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.

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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.

Clinging to the Only Truth I Know Will Hold Me: A Poem

Note: A poem about the faithfulness of God’s Word for someone dealing with an anxiety disorder. I’ve had a rough weekend with my anxiety over the last couple days. When it’s high, it’s so hard to trust anything, even the Word of God. This poem is a reminder to you, but most importantly to me, of how much I need to hold onto that Word that will never leave me high and dry.


Can I explain to you the importance of God’s Word?

See, my mind wanders a lot.
It goes back and forth, forth and back
I’ve learned I can’t really trust myself,
because my anxiety makes my brain lack.

What does it lack, you ask?

Peace, assurance, confidence, trust.
Oh, I want these things. I beg for these things.
But it seems that God doesn’t hear.
Those things, it doesn’t seem He brings.

I’ve been mad before.

Oh I’ve been furious. Pissed. Ticked.
Wondered how a good God could leave me like this.
I can’t trust myself? Seriously?
It seems my thought life’s been given a death kiss.

So what can I do?

The one and only hope I have
is clinging to the Word that always gives back.
The Word that says I’m loved
and God’s patience with me will never crack.

What does that Word say to me?

It says He’ll never leave nor forsake
though my mind wanders and doubts that all day.
It says He’s on my side all the time,
even when I feel the furthest away.

It says His love is greater than sin.
All I must do is let it in.

It says His patience is unparalleled,
so my heart will always be held.

It says don’t lean on my understanding
but trust Him with all, a sure standing.

It says He’ll support the blameless and meek
every single stinkin’ day of the week.

It says He’ll make straight my path
and overcome my foolish mental math.

See, if we’re to believe Romans 8:39,
that nothing can separate us from God’s love,
I need to hold onto that promise
even though it seems there’s no help from above.

Because my mind lies to me.

And I hate that every day.

But with God’s Word on my side,

I’ll be able to say,

I’m forgiven and loved, no matter how I feel.
I can trust Him with all, even when it seems unreal.
He’ll catch me when I fall, and hear my appeal.
It’s the only truth I know will hold me; it’s set in steel.

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.

10 Pieces of “Hard Stuff” We Need to Talk About More/Differently in Church

Note: This is the third part in a five-part series about talking about the hard stuff. Find the first part here, and the second part here

Enough prefacing. Here are 10 things we need to be talking about more or speaking about in a different way in the church context.

1) Sexual sin/addiction.

I’ve written about this before. The church often approaches this topic in one of two ways. Either we’re super condemning of it, and by default those who struggle with it, or we don’t talk about it at all. Especially overlooked in this area are pastors who fight against these things on a daily basis on a personal level. But this should be primary among our conversation topics because, as 1 Corinthians 6:18 reminds us, “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Since this kind of sin cuts deeper than every other sin, we must talk about this more and more.

2) Mental illness.

I wrote about this in the same post as sexual addiction/sin. I’m just going to quote that here:

When you deal with something like mental illness – depression, anxiety or anything like it – you feel alone, like you’re the only one suffering. I think back to my church experience and I can’t remember anyone in my local church context really tackling this. I read an excellent book by Perry Noble called Overwhelmed in which he actually talked in-depth about it from his personal experience, but for the most part it’s touched with kid gloves if it’s touched at all.

This is the absolute last way it needs to be handled. I’m not saying we need to overwhelm people who are already overwhelmed. We just need to be open to the conversation actually happening and be willing to not know all the answers.

3) High school kids.

A lot of what I’ve heard in the church echoes a lot of what I hear in the education world in which I am currently employed when it comes to high schoolers. You judge it by the numbers, take little time to actually invest in the lives of students and speak disparagingly of the kids when you’re not around them. I was at church about a month ago when I overheard someone talking about some high school-aged kids they ran across while driving and they were super critical of them and their parents, without even having spent time with them. So we do talk about them, but we don’t take the time to actually invest, to consider them as people, to love them as we would want to be loved.

4) Actually loving LGBT people.

This one is particularly relevant. With the recent SCOTUS decision, there’s been a lot of talk of loving gay people but still standing for truth. Unfortunately, we spend more time standing for truth and not actually loving gay people. We also spend more time talking about what it means to stand for truth. Those are conversations that need to be had, yes, but let’s not forget to actually talk about what it means to actually love those in the LGBT community.

5) Alcohol.

The common narrative, particularly for young people, about alcohol is that it’s bad always, and you should never do it. We speak about the negative consequences of getting drunk and all that. Let’s not forget that it’s illegal if you’re under 21. Like sexual sin, we most often take a condemning approach instead of saying, “Hey, alcohol is illegal to consume if you’re under 21. Here’s the reasons why it’s not good for you to participate in consuming it. But once you turn 21, here’s how to be smart about it.” We’re too busy telling kids not to do something instead of why not and then how to be smart about it.

6) Feelings and emotions.

This is one that is particularly close to my heart because I deal with feelings and emotions in a more intimate way than most, at least that’s what I’ve been told. I sway back and forth with feelings and emotions sometimes by the minute, and it can drive me up the wall without any real reason for those feelings. This one can be tied in with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Anyways, I don’t feel like I’ve read much in how to deal with feelings and emotions in a proper way, other than the occasional conversation or blog post on dealing with anxiety or stress. It’s a tricky subject to discuss because it’s different for everybody. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.

7) Racism.

There isn’t a better time than now to be honest about this and have in-depth, personal, loving, gracious discussion.

8) “Secular” music.

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that we handle this wrong most of the time, particularly with youth. We act as if this is the end-all, be-all problem, that if only we could get them to listen to Christian music alone we could fix them. Not all “secular” music is bad. In fact, there’s some that have positive messages that I’m pretty sure Jesus would endorse in songs like “Honey, I’m Good.” by Andy Grammer (even though it has three pieces of profanity) and even “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West (even though it has much more profanity). For the most part, we just write it off without giving it time.

9) Dating relationships/marriage.

Gosh, I feel like I was never prepared properly for dating. It became so much about “seeking God’s will” that I would quit relationships or pursuing relationships whenever I “felt like” God was “calling” me away from dating. It was such an unstable mindset to have. I’m afraid that, to single people, we’re not always honest about all the difficulties in feelings especially. The proper expectations aren’t discussed, and therefore things become particularly uncomfortable and awkward. Yes, we can never be fully prepared for dating because it’s different things for different couples, but we could do so much better than we are now if we actually talked about it honestly with guys and girls.

10) The Gospel.

If we actually dove deep enough into the Gospel, I think it would shatter what we view as Christianity. Christianity is so much more than being good enough. It’s being not good enough and seeing Jesus be good enough for us. If we let the Gospel permeate our faith as it should, we’d have a whole different approach to this thing we call life. We’d be able to see that sin is just a part of who we are. We’d be able to see that we will sin the rest of our life. We’d be able to see that it’s OK that we do that because Jesus was sinless for us. We’d be able to see that no one is beyond saving, that God can redeem the harshest of sinners. But that kind of talk is crazy, right?

Check back soon for part 4 – 10 More Pieces “Hard Stuff” We Need to Talk About More/Differently in the Church.

TABOO: Don’t Talk About It! At Least Not For Too Long

Unfortunately, Christianity is often known for the things we are against rather than the things we are for. Whether it be alcohol or gay marriage or profanity or secular music, we picket and protest and write Facebook statuses and start Twitter wars and YouTube comment battles over every little thing that just might offend us. If the topic comes up, we make our strong stance and then we drive it home.

It’s stupid. Let’s just be honest here. It’s stupid. We spend so much time emphasizing things that, in the long run, don’t really matter all that much to us while ignoring things with which our own community are struggling and need desperate help. I think Jefferson Bethke puts it well in his book Jesus > Religion:

The biggest difference between religious people and gospel-loving people is that religious people see certain people as the enemies, when Jesus-followers see sin as the enemy.

Last time I checked, I was my own worst enemy. No one has caused me more grief, pain or heartache than I have. The Bible rarely tells me to fight against someone who doesn’t believe what I believe, but it frequently tells me to fight against my sin and the disease in me that’s drawing me away from Jesus. (p. 63)

I love that statement because it accurately captures one of the biggest problems with Christianity today. We miss the big things because we’re so focused on the little things! It’s the very picture of Jesus’ perceptive words in Matthew 7:3-5.

3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Today I want to bring up two things that we don’t talk about as much in church but should, or when we do talk about it we don’t talk about it the right way.

Sexual Addictions

When the topic of sexual sin comes up, we usually spend a lot of time condemning homosexuality. But I think the more prevalent topic here is sexual addictions.

Honestly, I don’t think homosexuality is as big a deal as the Christian culture makes it out to be. And why don’t we treat every sin like we treat homosexuality? We’d at least be consistent if we condemned malicious lying as much as we condemned homosexuals and homosexuality.

Sexual addiction is actually a bigger deal, much more than homosexuality, whether it’s same-sex or opposite-sex lust. It’s something that separates man from God and taints our view of sex in a nearly irreparable way most of the time.

The issue comes here: we take an “above-it-all” approach when it comes to handling these issues. We act like we’re better and we don’t deal with that, so we condemn freely and strongly. We throw Bible verses at them like arrows at a target, hoping and praying something hits the bullseye and changes everything.

Even worse, when it comes to homosexuality, we throw marches and go to meetings and write blog post upon blog post on why it’s harmful when there’s already been at least four million blog posts on the topic. We just won’t let it go!

However, when it comes to sexual addiction, particularly in the church, we butcher it by either not touching it at all or going about it all the wrong way. In his book Ashamed No More, pastor T.C. Ryan writes this:

A clergy friend shared with me an example of what not to do. His denominational office sent an official message to every ordained person regarding Internet pornography use by clergy members. The message reminded the pastors that any sexual deviance—including use of Internet porn—was a violation of their ordination vows. They were offered a short-term window of opportunity to come forward and admit their problem. The implication was that they wouldn’t be defrocked, but it was unclear if they’d be removed from their position. There was no mention of any help. Everyone using Internet porn and not coming forward during this opportunity was warned that they would eventually be found out and the discipline would be severe.

What a terrible abuse! How is this even helpful? No wonder people don’t want to talk about it. Instead of reaching out and helping the people who deal with these issues, we either get really harsh or really silent. And because of that, very few come forward willingly because they’re afraid of the response they’ll get.

Depression/Anxiety/Mental Illness

As readers of my blog will know, this topic is very personal to me because I deal with these things on a regular basis. I wrote a pretty long piece about it last week. By the way, I was blessed by the response I got from friends and family who shared messages of encouragement and love. Thank you all.

One thing I heard several times was that the post was refreshing because it seems like nobody talks about this. Well, that’s one of the reasons I wrote the post. When you deal with something like mental illness – depression, anxiety or anything like it – you feel alone, like you’re the only one suffering. I think back to my church experience and I can’t remember anyone in my local church context really tackling this. I read an excellent book by Perry Noble called Overwhelmed in which he actually talked in-depth about it from his personal experience, but for the most part it’s touched with kid gloves if it’s touched at all.

This is the absolute last way it needs to be handled. I’m not saying we need to overwhelm people who are already overwhelmed. We just need to be open to the conversation actually happening and be willing to not know all the answers.

I was talking with a friend recently who deals with similar things I shared in the post and they talked about how they shared it within a small group context. The people loved my friend through it and listened, but they didn’t really understand. They loved my friend in the group and shared words of encouragement with my friend, and sent e-mails later with Bible verses and more encouragement.

Hearing that, I loved the heart and the initiative of the people in my friend’s group. But they missed the point. And I don’t blame them for missing the point. The church’s normal tactic with mental issues is the “Bible verse bullseye” method I described earlier: throw Bible verses, hoping and praying that one will finally fix the issue. It’s often well-intentioned, but that’s not what those people need. Friends and family of those struggling with mental or emotional issues, please don’t use Bible verse bullseye!

So what do we do? How do we move forward?

I think the first thing we need to do is to be aware that we don’t handle these things well.

Then we need to talk about them. Honestly, openly, without judgement, without condemnation, without fear, without bias. As Jesus would.