Don’t Blame God for Life’s Challenges and Losses, LDS Therapist Says

Contributed By Sarah Harris, Church News contributor

  • 6 September 2017

The realities and challenges of earth life are the primary reasons for trials, psychotherapist Dennis Ashton taught August 22 during BYU Education Week. Although God can foresee trials, one should recognize that He does not necessarily cause them, he said.

Article Highlights

  • The realities and challenges of earth life are the main reasons for trials.
  • Focusing on positivity and gratitude can help us deal with grief.
  • We can best help others with their grief by following the example of Jesus Christ.

“[Jesus Christ] looked for one in need, He listened without criticism, He offered good anonymously, He understood and acknowledged grief and disease, and He followed up with the sufferer. What a great example.” —Joyce Ashton, grief counselor

Psychotherapist Dennis Ashton and his wife, grief counselor Joyce Ashton, taught about holding on to faith through disappointment, tragedy, and loss at BYU Education Week on August 22.

“We may have to drink out of some bitter cups as we live on this earth, and hopefully we will not become bitter from the drink, but better,” Joyce Ashton said.

Dennis Ashton, former assistant commissioner of LDS Family Services, explained some falsehoods in regard to tribulation. These included: God is the only source of my suffering, I am the only source of my suffering, God removes all suffering from the righteous, and offering advice is the first step in helping others who are suffering.

He said one shouldn’t blame God for challenges and losses in life. Quoting Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Dennis Ashton said although God can foresee trials, one should recognize that He does not necessarily cause them.

“God is never surprised by a new arrival in the spirit world, but Him causing them to be there is different than Him knowing they would be there that day,” Dennis Ashton said. “The kind of pain and anguish that people go through wondering why God has done this to them—what have they done wrong, where have they fallen short—is really, really damaging.”

He said he has found that the realities and challenges of earth life are the primary reasons for trials. He said the Lord “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” quoting Matthew 5:45.

Joyce Ashton, director of spiritual and bereavement care at Rocky Mountain Hospice, listed some helpful tools in dealing with grief emotionally, physically, cognitively, and socially. One tool she suggested was focusing on positive thinking and gratitude.

“We know the negative [things] are there, and we have to think about those—we have to act on those too,” she said. “But to take a little break during the day and write down a few things that we’re grateful for can decrease blood pressure, heart rate, stress, anxiety, sadness.”

She also offered some tips for helping others through their grief. She said social clichés such as saying, “Don’t feel bad,” “It’s God’s will; He needed them,” or “Be strong; put it behind you,” can “enlarge wounds,” quoting Jacob 2:8–9.

“We have to be careful with these clichés,” Joyce Ashton said. “Even if we believe them, we should let the person we’re supporting verbalize them, and then we can agree with them, but for us to just throw out these clichés and not know how they really feel can be dangerous.”

Helpful things to say in these situations, she said, include, “I’m sorry you are going through this,” “I want you to know I care,” and “This must be very difficult for you; tell me about it.”

When comforting others, one should follow Jesus Christ, who strengthens and enables us, Joyce Ashton said.

“He looked for one in need, He listened without criticism, He offered good anonymously, He understood and acknowledged grief and disease, and He followed up with the sufferer,” she said. “What a great example.”

Grief counselor Joyce Ashton gives a BYU Education Week presentation about holding on to faith during disappointment, tragedy, and loss on August 22. Photo by Sarah Harris.

Psychotherapist Dennis Ashton speaks to a class at BYU Education Week about retaining faith through trials. Photo by Sarah Harris.