Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain: Uncover the Hidden Potential in Life's Most Common Struggles

Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain: Uncover the Hidden Potential in Life's Most Common Struggles

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A revolutionary approach to dealing with life's challenges that guides readers in how to face them and to recognize them as gifts from God.

At one time or another everyone finds themselves questioning, "Does God still love me? Is there a purpose for all this pain?" Drs. Meier and Henderson teach readers how to face painful struggles head-on in a way that allows them to grow and mature emotionally and spiritually. In this timely book they explore the seven most common life challenges:

  • Injustice
  • Rejection
  • Loneliness
  • Loss
  • Discipline
  • Failure
  • Death

In addition they offer the three reasons we often miss the gifts these challenges can be. This unique approach to an age-old problem will encourage and challenge readers to grow through their struggles instead of wasting energy trying to avoid them altogether.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781418580711
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 11/02/2009
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 618 KB

About the Author

Dr. David Henderson is a board certified psychiatrist, author and speaker. He is the founder and president of Four Stones PLLC, a mental health consulting practice in Dallas, Texas. For five years, Dr. Henderson served as the Department Chair of Psychology and Counseling at Criswell College, rebuilding its Masters in Counseling Program and starting the undergraduate major in Psychology. He also helped to develop a fully online counseling curriculum for the school. In addition, Dr. Henderson has served as an adjunct professor of Psychology and Counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a member of the board of directors for Drug Prevention Resources, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing youth substance abuse. Dr. Henderson has presented nationally and internationally at conferences for the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, The Christian Association for Psychological Studies, and the Christian Medical and Dental Association. For more information, you can visit his website,


Read an Excerpt


Beyond Injustice

Though the autumn day was unseasonably warm, even by South Carolina standards, Debbie Townsend moved like a weary traveler caught in a snowstorm. As she followed me (Dr. Henderson) to my office, her head was bowed and her shoulders hunched forward. Her arms crossed her chest, gripping her sides as if to prevent an already broken spirit from crumbling into pieces. With a stone-cold face and a lifeless voice, she began to share her story. As she did, it became apparent that Debbie was carrying on her shoulders the weight of injustice.

Ten years ago at the age of thirty-five, Debbie was in bed when she heard someone breaking in through her front door. She was living alone with her three young children after divorcing a man who had been physically and emotionally abusive. The decision to leave him had been difficult. She was pregnant with their fourth child and had no money. She and the kids had lived at a domestic violence shelter on the outskirts of Columbia for a few months until she found a job and was able to get a place of her own. Now, with a home in the suburbs, she thought she would finally get some relief from the abuses that had plagued her marriage, but she was wrong. Huddled beneath the covers, she saw the silhouette of her ex-husband appear in the doorway. He was intoxicated and enraged. After violently beating Debbie, he left her unconscious and bleeding on the floor.

When Debbie finally regained consciousness and called 911, she was taken to the hospital, where the emergency room doctors told her she had miscarried her fourth child as a result of the attack. She was overwhelmed with grief. To add insult to injury, she discovered that her ex-husband negotiated his way out of jail time and, instead, got off with a few months on probation. Her physical wounds eventually healed, but her emotional wounds had festered, eating away at her soul.

As she sat in my office ten years later, she began to open up about the pain:

I can't sleep, I can't eat, and I keep having flashbacks, panic attacks, and blackouts. I'm so angry! Yet I also feel overwhelming guilt, like maybe there was something I could have done to prevent the attack. For years I've tried to smile and pretend that everything is all right, but I just can't do it anymore. Normal, everyday activities take all my strength, and familiar sounds — like the opening of a door or a car pulling into the driveway — make me jumpy and suspicious. I avoid my bedroom and often sleep on the couch at night. I can't work or take care of my kids. I don't want to die, but if this is what life is going to be like from here on, I really don't want to live either.

Debbie is just one of thousands of people who have faced the injustice of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. The symptoms she described are what psychiatrists call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Risk factors for PTSD are not entirely clear, but they generally include the length of time a person is exposed to a traumatic event, prior emotional or psychiatric conditions, and/or lack of support from family or friends. The greatest obstacle to overcoming PTSD is a sufferer's perceived sense of injustice.

Any pain, whether physical or emotional, is harder to overcome if it is viewed as injustice. Studies have shown that perceived injustice (as in the case of a car accident or work-related injury) is a potential risk factor for problems recovering from musculoskeletal injuries. An individual's perception of injustice is likely to affect the severity of physical pain, the frequency of thinking about the pain, and feelings of being helpless to overcome it.

If this is true, then imagine how important it is to deal with the pain of injustice as we strive to overcome other types of pain. If we are unable to move past the pain of injustice (even if the injustice is real), then we will never find purpose beyond our losses, our failures, or our experiences with death, loneliness, rejection, and discipline. We must overcome the sense of the unfairness of our pain before we can move forward to see the meaning beyond it.

Who's to Blame? No Comparison

We hear about corporate corruption, sexual abuse, and mistreatment of innocent children, and we rightly cry out for justice. But we also see friends who never smoked a day in their lives get lung cancer, couples who would make great parents unable to conceive children, and promising young athletes crippled by injuries that shatter their dreams. Are these injustices? If so, to whom do we attribute blame?

It is easy to compare our lives to others' and wrongly perceive injustice. Jesus told the parable of the generous employer and the hired hands to illustrate this fact (Matt. 20:1–16). The first group of employees came early in the day and agreed to work for a specified price. They were satisfied with this agreement until they found out the employer had also decided to pay latecomers the same amount for fewer hours of work. Outraged, one of the employees objected that equal payment for unequal work was unjust!

The employer answered them, "I haven't been unfair! Didn't you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?" (vv. 13–15 NLT).

Comparing our circumstances to others' and calling it injustice will not bring relief from pain. It only makes it worse.

Equal treatment does not automatically represent what is fair and just. For example, two teenagers with differing IQs do not need to be treated the same in order to be treated fairly. Equality would demand that parents spend the same amount of time helping each child with his or her homework, but that would not be fair, because the needs of the one are greater than the other. Likewise, if both teenagers work hard to get into college, but only the smarter of the two gets a full scholarship, the parents would be perfectly justified in spending more for tuition on the child who struggles academically. The provisions are based on need, and though they are not equal, they are most certainly just.

Not only do we struggle to define injustice, but we also have a hard time determining what actions to take when rectifying the wrong. Letting the punishment fit the crime is a murky business at best. As imperfect beings we often deal out imperfect justice. Who knows how many people are in jail for crimes they did not commit? How many people have escaped just punishment because of a technicality? We try our best to be fair, but even the most righteous judges in our courts are susceptible to subtle influences, shifts in mood, misinformation, or lapses in judgment.

What about punishment? Is a quick death at the hands of an executioner a fair punishment for the torture and murder of a helpless child? Is a two-hundred-dollar speeding ticket as equal a deterrent for a billionaire as it is for a third-grade teacher? Can we ever find a punishment that will satisfy the pain of our own personal injustices?

The more questions we ask, the more we realize how little we understand about justice. Yet as we wrestle with our frustrations with God and with others, the dawn will break, we will open our eyes, and we will realize that we have prevailed over the pain!


Entitlement Versus Truth

Our intellectual acknowledgment of society's injustices can quickly turn to visceral emotion when we are the ones facing it personally. I (Dr. Henderson) remember acknowledging the frustrations my patients had in dealing with their insurance companies. With a calm, sympathetic nod, I would utter a few condolences and then quickly change the subject to "more important" matters — that is, until I experienced those same frustrations firsthand.

Our daughter, Victoria, has had a number of health problems since her birth. After putting her through thousands of dollars' worth of medical tests and treatments, we received a letter in the mail from our insurance provider stating that they had rescinded her from our policy due to a technicality in her medical records. When we recovered from the initial shock, my wife and I were incensed. How could they do this to us, to our innocent little girl? How were we ever going to afford to pay all those medical bills on our own? After two months of phone calls, requests for medical records, conversations with lawyers and doctors, and long letters of appeal, the insurance company finally reversed their decision. Though we were so grateful to God for answering our prayers, it was hard not to feel resentment for the two months that we had been put on hold, both literally and figuratively. After all, we had done nothing wrong, but we had spent hours working to fix the mistakes of others. Our sense of injustice had been heightened because of our personal experience with it.

Whether our injustice is as little as being put on hold for hours waiting to speak with customer service, or as severe as being injured by a reckless driver, being overlooked for a promotion because of company politics, or being accused of a crime we did not commit, our perception of the injustice determines how we handle it. This is why we must properly define injustice before we can deal with it in a healthy way.

The problem is that our perception of injustice is so easily distorted by our sense of entitlement. Before we can distinguish between injustices that are only perceived and those that are actually real, we must first whittle away our sense of entitlement and uncover our true rights as human beings. After all, the more we feel we deserve, the deeper our sense of injustice will be when we do not receive these things.

Entitlement is believing that somehow what we deserve is special or above others, that our rights as individuals or as a group are more important than the persons or groups around us. Conversely, our sense of entitlement tells us that we are less deserving of mistreatment or pain than those same persons or groups. The biblical worldview, however, tells us that this is not true. The Bible says that God "sends rain on the just and on the unjust alike" (Matt. 5:45 nlt). Even if we are upstanding, law-abiding citizens, we are not entitled to have everything go our way.

If you find this reality uncomfortable, it would be wise to remember C. S. Lewis's words. In short, he said that if we look for comfort instead of looking for truth, we will end up with neither!

Too many people suffering from the pain of injustice enter psychiatrists' offices looking for comfort apart from truth. They are often disappointed, even angry, when medicines or therapy fail to provide that comfort. Though medications and therapy can help, we often have to educate patients about their roles in the recovery process. If there are underlying psychological, social, or spiritual issues that are not being truthfully addressed, doctors can only provide symptomatic relief, not long-term healing. To overcome the pain of injustice, we must seek truth above all else. In doing so we put away the false idea that we have a right to a comfortable, easy life.

Can You Handle the Truth?

So what are we entitled to in this life? The real answer, whether you believe in God or not, is nothing!

Some of you may read those words and respond, "Nothing! Come on, you can't be serious. After all, I work hard. Don't I deserve a day off now and then? I'm a nice person. Don't I deserve to find someone who will love and care for me each day? I eat healthy foods and exercise. Don't I deserve to live a long life free from heart disease and joint pain?"

We hate to be the ones to break the news, but the answer is no. Here's why.

An atheist believes that life is a chance phenomenon. To survive we need to be the fittest, the smartest, and quite frankly, a bit lucky. To a person who views life this way, natural disasters and random catastrophes are simply part of a meaningless existence. There is no justice in the world other than the contrived justice that societies impose upon themselves in their effort to survive. We obey rules only as long as they keep us safe and comfortable. If they fail to do so, then we change them. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, "There is no eternal justice." The ramifications of this belief exclude any notion of rights.

Without God in our lives, we are selfish creatures. Why in the world would we follow Jesus' teachings, such as love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who hurt you? That would be absurd. There is no justice in behaving that way.

If there is no absolute standard of justice, then rules are meant to be broken. We should do whatever can give us an advantage over others to survive. An atheist can become angry over the pain of life, but he has no one to blame. He has no rights beyond what he can take and hold by force. Entitlement for him is nothing more than what Sigmund Freud called wish fulfillment — the satisfaction of a desire, need, or impulse through a dream or other exercise of the imagination.

In contrast a theist's sense of injustice can be harder to curb because he does have someone to blame for all of his problems: God! After all, if God created human beings, then isn't He responsible for our pain? We ask, "How could God let this happen to me? Why didn't He stop me from getting hurt?" To answer these questions, we must recognize the sense of entitlement that drives them.

Why Blame God?

If you believe God created you and He is a personal being, then you must also believe that He has a definite purpose for your life. To ask, "Why was I ever born?" in an accusatory way is to question God's right to create whoever and whatever He wants. "Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, 'Why have you made me like this?'" (Rom. 9:20 nlt).

To know God correctly, we must know Him completely. We cannot expect Him to leave us alone in the good times and to step in during the bad. We cannot break His rules and then demand that He rescue us from the consequences. We have no rights except those that come from God — and even those are gifts.

Unfortunately, we have taken the privileges we have in a free society and turned them into rights. Where once we believed in legitimate rights — the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ("rights" endowed for us by our Creator) — we now have added to these a laundry list of other desires: the right to choose life or death, the right to security and comfort, and the right to instant gratification. We expect to have satisfying nine-to-five jobs, hassle-free health care, guaranteed retirement at sixty-five, and three weeks of paid vacation each year. We expect our marriages to be effortless, our children to raise themselves, and our elderly parents to age gracefully in a plush retirement community. All of this is in addition to our having the latest fashions, the sportiest cars, and the fanciest homes.

Our society's sense of entitlement has even changed the way we practice medicine. Because of advancements in technology, people not only expect to be made healthy again through medical treatment, but they expect to be made better than normal! Parents, college students, and business professionals are flooding psychiatrists' offices and requesting stimulants in an effort to get ahead of the curve. More and more athletes are getting caught using steroids to win in their respective sports. While in other parts of the world people are struggling to obtain basic health care, people in the United States are spending millions of dollars on cosmetic surgeries to achieve physical perfection.

With all of this power and control, that we are often blindsided by injustice is no wonder. Though as a culture we have become desensitized to such things as violence, sexual immorality, and hedonistic pleasures, we have become overly sensitized to the pain of injustice. We are so accustomed to having things our way that we are shocked, overwhelmed, and enraged when they are not. In our anger we look for someone to blame. When we find no human scapegoat, we turn our anger toward God.


Excerpted from "Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Paul Meier and David L. Henderson.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments, xi,
Introduction: The Light Beyond Our Seven Universal Struggles, xiii,
Part 1: Injustice, 1,
1. Beyond Injustice, 3,
2. Entitlement Versus Truth, 7,
3. The Light of Perspective, 13,
4. All Things Made Right, 21,
Part 2: Rejection, 29,
5. Beyond Rejection, 31,
6. Acceptance from God, 43,
7. Acceptance for One's Self, 51,
8. Acceptance from Others, 59,
Part 3: Loneliness, 73,
9. Beyond Loneliness, 75,
10. O bstacles to Relating, 85,
11. N ever Really Alone, 97,
12. Know Yourself, 103,
Part 4: Loss, 119,
13. Beyond Loss, 121,
14. What Have You Got to Lose?, 133,
15. What Have You Got to Gain?, 143,
16. Was It Worth It?, 151,
Part 5: Discipline, 159,
17. Beyond Discipline, 161,
18. A Wake-Up Call, 169,
19. Because You're Loved, 175,
20. A Personal Training Plan, 185,
Part 6: Failure, 199,
21. Beyond Failure, 201,
22. God's Gentle Touch, 209,
23. Permission to Vent, 217,
24. True Success, 225,
Part 7: Death, 239,
25. Beyond Death, 241,
26. The Battle, 249,
27. Death's Only Weapon, 255,
28. Resurrecting Hope, 263,
Conclusion: The Power of the Purpose, 275,
Notes, 279,

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