A Problem-Saturated Lens by, Jackie Halstead
It is a natural tendency to focus on the negative. Yes, there are those who lean more toward half-full and those who lean toward half-empty, but unfortunately, we all have the inclination to give the bulk of our attention to problems. Perhaps this is about survival. When things are going well, we can coast, but when there are problems, we need to address them in order to keep moving forward.
This tendency shows itself in our relationships. I see this a great deal as I counsel marital couples. They typically see only the negative aspects of each other and their marriage. They spend time attempting to convince me that their perspective is correct—it is their spouse who is at fault. If only the spouse will change, the marriage will be great. It is difficult for them to acknowledge any good in the relationship. In therapy, we refer to this perspective as a problem-saturated story. Everything is dark as one sees through this problem lens. The individual gathers “evidence” to support this story. The role of the therapist in these cases is to accent different aspects of the story from those attended to by the client in order to assist them in seeing their marriage in a more balanced manner. All relationships have both positive and negative aspects. They are not all bad. The client is then able to address the struggles in the relationship with hope.
The lens we have in our relationship with God can become problem-saturated. When we are disappointed with God, our perspective becomes dark. We gather evidence that supports this lens. We forget God’s faithfulness and the manner that our relationship has overflowed with blessing. A lot of this has to do with our expectation of what God should do for us. For example, we may have a loved one who is seriously ill. The mother of a friend of mine had stage 4 cancer. This friend launched a prayer campaign, inviting a large number of us to pray for her. He was convinced that his mother would be healed if we prayed fervently. When she died, he was devastated and felt that God abandoned him. Forgotten was the relationship he had shared with God throughout his life. Years later, he is still unsure of how he feels about God.
There are infinite examples of situations in which individuals feel disappointed or let-down by God. It is rare that a person does not go through this at one time or another in their relationship with God. Without realizing it, we buy into the prosperity gospel—that God blesses those who are faithful with external blessings. If we do what is right, we will prosper. Yet this is not what we see in Scripture. On the contrary, it is part of our faith journey to suffer. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). And when we struggle, we bring our angst to the one who knows us best. We understand this as parents. We want our children to come to us even when they are angry with our decisions.
This is not an easy concept. We go through seasons when all is going well and it is easy to recognize the faithfulness of God. It is in the times of suffering that we have dissonance. It is difficult to understand the ways of God. The action God takes may not fit with what seems logical to us. We may be desperate for God to act in the way we want or we may be in a situation that seems never-ending. We beseech God, yet God does not act as we anticipate. How are we to respond to God’s silence?”
Ultimately, we come to the understanding that God’s ways are not our ways. I go to God in prayer with my deepest desires, because that is what God tells me to do. God is God and I am not! I may not get what I want, but that does not mean that God has abandoned me. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates that we as believers will have an easy life. On the contrary, without exception, we see that those who serve God suffer. If anyone should have been the exception, it was Jesus. Yet he was not spared. God’s richest blessings are internal in nature. We receive peace that does not make sense in our context. We experience joy when the world around us is falling apart. We, like Paul, learn to be content in every circumstance. It is the relationship with God for which we can be most grateful. How incredible that the God of all creation walks with us individually!
Does this mean that we should not get angry with God? No, there is nothing wrong with being angry or hurt or disappointed. But we turn to God with that feeling and work it out with God. We invite God into our darkness rather than pushing away from God because we are experiencing darkness. God is faithful and will give us what we need to get through the situation. We are never alone.
A friend of mine is in the midst of this angst as her husband is battling cancer. They have young children and are afraid of what the future may hold if he dies. She is angry with God and cannot understand why God would want to take her kind, generous, faithful husband. He has done nothing to deserve suffering or death. I don’t have an answer for her questions and I certainly do not shame her for her frustration and pain. What I do is encourage her to cling to God in the midst of those long days of chemotherapy and of caring for her weak husband. God can handle her disappointment and her anger. God is with her every moment and is also with her husband every moment. For this I am grateful and at some point, she may be able to feel that gratitude as well.
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