Walking Through the Valley: Dealing with Trials and Thorns as a Christian

As a Christian, we hear about “valley” and “mountaintop” experiences quite a bit.  It has been written about recently in Christian publications, spoken about on Christian radio and extolled forever on social media.  What does this mean, really?

I’m not a theologian, but I can give you my own experience about “valley” and “mountaintop” experiences.    I am personally going through a very deep “valley” experience.   The list of things that have happened is pretty long in such a short time.   My  99 year old Aunt, who I am at least partial caregiver for, fell and fractured her pelvis, my kitty -which was more my baby than pet, died, I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer and my father’s last sibling, a very dear woman, my Aunt died last Thursday.  All this has happened since the beginning of April.  On top of the autoimmune liver disease I suffer of, this has been quite a bit.    If I were a superstitious person, I would think that I had walked under too many ladders.  But as a Christian, I am told that I am in a “season of trials”.

Let’s look first at the difference between a “season” and a “thorn in the flesh”, as stated by Paul the apostle.  Paul asked God to remove his thorn several times but realized it was something he was going to have to learn to live with.  My liver disease is an example of a thorn.  But, most theologians would agree that what has been happening to me lately is a “season of trials.”

When you are in the middle of things like this, you feel like it will never end.  There are some good steps to go through when you feel this way.  These are good things to remember if you are a Christian or not.  However, as a non-believer, you may find it more difficult to find the joy in the situation.

1.    This too shall pass.  With a few exceptions of course, most seasons of trial will eventually pass.  Will health problems not resolve and the person die?  Yes, that sometimes happens.  Sometimes healing will not come on this side of eternity.  Will bad things go on for a considerable amount of time?  Yes.  But except for a few extreme  circumstances, things will usually resolve.

2.   Accepting the New Normal.      Things may eventually pass, but sometimes what happened will cause what is normal in your life to change.  A significant health issue may cause you to now have to take certain medications, go to the doctor more, etc.  A financial set-back may make you reassess your lifestyle.  A death will cause your life to be irrevocably changed.  Don’t fight it and say “I just wish everything would go back to the way it was!”  It is counter productive and will do nothing but make you hurt.

3.   Remember what God did for you last time.  If you aren’t a believer, this may make this step difficult.  Remember how God got you through bad times in the past.  It may not be exactly what happened this time, but God uses trials and bad events to grow us.  If you have never had a person close to you die, it may be the worst thing to ever happen to you.  But when it happens again, and it will, you will be more prepared to deal with the onslaught of emotions.  If you aren’t a believer, what coping mechanisms did you use last time?  Were they productive or destructive?

4.  Don’t confuse a trial for a thorn.  There may be thorns lurking in that trial that will become permanant.  That is part of the new normal and applies to number 2.   If you are diagnosed with a chronic disease, God may wanting to work through you to help others, perhaps he wants to make sure you realize you have to depend on Him.

5.  Its ok to be mad at God.  Don’t gasp, yeah it is.  He has big shoulders.  This is ok as long as it isn’t permanant.  God doesn’t inflict pain on purpose, but he can use it.

6.  Don’t confuse a trial with a consequence.  A lot of that stuff we deal with is because we made bad choices, plain and simple.  You bought a house that was more than you can afford and you can’t make the payments.  Consequence.  You borrowed too much money for school for an underwater basket weaving degree and you can’t get a job.  Consequence.  You’re child gets leukemia.  Trial.    I could get into the sins of the father here, but I won’t.  Don’t think the sky is falling and God is putting you through something that you caused.  Can he use it and get you out of it?  Oh yeah.  Will you still have to suffer through it.  Most definitely.

7.  Don’t make more of a situation than it deserves.  What if thinking will kill you when you are going through a trial.  Don’t look too far ahead and don’t take small things and turn them into catastrophes before you know what is going on.  I am terrible at this one.  I’m a planner.  It helps me in my job and makes me a good administrator, but not good at coping with stress.

You aren’t going to get these right every time.  There are going to be times when you feel like you can’t put one foot in front of another.  This is especially true if you have suffered a death, or you have a health problem.  I speak from experience, it is hard.  But if you trust in the Lord and use good coping mechanisms you will survive it.

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