So I work as a reporter at The Sanford Herald in Sanford, N.C., and my world was shaken yesterday.
We were told there was a police-involved shooting in downtown Sanford, a few hundred yards from our office. We were waiting for more information from police. Then the news came in. I’ll copy our report below:
A 28-year-old male from Sanford died Thursday afternoon of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to Sanford police.
The incident occurred around 1 p.m. in front of an abandoned business at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and First Street. Police cars blocked off a section of Charlotte Avenue while the man stood outside of the abandoned business. He was armed with a 9mm handgun and shot himself after communicating with police detectives and other civilians for about 90 minutes.
During the 90 minutes, nearby businesses closed down and people eating at La Dolce Vita Pizzeria, just yards away from the incident, were forced to stay inside the restaurant.
After the incident, EMS administered immediate medical assistance and he was transported to the emergency room at Central Carolina Hospital. He was pronounced dead by the medical examiner at the hospital. The name of the man has not been released yet. Stay with The Herald for more.
I was shaken. Why? I’ve looked down that road before, that road of taking your own life, and it’s a dark one.
I didn’t get too far down that road, but I’ve heard stories of others that didn’t, like this young man. As I saw tributes on my Facebook feed to this guy yesterday, I saw that he was well-loved by people of all races, ages and political perspectives. People came together to remember him. I won’t print his name here out of respect for the fact I never met him, never knew him and had never even heard of him before yesterday.
But I want to believe that I’ve felt part of the pain that he felt. Obviously, something happened in his life or his mind that drove him to this drastic decision, and he felt he couldn’t go on.
I understand the impulse. I’ve struggled with enough in my life to make me think about that path — depression, anxiety, bullying, religious doubt, fear of man, despair over mistakes.
In this time, I struggle to think of what I could say to comfort those who might be hurting or mourning. I’ve never been intimately acquainted with someone who has taken their own life. I’ve known people — a former high school classmate, a distant relative, this man yesterday — that have done so. I’ve known people that have thought about it. Words just aren’t enough in this situation.
What I will recommend, and what I hope to do more of, is this: don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK?”
I think we’re nervous to get too invested in others’ lives for several reasons. First, we can be selfish people, and getting too much in others’ lives takes away time and attention to ourselves. Second, we don’t want to pry or make things awkward. And third, sometimes we just don’t know how to.
I’ll suggest it this way: Think about how often you start a conversation with someone and you ask, “How are you?” or in the case of Joey Tribbiani, “How you doin’?” It’s a common conversation starter. How often do you or the person you’re talking to say “fine” or “good”?
I recommend that we start taking the time to dig deeper into that. Obviously not with people you’ve just met or in professional settings, but with friends or relatives, be willing to ask, “How are you good?” or “How are you fine?” If they seem a little unsure, don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK? Is there anything I can help you with? Do you need to talk about something?”
The worst that can happen to you is that they say “no” and it’s a little awkward for a while. The best that can happen is that 1) you have a meaningful, productive conversation with another human being (talks that seem few and far between these days) and 2) you might bring a little hope and love into another person’s life.
Yeah, love. There’s not enough of that right now. And I’m not blaming the person’s family or friends or coworkers or whoever for not loving him enough. That’s not the point. I’m asking you who know people to show that love to others. Point them down the path of love.
I want to say one last thing, to send a message to my brother who passed on:
Yes, I know we never met, and you’ve probably never even heard my name. But you’re my brother because we’ve had similar struggles, I imagine. I love you, man. I hope and pray you’re in the arms of a Savior who loves you. I hope your life will spur others on to love. I hope your life will spur me on to love.
Note: This is the continuation of a series on the idea of not giving up in different scenarios. Previous posts include entries on work and relationships. The previous posts have not had a particular audience, it can be applied generally. But my heart is for the Church, for the body of Christ. So the next two posts will be aimed at a Christian audience.
This post dives into the subject of depression and anxiety, something I’ve written about countless times. Please read my other posts on this subject for more of my thoughts and experiences. Just search “depression” in the search bar and you’ll find them all. This piece gives a brief overview of my story.
I originally wrote this for submission to an online magazine but it was not picked up, so I share it here.
The biggest problem with mental illness in the Church is not that it exists, but that we don’t talk about it.
If we do talk about it, it’s a passing mention, with an emphasis on “read your Bible” and “pray.” Oh, I wish that were true.
I’ve had depression for at least six years, probably more. And it nearly killed my faith.
When we think about depression, we often don’t associate it with the word “Christian.” When we think of “Christian,” the list of words that come to mind don’t usually include “depressed.” In a way, “depressed” often can seem anti-Christian to people who don’t understand it.
Depression implies that someone is down or sad, that it’s a state of mind that is hard to get out of. And that seems to go against what it means to be a Christian. We’re saved, let’s be joyful! We’re forgiven, let’s celebrate! God loves us, let’s be excited! Those are things to get excited about. Those are things to celebrate and be joyful about. However, when you’re depressed, it’s hard to join in that crowd.
The majority of my time as someone who has depression was spent in college at Elon University. I was studying print journalism and participating in a campus ministry. The campus ministry was a good experience and had an emphasis on evangelism and spiritual disciplines, things that were good. However, evangelism and discipline are two of my biggest “weaknesses,” if you can call not being good at those a “weakness.”
Within the context of that ministry, it felt like a weakness. It felt like I was not “good enough” to be a part of the group because I wasn’t as passionate about sharing the Gospel with the lost. I wanted them to know Jesus, but I would rather spend time at the house I shared with a couple guys playing FIFA or doing my homework (I was a bit of an academic when I wanted to be) than building superficial relationships with guys just to try to convert them.
For wanting that, I felt like I was less. And because I felt like I was less, I got depressed. Struggles with sin also depressed me.
I talked about this general feeling of depression every now and then, but it was not a comfortable thing. The guys I talked with, as awesome as they were as brothers in Christ, just didn’t get it. And they seemed to be quite happy with their lives. “What was wrong with me?,” I wondered. “Why didn’t I have the same joy, the same drive?” I chalked it up to that I wasn’t good enough as a Christian, and I had to get better. Then I wouldn’t be depressed anymore and people would think I was an awesome Christian.
That was my driving force in life for a long time, and to today still is to a degree: being the best Christian there is. I wanted people to look at me and see my spiritual life and see perfection. That’s what I thought had to happen. See, everyone around me didn’t act like there was anything wrong with them. Prayer requests usually revolved around sick relatives, hard business presentations and that freshman they had been “pouring into,” hoping to get them saved. I felt like there was no place for me to share the mental anguish I went through on a nearly daily basis. No one talked about their personal struggles in their head, and I wasn’t bold enough yet to share it and start the conversation on my own.
Now I feel a little more comfortable talking about my personal experience with depression, at least online. But bringing it up in person with people is still a struggle. I have a few times in my small group, and it’s been fruitful each time.
The problem comes when we think that being a Christian means you don’t struggle with anything like mental illnesses. Being depressed and being a Christian is not a contradiction. It’s just like being a Christian and being born in the South or being a Christian and being a journalist (I’m both of those things) – it’s just part of who you are. The key difference between those things and depression is that you can be a Southerner and a journalist and that often doesn’t seriously affect how you live as a believer. Depression does.
But I’m writing this to all of you out there who are Christians and have depression: it’s not a losing battle. It’s not a battle that you have to fight alone. You don’t have to be joyful all the time to be a Christian. Being a Christian simply means Jesus saved you. There’s no other prerequisite for being called a son or daughter of God. Don’t let the conversation, or lack thereof, about depression in your church or your local group of Christians make you think you’re all alone.
I’m there with you. I don’t struggle as much anymore, mostly because I take medicine for it and I’m engaged to a beautiful young lady who knows everything about me and loves me anyways. Just like Jesus.
What I’ve found is that the answer to depression is the Gospel. It’s the truth that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), fear of being rejected by God for our feelings, fear of being not good enough for the Father. It’s that God loves us throughout our struggles. The Gospel doesn’t necessarily heal us from depression, but it will help and guide us through it.
So be open about it. Share your story. Don’t be afraid to take medicine. Don’t let people discourage you. Find someone who echoes the love of Christ to you and build a friendship with them. You’re not abnormal. You’re just like me.
Don’t give up. Please don’t give up. It’s not worth it.
So I just started watching Cheers. I’m an episode-and-a-half in as of the beginning of writing this, and I love it. The characters are fantastic, the setting is brilliant and the dialogue is snappy and funny.
Maybe it’s just the show, but a bar seems like a lovely place to work to me. You’ve got a steady flow of people, a group of co-workers, it’s usually a laid-back environment. Of course that’s not the case for every bar, but Cheers looks like a bar where I’d love to work.
Kinda makes me want to go find a bar to work at.
But two things hold me back. First, I’m not qualified to be a bartender. I don’t know anything about alcohol. Second, I don’t want to just quit my job now and give up.
A 2013 Forbes article reported that around two million Americans on average voluntarily leave their jobs every month. That’s staggering. That’s back when the economy was rough, even rougher than it is today.
Why do that many people leave their jobs? Dissatisfaction with the boss, unchallenging assignments, tough workplace environments, lots of reasons. Many of them can be legitimate reasons and people need to get out for their emotional or mental health.
But I wonder how many of those two million people simply quit when they didn’t need to. I can relate to them. Remember, I’m a quitter. I like finding reasons to give up. I like finding things that I’m discontent about in my work. Well, I don’t really like it, but I do it so much that sometimes I think I do like it.
So what do we do when we’re in a job that we’re not exactly thrilled with but, for whatever reason, can’t find another one? Maybe we’re getting married soon and need a steady paycheck with good benefits. Maybe we’ve got kids we’re trying to put through school and they need that money. Maybe we’re trying to pay off a house purchase and any other options won’t fulfill the space in our budget we’ve set aside for payments. Maybe it’s not that bad of a job, but we’re honestly just a little frustrated with what we have.
I believe you have to look no further than the story of Elijah for a little inspiration.
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah, a prophet of God, was under duress. Jezebel – the wife of Ahab, the king of Israel – was sending men to kill Elijah after he had killed all the prophets of Baal. So Elijah ran. Verses 4-6a:
But (Elijah) himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree.
So Elijah’s in a pretty bleak situation with his occupation. Yes, this is ministry, so it may not directly be related to what we would consider normal “secular” jobs today. But let’s put it this way: his “co-workers” (the people surrounding him) are trying to kill him, his mental state is not good, his workspace (sitting under a broom tree) is not exactly the most amenable. (Maybe this is a stretch, but just go with it for me.)
What does God do? God sends an angel to provide Elijah with “a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water” (v. 6) twice. Elijah then “went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God” (v. 8).
What do we learn from this? Elijah’s situation didn’t get fixed. His work environment was still stressful. People were still trying to kill him. What God did was crucial for Elijah, and it’s something important we can learn for getting through our uncomfortable job situation.
God provided Elijah with motivation outside of himself. God provided Elijah with food out of nowhere. God gave Elijah sustenance to continue on. At jobs we dislike, our motivation is often sapped and drained because of the environment or the working conditions. If we truly can’t get out of the job, we need something outside of the job to keep us moving forward in it.
Sometimes there will be certain things at the job that can excite us and motivate us. But sometimes even those things will let us down.
I write this today to encourage those of you who are in jobs you can’t stand but have no other options: don’t give up. It’s not worth it to give up for no reason. You can still make a difference. The key is finding that exterior motivation, like Elijah did, that motivation outside yourself and your mind that can keep you going.
I’m praying as I type this that whoever reads this would find that motivation. I sincerely do.
I’m someone who likes to give up. Always have been.
My mom has told me several times that when I was younger, I would start to build a block tower. If the tower collapsed, I would give up. Most kids would probably try again. But me? Nah, I’d quit. For whatever reason, I wouldn’t find it worth it to attempt building the tower again.
There have been many things in my life that I’ve quit that I didn’t need to: jobs, relationships, projects, studies, etc., all things that I could have completed, but because I didn’t “feel” like I could, I quit. Books to read, books to write, blog posts to write, many things I’ve ditched because I thought it wouldn’t be good enough.
Even this series I’m about to start.
It’s called “Don’t Give Up.” It’s all about why we quit, why we shouldn’t and how to see quitting in light of who we are as God’s creation.
This series is for believers and non-believers, unlike the majority of my work which ends up being for Christians. If you are a non-believer and you’re reading this series, welcome. I hope you find something beautiful here, something that will inspire you to keep going. And I sincerely hope you see the worth you have as one of God’s creation and choose to trust Him with your life.
It’s worth it.
I’ll share a lot of personal experiences, per usual with this blog, and some biblical truth while exploring several areas of life we like to quit on ourselves in and discussing why (most of the time) we shouldn’t. I want to share myself and my life as well as what Scripture might have to say. I kinda want to say I’m an expert on quitting because I’ve done it a lot. Sometimes it was a good thing to do, and sometimes it wasn’t.
But this thought of not giving up has been on my mind a lot recently. Perhaps it’s my personal struggles, perhaps it’s the prevalence of suicide in recent years among people my age and younger. There just seems to be a lot of giving up going on.
It doesn’t have to be that way. And I hope this series will encourage you to keep going.
Perhaps the most common response people with anxiety and depression get from others when they bring it up is this: “Just move on. Deal with it and move on.” There seems to be this expectation that, like most people, those dealing with mental disorders have some masterful ability to control their emotions.
This is far from true.
At this very moment, I am depressed. In the past 12 hours, I’ve experienced immense anxiety. And I can’t seem to push it away. I’m trying to deal with the emotions, the anxiety and the depression, but it doesn’t seem to leave. I’ve prayed, I’ve thought about biblical truth, I’ve listened to worship music. I’ve done everything I can think to do, and I’m still in this rut.
One of the most difficult questions that people like me – Christians who struggle with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety – face is this: how do we relate to God when our emotions are so far out of order?
Far too often in the Church today, in modern Christian culture, we talk about the stirring of the emotions, of the affections, for God. We should be in awe of His power. We should be amazed by His grace. We should be joyfully overwhelmed by His love. We should be avoiding worry, stress, doubt. We should be “on fire” for God.
All these “should” statements sound great on the surface.
But these are all statements based in a controlling of the emotions and directing them in a certain place. For some of us, that’s not so easy.
There are many blog posts, articles and even books dedicated to how to pursue God when He “feels far away.” But what if He always feels far away? What if we feel so distant from Him every single day?
As someone who deals with anxiety and depression, I’m constantly battling my feelings. I have a tendency to feel sad or feel bad. How I often interpret this is an assumption that God is unhappy with me and I must do something good to feel better, which is a sign that God is happy with me. So often that’s how we all interpret our feelings.
So, next time you don’t “feel” like a Christian, do a gut check. Go to God and ask, “Have I sinned against you?” (See Psalm 139:23-24.) If you determine your bad feelings are a result of sin, ask God to forgive you. And ask the Holy Spirit to help you go on walking with God.
And think about those times when you’re on fire for God. What are you doing during those times that gives you joy? You’re probably reading your Bible, spending time in prayer, hanging out with Christians, going to Bible studies, telling others about your faith.
These are the kinds of things you need to do regularly and consistently. As you do, I think you’ll experience fewer and fewer roller-coaster rides and that fire will burn stronger all the time.
For a Christian dealing with depression and anxiety on a regular basis, the rules are a little different. Studying the Bible and praying don’t necessarily help. Heck, when I’m depressed, I don’t want to do those things. All I want to do is stay in bed, play video games, watch Netflix, and waste away in a heap of self-pity.
It’d be so easy for someone to say to me: “Just push through.” So easy to say when you’re not in the midst of it. And most of the time that’s what I find myself doing because there are not many people who want to dive in and help those of us who are struggling with these things.
So how do I follow Jesus?
There is an emotional side to our faith, true. God can use our emotions to lead us to a place where we are in desperate need of Him or where we’re overjoyed at His provision in our lives. But nowhere in Scripture does it say we have ultimate control over our emotions. Nowhere does it say where we need to have our emotions always attuned properly. In several places, the New Testament instructs us to be “sober-minded,” which means to not be led by our emotions.
What the Bible does tell us to do is to bank on truth all the time. The Bible itself is truth and gives us plenty of pieces of truth to hold onto.
But for those of us with anxiety and depression, it’s a lifelong fight. One worth fighting. But it’s exhausting. It’s tiring. It’s overwhelming. It’s not simply as easy as read your Bible, pray a prayer, go to church. Some days are awful.
I wish I could end this with a happy ending, but not everything is happy.
God gives us grace and love all day, every day. This truth is beautiful and hope-giving.
But joy isn’t as easy to find. Especially when you don’t feel it. And I know joy isn’t necessarily a feeling. But it’s hard to have that attitude, especially when you don’t feel it.
I think we can subconsciously encourage this in Christian culture when we overload on what not to do. We think so much about not doing something that we end up thinking about it and doing it anyways.
Instead, why don’t we focus more on what we could do? We’re losing our minds trying so hard not to sin that we can easily forget what we can do instead. If I’m trying so hard not to look at porn, it would be easy for me to just slip right into it. If instead I focus on what I can do, psychologically I’m more likely to do it. The difficulty is learning to focus on what I can do instead.
Just about every morning I wake up, there’s temptation to sin at my doorstep. Sin knocks, begging to be let in, telling me that things are better if it is in my life in a personal, real way. And there are some days I listen to it, there are some days it wins.
But this morning as I contemplated this, I realized that there is something 10 million times better for me than sin that’s also knocking, that’s also dying (literally) to be heard. It’s the love of God. And I would do a lot better to listen to it than to the temptation to sin.
God Is With Us. Seriously.
It’s totally cliché now for me to tell you that God is with you every moment of every day if you are a Christian. And it’s cliché for a good reason! There are tons of Scripture that talk about how God is with us. Some examples:
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9a)
Literally, God is with us. Through the Holy Spirit, He lives in our hearts, and He is constantly around us, watching over us. And it’s not just that.
Hebrews 13 says He’ll never leave us. John 14 says He makes a home with us. Isaiah 41, speaking to the children of God, says God will strengthen us and help us and uphold us. 2 Chronicles 16 says God is looking for the opportunity to giveus, Christians whose hearts are blameless through the blood of Christ, strong support.
Yet when I sin, I act as if God is not there. Not only am I rejecting that His way is better, I’m rejecting His offering of being there at all times to help me in times of sin.
The times I reject this most are when I’m tired and lazy or I’m depressed. In those moments, I’m looking for what’s going to satisfy me, usually whatever’s easiest. Sometimes it’s food. Sometimes it’s sinful fulfillment. Whatever it is, it’s usually not good.
What I forget most is what God offers me in those moments that practically far outweighs the allure of sin.
Love Is Here. Love is Now.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)
God is love, 1 John 4:16 says. When you look at God, you see love perfected, love as it should be, love in the proper place in one’s heart, love in the proper context, love acted out properly. And it was through Christ and His life and death and resurrection that we saw the best example of His love, that we could be forgiven of our sin and made in right relationship with Him.
Come to the waters
You who thirst and you’ll thirst no more
Come to the Father
You who work and you’ll work no more
And all you who labor in vain
And to the broken and shamed
Love is here
Love is now
Love is pouring from His hands, from His brow
Love is near, it satisfies
Streams of mercy flowing from His side
‘Cause Love is here
In moments when I’m tempted and I’m depressed, I need to turn to the love of God first! I need to bring to mind the Scriptures that tell me that God is here and God loves me. Remembering, dwelling on and praising Him for that love is what will truly satisfy me far more than any man-made remedy.
It struck me this morning that, because the love of God is always available, I don’t have to wait for it to be ready, I don’t have to go through any hoops to get to understand it and believe it. I simply have to do it! All I need to do is believe it and rest in it, meditate on it, dwell in it, trust it.
That is the key to defeating sin. It’s not purposely avoiding things, which can be helpful, but it’s not the answer. The answer is clinging to something better, purposefully pursuing something else: God’s love. Moment by moment, I need to turn to God’s love for me before I turn to anything else.
Whether that’s looking at a poster that reminds me of God’s love, bringing to mind Scripture that tells me of God’s love, or stopping and praying and thanking God for His love, it’s something I’ve got to grow in, something I’ve got to do.
If you’re familiar with the Star Wars film series, you just might remember this scene in Episode VI:
That thing in the ground with the tongue sticking out is a creature called the “sarlacc.” I could go into all the background of where it came from, how it got to that hole in the ground, but I want to talk about what it does to its victims. (Of course, this is all fictional, but it serves a point.)
Only the sarlacc’s gaping maw could be seen from the surface, with the vast majority of its huge body lying beneath the ground. It lay in wait for any living creature to stumble into its maw, and additionally, it pulled nearby victims in with one of its many tentacles. A sarlacc’s mouth was surrounded by rows of retractable razor-sharp teeth, used to chew victims during adolescence, before the digestive system was fully formed. Adult sarlaccs developed a beaked, snake-like tongue at the center of the fearsome pit, which doubled as a mouth.
After being swallowed by the tongue, the victim made its way into the sarlacc’s stomach to be digested, purportedly being kept alive and slowly digested for a millennium. A strong network of vessels inside the stomach punctured the victim’s skin and muscles and then embedded itself into victims before injecting neurotoxins into them, preventing the victims from escaping and ensuring that they remained immersed in the acidic fluids in the stomach, and attached to the walls of the stomach.
Pretty gruesome, to put it mildly. You get sucked in and then slowly digested for a thousand years until you’re completely broken down. You’re alive for as long as you can be until your body is dismantled or you pass away by other causes.
That’s what a downward spiral of depression can feel like.
I’ve been depressed the majority of this week. As an adult, the pressures of some things get to me in ways that I didn’t expect, I think because I haven’t dealt with them before. Money, jobs, relationships, the usual fare. But little things get to me too: people disagreeing with me, sometimes even looking at a woman at all, little sinful thoughts that I deal with right away.
It’s a downward spiral, as I said. Let me give an example of how it works.
I’m sitting in my office at work, and I’m watching a YouTube video of a movie trailer. The inevitable glimpse of a sex scene in a movie flashes on the screen, and I feel guilty right away for even seeing it. Then I wonder, “Shouldn’t I have stayed away from that video if I knew it was going to be in there?” So now I feel guilty for even watching the video. Step 1: a little depressed.
Around lunchtime, I go out to grab something to eat and pay money for it. I then think about my bank account and how it definitely has less money in it than it should. I haven’t been spending money wisely. I get anxious about how I’m going to pay for things. Step 2: a little more depressed.
A little later that day, I’m sitting in my office and I start thinking about how my job isn’t what I wanted it to be. I’m bored as crap and not doing anything productive. For a moment, I wish I had done something else. Like got a different job. Crazy, right? Step 3: a little more depressed.
A little later, I go to church. I have a conversation with a friend and we disagree about something. It’s not a fight, it’s not hostile, it’s perfectly normal. But I take it hard for some reason I can’t explain. I’m a little upset that that friend didn’t agree with me, and then I get upset that I got upset. I shouldn’t get upset at this! I shouldn’t be mad! Who am I to think that everyone would agree with everything I say? Step 4: even a little more depressed.
By this point I’m down and out. I’m deep in the sarlacc’s mouth, being chewed up consistently. And I feel like sh…poop. There’s decay. I’m being broken down.
What to do? What should I do? What the heck is next?
I’ve got to, I need to, I must run to Jesus. I must remember the promises in His Word. I must pray and seek His grace to help. It’s super hard to do this when you’re in the pit. That’s why I need people around me who can point me to spiritual truth, who can remind me of Scripture. That’s why I need reminders in my life of who Jesus is and what He says of me.
I’m not writing this post looking for you to feel sorry or bad for me. I want to simply help those who don’t deal with depression understand where those of us who do are coming from and the difficulties we struggle with.
Depression is often real sadness taken to the nth degree. This is my attempt to explain it and to raise awareness for it within the Christian context. There’s not enough of it.
John 9 is an interesting chapter of Scripture. It’s dedicated solely to the story of a man born blind whom Jesus decides to heal. Verses 1-7:
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
Let me key in on the bolded part because I think it’s quite revealing of God and His character and how He uses us.
One of the common evangelical statements is that God doesn’t need us, and it’s true. God has no need of man to accomplish His goals and display His power, but He chooses to show Himself through us, through changing our lives, through altering our futures, through working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28) whether we realize it or not.
You might say the man’s blindness was an “instability” to his life. It was something that made his life a little harder to deal with. I’m not blind, but picture for a minute that you are blind. Look around. All of the things that you see now, you wouldn’t be able to see. For example, I’m sitting in my office at work now and I can see my Bible, my phone, a photo on my desk, my water bottle, my laptop and a few other things. If I was blind, I couldn’t see any of those things. It would make life a little unstable.
Getting back to the blind man for a second…his blindness didn’t make him useless in Jesus’ eyes. He wasn’t disqualified from being part of God’s plan. He had been a beggar before (v. 8), he hadn’t been part of the community like everyone else. However, to Jesus, the blind man was a tool that God used to display His power. Jesus healed him, thereby showing the “works of God.”
It’s taken me a while, but I’m learning to see the instabilities in my life as an avenue for God to show His power in my life.
On this blog I frequently write about my anxiety and depression in my life, and I hope in the future to go into more detail about those things and how God has worked in my life. A couple weeks ago, I preached a sermon at my church on 2 Chronicles 14-16 and used it to talk about how our relationship with God can’t be based on feelings. Here’s an excerpt from the written part (I’m sure I said it somewhat differently):
I struggle daily with anxiety. Not just your normal stress about everyday things, but what’s been called a mental illness. An anxiety disorder akin to OCD. I’m also prone to depression. So prone, in fact, that I take medicine for it. Anxiety and depression affect the way I feel, the way I react to situations, the way I read things. I could go deeper into it, but I don’t have time here. Would love to talk to you about it on a separate occasion.
For a long time, my faith and my relationship with Jesus was based on how I felt. When you deal with anxiety and depression, you’re more prone to feel bad or worried about things. It’s a first instinct. I would live on those ups and downs of the emotionally spiritual life. I would wait for that next spiritual high. When I got to the latter years of high school, it became a daily thing where I would check how I felt about my relationship with God and that would be the barometer.
My foundation was my feelings. My foundation was not the beautiful Gospel truth in 2 Chronicles 16:9, that God is supporting me no matter how sinful I am, no matter how much I disregard Him, no matter how crappy I feel, simply because He calls me His and He loves me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned more and more that Christianity is much more about thinking properly, and the basis for that proper thinking is returning to truth about God and what He’s already done in your life.
God didn’t let my instability go to waste. He used it to teach me the “beautiful Gospel truth in 2 Chronicles 16:9,” that “the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” Just like God used the man born blind to display Jesus’ power, God has used my anxiety and depression to display the greatness of His truth and His consistent support of me.
Nothing is wasted. God doesn’t waste your instabilities, things that might even drag you away from God at times. He may simply just be using them to remind you who He is, that He loves you and cares for you and is desperate to help you. He doesn’t need you, but He wants you. He is powerful and mighty, and, child of God, He’s on your side.
Don’t let your instabilities scare you. Simply let them lead you to trust in a God so bold, so powerful, so brash, that He’d hang out with and heal those born blind.
Unfortunately, Christianity is often known for the things we are against rather than the things we are for. Whether it be alcohol or gay marriage or profanity or secular music, we picket and protest and write Facebook statuses and start Twitter wars and YouTube comment battles over every little thing that just might offend us. If the topic comes up, we make our strong stance and then we drive it home.
It’s stupid. Let’s just be honest here. It’s stupid. We spend so much time emphasizing things that, in the long run, don’t really matter all that much to us while ignoring things with which our own community are struggling and need desperate help. I think Jefferson Bethke puts it well in his book Jesus > Religion:
The biggest difference between religious people and gospel-loving people is that religious people see certain people as the enemies, when Jesus-followers see sin as the enemy.
Last time I checked, I was my own worst enemy. No one has caused me more grief, pain or heartache than I have. The Bible rarely tells me to fight against someone who doesn’t believe what I believe, but it frequently tells me to fight against my sin and the disease in me that’s drawing me away from Jesus. (p. 63)
I love that statement because it accurately captures one of the biggest problems with Christianity today. We miss the big things because we’re so focused on the little things! It’s the very picture of Jesus’ perceptive words in Matthew 7:3-5.
3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Today I want to bring up two things that we don’t talk about as much in church but should, or when we do talk about it we don’t talk about it the right way.
When the topic of sexual sin comes up, we usually spend a lot of time condemning homosexuality. But I think the more prevalent topic here is sexual addictions.
Honestly, I don’t think homosexuality is as big a deal as the Christian culture makes it out to be. And why don’t we treat every sin like we treat homosexuality? We’d at least be consistent if we condemned malicious lying as much as we condemned homosexuals and homosexuality.
Sexual addiction is actually a bigger deal, much more than homosexuality, whether it’s same-sex or opposite-sex lust. It’s something that separates man from God and taints our view of sex in a nearly irreparable way most of the time.
The issue comes here: we take an “above-it-all” approach when it comes to handling these issues. We act like we’re better and we don’t deal with that, so we condemn freely and strongly. We throw Bible verses at them like arrows at a target, hoping and praying something hits the bullseye and changes everything.
Even worse, when it comes to homosexuality, we throw marches and go to meetings and write blog post upon blog post on why it’s harmful when there’s already been at least four million blog posts on the topic. We just won’t let it go!
However, when it comes to sexual addiction, particularly in the church, we butcher it by either not touching it at all or going about it all the wrong way. In his book Ashamed No More, pastor T.C. Ryan writes this:
A clergy friend shared with me an example of what not to do. His denominational office sent an official message to every ordained person regarding Internet pornography use by clergy members. The message reminded the pastors that any sexual deviance—including use of Internet porn—was a violation of their ordination vows. They were offered a short-term window of opportunity to come forward and admit their problem. The implication was that they wouldn’t be defrocked, but it was unclear if they’d be removed from their position. There was no mention of any help. Everyone using Internet porn and not coming forward during this opportunity was warned that they would eventually be found out and the discipline would be severe.
What a terrible abuse! How is this even helpful? No wonder people don’t want to talk about it. Instead of reaching out and helping the people who deal with these issues, we either get really harsh or really silent. And because of that, very few come forward willingly because they’re afraid of the response they’ll get.
As readers of my blog will know, this topic is very personal to me because I deal with these things on a regular basis. I wrote a pretty long piece about it last week. By the way, I was blessed by the response I got from friends and family who shared messages of encouragement and love. Thank you all.
One thing I heard several times was that the post was refreshing because it seems like nobody talks about this. Well, that’s one of the reasons I wrote the post. When you deal with something like mental illness – depression, anxiety or anything like it – you feel alone, like you’re the only one suffering. I think back to my church experience and I can’t remember anyone in my local church context really tackling this. I read an excellent book by Perry Noble called Overwhelmed in which he actually talked in-depth about it from his personal experience, but for the most part it’s touched with kid gloves if it’s touched at all.
This is the absolute last way it needs to be handled. I’m not saying we need to overwhelm people who are already overwhelmed. We just need to be open to the conversation actually happening and be willing to not know all the answers.
I was talking with a friend recently who deals with similar things I shared in the post and they talked about how they shared it within a small group context. The people loved my friend through it and listened, but they didn’t really understand. They loved my friend in the group and shared words of encouragement with my friend, and sent e-mails later with Bible verses and more encouragement.
Hearing that, I loved the heart and the initiative of the people in my friend’s group. But they missed the point. And I don’t blame them for missing the point. The church’s normal tactic with mental issues is the “Bible verse bullseye” method I described earlier: throw Bible verses, hoping and praying that one will finally fix the issue. It’s often well-intentioned, but that’s not what those people need. Friends and family of those struggling with mental or emotional issues, please don’t use Bible verse bullseye!
So what do we do? How do we move forward?
I think the first thing we need to do is to be aware that we don’t handle these things well.
Then we need to talk about them. Honestly, openly, without judgement, without condemnation, without fear, without bias. As Jesus would.
One of the most devastating things that can happen to me is going to bed.
Don’t get me wrong: I love sleep. I love getting rested for the next day, whatever that day may bring. I love waking up refreshed. But if I go to my room, shut the door, turn off the lights and it get silent, I’m done for.
Why is that? Well, my mind starts to go nuts. I start calculating, thinking, analyzing whatever big thing it is that’s on my plate at the moment. It could be something to do with work, relationships, fighting sin, following Jesus. And this happens just about every night. I’ve gotten a lot better over the last year at controlling it and handling it, but there are still some nights where it’s a knock-down, drag-out fight with my own brain just to get to sleep.
I have anxiety, but more than the normal person. Or so I’m told. I look at other people and how they live their lives and how they seem to be so carefree and I’m thinking, “How the heck do you do that?” I’ve also dealt with bouts of severe depression, so much so that I’ve started taking anti-depressant medication.
But before I get any further, let me start at the beginning.
My Shy, Nervous Childhood
I don’t blame my parents for any of this. Just want to make sure that’s made clear.
Growing up, I was pretty shy. I’m not the kid who’s going to walk up to you in the park and say hello or tell you that your shoes are awesome. Now I think it’s adorable when kids do that, but I never thought that was a good idea when I was younger. I remember my parents taking me to events and introducing me to people, and I would shake hands as firm as I could, but I would mutter a “hello” or “nice to meet you” under my breath.
I think this is just a part of how I was made, part of my personality I can’t change. I still have moments like that today when I meet new people. Ask any of my friends who have introduced me to their friends; they’ll probably tell you that, except on the rarest of occasions, I don’t warm up to the idea of meeting or hanging out with new people.
When I was entering the fifth grade, I moved to a new school, The O’Neal School in Southern Pines, N.C. It’s a fantastic school where I basically prepared for college from the time I got there until the time I graduated. Nothing about college academically threw me off. But socially, O’Neal was a nightmare, particularly in middle school. My naturally shy personality led to me trying to do everything I possibly could to get people to think I was cool, girls to have a crush on me and not to get ignored. I got in two fights in fifth grade trying to “defend my honor.” I was really just being shy and insecure, trying to show off and get people thinking I was cool.
Case in point: I remember playing basketball at recess one day that year. A couple sixth graders were standing just off the court and were talking about me. “You see that kid?” one said, pointing at me. “He gets angry and wants to start fighting people.” (Side note: I don’t remember if those were the exact words, but something like those.) I heard him say that and started looking for an opportunity to get ticked at somebody. I found it, and shoved someone. Nothing really came of it, but it’s an exemplary story of where I was in fifth grade. I wanted people to know who I was, talk about me, etc.
As I progressed through middle school, my need to fight diminished but my need for attention and affirmation rose. I don’t think I was any different from any other sixth or seventh grader. I wanted girls (particularly the cute ones) to like me, guys to think I was cool and to get good grades. That last one is just one example of where my Christian upbringing had an interesting impact. I wanted to fit in and I wanted to be cool, but I didn’t want to do it at the expense of being a “good guy.” I’ve written before about my goody-two-shoesedness. I had to be the “best kid” in the whole school.
When it came to girls, it was especially complicated. I wanted to look at girls the “right way,” not going around comparing which one was the “hottest.” I also didn’t want to scare them away, which happened in the eighth grade. Long story short, I freaked one girl out, in her words. Not exactly my brightest shining moment.
So I left middle school and transitioned to high school trying to get people to like me, all the while not trying to freak out girls and be a “good Christian kid.” As if algebra and chemistry didn’t give me enough to worry about already.
My Lonely, Depressed High School Years
I went to high school and found myself resorting to a lot of the same patterns. I had legitimately become a believer during the summer before my ninth grade year, but little seemed to change. I still wanted people to like me, particularly girls, and I wanted to do the right thing. Those things often collided.
There were a couple weeks during my freshman year of high school when I cussed about every chance I could. Never at home, and almost never at church (I did under my breath once), but at school, I let it fly. One time in particular, I got ticked at someone on the basketball court (I’m seeing a pattern here), and let loose a string of expletives so prolific that led someone to tell me that I cussed pretty good. That gave me a sense of satisfaction, that someone saw something I did and recognized it as good.
Let me go ahead and throw something else in here: my parents and my home life were great. I have nothing to complain about there. The issues all came at school. The thing about being at school when you’re that age is that’s where you spend the majority of your time. From 8 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday, you’re surrounded by the same people, doing the same thing, in the same building(s), for four years. That’s at least 35 hours a week, minus the summers, for four whole years. Add in extra-curricular activities, and it’s more. You feel a need to prove yourself.
Things got a little better during my sophomore year. I got into filmmaking and made a short film that won me an award at my school’s small film festival (trailer here). There was some recognition from people and some friendships that were really blossoming. I had my first girlfriend the summer afterwards. Things seemed to be looking up.
Then: depression. For some reason, my junior year was the hardest year of my life up to that point. I had girlfriends during that time, things seemed to be, on the outside, going quite well. People liked me, I was getting along with girls. But something just turned in me. Looking back, I can’t seem to explain why. But at school, things were awful. I felt that no one at school liked me or cared about me. I didn’t think I had any friends. The people that I loved hanging out with the year before didn’t seem to be “caring enough” for me anymore. Again, I can’t explain it.
I would spend all my free periods and sometimes lunch periods sitting away from everyone else. When I started driving to school in the November of that year, I would take those periods in my car, watching episodes of The Office and just generally trying to stay away from people. I didn’t think people liked me, so I figured it would just be easier for me and them for me to stay away.
Let me remind you: I had no real logical basis for this. I had no empirical evidence that people hated me or didn’t want to hang out with me. I’m sure there were people who wouldn’t choose to hang out with me, but you get that everywhere. Anyways, I imagined all or most of it. My anxious desire for people to like me led me to take the slightest probability that someone didn’t want to talk to me and run with it, believing that that person didn’t care if I was alive or not.
During this time, there were occasional moments when I wrestled with thoughts of suicide. I never got serious about it, planned anything. There were just brief moments when I would consider it, consider what it would be like, then shake myself and realize that was not a good idea.
Life continued like that throughout my junior year. As senior year rolled in, things continued. The relationship I was in was not healthy, and that just complicated matters as I spent hours a day trying to figure out what to do. Deciding to go to Elon University didn’t take a lot out of me as most students’ college decisions do; I applied early decision and found out October 31st I was in.
I ended the relationship I was in during the January of my senior year and things started to look up. My depression began to fade as I made new friends, enjoyed life, had some fun. I made a short film that’s probably one of the most depressing short films about high school relationships ever if you understand it properly. But I had fun doing it. I went to my senior prom with a girl I had a crush on, but I think she was just being nice. But I didn’t take it too seriously. It was great!
I went into college with a little bit of anticipation, but mainly just looking forward to what was ahead, learning how to be a filmmaker, learning how to make movies that glorified God.
College Years of Anxious Depression
I went into college and things started off with a bang. The first night on my hall, a group of about 10 of us worked on putting together one of our new friend’s set of drawers, just hanging out, getting to know each other, having a laugh. I was ready to deal with some of the awkwardness of being around non-Christians a lot – I was one of a few Christians in my entire high school, my brother being one of the other ones – but didn’t exactly handle it well, coming across as quite self-righteous.
Once again, though, I fell into the trap of wanting to impress people and make them like me. But it was a different kind of trap. My anxiety revolved around wanting Christians to like me. I had grown in my faith to the point where it was involved in just about everything I did, and I realized that worrying about how non-Christians perceived me because of it was not helpful. But Christians was another story.
During my freshman year of college, the ministry I got involved with was super-loving, super-welcoming and I really enjoyed their company and their ministry. But the next year, I started hanging out with another ministry and, for whatever reason, all the old anxieties and depression came back up. I don’t blame the ministry for it. But being around new people and trying to make new friends brought up all the old feelings from fifth grade – the insecurity and the shyness I naturally carried just reared its ugly head again.
During my sophomore year, I was the RA on my hall, which started off wonderfully, but ended in a mess when a couple bad conversations and questionable decisions by me and others led to factions and divisions in a formerly tight-knit community. I felt solely responsible for the whole thing, and that took its toll.
Another thing I began to realize around this time is how sinful I was. And somehow I missed out on grace and the Gospel and how that applied to me every day. I knew the Gospel, believed the Gospel, but ignored the everyday affects of the Gospel in the life of a Christian. I struggled with sin daily and took it so hard. I became the opposite of the self-righteous person I was in middle and high school. I went from thinking “Oh look at me, I’m such an awesome Christian” to “Oh, don’t look at me, I’m the worst Christian in the world.” So now not only was I anxious about how people viewed me and grades in college, I also had to worry about my sin. “Had” is the operative word there; I didn’t absolutely “have” to worry about it, but it seemed like I did.
And, to be real with you all, I dealt with that until I graduated. Through overseas mission trips, multiple small groups, leading a weekly prayer meeting, living with other believers, I was anxious.
Really Examining the Depression
I haven’t really gotten much into the depression part of things, but it was mainly my anxiety that fed my depression. I would get anxious and overthink something, and then I would get sad about it.
Depression is awful. I can’t exactly put into words exactly what it is but here’s a shot: a condition where you fall very easily into a crippling sadness. The key word there is “crippling.” The Mayo Clinic staff define depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest…it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety or emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living.”
I’d say that’s pretty accurate for me. Sometimes the littlest things could set me off into a stretch of depression. It could be a stray word in conversation or a certain look someone gave me, or a life-altering event that threw my previous plans in a tizzy or a serious losing bout with sin and temptation. And it’s not something you can simply “snap out of,” or just quit.
It’s so easy, when you see someone who is at that very moment depressed, to just say, “try smiling” or “just push forward” or “let go and let God.”But it’s not that simple. It’s not that easy. If it were that easy, almost no one would still be dealing with depression. Most people don’t want to feel sad. But for some, it just comes. And it’s not something we can control.
One of the things that made me feel even more depressed was the thought that Christians shouldn’t struggle with depression. We’re supposed to be joyful and happy all the time, right? Was I really that rebellious that I felt sad at random times for seemingly no reason? Was I that bad a Christian? This led me to doubt my faith, doubt that I was really saved, doubt that I actually had a relationship with Jesus. There were a few times I begged God to save me again if necessary.
And for the most part, I held it inside. There were a couple times I did say something about the anxiety and depression, but I felt, for the most part, people didn’t know how to handle it. Christians didn’t know how to handle it. I remember one time being super honest and transparent about all the things I was dealing with, but the person just told me to change myself, do something different. I wanted to yell “It’s not that simple!,” but I didn’t have the guts to.
As I left college and moved back in with my parents, I began to confront this anxiety and depression head-on. I was tired of it affecting my work, my relationships with others and my relationship with God. There’s been some growing and some maturity, but I still struggle with it from time-to-time. As I said before, I’m taking anti-depressant medication to help with it, but there have been two things I’ve realized that have greatly helped me.
Grace and Sovereignty
The thing that I realized that has helped me with my depression is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s grace.
One of the most common forms my depression has taken is condemnation for past and present sins, sometimes future sins. I’ll look at myself and realize how much I suck, and then I get down. Sometimes I’ll think about how my present sins are going to affect my future and get depressed. There is no remedy for that greater than grace. Romans 8:1, which I’ve quoted at least 15 times on this blog as a whole, says there’s absolutely no condemnation for those in Christ. 1 John 4:10 says that love is defined by how God loves me, not by how I love Him.
That was so freeing to me! By the time I walked across the stage at Elon to receive my diploma, the majority of my depression came from my lack of obedience. I would sin in some way, and then I’d feel like crap. When I finally realized the depth of this, the width of the love which God has for me, it began to free me up to actually love myself and allow God’s love to guide me and fill me. I began to hold my sin against myself less and less. I began to believe the good things people said about me and actually be encouraged by others.
The thing that I realized that has helped me with my anxiety is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s sovereignty.
The majority of my anxiety has come from my fear of the unknown: what do they think about me, what will I do next, how do I handle this situation. I’ll feel helpless and unable to do anything right. Couple that with my fear of making the “wrong decision,” and it’s a deadly cocktail. There’s no remedy for that greater than God’s sovereignty. Romans 8:28, which I’ve quoted at least 7 times on this blog as a whole, says God works all things together for good those who love God and are called according to His purpose, so Christians.
This was so freeing to me! I can trust God with my unknowns and the decisions I make knowing that, whatever happens, EVERYTHING will work together for my good and God’s glory. And praise Him that it’s not my definition of my good, because that would turn out to be an absolutely dreadful definition. God’s timing is perfect, the cliché goes. It’s a cliché because it’s true. When I finally realized the meaning of this, it gave me so much more peace about decisions I’ll make, events happening around me. I began to be less and less anxious by default about things in my life, little decisions, big decisions, relationships, etc.
So the question is: am I healed from those things? No.
What? But you just said…
I know. I’m almost 100 percent convinced that these things will be things I carry to the grave with me. Thorns in the flesh, if you will. Rarely does an hour go by when I don’t spend at least two or three minutes collectively over-worrying about something I don’t need to worry about at all. It’s almost a constant thing for me, a constant analysis. I’m like those guys who comment on the NFL Draft Combine, but there’s a combine in my head almost all the time. I’ve gotten better at turning the volume down at times, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally off.
Why Do I Share This
As I’ve probably written before, “why” is my favorite question in all of language. You can learn so much about someone from getting them to answer the question why.
I share these things with you for a few reasons.
For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are Christians: You’re not alone. We’re out here. And don’t feel guilty for struggling with these things. If you look at Scripture, you’ll find people who had anxiety and depression. Read Jeremiah. Read Job. Charles Spurgeon struggled heavily with depression during seasons of his ministry. Dealing with these things does not disqualify you from being loved by God or being used by God. If you ever want to talk about it, please reach out to me. I’d love to speak with you.
For those who don’t struggle: Please take the time to read articles like mine or this one or this one. Mental illness is often not handled well by the body of Christ, and most people who write about it come at it from a scientific or outsider’s point of view. The science part of it can be very helpful, true, but there’s nothing like getting down in the trenches. Speak with those who do struggle. Love them enough to let them share this struggle with you. This is a very personal issue that is hard for most people to share about. I don’t relish speaking about this for the most part. Please don’t judge. Be patient. Be understanding.
For those who are in ministry: I beg of you, come alongside those who deal with this and don’t just rush to saying, “You have to think this way or have this attitude,” and expect it to be fixed. The conclusions I came to about grace and sovereignty weren’t fix-alls. When I’m reminded of them, there’s relief and peace, but it doesn’t stay. It’s a thing I have to be constantly reminded of, either by myself or others. We don’t need ministers who treat depression and anxiety with kid gloves or a casting-off glance. It’s a fearful thing for some of us to be honest about it.
For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are not Christians: I can’t tell you that following Jesus cures me. But I can tell you that following Jesus gives me reason to push forward and continue to live my life with a joy I can’t explain. Give Him a shot.
If anyone has questions or wants more thoughts from someone who’s been there, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at me at @zacharyhorner.
I hope as you’ve read this that, if you’re a regular reader of my blog (which there might just be 5 or 6 of you), you’re getting a better understanding of where I’m coming from in most of what I write.