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The Journey of Trusting God with Who I Am

I have never felt like I was good enough, both as a friend and as an employee.  At work, I tried so hard to accomplish what I thought could make me the “Best” and finally be considered “good enough” both in my managers’ eyes and in my own.  As a friend, I also worked hard to be loyal and likeable, but it also caused me to acquire some “friends” who were only out for their own gain and attempted to desecrate the person that God wanted me to be.   When people would praise me, I took that as either they were just trying to be nice to me or that they implicitly wanted me to demonstrate more of the quality they praised, until I eventually had nothing left of that praiseworthy quality to give. I always hated the sound of my voice and how short I was.  With being a Christian, I always thought I did something that would disqualify me from being a real disciple or that my cries for salvation were somehow unknowingly insincere or not real somehow. 

But then just recently, God gave me an epiphany–some of it through Jerry Bridges’ bestseller Trusting God Even When Life Hurts. Through this book, His Word, and other people, God impressed on my heart that I needed to trust Him to work through me.  

He said in essence, “Patricia, I made you who you are because I wanted the world to know that My power and strength will flow through your weakness. It’s OK to make mistakes.  I will never love you less when you do.  I will always be with you when you are struggling and I will never leave or forsake you, especially in those times.  Patricia, I am always working in and through you.  You have to let me work through you and trust that I have the best for you. I know you have been used and abused by so many people that claimed that they had the best for you.  You do not need to impress them anymore. You don’t have to be who they want you to be anymore.  You just be who you are and let Me mold you into who you always were meant to be, so the Best You will shine for the world and for My Glory.  Just. Trust. Me. Patricia!”

I realized God has always been working through my circumstances and even through the trials of my life to get me to a place where I could finally start my journey to accepting the person He made me to be.  I realized that I did not always have to be who certain managers, so-called “friends”, or anyone else wanted me to be. I did not have to try to fit their mold, especially if God did not want me to be in their mold. I’m still trying to learn that if someone is disappointed in me because I did not fit their mold of who they wanted me to be, so be it.  They probably would not fit my mold either. I recently found out that my Christian convictions did not match what another person wanted for me, but you know what? We accepted the fact that we weren’t a good match for that type of relationship, and we still respect each other!  I also was happy that I honored the Lord and did not budge on my convictions just to satisfy the desires of another person, even though it cost me in the process.  In this, I also realize that I don’t have to have an extraordinarily high performance at work, especially if it is going to cause me to dread working or cause me to treat other people badly.  

I also have started to appreciate that God has made good personality traits in me.  A couple weeks ago, I was tempted to go through on a suicide attempt, but I am convinced that God put a fear and tenacity in me that prevented me from going through with the attempt, and that saved my life!  This same tenacity also has helped me not to completely give up on myself and society and to persevere through my recent trials. 

I will end with what I will put at the end of a memoir I’m in process of writing: 

Yes, I still struggle with perfectionism, but I still have great hope that God can use me for great and beautiful things, just as he can use anyone else who struggles with self-worth, who yearns to feel loved and accepted for who they are, and who has bouts of loneliness. We can be used because we have scars and thus are able to see God’s heart more clearly.

And through the scars I see God transforming me into His image, from a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly!

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Want to Decrease the Amount of Mental Health Issues in America? Then Let’s Redesign Our Cities and Towns

Our society and our churches often get caught up in managing symptoms. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but when we don’t address the causes, managing symptoms only does so much good. 

The causes of mental health issues are many. Trauma, genetics, and social environment to name a few. Some of these we have control over and some we don’t. 

One of the issues that I’d consider a cause of mental health issues in America is city design. We don’t live in proximity to each other. Our cities/towns are so spread out. We’ve significantly reduced the amount of natural, unplanned human interaction we experience. If we lived closer together and spent more time in public spaces, we’d have a lot more human interaction. But as it is, we have to plan everything out just to spend time with others. This reduces the amount of time we get with others. 

Think about it. If you have to drive everywhere, you must take driving time into consideration. With everything else in our schedules, this driving time reduces the amount of time we can spend with others. We get less time with others, we stress out more about our schedules, and meeting others can quickly become an inconvenience. It takes considerable effort to spend time with other people, which discourages us from doing it. Especially for introverts, this makes a difficult task (meeting with others) even more difficult. 

Some people may want to stay home and never see anyone. That’s fine. But for those who do want to see others, there’s generally not a natural, easy way to interact with others. I’m pretty introverted, but through the years I’ve often found myself wanting to hang out with friends, only to realize the time and effort it would take for both parties. So, I ended up feeling lonely. And if you google American loneliness statistics, you’ll find I’m not alone. 

Something absolutely has to change. We have to redesign our cities (and our lives) so that human interaction happens more naturally. We can’t continue to live in our spread out bubbles.

We continue to build spread out developments that do little to foster human interaction. These developments have streets and sidewalks and maybe a small jogging path. But we have to do more. We need lively public places with music and art and outdoor recreation. We need restaurants with outdoor seating. We need main street style shops. We need it to be possible to just step out our doors and walk to social interaction.

We need development patterns designed to bring people together, not isolate them. This includes creating neighborhoods in which one can walk to all (or almost all) their daily needs in 15 minutes or less. This includes housing that focuses more on the front porch than on the back porch. This includes making it easier for people to create ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Unit). This includes–yes, I’m suggesting this–setting aside money to create more bike lanes. 

You may disagree with me, and that’s fine. But I am absolutely convinced that America must have a complete paradigm shift in the way we think about our cities/towns. If we don’t do anything about it, loneliness will continue to rise (just look at the loneliness numbers for the youngest generation, Gen Z–they are higher than any other generation). And along with that, mental health issues will continue to climb too.

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How to Help Someone with Depression or Anxiety (Including What NOT to Say)

I have struggled with depression and anxiety for many years, but during the past five years things have started to improve dramatically, despite some challenging circumstances (such as having to move out of state for the first time in my entire life). I would like to thank those people who have stuck by me through my life’s journey and encouraged me to never give up.  These same people have also taught me how to encourage, validate, and strengthen others who also struggle with depression and/or anxiety.  

I am a born perfectionist–not so much for others, but definitely for myself.  I broke down in tears the other day at work because the pressure of performing at a certain rate and the anxiety of not meeting the goals I set for myself (and that I assumed the managers had set for me). I dreaded disappointing them. I was afraid that they would think less of me as a person or think that I wasn’t trying hard enough. The truth was that I had become so fixated on performing that this pressure was starting to suck out the joy and motivation to even work! Anxiety was starting to take over even before I clocked in to work.  However, one of my managers, Jim,* validated my presence and my character.  He made it clear that he did not expect me to perform at that rate every day, and it was OK to have bad days sometimes.  When someone is anxious, especially about not doing or being enough, a good way to calm their anxieties is to reassure them that you value them no matter what they do.  Also, validate something in their character that has nothing to do with what they are anxious about. For instance, Jim complimented me on how I make people joyful inside, which had nothing to do with my performance at work.  

However, I know from experience that there are things that you should never say to someone struggling with depression and anxiety. I had someone tell another person trying to calm my anxieties and depression not to “baby” me.  Never disparage someone struggling as “weak,” “babyish,” or “silly.” They already have low self-esteem and may even have suicidal thoughts. Disparaging or invalidating someone with depression or anxiety will not only make the symptoms worse, but can leave a lasting wound in their soul that can take a long time to heal. If you feel emotionally overloaded trying to help someone with depression and/or anxiety, do not do it alone. Instead, enlist the help of another person who is better able to help them.  

Another way to help someone struggling with depression and anxiety is to invest in them and believe in their abilities. When someone is clinically depressed, they feel like they are in a deep, dark tunnel with no way out.  They don’t typically see their God-given abilities and talents. If someone is anxious about themselves, they may think that trying anything new or that they haven’t done in a while will result in catastrophic failure, so why try? My mentor, J, saw that I was depressed and didn’t want to get out of the house much.  I did not believe that I would ever get a job or do anything worthy in my life.  Thankfully, she saw a way out of my deep, dark tunnel of doubt and despair, and walked me through the long but worthwhile process of helping me gain independence and employment. She invested in me and believed in my God-given abilities.  When we take the time and effort to invest in someone struggling with depression and anxiety, we will most likely see a slow but steady growth in that person.  They will be able to have hope and joy again. I can’t speak for J, but her investment has made a huge impact on how I view life and my challenges.  So far, even though I still get anxious and depressed sometimes, my episodes don’t last as long and are not as severe as before I met her. 

Sometimes, the best way to help a depressed or anxious person is just to be there for them and listen to them.  One of my online friends did not think she was doing much because she felt that she wasn’t able to completely get me out of my depressive episode.  She did more than many people offline I know. She didn’t have to say anything. She did not make things worse by offering unsolicited and unhelpful advice.  Instead, she just listened. Sometimes that is all that the person struggling needs at the time—someone that will care enough to listen and to be there for them, when no one else seems to be there. 

Finally, we can pray for those struggling with depression and anxiety. We can pray for God’s presence to flood them. We can ask God to help them see His sovereignty and caring hand in the situation that they are in so their anxieties would be quelled.  We can ask God to help them see the hope and joy that awaits them if they put their trust in Him and do not give up on their lives. 

If you are struggling now, there is a way out even if it doesn’t seem that way right now.  Don’t give up. If you are recovering, make it a point to help others out of the tunnel of darkness and help them see the Light of Joy and Love.  There is always hope when you are alive. 

*=not his real name

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Don’t Waste Your Life

One thing that COVID-19 has taught me, with the suddenness and the severity with which it could strike, is that we all have a limited time here on earth. 

Even pre-COVID times, I have been taught this lesson. I almost died in June 2014, because if I hadn’t gone to the ER when I did, my gall bladder would have burst. If that happened, I would not be here today!

As I have gotten older, I have realized that I have spent too much of my life angry and hurt.  I had spent too much time holding grudges and arguing with people who won’t even be there for my funeral! I spent too much of my life worrying about things that would be resolved within days of the incident or things that have no eternal impact at all. 

In 2020, I have observed people around me fall into similar patterns.  I see people against who they voted for in the last election. Mind you, many of them are not arguing with close family members or friends who they see often, but people gone from their in-person life, or someone who they haven’t seen in twenty or so years.   I’ve seen people arguing with a store employee who they probably don’t have to deal with on a daily basis about rights and mask wearing.  I’ve known people who have lost sleep over things that were resolved within days of the incident.  

If we do things like I have observed from various people this year and like I have done when I was younger, then we are wasting our lives! No one will say on their death bed, “ I wish I had spent more time arguing with person X about xyz.” On their death bed, no one will care about whether a particular store requires us to wear a mask or not.  We will not be concerned with work-related stresses or, on the other hand, anything related to entertainment, such as how a favorite team is performing.  

Most people will think about what they had wish they had done differently in life, whether it is how they treated people or opportunities they wish they had taken.  They will want more time to make things right in their world, but at the same time, regretting that they hadn’t used the time they were given more wisely. 

Don’t let that be you. Don’t waste your life! 

Ask yourself when you are tempted to get in a heated debate with someone: Will that person even be in my life a year from now? Is that person even in my daily in-person life today? When I die, will the person be there for my funeral? If the answer is “No,” disengage and walk away from the conversation. 

Spend time with people who are supportive of you. Minister to those around you. Smile at a person who is having a rough day, and encourage their soul.  Be determined to be a peacemaker and a life saver in someone’s life today. 

Ask yourself when you are worried about something: Will this even matter a year from now? Does this situation have eternal significance?  If not, QUIT worrying about it!  Also, remember what it says in Isaiah 26:3 (KJV), “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee,” and Romans 8:28 (KJV), “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” In other words, God will give you peace when you give your worries to Him and trust that He will bring you through the situation for our good and His glory. 

When we begin to have an eternal perspective on things and live like it could be our last days on earth, not only will we most likely have more joy in our lives, but our lives will never be wasted!

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It’s Okay to Be Mad at God

Suffering is extremely difficult. There’s a lot of emotion involved, and that’s 100% okay. I’ve found myself mad at God before, and I’m sure you can relate.

There are some Christians (including pastors) who say it’s a sin to be mad at God. When I hear this, I always want to ask: Have you ever read the Psalms? The Israelites obviously had no problem expressing themselves to God. The psalmists laid themselves bare, so to speak, before God. They didn’t have a filter. And they didn’t expect God to be angry with them. It was just a natural expression of their faith.

So no, I don’t think it’s necessarily a sin to be mad at God. Maybe it reaches sin if you’re just blatantly cursing out of a hateful heart (although I’m still convinced God would rather people yell honestly at him as opposed to being afraid to say anything to him). But a child of God laying his or her heart bare before the Lord? I think God loves that. Jesus said anyone who comes to him he will never cast out.

I pray that laying it all out with complete honesty, just like the psalms, would become commonplace and natural to our faith.

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Reason to Live

I almost killed myself. Several times. Recently, my friend related his interactions with a bullied classmate who was daily experiencing torment from his peers before he took his own life. Suddenly, I realized that had God not intervened when He did, that bullied classmate’s fate could have well been mine as well.

As a female on the spectrum, I am no stranger to the experience of having been bullied and eventually losing the will to live. My peers teased me from everything from my appearance to my socially awkward mannerisms. The ones that did not bully me either ignored me or hung out with me out of pity for my lack of friends and social skills. They dared not become too close to me and genuinely get to really know me as a person with hopes and dreams. These people may have meant well, but I could see through their veneers.

In high school, after being emotionally and verbally abused by a teacher (Yes, you read that right. An. Adult. Teacher), I came to the brink of suicide.  With little intimate support, other than my parents who didn’t know what went on until later, I thought things would never get better. I had strong suicidal ideations. I was also jealous of my younger brother who I thought had everything I lacked. 

Unlike my friend’s classmate, I did not end up taking my own life. God, in His goodness and mercy, slowly revealed Himself and His love for me. God slowly brought people into my life who helped me through the challenges of my season of life—people who believed in me, who did not just pity me, but encouraged my God-given abilities and really wanted to know me as a person and my life story.

I have heard and seen some people say that if it weren’t for their pet (or insert “X” thing/person here) they would have no reason to live. I say, if I did not have God and He never intervened in my life, I would have no reason to live.

Thankfully, God is my reason to live, and He did intervene in my life numerous times when I needed Him the most! God has also motivated me to strive for excellence in everything I do, regardless of the temporal rewards that may await because eternal ones are much more valuable to me. God has also made me realize that there are people that need to hear my story of how He rescued me and gave me hope, because many people desperately need that right now. 

They need to hear your story as well. So, whatever situation you are facing, don’t give up. Don’t. Give. Up.  You can save someone’s life in the future simply by not giving up on yours and triumphing through life’s challenges. Someone will need to hear your story. Let yours be one of hope and perseverance for others. 

If you are feeling like giving up, there is help for you. You don’t have to go through this life alone. Please call 1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Hotline) if you or someone you know is feeling like giving up on life. Remember, you are NOT alone, and there is hope for you as long as you are still alive.

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The Power of Belief: How Positive Influencers Helped Me Achieve the Impossible

Being on the autistic spectrum, I know full well my limitations. For many years I struggled to find a permanent job, a problem all too common for autistics like myself.  In fact, according to an article by MoneyWatch, a whopping 85% of college graduates affected by autism are unemployed! (1)  Many people who knew me well thought that it would be good if I found a part-time job, though I wanted to work full-time.   Some people thought I would also never be able to drive myself places and achieve many of the goals I wanted to accomplish.

However, that all changed when I met my mentor Jill* and, a couple years later, when I met my then-manager Elizabeth.*

When I first met Jill, I really didn’t think anything would change in my life, but, at the same time, I unconsciously hoped that life would get better. I was also still trying to adjust to some changes in my life, and change is especially difficult for those on the spectrum who need/like more routine. However, Jill kept insisting that I learn to drive myself and that I could eventually find a job that would suit me.  I did not believe her. Even my parents thought I needed a job in which I had minimal interaction with people, and those kinds of jobs would be very difficult to find!  I eventually did learn to drive myself a few months after I met Jill, but I still did not think I would ever be able to find any job—part time or full time.  Jill then helped me to find an employment agency that would assist me in finding a job.

After climbing through many hurdles to find an agency willing to work with me, we finally found a friendly and determined person from the employment agency that would work with me to help find me a suitable job. About six months later, I finally got a call to get interviewed at a thrift store.  Because God was with me, He helped me to be confident enough to make a good impression on the interviewer and I got the job.  I worked very hard there, but I did not know if I would last long at the job.  Fortunately, I was able to be there for two and a half years before I sensed in my spirit that God wanted me somewhere else.  I was ready to take the next step in my employment journey—finding a full time job.  However, some of the people at the agency thought it was good that I was even employed, since it is difficult for people on the spectrum to find any type of jobs! But Jill was confident in my ability to find a full time job.  So, we pushed through and the same person from the agency that worked with me last time was willing to work with me again to find me a full time job.

It took several months before we found anything.  Then, one wintry February morning in 2016, God intervened and I got interviewed at a store in the company I am with now. Though at first I was part time, about six to seven months later, I was instated as full time. I was overjoyed the day I got promoted to full time.  (To see more details on how I got my first full time job, please see this link:  https://placeinthisworld224.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/a-godsend-my-current-job/).  If it were not for Jill always believing in me and never giving up on me, I do not know where I would be today.

About a year later, I met Elizabeth. When I first met Elizabeth, I did not know how much she would change my perspective on life and the trajectory of it.  Like Jill, she always believed in and never gave up on me, even when other people around me did.  For instance, when I approached her about wanting to learn the register, she immediately suggested that I could train for twenty minutes each week until I felt comfortable enough to be a certified backup, which was my goal, but I did face some backlash from others.  My now ex-friend told me not to continue training for cashier because she thought I couldn’t handle it when there were difficult customers and that it would be too stressful for me. Another manager commented, “ A CSM [customer service manager] would never call you up to ring.” Thankfully, I listened to Elizabeth instead of the people around me, and a month before Elizabeth left our store, I was instated as a backup cashier.  The customer service managers called me quite often, and as the number of register-trained associates dwindled, I became one of the few who were register-trained.  Most customers were satisfied with my speed and efficiency in my service to them at the register.  Elizabeth also believed in my abilities so much that she trained me on some of the things that a department manager, and not a regular associate like me, does.  With her, I not only continually learned new things in my work, I also gained more confidence in my God-given abilities.

I learned from Jill and Elizabeth not to doubt my own God-given abilities and to not listen to the naysayers who doubt that I could achieve my goals.  Jill and Elizabeth instilled in me the power of their belief, which motivated me to prove the naysayers wrong and to realize the dreams that I had held inside for so long.

Sources:

1)      Pesce, Nicole Lyn. “Most college grads with autism can’t find jobs. This group is fixing that.”  MarketWatch.  April 2017. Republished  2 April 2019. Retrieved 30 July 2020. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/most-college-grads-with-autism-cant-find-jobs-this-group-is-fixing-that-2017-04-10-5881421.

*=Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals mentioned

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A Message to Those with Chronic Pain and Those Who Know Someone with Chronic Pain

People, whether on the outside or inside, often see the chronically ill on their good days and ask,
“Can’t you *insert thing they can’t do*?” They don’t mean such things harshly: they know
that those of us that have had to, say, give up traditional jobs miss the identity and socialization
that came with working those jobs and that some of us even liked those positions!

But what they don’t see are the bad days, which generally outweigh the good. They don’t see the
weeks on the couch, the endless days of migraines, the turbulent bipolar mood swings and
debilitating anxiety. They don’t realize that, in truth, those of us that aren’t working due to a
chronic illness really cannot work.

People often think that because their friend or family member spent one day with them at the
beach or out shopping that all their days look like the fun one they shared. But the harsh reality is
that most of them do not.

And that’s where understanding tends to fail. Many struggle with understanding how
someone can appear happy and healthy every time they see that person, while claiming to feel ill
most, or all, of the time. And this lack of understanding sheds light on some things we in the
chronically ill community need to stop doing.

 

1.) STOP always putting on a brave face.

There are most certainly times that a brave face and smile are necessary, but those
of us with chronic illness have allowed “faking being well” to seize control of our lives.
Not only does that give others the impression that we really can handle more than we say
we can, but it also taxes us to the point that our alone time is spent feeling even more
miserable than we may have if we’d allowed ourselves to simply be in the presence of
others.

The lesson? Be vulnerable. Don’t feel that you must always fake it and smile for
people. It’s okay if someone realizes you don’t feel well. And if they take it badly? That’s
on them.

2.) STOP always saying that you’re “okay.”

I finally came to a point where I wouldn’t say I was “great!” when asked how I
was doing, but too often, I still say that “I’m okay.” Yet, that is often a lie.

The lesson? If you don’t feel well, say so! Not for sympathy, but if someone
asks, “How have you been?” you are well within your right to say, “Ya know, the last
couple days have been rough on my health. Thank you for asking.” And if the person to
whom you’re speaking prays, adding in a request for prayer is good!

 

3.) STOP always being ashamed.

It took a long time for me to be even somewhat tolerant of the idea that my doctor
deemed it best I be on disability, and the negativity I’ve met along the way hasn’t
helped things. But there should be no shame. God designed us all differently, all with
different skill sets, and all with different plans regarding how we are to use those skills.

The lesson? Be okay with not being able to work as much or at all as you once did
or once dreamed you could. God’s paths for our lives often look nothing like the courses
we had plotted.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
~ Isaiah 55:8-9 (KJV)

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Things That Bring Me Joy When I’m Upset or Anxious

Though I have battled depression and anxiety for much of my life, recently there have been more blessings God has put in my life that have brought me joy when I had been upset and anxious about a situation.  If anyone here struggles similarly with anxiety and stress, maybe you can relate with me on these things that bring joy after you experience something stressful or anxiety-provoking, or you may have other things that bring you joy. No matter what it is, I hope that God brings you things that will produce joy or will at least alleviate your stress or anxiety. Here are some things that bring me joy when I am upset or anxious:

  1. People who demonstrate they care—I am so blessed by the people who didn’t just stare at me or judge me for my anxiety-produced autistic meltdowns. Instead, they tried to help calm me down and find a solution to the stressful situation. They understand that I have been overloaded by stimulation from all sides (a common trait for those on the spectrum like me) and need compassion.  I hope to care for others similarly when I see someone that is visibly upset and/or stressed.
  2. God’s grace and mercy in the situation– When people yell at me, I sometimes fear that I’ll get in trouble, even if I didn’t do anything wrong. However, what often happens is that God brings situations and people into my life that demonstrate His mercy and grace. For instance, a couple days ago a customer yelled at me for something someone else did, and it caused me much anxiety and grief because the day was already stressful for various reasons. However, the next day, an associate told me that he or a manager would be there for me if a customer made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe.  His comment made me aware that God had a hand in this situation and He would always provide me the grace needed to deal with anything.
  3. People who motivate me to persevere— When I have gotten stressed at work or in other situations, my temptation (as I know some of you can relate) is to quit and give up. However, because of my dad, my mentor, and others who believe in me and motivate me to persevere, I have found great joy in finally being able to accomplish some of what I believe God has made me to do.
  4. Realizing what I have–As I said in an earlier post, gratitude can alleviate and even kill depression, bringing much joy. Reflecting with thanksgiving for all God has brought me through and blessed me with makes me so happy. After I was a little upset one day, I found an associate wanting to buy snacks for our entire department. Because of this associate’s thoughtfulness, my anger completely dissipated and I focused on the blessing of what God provided through this thoughtful associate.
  5. A resolution to the situation making me upset or anxious–About six or seven months ago, I was so upset at how I was being treated in comparison to another person that I almost got myself in trouble. However, a few weeks later, that person became kinder and much friendlier towards me. It was then that I realized that I should probably forgive this person and let go of my anger. That resolution brought me much peace–and joy, of course.
  6. Music that comforts my soul—No, I cannot listen to “happy” music when I am upset. It annoys and upsets me even more. However, music that speaks to my stress and assures me that God can use even that situation for good brings me joy.
  7. Hope that it’s not always going to be like this—Yesterday, I was tempted to call out from work because of how upset and stressed I was the day before. However, a.) I was already at work, so I didn’t feel like wasting time going back at home, and b.) I had hope that things would not be as stressful as they were before. That hope enabled me to complete my shift as scheduled and I even enjoyed being at work that day!
  8. People who make me laugh—I have had a couple coworkers who are master comedians. They make me laugh so easily that even when I’m upset, their jokes never fail to bring me joy.
  9. Seeing someone I have missed who I haven’t seen in a while—Sometimes, during the most stressful situations in my life, I see people that I haven’t seen in a while. The joy that person brought to me in the past and the joy of seeing them at that moment makes me forget about my stress.
  10. Taking a rest or nap, and feeling refreshed the next day or week—If all else fails, I take a nice, warm shower and go directly to bed. Sometimes, having adequate rest–not too little or too much—can clear my mind and enable me to look at things from a more positive perspective.

I have learned that there are many ways that God brings us joy again after we have “suffered a little while.” Life’s difficulties can sometimes be what truly produces joy in us. With God’s grace and mercy, we will find it. Don’t give up!

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The Case for Small Churches

This article was originally published on my website: https://www.wrhwriting.com/episode-6-the-case-for-small-churches/

It is also the transcript for episode 6 of my podcast Churchthink.

 

Christian author, speaker, and podcast co-host Skye Jethani recently published an article entitled “The Case Against Sermon-centric Sundays.” Among other arguments he makes, he mentions that our current church model does little to foster community and alleviate loneliness in society, since services largely consist of hundreds of people sitting silently while listening to the sermon, singing a few songs, and then leaving (not to come back for a whole week).

In 12 years of being a Christian, I’ve never heard anyone question the traditional church model. While I don’t agree with everything in Skye’s article, it’s still been a game-changer for me. Do we need to rethink the way we do church? If we reshaped church, could we actually start helping people out of loneliness? Why isn’t anyone else talking about this?

His article led me to listen to Richard Jacobson’s The Unchurching Podcast, which advocates for house churches instead of institutional churches. Again, while I don’t agree with everything Jacobson says (especially his insistence that the pastor role should be done away with), I am intrigued by the house church model.

Now, I’m not throwing everything out and switching to house churches. It seems to me that there are pros and cons to house churches and institutional churches. But one thing I think we can take away from Skye Jethani’s article and the house church model is that, when it comes to church, small is better.

Large churches and mega-churches have some benefits (for instance, they can provide a large space for the surrounding community to use, or they might be able to work on large missions projects that small churches couldn’t), but I have to wonder if the pros of small churches outweigh the pros of large churches, especially if large churches are becoming the norm and the goal of pastors is to grow until they can afford a big building. Constructing a close-knit community should be a top priority for all pastors, because discipleship, mission, and relationships are most effective inside of this kind of community. Establishing this kind of community often becomes harder the larger a church grows.

I’ve basically attended four churches since becoming a Christian. Two have been large churches (over 1,000 people per weekend) and two have been small churches (under 250 people per weekend). In the case of the first big church, I tried various small groups, volunteer activities, and I even interned there. My feeling of connectedness went up at some points, but the vast majority of my time there (several years) I didn’t feel connected no matter what I tried. In the case of the second big church, it took two years of trying small groups and various activities before my wife and I found a group we really felt connected to. If we hadn’t found that group, we probably would’ve left the church. However, in the case of the two small churches, I found community immediately—and when I say “immediately” I mean within a month.

Churches should focus more on fostering community than on producing a show that will supposedly attract people. Community is personal; attractive shows are impersonal. Attractive shows focus on making the consumer happy; community focuses on personal relationships and gently encourages people to use their gifts and talents for others’ benefit. Shows tend to isolate and compound loneliness; community breaks the chains of isolation and loneliness.

Our focus is misguided. Pastors and church leaders shouldn’t be focused on growing until they bust out of their current building’s seams or on creating a great show. Instead, let’s focus on building community. Make close-knit community a bigger priority than growth. That way, when growth gets in the way of the community’s closeness, the church can go plant a new church (with whom they can maintain a close relationship and still do things together).

I’ll be honest: I’ve struggled with loneliness to one degree or another most of my life. The times I haven’t struggled with it are the times I’ve been closely involved with a small community of people who met together frequently. In those times, I’ve felt effective in the cause of the gospel because I frequently participated in outreach activities and discipleship activities with my community.

Some may be thinking, “That’s the reason for small groups in a big church.” Small groups can foster this kind of community, even in a big church, although it seems to me that extroverts have an easier time engaging in big church settings than introverts (no matter if it’s small groups or Sunday service). However, small churches, by nature, make finding close-knit community easier. In a small church, even on Sundays we walk into the community. There’s much more accountability for attendees to become a part of the community and contribute, since everyone sees our face and the relationships naturally built from talking to people in the small community suck us into community activities. And if we really don’t want to be a part, then we can leave (as opposed to just coming on Sundays and doing nothing else). Small churches are more likely to foster participation instead of isolated consumerism.

In big churches, we often (especially for introverts) have to go find the community. Many people in the Sunday service don’t know each other, so we’re not likely to find community just by talking to one or two people. We have to put in the effort to try a small group, and if that group doesn’t work out (which can take weeks or months to realize), we have to try another. And during all this time we feel disconnected and perhaps lonely. For people who are already struggling with loneliness, this can be an extremely discouraging process, prompting them, potentially, to give up. Furthermore, it’s much easier to simply be a casual, non-participating member in a big church. That’s more people not giving time for missions, discipleship, and other Kingdom activities.

Christianity is most effective in community. Community, by definition, becomes harder the larger it is. That’s why Jesus ran around with a small group of disciples. If our churches stay small and focus on community, they will be more effective churches, which will positively impact the surrounding culture. And one of the best results of this would be more and more close-knit communities, which would reduce the growing problem of loneliness.