Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Looking For Encouragement?

I’ve been preparing lately for a workshop I’m going to give at a BiblicalCounseling Conference in my area. As I am making my notes, I am planning to offer a disclaimer right at the start, and it’s going to go something like this:

“Most of you in this room are far more experienced counselors than I am, and could probably teach me much more about biblical counseling than I can teach you.  But I do believe that I have something to offer in the area I’m going to talk about, because of the many years of experience I have with it.  I’m going to talk today about self-pity, and my journey to break free of the bondage of feeling sorry for myself. I hope to offer a counselee’s perspective on this kind of thinking. What I have to offer is not a new technique, but a personal testimony of the work that Christ has done in my heart, and the people and things he’s used along the way.”

As I’ve been preparing for this talk, I keep going back to the books God used as sort of rungs of a ladder, if you will, as I climbed out of that sinkhole of self-pity. If you struggle with your thinking as you endure your physical affliction, then I know that any one of these titles would be an encouragement to you. Here are just a few of the books that have helped me. I hope they might do the same for you.

This little book is just over 100 pages, but it packs a great deal of truth, compassion and encouragement in that small space. It is somewhat of a journaling book, in that it includes several “grief and growth workbooks,” with questions for the reader to answer. By the time I’d finished this book, I’d written over 40 tear-stained pages as I poured out my heart to the Lord. Kelleman has a way of blending truth with compassion in a way that produces repentance and relief for the sufferer. This book taught me that it is perfectly acceptable to God that I am grieving the loss that I suffered. It challenged me to see my loss as a type of death, and to grieve it biblically. My biggest takeaway from this book was that there are many “deaths” in this life besides the final one, and that it is right to grieve them. Reading and journaling through this book helped me stop stuffing my sadness and denying the pain I felt, so that I could look at it clearly through the lens of Scripture, grieve it rightly, and think about it biblically.

Pain: The Gift NobodyWants, by Dr. Paul Brand with Philip Yancey
This is a book that I read with the book group that I attend weekly. It is the story of a surgeon who worked among the Lepers in India. I hadn’t known this before, but true leprosy is characterized by a gradual loss of sensation in the extremities. The basic premise of the book is that pain, though it is often seen as the enemy, is really a friend to us. It signals that something is wrong, so that it can be addressed. Sadly, Brand acknowledges, with some kinds of pain, there is no solution. Woven in among stories of leprous patients and other pain narratives is information about how the mind perceives pain, and helpful modalities for minimizing pain without medication. I have put some of these things into practice, and have found them to be quite helpful. This is a book that is inspiring, but not necessarily inspired. There is not a lot of doctrinal content, but the overall tone is quite encouraging, and the selfless and loving way that Dr. Brand offers his skill to his patients taught me much about how to offer compassion when the pain can’t be stopped.

The Attributes of God, by AW Pink 
This book is, of course, not about pain, but about the sovereign, good, loving, merciful, patient God who has ordained it. This book, more than any other, solidified for me who God is. This is the book that convinced me of my favorite (though unoriginal) saying: “God is God, and He is who He says He is, regardless of my circumstances.” One of the key questions my biblical counselor asked me was, “How would God be different if your surgery had gone as planned?” Though I wanted to answer, “If God had done things my way, then he would be good and merciful,” I knew that was not right. This book firmly planted my view of God in Scripture, and it has become deeply rooted as I routinely review the attributes of God with my counselees, to help them line up their view of God with Scripture, not their circumstances. (This one is also available in PDF format, free of charge, here.

Pain: The Plight ofFallen Man, by Dr. James Halla
Dr. Halla is a rheumatologist who is also an ACBC certified biblical counselor. The information on the back cover says that it is a book on pain management from a Christian perspective, and that’s true. But it is more than that. What I got from reading this book is a great deal of help with how to think about my pain. The beginning part of the book gets into facts about the anatomy of pain, and is quite technical yet written in a way that a lay person can understand it. After laying that foundation, Dr. Halla talks about how our thinking either magnifies or shrinks our pain. I have found this to be very true as I have worked on thinking biblically about my pain. I know for a fact that I have the ability to make my pain better or worse, just by how I think about it, and this light dawned for me as I read this book. It is packed with facts, information, and encouragement that will change the way you think about your suffering, always directing those thoughts through a biblical filter. This book was another turning point for me in my thinking.

There are many other books and articles I’ve read that helped to change my perspective. Almost any book by Joni Earickson Tada will convict and encourage your heart. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones will help you to turn around the sadness and despair that often accompany chronic pain and disability. Surrender, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss is another very short book that is long on encouragement, and will help you to release your desire to control your circumstances into the hands of the loving God who ordained them.

Do you have a book or author that has been especially encouraging to you? If so, will you share it in the comments below? One thing I have always wanted this blog to be about is mutual encouragement among sufferers. Let’s share together the things that have helped us!