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Rejoicing in suffering

Last week, four of my speech pathology friends and I piled our stuff into a car for a road trip. Risking fog, snow, and tumbleweeds, we drove to Colorado for the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA)  annual convention. We joined approximately 14,000 other women (oh yeah, and a handful of men) for several days of nerding out about speech-language pathology and audiology. It was so fun to go on this adventure with some great friends and to learn more about this amazing field I’ve chosen.

I’ll spare you the nerdy details about the sessions I went to about co-teaching, counseling parents, treating patients with spinal cord injuries, and working with kids who have craniofacial anomalies.

One thing that stood out to me was the opening session by Kelly McGonigal on stress and dealing with challenges in life. She discussed several research studies that looked at how people cope with trials in life. Research shows that we are better able to deal with stress if we acknowledge it instead of trying to avoid it. One interesting study had participants sit with a family member or close friend who was about to have surgery. Half of the participants were told to think about how stressful the situation was and to take their worry out on a stress ball. The other participants were told to focus instead on the other person and that person’s pain. Instead of a stress ball, these people were told to hold their loved one’s hand.

Results from these studies showed that the best way to deal with challenging situations is to acknowledge the stress, think about the purpose behind the situation, and to focus on other people and their pain. When we do this, we still perceive pain but not as much as when we try to ignore it. Also, studies show that thinking this way results in neurological changes in our brain. People become more resilient, hopeful, and stronger because of these trials.

As Kelly McGonigal used words like “perseverance” and “hope” to describe how difficult situations can make us better people, I thought of these verses from Romans:

IMG_1690God promises that trials will lead to perseverance, character, and hope. He is able to promise this, first of all, because He is God. He gives us the Holy Spirit to supernaturally bless and strengthen us in the middle of stressful situations. After listening to Kelly McGonigal, I was struck by the idea that He can also promise this because he has neurologically set us up to respond in this way. When we are in the middle of stressful situations, God has given us a way to positively cope with trials by focusing on others and persevering to become a better person. He takes the bad and turns it for good. That doesn’t mean we won’t feel pain, but He’s given us the means to grow despite the pain. As a result, we can rejoice in our suffering.

We live in a world where science is too often viewed as the rival to the Bible. I was thrilled and encouraged to discover another example of research aligning with God’s Word.

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