All posts by Kevin Howell

When Life is Hard, We Don’t Need Answers

Life is hard sometimes.

Sometimes it’s trying.When Life is Hard, We Don't Need Answers

Sometimes it’s confusing.

Sometimes it’s depressing.

Sometimes it’s all of the above.

During those times, when life is unstable and uncertain, we search for answers. For many of us, we go to the Bible. Heck, even people who aren’t Christians often turn to the scriptures for answers.

The beautiful thing about the Word is it provides what we need at the right time, not necessarily what we want or expect.

The Bible is not a book of answers.

It’s not a go-to guide for quick solutions to life’s troubles, though we want it to be sometimes. It’s a narrative of God and His people, and from it we learn of His goodness, His grace, His love, and His power. In it we find peace, comfort, and strength.

It’s not full of answers, but it points us to the answer—Him.

When we experience a death of a loved one, we may want answers to why his/her life was taken. But knowing why someone died is not what we need or truly want. We want comfort. We want healing. And God, through His Word and Spirit, provides that.

Several years ago, I was in the midst of the worst year of my life. It was one of the lowest points I’d ever been emotionally. I felt alone, confused, and depressed. I needed something to hold on to and it was Psalm 27:13:

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

That scripture gave me hope. It kept me believing that I would see the goodness of the Lord. It didn’t specify what the goodness of the Lord was, nor when it would manifest. David, the writer of the Psalm, didn’t say he saw the goodness of the Lord. He simply said that by believing he would see goodness, he was encouraged. He knew the trouble wouldn’t last forever.

That scripture didn’t give me an answer. It didn’t give me a three-step solution to solve my problem. It simply showed the words and faith of someone who went through something much worse than I did and how, inspired by God, he got through it. It gave me hope.

Hope was exactly what I needed.

God’s Word is indeed powerful. But it doesn’t give quick fixes and simple solutions to our troubles. It doesn’t necessarily change our situation, but it does change us. It takes our focus off our problem and puts it on to God. Because ultimately, we don’t need answers, we just need to trust Him.

What scripture has gotten you through a difficult time? Is there a verse you often turn to in trouble? I’d love to read your comments below.

 

 

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3 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day Even if You Hate It

Valentine’s Day is approaching, so you’re probably saying one of three things:

“I freakin’ hate it!”3 ways to celebrate valentine's day even if you hate it

“I can’t wait for it!

“What day is that again?”

It’s not surprising that a day about love can draw such emotional or even indifferent reactions. That’s how love is. It’s an emotional thing. No feeling tugs on our hearts like love. I’ve probably had all three reactions to Feb. 14 at different times in my life. I’ve been single and lonely, despising the every commercial and TV show celebrating love that I lacked. I’ve been in love and eagerly planning the perfect date (and ordering flowers too late to arrive by Feb. 14). And I’ve been indifferent.

The reason we have these different reactions to Valentine’s Day is because it’s marketed to one segment of the population. If you’re not “cuffed” for the season, it ain’t for you. But if the day is truly about love, then it shouldn’t be limited to couples.

The best Valentine’s days were in elementary school. Remember then? Everyone bought a box of mini-Valentine’s Day cards to give to each person in class. It was big party with sweetheart tarts, heart-shaped candy, chocolate…it was like Halloween in February minus the costumes. I remember in third grade we had a big ice cream party. School was awesome then. But the best part is no one felt excluded. Sure I had a crush on the girl two rows behind me and she paid me no attention. But heck, I still got ice cream, candy, and cards from every girl in the class anyway, so it wasn’t a bad day.

But after elementary school, Valentine’s Day is a roller-coaster of emotions: some years you’re up, some years you’re down. But what if we went old school on Valentine’s Day? What if we took it back to when everyone was included? That’s what love really is like, right? Jesus is the author of love and His love is for everyone. It’s inclusive. So how can you make this the most inclusive Valentine’s weekend you’ve ever experienced? It may take some last-minute planning, but it’s easy to pull off. Here are three ways to have an inclusive, true love Valentine’s Day, whether you’re single or coupled.

  1. REACH OUT TO A WIDOW OR SOMEONE RECENTLY DIVORCED

A married couple I’m friends with did this a few years ago. A woman at church lost her husband in recent months. It was going to be her first Valentine’s Day alone in more than 30 years. So the couple invited her to their home. Their children made cards for her and decorated the place. They bought her flowers and had a family dinner with her. She said it was one of the best days she had since her husband died. There’s likely someone in your church, community, or family who has been widowed, divorced, or separated within the last year or so. This is the perfect opportunity to show them love this weekend.

  1. THROW AN EPIC PARTY 

Take it back to elementary school and host a Valentine’s Day party. Call up some friends, tell them to bring games, wine, and ice cream. Just celebrate those you love most. As a bonus, have each person write a note or card for someone in the group explaining what their friendship means. Don’t be exclusive either. This is not pity party for singles. Invite couples and singles and share the love.

  1. SERVE

Love is giving. There are plenty of opportunities in your area to volunteer to help people less fortunate. Whether it’s serving a meal at the Salvation Army, giving clothing to the homeless (it’s going to be ridiculously cold in the Northeast this weekend), giving out Valentine’s Day cards at a nursing home or children’s hospital, or simply ordering a meal for someone who is experiencing hard times. Choose to give this Valentine’s Day.

It’s time to take Valentine’s Day back from the marketers. We know love is broader than romance. Let’s make this holiday more inclusive. So whether you have a bae or not this weekend, think outside the (chocolate) box, and celebrate love in a grander way.

 

 

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We’ve All Been Hurt, We All Need Healing

No one is immune to hurt. It transcends social status, nationality, gender, job title, marital status, religion, and race. We acquire hurts like we acquire years. It’s part of the human experience. Some of us deal with deeper, more painful experiences than others. But regardless of the degree of pain, we all have this experience in We've All Been Hurt, We All Need Healingcommon.

As a guy, I know we don’t like to admit we have emotional scars, but we do. That breakup hurt us. The rejection stung. Getting passed up for the promotion was painful. Your wife’s words during the argument wounded.

Of course we all learn to get over hurts. We develop coping mechanisms that help us recover, move on, trust again, love again, and hopefully, forgive. But those hurts remain part of us. We rarely shed them, we just cover them. People don’t know the pain we’ve dealt with because we disguise it with smiles, busyness, humor, or surface-level relationships.

We remember hurts much more than positive experiences. They’re more traumatic. I tend to bury emotional hurts. I try not to think of them and let the past be the past. There is some benefit to that because it doesn’t allow negative experiences to taint my future. But there are times I feel it’s important to remember my hurts. Remember what it was like to be rejected, ridiculed, dumped, dismissed, or betrayed. Because the thought of that pain prevents me from hurting others.

Most of us internalize hurt, we think no one has dealt with the degree of pain that we have. But people all around us—our family, co-workers, friends, neighbors—have as much hurt as we do. And if we realize that, we will deal with people differently. We will speak differently. Think differently. Act differently.

I don’t know the hurt you have experienced, but I know I don’t want to contribute to that hurt. I want to contribute to your healing. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t mean I want to talk people through their issues, but there are simple things I can do, we all can do, to help heal without digging through people’s baggage. Here are ways we can contribute to others’ healing:

  1. Speak kindly: Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” Kind words and compliments can do wonders when it comes to healing. I don’t know about you, but when someone compliments me, my ego soars, and that’s not a bad thing. A simple compliment can change somebody’s day, erasing a bitter moment with a memorable word that’s as sweet as honey
  2. Walk in meekness: This one isn’t easy for us because we associate meekness with weakness. We think we’ll be eaten alive if we’re meek. But this world needs more meekness, which doesn’t mean weak, but rather gentle, mild, patient, and moderate. By displaying this characteristic—being patient, understanding, and not harsh with people—we allow people to work through their hurts with grace. This is particularly important in our close relationships (spouse, boy/girlfriend, family).
  3. Speak to people’s potential: We are all works in progress, which is code for “we screw up a lot and need grace.” Most of us tend to beat ourselves up or reflect on hurts when things aren’t going right. At these moments, it’s hard to see past our present predicament. That’s why we need to see the potential in others, and speak to that in people. Tell them you see what they are becoming: Let them know they are good parents even if their kids are raising hell; tell them they are talented when they just got laid off; tell them they are a good friend even when they mess up relationships. They know they aren’t there yet. But you’re not lying to them, you’re pointing them towards their future selves. You’re speaking to the person they are becoming, not the one they are.

You don’t have to have all your hurt healed before you help others. By contributing to the healing of others, you tend to heal yourself in the process.

Realize your hurts simply connect you with everyone else. Let your pain sensitize you to the pain of others, and help you to be a healer.

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The Hard Work of Friendship

I have a saying that I adopted in college: “Friends are family.” It’s more of a way of life than just a saying. I developed some great friendships during my college years. It helped that most of those relationships came from a campus ministry I served with, connecting us further through our shared faith and service.The Hard Work of Friendship

It’s almost like friendship came easy those days. I saw my friends every day, ate with them, studied with them, procrastinated then crammed with them…we experienced life together. But after those college years it’s not quite as easy to form those types of bonds. As we grow older and our lives get more complicated with work, relationships, children, and other things that monopolize our time, forming new, deep friendships doesn’t happen as naturally or rapidly.

Sure, we have new friendships, but are they the same? Is five minutes of chatting after church service or a brief conversation at the gym really a friendship? You may spend a bit more time with people than that, but I’d bet you have more surface-level friendships than family-like bonds.

That’s the case with me, and much of it is my fault. My temperament doesn’t require a lot of deep friendships. As long as I have that closeness with a few friends, I can get by. But as we go through life changes—moves & marriages; promotions & parenthood—time with that “family” is few and far between.

I haven’t been open to new, in-depth friendships as I should be. Why? They take work. Post-college life isn’t conducive to fast-developing friendships. It’s rare to form strong bonds quickly. I just don’t see people as frequently, nor do I have the downtime to invest in others. Deep friendships don’t just happen, they take intention.

I have to be more intentional. I have to intentionally engage in conversations so they go beyond the surface. It’s easy to shoot the breeze about work, weather, or some other worthless topic, but to stay in the conversation long enough so it ventures deeper, to more pertinent issues, takes commitment. It takes time. A drive-by conversation won’t get you there.

I have to have a greater interest in the person I’m trying to bond with. I have to ask questions that reveal who they are, not just what they do. We have enough facts about people (where they live, the work they do, their relationship status), but we don’t know their hearts. What are their passions, dreams, and concerns? What bothers them? How can we contribute to their lives?

Ultimately, in order to have friends like family, I have to open up more to people. As Brene´ Brown said, “Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, and the first thing I look for in you.” Revealing your true self is the only path to true friendship. As we open up, it opens doors to deeper relationships. As author and speaker Sheridan Voysey said: “When we take the risk to share, it opens up all manner of untold stories.” Friendship inherently takes risk. But we really have nothing to lose, and great friendships to gain.

So if you’re like me, and you know your friendships should have more depth, be intentional in going beyond the surface. It takes work, but the results are worth it.

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You Can’t Do Anything Without Courage

I’m sort of enamored with the concept of courage. I love reading the Old Testament with all its acts of valor. Just reading the term “valiant men” anywhere in scripture makes me want to grab a sword and shield or slingshot and go find an uncircumcised Philistine.

photo by rowena waack via compfight
photo by rowena waack via compfight

Of course there are different characteristics of courage now than in O.T. days, but you get the point.

God is big on courage as well. He’s constantly telling us to be courageous, and do not fear (variations of that phrase are mentioned roughly 100 times in the Bible). Yet, I heard one of the greatest explanations of courage from an interview with Maya Angelou and Dave Chappelle. Yeah, those two make strange bedfellows for sure. I came across this episode of Iconoclast shortly after Maya’s death, where she explained courage as “the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

Wow.

I find that to be true. Whatever virtues you aspire to — whether it’s the fruit of the Spirit or some other set of values — it takes courage to live them.

Courage to love when there’s no guarantee you’ll be loved in return. To love after you’ve been heartbroken. To love when it’s misunderstood.

Courage to be patient when you’re pressured to react. To wait when you want to go. To not get ahead of yourself or the process.

Courage to be humble and admit you’re wrong. Courage to forgive.

Courage to have faith. To believe in the midst of negative circumstances. To trust God when everyone else is doubting.

Courage. It’s the virtue that allows you to live every other virtue. It’s a virtue that is already in you. God wouldn’t tell us to be courageous if it was beyond our ability to do so. He has equipped us with courage. We may not see it. We may not feel it. We may not use it often enough. But it’s in us. We just need to conjure it up more often. Practice it. Doing so allows the other virtues to operate.

 

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