When I was fourteen, my godparents gave birth to a baby boy after twenty years of marriage. The most joyful day of their lives was shattered by the devastating news that their son had Down’s Syndrome. Fifty years ago Downs was a death sentence and Robert was no exception. Three weeks later they buried their only child. I was deeply impacted by the response from my aunt, a woman of deep faith, when questioned about their loss. “I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to experience being pregnant and bringing a child into this world.” Years later, when I became a mother myself, I found it difficult to fully comprehend her positive attitude. Losing a child is every mother’s worst nightmare, I thought to myself. I would die if that happened to me. Little did I realize what the years ahead held in store for me.
Every day, humans face indescribable heartbreak: children being abducted, raped or murdered. Soldiers, having witnessed the unspeakable horrors of combat, return home with bodies that no longer function at full capacity. Six years of a declining economy have left families facing financial ruin. Yet amidst all of the misfortune, injustice, and loss there are those who miraculously find a way to maintain a joyful spirit.
Why is it that some who face insurmountable hardships sustain hope and joy while others drown in bitterness and anger? There are ten behaviors common to survivors and “thrivers” that you can embrace as well:
1. Don’t dwell on the past. Know that it is a learning tool to further advance you in your life process.
2. Understand that there is a higher purpose to suffering. Just as a pregnant woman experiences intense labor pains in order to bring new life into this world, so too must we sometimes suffer in order to create life extraordinaire.
3. Acknowledge and process your anger, fear, remorse, etc. to prevent it from turning into bitterness and resentment.
4. Reject feelings of self-pity and victimization. They serve no valuable purpose and, like quicksand, will only pull you further down, ultimately leading to your demise.
5. Remain positive: remember that every pile of manure was created by a pony. Seek and find the gifts that are await you.
6. Look for ways to use your new-found knowledge and situation to help others. Never miss an opportunity to make the world a better place.
7. Focus on gratitude; search for and acknowledge the blessings that still remain in your life.
8. Remember: you are far more resilient than you realize. Reflect on all of the challenges you’ve overcome thus far and build on those strengths and attributes to pull you through yet another life surprise.
9. Use others as a source of inspiration. There are many who have been through worse than you.
10. Have faith in God that He always provides whatever is necessary to face the apparent and unseen challenges that life hands us. And at the exact right moment He will show you the necessity of this experience and reveal His Divine plan to you.
I endured a ten-year estrangement from three of my adult children and subsequently two grandchildren. While it has never been my style to wallow in self-pity, the excruciating pain of being separated from my children nearly ended my life as I knew it. Yet the strength and love of my Heavenly Father upheld me. Once I learned to fully trust in Him and realize that my life was literally in His hands to do with as He saw fit, my worry and anxiety subsided and in its place I discovered a sacred peace that has sustained me ever since. Only then could I fully understand my aunt’s response to the loss of her son.
Trust in God. He will guide you through life’s most terrifying moments and bring you to victory each time. Let go of the need to live life on your terms. Follow His directive. He is really all you need – now and for eternity.
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