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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Thankful for Painful Detours?

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city 
and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring — what your life will be! (James 4:13-14 CSB)

My life had taken a painful detour and I kept asking dark what-if questions. What if my husband had not begun to struggle with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts? What if he had not retired from pastoring? What if his medication stopped working and suicidal thoughts came back? What if I couldn’t take this anymore? What if I just quit? Stopping my dark what-if questions was impossible. I was stuck and needed help. 

My friend Kelly was in training to become a life coach. She reached out asking if she could work with me and I agreed thinking I was helping her. God had a plan to use her to help me stop seeing my journey as a detour and stop asking my what-ifs questions.  

A few sessions in, she asked me to identify my goals and dreams.

I quickly answered, “I want to figure out my new identity as a retired pastor’s wife who’s now living on the other side of a pew. My dream is to stop asking what-if questions and understand the detour my life has taken.”

She followed up by asking, “If you could change anything about your life today, what would it be?” 

Without hesitating, I said, “My husband would never have suffered anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. We would not have retired or gotten so far into debt because of the medical bills. I wouldn't live with the fear that the suicidal thoughts would come back. I wouldn’t have lost my identity as a wife or a pastor’s wife.” I fired my answers off, one after another. 

Her next question caught me off guard. “What do you love about your life today?” 

As I thought about my answer. I knew I was in trouble. My response to the second question was going to change my answers to the first one. I started to list all of the things I loved about my life:

  • my church
  • circle of friends 
  • the two life groups and Bible study I led each week
  •  my cute apartment 
  • my garden full of flowers and fruit trees
  • the hummingbirds in my yard
  • living so close to my children and grandchildren

All these things were in my life because of my husband’s breakdown.

I couldn’t change my painful experiences without losing the things I had come to love. My focus shifted from the painful journey to all the beautiful things I now had in my life. My response helped me move from living in the what-ifs to becoming thankful for what I have. What-if living is a mindset of dwelling on the loss. Living with a focus on what I am thankful for means I am right where God wants me. 

Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15 CSB)

As I read this verse, I hear God say, “Be thankful and live in this moment, for it is all You are guaranteed. Stop asking what-if and ask me for direction.

I had been sharing about my life taking a detour because of my husband's struggles with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Now I understood it wasn’t a detour at all. God knew this would happen and had a plan. He is using me in the middle of my mess. I am finding joy and serving Him in ways I never would have had the opportunity to otherwise. I am not missing out on life because of the struggles I’m facing; I am living a richer, fuller life because of them. 

Copyright © 2021 Carole Leathem, used with permission. Author of Finding Joy in My Messy Life – How I’m Surviving My Husband’s Struggles with Anxiety, Depression and Suicidal Thoughts.

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