Between a Rock and a Hard Place: When Faith Crises and Mental Health Disorders Collide

Maybe you remember the story of Aron Ralston.

In 2003, Ralston was exploring Bluejohn Canyon in eastern Utah. While making his way down a narrow gap, a boulder dislodged and crushed his right arm against a rock wall. His arm was literally between a rock and a hard place.

One hundred and 27 hours later, he cut his arm off to escape.

The Oscar-nominated film 127 Hours, starring James Franco in an Oscar-nominated role, illuminates the difficulty of Ralston’s predicament. With little food and water, he stretched out his rations to survive as long as possible. The scene where he cuts off his arm is pretty gruesome, but it’s illuminating how far people will go to stay alive and find freedom.

Ralston’s book about his ordeal — which I have on my bookshelf but haven’t read — is called “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” playing off the well-known phrase about being stuck between two unlikable options. I know what that’s like, in a way.

Twice in my life, I’ve dealt with mental health disorders while having a crisis of faith, and while I’ve since learned some key truths to speak to me in those times, it’s an area the church at large doesn’t really touch but needs to confront. 

My Year of Doubt

At the beginning of the year 2014, I was in a strange spot.

I was months away from graduating from college, and a job was being lined up for me. I was going to work with a college Christian ministry, hanging out with college students part-time telling them about Jesus and spending the rest of the time managing the ministry’s social media accounts for the whole region. It seemed like a pretty sweet gig. 

But one day, something struck me. I remember the moment it happened. I was on the phone in the sunroom of the house I was living in with three other guys, talking to someone about a different ministry opportunity, when I stopped believing in God.

It wasn’t that simple of course, but it felt like that. Over the ensuing weeks, I felt like I had to work hard to pray. Reading the Bible was not as fruitful as it had been the previous months. Each time I led prayer at our Sunday night prayer meetings on campus felt like a stretch. I was faking it. The emotion of faith was gone, and it seemed like my belief in God was gone too.

In the ensuing months, however, things got more complicated. I lost that potential job with the college ministry, I applied to several other jobs with no luck and, contrary to my desire, I was set to return home after college, not move off to some strange place and begin my career. Plus, I started talking to a sweet girl. 

Throughout that time, God seemed distant.

Once or twice in your life, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of that classic prank — you’re about to sit down in a chair you know is there, but when your rear end is supposed to land, all it hits is air. I’ve done that to a couple people, and it’s been done to me a few times. 

That’s what my relationship with God felt like. I felt like God was there, and I was going to lean on Him, but he seemed invisible, removed from my life by a force I couldn’t control. I doubted He was really there. I doubted He cared. It was a crisis of faith. I felt like I had done something to earn it. I was constantly praying to God, or at least trying to, trying to assure that I was a Christian. 

It was a tough year. Along with getting rejected for that ministry job, the girl and I broke up twice because I was scared to commit, and I struggled mightily with certain sins that I was sure were separating me from God on a daily basis. But I didn’t know how to explain what I was feeling.

That time led to a lot of depression. Being a Christian was dependent on faith, so if faith is gone, was I a Christian? I would pray all the time. I would pledge things to God, pledges I would break so quickly.

At the end of the year, I learned that I likely suffered from a form of OCD called “scrupulosity.” According to the International OCD Foundation, individuals with scrupulosity “are overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or other violation of religious or moral doctrine.” Suffers will repeatedly seek reassurance from religious leaders and loved ones as to their adherence to faith, make excessive trips to confession, praying excessively, repeat passages from sacred texts in their head and make pacts with God. 

“Unlike normal religion practice, scrupulous behavior usually exceeds or disregards religious law and may focus excessively on one trivial area of religious practice while other, more important areas may be completely ignored,” writes C. Alec Pollard, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute. “The behavior of scrupulous individuals is typically inconsistent with that of the rest of the faith community.”

When I read about scrupulosity, it provided an answer to the question of why I had been acting the way I did. 

The issue with scrupulosity — in simple terms, a specified and sometimes severe form of anxiety around religion — is that I could look at the description and think that’s just the normal Christian life. Aren’t we supposed to be concerned at all times whether or not we’ve committed a sin? Aren’t we supposed to be praying without ceasing? Aren’t we supposed to always have faith, always feel like God is with us? Those are the ideas I grew up with, the concepts that made sense to me. Scrupulosity, on first look, seemed like the normal Christian life, and here I learn that it’s abnormal and ultimately unhealthy.

“OCD makes it harder to practice one’s faith,” Pollard wrote. “However, there is no evidence that the moral or religious character of scrupulosity sufferers is any different from that of other people. Many notable religious leaders have struggled with this condition, including St. Ignatius Loyola, Martin Luther, St. Aphonsus Liguori, John Bunyan and St. Veronica Giullani.”

Looking back now, that makes sense to me, because my inner faith crisis, the doubt that permeated everything — from my religion to my romantic relationships to my career path — made my relationship with God suffer.

Reconstruction of the Faith

The election of Donald Trump to the White House in 2016 was an eye-opening moment for a lot of Americans, and as I’ve learned, a lot of Christians as well. As Andy Mineo put in his song “…There”:

“Did 81 percent of the people I call my brethren put an elephant in the room and say it was heaven-sent? I don’t know what Bible you reading, what God you believe in but that don’t sound like reason, it sound like you sleeping.”

My journey to what some would deem “progressive Christianity” started slowly. It really began with watching clips of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. As Stewart eviscerated conservative media like Fox News — which I had learned growing up was the “right place” for news — and exposed the flaws in most conservative political thinking, I was shocked. My Christianity had been tied so closely, at least in the political realm, to the conservative/Republican movement, but here was a guy showcasing the flaws. America was not a Christian nation. Barack Obama didn’t seem all that bad. 

It was those kind of discoveries that made me start to rethink the religion I had spent pretty much my whole life dedicated to. Trump’s election more or less sealed me off from going back to where I was before.

I looked at the Bible and found some things that didn’t sit right with me, things that didn’t seem to measure up with the Jesus I knew, the Jesus who loved me so strongly as I was, without condition. I trusted Him, and He loved me. That love that I knew didn’t measure up with the church’s treatment (in general) of Democrats, the LGBTQ community and celebrities.

So quietly, I began to reconstruct. It started with conservative political ideology. I went through a few waves of different thinking, but I think I’ve landed on the idea that the government needs to spend its money wisely, but try to help those in need if they can. The government also needs to be proactive in killing discrimination and oppression, including that of Christians.

Other changes followed, particularly in how I consumed secular music, considered profanity and voted for Democrats. But it’s come to a head in how I think about the Bible. This is a text I’ve learned a lot about throughout my life, and as I’ve worked to take it more seriously, I’ve found that it seems to contradict some of the things that I’ve been taught about it.

I’m not going to get too much into the basis for that — that’s not what this is about — but I want to explore my mental state: Depression. Anxiety. Suicidal thoughts. 

First, it was the fear that I was wrong, the fear that I had screwed up and God was going to disown me for not believing the Bible was perfect. Second, it was the fear of rejection from people who didn’t understand, from friends who thought I believed just as they did only to find out my thoughts had changed. Third, it was the fear of being alone, the only one in my circle who had these radical changes to my theology.

Two of those fears were well-founded. As a result, I ended up abandoned and alone, with only my wife to comfort me. 

My days were spent wracked with shame and confusion. I’ve always felt the need to be certain about something. If I’m not certain, I don’t like to move forward. So when questions came about, I didn’t feel comfortable going back to where I was before or moving in a different direction until the question was answered, and I didn’t like being in between. The stress was a lot to handle.

It reached a peak when I felt, for the first time in my life, serious suicidal thoughts. I had felt them fleetingly before, but nothing serious enough to actually take any action. One time before I got married I had cut myself with a pair of kids scissors, but didn’t get too far because, in my heart of hearts, I knew it wouldn’t accomplish anything. I just wanted to see what it would feel like. 

But with this new situation, I would drive over bridges and seriously consider making a hard right. I would look at a knife and wonder what it would be like to run it across my skin. I would consider climbing on the roof of my house and take a head-first dive. A neck break would do it, right?

Getting at the Root

We have a ton of weeds around our house, and no matter how much we pull them up, they always come back. I always think, “OK, if I pull out the weed at the root, that will kill it.” And I’m always wrong, or at least it feels that way.

Mental health and religious faith are linked so closely because they’re both conditions of the mind. They’re related to how you think, and thus become related to how you feel. Both thinking and feeling are centered in the brain, as neurons control how you react to something. 

So when a crisis of faith meets a mental illness, it’s like a weed whose root is buried deep, deep down in the earth, and you’ll never be able to reach it. There’s something incredibly unique about the combination. If you struggle with depression, the feeling of loneliness associated with faith crises simply give you more room to feel depressed. If you have severe anxiety, the doubt and mental debates you have with yourself just exacerbate the uncertainty that anxiety exploits. I can’t imagine how much more difficult it is for those with more several mental health illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Mental health and religion are rooted at a person’s core. Both play a role in how you view yourself, others and the world. A combination of pain at both points is hard to wrestle with, to put it mildly.

Something over the years that has led to anxiety and depression more than I can count is my sin. Whether it’s something simple like considering someone else negatively because of how they dress or something more severe like lusting after someone besides my wife, my sin has led me to more depths of despair than most other things.

I think it’s happened because I’ve been taught, rightly, that sin is harmful to me and offensive to God. Sometimes that leads me to deem every single sin I commit to be a haughty, selfish and horrendous act that requires penance, lots of prayer and a day or two before I can feel good about loving God again, and about Him loving me.

In fact, it’s my lack of love for God that will drive me to depression and anxiety more often than not. How can I, a simple human man, ever love God “the way I’m supposed to”? Somewhere in my spiritual upbringing, I learned, likely subconsciously, that I was always supposed to be a strong Christian everywhere I went, and that who we really are is visible when no one is looking, and so God sees all my sin, so I needed to be a strong Christian for God. 

Failure at that meant a need for prayer, reading the Bible and making sure you were still saved. I’ve prayed the prayer of salvation maybe 5-6 times seriously in my life, just to make sure. I prayed it several times during my year of doubt, but that was born more out of desperation and panic than a sincere feeling of separation.

I know my story is not unique. But those of us who reach that point of a spiritual crisis and deal with a mental health disorder simultaneously find ourselves up against it. And as far as trying to resolve this conundrum, there’s only one thing I’ve learned that can tackle both.

The Better Example

In 2015, the year between my stretch of doubt and the beginning of reconstructing my faith, I learned to love 1 John 4. 

I had come across it the previous fall, sitting on the porch of my parents’ mountain condo in Boone, North Carolina, reading the Bible, trying to find something to encourage me. The first section is about “testing the spirits,” then transitions into a meditation on the famous phrase “God is love.”

The NRSV translates 1 John 4:9, a pretty famous verse, as this: “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” God showed His love for us by sending Jesus. It was something that I had heard many times, and pretty much accepted. But I had never heard verse 10.

“In this is love,” it says, “not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

The love of God as shown by Christ on the cross is the perfect definition of love. John tells his audience that God is love (twice, vv. 8 and 16), and the perfect example of love is Jesus on the cross. 

What does that mean for humanity, practically? John tells us in v. 18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

Having severe anxiety or depression, like I do, often correlates with fear of something: the unknown, rejection, failure, mistakes, sin, hurting others, letting others down, harming self. All of those things have some kind of consequence, and so fear leads to punishment of some kind. All of those things have a punishment. Rejection’s punishment is loneliness; failure’s punishment is disappointment; sin’s punishment is death; hurting other’s punishment is guilt. 

The perfect love shown by God through Christ, John argues, “casts out fear.” The Greek root for casts is balló, which is the same word used to describe the way Peter and Andrew cast their nets into the sea when fishing. In the same way that fisherman fling out their nets, away from the boat, away from themselves, when perfect love enters a situation of fear, that fear is flung away, far away, left to fend for itself. It only comes back if we bring it.

So when helping those with mental health disorders, faith crises and both, it’s imperative that we let the love of God show through, the love of God that was shown on the cross of Christ. And start fear-flinging.

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Fire Consuming Water: Mental Health Struggles Among God’s Faithful in the Bible

I’m in a strange season of life because I’m trying to figure out what I think about the Bible. And as I was beginning to ponder how I was going to write this essay, a palpable truth struck me.

The Bible is both inherently ancient and applicably modern. It’s unavoidably diverse and yet surprising whole. It’s at once both distant and strange while approachable and present.

I don’t know if it was written that way, but it ended up being that way. Or maybe it’s not the Bible itself, but the stories it tells, the people it features, the ones that God put in a place to be an example, whether good or bad, for us here in the future, 2,000-plus years after its central event.

It’s with this new appreciation that I explore something very special and personal to me: mental health and its place in the Bible. It’s there. The words “depression” and “anxiety” are either completely absent or incredibly rare, and there’s nothing explicitly diagnosed as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, though those disorders certainly exist in biblical times.

But despite the absence of certain terminology, I strongly believe that the Bible shows us we are not alone in our struggles of the mind, and that because of that, we are not alone.

Running for Your Life

Elijah had just won a major victory for God.

There was a severe famine in Samaria, which is now central Palestine. Jesus cited Samaria in his final words to the disciples, telling them to share the good news in Jerusalem, Judea and all Samaria (Matthew 28:19). Elijah was sent to show the power of God to Ahab, the king of Israel. Ahab had a death warrant out for Elijah — in 1 Kings 18, where this story starts, the king refers to the prophet as the “troubler of Israel” (v. 17). 

Elijah says, in my paraphrase, “Hey Ahab, you’ve caused all the trouble because you stopped following God. I’m gonna show you. Get everybody in the land, including the prophets of Baal and Asherah, to go to Mount Carmel.”

At Mount Carmel, Elijah speaks to the people, telling them they need to choose between God and Baal. To prove God is supreme, Elijah and the prophets of Baal each take a bull and set it ready for sacrifice. Elijah instructed the prophets to call down fire to consume the animal.

From morning to noon, the text says, and past that, the prophets called for Baal to come down. Verse 26 says they “limped around the altar that they had made.” I guess they either wore themselves out or it was some kind of special dance. Baal was not impressed or had something else going on, as Elijah mocked them, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is music, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (v. 27). Sarcasm from a man of God! I love it.

No fire came.

Elijah rebuilt the altar that had been town down, did some special stuff and called on God. Fire came down from heaven, consumed the offering and the wood, stones and dust around it and water poured in a surrounding trench. Fire consumed water. That’s not normal.

All the people of Israel, the text says, seeing this, fell on their faces and worshiped God. Elijah called for the people to stop the prophets of Baal, numbered at 450. The latter half of v. 40 says, “And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.”

All this happened, at least in the text of 1 Kings, after Elijah raised a kid from the dead in chapter 17, by the way.

After this intense display by God, the boldness to kill all these prophets himself, Elijah is confronted with some bad news. Ticked off by the death of her prophets, Queen Jezebel sent a message to Elijah: “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow” (1 Kings 19:2).

No big, right? He had just raised someone from the dead and killed a ton of people after seeing God rain down fire from the sky that consumed water. But a death threat isn’t something most people take lightly.

“Then (Elijah) was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he 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” (1 Kings 19:3-4).

I don’t know how much time there was between these two events, between the killing of the prophets and the asking God to kill him. But Elijah became suicidal. He didn’t want to live anymore. Whether it was depression or stress or anxiety or fear, Elijah wanted to die.

And it doesn’t really make sense on the surface, right? From the far-removed standpoint we hold as readers of the text, Elijah has plenty of reason to not be afraid in light of Jezebel’s threat. He’s seen God do amazing things, many of them through his own hands. Why would Elijah be afraid and suicidal?

I’m not 100 percent sure. But he was.

Tears for Food

David, king of Israel, forerunner of the Christ, “man after God’s own heart,” spilled a lot of his guts throughout the psalms. 

He writes about his response to his adultery with Bathsheba, the blessings of being one of God’s people, the greatness of God’s words and so much more. But his mental state is also a common thread. 

Psalm 38 is a good example — “I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart” (v. 6-8). 

I don’t know how else you describe “tumult of the heart” but some kind of serious depression or grief. David indicates early in the psalm, v. 3, that his life seems to have disappeared from him “because of my sin.”

But I want to focus on a psalm that’s not by David, but instead is written by one of the sons of Korah, who wrote many of the psalms. 

“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (v. 3). “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (v. 5). 

The two verbs in v. 5 are wattehemî and tištōwhahî. Respectively, they mean “to murmur, growl, roar, be boisterous” and “to bow, be bowed down, crouch” in their root forms. The soul here for the author is both discontent and sorrowful. Both verbs are inherently active, visible expressions used to describe the soul. If this isn’t depression, I don’t know what is. 

The author continues by saying that God has forgotten him and he goes on mourning “because of the oppression of the enemy” (v. 9). He stays cast down.

In Psalm 55, with enemies at his door, David cries out, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me” (v. 4-5). 

The examples go on and on.

Sweat Like Blood

To me, perhaps the most notable example of mental health, or lack thereof, in the Bible is our Savior’s.

Three of the gospel accounts — Matthew, Mark and Luke — describe the Messiah’s mental state prior to his arrest, prior to his death. Jesus, asking God to take away this burden, is, in the varying accounts, “sorrowful and troubled” (Matthew 26:37), “in agony” (Luke 22:44) and “greatly distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33). In the latter account, Jesus tells Peter, James and John that his “soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (v. 34). 

I’m going to key in on the Luke account, because it includes a detail that I love. The Greek agonia is described by Thayer’s Greek Lexicon as “of severe mental struggles and emotions”.

All of the adjectives and adverbs that the gospel writers used are pretty indicative of mental struggles. But it’s Luke, the physician, and his description of Jesus’ physical state that caught my eye when I read this passage.

“And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (v. 44).

There’s a rare medical condition called hematidrosis, so rare that “only a few handfuls of hematidrosis cases were confirmed in medical studies in the 20th century.” WebMD’s article continues:

“Doctors don’t know exactly what triggers hematidrosis, in part because it’s so rare. They think it could be related to your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response.

Tiny blood vessels in the skin break open. The blood inside them may get squeezed out through sweat glands, or there might be unusual little pockets within the structure of your skin. These could collect the blood and let it leak into follicles (where the hair grows) or on to the skin’s surface.”

How is it caused? Most reports indicate it has to do with severe stress. Pair Jesus’ mental state, according to the gospel writers, with the blood sweat — of course it’s referenced by Luke the doctor — and you have a pretty severe case of mental illness, at least shown here.

Jesus showcasing severe mental discomfort and stress should be comforting to us. After all, as the writer of Hebrews argues, that’s one of the reasons we can trust Him.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Theologians have debated over whether or not Jesus was actually anxious. After all, He was the one who said there was no need to be anxious, but “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Was He disobeying His own instruction?

That’s a theological debate for another day, but here’s my answer: I doubt it. At the very least, He was experiencing what mankind experienced so He could sympathize with our weaknesses. He was being human.

We’re Not Alone

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States, accounting for around 46.6 million people, experience mental illness of some shape every year, and 1 in 25 adults experience a sever mental illness “that substantially interferes with or limits one of more major life activities” every year.

And that’s just what’s discovered, and that’s just America, and that’s just adults.

One of the many beauties of the Bible is that it tells a very human story. It’s not a book that lifts itself beyond our humanity and our circumstances, our realities and our weaknesses. It quashes the myth that, to be Christians, we must be mentally well every minute of every day. It kills the idea that good Christians are free from mental illness.

After all, look at the people spotlighted. They were men who knew well the greatness of God, the love of God, the amazing things He had done, what He as capable of, men God worked through to do miracles. Yet they still struggled. Elijah was suicidal. David was depressed. Jesus was anxious. The Bible tells us that we’re not alone, that three of the most faithful men in history struggled with mental health issues. 

It was like fire consuming water. 

Let’s return to 1 Kings 18 for a minute. Elijah was building his altar for the sacrifice. Verse 32 records that he made a trench around the altar, “about as great as would contain two seahs of seed.” A “seah” is seven quarts or 7.3 liters. So imagine the volume of seven-and-a-half two-liter bottles of soda, plus a little more. That’s how much water the trench could hold.

If that doesn’t seem like a lot to you, try drinking a two liter of water quickly.

Elijah instructs the crowd to fill four jars of water and pour it on the offering and the wood on the altar. They did it, and then repeated the exercise twice. After the third time, v. 35 says, “the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.” 

You would think that faith in God would quench every worry and fear that would lead to suicidal thoughts, depression and sweat drops made of blood.

But no. In some moments, the fire is too strong to be quenched, and the water is lapped up. 

We should not be ashamed if we ever feel that way. It’s not the end.

He Is There: Why You’re Not Alone in Your Mental Health Struggles

Throughout the Old Testament, God is shown to be a God who knows.

His omniscience is one of His most commonly spoken attributes. “God knows what you’re going through.” “God knows what’s going to happen.” “God only knows what I’d be without you.” OK, maybe that last one was a Beach Boys lyric, but it fits. It’s God’s omniscience that we see proven over and over again, 

My favorite case of this is how Israel asks for a king. The story is found in 1 Samuel 8, when the elders of Israel asked Samuel the prophet to give them a king. Samuel is a little peeved, but when he speaks to God, God allows it. 

“Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them,” God says in v. 7. In v. 9, He continues, “Now then, listen to their voice; only — you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

This is a fulfillment of what God had said in Deuteronomy: “When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set over you a king whom the LORD your God will choose” (17:14-15a). 

God knew.

Just like God knows your struggle with mental illness. He may seem far away. I certainly feel that way many times, wondering why in the world God would leave me here on earth like this, crippled by a mind that doesn’t quite work right. But He is there. I have to believe He is there, or else this is all pointless.

But it’s not a blind faith. Just look at how God takes care of His people.

Jesus the Miracle Worker

Jesus’ earthly ministry, in retrospect, seems to be a lot about healing people of worldly diseases. A list of his miracles would be incomplete without healing the son of the nobleman (John 4:46-47), casting out an unclean spirit (Mark 1:23-28), curing Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Mark 1:30-31), healing a leper (Mark 1:40-45), healing the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13), rising the widow’s son from the dead (Luke 7:11-18) and raising the ruler’s daughter from the dead (Matthew 9:18-26). And that’s just a small sampling of the many miracles that Jesus performed.

This is evidence of Jesus’ supernatural powers. In this age of reason and academics — both of which are to be praised at times — the miraculous supernatural part of Jesus may get the short end. But it’s evidence of His God-ness or, if you don’t buy into the whole Trinity thing, that God blessed him to perform mighty works in God’s name.

What these stories show, and Jesus’ overall compassion for the ill and needy, is the Father’s heart for those who are sick. Whatever form that sickness takes, the physical embodiment of God on earth stopped to take care of those who needed assistance. And there’s a good chance there were many more than we have recorded. John famously wrote that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30).

It’s near-impossible today to 100 percent accurately attribute a healing to a miracle performed by God. The body created by God and its self-healing ability is so fascinating and intricate and powerful in and of itself, doctors just get better and better at what they do and new medicines can do amazing things. But if Jesus cared about people’s physical health on earth, it’s at the very least likely, to me, that He still cares about our health, extending beyond the physical to the mental and more.

The Spiritual Healer

After one of His miracles, Jesus was walking along the road when He spotted Matthew, a tax collector. Jesus called the man to follow Him, and Matthew did.

“And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I come to call not the righteous but sinners’” (Matthew 9:10-13).

Aside from being one of my favorite gospel passages, this exchange shows why Jesus came to earth in the first place. He equated spiritual lostness — being a “sinner” — with being physically sick. The Greek word iastros is used, meaning “physician.” It’s the same label applied to Luke, the author of the gospel bearing his name and the book of Acts, in Colossians 4:14. 

In this way, we see Jesus explaining the problem of spiritual lostness in medical terms, something they could understand. Being without salvation, without righteousness, was a sickness that needed a cure. And doctors, those who can provide that healing, do no good by hanging out with those who were well. They need to be among those who are sick. 

Those of us who struggle with mental illness are sick. It’s a reality we can’t escape. It’s just a thing. But Jesus was willing to be seen and dine with those who were spiritually sick, as well as physically sick.

Cake and Water

Another one of my favorite Bible stories is that of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. After defeating the prophets of Baal in the showdown of a lifetime and then killing all 450 of them by a river (read 1 Kings 18 for that Lord of the Rings-worthy tale), Queen Jezebel of Israel called for Elijah’s head. Fleeing a day’s journey into the wilderness, 1 Kings 19 records, Elijah asks that God takes away his life. Lying under a broom tree he falls asleep. Verses 5b-9 record:

“Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.”

In the depth of incredible mental and emotional distress, God provided respite and restoration for Elijah. He didn’t remove the situation, didn’t take away the feelings or thoughts. He simply provided some food and drink. 

I feel like there’s something incredibly symbolic about this. Elijah wanted to die. He wanted to be taken away. He says in v. 4, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” The Hebrew word for “enough” was rāb. In other places, it’s translated as “so great,” “plenty” and “too much.” Elijah had reached a breaking point and was ready to give it all up. But God met Him in this moment. 

The text does not say the “cake” is bread. For his sake, I hope it was one of my mom’s chocolate cinnamon fudge cakes, because those things are good. But God, though “the angel of the LORD,” provided him sustenance for the journey ahead. 

Finding Rest

This is not to say that every time you are in emotional or mental distress God will meet you with a cake and a jar of water out of nowhere. That’s just a part of Elijah’s story, and everything that happens to Him cannot be applied universally. But in these stories, in the Old and New Testaments, we see the character of God shine forth to those in need of healing, to those who are sick, to those who are hurting. 

Who is to say that same character, that same compassion, does not shine forth to us today? We may not always see it, we may not always know it, but I bet you it is there. 

He’s in the hand that reaches out to provide a meal, a warm hug, a kind word. Speaking of the Son of Man coming into his glory in later times, Jesus says of those who helped the needy, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

He’s in the person who ditches their whole schedule to pray for you or send you a note or play a game with you to distract you. Jesus says to His disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13).

He’s in the one who doesn’t reject you in your weirdness or anguish or naïveté. “Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way” (Matthew 19:13-15).

This is the God on whom you can rely, in your darkest hour of sadness, emotional turmoil and heartache. You may not see Him, you may not feel Him, but I promise you He is there. His character eliminates any other possibility.

Just ask.

I’ve Looked Down That Road Too

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.

— Zach

Don’t Give Up: Even When You’re Depressed and Anxious Like Me

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.

Don’t ever give up.

Don’t Give Up: Even When Work Seems Like It Will Never End

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.

Love you guys.

Don’t Give Up: A Series on Why You Shouldn’t Quit on Yourself

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.

Being ‘On Fire for God’ Isn’t Easy for Anxious and Depressed Christians Like Me.

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.

An article on Christianity Today about not feeling close to God said this:

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.

Why Try to Not Do Something When You Can Intentionally Dive Into the Love of God?

A week or so ago, I wrote a blog post about the “ironic process theory” and how it can apply to how the Church often reacts to issues in the public sphere. An excerpt:

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 give us, 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.

But that wasn’t the end of God’s love. God’s love is still true and still for us today. I love the lyrics to Tenth Avenue North’s “Love Is Here”:

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.

The Devastating Sarlacc Pit of Depression

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.)

Wookiepedia (the Star Wars wiki) puts it so:

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.