Kay Warren explains how childhood trauma and/or mental illness can make people susceptible to depression and even suicidal thoughts, and encourages us to focus on what Jesus accomplished on the cross, to seek comfort in Him, and to stand strong until we see Him. (Part 2 of 2)
Kay Warren: This problem, this pain, this agony is not going to win. And if you are going to be a resilient person and you are going to rebuild hope again, you too will have to make - even if it's a feeble declaration - a declaration that says no matter what comes, not only will God get me through it, but I will not let it destroy me.
John Fuller: That's Kay Warren and we have some more encouragement from her today on Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller. Thanks for joining us. Your host is Focus President and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, Kay is talking about how to overcome depression and despair. And as we heard last time, those are emotions that she has experienced in her own life. She also spent, literally, 20 years trying to help her son Matthew overcome a host of depression-related issues, but sadly he died by suicide just a few years ago.
In this message, Kay is using Scripture to help us develop the quality of resilience, which will help us get through these hard times of life. We’ve already heard her first point last time, which is that life is harder than we expect. And often, when a crisis hits us, we are disillusioned and angry, because we're caught off guard by it.
John: Yeah, and if you missed that, then please get in touch. We have the entire message on CD, it's available as an audio download, you can listen again on the smartphone app. You'll find these at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call us if you have questions. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: As we said last time, Kay is co-founder of Saddleback Church in Mission Viejo, California. She’s the author of three books, including Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough.
John: Here now is Kay Warren, speaking at Saddleback Church, on Focus on the Family.
Kay: The second thing is that God gives you resources to cope with life. God is so good to us. This is such great news, that God gives us resources to be able to cope with the fact that life is harder than we thought it was going to be. He gives us a guide, a mentor, a savior; because what we need more than anything else is you and I need a savior. Jesus said in John 16:33 - this is the whole verse, I quoted it a little bit in the first point, but in - now He says the whole thing. He says, “I told you these things so that you can have peace in Me. In this world, you will have trouble, but be brave. I have defeated the world.” What's so great about this is it means we're not alone in the universe. And what we know, because Jesus is our savior, is that we're not alone. He not only saves us, but He becomes our guide in life, our mentor, our friend. That is the best news I can think of.
Then the other thing that God has given to us to cope with life is He has given us a new mind and a new heart, one that aligns with His. Romans 12:2 says this: “Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God's will and whatever God finds good, pleasing and complete.” And what is so amazing about this is that the Bible says that the longer we are in a relationship with Jesus Christ, the more He can transform our minds. Some of the thought patterns that have tripped us up our whole lives can, over time, begin to alter and change the way that we act and react.
The third thing that God has given us to help us cope with the difficulties of life is He has given us His word. He's given us the Bible as a roadmap. Psalm 119:105 says, "By your words, I can see where I'm going. They throw a beam of light on my dark path." Truthfully, sometimes the path in front of us looks as dark as though we were - we might as well be in Carlsbad Caverns. The way in front of us looks dark. But the Bible says that it is a light to our path and that we can see where we're supposed to go through that. So when you read the Bible, when you actually put Bible principles into practice in your life, over time you change. You are transformed. And some of the questions that right now are driving you out of your mind about life, about God, about how He works, about how things go in this world, start to become clearer as the Bible becomes your roadmap and it casts its beam of light onto your journey.
Um, a few years before Matthew passed away, I was really just struggling and um, mostly in the middle of the night. I don't know if any - if - I can't be the only one who's a middle-of-the-night struggler. But you know, sometimes you do okay during the day, and then it gets dark. And you put your head on the pillow, and all your worries and anxieties from the day come crashing in and you can't sleep. And you just get so anxious. I don't know if anybody else would confess to that. But that's - thank you. Honest soul, thank you. I love you. Um, some of the rest of you could, if you wanted to. Um, but the point is that sometimes you don't remember where that verse is. You know you read it, but where is it? And even pastors' wives don't remember where all the verses are in the Bible. So take those verses, write them on cards so that you've got them accessible when you are in those moments of anxiety and hard times.
So what we need to do to build resilience is we've got to accept life is harder than we expected. Secondly, know that God has given us resources to be able to handle the hard times of life. And third, this is probably - I don't know, this is one that means so much to me - I get to choose my responses in life. You get to choose your responses in life. Let's just revisit briefly that - on the front page of your outline, those little check marks that you made, or at least mentally made those check marks. The thing is, I didn't have a lot of control over some of those things, and you didn't either. I didn't get to control that I was molested as a child. I didn't get to choose that. I was a victim of that. I was - something was done to me. You didn't get to choose whether you were sexually abused or you were abused with violence or you witnessed things that were traumatic. You didn't get to choose that. You were a little kid. And you didn't have the cognitive ability or the language to process that, but it has affected you. You didn't get to choose it.
If there is a serious conflict in your life, either between - in your family or in a marriage, you know, the truth is that even in our - as I said, in our marriage, there's the things that I bring into it. There's some of the stuff that I bring to it. But there are other parts. In some of these conflicts that you've had, it was the other person's decisions and thoughts that have caused problems. You didn't get to choose, necessarily, the health - the health challenges. I didn't choose cancer. I didn't ask for it. I didn't ask for melanoma, and I didn't do anything that brought it on. It comes from living in a broken world, and it - you didn't have any control over that either. And you didn't get to choose those crushing disappointments. You didn't choose infertility. You didn't choose that you didn't get the career that you dreamed of and that you longed for. You didn't choose those things. You didn't choose to have a mental illness. You didn't choose where you were born or your parents or - or your intelligence or - or your inborn abilities. You didn't have any control over the death of that deeply loved, loved one. Your love wasn't enough to keep them alive. You couldn't keep them alive. You didn't have any control. But you and I get to choose our responses to those things. You and I get to choose. This is freedom, my friends. This is liberation, to know that I am not held captive to disease or disappointment or disillusionment or depression or even death, and neither are you. Even those...
That's just a thought that you need to sit with. You don't have to clap, but you just need to sit with that, that you are not held captive by what has happened to you. You are not held captive. You can be free. And even those who are living with a severe mental illness or a substance misuse disorder, and they're just - they're just clinging to the bottom of the barrel today. They're barely - I mean, a fingernail is slipping even as we speak. And there's that sense of “I can't think clearly. I can't make good choices. I don't - I don't even know how to do this." Even if the one choice that you make is, "Help me" - it's a choice. It's a choice.
John: Kay Warren on Focus on the Family. And there's a lot of follow-up for you if you're identifying with what she's about. Certainly look for her book, Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough. We've got that at the website. And we also have a counseling team here that you can talk to if you need. Our phone number is 800-A-FAMILY. Online, we're at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. When you're at the site, be sure to look for our free suicide prevention resource. It's called, Alive to Thrive. And it's really designed to help reach children, tweens and teens and prevent them from considering suicide. Let's go ahead and return now to Kay Warren.
Kay: Let me give you seven practical choices, quickly, seven practical choices that can give you hope again, help build resilience in you. And the seven things I would say to you is, first of all, choose to expand your connections. Expand your connections. When hope starts to fade and we start going through those really hard moments, there's this natural tendency in all of us to withdraw. That's the moment that we want to isolate. There's just - the despair starts to build, and the natural tendency is to pull back. And I'm saying that's the moment to choose to press in to community. It's the time to press in to relationships, to those people who are there for you, who love you, who care about you. Proverbs 17:17 says, "A friend is always a friend, and relatives are born to share our troubles." And I'm not saying that when you're going through despair and you - you know that you want to isolate, and I'm saying, "Choose to not isolate." You don't have to become the party person. If it's just even one person, you send one text. You send one phone call that says, “I need something right now.” Don't isolate. Expand your connections.
Second, believe that you are capable in God's strength of handling anything. I didn't have a lot of confidence in myself early on - didn't. And so those middle-of-the-night conversations that I had with myself that were always so hard, I didn't really thought that I could handle tough things. I didn't - I wasn't sure that I could survive if this happened, or - or that happened. I can remember, as a young mom, um, in my bed at night, struggling with anxiety and visualizing, you know, something happening to my husband, something happening to my kids, and thinking to myself I couldn't survive. I couldn't survive. I couldn't do it. And then you know how you have those dreams where something happens, and then you go (gasp), and they wake you up, and you're like, “Oh, it was only a dream?” Had a lot of those. Didn't really know that I could handle anything with God's help. Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do" - read this with me out loud - "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." It doesn't say that you as the lone ranger, the strongest person ever made, can do this by yourself. It says that you and God together can do anything that comes your way.
Third is to avoid expecting the worst. Avoid expecting the worst. You know? This is called catastrophizing. And this is where you take a simple event in your life, and you take it to the worst possible outcome. Like this: "I have a headache. I must have a brain tumor."
Done that. Um, or the moment in which you say, "You know, my - my boss wants to meet with me. I know I'm going to get fired. I know I am. I know that's what's going to happen." So we take the events of life, and we decide way over here that something terrible will come from them. Avoid expecting the worst. Psalm 94:19 says, “Lord, when doubts fill my mind" - when I've got that certainty that, oh, my goodness, this is what's going to end up happening, and you've already written the scenario, you've already written the bad scene in your head, you've already gone there, that's where you're living now - "when doubts fill my mind, when my heart is in turmoil, quiet me and give me renewed hope and cheer." That's a verse that might go in a hope box or wherever else you want to put it.
Four would be to practice self-care. Practice self-care, because resilient people have come to understand that unrelenting stress, that wave after wave after wave of hard times, can eventually warp your perspective - warp it and increase hopelessness. And so they have learned how to practice taking care of themselves in the middle of the hard times. We know those principles of eating well, of sleeping well, of resting, of - of moving, of - of enjoying the created world that God has made. Psalm 23:2 and 3, the psalmist says, "You let me rest in fields of green grass. You lead me to streams of peaceful water, and You refresh my life." This is such an incredible principle of giving you resilience, even if it only means you take ten minutes in a day. Maybe your life is piled on right now, but maybe there's just 10 minutes that you can unplug, that you can walk outside, that you can be in the sun, that you can feel the breeze on your face, that you can look at a fire, that you could do - you can listen to some music. There's something that pours life back into you and helps you in that really hard time.
The fifth thing that I would say, uh, of an action step that you can take to build resilience in yourself is to seek self-discovery. Seek self-discovery. Understand that in the middle of this mess, in the middle of the difficulties that you're experiencing, it's likely that there are some things about yourself that are hidden in this mess that would be really important for you to learn about yourself. One of the benefits of trouble, if you will, is that it exposes where we're weaker than we thought we were. It exposes the holes and the gaps in our faith.
Honestly, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I do remember thinking how - because I was pretty angry at God at first. And I remember thinking - I was shocked at myself and thought, "I thought my faith was stronger than that. I can't believe I'm shaking my fist in God's face. I thought I was stronger. I thought I had more faith. I thought I had more confidence in God's goodness." And trouble has that benefit of showing us where we need to shore up some of the weak places. Even in conflict, as uncomfortable as conflict is with the people that we love, if you are a resilient person, you won't be afraid to take a look at yourself and see, "Is there something about me?" In other words, here's conflict. And I know what I think the other person has done. I know what I think the other person has said. But is there something here about me that I need to take a look at? Is there a part of the way I deal with conflict? Is there part of the way that I relate to other people that I need to work on? Trouble has a way for those - of - of helping us if we will seek self-discovery. I like Lamentations 3:30. I just think it's kind of this funny little verse in the Bible. It says, “we can also learn from insults and hard knocks.” Yes, so true.
Six is practice gratitude. If you're going to be a resilient person, you're going to learn how to practice gratitude. To find hope again, you're going to have to practice gratitude. Colossians 2:7 says, "Plant your roots in Christ and let Him be the foundation for your life. Be strong in your faith just as you were taught, and be grateful."
The seventh thing that you and I can do if we want to be resilient people, if we want to find hope again, is you can decide today that nothing can destroy you. You can make a decision that you will not let anything destroy you. You can declare it. I'm declaring my - this is my declaration to you as my church family that I made a decision several years ago, when Matthew was in the depths of his illness, when we didn't know if any certain day it could have been the day that he died, we knew that we lived that closely on that edge. And as I thought about that as a mom and the horror of that and the unthinkable-ness of that, I had to decide that I was not going to be destroyed. Even if the very worst thing that I could ever imagine at that time could ever happen to me, I would not be destroyed by it. I would be devastated. I am devastated, but that I would not be destroyed.
And so years ago, God and I had a conversation. And I said, "God, I'm telling you right now that no matter what comes my way, I will grieve. I will mourn. I will be devastated by the losses that have come and that may still yet come, but I will not let them destroy me. This problem, this pain, this agony is not going to win." And if you are going to be a resilient person and you are going to rebuild hope again, you too will have to make - even if it's a feeble declaration - a declaration that says no matter what comes, not only will God get me through it, but I will not let it destroy me. It has already stolen from me. Evil has stolen my loved ones, my innocence, the beauty of that innocence. But it cannot take you. It cannot take me. And resilient people who find hope again become what the Bible calls "more than conquerors." Look back at that first - those first verses on your outline. Romans 8 - thank you. I'm with you.
Romans 8 - oh, you just wait. You just wait. Romans 8:35, 37 to 39. This - now, read this again through the context of what we've been talking about now. Now listen to this through Paul's words this way: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No," Paul says, "in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." Paul says, “For I am convinced” - here's his declaration - “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor demons, nor the present, nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” What does it mean to be a conqueror, you guys? What does it mean to be a conqueror? To be a conqueror, Paul - John Piper says that the goal of our enemies, Satan, that his ultimate goal is to separate us from our intimacy with God. You've got a relationship with God. You trust Him. You believe in Him. But then there is this trouble. There is this loss. There is this stealing of the beauty from your life. There is this pain. There is this unchangeable circumstance. And over time, the temptation for us is to take a step back from God and say, “You are not who I thought you were and I don't know that I can trust You. If You let this happen in my life, God, I'm not sure that I want to be close to You.” And if that is your response and it stays your response, then the enemy has won. The trouble has won. The pain has won when it has separated you from intimacy with God, when you have allowed that to separate you from God.
And Paul says that you're a conqueror when you say no. No! Yes, this hurts. Yes, this has taken me to my face time and again, but I will not be separated from the love of God that I have through Jesus Christ. That makes you a conqueror. But here's the even better part. What does Paul mean when he says we are more than conquerors? He uses that phrase, "more than conquerors." Well, how can you be more than a conqueror? How do you - you either conquer something or you don't. How do you become more than a conqueror? To become more than a conqueror is when you make those wounds, and that suffering, and the scars, and the pain, and the loss and what has been stolen from you - when you take those very things meant to kill you, wipe you out, discourage you, separate you from God, and you make them serve you.
And these hard times that we go through are meant to make us more like Christ, and they hold within them the possibility of becoming - you becoming a more loving person. Through the hardships that have come your way, you've got the opportunity to become more like Jesus, more loving, more kind, more gentle, more compassionate, more merciful, more faithful, more hopeful. And when those terrible things - you take them, and you learn from them, you grow from them, you do not let them separate you from your intimacy with God, but in fact you use those as a stepping stones to growth, to becoming more like Jesus Christ, to becoming more of the way that He always intended you to be, you are more than a conqueror. You become more than a conqueror. And you can laugh at the very thing that tried to bury you. You can say, "I'm still here. I am still standing."
John: And that’s where we’re gonna have to end this incredible message from Kay Warren today on Focus on the Family.
Jim: Wow, John, what a strong declaration there from Kay, and what a picture she’s painted of being ‘more than a conqueror,’ like those words from the Apostle Paul. And man, that’s the kind of Christian I want to be - one who refuses to allow Satan to poison my relationship with God. One who uses times of trial to draw closer to God.
And if you’re walking through a dark time, please let Focus on the Family come alongside you. Our team is here to answer your call, and they would count it a privilege to provide a listening ear and to pray with you over the phone. If you need more help, they’ll have a counselor call you back. We are here for you!
And you know what? The Warrens lost their son Matthew to suicide at the age of 27, and as Kay said earlier, they feared that outcome for many years. Sadly, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24.
John: That is a really tragic data point: third leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24.
Jim: It really is. And as we mentioned last time, Focus is tackling this problem head-on with a free, web-based resource called, Alive to Thrive: A Biblical Guide to Preventing Teen Suicide. It’s an explicitly Christian program designed to help parents and youth leaders learn how to prevent suicide from early childhood on through the teen years. You can download the entire program online, including six video sessions featuring expert advice, interviews with families impacted by suicide, and insight from suicide survivors.
In fact, listen to this great review that we got from Ginny; she wrote: "I’m a licensed, professional counselor working with children and families, and Alive to Thrive is by far the best material I’ve seen on this topic. My father died by suicide when I was 12, so I’ve always been on the lookout for quality resources for myself and others. I’m excited to share Alive to Thrive with my clients, because it is so well-researched. Thank you to everyone who worked on it. God has blessed your efforts!"
John: Well that is really a wonderful endorsement, especially coming from someone who is both a professional counselor and someone who lost a loved one to suicide.
Jim: Well, I appreciate it, John. We need to thank all of you who donate generously to this ministry on a regular basis. Because of you, we're able to make Alive to Thrive available. So let me encourage you, if you can, give today to help prevent teen suicide, and to support parents in this very difficult journey. Your gift will help us continue to provide parenting resources free of charge, including Alive to Thrive and our great counseling team, and so much more. So please, partner with us. We need your donations to provide help to everyone who asks for it. And when you make a generous donation of any amount today, I’d like to send you Kay’s book called, Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn't Enough. And thank you again for being a part of this ministry!
John: Join our support team when you call 800-A-FAMILY. Or you can donate at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Have a great weekend and join us on Monday when we'll have youth expert, Jim Burns encouraging you if you have a teenager.
Jim Burns: I often say, a sinner marries another sinner, and then you have sinner-lings. And so when you introduce the sinner-lings, part of it, they are gonna miss the mark sometimes.
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