In the month of June, our focus here at Side By Side Ministry is on the subject of coping. If you haven’t noticed, we do our best to follow a theme each month…addressing subjects that are on our hearts, and might be on yours, too. Coping is a timely subject, as we have had to do our fair share of coping in the last several months.
The definition of COPE is: deal effectively with something difficult.
The synonyms are especially interesting to me: manage, survive, subsist, look after oneself, fend for oneself, carry on, get by/through, bear up, hold one’s own, keep one’s end up, keep one’s head above water.
How are we supposed to cope or deal effectively with something difficult?
I can tell you this…it’s much easier to talk about how to do this when there ISN’T something difficult to “manage.” Right?! We can easily come up with some lovely answers to this question when our most difficult problem is deciding what to have for dinner.
But when we are burdened, I mean REALLY burdened with something that we have to figure out how to SURVIVE….how should we cope?
Confession time. In the last several months, I have had several experiences where I have had to figure out how to “keep one’s head above water.” From unfortunate personal attacks– to the bittersweet leaving of friends and family to move to a new state– to the heart wrenching shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland– to my Mother’s recent (and way too early) death. It’s been a season of difficulties that I have had to cope with.
As I have walked through this season, I noticed that I had three choices of coping: In, Out, or Up. Let me explain.
3 Ways of Coping: In, Out, or Up
This type of coping is generally internal. We choose to keep things inside, bottle them up, internalize emotions, process quietly, possibly wallow. We may believe that we are simply “boxing up” the difficulty, perhaps to save it for a better time. People around us may comment that we are “strong” because it’s hard to see that we are even experiencing a difficulty, as we are certainly not wearing it on our sleeve. In general, we are counting on ourselves to heal ourselves when we follow “In Coping.”
“I can do this.” “This ____ won’t get me down.” “I’m better/smarter/stronger than that.”
“No one else could possibly understand this.” “It’s too hard to share.”
These are just a few phrases we might use when we are internalizing our coping.
This type of coping is generally external and inclusive, meaning we are looking to someone or something else to help us manage our difficulty. What or whom we seek out varies immensely. We may seek out people, even to the point of clinging to them as we would a lifeline. We may seek out escape items such as food, drink, drugs, tv, sex, pornography, gambling, extreme hobbies…anything that will help us escape the difficulty.
“I need a drink.” “Call me back, I NEED to talk to you.” “When I _______, I don’t even think about ________.”
Again, just a few phrases we may hear when we are externalizing our coping.
This type of coping is the kind that allows you, even when fallen to the floor, to look up and seek God’s face. Listen, I know this is the obvious “good way to cope.” What believer doesn’t know that seeking God would be a good way to cope? What believer doesn’t know this is the winning answer? Deep in our hearts, as Christians, we know that our best method of coping would be to reach out to God to help us.
Yet, this method of coping is often the last one we choose. Oftentimes, it’s more likely to be our “last resort.” We are “reduced to prayer.” How sad does that sound….reduced to prayer. Sigh.
Seek the Kingdom of God first, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:33 NLT
Here’s the deal, it’s not that we can’t utilize the IN and OUT coping strategies. BUT when we seek those methods FIRST, we are less likely to utilize them in a healthy, godly way.
When we seek God first, He will lead us to HEALTHY, GODLY coping methods.
The IN and OUT will look different when we seek UP first.
So, when God is sought out at the first sight of difficulty, we can certainly use IN and spend quality time in thought and prayer, processing what just happened with clear leading from the Holy Spirit, who lives IN US.
When we “go to the throne instead of the phone,” He will lead us to healthy external methods of coping….such as sending us to godly friends who will pray with us and keep us accountable or introducing us to healthy habits like walking out in nature or taking an art class.
If we follow the OUT method without seeking God first, it’s highly unlikely we will seek out godly coping mechanisms.
Coping internally and externally are not necessarily bad, as long as God is guiding you first.
Confession time again. In this season of difficulty, I have made some good choices in coping methods and I have made some poor choices. My own choices are the main reason that I wanted to focus on coping this month. I wanted to learn more about how, as a believer, I can cope with difficulty in a more godly way. I hope you don’t mind exploring that with me.
In my next blog post, we will talk more specifically about tangible ways that we can cope well, in a godly way, with difficulty.
Friends, may we all seek God first in all we do, not just in hard times. Knowing Him is what we need most in our lives and will lead us to cope well with all that life throws at us.