Faith and Family: Dealing with disappointment — traumatic and/or disappointing situations

Faith and Family: Dealing with disappointment — traumatic and/or disappointing situations

Facing life-changing trauma

Two months ago, Casey and her daughters, Taylor and Sam, were in a horrific traffic accident. A car ran a red light and crashed into their vehicle.

All three were injured but Sam’s were the worst — a brain injury that left her unable to talk or speak. Taylor is struggling with memories of the accident and guilt that Sam has suffered so much. Her Instagram is filled with pictures of her sister and quotes about life but Taylor avoids visits with Sam at the rehab facility.

Casey has her own guilt about the accident. Why didn’t she see the oncoming car? What if she had taken a different route that day? Why not her instead of Sam? Casey and Taylor are struggling but they generally avoid talking about the accident. What can Casey and Taylor do to move forward from this tragedy that has changed their family forever?


How do we cope with aftermath of tragedy as Christians?

By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist

Trauma is often associated with veterans of war or victims of violent crime, but research tells us that “ordinary” life events, including illness, divorce, accidents and the death of a loved one, also can bring on strong feelings that negatively affect daily life.

“No matter if it is the loss of a loved one, loss of a relationship or loss of feelings of control or safety, grief and disappointment can affect people in unhealthy ways,” said Lisa Keane, clinical director of marriage and family for Pathways Professional Counseling, a ministry of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH).

Coping with these emotions can be a long and difficult process physically, emotionally and spiritually, said ABCH counselor Rod Campbell.

“It is an unfortunate truth of my job that I spend a tremendous amount of my week sitting with wounded and broken people,” Campbell said. “They attend sessions needing to share their stories with someone who will listen attentively and offer support. Their stories tend to begin in positive or even hopeful ways like a new relationship, a new job, a promotion, the birth of a new child or grandchild or some other new stage of life that’s full of promise. Then the story begins to change.”

Spiritual questions

In the aftermath of life’s unraveling, Campbell said, individuals speak of disappointment, regret, hurt, unmet expectations and bewilderment. Then the spiritual questions come.

“I start getting asked the big questions of life, like: ‘Where did I go wrong?’ ‘What did I do to deserve all this pain?’ When you add these questions to the pain and stress of the event itself, it is easy to see how many people find themselves overcome by anxiety, depression and disillusionment,” Campbell said.

Believers in Christ often feel like their tragedy is the result of something they have done, Campbell said. They search for some misdeed, mistake or sin they can blame for their pain. They ask, “Where did I miss God’s will?”
Campbell calls this “backwards math.”

“Obviously, many of us struggle with sin in our own lives or potentially are impacted by the sin in others’ lives, and it is wrong to assume that all suffering of any kind must mean somebody somewhere messed up or did something wrong and is being punished for it,” Campbell said.

Tragedy is part of the common human experience. How the pain of a tragedy affects an individual is much more complicated.

Take someone who loses a home to fire. The physical experience of watching the house burn or seeing the charred remains brings great sadness, as does the loss of treasured possessions. But even as the process of relocating or rebuilding begins, questions creep in: “Why did it take so long for the fire department to come?” “If only I had been home.” “What could I have done differently?”

Thinking about alternate scenarios or questioning one’s previous actions cannot change the current situation. In the aftermath of tragedies, such questions may exacerbate the loss of safety and security we already feel and remind us of our vulnerability.

It is normal and natural to feel more anxious, nervous, irritable and even angry following a loss or tragedy, Keane said. When these feelings persist or intensify to the point they interfere with daily life and relationships, professional counseling may help an individual better cope with their pain.

Professional help

“If you are having trouble sleeping or having bad memories that constantly interrupt your thoughts, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional,” Keane said.

Intense anger or sadness, feelings of deep shame and/or withdrawal from social connections also are symptoms that someone might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a diagnosable mental health disorder. PTSD often comes when a person feels they are not getting better and they are no longer able to control their symptoms.

Getting help is not a sign of weakness but rather a step toward healing. Living with continual self-blame, shame, guilt, disappointment or fear does not fit with the abundant life promised in Scripture, writes Heather Davediuk Gingrich, author of “Restoring the Shattered Self: A Christian Counselor’s Guide to Complex Trauma.” Counseling that focuses on both the emotional and spiritual needs of the hurting can be beneficial to coping with the disappointment that often follows difficult circumstances, she writes.

“Christian counselors are in a unique position to not focus solely on alleviating their clients’ symptoms, but to envision the potential inherent in their clients as men or women whom God has created for His purposes.”


Ways you can make meaning of painful situations in life

Reframe the positive characteristics in you, such as strength and resilience, which have come out of the trauma.

Remind yourself of the biblical truth that God is with you regardless of your circumstances.

Take care of yourself through healthy coping skills.

Find a trusted person, friend or therapist to talk with and tell your story. You may find yourself needing to tell your story many times.

Give yourself permission to feel all your feelings, even the hard ones. It’s normal to be sad, upset and even angry with God and other people.

Find ways to share your story in ways that will be helpful to others.

Support causes that allow you to raise awareness or assistance for those who also may be experiencing the same trauma or hurt.

Sources: Lisa Keane, MAMFC, LPC-S, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, NCC; and Kristin Lowrey, MSW, LICSW, PIP, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor


Resources for helping yourself, others cope during difficult times


  • “Sometimes I Am Afraid” by Robin McCall and Joye Smith
  • “Always Remember to Pray” by Robin McCall


  • Ignite (CD): An Experience to Spark Compassion for People Who Hurt


  • “The Care Effect: Unleashing the Power of Compassion” by David Crosby
  • “Your Pain Is Changing You: Discover the Power of a Godly Response” by David Crosby
  • Resources recommended by Project HELP, a national Woman’s Missionary Union initiative to help those experiencing the aftermath of trauma. More information about Project HELP and additional resources on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are available at

Compiled by Carrie Brown McWhorter


With God’s help, believers can exchange beauty for ashes during times of suffering

By Rod Campbell, MAMFT, LPC-S
Pathways Professional Counseling

When we’re talking about enduring pain, suffering, disappointment with God and other significant life trials, I get very frustrated by plans that promise to “relieve your pain and misery” or “remake your life” in some simplistic 1–2–3 format.

There is no simple approach to dealing with life’s difficulties. In fact, the process is often deeply painful.
Isaiah 61:1–3 offers us four important truths that help us understand and experience times of trials in a healthy and healing way.

1. Everyone experiences difficulties. Notice the first verse and those who are mentioned. The people in need of good news are the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners and all who mourn.

Bad things happen

All of these conditions point back to Adam and Eve’s original sin and the fallen world in which we live.

However, there is no indication that any of these people are in these positions exclusively due to sin.

Though it is important to be certain that our own sin is not causing pain to ourselves or to others, we live in a world where bad things will happen. Mourning, broken hearts and suffering are part of life.

We need to be quick to offer grace to ourselves and to others, accepting the truth that we can go through suffering that is not of our own causing.

2. Coping with trials and suffering takes time. A common mistake among well-intentioned Christians is to push an individual or themselves to move too quickly past their pain.

Trials and suffering take time to work through. The loss of a job, loss of a spouse, loss of a dream or any other major loss must be grieved. No matter how much we would like to “see the silver lining,” we cannot rush the process.

When dealing with our own grief and pain or when attempting to support and care for loved ones in their times of suffering, we must give time and space for God’s work to be done in our hearts or in the hearts of others.

3. God is always at work. These verses are Messianic in content — they are about both the work of Christ in His earthly ministry and His work as mediator, reconciling God to man. The actions in these verses are taken by God toward man.

Reconciliation with God brings “beauty for ashes” and healing to those who mourn.

The healing work that happens in the lives and hearts of Christians as they go through times of trial is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual.

We are responsible for how we process our grief and for whether we seeking help from others. And certainly we have responsibility as believers to help support others in the body of Christ who are wounded or in a time of struggle.

But we do ourselves and others a disservice when we forget the all-important role of the Holy Spirit in the healing process.

We have within us the indwelling Spirit of God at work to bring change and healing to our hearts and minds. We must cultivate within ourselves the ability to rest in that work and trust in it with all our hearts.

4. Times of suffering are part of our story, and our story is part of God’s story. At the end of Isaiah 61:3, we are told that those who have mourned and those who have been in despair “will be called trees of righteousness.”

This means times of suffering are intended to accomplish significant spiritual growth in us.

We only learn to trust God in deep and meaningful ways when we have been required to walk through incredibly difficult times. In order to survive, we must trust only Him and trust Him completely.

The big story

However, we are only part of the story. The difficulties we face — times of trial, of grief, of loss and mourning — are all part of our individual stories. But our stories are only small parts of the big story.

Look at the last phrase of verse 3. All the things described in the first two verses will happen, and Christ will bring healing and blessing in all these situations so that we will bring glory to God.

In times of trial, we find comfort in the knowledge that what is happening to us, in us and through us is a part of God’s great plan that ultimately brings glory to Himself.

In our next installment in this series, we will take a look at practical ways to avoid disappointment in relationships.


How do you turn major losses or disappointments in life into something good?

By Lisa Keane MAMFC, LPC-S, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, NCC and Kristin Lowrey MSW, LICSW, PIP, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor

Lately the news has been filled with sad stories of traumatic events. From terrorist attacks that take unsuspecting lives to the overwhelmingly sad diagnoses of children with terminal illnesses, bad news seems to be all around us.

The sadness these reports evoke make many of us wonder how others go on after a traumatic experience. What would we do if we were in the shoes of the suffering? How do you turn major losses or disappointments in life into something good?

Before becoming a counselor, I am not sure I had a concept of what that would even look like. I often thought fatalistically that people must just shut down and quit when they experience big hurts or traumas. But what I have seen firsthand is that the human spirit is resourceful and resilient if given the right tools and circumstances.

Research tells us that personality traits such as optimism and extraversion, positive emotions and social support can help someone heal following a trauma or loss. Research also shows that making meaning out of difficult situations leads to lower risks of depression and better well-being in the long term.

By no means does making meaning of something bad mean that the trauma does not affect you or that you are saying the loss or disappointment is OK. Instead it is knowing that good can come out of horrible, terrible things and that God is working all things together for our good and for His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

But how does someone accomplish this? If you have experienced a traumatic situation, what steps can you take to begin the process of recovery?

First there must be an assessment of what has happened and acknowledgement of how it has affected you. A person cannot move forward on their journey if they are living in denial or if they are not effectively dealing with their emotions about what has happened.

In the aftermath of trauma, a person must allow themselves time to grieve what has happened. Only after this acknowledgment can a person move forward in a healthy way.

Fortunately you don’t have to grieve alone. Coping with grief may take the form of counseling sessions or discussions with a trusted friend or minister. There is great power in sharing our stories with someone else, a trustworthy adviser who might be able to help us see a different perspective. Journaling, or writing down your thoughts, feelings and reflections, also can be a powerful personal tool for coping with trauma.

The next steps to work through are absolution and acceptance. In many situations, one person has wronged another, such as when a spouse cheats or when a person is a victim of crime.

In some situations, the trauma is a result of poor choices by an individual. In both cases, forgiveness is a powerful step in healing that leads to acceptance and moving forward.


There is no amount of counseling, prayer or talking that will change what has happened or make it go away. Traumatic situations change a person’s life. They become part of the individual’s life story. They may even change the way a person views the world, people or even God both positively and negatively.

Take encouragement in knowing a traumatic event does not have to control you or define who you are in the future.
Recovery requires a willingness to examine honestly and objectively how a trauma or disappointment has changed us. In doing so, we can make sure not to carry baggage of past hurts forward in our lives. That doesn’t mean there will be no distress or feelings of being upset.

Feelings will ebb and flow throughout the recovery process, even after you have made some meaning out of your hurt.

However, research and experience tell us there is great validity in embarking on the journey of making meaning out of disappointment or loss. By doing so, we are protecting ourselves and moving toward greater levels of healing and growth.