Don’t Give Up: Following Jesus Is Worth Every Single Second of Despair

Note: This is the finale of a series on the idea of not giving up in different scenarios. Previous posts include entries on workrelationships and depression & anxiety.

I’ve been on the brink of quitting following Christ several times.

The majority of those times have been the result of realizing how terrible I am at being obedient. Maybe I committed a particular sin that makes me feel like human feces. I think, “Well, wouldn’t it just be easier to quit? Wouldn’t it just be easier to ditch the whole thing and do my own thing? Sure wouldn’t feel so guilty all the time.”

The despair was rising, the depression setting in strong. I felt empty, gone, done. What’s the point anymore? If everything is just going to end up this way, where I’m frustrated about my proficiency at following Jesus, why keep going?

There are times I still feel this way. But I want to share with you something I learned, something that keeps me going.

It’s not about your “proficiency” at following Jesus. It’s simply following Him at all that is obedience.

Let me explain with a video game analogy.

I don’t play a lot of one-person shooter video games, but in the ones I’ve played, there’s usually some kind of quest or mission. You usually know how to get to the next step of the mission by an arrow or some kind of directional method that points you where to go next.

Let’s take the first game of this kind that I ever owned – Halo 3:ODST. Actually a pretty boss single-player mode for someone who’s not a video game geek. You start by landing on a planet looking for some missing teammates. How you progress through the levels is simply by killing aliens and reaching the next objective.

One of the beauties of these games it that there’s no set way you have to get through the levels. Obviously you have to achieve all the objectives, but you can die as many times as you must to achieve the mission. Each time you die, you get to start again.

Following Jesus is a lot like that.

Say you’re on a mission to overcome a certain sin. You enter the “level” – facing temptation. You fight it off for a little bit, but then you “die” – succumb to the temptation. In video games, you get a second chance, third chance, fourth chance, etc. In following Jesus, you get the same.

If you lie or cheat or boast or get drunk or commit sexual sin or whatever, following Christ means you get to get up and try again, just like Master Chief or Samus Aran or whatever video game hero you love the most.

Proverbs 24:16 says, “the righteous falls seven times and rises again.” Righteousness doesn’t show itself by perfection, but by rebounding from the fall. Every single time you stumble, Christian, you have the opportunity to get back up and you’re still loved by God. You can get back in the battle.

That’s why I encourage you here, in the final post of this series, to never give up in your walk with Jesus. God is on your side! He has given you the tools – His Holy Spirit, the Bible, brothers and sisters in Christ around you – to bounce back with strength. You won’t always bounce back well. I sure don’t. But you have the ability and power to bounce back.

So in this final post of the series (written about three weeks after the last post), I want to make one last encouragement to you. It’s something I’ve been trying to remember in my own life, something I need to grow in, something I need maturation in. So I’m right there with you.

Don’t give up. Please don’t give up. It’s not worth it.

Don’t ever give up.

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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.