Be Not Afraid

We are living in turbulent times. This should not come as a surprise, since the Scriptures tell us:

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. ~ 2 Timothy 3:1 (KJV)

At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” ~ Hebrews 12:26 (ESV)

The closer Christ’s return draws near the more difficult things are going to become (see also Matthew 24). Nevertheless, the people of God do not need to be paralyzed with fear.

With the recent concerns of the Coronavirus, many have gone into an irrational panic, while others have tried to exploit the situation.

I question the chaos around me. Is the panic, closings, etc. truly warranted? What I do know is I am not in control—but my God is. Furthermore, whether by a virus or something else, I am going to die someday. What good is all the toilet paper and supplies worth, then, if I didn’t have Christ? Therefore:

I will not live in fear, what’s going to happen is going to happen. I will do the best I can day by day.

I will be thankful. Tomorrow I might not have a house, food, job, etc; but TODAY I do.

I will not hoard. I will purchase as I have need of just as I always have.

If my family, friends, or neighbors are in need, I will not close my heart to them if they need me. God knows that there are times I need them.

I will remember the poem, “If,” by Rudyard Kipling, for it is an excellent reminder of what it truly means to be a man in difficult times.

And I will try to not be so cynical of panic, hoarding, and attempts to exploit that I am aware of. How else should human depravity be expressed? Any peace, goodwill, or benevolence I might have simply comes from my Lord Jesus Christ. How truly arrogant of me whenever I think otherwise!

My friends, whatever may come, May we not be afraid. May we find comfort in God, and through Him support and comfort one another.

Several years ago I wrote the following song. I hope it may be of encouragement and comfort to your heart, mind, spirit.

Be Not Afraid (I’m Watching Over You)

Be not afraid, though nighttime approaches;
Though shadows stir within the dark.
Be not afraid, for I am your Starshine,
And I will be shining within your heart.

Be not afraid, though storm clouds might gather,
And tears might fall down like the rain.
Be not afraid of thunder and lightning,
Know that the daytime will come again.

Chorus:
Be not afraid, dear child,
You’re not alone;
Be not afraid, My child,
I am with you.
Be not afraid, dear child,
Though you can’t see Me;
I am your God, My child,
I’m watching over you.

Be not afraid, though winds might be howling,
Taunting you within the dark;
Be not afraid, for I will be whispering
My love and peace into your heart.

(Repeat chorus)

Be not afraid, no, be not afraid;
Be not afraid, dear child, be not afraid.
Be not afraid, no, be not afraid;
Be not afraid, My child, be not afraid.
I am your God, My child, I’m watching over you.

~ G.P.

To God be the glory. Peace to you. You are loved!

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.

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.

Be Willing to Be Kind to Yourself

I was sitting there the first week of intensive outpatient therapy for my depression. A lady sitting across from me shared with the group, “Be willing to be kind to yourself, and speak well of yourself.” While I have come across this concept numerous times since then, it was revolutionary to me that particular winter morning.

It almost seems silly, does it not? Yet how many of us are guilty of criticizing ourselves, sometimes echoing hurtful words spoken to us years—perhaps decades—ago? We  are critical of our size, our nose, our smile, or complexion. We make a mistake or fail at something, and our thoughts go to, “Man, I’m so stupid,” or “I’m never going to amount to anything.” On and on the criticisms come.

What is the “Golden Rule”? Jesus teaches us: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). How do we desire to be treated? With honor, respect, mercy, kindness, patience, and love, correct? But why? Because we are divine image-bearers!

Being kind to ourselves is not the same as being selfish or conceited. Rather, it is being humble but not self-abasing; acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them, but not paralyzing our growth by self-criticism and self-fulfilling prophecies. It is acknowledging our strengths and giftings but not becoming conceited.

When you look at others, regardless what you might think of them, each of them have both strengths and weaknesses. Each of them are God’s image-bearers, even though many pay no thought to Him. Nevertheless, each has incredible value God has bestowed on them. Many of them are oblivious to their true worth and purpose, and all the while being quite self-conscious of their weaknesses (even those who appear to have it altogether).

In the same manner, that person you see each time you look in the mirror also has strengths and weaknesses. That person deserves to be respected and complimented, because that person is also an image-bearer of his/her Creator. That person does not need to be criticized for their appearance or shortcomings. That person deserves to be taught, admonished, and encouraged. Indeed, show kindness to those you meet, Lord knows the world needs more kindness. But remember to be kind to the precious one looking back at you in the mirror. This person deserves some kindness too—not the least coming from you.

A Deeply Broken Heart Can Lead to the Development of Deeper Compassion

Cash was our “three legged bandit” we adopted from the local animal shelter. When we got him he still had stitches where a back leg had been amputated. He had recently been rescued from his previous owners who paid no attention to his injured, useless, infected leg.

Regardless of any hardships he had gone through, there was not much he was afraid of. In fact, he brought a sense of security to our other rescue, Jolie. While they had their share of scuffles, there was a bond between them. Jolie felt safe with him, even enough to go outside to potty and play when it was thundering and lightning!

Cash had a bark that would make others afraid or uncomfortable, but he was actually a big ol’ cuddle bug. He always made his rounds, some nights going to our son’s room to be with him, some nights cuddling next to me on the couch, then some nights cuddling next to his favorite person, his mama. I am certain inside that doggie brain of his he thought my wife was his girl and not mine. Whenever she and I would hug or smooch, Cash would run up, “Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!” with his tail a-wagging, as he would shove himself in between us, as if to say, “This is my girl, bucko!”

Make no mistake, he could be a pain in the butt, but I loved that crazy dog. Far more than I realized. He often made me laugh. I was convinced he had watched a lot of romance movies, because he would look a person in the eyes, hold the gaze, and slowly draw near to give doggie kisses.

We had him for about two years when something dreadful happened, and we had to make the heart wrenching decision to put him down. The day arrived when we would take him to the vet. On the way there we stopped by Burger King and got him a couple of sandwiches. When we arrived at the clinic he was all excited. To him, he thought he was going to simply get a thermometer put in his rear, a shot, a bunch of treats, then go home. Just as plenty of times before. Little did he realize the very one he trusted most was bringing him to his death.

He was so excited they had to give him a tranquilizer to calm him down.  My family and I loved on him while we still could. Soon the tranquilizer began kicking in, so the vet began euthanasia. Cash began shaking and I knew he was afraid. I got in front of him as he laid there. As I petted him, I told him, “It’s okay, buddy, it’s okay.” There was a tear coming down from his eye. He was being betrayed by the very one who loved him so much. I just kept petting him and speaking to him as he slipped away.

I never had my heart break in such a manner. For the next several months I would have periods of crying, as I missed Cash terribly. I was very angry about this situation. “Was it not bad enough to have my heart ripped out by those I sought to minister to?” I cried out to the Lord. “Why did this have to happen? He still had a lot of puppy in him!” The whole situation was unfair, and I held onto some resentment for quite some time, I confess.

There were those who did not understand. To them, Cash was “just a dog.” But to me he was so much more. It was not important they did not understand; however, my heart was broken into a thousand pieces. Ah, but this was a lesson in compassion to be learned. There are those around me and afar who suffer loss; some of these losses might appear trivial, but are devastating to them, nevertheless. I do not need to understand, I simply need to empathize. As their heart breaks, I am to remember the anguish of my own heart breaking. I might not understand why they are taking a loss so badly, but their pain is very real and far from being trivial.

The strange thing about compassion and empathy is that we must experience suffering and heartache if we would have these qualities developed in our lives. Pain and heartache hurt. Sometimes to the very core of our being. While we do not always understand, these do serve a greater purpose, a greater good, although we often wonder how any good can come out of pain.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)

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

The Illusionary Reality of Feelings

The French philosopher, Rene Descartes, once said, “I think, therefore I am.” There is truth to this, as his point is that his existence is proven by the fact that he could think and reason. One could not do so if he did not exist. Such logic is indisputable.

An error many of us make is thinking, “I feel, therefore it is.” That is, the way I feel necessarily reflects reality. However, our feelings truly have an illusionary factor that can be destructively deceptive if we are not careful. This is not to say our feelings are always wrong; nevertheless, our feelings are not always correct in interpreting reality. Mind you, the feelings themselves are very real, but the thoughts that lead to our feelings are not always truthful. Thus, our feelings can project an illusionary reality that is not real or correlating with the truth.

Consider whenever someone stubs his toes on furniture, the pain he feels corresponds to reality. This is no illusion, as anyone can attest who has ever stubbed a toe! Or whenever someone loses a person or pet she loves very much, the loss and accompanying emotional pain is connected to the reality of loss and grief; therefore, the pain is related to a legitimate loss. But what about when a person feels alone, unloved, hopeless, anxious, or worthless? While the feelings are quite real, do they (and the thoughts that fuel them) necessarily correlate appropriately with reality? Mind you, this is not to say that one’s illusionary reality does not contain any truth. However, our minds and emotions can work together like a biased news team, focusing on certain aspects, while jettisoning a lot of facts.

Our minds and emotions are incredibly powerful entities. This is strange, considering both are entirely non-material—seemingly non-existent; after all, neither can be handled, seen, or smelled. Neither are made up of molecules; nevertheless, these seemingly non-existent entities have the potential of erecting and enslaving persons within self-made prisons and hells. Beginning with a thought (often triggered from a hurt within actual reality: for example, an unkind word, rejection, ridicule, abuse, etc), this thought then becomes like a board. This (negative) thought is followed by another, and another—until a structure is formed. Eventually “walls” are built, with the intention of protecting; however, they actually end up becoming one’s imprisonment. While our intention is to protect ourselves, too often we isolate ourselves. In doing so, we tend to condemn ourselves, others, life, and even God Himself. The projected illusion then swallows everything that makes life meaningful—including any purposes for the legitimate pain and disappointments in life.

By nature, I have a melancholy temperament. I am introverted, analytical, conscientious, moody, and introspective. To say the least, I am not the life of a party. At a large gathering I tend to feel awkward, restless, and bored. Awkward, because I desire to fit in. Restless, because I feel as if I do not fit in. Bored, because I am too afraid to “let my hair down” and force myself to interact with those around me (for fear of rejection or appearing foolish). So my mind and emotions conspire against me. Negative thoughts (for example, “I do not fit in” or “no one wants to talk to me”) trigger negative feelings of rejection and isolation. The projected illusion is that I am isolated, rejected, and unwanted. But is this actual reality? My mind and emotions say it is, but the true reality is I am surrounded by people, in many cases persons who are friends and family who love and care about me very much.

Several years ago I resigned from a pastoral position. My family and I were betrayed and deeply wounded by some individuals. Within a month of my resignation my dad died, then several months later my mother-in-law passed. Within the next couple of years my wife and I had several family members and friends pass. Our family had to put one of our dogs down prematurely. This broke my heart in a way I had never quite experienced before. I earned my Master’s degree, but doors were not opening. During this time I felt like a failure as a minister, husband, father, friend—as a person. I felt abandoned by God. I felt as if I was a total disappointment to Him. My thoughts condemned and criticized me ruthlessly, and my feelings projected an illusion as though my mind was presenting truth. My mind and feelings equated my worth and identity with my sense of failure and abandonment.

The illusionary reality was that I was unloved by my family, friends, and God; that I was not needed, and this world would not be missing anything if I was dead. I felt extremely alone, disconnected, and trapped inside a deep, dark pit. This was the illusionary reality. But what was the actual reality? The actual reality was that I was depressed, hurting, and grieving. Although my wife and son were upset and hurt by my angry outbursts, they still loved me. While there were certain persons who, I believe, did forsake me, my family and true friends never did. Furthermore, when the light finally pierced my darkness, I realized God had not gone anywhere, but had been with me and lovingly watching over me the whole time. I did not stand condemned, but my salvation in Jesus Christ remained secure by what had secured it from the beginning—His grace and shed blood. The actual reality is faith, hope, and love had never evaporated, but continued to remain. I felt like I hated life, but in actuality it was the feelings of loneliness and inner turmoil that I hated.

But what about the projection of the world not needing me (or you, if your mind and emotions ever project this)? Most of us will not ever be called “world changers” or be remembered hundreds of years from now in history books. Yet, God places us where we are. The love (or hate) we share, and the choices we make affect those around us. We will have some who like us and others who hate us. We will be rejected by some, while others will admire us. While we will not see it, and might not be remembered for it, we never know how God will use our words and actions to influence another, who will then influence another, etc. With all this said, regardless of the illusionary reality my mind and emotions project, the actual reality is I am needed. I am not here by accident (and neither are you). God was personally involved even during my conception (see Psalm 139:13-16). The world and its communities need the philosophical melancholy to help remind them of the deeper things in life. Just as it needs the animated sanguine to remind them of the joys of life and hope; the dynamic choleric to give them a swift kick in the pants, and to remind them there is still work to be done; and the mediating phlegmatic, who reminds them to keep calm, and who reminds them of the need for peace.

Perhaps the most devastating effect of the projected illusionary reality is that it tends to hide God, seemingly taking Him out of the equations altogether. Even if the world was to hate me, my Creator loves me—so much, in fact, He gave His Son to die for me! My calling is not to be a world shaker. My calling is simply to honor God day by day, striving to love Him with all my heart, and to love others as myself. Whether this ever makes the history books does not matter. For when the time does come for me to die, I will not be giving an account to those of Hollywood, Washington, or even the United Nations, but only to God. As long as my life is honoring to Him in this life, I can be certain that my life matters and is making a difference, whether or not I can see it or feel it. This is actual reality!