Heaven (Part 1): The Christian’s Longing

The world mocks the concept of sin; nevertheless, we see and experience its ravaging effects through violence, crime, addictions, betrayal, heartache, loneliness, weariness, sickness, suffering, and ultimately, death.

Life can be very dark and wearisome—even for the people of God. The Scriptures are neither shy nor vague about this. Jesus says,

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” ~ John 16:33

Paul writes:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. ~ 2 Timothy 3:12

Even the people of God can grow weary and discouraged. The author of Hebrews writes to such individuals:

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

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 Emotionally Cancerous Choice and Its Path to Healing

Each of us have been hurt, betrayed, or abused by another at some point in time. This comes with being human, living among other humans, in a fallen world. Nevertheless, the manner in which we handle and respond to our hurts, betrayals, and abuses is vital.  Our immediate emotion is anger. This is a natural response—especially if the wrong done was neither provoked or justified. However, to hold onto anger and the unwillingness to forgive is injurious to one’s own wellbeing.

“Why should I forgive him? He does not deserve forgiveness! I will never forgive him!” How often such words are spoken with gritted teeth. Yet, such words reveal great misunderstanding. Forgiveness is not about letting a person off the hook and acting as though the offense had never happened; rather, it is the freeing one’s own self from a self-imposed prison, and finding healing from an emotional cancer that will grow. As for not deserving, none of us deserves forgiveness, but each of us need it.

The emotional cancer resulting from an unwillingness to forgive can affect a person’s relationship with others—especially if the bitterness towards the unforgiven one is constantly vomited onto others. The refusal to forgive will also strangle inner joy. However, the most detrimental aspect of stubbornly refusing to forgive another is the way it affects one’s ability to hear and relate to God. Here, the pretense of religion can be very deceiving, because a person can believe he is in good standing with God, but completely oblivious to the warnings of the Scriptures.

Jesus says,

But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. ~ Matthew 6:15 (ESV)

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” ~ Matthew 18:32-35

The apostle John writes:

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. ~ 1 John 3:15

So, as one can see, forgiveness has much to do with the wellbeing of the one who had been offended. But let’s be honest, many of us have permitted the emotional cancer of resentment to eat away at us. Some who are reading this probably still have not had it “treated.” If we would be healed, then we must be willing to forgive. This form of “chemo” is no easier than the physical kind.

So how does one begin to forgive?

  1. Be honest about the offense and the hurt, as well as the possibility of the perpetrator not being honest about the offense. Your healing is not for the perpetrator but for you. Be honest with God about your feelings, anger, hatred, disgust, shame, etc. Be honest with Him about the pain and turmoil you feel, and take the time to cry.
  2. Ask God for the courage, grace, and ability to extend forgiveness. This might need to be prayed several times. Yet, this process will help flush out some of the infection, so to speak. As you experience the anger, ill-will, etc., confess these. John writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
  3. Be open and willing to forgive, and leave any judgment in God’s hands. Allow yourself to heal and to move on.
  4. Try not to dwell on the offense. Living through it is quite enough; there is no need to keep reliving it in your mind.
  5. Repeat the steps as needed.

Forgiveness tends to feel counterintuitive, but it really is for the emotional and spiritual health of the forgiver. To refuse to forgive only permits the emotional cancer to grow and spread. Forgiveness and letting go is the only cure. It seems like a cruel irony: the refusal to forgive will not harm the person the grudge is held against, but will cripple and destroy the one holding the grudge. Your willingness to forgive is not for the benefit of the one who hurt you, the benefit is for you. Do yourself well—forgive. You are worth it!

Weak, Mighty Warrior

We people are a paradox: we are quite fragile, as mere words can cut us to the core; yet, we can be strong and resilient, rising up from circumstances that can otherwise be crushing.

This day, my friend, your night might be long, but know that morning will come and the sun will again shine upon you. Your winter might seem eternally cold, but your spring will again come with its warmth and beauty.

You might feel weak, as though you cannot go on—but you can, you must! Allow your storm to soften the ground so you can grow deeper roots. Sway along with the winds, yet allow them to strengthen your branches.

All pain hurts (physical, emotional, etc.), but none define. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ, even while you hurt, and He will not waste your pain, tears, or even your failures. As you are wounded, you will be strengthened. As you heal, you will be as healing to others. As you forgive, you will find freedom. As you recognize you are weak, you will also find that, in Christ, you are strong.

But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

Be encouraged, Warrior, you are weak, but you are incredibly strong!

For to Us a Son is Given

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” goes the Christmas song. However, for many it is the most loneliest time of the year.” In the midst of all the beautiful Christmas lights, for many this season is very dark. During the calmness of the falling snow, there is an unnerving restlessness within. With talk of “holiday cheer” there is deep sadness. Joy and hope seem as mythological as Santa himself. 

Although we try to decorate this season with colorful and glittering beauty, the fact remains we live in a fallen, broken, and hurting world. We give and receive gifts of fleeting pleasure and delight, most of which will break down and be thrown away eventually—mere reminders of the temporal significance of the things of this world.

Ah, but there is one Gift given to all, but seemingly insignificant to most. In fact, most people will neglect this Gift. We tend to like gifts of monetary value or instant gratification, but this Gift gives us neither. However, this Gift does give what the human heart craves most: peace, joy, hope, significance, and a relationship with God. Mind you, this Gift does not take away all the hurt, pain, and heartache—but it does redeem them for good. Furthermore, this Gift does come with the promise that one day all suffering will cease, and every tear will be wiped away.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. ~ Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

What is this Gift, and who is it from?The Gift is Jesus Christ our Savior, and given to us by God Himself. Oh yes, many will mock and scorn. Politicians and philosophers will continue to give worthless promises of a utopian society that will never happen (the corruption in the human heart will forever prevent this). 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. ~ Isaiah 9:6-7

This Gift comes with fullness of redemption and the washing away of guilt and shame. This Gift comes with truth and grace, and teaching us what it truly means to love and be loved. 

This Gift can neither be bought or earned, but it must be humbly received. God will not force anyone to receive it, but to reject it one does so to their own peril.

This Gift is given to you. What have you done with Him? Yes, life will still hurt. Jesus does not promise to eradicate all hurt. Yet, in Him the day will come when all suffering will and tears will cease. For now, He promises forgiveness and His presence.

For to you a Son is given. Have you received Him? 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. ~ John 1:12

I hope you truly have a very merry Christmas!

Worth Fighting For

One of my favorite lines in “moviedom” is in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Frodo is feeling the weight, weariness, and hopelessness of the evil bound to the ring. His friend Sam tells him, “There’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Like Frodo, the heaviness of life can weigh a person down, and all one can feel is the loneliness, hurts, evil, and despair. Despondency begins to strangle hope, and distorts one’s perception. One forgets about the sunlight and trees, as all that can be seen is a fiery sky painted over darkness, illuminating a barren land of devastation. However, Sam’s words are just as applicable to us.

When I was in the darkest parts of my depression, and despondency had sucked out of me any desire for living, I would cry out “I hate life!” But I remember during more honest times during prayer, acknowledging to God that it was not truly life I hated; rather, it was the loneliness, sadness, heartache, with the added sense of meaninglessness and abandonment. I did not so much have a morbid lust for death—I simply wanted the continual pain and despair to end. Nevertheless, the feelings of being unwanted and unnecessary were debilitating. 

Perhaps, on this day, you can relate. Maybe you are feeling defeated, as it seems to take everything within you to take another step. Are you asking yourself, “What difference does it make, anyway?” When we consider the characters in Lord of the Rings, Frodo did not have the skills of a man, the stealth of an elf, or the strength of a dwarf. Yet, his part within the mission of the fellowship of the ring was indispensable! The same can be said of Sam, an unsung hero of the fellowship. 

Dear one, maybe everything around you appears dark and bleak. I beg of you, do not give up. There is still a lot of good worth fighting for—including your life! Do not compare yourself with others, for there is no comparison. Others may be greater at this or that, but your life is essential for the purpose God created you! Even within the mundane there is design. Keep fighting, because there is still good worth fighting for, even if you do not recognize it at this moment of time!

If you have found any encouragement from this post, I would love to hear your thoughts. Blessings!

Let the Warrior Within Arise

Trembling before the obstacles,

While adversaries advance;

Depression, Fear, Failure, the like —

Make up the foreboding circumference.

The taunts, the laughter, the endless lies

That you would be better off dead;

The mockery shatters the silence,

And keeps echoing inside your head.

Oh timid one, do not cave to the voices,

But let the Warrior within arise;

Be armed with the Armor, held securely by Truth,

And know your Help comes from on high!

Know that defeat is not your destiny,

Rather, Victory is to be your fate;

Lift high His banner, sound loud His truth,

Each lie annihilate!

Behold, your comrades stand beside,

Hope to your left, and Faith on your right;

Just when it seems that all is darkness,

You’ll find that the Lord remains your Light!

Rise up, oh mighty Warrior,

Fixate on Him who is Faithful and True —

Your Defender, your Shield, your God

Who securely watches over you!

Though your enemies vehemently advance,

In Christ, Warrior, take your stand;

And if you stumble e’en seven times,

He will mightily uphold you in His hand!

~ G.P.