When Nothing Can Be Done...We Cope?

Coping is one major way that religion and spirituality are connected with our health. Philippians 4:8, 9 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you."

Many persons turn to religion or spirituality for comfort when stressed…they use their Higher Power. Spirituality and Religion are many times used to cope with common problems in life, especially those involving medical or psychiatric illnesses, as well as the challenges that all of us face when life happens.

Things such as; uncertainty, fear, pain and disability, loss of control, discouragement and loss of hope happen to most of us at some time in our lives. What do we do when nothing can be done? We cope.

Cope is an interesting word. I didn’t learn much when I looked it up in my dictionary. It defines cope as “to struggle to overcome problems.” Google has the same definition, but adds some synonyms; manage, survive, subsist, hack it, handle, bear up, keep one’s head above water, come to grips with, come to terms with.The origin of the word “cope” is French and means “to come to blows with.” Another word that comes from the same French root is the word “coup,” as in “coup d'état,” government take-over by force. To cope involves a struggle.

Religious Coping is the use of religious practices to cope with and make sense of negative life experiences (and sometimes positive ones, too). Behaviors such as praying to derive comfort and hope in emotionally trying times; reading scripture for inspiration and guidance; attending religious services to be uplifted by singing and worshiping together as a group; seeking support from members of one’s congregation, or giving support to others for religious reasons. Those are some of the Religious Coping skills that we use.

Spiritual Coping is more likely to involve intangible faith processes, including beliefs about a better life after death when pain and suffering will be no more, or beliefs in a loving, caring God who is in control, has a purpose for the world and individuals in it, and has the power to transform difficult circumstances so that good outcomes are possible. Spiritual Coping is more likely to deal with un-measurable or emotive responses than Religious Coping. The apostle Paul, in the verse above named incorporeal (true, noble, just, lovely, etc.) things and said, “meditate (think) on these things.”He also said, what you have learned from me, “these do.” Spiritual coping thinks and believes (faith), religion does something.

Some ways religion and spiritual influences our coping are:

  1. Our religion can give us a positive world view.

  2. We can get meaning and purpose.

  3. Psychological integration can happen as our “soul” heals. (The good, the bad and the ugly become a part, even if a scarred part,of who we are.)

  4. Many find hope and motivation in religion.

  5. Personal empowerment as the God of the universe comes alongside us.

  6. There can be a sense of control as we pray. (Don’t just stand there, do something!)

  7. Role models for suffering, and there are many, that facilitate acceptance.

  8. We get guidance for decision-making, reducing stress.

  9. There can be answers to ultimate questions.

  10. Social support happens as we experience both human and divine presence.

An interesting study on coping was done in 2001. It was September 14-16, 2001. The question was asked, “How did you cope on September 11?” Americans answered:

  1. Talking with others (98%)

  2. Turning to religion (90%)

  3. Checked safety of family/friends (75%)

  4. Participating in group activities (60%)

  5. Avoiding reminders (watching TV) (39%)

  6. Making donations (36%)

(The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine 2001; 345:1507-1512.   Based on a random-digit dialing survey of the U.S. on Sept 14-16)

I am sure that many of those who turned to religion and spirituality, also talked with others, checked on safety of family, etc. as well. Religious coping is certainly not the only and exclusive type of coping that we can and should use, but it should certainly not be ignored. Religious and Spiritual coping can be very effective when nothing can be done.

My prayer for you today is that the God of Peace will be with you.