My friend was not handling life very well. Emotions overwhelmed her as she felt the disappointment and pain of an adult child who was making bad choices, grief for a parent in hospice, and the sting of anger when relatives inappropriately demanded a share of the inheritance. She was already battling cancer, exhausted from chemotherapy and frustrated that she could not deal with all that was on her plate. Darkness invaded her world more than was visible to the eye.

She had Christian friends at church who were praying for her. She had good-intentioned family members always ready with words of advice. And she had plenty of books and podcast lectures on dealing with her specific issues. But it was a wise, older Christian woman who encouraged her and imparted truth without judgement that changed everything. This woman met with my friend twice a week for months. She told me the main premise of their discussions was that the only thing you can control is yourself. My friend kept a diary of their Bible searches for God’s truth about her life versus her own self-deception. Here are a few of the key take-aways that she recounted put her back on a healthy path.

She learned to guard her heart. Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Guarding your heart means choosing godly thoughts (Col. 3:2; Phil. 4:8) as well as seeking wisdom and guidance from God. My friend had spent months in anger, self-pity, and dwelling on how life is unfair. She had raised her children with Christian values, only to watch a prodigal flaunt an ungodly lifestyle in her face. Why? She had always taken care of her body—good food and exercise—only to face a cancer diagnosis. Why? Betrayal had fractured her family over money issues. Why? It was a while before my friend would admit that her heart was bitter. Only she could control her thoughts, choosing godly thoughts over the evil that plagued her to the point of giving up on life. But once this realization became clear, it was a turning point.

She learned self-deception is easy. Telling yourself the truth is not. My friend had to keep her eyes focused on the truth, and God tells us the truth sets us free (John 8:32). The truth is that despite her best efforts, her rebellious child made poor choices. God knows exactly how she feels. When Adam and Eve sinned, God was grieved over their choice to go their own way. Later when God’s people refused to follow Him and worshipped other gods, He lamented. The truth is that as a mother, she can continue to keep the lines of communication open and can pray for the prodigal child to repent. But she is not responsible for her child’s sinful lifestyle. This truth sets her free of guilt and shame.

She learned how her thoughts about her circumstances shaped her actions. The loss of a parent is a heartbreak in itself. But when it also causes family members to take sides as to how her caregiving should have been handled, and how her earthly belongings should be distributed, it festers into anger and even hatred. My friend learned that she could deal with the circumstances without being negatively shaped by them. She had to control her thoughts by being reminded that we were made to do good things for Christ. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). She was able to proceed with the burial details in accordance with her mother’s wishes and reply calmly and confidently to those who challenged the distribution of her estate. Controlling her thoughts allowed her to control her actions.

She learned to pay attention to her emotions without being controlled by them. As negative thoughts became bigger and stronger, she began to think that life was not worth living. She saw her choices as only affecting her. She wanted to control outcomes rather than yielding to God’s sovereignty. She had to come to grips with the fact that she was powerless to change the outcomes of her circumstances, but she was in control of her own thoughts and responses. The Lord knows her heart better than she ever would. He is gracious, tenderhearted, loving and kind, and never hides from those who seek Him. There are no guarantees in life—life is not fair, you can love another who does not love you back, you can teach a child the way he should go and he will mock you for it, you can practice a healthy lifestyle and still get cancer, you can treat others with kindness and respect and it may not be returned. But God tells us what to focus on in life. We are to keep our thoughts pure, our actions godly, and live a life of gratitude, trusting in the character and steadfast love of God for us in Christ. He promises to be with us and carry us through our hardships. He is our refuge and strength and present help in trouble (Ps. 46:1).

One sister in Christ came along side my friend and that made all the difference for her. It was a beautiful picture of how God designed the Body of Christ to care for one another. Together they studied Scripture, prayed for insight, and sought out the biblical truths that my friend recorded in her journal. The Holy Spirit worked mightily in her heart replacing disappointment and resentment with hope and healing. Life brings its share of heartaches and challenges, but God has not left us alone in our suffering. May we all have godly people in our lives willing to speak the truth in love and help us seek the Lord in the midst of our sufferings.

Sharon Rockwell

Sharon retired from her career first as a chemist and then as a regulatory affairs consultant to the medical device industry. She has served on the women’s ministry team at Grace Presbyterian Church in her hometown of Yorba Linda, California, and has worked as the west coast regional advisor for the PCA. She and her husband have 4 adult children, and 6 young grandchildren (current score girls 4, boys 2). In her spare time Sharon enjoys cooking, traveling, bird watching and raising orchids.