spilled her guts. She was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work she had to do, fearing that she would never get it all done.

Although I was not her direct supervisor, I knew what her responsibilities were and it did not seem to me they were past her abilities. I could not understand why she was cracking. So, I told her that. Then she revealed more. It was not her work that was killing her; it was the work of one of her co-workers. It seemed this person was always asking her for little favors, “could you drop this project off for me?” or “can you finish these proofs for me and get them to the printer?” And being the “sweet Regina” she was, she always said “yes.”

But, while her behavior was saying yes, her heart was screaming, “leave me alone.” I have heard the same stories from single women who were having sexual relationships that they did not want to have, but were not being direct with their boyfriends. I have heard it from friends who were being drawn in to being someone’s entire support system in time of need getting burned out in the process. The contexts are different, but the issue is the same.

Are you giving more than you feel comfortable with and not telling the other person? Have you asked yourself “why?” There are several reasons people do this:

– Fear of facing conflict.
– Fear of not being liked.
– Fear of being abandoned and rejected if they do not comply with another’s wishes.
– Fear of being perceived of as “selfish” by God or others if they say “no.”
– A history of controlling relationships.

If you can identify with any of these fears, you have to address them first. But even if you get past the fear, there is still the problem of communication. Remember, the Bible does not have any problem with your saying “no,” and having a limit on what you want to give to someone. What God does have a problem with is saying “yes,” and meaning “no.” (Matthew 5:37; James 5:12) It is at that point we have lost integrity in the relationship.

The sad thing about most of these situations is that the person on the other end “just didn’t know.” They often say: “Gosh, I never knew you felt that way. Why didn’t you tell me?” If that is their reaction, then you have finished the circle of communication and they accept your limits, like a good friend should.

If they don’t accept them and begin to get angry, you have another problem. At that point it is not a communication problem, it is a problem of freedom and control. You probably need to stop giving altogether until the issue is faced.

Until then, “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” Then both of you will know what the truth is in the relationship. And, painful as it is sometimes, the truth will set you free.


Isn’t the Christian life about giving up control, not taking control?
This is the reason that Boundaries is such good news to people. God is behind the idea of you being in control of your own life! He does not want anyone else controlling you, your feelings, your attitudes, your thoughts, or any other aspect of your life. He wants you in control of yourself so that you can freely submit that life to Him. As a result, you get the life that is in Him, and that is the best life possible.

Self-control is the fruit of realizing the freedom that boundaries delineate. As Paul says in Galatians, “self-control” is one of the fruits of the Spirit of God. (Galatians 5:22,23) And, as he says at the end of verse 23, “against such things there is no law.” So, whoever has told you that your life is not under your control must not have read this passage.

If someone is trying to manipulate you, or in the Bible’s words—enslave you, through guilt, anger, fear, or the like, then they are out of bounds. They are crossing the boundary that God has established, and crossing a boundary in the Bible’s words is called trespassing. But, and here is the kicker to it all, if you are letting them control you, then you are responsible and are trespassing in same way.

This is the freedom and the responsibility of boundaries. God has given you freedom, and commanded you to take control of the things that He has entrusted to you. Galatians 5:1 says, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” You are the one who must take control of the your life and exercise the freedom and responsibility that God has given you. And remember, where He has given you control, He will hold you accountable. That is why there will ultimately be no excuse before Him. Just as He called Joshua to go and possess the land that He had secured for Israel, He calls you to go and possess the freedom for which Christ has secured for you. Taking control of your life is one of the ways that you begin to realize the freedom that He has for you. And living a life of freedom makes all the difference.

From The Simple Scoop on Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud

From The Simple Scoop on Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud

I like being in control of my own destiny, why should I submit to God?
God wants you to have the freedom to be in control of your life. However, you may remember the phrase “one nation, under God.” In thinking of the individual’s life, we would do well to look at ourselves as “one person, under God.” The other aspect of this has to do with remembering who is in charge. It is God’s creation, it is His world, and He is the one who makes the rules. The world is His and all that is in it. As the psalmist says, “It is he who made us, and we are his.” (Psalm 100:3)

What flows from the fact He is God and we are not, is that we are to be under His “lordship.” Or in other words, do things as He says. He made life, it seems we would understand He is the one who knows best how it all works. In His direction to us, as He outlined it to Adam and Eve, there are two sides to His instructions. One side is the freedom we have to enjoy life and all that He has created. The other is a way of living that is to be avoided. Listen to His words to Adam and Eve.

“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’” (Genesis 2:16,17)

He gave them freedom to enjoy life and the fruits of life He made for them. But he told them they needed to stay away from the tree that symbolized the position of Godhood. The knowledge of good and evil was something God Himself was to know, and mankind was to be protected from. In short, we were to be protected from playing the role that only God can play. We were made to be the creation, not the creator. We were made to obey Him, not dictate our own rules. And in doing so, we would avoid death and separation, and the experience of “good and evil.” It could have been “all good,” if we had only obeyed.

So choosing to live life under God, not trying to be equal or over Him, is a wise choice. He made life, and he best knows how we should live it. Submitting to Him is for our benefit because He seeks to protect us.

From Love, Receive and Obey, by Dr. Henry Cloud

Taking control of my life seems too big. Where do I start?
That is the good news of the gospel, Jesus takes captives and turns them into free people. Remember, the ability to make good choices is a fruit of spiritual growth. (Galatians 5:23) If you are not able to do that now, God will help you. He will work in your life through a process of spiritual growth, and the result will be more freedom and more self-control. The place to begin is to submit to His process and allow Him to do it. Attending a Boundaries Seminar can be a good way to start.

From The Simple Scoop on Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud


What do I do to overcome my fear of commitment or fear of failure
in choosing or being chosen by the wrong person?
You ask a good question and sound like you have a lot awareness in terms of where to look for the answer. What I mean by that is you are looking at yourself in terms of your ability to choose and to figure out how you want to order your relationships. Many people just see it as a problem in the “other person.” They never get to where the real issue is and where the power is to change lies—in one’s own spiritual growth. (Matthew 7:5)

Having said that, let’s talk about the things you mentioned. The first is you can see your hurt in the past two relationships has brought you some pain. It is important you get with some good people to help you process all of that hurt, so you can deal with it fully and put it in the past. Cry it out, express the hurt and anger, forgive and then, let it go. But that is not all. The next step involves the great lesson of hurt—learning. Ask God to help you (Psalm 139:23,24)

Look at the past relationships and find the themes in the relationship that say something about you. What were the qualities you were drawn to? Were they good qualities of character and depth? Or were they things that made up in some way for aspects of yourself that you need to grow in?

For example, if you are particularly outgoing and spirited as you described, did you pick someone who was too passive and ultimately could not make the kind of commitment you needed? Or if you have some self-esteem issues, did you pick someone who had a lot of investment in their own “perfectionistic” image but did not have the depth qualities needed to sustain a relationship? There are many variations on this theme, but the problem is we often pick people out of some deficit in ourselves, and then their own deficits come out in the end. Find out what about you needs the kind of person who lets you down in some way.

The other dynamic that tends to come into play in this way is for someone to let the love “blind” them to other issues in the relationship. What about these men do you see now that you allowed yourself to not see then? Were there clues present that you ignored for some reason? Sometimes they have the same negative traits you have not faced in your family of origin, and so you are blind to them in others. If you have not worked through family issues, then they will often surface in the people you choose.

The way you describe your fear is that someone will “cage you in.” This has a couple of possible dangers. The first is that you may be a bit on the “hyper-independent” side of things, needing to remain a bit too autonomous in a relationship. If this is true, you need to find out what the underlying fear is and where it comes from. It could be a fear of intimacy or a fear of losing your boundaries when you are in a relationship. You need to be able to be close and at the same time not allow someone to control you. If your boundaries are too weak, then you may need to create distance in order to maintain them.

The other side of this problem is if you are hyper-independent, then you may be attracting dependent men and that is why they have a tendency to fuse with you early in the relationship. To the degree we are somewhat imbalanced, we will find imbalance that equals us in the opposite direction.

To discover these things about yourself and help you grow through them will require being in good friendships and support systems that will help you. As you change and are able to be close to others, maintain your boundaries, not be afraid of your own imperfections and other important dynamics, you will pick people of the same maturity. Mature picks mature. A good counselor who understands these kinds of issues can be of great help.

In the final analysis, we need to be able to recognize and pick people of good character—those who are able to be close and at the same time remain separate and independent in themselves…those who are able to be honest, real and not perfect, and to be equal and mutual. But to find them, we need to be able to do these things ourselves, and that requires spiritual growth. As you grow in these areas, you will be able to discern people of good character (Hebrews 5:14). I also recommend our book, Safe People (Zondervan) which was written about this very issue of how to discern the right kinds of people to date and to be close to. God Bless.

Is it wrong for a Christian woman to seek a dating friendship with a guy?
There is nothing wrong with seeking a guy, and in a certain sense, it is required for things to work. You have to somehow be “out there,” able to be noticed and desired. That is the way the attraction process operates. Both parties need to be involved in life, in activities, and in the ebb and flow of the social atmosphere in which you find yourself. That is the best way for people to seek each other—to be normal social people who have attractive qualities others can see. The best way for you to ask out men is for your character and personality to do the asking for you. As you grow and become the person God wants you to be, those qualities will do all the asking you probably need.

In terms of the social order in relation to gender, usually in our culture, the woman makes herself noticed in some way, and the man initiates in the “asking.” But many times, it works the opposite way. Two people like each other, and for whatever reason, she makes the first “overt” move. Asking him over for dinner, for example. For many men, it is comforting to know the attraction they feel is mutual and that makes it safe for them to follow through.

The danger I see in that scenario is when a woman picks a passive man who has a strong fear of relationships or of being the initiator, and then the woman does all the work in the relationship. Often that pattern does not end in the initiating phase, but continues as a long-term pattern because of his character. If you do the initial contact, be careful that he is a person who has enough initiative to carry through in the rest of the relationship and in life. You do not want to have to carry all the initiating for the whole relationship. That is a sign of dependency and passivity that can be disconcerting long-term.

So, to the pure, all things are pure. If he is a good guy, you can make the first move and things can turn out well. If he is passive or not truly interested, then making the first move will not cure that. Seek what you want, but be careful of what you catch!

I really think I have dealt with my anger about my parent’s divorce,
but how do I learn to trust a woman enough to give relationship a chance?
Your question is a good one in light of a lot of people’s experience. Not everyone comes from a divorced home, but many come from homes that taught them, in one way or another, to be afraid of relationship and trust. Others will be able to identify with you, I am sure.

Specifically, it is difficult to tell what actually happened from your description, but some things I would wonder would be who did you live with? Why? What was your father’s role in the problems? What was his continuing role in your adolescent years? What were the patterns of behavior in your mother that contributed to the divorce? What were the patterns of behavior your father modeled that did not lead to a lasting relationship?

In other words it is a lot more than just working through anger and forgiving. It has to do with character development and the ways in which one’s upbringing prepared them for life (or didn’t prepare them). God’s system is one where parents prepare their children, and it sounds like you feel unprepared to trust someone and make a commitment. You must find out why.

Your statement about staying single instead of risking divorce is one that needs attention as well. Risk is inherent in love. God took that chance when he wanted a relationship with man, and he got his heart broken. He forgave and was able to reconcile his relationship with many. He is our model, and for us to love, we must risk.

The question you must ask is, what is it about loss that seems greater than love? It sounds like it has to do with the pain of the divorce that you have not worked through. I would suggest if it is still dominating your life, you get some further help to resolve the pain and fear of loss. The fact is you were a vulnerable child who was subject to devastation from a loss like that. Today, however, you have more resources available to you in the form of community and other support. You are in the position to get past the dependent vulnerability of a child. You can get to a place where you are strong enough that if you lost a love you could deal with it. Place yourself in some relationships that are of a healing nature. This can help you get past that early loss.

But loss is not the only issue here. Certainly the divorce was painful and the injury part of it needs to be healed. But the other side of it is the character development that would have happened in a good intact home. You missed some tools in your growing up years that would help you to make a commitment now. Figure out what those were. What didn’t your mother provide? What didn’t your father provide? Find good people in the family of God, your new family, and allow them to grow you up by mentoring, supporting, teaching and disciplining you. That is what they are there for (1 Peter 4:10), and in the process, God can overcome whatever happened to you and strengthen you to a place (Hebrews 12:12,13) where you can get close again. It is always a combination of working through what happened, and gaining what did not happen. God bless you in your efforts to do that, and then you will be able to have the kind of relationship you desire.

I have a friend who wants to “just be friends”
but it seems like more to me, how can I know for sure?
The best way to answer this question is to tell you about someone I counseled.

Bryn sat in my office heartbroken. She had been telling me for a few months about her new love interest, Mark. As she had described the relationship, they had begun as friends, and she thought that was a good idea. She knew too many people who had begun relationships romantically only to find when the initial buzz was gone, there was not much left. She wanted to begin on a sure foundation.

She and Mark would do things together, sometimes in a group, and sometimes alone. She was loving the friendship. In the beginning, it was clear that they were “just friends,” in terms of anything that Mark was doing or saying.

What had begun to trouble me was she was talking about a relationship that was “just friends,” while all along having a secret fantasy (at least secret to Mark) that things would progress to being more. I did not object to her not laying all of her cards on the table at once, for that is often how dating goes. People are friends, spend time together, and then open the door for more. What troubled me was the increasing deepening of her feelings and her continuing to hide it.

Then it got further complicated. Every now and then, when spending an evening together, they would find themselves watching TV on the couch, and little by little moving from hugs, to holdings, and further along to full “make out” sessions. The problem was, there was no mention of a change in the status of their relationship. They were still “just friends,” yet acting at times very differently than friends act.

With each physical encounter, or each favor that Bryn would do for Mark, her hopes and feelings would grow. On the surface this was not a “problem.” However, in the balance of things, it was a very real problem. The real issue was each of them was having very different expectations from the friendship and neither was talking about what was going on.

Mark was enjoying having someone do such nice things for him. She would come by and cook, go places at the last minute with him when he felt lonely, and lots of other “caretaking” kinds of things. He was not about to gripe about the growing physical affection he was receiving. But, Mark was having all of these benefits of the relationship without the responsibility of the commitment, or the definition of being more than friends. There were no clear expectations of what he was supposed to be delivering. She was giving a lot, with high hopes, but he was just along for the ride.

It did not surprise me when she came in and said that Mark had a new girlfriend. He came and told her, like you would with any other friend. And to him, that was normal, because in his mind, that’s all he and Bryn were, “just friends.” She was furious and wanted him to explain the time spent together and the physical affection. He said nothing except, “I thought we were just friends and enjoying it.”

Clearly, he was not an innocent victim of her expectations. Mark had acted in ways friends do not normally act, unless they have some sort of understanding of what they were doing at any given moment. Usually friends who spend that much time together talk about it, laugh about it, or something. But at least it is understood. It is in the light and clear. In this case, as in so many others, things get dark and murky.

The solution is the old Scriptural command to “live in the light.” As Ephesians 4:25 tells us, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

At some point, friends or people dating must define what they are looking for in the relationship. It may be they do not know, and that is OK too, as long as they communicate that. It is OK to say, “I don’t know where this is going. I am open to finding out.” That is a clear message, even if it is lacking closure. The problem comes when someone is saying one thing and secretly holding on to another reality, or saying one thing and acting in another way. Saying friends, and acting like more usually is a formula for hurt.

Some points to remember:

– Be honest with yourself first. Know what you want. Stop fooling yourself.
– If you are being “strategic,” at least take ownership for that. Maybe you want to start as friends and see what happens. But if you don’t disclose that, remember the other person may have no idea you are feeling or hoping for more.
– Make sure your behavior matches your level of commitment or definition of the relationship. Friends usually are not at the beck and call of another. They have mutuality to their relationship. If you are becoming “too convenient” to someone, either with favors or physically, that is not a good sign that you are in a healthy friendship.
– At some point, get it all out on the table. Hold each other accountable for behavior. “If you say we are just friends, what was that kiss about?” or “If we say we are just friends, then why do you get jealous when I date someone?”
– When the reality is different in any way from what is understood, talk about it.
– Practice forgiveness and understanding while you are trying to figure it all out. Friendships go through a lot over the years. Give each other some slack.

Friendship is a good thing. But if you are hoping for more, be clear about it. Otherwise, you may lose a good friend.


I am starting to feel let down by God because He is not
taking my depression away. Can you help?
Your question moves my heart in a number of ways because I have talked to so many people over the years that feel like you do. There is some specific problem they feel in the emotional area or with another aspect of life that is not working. They pray for God to make it different and He does not. Then they begin to doubt His love, or even His existence.

There are a lot of things God could do for your depression, such as wave His hand and just “take it away.” But He typically does not do it that way for a very specific reason. Usually when we are depressed, it is for a real issue that needs to be worked out in our lives. If God were to take away the depression (which is the symptom), the things about us that need to change would go unheeded. We would be the same, but our depression, the signal that tells us we need to grow in some area, would be gone. And we would have no reason to grow.

This is why James says for us to “consider it all joy when we encounter various trials,” because the trials, accompanied with the wisdom of knowing what to change, have the effect of our being made mature. (James 1:1-5) In other words, when we go through pain, and we learn what we need to learn from the process, we are made more complete. But, if the trial were just “taken away” from us, we would not be any more mature even though we were no longer in pain.

For example, if your depression were coming from a sense of isolation or loneliness, God could “take away” the depression, but you would still be cut off from deep relationships with other people. God wants you to live in deep relationships. So to be isolated and “un-depressed” would thwart His very design for how life is supposed to work. Isolation should leave us depressed, and the depression should be a signal something is wrong.

There are other causes for depression as well, such as feelings of powerlessness or inferiority, unresolved pain and hurt, not developing talents, and distorted thinking…to name just a few. God wants you to change these kinds of things. This is what redemption is all about, “growing up into Him,” and becoming mature. (Ephesians 4:15) And as James says, He will give you the wisdom to know what you have to learn in this trial. (James 1:5)

It may also be you have been very hurt by someone. If so, He wants you to face that hurt. He wants people who have been hurt to get the love they need. Through the healing touch of His people, they can grow in love. If He just “cured” your depression, the injustice that may have come your way in life would have never been touched and made right by love.

In addition, sometimes depression can be a sign that there is a physical problem. Everything from a simple chemical imbalance to significant illness can cause depression and you should see a doctor to make sure nothing is wrong. A physician should check depression that persists.

I long for your depression to go away too. But I also long for you to have a better life. That can only come through growth and finding what issues you have to deal with and change. This can be a grueling task. Remember it is a path God wants for us and it has great reward. He wants us to work on it, for He is working too, the team effort will bring great reward.

As Paul says, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12,13) Use this struggle to find the changes you need to make, and allow God to do His work in you of healing and growth. Find the help you need from others, such as a counselor or a support group, and ask for the wisdom to make the changes you need to make. Then go for it. Remember, you are not alone in your struggle; God and the heavenly witnesses are all pulling for you. (Hebrews 12:1)

Family Relationships

My boyfriend and I broke up about 6 months ago. I am still in a lot of pain
and cry a lot. Am I right or is something is wrong with me?
Good question. It is both a difficult one and an easy one. The easy part is your question, “does time heal all things?” The answer is a simple, “NO.” Healing always includes time as an element, but time alone is not the entire recipe.

In God’s economy, the formula is Grace, Truth, and Time. Look at it like an infection. If you have some sort of infection, it takes time to heal it. But, time alone, without medicine and the proper ingredients that add nutrients to the healing process, will only allow the infection to get worse.

Emotional healing is the same way. If a hurt is treated with the ingredients such as: care, support, grieving, expression of pain, understanding, truth, working through character patterns, and movement into creating a new life past the hurt — then the addition of time insures the process is going to help. But time helps only if these ingredients are in the mix. Time alone is not enough.

Now…the hard part. Look at your process and see what has been happening. Is it time only? Or have you done all of the above? Have you gotten support? Have you really grieved and begun to let go in a reality-based way? Have you talked out the pain? Have you understood the relationship and what it meant to you, especially in terms of old hurts that it may be tapping into? Have you examined the patterns of your personality that got you into the relationship or allowed hurtful patterns to occur, so you don’t repeat it? And have you moved into creating a new life with a hopeful future?

If all of these are present and are ongoing in a sustained process, then time is the best thing you have going for you. But if you are just “waiting” for the hurt to go away, then you are waiting on nothing, and may be setting yourself up for future hurt.

I hope this does not sound too brutal. But I have seen many people on both sides of the fence. Some passively wait for things to get better, and they don’t. Others pursue health, growth and spirituality in a vigorous way, “hungering and thirsting for righteousness.” They find a time of pain can be one of the most productive of their lives. My hope for you is you are choosing growth path.

Maybe you could take these ideas to your friends who are worried and you could examine your process and give yourself a grade. Maybe you’ll pass! But, if they think you are stuck; sometimes that is what friends are for, to see us when we cannot see ourselves. (Proverbs 12:15)

Family Relationships

I am 30 years old but I still find what my parents think
has too much weight with me. How can I get over this?
The easy and the correct answer is to “grow up and get a life.” Sorry to sound crass. The problem with this common popular phrase is there is great difficulty in the process. Let’s look at both sides: growing up and getting a life.

Your symptom, feeling like you give too much weight to your parents’ opinion is a sign that some growing up has not happened. As Paul says, the time for your parents being “guardians and managers” is for childhood, not adulthood (Galatians 4:1,2).

God wants you to always “honor your parents,” but He does not want you to always obey them. Obedience to parents is for children, not adults. If you are still in the child position then that is getting in the way of God being your parent (Matthew 23:8-10). So, we have to look at the two reasons for still remaining in the child position: not growing up, and not having a life.

Some people stay in the child position with parents because they are either unable to “grow up,” or they are unwilling. Inability to get out of the child role and still want parental approval involves the process of needing something from your parents that you did not get. When there is something you are still looking for like love, acceptance, approval, validation or other ingredients that parents are supposed to give children to prepare them to be adults; you can be stuck waiting for them to finally grant you what you never had. You never really leave and become an adult because you are still waiting for “something.”

The truth is if it hasn’t happened by now, they are probably not able to give you what you want anyway. You have to get those things from the people of God He has surrounded you with. They are to be your new spiritual family, and God gave them to you to help you “grow up in all things” (Ephesians 4:15,16). If you are still waiting for your parents to give you something they cannot give, then it is time to grieve that and get on with growing up.

The next part, “to get a life,” involves faith. God has a plan for you to go out and live. It’s the life that He “grows you up” into. (Ephesians 2:10) But, He does not do this for you. He does His part, but He waits for us to do our part as well. We have to “work out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12,13).

If your parents still have that much power, then you are in the child position, still dreaming of one day having a life instead of getting one. Children dream of what they will one day be or do, and adults go for it. The hard work of faith is this— stepping out of the security of the child position, (where the biggest risk one ever faces is the disapproval of other mere mortals)—and into the risk of living life as a steward of the gifts and talents God has given you (where bigger things are at stake than someone’s approval). At stake is the ultimate wager in the universe—the risk God took in giving you your own talents, abilities, opportunities and resources. The question is, did He make a good investment? It is time to care what He thinks more than what your Mom and Dad think.


How do I comfort someone who is grieving?
Simply said, the way to comfort someone who is grieving is to give them the support and structure they need to go through the process that is unavoidable.

Grief is a letting-go experience-letting go of defenses, control, the things that have been lost, emotions, niceties and the like. But to let go, someone has to be held up. The facilitator of grief is the person who is the life support and the one who holds up the grieving companion while they let go of their emotions and enter a very natural process that God has designed. So, the facilitator’s job is to provide the comfort, safety and structure that helps allow that to happen.

Consider the following:

  • Use active listening and empathy. Give empathic statements that show that you hear and understand what the person is experiencing.
  • Be emotionally present with the person. Look them in the eye. Reach out and touch their arm. Show that you truly are with them.
  • Ask questions that require something other than yes or no answers, or factual responses. Instead, ask questions that allow them to talk: “What has this been like for you?” “I cannot imagine what you have experienced. Tell me how you have coped.” Open ended, process questions.
  • Watch for the ones who are too overwhelmed to process. Grief is good to express, unless the person is too overwhelmed to truly grieve. In that case, they need containment rather than to open up. If it is too much for them to express their grief, help them to feel safe and gain control. Tell them you will be there with them, and don’t try to get them more into what they are feeling at that time.
  • Don’t offer pat answers or platitudes.
  • Offer practical help that restores the structure of life. Do they need a ride somewhere? Do they need a meal? Do they need errands taken care of? Do they need help with insurance forms? These things are of great comfort and restore the structure of life.
  • Remember rule No. 1: The biggest comfort you can give is the fact that you are there and you care. Don’t worry about having all the answers or solutions. Your presence and care is the biggest support you can offer.
  • The biggest help is to give them a time and a place to talk. Do not try to sidestep the process that they feel, with all its different emotions, or try to make it tidy. Grief has to travel its own path. Use active listening and empathy. Ask questions that get the grieving person to talk about what they have experienced and the meanings that it holds for them.
What are the stages of grief?
Here is one way to look at it:

  • Denial or numbness
  • Protest or anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression or despair – this phase is when the reality is seen and felt. (This is the real work of grief. It is the sadness and deep-feeling stage.)
  • Resolution – this is where the person has moved to acceptance and has integrated the loss into the bigger meanings and picture of life and is now available for the next season.
How do I help people find a firm footing in a world that’s so unstable?
he following things can be helpful:

  • A sense of community with people who share the grief and pain.
  • A sense of a strong support system that will help the individual with their own experience.
  • A place to express their pain.
  • A return to stable routine and the normal things of life.
  • An emphasis on transcendent values and spiritual grounding, things that are eternal and unchanging.
  • An emphasis on the more important things in life that still remain-their relationships, etc.
  • Help in doing the mundane things that need to be done.
  • Prayer and Bible readings.
  • Structured gatherings such as religious and special services.
  • Fun activities.
  • Friends who will help them avoid isolation.
What is “taboo” when counseling – what things should I not say?
Do not devalue or negate their experience: “Oh, that’s not true.” “It will get better.”

Do not go from their expression to talking about yourself: “I know exactly how you feel. I lost my grandmother and it was painful too. She lived in Cleveland, and. . . .” Remember, this is about them and not you.

Don’t give easy answers.

Don’t try to make it all better. Your presence will do that.

Don’t feel the responsibility to make them feel better. You can’t, other than by showing care.

Say and do things that express your care. Let them know you hear and understand them. Empathize with statements such as, “I cannot imagine how hard this must be for you.” Encourage them that you will be with them; and if there is anything they need or you can do that you will be glad to help. Don’t be afraid to ask them specifically how you can help. Tell them that you will remember them in your prayers.

Meaning and Purpose

How do I find meaning and purpose in life?
If you find yourself searching for meaning and purpose in your life, you are in good company. Barna Research recently released a survey describing half of all adults as searching for meaning and purpose in life.

So, what is the bottom line to finding purpose and meaning in life? Live your life as it was created to be lived. To do this, it makes sense to be connected to the One who created your life – God.

In the life God originally designed, we were in a state of connection with Him. As Genesis describes, God was over the earth and placed Adam in charge of it. He talked to him, gave him what he needed, told him what to do, and even watched Adam to see what he would do with his talents and freedoms. There was an unbroken relationship between God and Adam and Eve.

In other words, there was not the separation that the bible describes which came when sin entered the world. We cannot imagine what a connection with God would have been like before sin and alienation, for we live in a world that experiences alienation from day one. We are too aware of this thing God warned them about, called “death.” In the Bible’s terms, death does not mean a cessation of life. Rather, it means a separation from life. The way that God created them, they were never separated from life. They were always connected to the One who was life itself.

Can you imagine a life where you were never separated from love, truth, intimacy, and the people you experience those things with? Or where you always felt close to God and nothing ever came between you? No guilt, adversarial fears, or anything that made you afraid? This was the connection Adam and Eve experienced before they decided they wanted to know as much as God. The only way to have a connection with God today, and thus begin to find meaning and purpose to your life, is to bridge the separation through God’s provision—His son, Jesus Christ. If you want to know how, click here.

From Love, Receive and Obey, by Dr. Henry Cloud

I find no enjoyment in my work, what should I do?
When I was a little kid, I used to hate Adam. I thought that it was his fault I had to do homework. My reasoning was, “If Adam had not sinned, I would not have to work!” But the truth is work was always part of His plan. God told us to use our image to rule and subdue the earth. (Genesis 1:28) He is a worker and we are created in His image. We have talents and it is good for us to use them. As Solomon said, it is good for us to enjoy our work. (Ecclesiastes 5:18) And Jesus teaches us the same thing, that to use our talents is an expression of the true life of God.

So, part of living a life full of purpose and meaning is to find your talents and exercise them in the ways that God has afforded you. The most fulfilled people are not the ones who win the lottery and never work again. The most fulfilled people are the ones who live out their talents in a meaningful way. They are growing, learning, and creating fruits for the Kingdom. They truly work “unto Him.” (Colossians 3:23)

From Love, Receive and Obey, by Dr. Henry Cloud


I’ve made a good life for myself,
why do I still feel like there must be something more?
We would do well to see that God is the source of things, not we ourselves. He is the one who made the garden, supplied the garden with good things, and sustained it from day to day. He is also the one who brought Adam and Eve to each other, realizing that relationship was something they desperately needed. It would be interesting to see what all the fruits were on the trees in the garden. I think they must have included all the wonderful things He blesses us with today. From the earliest pages of the Bible, there is a strong assertion that God is the one “from whom all blessings flow.” As James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

The good things of life come from God, pure and simple. He gives life. He sustains life, and He blesses life with all the things we need. The lesson here is that we are to look to God to be our source, not ourselves. He is the one who brings us all the blessings that we ever have, material and immaterial. He brings us people when we need them (Psalm 68:5,6; 2 Corinthians 7:6), our daily needs as we need them (Matthew 6:11), our purpose in life and the gifts to accomplish it (Psalm 25:12; Romans 12:6; Ephesians 2:10), the wisdom and knowledge to light our paths (James 1:5) and many, many other things of life.

The problem comes when we try to take away his position of being the source. We depend only on ourselves and think we are going to be able to provide ourselves with what we need. What a silly idea! But we do it nevertheless. How small our lives, careers, ministries, friendships, and everything are because we do not depend on Him and his plans to give us what we need in all of those areas. As James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (James 4:2)

In the area of our relational needs, to think that we can provide for ourselves the love and support we need is a great heresy. We are not God! So, when we try to be emotionally independent from Him and other people He has given us, we begin dying. Sometimes we see Him only as the source of love in a relationship with Himself. We miss the fact He also gives us people as a source of His love. Part of seeing God as the source and “not we ourselves,” is to utilize the love and support that He supplies through people in His Body. When we love each other, we are realizing the grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10)

From Love, Receive and Obey, by Dr. Henry Cloud

I live a good life and do the best I can,
why should I look to God as a judge?
In Genesis 2:17 God tells us who is the “Big Brain” and what happens to us if we think we are: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.’” Have you ever noticed what happens to you and your relationships when you get judgmental?

God alone is to be the judge. He alone is the one who has the knowledge of good and evil and the ability to tell us right from wrong, and decide how we are doing. We were never meant to be judgmental or to usurp His role in the universe. And when we try to play God in this way, we die a little more. As Jesus said, “judge not, lest you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

To judge places us in the role of God in our lives and in the lives of others. This keeps us from the knowledge found in Him. To think we are so wise in our own eyes to know enough and possess the holiness to be the judge of anyone is presumptuous. The result is always division. If we judge ourselves, we divide ourselves into all sorts of splits. If we judge others, we tear relationships apart. The only way we are to judge is in a spirit of humility and with the information God gives us. (Galatians 6:1) When we confront in this way, it is not with the condemnation of the judge of the universe, it is with love. Even Jesus said He did not come to judge, but to save. (John 12:47)

Life is meant to be lived in a state of humility before Him and others. We are not to think we know it all, nor are we to play that role in the life of others. Wisdom and knowledge come from Him, and to the extent we know anything useful for ourselves or to give to others, God has given it to us. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” (Psalm 111:10)

From Love, Receive and Obey, by Dr. Henry Cloud

Panic Attacks

Well, without seeing you and knowing for sure, I would say his diagnosis was certainly within the realm of possibility. The symptoms you describe are common for people with panic disorder. The place I would differ is in what he told you to do about them. While this is not uncommon advice from a family doctor, there is much more to the picture. In some cases it can be dangerous because of the addictive nature of some medications in the tranquilizer class. Let’s look at both the medical and psychological aspects of the disorder.

The medical aspects:

Panic disorder is a problem that has a lot to do with the body. Certainly in terms of emotional problems, anxiety disorders are some of the most strongly physiologically- experienced struggles. Most of the symptoms you describe are felt in the body. While we do not know all the reasons why, we do now know there seem to be some very strong biological components in panic disorder.

There are basically two ways to attack them from the medical side. The first is simple tranquilizers, usually referred to as “minor tranquilizers.” They are very effective in giving immediate relief to the feelings. If the anxiety is keeping a person from functioning day to day, sometimes they are a good idea. But there are two problems with this approach.

Number one, the real reasons and problems causing the attacks are not being dealt with but are just being covered up by symptom relief. When used correctly, they calm a person down enough to function while he is working on his problems. When used incorrectly, they calm a person down so he does not have to deal with his problems. To give you tranquilizers without telling you to get good counseling to find out if there are other things causing the attacks is not good advice.

Number two, those medications can be abused and can become addictive. That is why they should only be used under the watchful eye of one who understands the need to face the issues that cause the attacks.

Another aspect of the medical side is that there are other medications which are not addictive and have been found to be very effective in the physical aspect of this illness. These belong to the newer classes of antidepressant medications. Sometimes, chemical problems in the brain can be part of the picture in panic attacks. These newer medicines have been shown to be very helpful for some people in your situation. I would get a second medical opinion, this time from a psychiatrist who deals with panic disorder all the time. These medications are not addictive, have fewer side effects than the older ones, and do more than symptom relief. They seem to address the underlying physical processes that are going on. But in general it is best to see a psychiatrist as these are in his specialty area.

The psychological and spiritual aspects:

There is more to look at and work on than just “waiting for the panic attacks to go away.” Usually in panic disorder there are significant issues that need to be faced. I would get with a good counselor and see if any of these areas are areas of growth for you, for these can certainly be overcome. I would begin by looking at a few specific common struggles with panic attacks.

First, there can be underlying isolation. If someone is significantly isolated inside, panic comes when this isolation and aloneness is close to being felt. This can happen even when a person has a lot of friends if there is no one “abiding” on the inside, at deep levels the way the Bible talks about.

Secondly, there can be issues around boundaries and freedom. These are the most common in my experience. Panic attacks usually have some dynamic involved when a person feels powerless in some significant area of life, especially significant relationships. He feel like his choices are controlled by someone else or by guilt, and freedom is limited. So, at various times he feels the panic that comes from being powerless. Good boundary and assertiveness work can help this dynamic dramatically.

Thirdly, there are often patterns of perfectionistic or “all or nothing thinking.” Someone interprets his performance or experience in extreme forms, and severe anxiety accompanies that process. He has to learn to look at his thinking patterns and change them. This is part of the Bible’s injunction to “take every thought captive.” It is an important aspect of spiritual development. And then there are often autonomy fears and fears associated with independence and adulthood. Sometimes family-of-origin issues need to be examined to get past those dynamics.

The good news is that all of these dynamics are changeable and are part of the spiritual growth process for all of us. (See my book Changes That Heal, Zondervan, 1992) In other words, what all of us should be doing as a part of our spiritual growth will also cure panic disorder. We can all be working on developing more intimacy with others, having more freedom and better boundaries, accepting more of our imperfections, and moving on to greater and greater adult functioning, and personal autonomy under God.

With the combination of good medical advice and good counseling, I have all the hope in the world that your panic attacks can be helped. I have seen it happen successfully over and over again. So, go see a good psychiatrist and a good counselor. This could be one of the most growth producing times of your life. (James 1:2-4)

Single Life

My older brother and I live in the same town. He is married and has three kids.
I am single. How do I overcome living in his shadow?
I think the deciding factor here is whether or not this is a present, practical issue, or a long-standing issue between you and your parents. I do not think it is out of the question for singles to be somewhat expected to adapt more to those with families. It is easier for one to adapt to many than for many to adapt to one. It’s just reality. But if they are not paying any attention to you and to your efforts to relate to them, you have an issue in your relationship with them.

Remember, it is not between you and your brother, it is between you and your parents. If you want more time with them, you need to resolve that with them. Why was it you talked to your brother and not to them? Is there a pattern of you not having direct conversation or solving problems with them? Is that part of the problem?

If it is a long-standing problem of feeling like the neglected child and you feel your brother has been favored, then you need to address this with them as well. Often these “practical” issues that should be solved rather quickly are not because they symbolize issues that have been going on in a family for years. Make sure you are not trying to resolve a long-standing neglect, comparison or competition issue by thinking visiting different venues will make the problem go away.

Share your feeling with your parents and see what it is about. If that does not work, go talk to your pastor or a good counselor so you can figure out what you are going to do with a situation where people will not resolve hurt. I am disappointed, for example, in your brother’s reaction. If that is indicative of how the family deals with a member who is hurting, then the whole family needs some help. “When one member suffers…the whole family suffers,” is a principle that loving families know. If it is a pattern, then try to resolve that with them.

Remember, until we talk to those involved about the problem, we cannot know what to do because we don’t know what they are going to do about their part. Give them a real chance to hear you and see what happens. You won’t know until then. If there is enough love and communication and understanding of everyone’s perspective, then practical problems can be solved.

Spiritual Life

I have been a Christian for a long time and I have the same kinds
of hang-ups I always had. Am I missing something?
The first thing that I am tempted to say is “Congratulations. You’re now ready for the fun part!” But, before we get there, let me say a few things that are not fun which can cause those feelings.

First, there is the possibility that you are in some church, community or spiritual tradition that emphasizes doctrine and the intellectual sides of Christianity over the relational and experiential aspects of the faith. There are some groups who feel doctrine is the faith. While doctrine is very important (Titus 1:9), it is not a synonym for the faith. It is the way that “the faith” is structured.

Essentially, “the faith” is about relationship and having a walk with God; experiencing the reality our doctrine explains. Historical Christianity has always tried to keep relationship, experience and doctrine in balance. We still need to do this today.

There is danger whenever we put experience over doctrine, such as “God told me to do x” and “x” is clearly forbidden in His Word. Or when we put relationship over doctrine, such as allowing our love for someone to guide how we behave in the relationship.

But the other extreme can happen as well; putting doctrine above all else. When just knowing God loves me, knowing the tenants of the faith, or knowing one’s position in Christ becomes the entirety of what faith is about, there is danger. It must also include experiencing community, life, relationships, struggles, feelings, and all of the things we see on the pages of Scripture. If these are not there, then the faith can be empty indeed. It just becomes a bunch of rules.

Secondly, and closely related to the first, is if there is a way in which you have succumbed to the law. What this means is more than just feeling like you have to keep a bunch of rules. It means you feel in some way your “goodness” or acceptability to God depends on your performance. Make sure you are not trying to earn the relationship in any way, for this is a cancer to the soul.

Now, to the fun part. I believe our faith really comes alive when we get past the phase of learning doctrine, and on to living out the drama of growth and experiencing life in real relationship with God. When you think of the great stories of the people of faith, you see they are actively involved in real life, living out real struggles. But they are always growing on to greater faith and realization of who God is in the process.

And this has to do with your question about the faith changing you as a person. True character and personality growth are how “hang-ups” are overcome. It happens in the process of working out relationship and pain issues, learning new skills in love and work, stepping out in faith, failing, and then getting up and trying again.

It might do you well to look at your life of love and work. Are there ways in the area of relationship, either platonic or romantic, in which you need to face some issues and grow? Or are there ways in the world of living out your talents that you need to overcome fears, develop areas, take risks and steps of faith? This is usually when we begin to experience God, when we step into the unfamiliar. To continue in some old pattern requires no faith, for faith is the “evidence of things unseen, the substance of things hoped for.” (Hebrews 11:1)

If we are not working on the “unfamiliar” things in those two areas of life, there is little room for faith. Stepping out in ministry, career, love or other ways is when things get exciting. Go for it!

I read my Bible, attend church, and give 10 percent of my income,
but I am still single and working in a dead-end job. Maybe He just doesn’t care?
Your question is very difficult to answer without knowing a lot more about you. I could have a range of answers depending on how you came to feel like you feel. Let me explain what I mean.

Basically, you are dealing with disappointment with God. It is one of the most painful feelings in life. God is the One we look to most naturally for our needs to be met. When it seems like He does not come through or that He even cares, we go into a very painful state of despair.

We are created for Him and He is our Father. When you feel as if your Father has left you or let you down, there is nowhere left to turn. So, first of all, no matter how you came to feel what you feel, my heart goes out to you. It is a terrible feeling and strikes at the deepest aspects of our existence.

There are some common answers given to a question like yours— similar to those Job’s friends gave. They told Job his problem had to do with sin, lack of faith, lack of understanding God, and not knowing His Word. Basically, they said it was Job’s fault, but God rebuked them for their answers.

The issue for Job was the same that God makes for all of us— trust, no matter what. As Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him. (Job 13:15) The point of any period of trial is whether we are willing to trust in God no matter what we see or experience.

So, I would encourage you to look at faith as the commodity that is always at stake in your trials. As Hebrews tells us, “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

On the practical level, when I feel like things are not the way that I would want them in my life, I look at a couple of principles that are helpful.

First, am I being as active in my pursuit of the things that I want as I need to be? We have a tendency as humans to want things to come to us instead of our going after them. We will pray and wish, but until we do something, nothing happens. And sometimes we have to do a lot. I read an article not long ago about a woman who became a physician in her forties. It was extraordinary because she had been a janitor for 20 years to pay for school to accomplish her dream! That is what I call “going for it.”

If I were you, I would ask myself some clarifying questions like what is it that I want to do? What am I doing to get there? Proverbs speaks a lot of the diligence and wisdom required to get us to our goals. In addition Paul tells us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work within you. (Philippians 2:12,13) Take a look to see if you are being as active as you need to be in pursuing things you desire, whether relational or career.

Sometimes, there are hurts and fears we need to address before we get the things we desire. Are there fears that keep you from reaching out in relationships, dating or meeting people? On the career side, are you afraid to take the risks, classes, or whatever it would take to go the next step? This is tough medicine, but I think these are the kinds of questions we all need to ask ourselves when things are not going well.

If you are doing your part and growing in all these areas, then continue to ask God to show you what to do next. Ask for His wisdom to understand what He wants you to learn out of this struggle. (James 1:5)

The last thing I would mention that concerns me is the thinking that we only serve God in order to get things from Him and that we only know He cares for us when He gives us what we desire. I know that you didn’t say that, but it seems like you feel that way.

Since God is our Father, it is natural to need and to desire things from Him. And He says that He will do things for us. But the relationship, like any other relationship, needs to be based on love, not on performance. This is true about His love for us, as well as our love for Him. We need to love Him no matter what happens in life. That is part of what the Bible teaches about our identification with the sufferings of Christ. The toughest thing in our lives will always be saying “not my will, but yours.” That is where love has to be enough.

In the meantime, as you are working out your love for Him, keep on asking. He promises to hear and give wisdom. Keep on asking, and you will receive. (Luke 18:1-8)