Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On Depression, Part 1: The Eye of the Storm

This post is part 1 in a series on depression. 

Since last winter, I have debated whether or not to write a post this deeply personal. On one hand, I can offer insight and encouragement to the many many people who suffer from depression, yet on the other hand I am baring my soul for all to see.

In the end, transparency wins out.

Who am I to withhold encouragement and support from those around me? At the end of the day, we are all humans - fighting the same fight, living life, dealing with trouble, navigating relationships, discerning the many voices yelling at us from within and without.

I want for people to realize that depression is a very real concern that has a very tangible spiritual connection.

Depression is often misunderstood, commonly defined incorrectly, and certainly avoided at all costs. For a person suffering from depression logic and rationale are often separate from the situation. There doesn't have to be a "trigger" or "root cause." In both circumstantial and biological depression symptoms can suddenly appear without warning, and in great severity. The feeling is almost as if your soul is being suffocated, your emotions compromised, and truth hazy because of the oppression being felt.

Depression attacks the person, regardless of who they are. It is an insidious evil that is one of the sad byproducts of a fallen world.

For a Christian growing up in the Bible belt, the mentality behind depression has generally been one of black and white naivety.
"If you are depressed, you can overcome it."
"If you address sin in your life, you will be healed."
"If you seek Jesus more, the supernatural joy of the Lord will overtake the depression."
This general mindset of medicinal legalism seeks to provide answers, yet all it does is give birth to more frustration.

For years I have struggled with varying levels of depression. Some bouts were definitely linked to health problems such as lack of sleep and a high level of stress; yet more recently my life circumstances have taken a beating, and along with them, my spirit. Depression is a very present reality for me now, constantly a struggle as I deal with ailing health and the frustrations connected. I eat healthily now, exercise, try to maintain my personal spiritual life, and yet I find myself time and time again scraping the bottom... barely able to function. It's not anyone else's fault, nor is it my own. It is one of the many symptoms of living in a fallen world.

It is so easy to ask myself what I am doing wrong, as if my depression were a punishment from the gods. Yet, I have come to realize several truths about depression.

1. I am not alone in my struggle with depression. One of the core problems with depression is the deep sense of isolation and loneliness one gets. This leads to terrible bouts and overwhelming feelings of abandonment when left in isolation. The feeling at times can be that "I am the only one who is suffering from this", yet this is far from the truth. There are MANY people around us who are struggling too. We are NOT alone in our struggle, nor are we abandoned. I have been blessed by an amazing best friend who understands the pain of depression, and a church body that makes it a point to check up on me and keep me from having to be alone when the depression is intense. Friendship is one of the most effective things against depression, and I believe it functions as a physical manifestation of Galatians 6:2 - "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." Just having a brother or sister walk through the shadows with you can bring so much comfort.

"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light." - Helen Keller

2. My depression does not reflect on my identity as a person. While it is so easy to fall into the lie that I am a worthless scumbag, depression can afflict those whom God uses mightily. In fact, He uses those whom hurt the most to accomplish some of the most significant works... 1 Corinthians 1 tells us that "God chose the humble things to shame the wise." Just because I struggle does not mean that I am worthless, or incapable of making an impact. My worth is established by the fact that God gave his only Son for me... no matter what struggles or difficulties I may face. In fact, I have recently pondered the idea that perhaps I am able to make MORE of an impact because of my difficulty. The common struggles in life create bonds with those who encounter the same issues, and are often God-given opportunities so that He may pour His love and grace into someone else's life through me. This leads me to point three...

3. God can still use my depression to bring about good. This truth is perhaps one of the hardest to understand. Throughout my personal experience I have found most of my frustration to lie in the fact that I was being hindered from ministering to others. My goal was to simply push through the depression so that I could get to the other side and get back to work. God has impressed on my heart, however, the fact that by embracing the struggle in this particular season of life, He can work through it to reach others in similar valleys. Sure enough, in the past year people have come to me from different corners of my life, reaching out for support and understanding. There is something about the common bond of hardship that brings people together in a supernatural way. Sometimes we just need to see how God is working despite our circumstances - especially when the circumstances are trials.

Romans 8:28 says that "All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose." 
Through a Tim Keller sermon I heard recently, I realized that when Romans says "all things", that this includes depression.

Depression can be used by God for my good? What kind of ridiculous news is this?

At the end of the day, God in all of his foreknowledge has allowed our difficulties because they mold us and shape us into the kind of person that can make an impact on our world.
By our difficulties, God is working in those around us.
By our trials, God is making us more like Jesus.
By my depression, I am growing closer to God.

This IS encouraging.
I hope that you can be encouraged by this truth too.

Part 2 coming soon.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

[now what]

(originally written as a journal entry 8/16/14)

I have spent a good amount of time thinking, writing, and meditating on the ideas of Christian community, bearing burdens, perseverance, and the constants in our lives. I have memorized James chapter 1 with my best friend and participated in numerous discussions about its implications in daily life.

I still come to the end of all this and ask myself "now what?"

To be honest, its a bit frustrating.

I spent a good amount of time last night dwelling on this, trying to figure out exactly what the point was. Why do I write? Why do I spend time with people? Why do I read the Bible? Why do I even meditate on these things?

After a good amount of 'fretting and stewing' I realized that the answer lied in one of the verses that I had memorized in James.... "If anyone is a hearer of the Word, but not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror. For once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does" (vs. 23-25).

This is perhaps the problem that plagues much of Christendom today. We place so much emphasis on the mindless action, and none on the heart of the matter. Scripture is memorized by rote, church attendance becomes mundane, Christian fellowship is reduced to trite phrases, burdens are shoved underneath facades of robust faith.
Yet we miss the heart of the issue....

What does it matter if I memorize James if I fail to let it take hold in my life and I actually seek to apply it? How can I be transformed by the renewing of my mind if I don't allow my mind to be renewed?

I feel that many Christians are good at looking intently at the perfect law, and even understanding the importance of it, yet they fail in the phrase "abiding by it."

Abiding by it.

We abide in an abode. We make our dwelling there. We live there.
The implication is that our lives return to this place by default. The perfect law of liberty - the Word - becomes living and active.

I find that this is more for the benefit of others than it is our own selves. While it certainly puffs ourselves up to memorize scripture and be "good Christians", when we apply the Word we hear then suddenly all of those around us are affected. The paradigm shifts and the Gospel is realized in our lives.

We glorify Jesus in this, we edify those around, we grow ourselves to be more like Jesus, and the Gospel is actually VISIBLE. This is what it truly means to be an "effectual doer."

Can you imagine what would happen if we started asking "now what?" once we read scripture? What then do we do? How do we apply?

Application is where faith becomes real.
Until we obey our faith is merely theory.

What does it look like to be an effectual doer - to abide by the Word?
What blessings are we missing out on because we fail to take God's Word as truth?

May we not forget that "this man will be blessed in what he does."

Now what?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Constant

While our town becomes a city 
We won't let it be erased.
Empires rise, empires fall
Will you be my constant through it all?
- Jason Mraz, Quiet

In a constantly shifting world we fear change.
It uproots us from what we know, forces us to face the future, and removes our sense of grounding.
In cases of life disasters many people are emotionally devastated simply because they have lost their footing in life, having nothing to grasp amidst the chaos.

As humans, we must have a constant, an unchanging element to which we can grab hold, else we will not be able to withstand the certain battering and loss of footing experienced throughout life.

What are these constants though? 

In a scientific sense the constant can simply be a symbol, yet in the shared experience of life surely there are defined constants....

Most of us grab onto "little c" constants such as family, friends, our church. I'm sure we have all sought the company of a close friend after a rough day, or have called a parent or family member to vent.... These people, these constants, offer us some sort of safety - we know that we can count on them even when life is giving us lemons. 

What do you do though when your constant leaves you? Few things are as jarring as being abandoned by a person you thought you could rely on, or being cut off from those you love. We were not meant to live life alone, so when we find ourselves on shaky ground, a companion offers a sense of stability... Even if only temporarily.

The show LOST captured the desperation and beauty in the concept of "the constant" through the character Desmond. For him, his very life depended on having contact with the woman he loved, Penny. I've always been struck by the divine nature of their relationship, the way that she literally saved his life. To a degree this is analogous to the depth and importance of the constants we experience in our own lives.

I could write for hours about the "little c" constants , yet I find myself more and more dwelling on the "big C" Constant in our lives. This Constant is the difference between life and death, between hope and despair, between relationship and isolation. While constants in our lives are great and truly important, they are finite - unable in themselves to be a solid grounding. The "little c" constants get their purpose and power from the "big C" Constant only. 

So what is this Constant?

I refer to the person of Jesus.
Jesus Himself.

Not a picture of him created by the American church for the sole purpose of perpetuating guilt... But the God-man Himself. 

I have been struck by the image of power ascribed to Christ as written in Colossians 1:15-17. "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."

In Him all things hold together.

This statement carries with it confidence and power. There is a certainty in the person of Jesus that guarantees us that no matter what kind of circumstance is encountered, Christ himself has absolute control over them. With variables shifting wildly, the Constant remains untouched, unchanged, unmoved.

These attributes of the God-man are what give us our assurance of salvation.
We are secure because of who Jesus is. We are secure because of the unchanging nature of His LOVE.

Love is the spiritual bond more powerful than anything else on earth. A God-originated love cannot be destroyed and provides us with a heavenly identity and purpose. Romans 8 ends with the reminder that "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (vs. 38-39).

Christ is our Constant because He is LOVE.

As a natural response, our "little c" constants are such because there is a reflection of this divine love within them. These constants are built on relationships, and the strongest ones are those which are most selfless and most Christlike.

The more you are surrounded with Christ's love, and little images of that love through the constants in our lives, the more we are able to endure despite the tumult. Surprise, surprise! Of course this would tie back into the idea of bearing one another's burdens.

Let's face it, we all need constants in our lives - but not because they in themselves are powerful. Rather, these constants reflect the image of the Constant and unchanging One. These constants provide us with stability through their love, because it is of a divine origin. The love experienced through our constants is unbreakable, unshakable, if it from God. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hold Your Ground

“Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and scattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you STAND, Men of the West!”
- Aragorn, The Return of the King
“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” – Hebrews  10:39

There is something daunting about a fight. Something within us shudders when things go wrong in our lives. Our very souls testify to the fact that we were not created to be at war, yet fight a war we must. Ever since the fall in Eden, man has had to fight. We fight to survive. We fight to maintain honor. We fight to keep the enemy at bay.
We must “Hold our ground.”

Perhaps the most frustrating fights we will face though, is the war with our own selves. There is no enemy capable of breaking us down as quickly and powerfully as our own mind. Our minds are a battlefield, our thoughts the mines – ready to detonate at the slightest jostling. Perhaps this is why Paul refers to “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” in 2 Corinthians 10:5. We can never trust our own thoughts blindly.

War is ugly.

I think that in the Christian life we often forget this. There is a battle going on WITHIN us as the enemy seeks to CONTROL us. Ephesians 6:12 points out that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Yes, there is evil in the world. Yes, we will have conflict with others. But the most dangerous enemy is the one that we allow into our homes.

I have come to the realization that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to fighting depression. Yet, at the same time, I have hope. I have the Holy Spirit. This is how I can have the confidence that 1 John 4:4 conveys –“Little children, you are from GOD and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

The truth is that while the enemy is close, our ally is a little bit closer! This is why Paul told the church at Ephesus to “Be STRONG in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”

There is an element of standing firm, of fighting, that we seldom address in modern Christianity’s search for unity and “love”. If we are to expect chains to be broken, strongholds to be purged from our lives, then there has to be a moment where we take hold of the truth of Scripture and fight back! Scripture is clear – if we resist the devil then he will flee! If we continue in our faith, God will be faithful! Whatever the fight, HE has overcome and gives us the ability to be victorious by the blood of Christ.


I want to be the kind of person that Hebrews 10:39 describes. “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” So often the temptation will be to shrink back when the going gets tough. I myself find that when the enemy brings up my insecurities, the initial response is to want to retreat into my shell. When conflict appears on the horizon, the core of my being that hates pain pushes me away.  Yet there has never been a battle won because someone decided to retreat. If anything, battles are lost this way. Hebrews confirms the spiritual parallel – those who shrink back will be destroyed.

God increase my faith! This is the only prayer I can think to pray. No I do not like conflict, no I do not like pain; yet if I rise up in the power of God, I will be victorious.

Mid 20th century Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel describes this as taking a leap of action rather than a leap of thought. “He is asked to surpass his needs, to do more than he understands in order to understand more than he does.” Heschel believed that through the ecstasy of deeds (or holding our ground) we learn to be certain of what he called “the here-ness of God.” Simply put, our faith is only going to grow when we put weight on it.

At times there must be a fight before we can experience victory. At times there must be pain before we can experience love. 2 Peter 4:12 reminds us to “not be surprised at the fiery trial, when it comes upon you to test you.” It is to be EXPECTED in this life.

BUT, God in his foreknowledge and wisdom has allowed it – because He knows that it will work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

Yes my mind is a battlefield, but thank God that He gives me the ability to overcome. Thank God that He fights my battles by the power of the Holy Spirit.