Originally created 02/28/04

Broken Faith

After a deep, painful and seemingly senseless loss, the question often emerges, "Why me?"

Like modern-day Jobs, people look for answers.

If no answer comes, they can feel isolated and even abandoned by God, said Tom Portney, a North Augusta psychotherapist.

One of the most gratifying aspects of counseling for him is helping people re-establish a relationship with God or a higher power, he said.

"Their whole life gets put back into balance," he said.

After a tremendous hurt, people can think that God either should not have allowed it or that he caused it, Mr. Portney said. But people have free will. Humans can do good or bad things to other humans, he said.

Every life has problems, even those lives that appear easy. But problems are meant to strengthen character, said Mr. Portney, who leads clients through a process in which they move from feelings of victimization to the realization that it is their own thought patterns and behavior that hold them in bondage. People become empowered and take charge of their lives, he said.

Looking back, they also discover that a divine power was present, protecting them all along, otherwise they would have died or gone insane, he said.

They go beyond acceptance of trauma to thriving because of it.

"People learn tremendous amounts about their own strengths. They learn lessons in compassion, how to serve others without losing themselves," he said.

They also learn how to relate to God or a higher power.

"It is one of the joyous outcomes," Mr. Portney said.

Many of the clients social worker Beverly Pope sees in the 20-county area she covers for Atlanta-based MHM Services are elderly and in nursing homes.

Many suffer from depression, she said.

"The elderly have to give up everything to go into a nursing home. That is quite difficult," said Mrs. Pope, a licensed clinical social worker. She supervises clinicians, provides individual and group therapy and other counseling apart from the nursing homes.

The clients see family members and friends die one by one.

"If they lose their spouse, that is it, they just give up," she said.

The sense of loss drives their emotions.

"It takes awhile for the pain to heal, so that they can see things rationally," she said.

Clients realize she and other counselors will not fuss or preach at them but will accept them unconditionally. Rather than needing advice or help fixing problems, elderly clients need someone to listen.

In time, their interest in life usually returns, and they look forward again to a friend's visit or joining an activity.

"That joy comes back," she said.

Psychologist Brad Senter, the founder of Crossroads Counseling, said working with suffering is an amazing opportunity.

"Even in the midst of struggle, of suffering, of affliction, 'God is an ever-present help,'" he said.

Trauma is difficult to endure, but God understands suffering and "empathizes with us, mainly though Christ," he said.

Suffering is neither purposeless nor endless.

In his sovereignty, God sets its limits and uses it for good, he said.

Though people may wonder "why did God ditch me?" they still have a responsibility to God to show faith, love and obedience despite suffering or their feelings about it, according to Dr. Senter.

"Circumstances do not negate our responsibility to God," he said.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.


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