‘Our Anxiety Is for Our Good’ — In The Midst of Madness Preview, Pt. 2

NOTE: This is the second preview excerpt of my book In The Midst of Madness: A Christian’s Experience with Anxiety and Finding Relief. The book will be available on Jan. 12, 2018.

Our Anxiety Is for Our Good

You might not believe me. And I wouldn’t blame you for doing so. If you suffer with the amount of anxiety that I do, I totally get it.

It sucks! It’s one of the worst things that you encounter on a regular basis. Sometimes it keeps you in bed. Sometimes it keeps you from interacting with those you love. Sometimes it keeps you from prayer, study of God’s Word, resting in His promises. But if we are to believe that Word and those promises, we have to accept and believe that our anxiety is for our good. Romans 8:28 says:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Those who love God and are called according to His purpose, that’s Christians. We who are Christians love God, and He’s called us to do all things for His glory, His purpose for our lives. So that’s us. And the Bible says that all things work together for good. Our good. Our best.

One of the ways in which He works all things together for our good is how He brings us salvation. He took our sinfulness, something we can’t get rid of on our own, and forgave us for it by sending Jesus to die on the cross and come back to life on the third day.

But it’s not just in how He deals with our sin nature. He works all things together for our good. ALL THINGS. I can’t emphasize this enough. ALL THINGS. Every single thing in our life works together for our good.

This is kind of hard to comprehend. Especially when it comes to dealing with our anxiety. That doesn’t seem like something that can be used for our good. But here are three reasons why:

1) It shows us our weaknesses.

We as a human race don’t like to look at or acknowledge our weaknesses. We don’t like to think about how much we suck at things. We don’t want people to point out our flaws, our scars, our inabilities. We don’t desire for others to know our deficiencies, our blemishes.

Sometimes that leads us to spending so much time trying to remind ourselves of our strengths that we forget that we are weak. And it is absolutely vital that we realize just how much we are weak, just how much we screw things up. Anxiety is a weakness, unfortunately. Sometimes we have no control over when it comes, but it’s a weakness nonetheless. And when we’re reminded of it, we’re reminded of the soft spots on our skin, the chinks in our armor.

2) Our weakness shows us that we need God.

We won’t make it on our own in this life. We need God. Our weakness shows us that we need God. God is the only one that can help us through those weaknesses, that can bring us through the hard times with the direction and purpose that we so desperately need.

He shows us that it’s OK to be weak, that it’s OK that we suck, because He’s there to pick us up, to carry us when we can’t carry ourselves, to provide the strength when we don’t have it. He does it by working through His Holy Spirit, by encouragement and challenge from His Word, by the people He surrounds us with.

3) God grows us through our anxiety.

When we deal with anxiety on a regular basis, we can learn how to deal with fear, how to fight against lies we tell ourselves, how to share our issues with others in moments of lack.

Through the rest of this book, we’ll discuss how we grow through our anxiety in different situations of life. We’ll talk about anxiety in school, relationships and other circumstances we find ourselves in that bring about panic. We’ll also dive into what it means to beat fear, one of the most central ingredients of anxiety. And then we’ll talk about the hope that exists even in the midst of anxiety.

I’ll share a lot of how I’ve grown through dealing with my anxiety in each of these areas. This is a very personal area of life for me. Because I’ve dealt with it so much, I’ve been itching to share my experiences with others in a book. It would be a waste for me to go through this and not try in some way to help at least one person with the anxiety they’re experiencing.

So as we move forward, just know that I’ve got you on my mind. I’m praying for you. And I hope that what I’ve learned, what I’ve experienced, can help you as well.

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Liquid Courage: Finding Confidence in the Right Kind of Drinking

How many times in movies or TV have you seen a guy polish off a beer or drain a shot glass before approaching a girl? I can’t count the times, but it’s been a lot.

Perhaps the funniest example (except for the drunkenness) is from The Big Bang Theory. There’s a character named Raj who can only talk to women when he’s had a few drinks. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve only seen the first three seasons, so I can’t speak for the whole show. But it’s shocking when he does say something, as evidenced in this clip (whoever uploaded the video uploaded it flipped, so ignore that):

A common phrase for alcohol used to boost self-confidence is “liquid courage.” This kind of courage is one that often leads to shrugging off reason and sometimes moral character, but for whatever reason, it helps one get over fears and insecurities and pursue something wholeheartedly.

Courage is something that is often praised and hard to come by. It’s the latter that often initiates the former there. Shedding fears and insecurities is usually going against our very nature as humans. We’re often defined by what we can’t do or what we’re scared of — people are arachnophobic or afraid of heights, or guys won’t talk to girls without a little help in some way, or we’re scared of getting rejected by a company who has our dream job. In those circumstances, it takes courage to stand up and do something that freaks us out.

We need a well to draw from to find that courage, to get the guts to go through with something that scares us. Some turn to alcohol, which can be incredibly dangerous and, if consumed to the point of drunkenness, sinful. But others have turned to the right liquid courage. Let’s reconnect with our buddy Asa.

After leading his army to a great victory against the Ethiopians in 2 Chronicles 14, the next chapter finds Asa meeting with a prophet named Azariah. Here is what he says to Asa in 2 Chronicles 15:1-7 —

The Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law, but when in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them. In those times there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in, for great disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands. They were broken in pieces. Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every sort of distress. But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”

Azariah talks about how the nation of Israel was without God, but when they sought Him, they found Him. God then turned His protection upon Israel. If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll remember that Asa was the king of Judah. If you’re not aware of biblical geography – which is totally OK, by the way, it can be a little complicated – Judah was the neighboring nation to Israel. The two nations were birthed out of the 12 tribes of Jacob. Ten of them made up Israel, and the two others made up Judah.

So Azariah tells Asa about how faithful God was to Israel, but also shares how faithful God will be to Judah if they seek Him as well. The response from Asa is immediate. Verse 8 —

As soon as Asa heard these words, the prophecy of Azariah the son of Oded, he took courage and put away the detestable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities that he had taken in the hill country of Ephraim, and he repaired the altar of the LORD that was in front of the vestibule of the house of the LORD.

Azariah challenged Asa to be courageous, and Asa was courageous, he took courage. But what was it that spawned this confidence in Asa?

It was the the Word of God.

See, Asa had reason to trust God based on God’s faithfulness to the people of Judah. But it was God’s Word continuing to reach him that motivated Asa to continue to be faithful to God and seek Him. By “put(tting) away detestable idols” and “repair(ing) the altar of the LORD,” Asa was sending a signal that God would be made to be preeminent in his land. God would be the one worshipped. There would be no other gods before God in his kingdom. And he took the courage to take that step, to do that, from the Word of God being spoken to him.

Azariah’s prophecy was the starter’s gun. Verse 8 – “As soon as Asa heard these words…he took courage.”

Just like Asa, we can take courage from the Word of God. We don’t have to drum it up out of nowhere. All that is necessary is that we believe that God’s Word is true and apply it to our lives.

We can take courage when we don’t know what’s going to happen next in our lives, because God’s Word says, “And we know that for those who love God all things worth together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We can take courage when we’re afraid that we don’t have enough or we fear rejection by man, because God’s Word says that He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and we can say back, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5b,6)

We can take courage when we’re stressed and worried about any situation, because God’s Word says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

And we can take courage when we’re afraid that God doesn’t love us and that we’re not enough, because God’s Word says, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:16a, 18a).

The next time you’re afraid, drink from the well of God’s Word. This post is not a critique of alcohol or a condemnation of alcohol. This is simply promoting a different kind of confidence, a confidence that doesn’t fade away when the buzz wears off. This is a well you can go to time and time again that benefits your soul.

Drink it in.

True Peace and Strength in a World with Little of Either

I need to get my fiancée to write a blog. Hers would be a million times better than mine.

I was talking to her last night and she was sharing something she had read in a devotional book of hers. It was revolving around the idea that God is our strength and our peace, based on Psalm 29:11 –

May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Pretty simply verse. But it brought to my attention something about my own life and something about this world.

I live in a constant state without peace. A life dealing with depression and anxiety will do that to you. Anyone else like me will echo that sentiment. I also often feel like I have little strength to handle all the things thrown my way.

This world is without peace. How many wars are ongoing right now? Well, according to this Wikipedia list (you can debate the legitimacy, of course), there’s over 50. And we in the United States think we’re pretty strong, but we, like every other country in the world, have many weaknesses and flaws.

The strength and peace Psalm 29:11 refers to, I think, a strength and peace that is not found within ourselves. That’s the key.

We are on a constant search for strength, whether it be physical or mental. I can’t tell you how many CrossFit gyms I’ve seen pop up over the last few years. And people are reading and writing books left and right about working out your mind, being in the right mental state. Both physical and mental strength is good, don’t get me wrong. But if our strength isn’t based in the person and character of God, it will fail us over and over and over again.

We are on a constant search for peace. People meditate, sleep, do crazy things just to find personal peace, a fleeting feeling that always seems to escape us just as we’re about to attain it. The world is searching for peace, but seems to use the least peaceful means to try to achieve it. Both personal and international peace is good, don’t get me wrong. But if our peace isn’t based in the person and character of God, it will fail us over and over and over again.

Yes, true and lasting peace and true and lasting strength are linked because they’re both found in knowing, believing and trusting God. The moment I seek to find those kinds of peace and strength in things outside of God, particularly in myself, is the moment I take a step in the wrong direction.

Now, all this is very abstract. True, but abstract. What does this look like practically?

It starts with a mindset. How do you think about achieving peace in your life? Peace is a state of rest and contentment with the circumstances around you. True peace comes from understanding, I think, God is in control. Isaiah 46:9b-10 says,

for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

Knowing that God is in control of all circumstances, and that He is working all things together for your good if you are His (Romans 8:28), is the key to finding mental and emotional peace in your life. This may not affect circumstantial peace, but it is the beginning to finding peace in your own mind.

What about strength? I think it also starts in understanding God is in control. Knowing that God is in control gives you proper perspective on how to handle situations. It gives you a strength you can’t build in the gym. It handles change with confidence, it approaches difficulties with peace.

One of the most important things to remember here is that we won’t always be truly strong and truly at peace. As weak and anxious human beings, we’ll never get this totally down. Never.

That’s where the peace that we achieve through Christ’s death and resurrection confirms our place as God’s child, our eternity with Him and our salvation from sin.

That, my friends, is true peace. And thankfully, my fiancée has a grasp on that.

That One Time I Cursed at God for Allowing Me to Sin

I remember one night during my freshman year of college and I was confronted very closely with the sin in my life. It sucked. I was angry and frustrated.

I went to the school’s racquetball courts by myself and began to “practice.” It was really just me pounding the ball as hard as I could against the front wall. In my mind, I was screaming at God. Why? I asked. Why must I deal with this sin in my life? Why can’t I be perfect? Why must I deal with this? Why can’t I just get over this crap? I cursed at God. I did. I was ticked.

I look back on that night as one of the many in college when I was frustrated with God and His ways. College was a rough period for me spiritually. I dealt with a lot of doubt, a lot of fear and a lot of sin. Good gracious. I was a Christian the whole time, but I was overwhelmed spiritually in a lot of ways.

I was flipping through my Bible this morning and found Romans 11:33 underlined. Verse 33, along with 34 and 35:

Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’

In my journaling Bible, I have a note beside that set of verses: “How could I question God’s plan for my life or others’ lives? God doesn’t let anything happen to me that wasn’t part of the plan. Nothing surprises Him. I can question God, but I’m not near as smart as Him.”

I think it’s natural for humans to question God, natural for man to ask God why in the world certain things happen the way they do. It’s the cry of the non-believer in the face of a tragedy, the cry of a mother when her child dies prematurely, the cry of a wife when her husband is sent to jail for a long time. Why would God let this happen to me?

I ask God that about my sin. “God, why would you allow me to sin? Why would you allow sin in the world?” If you believe that God is in full control of the world, is all-powerful, I think you can’t escape the idea that God allowed sin to be a part of the world. He didn’t have to create a snake. I think God planned everything out from the beginning of the world, including the fall of man. Again, nothing takes Him by surprise.

I come back to these verses in Romans 11 praising the “judgements” and “ways” and “wisdom” of God. And I ask myself, “How in the world is it wise in God’s eyes to allow sin?” Wrong phrasing. It’s not “in the world” that it’s wise in God’s eyes. God’s ways are so unsearchable and unknowable that we have no business trying to understand it all the way. I think we can grow in that understanding as we mature in our faith, but there’s a sense where we won’t get it all.

So how do I deal with the fact that God allows me to sin? If I believe that all things work together for good, even my sin, I’ve got to accept that even the crappiest thing – my sin – is part of God’s plan for my life. I believe it’s ultimately to bring me back to understanding something.

He is the only way I will ever overcome sin or the grips of sin. I will not defeat sin on earth without God doing an incredible work in my life. It’s a miracle every time we defeat sin because we’re overcoming our natural inclinations. It’s also a miracle that we get to escape the eternal grip of sin on our lives and be held by a God who forgives us of that sin.

I think He allowed sin to be in my life to show me I’m insufficient. Since the fall, He’s allowed my sin to be in my life to kill the need for the self-sufficiency I struggle with on a daily basis and just trust Him, trust His Word and trust His plan.

His plan is perfect. There is nothing wrong with the plan God has put in place for us. Nothing happens outside His approval.

So next time I question God (which will probably be in the next hour or so), I need to come back to this point, the point that says His ways can’t be understood. But I know that they can be trusted fully, trusted without a doubt. That doesn’t mean the doubts won’t come, it just means I have an answer for them when they do.

He knows what He’s doing.

Sin Isn’t Totally Bad.

One of the more frustrating moments for me in my life is when I’m confronted with sin in my life. In fact, it’s one of the quickest triggers for my anxiety and depression. Pull on that reminder of my weakness, my insufficiency, my sinfulness, and I’m likely to be frustrated, which makes me anxious, which makes me depressed. It’s a vicious cycle.

The thing we’ve been told in our Christian culture is that sin is the worst thing that can ever happen to you. And it’s true. It is. But I think there’s two things to keep in perspective when reflecting back on sin. Because let’s be honest: sin isn’t totally bad. Here’s why.

Sin feels good.

Committing sin can be awesome. If we ignore this, we ignore one of the vital facts of being a human. Somebody told me recently that not all humans are Christians but all Christians are humans. Since we are humans, we naturally desire to sin. We naturally crave to satisfy ourselves in ways that are not glorifying to God or honoring to man. For us to think that we don’t sin is a lie. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Two verses later, the implications of saying we’re sinless are even worse: “If we say we have not sinned, we make (God) a liar, and his word is not in us.”

I say it is impossible for us to walk this earth without sin. And I think it’s dangerous for us to carry around the idea that we could ever fully defeat sin and everything that comes along with it this side of heaven. It’s an unfair standard we set for ourselves because we forget this vital piece of information that sin feels good. I think this is something we often forget or fail to mention when it comes to sin because it is the very reason we sin. Either committing the sin itself feels good or what we get from committing the sin feels good, so we do it.

Of course this is not license to commit sin, but it’s reason. So sin is not totally bad because of this. If sin was totally bad, we would not desire to do it, we wouldn’t desire the outcomes from sin.

Sin is for our good.

If we are to believe Romans 8:28, this is a truth we must cling to. If “all things work together for good” for those who are believers, then sin is included in that. Sin is not a healthy behavior. But it shows us two things.

Our sin shows us how much we need Jesus. When speaking about the law in Romans 7:7, Paul says, “…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” If we did not know what sin was and what it meant in our lives and how it made us feel, we would not know just how much we need Christ, how much we need grace, how much we need the Gospel. I believe that part of sin’s purpose in our lives is to redirect us towards the Savior. We commit sin and sometimes we realize that this is not the way we’re supposed to live, not how we find fulfillment and purpose.

Our sin gives us a task to accomplish. When we see we have sin, we are given something to do, something to accomplish. Ideally, killing that sin. We may never kill that individual sin, but we have the tools and the weapons to fight it for the rest of our lives. And this ties into the last point in that we will never defeat sin in any way without Christ working in our lives.

Our sin grows us as believers in faith. If I had not seen the sin of my mind and my heart, I would not need to cling to the Gospel. I would not need to grow my faith in the grace of the Gospel, in the understanding of redemption, in the power of forgiveness. If without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), I’m thankful for my sin for causing my faith to grow.

Our sin gives us opportunity to speak truth into others’ lives. I firmly believe that God has put certain sins in my life so that I can speak to others about them, whether that’s in a “we’re both struggling with this” way or “I was there, let me tell you about it and help you” way. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man,” 1 Corinthians 10:13 says. If you struggle with a sin, you’re not the only one. By dealing with sin, you become qualified to be in fellowship with someone who is dealing with the same thing and mourn together, encourage together and fight together. Personally, I love encouraging those who deal with or have dealt with the same sins I’m dealing with or have dealt with in my life.

The fact that sin isn’t totally bad is a contrarian idea, but one that has been incredibly freeing to me. It’s helped me learn more about myself and more about how I relate to God.

In fact, it makes me worship God more. He wastes nothing! God doesn’t even waste our sins! How crazy is that? Of all the things that God could just shove aside and do nothing with, it would make sense for it to be sin. But the fact that He uses it for our good and His glory makes me love Him even more.

The Great Depth of ‘All Things for Our Good’

I’ll just be straight with you: Romans 8:28 got me through my senior year of college.

I had a lot of ups and downs during that year. I had a potential job fall through, I dealt with a lot of depression and anxiety and I graduated with no guaranteed employment after the end of the summer. It was a rough time for me. There were many nights I stayed up anxious about what was going on in my life.

Romans 8:28 was my rallying cry that helped propel me through all the random circumstances. Somehow, some way, I was convinced (not beyond a shadow of a doubt though) that God was working everything out, that it was all going to come together in the end, that everything was going to be OK.

I mean, that’s what Romans 8:28 says – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” As I was having breakfast with a friend yesterday morning, this verse came up in conversation and I realized something crazy.

So often we limit this verse to our personal experiences. And it’s appropriate to apply it to our personal experiences! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated it to myself, how often I’ve relied on its truth. I limited it to just myself and to other personal experiences of friends and family.

But this verse is so much deeper than that. It says so much more.

For those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Christians), all things work together for good. All things means EVERYTHING. Each and every little thing. Nothing goes unused in the purposes of our Father.

Think back to the events of the Garden of Eden. The snake came and deceived Adam and Eve and sin entered the world. No bother, God says, one day I’ll provide a way for sin to be defeated, for the serpent’s head to be crushed. Today, we can read that story and learn of the nature of temptation and what not to do All things work together for our good.

Think back to David and Bathsheba. David happened to be home, saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof and had sex with her outside of marriage. No bother, God says, I’ll give the world the man who was the wisest of all, and down the road, my Son will come from that familial line. Today, we can read that story and learn about the graciousness of God in His treatment of David and about the humility and repentance David displayed. All things work together for our good.

Think back to Gideon. God calls him to be a leader and a general of a small army against a big one. Gideon is fearful and worried. No bother, God says, I’ll show him how powerful I am by defeating that big army. Today, we can read that story and learn to trust God when circumstances seem overwhelming. All things work together for our good.

Think back to Jesus. Each and every action He took led to Him being crucified, led to the defeat of sin, the crushing of Satan. Every obedient act added up to perfection, which meant Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. Today, we can read about Jesus and be psyched that our salvation was paid for in full and that it’s set in stone, not moving, not changing, forever the same.

God works all things together for the good of His children. Everything. All the events of the past, all the events of the present, all the events of the future. Everything that’s happening today, God will make it for the good of the church and the members of that body.

Couldn’t ask for anything better.

On My Depression, My Anxiety and Following Jesus: It’s Not Really a Contradiction

One of the most devastating things that can happen to me is going to bed.

Don’t get me wrong: I love sleep. I love getting rested for the next day, whatever that day may bring. I love waking up refreshed. But if I go to my room, shut the door, turn off the lights and it get silent, I’m done for.

Why is that? Well, my mind starts to go nuts. I start calculating, thinking, analyzing whatever big thing it is that’s on my plate at the moment. It could be something to do with work, relationships, fighting sin, following Jesus. And this happens just about every night. I’ve gotten a lot better over the last year at controlling it and handling it, but there are still some nights where it’s a knock-down, drag-out fight with my own brain just to get to sleep.

I have anxiety, but more than the normal person. Or so I’m told. I look at other people and how they live their lives and how they seem to be so carefree and I’m thinking, “How the heck do you do that?” I’ve also dealt with bouts of severe depression, so much so that I’ve started taking anti-depressant medication.

But before I get any further, let me start at the beginning.

My Shy, Nervous Childhood

I don’t blame my parents for any of this. Just want to make sure that’s made clear.

Growing up, I was pretty shy. I’m not the kid who’s going to walk up to you in the park and say hello or tell you that your shoes are awesome. Now I think it’s adorable when kids do that, but I never thought that was a good idea when I was younger. I remember my parents taking me to events and introducing me to people, and I would shake hands as firm as I could, but I would mutter a “hello” or “nice to meet you” under my breath.

I think this is just a part of how I was made, part of my personality I can’t change. I still have moments like that today when I meet new people. Ask any of my friends who have introduced me to their friends; they’ll probably tell you that, except on the rarest of occasions, I don’t warm up to the idea of meeting or hanging out with new people.

O'Neal. And a dog.

O’Neal. And a dog.

When I was entering the fifth grade, I moved to a new school, The O’Neal School in Southern Pines, N.C. It’s a fantastic school where I basically prepared for college from the time I got there until the time I graduated. Nothing about college academically threw me off. But socially, O’Neal was a nightmare, particularly in middle school. My naturally shy personality led to me trying to do everything I possibly could to get people to think I was cool, girls to have a crush on me and not to get ignored. I got in two fights in fifth grade trying to “defend my honor.” I was really just being shy and insecure, trying to show off and get people thinking I was cool.

Case in point: I remember playing basketball at recess one day that year. A couple sixth graders were standing just off the court and were talking about me. “You see that kid?” one said, pointing at me. “He gets angry and wants to start fighting people.” (Side note: I don’t remember if those were the exact words, but something like those.) I heard him say that and started looking for an opportunity to get ticked at somebody. I found it, and shoved someone. Nothing really came of it, but it’s an exemplary story of where I was in fifth grade. I wanted people to know who I was, talk about me, etc.

As I progressed through middle school, my need to fight diminished but my need for attention and affirmation rose. I don’t think I was any different from any other sixth or seventh grader. I wanted girls (particularly the cute ones) to like me, guys to think I was cool and to get good grades. That last one is just one example of where my Christian upbringing had an interesting impact. I wanted to fit in and I wanted to be cool, but I didn’t want to do it at the expense of being a “good guy.” I’ve written before about my goody-two-shoesedness. I had to be the “best kid” in the whole school.

When it came to girls, it was especially complicated. I wanted to look at girls the “right way,” not going around comparing which one was the “hottest.” I also didn’t want to scare them away, which happened in the eighth grade. Long story short, I freaked one girl out, in her words. Not exactly my brightest shining moment.

So I left middle school and transitioned to high school trying to get people to like me, all the while not trying to freak out girls and be a “good Christian kid.” As if algebra and chemistry didn’t give me enough to worry about already.

My Lonely, Depressed High School Years

I went to high school and found myself resorting to a lot of the same patterns. I had legitimately become a believer during the summer before my ninth grade year, but little seemed to change. I still wanted people to like me, particularly girls, and I wanted to do the right thing. Those things often collided.

There were a couple weeks during my freshman year of high school when I cussed about every chance I could. Never at home, and almost never at church (I did under my breath once), but at school, I let it fly. One time in particular, I got ticked at someone on the basketball court (I’m seeing a pattern here), and let loose a string of expletives so prolific that led someone to tell me that I cussed pretty good. That gave me a sense of satisfaction, that someone saw something I did and recognized it as good.

Let me go ahead and throw something else in here: my parents and my home life were great. I have nothing to complain about there. The issues all came at school. The thing about being at school when you’re that age is that’s where you spend the majority of your time. From 8 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday, you’re surrounded by the same people, doing the same thing, in the same building(s), for four years. That’s at least 35 hours a week, minus the summers, for four whole years. Add in extra-curricular activities, and it’s more. You feel a need to prove yourself.

Things got a little better during my sophomore year. I got into filmmaking and made a short film that won me an award at my school’s small film festival (trailer here). There was some recognition from people and some friendships that were really blossoming. I had my first girlfriend the summer afterwards. Things seemed to be looking up.

Then: depression. For some reason, my junior year was the hardest year of my life up to that point. I had girlfriends during that time, things seemed to be, on the outside, going quite well. People liked me, I was getting along with girls. But something just turned in me. Looking back, I can’t seem to explain why. But at school, things were awful. I felt that no one at school liked me or cared about me. I didn’t think I had any friends. The people that I loved hanging out with the year before didn’t seem to be “caring enough” for me anymore. Again, I can’t explain it.

Me and some of the guys I graduated with.

Me and some of the guys I graduated with.

I would spend all my free periods and sometimes lunch periods sitting away from everyone else. When I started driving to school in the November of that year, I would take those periods in my car, watching episodes of The Office and just generally trying to stay away from people. I didn’t think people liked me, so I figured it would just be easier for me and them for me to stay away.

Let me remind you: I had no real logical basis for this. I had no empirical evidence that people hated me or didn’t want to hang out with me. I’m sure there were people who wouldn’t choose to hang out with me, but you get that everywhere. Anyways, I imagined all or most of it. My anxious desire for people to like me led me to take the slightest probability that someone didn’t want to talk to me and run with it, believing that that person didn’t care if I was alive or not.

During this time, there were occasional moments when I wrestled with thoughts of suicide. I never got serious about it, planned anything. There were just brief moments when I would consider it, consider what it would be like, then shake myself and realize that was not a good idea.

Life continued like that throughout my junior year. As senior year rolled in, things continued. The relationship I was in was not healthy, and that just complicated matters as I spent hours a day trying to figure out what to do. Deciding to go to Elon University didn’t take a lot out of me as most students’ college decisions do; I applied early decision and found out October 31st I was in.

I ended the relationship I was in during the January of my senior year and things started to look up. My depression began to fade as I made new friends, enjoyed life, had some fun. I made a short film that’s probably one of the most depressing short films about high school relationships ever if you understand it properly. But I had fun doing it. I went to my senior prom with a girl I had a crush on, but I think she was just being nice. But I didn’t take it too seriously. It was great!

I went into college with a little bit of anticipation, but mainly just looking forward to what was ahead, learning how to be a filmmaker, learning how to make movies that glorified God.

College Years of Anxious Depression

I went into college and things started off with a bang. The first night on my hall, a group of about 10 of us worked on putting together one of our new friend’s set of drawers, just hanging out, getting to know each other, having a laugh. I was ready to deal with some of the awkwardness of being around non-Christians a lot – I was one of a few Christians in my entire high school, my brother being one of the other ones – but didn’t exactly handle it well, coming across as quite self-righteous.

Once again, though, I fell into the trap of wanting to impress people and make them like me. But it was a different kind of trap. My anxiety revolved around wanting Christians to like me. I had grown in my faith to the point where it was involved in just about everything I did, and I realized that worrying about how non-Christians perceived me because of it was not helpful. But Christians was another story.

My dudes Eugene (left) and Ryan. Shout-out to Jerry, too.

My dudes Eugene (left) and Ryan. Shout-out to Jerry, too.

During my freshman year of college, the ministry I got involved with was super-loving, super-welcoming and I really enjoyed their company and their ministry. But the next year, I started hanging out with another ministry and, for whatever reason, all the old anxieties and depression came back up. I don’t blame the ministry for it. But being around new people and trying to make new friends brought up all the old feelings from fifth grade – the insecurity and the shyness I naturally carried just reared its ugly head again.

During my sophomore year, I was the RA on my hall, which started off wonderfully, but ended in a mess when a couple bad conversations and questionable decisions by me and others led to factions and divisions in a formerly tight-knit community. I felt solely responsible for the whole thing, and that took its toll.

Another thing I began to realize around this time is how sinful I was. And somehow I missed out on grace and the Gospel and how that applied to me every day. I knew the Gospel, believed the Gospel, but ignored the everyday affects of the Gospel in the life of a Christian. I struggled with sin daily and took it so hard. I became the opposite of the self-righteous person I was in middle and high school. I went from thinking “Oh look at me, I’m such an awesome Christian” to “Oh, don’t look at me, I’m the worst Christian in the world.” So now not only was I anxious about how people viewed me and grades in college, I also had to worry about my sin. “Had” is the operative word there; I didn’t absolutely “have” to worry about it, but it seemed like I did.

And, to be real with you all, I dealt with that until I graduated. Through overseas mission trips, multiple small groups, leading a weekly prayer meeting, living with other believers, I was anxious.

Really Examining the Depression

I haven’t really gotten much into the depression part of things, but it was mainly my anxiety that fed my depression. I would get anxious and overthink something, and then I would get sad about it.

Depression is awful. I can’t exactly put into words exactly what it is but here’s a shot: a condition where you fall very easily into a crippling sadness. The key word there is “crippling.” The Mayo Clinic staff define depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest…it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety or emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living.”

I’d say that’s pretty accurate for me. Sometimes the littlest things could set me off into a stretch of depression. It could be a stray word in conversation or a certain look someone gave me, or a life-altering event that threw my previous plans in a tizzy or a serious losing bout with sin and temptation. And it’s not something you can simply “snap out of,” or just quit.

It’s so easy, when you see someone who is at that very moment depressed, to just say, “try smiling” or “just push forward” or “let go and let God.”But it’s not that simple. It’s not that easy. If it were that easy, almost no one would still be dealing with depression. Most people don’t want to feel sad. But for some, it just comes. And it’s not something we can control.

One of the things that made me feel even more depressed was the thought that Christians shouldn’t struggle with depression. We’re supposed to be joyful and happy all the time, right? Was I really that rebellious that I felt sad at random times for seemingly no reason? Was I that bad a Christian? This led me to doubt my faith, doubt that I was really saved, doubt that I actually had a relationship with Jesus. There were a few times I begged God to save me again if necessary.

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That boy Trip Lee.

And for the most part, I held it inside. There were a couple times I did say something about the anxiety and depression, but I felt, for the most part, people didn’t know how to handle it. Christians didn’t know how to handle it. I remember one time being super honest and transparent about all the things I was dealing with, but the person just told me to change myself, do something different. I wanted to yell “It’s not that simple!,” but I didn’t have the guts to.

As I left college and moved back in with my parents, I began to confront this anxiety and depression head-on. I was tired of it affecting my work, my relationships with others and my relationship with God. There’s been some growing and some maturity, but I still struggle with it from time-to-time. As I said before, I’m taking anti-depressant medication to help with it, but there have been two things I’ve realized that have greatly helped me.

Grace and Sovereignty

The thing that I realized that has helped me with my depression is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s grace.

One of the most common forms my depression has taken is condemnation for past and present sins, sometimes future sins. I’ll look at myself and realize how much I suck, and then I get down. Sometimes I’ll think about how my present sins are going to affect my future and get depressed. There is no remedy for that greater than grace. Romans 8:1, which I’ve quoted at least 15 times on this blog as a whole, says there’s absolutely no condemnation for those in Christ. 1 John 4:10 says that love is defined by how God loves me, not by how I love Him.

That was so freeing to me! By the time I walked across the stage at Elon to receive my diploma, the majority of my depression came from my lack of obedience. I would sin in some way, and then I’d feel like crap. When I finally realized the depth of this, the width of the love which God has for me, it began to free me up to actually love myself and allow God’s love to guide me and fill me. I began to hold my sin against myself less and less. I began to believe the good things people said about me and actually be encouraged by others.

The thing that I realized that has helped me with my anxiety is realizing the depth and the width and the power of God’s sovereignty.

The majority of my anxiety has come from my fear of the unknown: what do they think about me, what will I do next, how do I handle this situation. I’ll feel helpless and unable to do anything right. Couple that with my fear of making the “wrong decision,” and it’s a deadly cocktail. There’s no remedy for that greater than God’s sovereignty. Romans 8:28, which I’ve quoted at least 7 times on this blog as a whole, says God works all things together for good those who love God and are called according to His purpose, so Christians.

This was so freeing to me! I can trust God with my unknowns and the decisions I make knowing that, whatever happens, EVERYTHING will work together for my good and God’s glory. And praise Him that it’s not my definition of my good, because that would turn out to be an absolutely dreadful definition. God’s timing is perfect, the cliché goes. It’s a cliché because it’s true. When I finally realized the meaning of this, it gave me so much more peace about decisions I’ll make, events happening around me. I began to be less and less anxious by default about things in my life, little decisions, big decisions, relationships, etc.

So the question is: am I healed from those things? No.

What? But you just said…

I know. I’m almost 100 percent convinced that these things will be things I carry to the grave with me. Thorns in the flesh, if you will. Rarely does an hour go by when I don’t spend at least two or three minutes collectively over-worrying about something I don’t need to worry about at all. It’s almost a constant thing for me, a constant analysis. I’m like those guys who comment on the NFL Draft Combine, but there’s a combine in my head almost all the time. I’ve gotten better at turning the volume down at times, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally off.

Why Do I Share This

As I’ve probably written before, “why” is my favorite question in all of language. You can learn so much about someone from getting them to answer the question why.

I share these things with you for a few reasons.

For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are Christians: You’re not alone. We’re out here. And don’t feel guilty for struggling with these things. If you look at Scripture, you’ll find people who had anxiety and depression. Read Jeremiah. Read Job. Charles Spurgeon struggled heavily with depression during seasons of his ministry. Dealing with these things does not disqualify you from being loved by God or being used by God. If you ever want to talk about it, please reach out to me. I’d love to speak with you.

For those who don’t struggle: Please take the time to read articles like mine or this one or this one. Mental illness is often not handled well by the body of Christ, and most people who write about it come at it from a scientific or outsider’s point of view. The science part of it can be very helpful, true, but there’s nothing like getting down in the trenches. Speak with those who do struggle. Love them enough to let them share this struggle with you. This is a very personal issue that is hard for most people to share about. I don’t relish speaking about this for the most part. Please don’t judge. Be patient. Be understanding.

Me and two of my longest friends. And by that I mean longest time, not longest anything else.

Me and two of my longest friends. And by that I mean longest time, not longest anything else.

For those who are in ministry: I beg of you, come alongside those who deal with this and don’t just rush to saying, “You have to think this way or have this attitude,” and expect it to be fixed. The conclusions I came to about grace and sovereignty weren’t fix-alls. When I’m reminded of them, there’s relief and peace, but it doesn’t stay. It’s a thing I have to be constantly reminded of, either by myself or others. We don’t need ministers who treat depression and anxiety with kid gloves or a casting-off glance. It’s a fearful thing for some of us to be honest about it.

For those who struggle with anxiety and depression and are not Christians: I can’t tell you that following Jesus cures me. But I can tell you that following Jesus gives me reason to push forward and continue to live my life with a joy I can’t explain. Give Him a shot.

If anyone has questions or wants more thoughts from someone who’s been there, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at zacharyhornereu@gmail.com or tweet at me at @zacharyhorner.

I hope as you’ve read this that, if you’re a regular reader of my blog (which there might just be 5 or 6 of you), you’re getting a better understanding of where I’m coming from in most of what I write.

Love you guys.

Oh, How I Despise the Process

I was sitting in my small group last night when we were talking about writing, specifically writing papers for classes. Everyone in my small group is under 25, so we’re either fresh out of college or in the middle of the education experience. One of them, our leader’s wife, is going to grad school online and was talking about how she loves writing papers. I then uttered one of the most truest things I’ve ever said about myself:

Writing is the only process I like, every other process in life I hate.

I’ll write about writing here in a few days hopefully, as this is the 99th post I’ve published on this blog and I’ve got a cracker coming for the 100th. So I’ll cover that more later. But I want to talk about the second part of that statement.

The most evident example of me hating “the process” is my dislike for school and education. Now, I’ll teach people, and I’ll instruct people. But me actually sitting in a classroom and learning: no. It’s something I very strongly dislike. By the time my senior year of college rolled around, I would dread going to class, I would despise having to do homework. But here’s the catch: when I actually did what I was learning to do, I loved it.

I was a journalism major in college, so my education was learning how to write articles and stories in a way that incorporated quotes, imagery, facts and events and grabbed people’s attention and informed them of what they needed to know. That was what I learned how to do. Actually sitting in class and learning how to do it, I dreaded. But when I got to go to football or basketball games for my student newspaper, or covered high school athletics for the newspaper in Burlington, I loved it. I was actually putting what I was learning into practice.

There’s positives to this approach. I tend to want to get things done, so dilly-dallying is something I rarely partake in because I realize how little that actually helps. I work quickly and, mostly, efficiently. I edit as I go, so mistakes usually don’t linger long. For the most part, I’m aware of how things in the present will affect things in the future.

Qui-Gon-Jinn-and-Obi-Wan-Kenobi-qui-gon-jinn-and-obi-wan-kenobi-4288304-600-384But here’s the catch. As the exchange goes in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace:

OBI-WAN: I have a bad feeling about this.

QUI-GON: I don’t sense anything.

O-W: It’s not about the mission, Master. It’s something elsewhere, elusive.

Q-G: Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.

O-W: But Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future.

Q-G: But not at the expense of the moment.

You may mock me for this, but I have kept that quote close to heart in the last few years. It is a common practice of mine to be anxious (something I’ll write more about soon), so it’s easy for me to be focused on the result and not on the process. I’m mindful of the future, yes, but often at the expense of the moment. I often either miss out on what’s going on or don’t learn what I need to from the present because I’m spending so much time on the unknown, on what could happen, on what it all means.

Therefore, I’ve discovered that I hate the process. I can’t stand the twists and turns that come with getting to where I’m going. And oftentimes that’s caused me to quit in the middle of the process because it’s not getting to where I want it to get to. Relationships, school, work, sanctification, following Jesus, being healthy. If it’s a process, I probably don’t like going through it.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that going through the process is part of the game. It’s part of this thing called life where we’ve got to live with a bit of uncertainty, we’ve got to be OK with not knowing everything and just living in the moment. It’s not easy for everyone. For me, it’s one of the more difficult things I deal with because I just want to get it all figured out, I just want to get to the end. I want it to be easy. I want it to all be done for me in a moment.

But that’s not how life works.

What’s the cure to dealing with this? How do I appropriately respond to this?

The biggest takeaway from me has been this: God works through the process. It’s been one of the most difficult things for me to accept and believe. There are still moments throughout each day where I’m thinking, “God, why can’t You just make everything happen now? Why can’t You just solve it all at once? Why can’t I just know now?”

The only thing that happened at once is my justification – my salvation from my sin, accomplished the moment I believed, because of Christ’s death on the cross.

I then think about all the things that are worth having in life and realize this: they’re all processes. Romantic relationships. Good jobs. College degrees. Discipleship opportunities. Sanctification. Deep friendships. Those things don’t come overnight. They’re work, work often in progress several times throughout my lifetime.

  • I think about the friendships I’ve developed and realize they didn’t get to where they are in one 24-hour span.
  • I think about my college degree and what I’ve learned and realize it took four years – plus all the education before that – to get it.
  • I think about my sanctification and realize it won’t be done in this lifetime, but everything I’ve grown in so far didn’t happen overnight and is a blessing from God to be appreciated.

God really does work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Often it just takes a lot longer than we’d desire.

But it’s totally, 100 percent worth it.

I’m Not Quite Doing What I Hoped to Do

Back when I arrived at Elon before my freshman year of college, I figured that I’d get some serious time at home during the summers, but after that, I was gone from good old Sanford forever. But then even the summers got taken away. After my freshman year, I worked as a camp counselor at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters. After my sophomore year, I went to Myrtle Beach as part of Campus Outreach’s Summer Beach Project. After my junior year, I went to South Africa for seven weeks as part of Campus Outreach’s Cross Cultural Project.

After my senior year, I figured, I’d have a job somewhere away from home.

Fairview Dairy Bar in Sanford.

Fairview Dairy Bar in Sanford.

However, things are different in real life.

I’m going home.

There were a couple job options away-from-home that didn’t quite work out. Plus, there’s potential employment at home that could work out. I don’t quite know for sure what that future holds, but whatever it is, Lord-willing, I’m going back to Sanford, N.C., after graduation on May 24 to live in my parents’ house.

This wasn’t what I expected.

This wasn’t what I hoped. I hoped to be “moving on” by this time. I hoped to be “growing up” by this time. I never equated “growing up” or “moving on” with going back home.

However, I’m stoked.

See, God has a funny way of altering our life trajectories, at least in our view.

It was always in his plan that I would be back home after graduation, sleeping in the same bed I slept in during high school (I got a new one around freshman year), in the same room, in the same house, with most of the same people (my brother will be a junior at Elon), going to the same church, driving around the same town. A lot of it will be similar.

But now, I get a do-over in Sanford, almost. Back in high school, so much of my relationship with my city was from a distance, for lack of better words. I didn’t give Sanford much thought, to be honest. I went to school in a different town. The only real serious relationship I had with Sanford was my church.

Now that I’m coming home, I get a chance to approach Sanford in a whole different way. It’s a city that, like every other city, needs the gospel. They need the hope of Jesus, the hope of the gospel, the joy that comes from pursuing God. I’m excited about doing what I can to help there. I’m excited about plugging into my church, Turner’s Chapel, in whatever way possible. I’m excited about developing relationships with guys my age to pursue Christ together. I’m excited about any ministry efforts God throws my way. I’m excited about going to church with my family every Sunday.

I’m excited about eating at the Dairy Bar, Elizabeth’s Pizza, Yamato’s. I’m excited about going on jogs at Kiwanis Park. I’m excited about going grocery shopping at Food Lion. I’m excited about hitting up Belk’s for the dress shirts I’ll probably need for my new job if I get it.

I’m excited about a lot of things. But I wouldn’t have pegged this opportunity that way four years ago. God has a funny way of doing that.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) 

My Faith Is Not Blind

I’m not really a fan of spontaneity. Never really have been. Being in college, I’ve become OK with it because it just happens sometimes.

But I don’t like doing things with somebody unless I planned it the day or three days or a week before. I leave for things probably a little earlier than I need to because I want to be sure to give time for things that might happen on the way that would delay me. I don’t like stepping forward in an unfamiliar situation unless I have step-by-step instructions on how to handle it.

Whoops. Doesn’t happen all too often.

Funny thing is, to others Christianity seems similar to those spontaneous situations sometimes: no real firm foundation, no basis, no rationale, just believing and something unseen and unconfirmed and doing something. It even seems that way to us believers sometimes, taking steps as a blind man, not knowing if we’re going to walk smoothly or trip. BlindCurve

Beautiful truth: Christians don’t have “blind faith.” Sometimes we take steps that seem blind, but we have an unshakeable rationality for doing so.

My Experience Tells Me Different

I’m about to step into one of the most difficult seasons of my life: post-graduation. I graduate from Elon University in 25 days with a degree in communications with a concentration in print/online journalism and a religious studies minor. Just thinking about that is truly crazy. To think, just about four years ago I was getting ready to graduate from The O’Neal School in Southern Pines, N.C., prepped to head off to Elon to study cinema, to be a filmmaker.

So much has changed in my life since August 2010 when I entered Elon. I’ve grown closer to Christ, seen others believe in Him for the first time, developed strong relationships with brothers and sisters in the faith and so much more. And through it all, I’ve seen God prove Himself faithful. Let me count some of the ways:

  • God was faithful to provide me with a strong community of believers during my sophomore year when other friendships were incredibly strained and broken.
  • God was faithful to grow me in seeing the need for the spreading of the gospel through a mission trip to South Africa, a summer in Myrtle Beach and other experiences on campus at Elon where I was blessed with the opportunity to proclaim truth.
  • God was faithful to give me opportunities to improve my writing and reporting abilities through classes, time spent on staff with the student newspaper and an internship with the local newspaper.
  • God was faithful to convict me of sin in my life and push me towards a deeper understanding of His grace and forgiveness in the midst of conviction.

All throughout these four years, I’ve seen the truth of Romans 8:28 fulfilled over and over: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God has proved Himself faithful by making everything work out for my good over and over and over and over and over and over again.

I Don’t Have to Fear

So if God has proved Himself faithful over and over, why do I still fear the future? I sat in the sun room at my house at school last night just fretting over and over about not having a job yet, not knowing if my current plan is a good one. Basically, not knowing the future.

I shouldn’t be upset that I don’t know the future, by the way.

So when I don’t see the future, when things seem blind, when I literally don’t know what’s going to happen, I can have faith that God will prove Himself faithful in some way. He’s promised to work all things together for my good. And He’s followed through with that promise in the past. I don’t have to fear anything.

But I don’t work that way, do I? I think of the Abraham story, when God asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac even after God had promised to make a nation out of his bloodline. Hebrews 11 says Abraham was prepared to offer him up “by faith…He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (v. 17, 19). He did what God commanded because He knew what God was capable of, knew that God would follow through with His promises to the extent of raising Isaac from the dead. Sometimes I don’t live like that because I like to have visual confirmation of everything. But as Christians, we don’t walk as blind. We walk with full confidence, full sight, clear sight, into situations.

It’s like driving around a blind curve (the picture above). We know generally where we’re going, we just don’t know what’s on the other side. But we go because we know where it’s headed.

I can have confidence that God will guide me where I need to go, confidence that I have all I need. I just need to take that step. As I step into my future, I can step into those unknown situations knowing that all things will work out for my true good and God’s glory because that’s what happened in the past and that’s what God has promised, and I can count on it happening again.

So can you.