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  • David Defries

Emotional Coping

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)

Have you ever gone through a difficult time in your life (perhaps a breakdown in relationship, a tough financial hit, or a serious illness) and found that you developed a bad coping mechanic to help you get through? I have. In fact, since I was fairly young I learned to dissociate myself from the situation and go off into my head, dreaming and fantasizing about something that I found cool or exciting. I would particularly fixate on video games, especially ones with deep story and characters, where I could escape into a different world and get lost in a situation that felt more vibrant and alive than the situation I currently faced in my own life.

For me, there's a sense of control with video games. If you get how the game works, you can develop your skills, progress, and eventually win. There's always a path forward. There's a way you can come out on top. When life gets me down, I crave that sense of surety, control, and that I can win. Real life doesn't always work like that. Sometimes it messy, confusing, and I don't get how it works at all. Sometimes no matter how good of a strategy you have, you'll still lose and be hurt in the process.

No matter how much I desire to escape into video games, I know that it's a bad way to cope with my problems. For one, real life is always there when you eventually put the game down, nothing has gone away. For another, too much escape and you start losing your grip on reality and start being absent in thought continually. That's not fair to the people around you, especially the ones dependent on you practically and emotionally like my kids and my wife.

Despite my desires to the contrary, I believe that we weren't actually designed to cope with emotions like this. We were actually designed to have a relationship with God and rely on Him to take care of the things that we can't control. We're supposed to pray and give our problems over to God and be filled with peace. It's a promise from God that He would do just that, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:6-7) In relationship with Jesus, we have this emotional outlet to properly deal with what is going on inside of us.

There are some things that we can change and some that we can't. The things that can be changed get revealed to us in the context of relationship with God. We learn and grow and develop as people. This is one of the purposes of God in giving us the Holy Spirit to live inside of us and guide us into wise and healthy living. However, there are a lot of things that we can't change and have no power to affect. Those things we entrust into God's care and then we don't have to worry about them again. We're free of the emotional burden as the responsibility is in God's hands. Therefore, whenever I realize that I'm not coping with something and have this desire to escape, I'm actually avoiding coming to God in the way that I was designed to do. I'm trying to deal with my physical situations within my own strength… strength that I just don't have. I need Jesus. We all do. Everybody gets to this place of needing to deal with stress somehow and it either gets dealt with well or we implode into messy and destructive habits in order to cope.

So when you go through something difficult, what are you looking at to help you solve the problem? Is it healthy and does it bring you peace? Are you coping by using a destructive behaviour or are you looking to Jesus? Are you presenting your problems to an Almighty God who can handle it or are you trying to take care of it on your own? I urge you, don't be on your own anymore. We weren't designed to carry that kind of a burden.

As I write this, I'm feeling convicted. Even this week I'm looking to escape my problems rather than go to Jesus with them, even though I know that never works. I once heard someone say that prayerlessness is the ultimate pride, because it shows that you think you can handle everything on your own. For myself, enough is enough and I'm going to go off and pray. I know that I need God and that the only true peace is in Him.

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