How to Keep Your Heart Whole in Hard Times
We all go through hard times. Sometimes we just have bad days, and other times our world falls apart.
I’ve recently faced some challenges in my life, and my boat has taken on a few leaks. It’s often difficult to find your way in those times, when peace feels so elusive. But my own hardships have got me thinking about how I can protect my heart in the midst of difficulty.
Even if I don’t do all these things perfectly, I know they’re significant ways to guard what’s most precious to me in the middle of the storm. They might just be for me, but I’m hoping they’ll help you too.
When you’re watching a movie, and the conflict starts, the first thing to change is the sound of the film. The music becomes tense, the background noise gets amplified… and suddenly you’re looking for the volume remote because you don’t want Jason Bourne to wake up your baby.
When trouble hits my life, the first thing I want to do is start talking. Maybe not out loud, but in my head. I begin to worry, and I build arguments to protect myself, and I rehearse the conversations that just happened, and I imagine the confrontations about to happen… and in the middle of all the noise, is there any wonder why I don’t have peace?
When I’m caught in a stormy season, I start each morning with a moment of silence.
(Don’t worry, nobody died.)
But I need to orient myself to peace. I need to find North on my compass and wait there for a moment.
You might think, “that sounds like a bad idea. If I wait in a moment of silence, all I’m going to hear is the anger/worry/resentment/fear…”
And you might be right, at first! But eventually, if you keep telling your brain to be quiet too, you’ll regain your focus.
You can only gather yourself in the stillness. You might have a storm on the outside, but only times of silence will calm the storms within.
Forgiveness has become a second language to me. I’m not fluent in it yet, but I’m conversational. I can speak enough forgiveness to know how I can get cleaned up, so I’m ready to help others too.
If you have people to forgive (and you certainly do), start by asking for forgiveness. It keeps you from forgiving those who hurt you as a sneaky form of judging them.
Has someone gotten angry at you? Well, I’d start by repenting for the times I got angry, before I try to forgive them. Are you feeling offended, or disappointed, or hurt somehow? Begin by acknowledging the times you’ve made other people feel that way.
This isn’t about dragging up all your mistakes to feel bad about yourself. It’s about acknowledging your complicity. If someone in your boat caused the leak, you can either throw them overboard or you can get their help to fix it–and that process begins with forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a universal language we can all learn to speak. Because ultimately, we’re all in the same boat together.
I’m not talking about the kind of thankfulness that simply shrugs and says, “well, life could be worse”. Sometimes things are too tough to just look on the bright side.
Instead, I give thanks for the gift of life itself, and I choose to dwell on all the anchors I still have in the midst of my grief and pain. My family. My friends. The presence of Jesus. The mercy I’ve received for my own mistakes. How I can make my son giggle when I tickle his armpits.
I dwell on these good things not because I’m in denial, but because I can’t afford to exaggerate my pain. Yes, life is tough sometimes. Sure, I might’ve had a bad day at work. Or, maybe it’s a lot worse than that!
It doesn’t matter. Nobody is denied the ability to be thankful.
When you see life as a gift, you recalibrate your instruments–and you know where you can draw strength from for as long as the storm must last.
This is a weird one. But it’s essential.
Are you content with your life–even in the midst of your pain?
Sure, you’re probably discouraged. And yes, it hurts. But what if tomorrow is the same as today? What if it doesn’t get better–at least not right away? Where is your purpose, and your peace, if you’re right in the middle of hell?
I’m really going out of this article on a high note, but hear me out.
I once heard the story of a POW who escaped from a prison camp during the Vietnam War. When asked about how he survived when other prisoners succumbed to the deplorable conditions and died, he claimed it was actually giving up the hope of rescue that inspired him to live. Instead of waiting around to be saved from the pain, he put in his will to live.
Can you find meaning and purpose in the midst of your pain?
I’m not saying you should embrace some morose attitude and give up hope. I’m saying you should put your hope where it matters.
Your life has meaning! Your pain has a meaning. Your story will have a conclusion and this moment will not be wasted. You can be content before you make it out of the hell you’re in. In fact, you can even make your bed in hell if you want to–and get some rest while you’re at it!
Contentment isn’t perverse. You don’t have to love the conflict. Contentment just believes your pain has purpose. You can't be content when you're trying to escape the pain.
Life is difficult sometimes, and there’s no denying. And sometimes you’re really “going through it”. But contentment chooses acceptance over denial.
If you believe your story matters, your pain will begin to have a purpose.
You’ll be able to stand at the helm of your life and remind yourself: