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2003 Conversations


Joy Williams: Rooted in Grace (December 29, 2002)

Judy Rachels: Christmas gifts (December 22, 2002)

Ralph Carmichael: New music for a timeless message (December 15, 2002)

Roger and Greg Flessing: Media, ministry and society's ungodly messages (December 8, 2002)

Rick Salvato: Meeting medical and spiritual needs around the world (November 24, 2002)

Asa Hutchinson: Drug Enforcement's top officer (November 17, 2002)

Bill Bright: 'Not I, but Christ' (November 10, 2002)

Ray Berryhill: Living by faith (October 20, 2002)

Owen C. Carr: Reading through the Bible 92 times (October 13, 2002)

Curtis Harlow: Combating campus drinking (September 29, 2002)

Wes Bartel: Making Sunday count (September 22, 2002)

M. Wayne Benson: The Holy Spirit knocks (September 15, 2002)

Dr. Richard Dobbins: Understanding Suffering (September 8, 2002)

K.R. Mele: Halloween evangelism (August 25, 2002)

Roland Blount: God makes a way for blind missionary (August 18, 2002)

Cal Thomas: Finding a mission field (August 11, 2002)

Lisa Ryan: For such a time as this (July 28, 2002)

Dallas Holm: Faith and prayer in life’s toughest times (July 21, 2002)

Paul Drost: Intentional church planting (July 14, 2002)

James M. Inhofe: Serving Christ in the Senate (June 30, 2002)

Karen Kingsbury: The Write stuff (June 23, 2002)

Michael W. Smith: Worship is how you live each day (June 16, 2002)

Wayne Stayskal: On the drawing board (June 9, 2002)

Fory VandenEinde: Anyone can minister (May 26, 2002)

Thomas E. Trask: Pentecost Sunday (May 19, 2002)

Stormie Omartian: Recovering from an abusive childhood (May 12, 2002)

Luis Carrera: Beyond the Shame (April 28, 2002)

Tom Greene: The church of today (April 21, 2002)

Philip Bongiorno: Wisdom for a younger generation (April 14, 2002)

Deborah M. Gill: Christian education and discipleship (March 24, 2002)

Norma Champion: Becoming involved in politics (February 24, 2002)

Steve Pike: A candid discussion about Mormonism (February 10, 2002)

Raymond Berry: More to life than football (January 27, 2002)

Sanctity of Human Life roundtable: Doctors speak out (January 20, 2002)

Chaplain Charles Marvin: Ministering in the military (January 13, 2002)


2001 Conversations

Understanding suffering

(September 8, 2002)

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 life’s sorrows.

PE: How have you observed Americans collectively responding to the pain of 9/11?

DOBBINS: 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. God’s 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 life’s more common disappointments?

DOBBINS: Disappointments 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 everybody’s 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 don’t 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 we’re 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 can’t shorten anything that’s 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?

DOBBINS: First, 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 wasn’t 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. It’s to motivate our growth.

PE: What does suffering contribute to our ability to comfort others?

DOBBINS: I’ve 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 it?

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 couldn’t 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 God’s 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 you’re 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. I’ve 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 wife’s 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. It’s like a wound in your body — the deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal and it heals from inside out.

 

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