What do you do when life gets a little crazy and you find yourself in the midst of a crisis? Pastor Tripp Atkinson and family counselor Anne Ford share some principles on how to navigate those inevitable crises and come out better on the other side.
It’s a fact. I even saw this helpful reminder on a bumper sticker recently. (Well, the message was similar to this.) But the fact remains that crises, both big and small, are a part of life. Sometimes there are warning signs that a crisis is on the horizon (drastic changes in students’ behavior, etc.), but sometimes crises are sudden and unavoidable.
Whatever the crisis, there are certain keys to navigating critical situations that will foster healthy relationships and success on the other side.
Here are 7 keys to navigating life’s inevitable crises…
1) Breathe & Pray. (Get still)
In moments of crisis, there are all kinds of things going on physiologically that can cause panic or anxiety.
The fight-or-flight-response (or acute stress response) is a physiological response in reaction to a threat. The adrenal gland produces adrenaline and noradrenaline (as well as a small amount of dopamine), that act as “messengers” to put your body into overdrive. All these messengers going crazy can lead to what Anne refers to with children as a “mud mind” (vs. a clear mind).
When your mind begins to get muddy, you need to clear it up. Start by taking a breath.
Seriously, take a breath. Just breathe.
Slowing down gives you an opportunity to physiologically settle the messages so that you can think through the emotion. It is never a good idea to make important decisions when you are in a highly emotional state (HALT – hungry, angry, lonely, tired).
As you hit the pause button to breathe, immediately take your situation (and that emotion) to God. Stop and pray. 1 Peter 5:7 reminds us of why we should pray in moments of crisis:
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Jesus cares, and he offers something pretty incredible for those who would take their anxiety and troubles to him. Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
The Apostle Paul speaks to the power of prayer in moments of crisis in Philippians 4:6-7. He says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
How incredible that in moments of crisis, God’s peace can guard our hearts and minds! Isn’t that worth slowing down and praying for?
In moments of crisis you have two choices: run to God or away from God.
2) React in light of the Big Picture. (Get perspective)
It is so important in crisis to get perspective. Sometimes the stress of a crisis can cause us to lose sight of what’s really important. We must make sure that we give value what is most valuable. For example, if your child tells you some shocking information about poor choices they have made, the temptation may be to immediately think of what others will say about this. In this scenario, we must remind ourselves that our relationship with our child is more important than our reputation among other parents.
How we relate to our child in this crisis is most important. Our reaction to this crisis sends a message to our children and shapes how they handle stressful situations.
Children will imitate your response and reaction.
Here is an unpopular exercise, but I challenge you to try it:
Go ahead and think about the most shocking thing your child could ever tell you. (Not fun, right?!) Now think through how you would handle that conversation with your child. What would you say? How would you react? What message would be most important to communicate?
That initial reaction is key. It’s ok to say, “I need time to think about this.”
Anne stresses the importance of affirming our child in this moment. Saying, “I don’t know how I’m going to handle this yet, but I know I love you and we will get through this” values and assures your child, without condoning any poor choices that may have led to the crisis.
Remember, you don’t have to condone an action to affirm a person. Even though there may be significant consequences you have to enforce, it can be done from a place of love and value. Consequences given in love are exponentially more effective, as they teach a lesson while adding value.
3) Seek Wise Counsel. (Get wisdom)
Pastor Chuck Allen strongly encourages families in crisis to MINIMIZE THE VOICES around them. In times of crisis, know that there will be a multitude that will have an opinion on your situation. While well-intentioned advice may be appreciated, it is not always helpful. Minimize the voices by identifying a small and trusted group you can turn to for counsel.
Make sure your group includes the following:
Sounds obvious, but how many times do we seek answers elsewhere first and only turn to God when things get dire. Why not go to him first?!
One of the most wonderful promises is in James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” We all love free stuff, but so many miss the most wonderful “freebie” that God offers to anyone who would ask…wisdom. If the Creator of the universe offers to not only comfort and give strength in times of need, but also give us wisdom in navigating crisis, He should always be our first source of counsel.
King David understood the power of God’s Word to guide us when he noted, “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). At a time when there are countless thoughts and ideas running through your mind, come back to the truth of God’s Word, and react in light of truth.
Are you spending more time worrying about your situation, or praying and seeking divine guidance?
Faith Community (friends, family, mentors).
While we seek to minimize the voices, we should be aware of certain people that God has placed in our lives that can speak truth and offer Godly counsel. This group should be small and trusted. Ask the following questions before taking advice from this group…
Helpful questions to ask before involving friends / family:
- Does this person want God’s best for me?
- Do they love me enough to tell me the truth?
- Is this person living God’s best for their life?
If someone is trusted and wise enough to be considered in this group, listen carefully to what they say. Sometimes those who tell us what we don’t want to hear are the very ones we need in out lives (Proverbs 27:6).
Objective Counsel (pastor, counselor).
As much as trusted family or friends may be able to speak wisdom and truth into your situation, having an objective counselor that is removed from your situation is invaluable. Pastors and professional counselors can uniquely provide insight and counsel based on their training, objectivity, and experience from others who have navigated similar situations.
Anne reminds us that you don’t have to have a major crisis to benefit from a counselor. It’s part of a healthy life. She has seen great benefit in her own life from having different objective voices speak into her life and that of her family.
She agrees with King Solomon (known for his wisdom), who said,
Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise. –Proverbs 13:10
Important: Anne also reminds us that how we handle information matters to our children. There may not be a need for social media to know every detail about your family crisis. Be wise in how you share information, especially regarding your children.
4) Game Plan. (Get focused)
I stressed in an earlier session the importance of having a Parenting Plan (click here for more info). This is especially important during times of crisis. This allows you to clearly define the wisdom and counsel you have prayerfully sought. It also gives you the opportunity to (literally) get on the same page with others who are navigating this crisis with you.
Based on wise counsel, Bible reading, and prayer, put the following things on paper:
Identify truth about yourself and your situation. Don’t allow your mind to dwell on things that are not true. Write down any wise counsel you have received before you lose perspective. Reflect on truth from Scripture that speaks to your identity and your crisis. Allow this to be a place from which you take action.
Make a list of actions steps, identifying the most important and immediate items first. Also use this moment as a chance to look ahead. Sometimes “beginning with the end in mind” can give great clarity on what is needed to get there. Doing this can aid you in identifying systems and healthy habits that can help avoid some similar crises again. This can also bring great clarity to ways to cope with anxiety, anger, or fear.
We all cope with stress differently. Many times, the temptation is to cope in ways that are unhealthy (substance abuse, unhealthy eating, self-harm, etc.). While such methods may provide a (false) sense of temporary relief, they only add to our problems and ultimately magnify the crisis. Game plan healthy ways to cope with stress that will benefit you, both short term and long term (exercise, hobbies, uplifting music, arts, etc.).
Make sure your game plan includes daily times of meditation, Scripture reading, and prayer. Your spiritual growth is the best investment you will make. (Fore more info on developing a good routine, click here.)
5) Face it. (Get moving)
Once we’ve identified what’s important, Pastor Chuck encourages focus on one thing: “WHAT IS THE VERY NEXT STEP?”
In times of crises, we can become paralyzed by anxiety, fear, grief and the seemingly impossible task of facing another day. In these moments, keep your eyes on the next step. Certainly you can do that one thing!
Act now. Don’t avoid having that tough conversation. I recently worked with a family that was in the midst of significant crisis, but the parents didn’t want to have a tough conversation with their teen about it. What could have been confronted and addressed immediately turned into a long, tough seasons for this family because the parents were trying to avoid a tough conversation. Don’t avoid needed conversation! It won’t get any easier, and the dread of having it will only add to your anxiety.
Deal with whatever consequences need to be dealt with. Face the facts. Do the next thing. Don’t be like so many who come to counseling repeatedly just to talk about what they need to do. You can do that one thing! And then you can do the next, and then the next.
When the big picture seems too big, don’t give up! Just do the next thing.
6) Keep communication open. (Get connected)
I’m amazed at the number of families that shut down communication in times of crisis. In seasons when families most need each other, we must fight the temptation to withdraw because we don’t want to talk about the crisis.
In these moments, we must remember this about communication:
The crisis does not need to be the ONLY thing you talk about.
Don’t let it consume you. If children think that every time they are around you they have to talk about the crisis, you will probably see them not wanting to hang around as much.
Focus on the person, not just behavior.
If your crisis is a result of someone’s behavior, they probably already know they messed up. While behavior certainly needs to be addressed, there is more to the person than the crisis.
Sometimes we just need to LISTEN!
I can be so bad at this with my own family because I am a “fixer.” As soon as my family starts talking about a problem, I am formulating a game plan to fix it. My loving wife stopped me one day mid “game plan” and let me in on this relational secret. She said, “Tripp, I don’t need you to fix the problem right now. I just need you to listen.” She reminded me in that moment that the relationship was more important than the crisis. I was recently talking with a student in crisis who verbalized the same thing. Communication was rough with his parent and I asked him what he needed most. He replied, “Every time I try to talk to my dad, he jumps in with solutions. More than anything, I just need to be heard by my dad.”
A big part of listening is seeking understanding. Pray that your heart will be open to truly hear and understand those who are hurting with you. Anne reminds us that telling your child “I understand” is typically not as comforting or convincing as we may think. If you are truly listening, your child will know when you understand them.
Communication is a process.
If your family only communicates in a “family business meeting” setting, communication is probably not very organic in your home. Unless healthy communication is the norm, don’t expect conversation to be easy in times of crisis. The key to healthy communication is connection. Connect and communication will come. Anne stresses the importance of letting your child know they will have time to connect with you each day. She encourages at least 15 minutes a day for special time with your child. This is not the time to talk about behavior, but to let them direct the conversation. (I discuss what this looks like for my children here.) This time communicates value and creates an environment for ongoing connection. This connection will lead to communication, in good times and in crisis.
Choose your battles.
So many parents make crises out of things that really don’t need to be one. As parents, if we don’t learn how to choose our battles, we will probably find our homes being in a constant state of crisis and conflict (especially during the teen years). Sometimes, instead of making a huge deal out of something you could say, “I trust you to handle this situation appropriately. I’m here if you need any help.” This not only communicates trust and value, but also leads them towards responsible independence in handling difficult situations.
7) Allow God to Use your Crisis. (Get peace)
No one enjoys times of crisis, and naturally our focus can become how to get over or through the crisis as quickly as possible. When it comes to our children, most parents want to rescue their kids from any struggle or pain that comes in times of trouble. (Even if they got themselves there.) But let’s remember that times of crisis can be some of the best teaching moments in our child’s life. Perhaps the best thing we can do for them is let them feel the weight of a situation and coach them through it. Don’t be too quick to avoid conflict. Don’t be too quick to avoid crisis. See it for the unique opportunity that it is.
My family has been through a number of significant crises. During one of these crises, I remember praying day after day, “God deliver me from this! Change these circumstances!” One day I felt compelled to pray differently. Instead of focusing on deliverance, I prayed “God, I know you can deliver me in your timing, but would you choose to use me in the middle of this? Teach me, help me to grow, help me to learn. Use me to minister to other people who are going through a similar circumstance.” This prayer changed my life because it changed my perspective on my situation.
The number one question I am asked by people is crisis is “Why?” “Why am I going through this?” “Why did God allow this to happen?” While I certainly don’t know why everything happens, I am quick to point to the words of Jesus in John 16:33:
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Jesus promises trouble on this earth. The root of this trouble goes back to Genesis 1 in the Bible. When sin entered into this world, it began to destroy the perfect harmony God established in creation. Sin decays and rots. This is why we live in such a messed up world. Sin is why people die of cancer. Sin is why bad things happen to good people. The very reason we find ourselves in crisis today is the result of sin’s effect on this world. And this is the very reason Jesus came to earth… to deal with sin and to offer a way for us to not have to suffer the consequences of sin forever. (For more on this, click here.)
In times of sorrow, pain, and crisis we need to remember that this world is not our home. Jesus said to “take heart” for he has overcome the world. Put your hope and trust in him. Let him carry you, teach you, refine you, and use you in a dark and broken world to be a light to those who are hurting.
You are not defined by your crisis and you are not defined by your circumstances. Stop buying that lie and live in truth!
It is now part of your story and your story is a part of God’s story. Anne reminds us that “there is power in brokenness.” Use this trial as a time to grow. Let God teach you, empower you, and use you for his glory. Run to God. Rest in his embrace.
Chuck Allen closes each service at Sugar Hill Church with this beautiful reminder:
Would you let the Lord go before you and make a way? Would you allow him to make your crooked path straight? This is what he does. Would you allow the Lord to go within you and bring you peace, joy, fulfillment and contentment, because he is always good and you are always loved? Would you allow the Lord to come behind you in days that are difficult and pick you up and carry you, not around whatever problem you’re in, but right through the middle of it, so he can set you down victoriously on your two feet, wipe away your tears, kiss you on the forehead and wrap his loving arms around you as you hear your Savior, say, “My child, I love you.”
Even in times of crisis, you can walk in peace!
For a video of this breakout seminar & more resources from SHC’s “Becoming” series, click here. You can also get more parenting resources in your inbox by subscribing to this blog above.