Dr. Richard Dobbins
is a Christian psychologist and minister. After 26 years of pastoral
experience, Dr. Dobbins launched EMERGE Ministries, a Christian
mental health center in Akron, Ohio. Dobbins recently spoke with
Scott Harrup, associate editor, about the impact of 9/11 on America
and strategies people can use to deal with lifes sorrows.
PE: How have you observed
Americans collectively responding to the pain of 9/11?
Initially, we were in a state of shock all over the country. Our
collective reaction to 9/11 leaves Americans still sensitive and
in great pain. The ongoing threat of terrorism has added another
level of anxiety that imposes on the whole nation many of the symptoms
of post-traumatic stress disorder. That is, any time we hear something
on the news that relates to terrorism the same kind of feelings
we felt on 9/11 resurface. This does not begin to tap the feelings
of those who lost loved ones in the tragedy. They will need at least
another two to three years before recovery, and even then the scars
will be very painful for a long, long time.
PE: How can followers
of Jesus Christ find peace in the midst of such tragedy?
DOBBINS: The believer
looks for peace from within, not from without. Gods kingdom
is a kingdom of "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit"
(Romans 14:17, NIV). This is not the first time in the history of
the church that believers have had to find peace or joy outside
their social setting. Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail, after
they had been beaten, sang praises to God at midnight. We have to
rise above the level of our society and find our peace and our joy
in our relationship with God. God, who enabled the martyrs to sing
in the face of death, will give us peace and joy with our current
state of national anxiety.
PE: What are some
day-to-day coping measures we can use against lifes more common
vary in frequency and intensity. Often, we set ourselves up for
disappointment because our expectations of life and our expectations
of others are unrealistically high. I think many Christians mistakenly
believe that there is some way in which they can lead a protected
life. Jesus taught that storms would come to everybodys home
(Matthew 7:24-27). So Christians who believe that no members of
their family will ever get cancer or be killed in plane crashes
or automobile wrecks if they go to church every Sunday and pay their
tithes and have devotions every day, are setting themselves up for
big disappointments by such unrealistic expectations.
One of the ultimate disappointments
is based on the fact that people dont really understand the
eternal nature of our life. While we miss a relationship and we
mourn the loss of a loved one, if we know Jesus we are already eternal.
What were really mourning is a 10- or 15-year loss of our
loved one here, maybe longer. But the one who leaves us, if he or
she is in the Lord, is not dead. And you cant shorten anything
thats eternal. For the believer, to be absent from the body
is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
PE: How can God bring
blessing into our lives when we face suffering?
we need to see our times of suffering as not often initiated by
God. Once in a while, because of foolish decisions we make, He allows
us to suffer the consequences of those decisions. But most of the
time, pain comes to us from other sources than God. Priscilla and
I had a wisteria plant in our garden and it wasnt bearing
many blossoms. Someone told us we needed to assault the tree. So
we took a shovel and we dug the blade of the shovel into the bark
of the tree several times. This last year it was just loaded with
blossoms. Pain is like that. It makes you bitter or better. It kills
you or it motivates your growth. When God sends pain into our lives,
the intention is not to kill us. Its to motivate our growth.
PE: What does suffering
contribute to our ability to comfort others?
told couples who are going through really painful times that God
is preparing them to be sources of comfort to people who would find
others words hollow. Now that this person has walked in their
shoes and felt their pain they are in a position to tell others
how God will get them from where they are to the other side of suffering.
PE: What is the greatest
personal tragedy you have faced, and how did God pull you through
DOBBINS: My first
wife, Dolores, and I faced a good many tragedies: a daughter with
polio; a daughter born with a congenital heart problem that had
to be corrected by surgery; I had rheumatoid arthritis as a young
man and couldnt put on my own coat or drive a car. But the
greatest personal tragedy was the loss of my wife. I saw her battle
courageously and finally succumb to a three-year struggle with cancer.
As we walked through that time together, both of us had a sense
that we were surrounded by the prayers of Gods people. I think
sometimes people feed their fears by anticipating whether or not
grace will be there when they need it. There is no way for anyone
to know how they will have grace at a time of crisis. But God has
always been there for all of His children. Dolores and I found that
to be true. We had times particularly when we knew that she
was not going to win her struggle unless there was some miracle
when we talked about my life continuing here on earth, and
her life in the presence of the Lord. Many times the comfort that
God can bring to people when going through tragedy is sidetracked
or hindered because they feel like it would hurt too much to talk
about it. But if you can define the area of pain and you can articulate
it, you can modify it. God can pour grace into you. The worst thing
you can do is to be silent silent with God, silent with others
that are going through it with you, and silent even in your own
thought life. You need to embrace whatever youre going through.
I had to do my grief work. It was six months before I even felt
single. It was almost 18 months before I thought about bringing
somebody else into my life. God gives you grace day by day.
PE: When a person
has weathered a crisis, what can be done to reinvest life with joy?
DOBBINS: You have
to put closure to the crisis. Each of us puts closure on things
in different ways, but I think many times talking to God through
journals helps us to put closure on events. Ritualistic behaviors
that are meaningful to us can serve that purpose. For example, I
made up my mind that at Dolores graveside I would take my
wedding ring off and give it to my son as a memory of our marriage.
I had the stones from her engagement and wedding rings made into
jewelry for our two daughters. Ive talked to people whose
loved one had been dead for a year or two and their room was still
kept just the way they left it. In some instances parents still
set a place at the table for the child. This is not healthy grief.
However, ritualistic and symbolic behaviors that are meaningful
to us can serve to process the grief. When I was in town I went
to my wifes grave almost every day for one year. Confronting
the realities of your life and refusing to deny the pain will eventually
bring healing to you. Its like a wound in your body
the deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal and it heals from