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Lessons Learned in the Dark of Depression

For over 25 years, I have gone in and out of the throes of depression. During my worst episodes, I seriously considered ending my life. Thankfully, every time I wanted to give up, God rescued me out of the pit of despair and helped me see His love and light. Even though I would have preferred to not go through the darkness for so long, and though I had wanted to give up so many times, I am thankful that God taught me so many valuable life lessons that I now strive to apply to my life.

 

One lesson I learned from going through depressive episodes is to be more open and genuine with others in expressing my true self. In the past, I was so afraid of what people would think of me that I never told anyone for a long time about my struggles, past and present. Unfortunately, I got so used to hiding that when I finally decided I needed help with my issues, some people thought I really didn’t have those issues! However, the longer I struggled, the more apparent it became to me that I needed to talk to someone about my issues, and more than likely, several people.

 

Then, I started to talk. I began opening up the layers of my pain in my past. What I realized is that many of the people I opened up to struggled with similar issues! Also, I didn’t get most of the judgment or condemnation I had feared, and those that judged me were often the same ones that God would later remove from my life anyway. When I started opening up and being vulnerable with others, not only did I forge stronger bonds with those around me, but I found that the pain I went through in my depression lessened as I started to heal.

 

Another lesson I learned from going through depression is to value my time more–especially the good, depression-free times. When I am depressed, I can only see the wounds and ugliness of myself and life. I feel like I am in a long, dark tunnel with no end to it. However, when I am content with life and glance back at (but not dwell) on my depressive episodes, I realize how blessed I am! Reflecting back causes me to value and appreciate the good times more, because I see how far God has brought me from the darkness of the worst of my depressive episodes.

 

The most pertinent lesson that God has taught me from going through depression, in my mind, is that He had a purpose and a plan for allowing me to walk in the dark for so long. I have learned that God has been using my struggle with depression, and the past hurts that had exacerbated my depression, to help me minister to others with similar or even more complex issues than I ever had!  He has also used my struggle with depression to help me be more compassionate and caring towards others in pain, and in order to strengthen my character by tearing down the layers of selfishness and self-righteousness in my heart.

 

If anyone is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts right now, know that God has a good purpose for all you have been through. We may never know what it is this side of the world, but God never wastes our pain.  Let this be our hope to never give up no matter what life brings us.

 

This article was originally published on Patricia’s website: https://placeinthisworld224.wordpress.com/2019/09/24/lessons-learned-in-the-dark-of-depression/

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You’re Not a Loser

Life doesn’t always go our way. Sometimes it rarely goes our way. We make plans but they don’t work out, we make goals but they change, we set expectations of ourselves and we don’t meet them, we want to be somewhere in life (career, financially, spiritually, family life, etc.) and we don’t see how we’re ever going to get there. It’s tough.

Compound that with depression and we can easily feel like we’re losers. Depression lies like that: you’re unworthy, you’ll never succeed, you can’t handle life, etc. But that’s simply not true.

You’re God’s child; therefore, you’re not a loser and you never will be. And these difficult experiences and life circumstances? A therapist once told me that if we learn from all of our perceived failures, they will never be empty experiences. Those experiences make us more like Christ and better at ministering to others.

If you’re faithful to Christ in the present moment, you are doing what He asks of you. Remember: Christ followers possess the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead. If you simply trust Christ and His process of making you new, you will do powerful things in His name. And that’s the farthest thing from being a loser.

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Finding God in the Hospital

It was not long ago that I was hospitalized for a week for ongoing neurological issues that I deal with. The week started out bleak and anxiety-ridden, as I lay in a bed with my mom in the chair next to me, waiting for an MRI, waiting for answers we never even got.

 

I soon noticed my mom had her devotional with her and that she was reading it frequently. I desperately wanted her to read to me, but I was too…something…to ask. Proud, perhaps? Fearful? Annoyed at the imaging staff who weren’t getting me in for my MRI soon enough?

 

But finally, after a couple days, I brought myself to ask. And read, she did. Those devotionals pierced straight to my heart. I’d been praying for revival for years, but those devotionals made me realize that, no matter what I felt (apathetic; fearful; annoyed; even grieved over my current state, though not enough to do anything), I had to do what God was moving me to do—spend time in prayer and in the Word. They made me realize that my feelings are so very deceitful. Just look at some of what God says:

 

“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

–Proverbs 28:26 (ESV)

 

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.”

–Proverbs 14:12-13 (ESV)

 

And hearing those things, having God reveal those thoughts through the devotionals and Scriptures I had memorized, moved my heart to repentance and renewed devotion to our Lord. I’m now in a full-blown personal revival, and the grief that accompanies being outside the Lord, outside His will, outside His Vine, trying to produce my own spiritual fruit without Him, is melting away. The fruit I produce will be His—for this my soul cries. I will remain in the Vine—with His help. And I will remain in Him—with His grace and mercy. Hallelujah to the Lord that loves us enough to pull us from our miry pits of grief and self-loathing into a new life with Him.

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Do You Ever Feel That Your Depression Keeps You from Serving God and That He’s Mad at You for It?

Have you ever felt like your depression keeps you from serving God?

Whether it’s because of the exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, or another symptom, do you feel as though you should be doing more to serve God? Do you feel He is mad at you for being lazy? Or do you feel He is constantly disappointed in you?

If so, I think you may be surprised to find that that god you’re thinking of isn’t the God of the Bible. That god you’re thinking of is a god of your imagination.

First of all, in some sense I don’t think it takes all that much to please God. He’s not looking for you to accomplish all these lofty church or “God” projects. He’s not looking for anything flashy. He’s not necessarily looking for things other people will notice. He may not even be looking for you to do anything outside of your house (this is especially true and helpful, I think, for people whose mental illness keeps them home-bound or mostly home-bound).

Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). Perhaps your depression significantly limits you. That’s okay. God knows how hard the struggle is and how much you’re limited. He is merely calling you to be faithful in your context. That means different things for different people. Perhaps for you that means supporting your spouse when he or she is having a hard time at work. Perhaps that means being kind and friendly to your caregiver. Perhaps that means praying for your kids. It means focusing on someone else, if only for a few seconds. For those with depression, focusing on someone else takes a lot of effort—not because we want it to, but because that’s just the nature of the condition. Because it takes that much more effort, I think it glorifies God that much more.

God doesn’t ask us to be successful. He asks us to be faithful. If we’re simply obedient in the context we’re in, God is pleased. I love the following quote because it illustrates this principle: “A British journalist once asked Mother Teresa how she kept going, knowing that she could never meet the needs of all the dying in the streets of Calcutta. She replied, ‘I am not called to be successful; I’m called to be faithful.’”[i]

Second of all—and most importantly—God loves us, period. He doesn’t love us because of what or how much we do. He loves us because we are His. We don’t earn His favor more by doing things for Him.

This means that He’s not mad at us for not living up to some standard. He’s not disappointed because we don’t serve Him enough. He is constantly loving us and He constantly delights in us because we are His children.

I pray we would rest in these truths.

 

References

 

[i] Bailey, Kenneth. “The Parable of the Pounds.” Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kindle Edition, InterVarsity Press, 2008.

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Holding on to the Hope of Eternal Bliss

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

For people suffering from anxiety and/or depression, sometimes it feels like God is literally the only reason you have for living. It’s hard to “live” for much else when you can’t find joy anymore in activities you used to love. It’s a terrible thing not to find joy in fun hobbies and activities, and God doesn’t want things to be that way. But as I mentioned earlier, He can use it for good. When your life feels emptied of all else, God can be your everything. You can experience an intimacy with Him you never thought possible.

That’s not to say it’s not hard. This kind of suffering is hard, no matter how close you are to God and especially with a disorder that constantly drags you down and depletes you of energy. In these times I think it’s helpful to remember our great hope of eternal joy with God.

The Bible, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, constantly points us to a better world where everything will be made right. That’s why Jesus came—to usher in the Kingdom of God. To all those who trust in Him, He promises eternity in this New Kingdom. He promises to reward those same people for their good works in His name and for persevering.

“God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Romans 2:6-7).

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:21).

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12).

So hold on. God sees you fighting, and He will reward you richly for it. It will be more than worth it. “Our…troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (my emphasis).

 

This is an excerpt from my book Anxiety and Depression Are (Not) Always Sins.

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When Missing Church Isn’t Okay

Saturday night rolled around, and Jocelyn was starting to feel feverish and a bit nauseated. By Sunday morning, she was full-blown sick and wouldn’t be making it to church.

 

At church that morning, people asked a friend of Jocelyn’s where she was, if she was ok. The friend wasn’t sure, so people were left to wonder.

 

The next day, a lady from Jocelyn’s Sunday school class called her, but Jocelyn didn’t answer. “Hey, Jocelyn, it’s MaryAnn. Just giving you a quick call to make sure you’re doing ok. We missed you in church on Sunday!”

 

Jocelyn didn’t call MaryAnn back all week. She figured she’d just tell anyone who asked the next week that she’d been ill. No one would question that.

 

Now let’s rewind. (Or, for those of you who don’t remember the VHS era, let’s go back to the Main Menu and choose the Start Over option.)

 

Saturday night rolled around, and Jocelyn was starting to feel depressed and a bit anxious. By Sunday morning, she’d had several full-blown panic attacks and wouldn’t be making it to church.

 

At church that morning, people asked a friend of Jocelyn’s where she was, if she was ok. The friend wasn’t sure, so people were left to wonder.

 

The next day, a lady from Jocelyn’s Sunday school class called her, but Jocelyn didn’t answer. “Hey, Jocelyn, it’s MaryAnn. Just giving you a quick call to make sure you’re doing ok. We missed you in church on Sunday!”

 

Jocelyn didn’t call MaryAnn back all week. She figured she’d just tell anyone who asked the next week that she’d been dealing with her depression and anxiety again. No one would question that.

 

Right?

 

No, unfortunately, almost everyone would question it.

 

So, Jocelyn talked herself out of going the next week before it even got close enough to worry about.

 

And she continued to talk herself out of going—it became a vicious cycle. She didn’t want to have to explain what she struggled with when she knew so many disagreed. And trying to simply say she had been sick wouldn’t work. First, she wasn’t sure it even counted as being sick. Second, everyone would ask, “Oh, did you have that nasty stomach bug that’s going around?!” But she knew she couldn’t say “yes” to that, because she hadn’t.

 

Now this story is entirely fictional, made up solely for the purpose of this article. However, Jocelyn’s story is far too familiar to many of us—on one side or the other. No one questions our missing church when we have an illness of the body. Why are we not afforded the same understanding when an it’s an illness of the mind? Rather, we are told, “You should make yourself come to church. You’d feel so much better!” Although these common phrases are not meant to hurt, they do. No one would tell someone who had the stomach bug and a fever to come to church because it would make them feel better.

 

Thus, it begs the question: Why do some feel the need to tell a friend who has had five panic attacks in a row that aren’t being helped by medication (medication that usually works, by the way) to show up to church to “feel better.” Is it because we’re to be “of a sound mind”? If that’s the reason, we need to re-examine the context of that verse.

 

But that’s for another article.

 

Those of us who struggle with mental illness have even come to believe some of these lies. Will church make us feel better? Sometimes. But sitting in service not being able to pay attention because of the anxiety and depression riddling your body probably isn’t helpful. The pastor sees a congregant who isn’t paying attention, and the struggling congregant isn’t getting anything out of the sermon.

 

So, I beg you, if your brother or sister is struggling with mental illness, don’t throw platitudes or advice born out of fear, misunderstanding, and/or stigmatization at them. Come alongside them—send them a card if you feel so inclined. Offer to make a meal. Do what you’d do for anyone missing service for a physical reason.

 

Mental illness is no easier to deal with than a physical illness, so, please, stop expecting those struggling mentally to make it to church every time the doors are open any more than you’d expect a physically ill person make it there.

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Two Quick Verses for When You Feel Overwhelmed

I’m not sure if this post needs an introduction. Life gets overwhelming. It happens. And it happens for numerous reasons. Whatever the reason, God’s word helps because God is the God of rest. He is peace. I hope you can read these verses and rest in His love.

 

  1. “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (Joshua 1:5-6)

 

After Moses’ death, God speaks to Joshua, who has been appointed the new leader of the Israelites. Joshua faces quite a tall task, and he knows it. It appears as though he was nervous, afraid, or that he didn’t believe he was up to the task because God tells him to be “strong and courageous” three times in a span of four verses.

This passage gives me comfort. I struggle with self-confidence, so naturally I don’t always feel confident I’ll do a good job in what God has called me to do. I can get overwhelmed quickly and give up. In this passage, God doesn’t rebuke Joshua for his lack of confidence. Instead, He repeatedly encourages Joshua. God knows that if Joshua will just trust in Him and move forward, he (Joshua) will do great things. And that’s what happened.

I think this principle applies to us as well. If we’re scared about something God’s calling us to or we feel overwhelmed, God encourages us to trust Him and take the first step forward. He really is a good Father.

 

 

  1. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

 

Worrying can certainly makes us feel overwhelmed. It’s not uncommon to worry about bills and money and food. What if this happens? What if that happens? What if we don’t have enough?

Jesus addresses this problem. I recently wrote about this verse in my new book Pursuing God’s Kingdom Day by Day:

 

He exhorts His audience not to worry about life’s necessities: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31). We should remember that His audience in this passage likely consisted largely of poor people. They were dependent on the harvest for food, so we can imagine they worried about the harvest’s productivity. Jesus knows that. He grew up in Galilee—He knows the people’s mindset and how they think about food. His response to this concern is to trust that God will provide because He “knows that you need” all these things (verse 32).

God wants us to trust Him enough to pursue His kingdom. In fact, He wants us to pursue His kingdom “first,” and, He says, “all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). That is, make God’s kingdom your priority and He will provide life’s necessities for you.

 

Worrying is hard because we want to have control over our lives. We want to know there’s going to be enough food or enough money tomorrow. It bothers us that we don’t always have that control. But Jesus tells us to just trust Him.

If this kind of trust is hard, I think the number one thing to do is pray. Ask God repeatedly for the faith to believe that He will provide. Our Father gives good gifts: He will give you the faith you ask for. He wants us to rest in His love, so to speak, so we will have room to enjoy Him and pursue His kingdom. That, after all, is where we find true joy.

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“Just Come to Him” May Be a Better Prayer Approach than “Get in the Right Mindset”…Especially for Hurting People

There’s a notion that you must speak properly to God in prayer. It says you must be on your best behavior, that you must be in the right mindset.

I’ve heard several references to Christian writers who advocate this. They say to sit in silence, meditate on God’s word and His holiness, or something of the like. This practice can be encapsulated by a quote from Kenneth Bailey in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: “Twice in the recent past it was my extraordinary privilege to personally greet Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II…How much more should we sense the awesome nature of our approach to ‘Our Father who is in the heavens’ and be appropriately prepared to address him.”

I think there’s a place for this kind of practice in the Christian life. It’s not bad to meditate on God’s word or holiness or how grateful you are to Him. However, I think any attempt to claim this should be our routine every time we pray is mistaken.

As expressed in the earlier quote, many people view God as king and therefore think He should always be addressed as such. God is the King, but I think this earthly analogy breaks down when considering prayer. You’d never address a king with anything less than the best decorum. However, God seems to encourage spontaneous and even frustrated prayer. In a sense, God doesn’t demand that we always address Him with the utmost respect. He’s a king who’s more interested in a genuine, deep relationship. He wants you to express yourself to Him, all the way down from the depths of your soul.

Let’s look at some examples from David and Jesus:

 

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2).

“But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.

You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.

You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.

You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.

You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.

You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.

I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.

All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.

Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.

But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.

If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,

would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?

Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44:9-24).

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

 

This is the kind of communication He wants. He’s not interested in a “respectful” façade (Jesus says in Matthew 6:7 to refrain from empty words in prayer). He knows you at your best and your worst anyway. Why would He care about a proper appearance when you approach Him? He wants you, more than anything, to draw closer to Him. Spewing all your “junk” at Him, so to speak, does that better than approaching him with “proper etiquette.”

I’ve heard so many people say they feel they can’t pray. How can I with all I’ve done? How do I talk to Him? I feel too much shame, guilt, fear, hurt, anger (and yes, this could be anger at God), apathy, distrust, confusion, distance. I can’t bring myself to pray. To these people, it wouldn’t be helpful to say, “You need to get in the right mindset before praying.” No, to these people I say this: Just come to Him. Just start speaking, even if it’s frustration.

I once heard a therapist say, “If you don’t think you can pray, just go home, open up a window, and scream (a certain curse word I won’t repeat here). That can be considered praying.” While I don’t necessarily endorse the expletive, I agree with his point: Let everything out, don’t hold back. Start spewing. If you spew consistently, you may be surprised how deep your prayer life is a year from now.

Again, meditation and quoting God’s word before praying isn’t bad. But for those of us who are addicted, feel numb to God, feel hurt by God, feel mad at God, feel they can’t see Him, are scared to approach Him, or fill in the blank, just coming to Him may be the best way to pray.

 

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

“whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).

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They Tie Up Heavy Burdens

Rather than sit

In a pew, week after week,

I sit at home on a seat—

Far more comfortable, yes,

But with the same Book in my hands

That tells me His commands—

Not man-made, not man-upheld

Like a whited sepulcher,

Like untruths from a Hell

They’ve created.

 

I can sit in a pew

And listen to a man spew

Forth these lies

That in Your eyes

I’m less than,

Not Christian,

Because I suffer from depression.

 

“Oh wait, that’s not all?

“Anxiety, too?

“God doesn’t want anything to do with you.

“Or, if He does,

“First you must be clean—

“Repent of your ways, you sinner.”

 

But don’t you see?

It’s an illness of the brain—

A refrain

I dance to week after week,

Day after day.

 

I can sit in a pew—

Would that make me friends with you?

I can listen to the clatter

Of the offertory platter

As it goes by

And its din gets louder and louder

In my head with each passing moment.

 

 

Yes, I can do those things, too,

Just like you—

But then, because of this struggle,

The words start to tumble

From your mouth to my ears:

 

Unclean

Unrighteous

Unrepentant

Unsaved

Sinner

 

But who’s to say

That you have the right way

Of judgment,

Of unacceptance,

Of unwillingness to understand.

 

If that’s your God,

You can keep Him—

For to my God,

I am His beloved child.

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The State of Numb

“Numb (adjective): unable to think, feel, or react normally because of something that shocks or upsets you”

 

The above is one of the definitions of numb, as stated in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, and, although it makes complete sense, no one ever warned that a state of numbness would overcome me during the loss of a close loved one.

 

I had figured I’d cry relentlessly, whether sad tears or happy ones from sweet memories. I knew I’d feel as if a piece of me were missing. What I didn’t know is that I would get to a point at which I didn’t feel anything.

 

At first, I thought I was suddenly heartless, and there are times I still feel that way, although I’ve been told by multiple people that this is normal. No one had mentioned that a stage of the grieving process can be complete numbness. Not even peace—just nothing.

 

Navigating the waters of nothingness is difficult. When you feel nothing and keep praying for peace or even more tears that don’t come, it’s hard not to feel like you’re a monster for not feeling something. There’s a song out by Lady Antebellum that states, “I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all,” and how true that is! But when you don’t feel anything, you still need to live.

 

My life verses have been such a rescue in this time. For just about everything in life, I go back to Isaiah 55:8-9: “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” (KJV). No matter how hard it may be, I must keep reminding myself that God doesn’t act like us humans: He doesn’t even think like us! It’s frightening in a sense but comforting because when I can’t see the road ahead, when I can’t even see the next step, He’s there and already has it figured out in His way and timing—which is nothing like mine.

I’m still walking through this uncharted land in which nothing makes sense because I’ve never lost someone this close to me. What makes it more difficult is the fact that, at the time of writing this, the person has yet to go home and see our Father’s face. I’ve been watching this person actively pass for a week now, in a mostly comatose state, and numbness was the last thing I thought I’d feel.

As I continue on my way, I’m learning. I’m learning (again and again) that God is faithful, that He doesn’t leave us or forsake us, that He is love, that His grace is sweet and sufficient, that His mercies are new every morning. I cling to Him as my rock because He does know what He’s doing and simply wants me to be still as He does His work.