Does Truth Matter?

Does truth matter? Is it relative? Can persons genuinely have their own individual truths? These questions initially appear idiotic; however, truth has fallen on hard times. And strangely, many who deny truth or declare it to be “relative” are the very ones who tend to vehemently oppose those who disagree with their views.

Isaiah writes:

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. ~ Isaiah 59:14 (ESV)

Earlier he writes:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! ~ Isaiah 5:20-21

C. S. Lewis notes,

“If no set of moral ideas were true or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilised [sic] morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality. In fact, of course, we all do believe that some moralities are better than others.” Lewis goes on to explain, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.” [1]

Apart from truth we cannot truly have justice, order, structure, or a foundation. Apart from truth we are left with opinions, illusions, chaos, lawlessness (anarchy), oppression, and insanity. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). This can put persons in very dangerous and costly predicaments.

This is, in part, why our societies are in such a mess. We have ideologies based on desire but not logic; we have opinions based on feelings—fueled by emotions—but not necessarily on reason. As if these are not bad enough, the graver consequence is the loss of ourselves—our real self, our true identity, and our deeper meaning.

Jesus asks:

For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? ~ Luke 9:25

Elsewhere, He says:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! ~ Matthew 6:21-23

If one’s eye is healthy (desirous for what is true and good), a person will be filled with light (truth). But if a person’s eye is unhealthy (desirous of what is temporal, corrupt, false), then a person will be filled with darkness (falsehood, deception)—and how terrible that darkness is!

Ours is a world filled with passions, greed, and lusts. Because of the insatiable covetousness and cravings, people do horrible things to try to satisfy these longings. As a result, our world is also filled with unpleasant consequences: abuse, wounds, scars, guilt, shame, confusion, brokenness, and fear. Yet, these are not what we were created to be; these are not our identities—at least, not the original intentions of who we were to be.

But what is truth? Pilate had asked Jesus this question:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. ~ John 18:36-38

The text implies Pilate did not really care what truth is—just as many do not care today. What matters is their ability to fuel their drives and succumb to their pleasures. What relevance, then, does truth have?

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. ~ Romans 1:18-19

So, what is truth? Jesus states plainly:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ~ John 14:6

Sanctify them in the truth; your [the Father] word is truth. ~ John 17:17

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” ~ Matthew 5:17-18

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. ~ Matthew 24:35

These are astonishing statements. Jesus is not simply saying He speaks truth, but that He is the very essence of truth. He is stating that the Father’s Word (the Scriptures) are truth. He is declaring emphatically that the Scriptures and what He says are absolutely reliable. For those who profess to be Christians (i.e., followers of Christ) but accuse the Scriptures as containing error do not realize the inconsistency of their supposed faith. The very God and Savior they claim to believe in had complete confidence in the Scriptures; in fact, the very Scriptures they cast doubt on are the very ones He declares, “it is they that bear witness about me” (see John 5:39).

At the close of His sermon on the mount, Jesus says,

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” ~ Matthew 7:24-27

Do you realize what He is saying? He is declaring with authority His teachings are foundational, giving stability and structure. It is important to note that many recognize Jesus teaches a lot about love; however, often persons use this as a license and condoning of immorality and unrighteousness. The love Jesus teaches us does have perimeters.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (emphasis added)

Similarly, throughout Scripture truth and wisdom go hand in hand. James, contrasting worldly wisdom from wisdom from above, writes:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. ~ James 3:13-17 (emphases added)

So, does truth matter? More than we can even begin to imagine. As long as people continue to suppress the truth (see Romans 1:18-32) in order to pander to desires, mythologizing it and declaring it as “relative,” and speaking such foolishness that persons can have their “own truth,” our societies will continue spiraling downward into mayhem. Even worse, continuing to stumble in complete darkness while never realizing they are in the dark.


Notes:

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1952),11.

The Risk, and the Courage, to Love

To love. I do not mean the raging hormones seeking to find release that is mistakenly called “love” and so extolled and worshiped in music, novels, and film. No, I mean LOVE: genuine benevolence, compassion, and desire of wellbeing for others.

Authentic love requires courage, because it is accompanied by sacrifice and risk. On this side of eternity, love will always result in heartache. Such heartache will come by means of being nonreciprocal (rejection or resistance), betrayal, or loss (separation or death). Each pain is different, but each hurt immensely to the core of our being.

Without romanticizing or glamorizing love, we must be willing to ask ourselves, is it worth the risk? One should not be overly critical of those who have felt the wounds of heartache stemming from what, from their part, was true love: loss of a parent, a friend moving away, the betrayal of a lover, the death of a pet, rejection by one greatly admired, etc. Such internal pain can embitter a person. There are those who choose to harden their hearts and close them up securely, so that they might protect themselves from such suffering again. Their hearts become like walls of Jericho—none shall enter and they shall not come out (see Joshua 6:1). Yet, this too, comes with great risk.

Only as a person is open to love, both willing to extend and receive it, can he truly experience the wonders of love, joy, connection, and true humanity. Furthermore, as much as we can extend and receive love can we truly appreciate another’s kindness or sacrifice, a baby’s dependency, a dog’s kisses, a friend’s good intentions, another’s sincere apology, the beauty of life, etc.

As mentioned, to choose to not love also comes with risk. One can choose to protect themselves from further pain of heartache, but not without imprisoning themselves to a place void of joy, peace, and true purpose. A person might protect themselves from the heartache of rejection, betrayal, and loss; however, replacing these is the pain of loneliness, friendlessness, disconnect, bitterness, and resentment. Furthermore, he misses his deeper purpose, as our species is created to be relational. In other words, he imprisons himself and forfeits freedom. Sadly, there are many who find such imprisonment worth it—just as long as they can protect their hearts. But in the long run, do they?

To love does not mean we are to be naive or stupid. We are to be discerning who we befriend, keep company with, and give our hearts to. Indeed, the Scriptures command us to love others—including our enemies. However, we are also told:

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. ~ Proverbs 13:20 (ESV)

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:33

Love does not mean condoning or passively putting up with abuse and meanness. Let us be clear on this. However, we should not close and harden our hearts, suspecting the universe—and everyone in it—is against us. We should not set standards so high as being impossible for others to attain. We should not erect a wall, and having a grotesque gargoyle appearance on our face—intimidating anyone who would dare approach us. And we should not shoot back a cold, empty stare when someone greets us with a warm smile.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. ~ Romans 12:9-13

Notice, genuine love abhors what is evil, and it does not rejoice at wrongdoing. Love is not about phony niceness, becoming a doormat, or giving allowance to anything and everything. Nevertheless, love is patient, kind, and honorable with others. In other words, love does not wink at corruption or turn a blind eye to injustice. However, love does not condemn everyone guilty until proven innocent or withhold mercy at every shortcoming. Love remembers, compassionately, that no one is perfect and grace is required.

Yes, there is sorrow and pain that come with embracing the risk to love, but there is greater risk in not doing so. The sorrow that comes with love is mingled with times of joy, delight, and connection. The closed heart prohibits such mingling but remains as a dank, lonesome dungeon.

Do Not Throw Away Your Confidence

Faith. What is this ambiguous phenomenon? There are three popular flows of thought in our contemporary world concerning faith, and all three are wrong.

First, the view of faith as being this mystical, ultra-spiritual experience; borderline Christianized paganism (perhaps even crossing the boundary in some cases). This view is very sensory and emotionally based. The problem with this view has to do with the fact that our feelings can be very misleading, misinterpreting, and quite deceptive.

Second, the view of faith as always being victorious and prosperous. This often condescending view perceives those who are sick, poor, defeated, etc. as schmucks who “lack faith.” The problem with this view is it essentially makes faith into a god, as if the true God is obligated to bow to it. Furthermore, it discredits genuine faith in others, and disregards passages in the Scriptures that tell of believers who were commended for their great faith but who were permitted to suffer or go without.

The third, and most arrogant of the three, is the secular view that sees faith as utter foolishness, and often treats persons of faith with contempt and hostility. This view accuses faith as being blind, and as a leaping into the dark haphazardly.  The problem with this view is it is often quite hypocritical, for its adherents often blindly follow ideologies and theories that have proven calamitous or which have no evidence.

Indeed, there are mysterious aspects of faith, but is it mystical? Truly, faith is triumphant (“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” [1 John 5:4, ESV]), but does this mean there are no bumps, bruises, or battle-wounds? No mistake, faith travels without seeing the whole picture, but does this mean it is blind and mindless?

Here is what the Scriptures tell us about faith:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear…. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. ~ Hebrews 11:1-3, 6 (KJV)

Notice, there is substance to faith, as well as evidence. Furthermore, through faith there is an understanding—not a shot in the dark. The substance, evidence, and understanding are each founded upon the framing of the world by the word of God. Although there is a confidence which accompanies faith, does this mean it is void of questions—even of doubt? While faith is overcoming, does this mean it is never weak?

David asks:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? ~ Psalm 10:1

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? ~ Psalm 13:1

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. ~ Psalm 22:1-2

The prophet Habakkuk asks:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? ~ Habakkuk 3:2-3

Jeremiah asks:

Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? ~ Jeremiah 12:1

The writer of Hebrews writes of various persons of great faith, of their victories, exploits, and answers to prayer. Then he shifts gears and writes of others of great faith:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith. ~ 11:35-39

Faith is not about “feeling,” but is about trusting God—even when it feels like He has turned His back, is apathetic concerning our cries, or powerless against our adversaries. Faith is not about apparent victory or prosperity. These passages reveal that there are times faith can be accompanied by heartfelt questions, soul-shivering feelings of loneliness and abandonment, and apparent defeat of persecution. Faith is trusting God’s character, faithfulness, wisdom, justice, and power—despite our feelings, questions, and faulty perception.

So, is faith a mindless, blind leap into the dark? John the Baptist (whom Jesus referred to as the greatest born of women [see Matthew 11:11]) was unjustly imprisoned and soon to be executed. Even though he knew Jesus was the Messiah, his dire situation perplexed him. John sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replied:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” ~ Matthew 11:4-6

John (whom Jesus declared to be the greatest of men) was not rich. Now he was alone, and seemingly abandoned. What was Jesus’ instructions for John? To observe; to pay attention. Jesus was restoring lives. To the one who is willing to observe today, Jesus Christ is still restoring and transforming lives, even while He might allow us to remain in unpleasant, perplexing situations. We come then, to a fork in the road, where we must make a choice: to choose to be “offended” and travel in unbelief or to trust in Him and His faithfulness.

Perhaps this day your faith is being tested. The fires are raging or the waters are rising. You are afraid, perplexed, and God feels far away. But God tells His people:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. ~ Isaiah 43:1-2

The writer of Hebrews was writing to a people who were suffering persecution because of their faith in Christ. Many of them were discouraged to the point of abandoning their faith. The writer sought to encourage them (and us):

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. ~ Hebrews 10:35-36

Dear reader, may you remember what God has done in your life and the things He has shown you. May you remember that He never said the journey of faith would be easy (but He has promised it will be worth it). May you hold firmly to your confidence in Him and His atoning work on our behalf.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. ~ Psalm 37:23-24

The Reality and Severity of Teen Depression and Suicide

Recently I was reading some articles about depression and suicide amongst teenagers. I was saddened to read of present statistics revealing suicide as the second leading cause of death of persons ages 10 through 24. According to a study done by the Jason Foundation, “More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.” [1]

There are those who will snidely ask, “What do young people have to be depressed about?” The world has changed a lot since the 1980’s and early 90’s (when I was a teenager), just as much had changed then as compared to the generation(s) before mine. There have been significant paradigm shifts attacking the very foundations of truth, family, morality, etc. These shifts have created a lot of unrest and uncertainty. As technology has increased, making the world seemingly smaller, many young people are also feeling more isolated. Added to this is the problem of “cyber bullying.”

Since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, there has been a rise in shootings in schools, churches, and public venues. Then later, after the Twin Towers catastrophe (what is referred to as “9/11”) in 2001, there has been a heightened concern of bombings and terrorism. The uneasiness many youth feel is warranted.

Our educational system insists on teaching evolution (despite the fact science does not support this), denying there is a God, and essentially teaching we are all but cosmic accidents. All the while we are told that we matter. Adding to their (teenagers) confusion is the plurality of contradictory religions and ideologies, as well as the relativizing truth (i.e., placing feelings and emotions over logic and facts; “What is true for one might not be true for another”), but life does not work this way. What a disservice to our young people!

Many homes are no better, as many children are raised in single parent homes, or with parents (or boy/girl-friends) who are abusive (verbally, psychologically, physically, and/or sexually). Many youth are traumatized by the divorce of their parents or the loss of loved ones. Still, many children are then harassed, bullied, or isolated at their schools. Many are ridiculed—even ostracized—by students and teachers, alike, for their faith (if they have such). Added to this are the temptations of peer pressure, sex (of various kinds), alcohol, drugs, etc.

Sometimes adults minimize the stress young people are experiencing, but many of these things mentioned are major stressors even for adults, let alone young people who are still in developmental stages of life and trying to begin to figure life out! Such pressure can lead to depression. If depression is not dealt with it can lead to suicide. According to the study mentioned earlier, done by the Jason Foundation, each day in America alone 3,069 high school aged persons attempt suicide (this amounts to 1,120,185 persons per year)! These numbers do not include middle school aged persons.

There is not a single element to blame for suicide, but by and large depression is a major factor. Jason D. Thomson notes some of the common variables that contribute to the rise of depression and suicide amongst teens: “These precursors include drug and alcohol use, broken homes, economic status, race, suicidal ideation, poor self-esteem, distress, poor coping mechanisms, sexual orientation, victimization, as well as a lack of social connection and support.” [2]

Later Thomson notes one study had found “Among teens, approximately 9 in 10 teens who are suicidal display clues or warning signs to others.” [3]

Katherine Murphy gives a list of red flags to watch for: “Expressions of hopelessness or sadness, slipping school work, loss of interest in sports or other activities, weight change, and sleep disturbances (insomnia or sleeping too much) are the most common warning signs.” Murphy then adds, “Pay attention also to less clear-cut signs of depression. These include somatic complaints (such as abdominal pain or headaches), preoccupation with death (such as always dressing in black and writing about nihilistic themes), running away, truancy, sudden rages or social withdrawal.” [4]

Jason Thomson notes that there is an increased risk of suicide whenever a teen feels frustrated, helpless, and hopeless in their ability to problem solve. He gives a similar list of warning signs to that of Murphy’s, but he observes, “Depression can distort an individual’s reality and the individual then fixates on their shortcomings, failures, and disappointments.”

While the outlook initially appears bleak, there is hope in helping teens get through their depression and overcoming thoughts of suicide. In their research on teen suicide in Canada, Barbara L. Paulson and Robin D. Everall found that three factors appear to be of immense help to teens. First, the development of self-efficacy and personal worth through increased coping and problem-solving skills. Second, an increase in social support and having someone they can confide in and who will genuinely listen. And finally, feeling accepted regardless of their difficulties. The writers note that educators have a tremendous impact, for better or for worse, on teens’ psychological functioning regardless of the difficult situations they are going through. [5]

How can we begin to help our troubled youth? I used to be a youth pastor, and I can attest to the fact times have changed. Ours was not a big group, but I was surprised how many had lost friends due to senseless violence. Some students were quite concerned about potential bombings where their parents worked or shootings at their schools. Others essentially had free reign as to their wanderings, having no real stability at home.

Young people need to know they are loved and their lives have genuine significance. One of the great problems with our secular humanistic education system is its hostility toward any references to God and creation, and its firm grip on the theory of evolution (again, true science does not support this theory). The importance of this matter has to do with human significance. If, indeed, secular humanism were true, if people were but by products of this process called evolution, then we would not have real significance. Regardless what our institutions tell us. Secular humanism basically teaches humans are so great, yet here today and gone tomorrow. Honestly, where is there any significance in this?

But the Bible tells us something wonderfully different about people:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. ~ Psalm 139:13-14

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. ~ Jeremiah 1:4-5

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. ~ Acts 17:26-27

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5:8

Our children and teenagers have significance because they were intentionally designed, “woven,” and are loved by a Creator who has made each of us in His image. Young people are not cosmic accidents or “mistakes” of their parents. Young people need to know this.

We must also help our youth through their coping and problem-solving skills. Our society is doing a grave disservice to young people by catering to their every whim and feeling. The theologian Martin Luther said it well: “Feelings come and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving.” Feelings are not one’s identity. Who among us knew and understood who we were during our elementary years? One of the areas that makes our teenage years difficult is the process of beginning to understand ourselves. Truly, for many this is a life long journey. How ridiculous that parents and teachers are pushing agendas as if young people “know” who they are based on feelings. Let time and growth develop them. However, irreparable damage can be done if we try to rush the process and “put the cart before the horse.”

Next, we need to listen. The skill of listening is underdeveloped in many of us. Ours is a society that likes to talk, to lecture, to spout out opinions—even if void of logic or sense. Sometimes, especially when youth are needing a “safe place” to confide, we need the skill to listen and the wisdom to know when—and when not—to speak. This can be extremely difficult if you are a teacher or caregiver, because such persons desire to teach and fix. However, there are times our best teaching and fixing come when we are simply listening and being present for another.

Finally, young people need to know they are accepted, valued, and loved. This does not mean we must condone their behavior, views, or beliefs. However, they need to know that they are not castaways or disposable. They need to know their lives are of value and have purpose, that they are worth protecting and investing our lives into.

Sadly, doing these things will not end the tragic reality of depression and suicide of children and teenagers. However, if we can improve on helping young people to feel loved, accepted, and of significance, then hopefully we can see the numbers of the statistics of youth suicides drastically decrease.

Notes:

[1] Youth Suicide Statistics – Parent Resource Program. (2017). Retrieved from http://prp.jasonfoundation.com/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/

[2] Thomson, J. D. (2018). Discussion Around Depression and Suicide in Teens Today. Vanguard Practices from Practitioners, winter/spring special edition, 37-42.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Murphy, K. (2005). What Can You Do to Prevent Teen Suicide? Nursing, 35, 43-45.

[5] Paulson, B. L., & Everall, R. D. (2001). The Teen Suicide Research Project. The Alberta Journal of Educational Research. 1, 91-94.

Moms, You Rock Stars—Shine On!

This post is meant to, hopefully, encourage moms out there who are striving to be good moms, but who have found that they are, well, human. You are tired; after all, you are awakened in the middle of the night. During the day you are changing diapers, cleaning, cooking, running errands, making sure your children are where they are supposed to be (school, medical appointments, practices, etc.). On top of this, many of you have jobs outside of the home in order to make ends meet.

Some of you feel embarrassed, ashamed, or even like you are a horrible mom, because you see other moms who appear to have it altogether. Their houses are immaculate, yours has toys all over and laundry is never completely finished. Their children are well behaved, while your children are like a bunch of wild monkeys. Other moms seem well rested and always keep their composure, while you caught yourself losing your cool—again—after dealing with another day of criticisms from family, crying kids, crayon writings on the walls, teenagers screaming, “I hate you!” because you have set necessary boundaries.

Moms, give yourselves some slack, and stop comparing yourselves to other moms. You have a tough job that is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining! The dynamics in your home are not identical to those of other homes. It is okay. It is also okay that you have imperfections—EVERY other mom does too. It is okay that your child(ren) do not receive everything they desire. It is okay they receive discipline when they are being unruly (proper discipline comes with being a good parent).

Moms, I trust that most of you are trying the best you can with what you have. You do not have perfect knowledge concerning how to raise each unique child. You might not be rich. Chances are, you have some unchecked boxes of responsibilities and chores still needing to be done. But are your kiddos being fed? Do you consistently tell them how much you love them? Are you teaching them right from wrong, and warning them of dangers? Do you properly discipline them to correct them? Do you comfort them when they are scared or hurting? Are you there for them when they need you? Do you love them so much you would lay your life down for them? If you can say yes to these (sure, probably imperfectly), let me tell you, YOU ROCK, MOM!!!

My mom did not have an easy time raising the four of us (me being the “baby”). She was a single mom most of my growing up years, sometimes working two or three jobs to make sure there was food on the table and a roof over our heads. There were times she felt like a failure because of some the poor decisions my siblings and I made. There were numerous times we broke her heart by what we either said or did. She does not really realize how much of a hero she is to me, even though I try to let her know.

Growing up we were certainly not rich. While we got many nice things for Christmas and birthdays, we had our share of clothes from Kmart and rummage sales. There were seasons we did not get to go to restaurants very often. Nevertheless, my mom worked her butt off to make sure our needs were met!

But I learned some amazing things from this dear lady who never had the opportunity to go to college. She taught me about the Lord, at least the essential basics. She taught me right from wrong, and taught me about the reality of consequences. She taught me about unfailing love and grace, as her love for us continued, even when her own heart was severely wounded. I learned a measure of integrity through discipline (I know what old school butt whoopings are). From her I learned what it means to say, “I’m sorry,” as there were times she would verbally lash out or discipline more than what was warranted. I learned a lot about forgiveness, as she was never one to bring up past faults or rub our faces in our mistakes. I learned not having “name brand” everything really is not that big of a deal (to this day, many of my clothes are bought at Walmart, and I really do not care what people think). Perhaps the greatest things I learned from my mom is compassion and empathy. See, my mom knows what it is like to suffer a broken heart and to fall on hard times. There have been numerous times her eyes filled with tears and her voice cracked when reading a sad story from a newspaper. And times I got on my high horse about something, she would gently let me know that I would possibly have made the same decisions if I had been in someone else’s shoes. Mind you, my mom was not perfect, and still is not. She has made her share of mistakes raising us. However, she has ALWAYS been there whenever I, or my siblings, needed her.

Moms, give yourselves a break. Yes, there might be times your kiddos are little hellions and your teenagers literal nightmares who say hurtful things. Remember, they are also going through difficult things (I am so glad I am not a child or teen these days). So what if on this day you are in your sweatpants and your hair is a mess? So what if you were unable to get today’s dishes washed or every piece of laundry done and folded? At the end of the day do your children know you love them? Do they know you are their safe place? Are they learning that life hurts and is sometimes unfair, but you will never forsake them? If so, know your children will grow and call you blessed. And know that rock stars are at their best when they are pouring themselves out, tired, sweaty, and grimy! Is this not when we cheer the loudest? Likewise, moms, you are at your best when you are pouring your love onto your kiddos—even when you do not look your best, and you are tired. You are rock stars—shine on! Your legacy will be enduring!

Understanding a Loved One Battling Depression

Depression. It is not simply sadness (“What do you have to be sad about?” one naively asks), nor is it a hurdle or a mesmerization (“Get over it!” “Just snap out of it!”). Furthermore, depression is not a single element stemming from a single cause. Rather, it often consists of multiple factors weaving from numerous sources.

Depression can stem from painful events, grief/loss, anger, guilt, shame, loneliness, failure, disappointment, anxiety, fear, stress, chemical imbalance, or a number of other things—sometimes built up over time. Often it is a combination of these things creating the perfect internal storm. Thus, to state aforementioned comments to a person struggling with depression is not only naive, it is also callous—inflicting further injury onto someone who is already hurting.

Depression varies from person to person, and is on a sliding scale from mild to severe. It can feel as a gray sky, a swamp, a pit, or an abyss. It can feel as a light mist to a raging hurricane. It can range from a feeling of sadness to utter despair.

Perhaps you are living with a person who suffers from depression. Admittedly, such a person can be difficult to be around. For sure, he is not the life of a party; indeed, she can be a “Debbie Downer.” But please be patient and sympathetic with such persons. As much as you might not enjoy being around them, he or she does not like feeling the way they feel either. Mind you, this does not mean to tolerate outbursts of anger, but it does mean more is going on inside of a depressed person than what you see externally.

To you, their depression might seem inconceivable. Overall, their world and reality might appear good (and, indeed, might very well be); however, their hurts, fears, feelings of failure and shame are just as real. What you say to them might be true and logical, but the lies and accusations rambling through their minds seem just as true and logical.  Inside of them storms are brewing, as thoughts and feelings mingle together, forming internal tornadoes. Bombarding his mind are accusations of his failures, highlights of every blemish and flaw, screaming echoes of regrets, and any number of lies that will make her feel unloved, unwanted, worthless, and ever increasingly isolated.

In addition to all the bewilderment (for the person who is depressed, as well as their family and friends) is when thoughts of suicide begin aiding feelings of despair. Some, who have never tasted the bitter waters from the well of despair, will accuse those struggling with suicidal thoughts as being self-centered—thinking only of themselves. Before I address such accusations, let me say this first: Thank God if you have never experienced such darkness, such aloneness, such despair! Such lofty condescending judgments reveal an ignorance, because persons speak with such certainty concerning matters they know nothing about. Like a person wanting physical pain to be taken away, persons struggling with suicidal thoughts simply desire an end to the internal anguish that can seem perpetual.

“Well, they’re not even thinking about the effects such an action will have on their family and friends!” someone will snidely say. This, by and large, is not true. Within the depressed person’s thoughts, as distorted as they might be, he truly believes he is doing his family a favor. She truly believes she will not be missed, as though the world would be a better place without her.

Please understand, I am certainly not advocating suicide or saying it is a legitimate action. One of the great aims for my blogging is to extend some hope to persons who might have otherwise lost it—to hopefully steer them away from taking their precious lives! Yet, I also want to help those who have a loved one struggling with depression to validate the deep anguish their loved one is feeling—without preaching, lecturing, criticizing, or judging them.

I have shared in previous posts about my own struggles with depression, and I plan to share more aspects of it in posts to come, as well of things that help. I wish I could say that I am now completely free of all depression, but this would not be honest. What I can say is what I experienced when my depression was at its darkest (at least, what I have experienced to this point), I would not wish upon anyone. I hope to share more in the near future about the darkness and confusion, the “diabolical logic,” and the despair that I felt. Suffice to say, for now, is I felt extremely abandoned, and that my family would be better off without me.

I admit, I still question at times what difference would it make if I were not here? Genuine, close friends are scarce. I know God loves me, but I  question that He actually delights in me (I have my reasons). I bear within me a broken, wounded, battered, and perplexed heart. U2 says it well: “And in our world a heart of darkness, a firezone where poets speak their hearts, then bleed for it.” [1] While I can pour my heart out, you could not truly understand—unless you have experienced this too. My point is this, my depression did not just happen one day. I did not just decide one day to not enjoy life. There have been constant chips and wounds spanning many years. I have been lied to, betrayed, rejected, and forsaken by some I had trusted. There are reasons for my withdrawing, skepticism, and pessimism.

I am not saying the attitudes, thinking, or responses of the persons who are battling depression are good or right. What I am saying is there are reasons—even legitimate ones—for these. The depressed person is feeling a deep inner pain—one they cannot simply go to to the doctor, take a pill, and have the infection go away in a week or two. No, it is far deeper, and much more complex, than this.

People tend to feel uncomfortable around the depressed. To be fair, it can be like walking around on eggshells. No doubt, depressed persons have a tendency to push others away—this serves more as a defense/protective mechanism. The irony of it all is this is when the depressed one needs others more than ever.

The person struggling with depression does not need you to preach to, lecture, criticize, or judge them. What they need is for you to be there, and to validate (this does not mean you have to agree with) their feelings.

In the book of Job, we read:

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. ~ Job 2:11-13 (ESV)

Job’s friends were of great comfort to him for a week—and then they started opening their mouths, thinking they were qualified pastors, psychologists, and theologians. After this Job finally bellows, “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all” (16:2).

Sometimes your love can speak volumes when you simply validate your loved one’s feelings, are present, and say nothing at all—until he or she is ready to talk.

Notes:

[1] U2 (words by Bono), “One Tree Hill,” from the album The Joshua Tree, 1987.

The Willow Tree

The Willow Tree

“Why does the willow weep?”
A child asks.
The question is ignored,
As he and his mother
Pass by the willow tree.
And but for a mere speck
Of time,
The willow rejoices,
In that someone took
The time to care.

Although I wrote this poem a number of years ago, the message remains the same. Those who are hurting (grief, depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc.) do not need anyone to fix or lecture them, but
to listen and genuinely care. They need to know they are loved and have a sense of belonging, because they probably already feel like an island detached from the mainland.