I want to talk about the listing of sins and why we as Christians feel the need to do that to ourselves and especially to other people. I’ve heard too many times the excuse, “but we are supposed to speak the truth in love” when a fellow Christian speaks about one type of sinner or another. I think we need to think long and hard before we try to point out anyone else’s sin. Are we truly doing it in love to try and help that person? I hope so, but often that isn’t the case. In my opinion, we feel the need to call out someone else for their mistakes and sin for two reasons.
Writing this post has been difficult for me. In almost four years of blogging I’ve never talked about this part of my life, but for a while now I’ve known it was time. Writing this series about living Life to the Full has made me take a hard look at myself and the areas of my life that prevent me from living a full life. All of my life I’ve struggled with periodic depression, usually set off by a negative event. Childhood bullying, break ups, injuries, family losses and tragedies, any time something negative happens in my life I know I’m at risk for a bought with depression. The feelings are familiar and I now know how to recognize them as they creep in.
I’m sharing this now because I’ve been struggling recently and know that I’m not the only one. Recently we had an accident that could have been tragic and was completely my fault. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the mistake and the “what ifs” are haunting me and causing me to battle my old and familiar adversary, depression. My hope is that by airing what I’m going through possibly someone else will find light in the darkness. I believe that when we talk about our struggles out loud and bring them in to the light, their power over us diminishes. I’m hoping shedding light on this side of my life will bring light in to another’s. I believe much of this struggle is spiritual, as well as physical and chemical. I am a follower of Jesus, and my perspective here reflects that. If you are not, know that you will hear no judgement from me. I’ve tried to include helpful insights for those of all (or no) faith backgrounds to the extent that I can while remaining true to what I believe.
I’m not any type of expert on depression, just a fellow sufferer. I’ve been medicated on and off through the years, but never found healing through anti-depressants. I’ve gone to counseling on and off as well, and found much more healing there than through medication. I’m of the opinion that everyone can benefit from counseling. If you’ve never tried it, seek it out. Many churches offer it for free. I’ve never been suicidal, except for a few fleeting thoughts while on Zoloft, a prescription anti-depressant. I then read that suicidal thoughts are a side effect of Zoloft. What the?!?! It seems irresponsible to prescribe an anti-depressant with a side effect like that. When I felt those thoughts creep in I immediately reached out to my counselor and doctor, who had me stop taking the medication. If you EVER experience thoughts of ending your life, please seek help immediately. See the resources at the bottom of this post for more information.
In my own battle with depression, I’ve found five daily (some hourly) ways that I can choose to fight back. Again, I’m no expert. These choices are things that work for me and help me to get my head above water. To me, depression feels like I’m in deep water and can barely keep my face above the surface. It takes all the energy I have to keep from sinking. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to let myself sink, but that is not the life God wants for me. John 10:10, the verse I keep going back to throughout this series, says that “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” Depression is such an example of how the enemy’s lies can destroy the life God wants for us to have. We can choose to listen to the lies telling us that God doesn’t love us, that we aren’t good enough, that who we are isn’t enough, and sink down into the dark. Or, we can choose to believe that God created us for life to the full and get up and live it.
1) Start the Day.
This one is practical, but also powerful. When I get up before my children, make my bed, get dressed, grab coffee, and spend quiet time with the Lord, my entire day changes. When I am struggling, my instinct is to stay in bed as long as possible, stay in my pajamas all day, avoid quiet time, not take care of myself, and wallow in negativity. Choosing to start my day has a huge impact on how I feel. If you have children, get up before them. If you don’t, set your alarm 15 minutes earlier than normal and take that extra time for yourself. If you are a follower of Jesus, spend 10 minutes in the Bible, with prayer and reflection each morning. If you are not a follower of Jesus, spend 10 minutes in quiet reflection. The soul needs that time, no matter what you believe.
2) Choose Gratitude.
Make a list of everything you have to be thankful. Whether you are thankful to Jesus, a higher power, or the universe, choosing gratitude can be a powerful tool to fight off the darkness. When you take the time to write down the big and the small, it changes your perspective in an incredible way. Reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts was a game changer for me. When I feel those “woe is me” feelings coming back, I look to my list and force myself to write more. Choosing gratitude in the midst of a personal storm in my life is the toughest, but makes riding out the storm much more bearable.
3) Choose Joy.
When the darkness closes in, part of fighting back is to look for joy and choose it. Joy is very different from happiness in that it can come in the midst of pain. Joy can be a reflection of the good in others, the smile of a child, the laugh of a friend, while happiness is more self focused. Choose to smile at other people and mean it. Choose to laugh and be around people who make you do so. Enjoy the people in your life. If you have kids, play with them. Celebrate all that is good in your life. Wallowing in discontent will cause me to sink lower and believe lies about myself that just aren’t true. If I daily (and hourly) seek out joy, my entire perspective shifts.
4) Run Away from Darkness, Towards the Light.
For me, this means running away from the things that bring me down and towards God. Are there negative influences you keep running toward? They may be a person, a website, an activity, a substance. While you can find incredible encouragement and positivity online, you can also find hatefullness and evil running rampant. I have to limit my exposure to Facebook because all of the hateful political posts and fear mongering shares really cause me to sink. A friend stopped using Instagram because it caused envy and discontent to creep in to her heart. For a while I visited a forum that was drowning in darkness and negativity. In the midst of a dark time I wanted more of it, wanted to feel bad. I had to stop going all together because of the way it cause me to sink deeper. When I run towards God, I choose time with Him first. Before I check my email, before I do anything, time with Him wins. Running towards the light may mean banning negativity from your life from tv, music, movies, social media, and even some friends. Choose uplifting things. If they bring you down, run.
5) Run to Community, Away from the Shadows.
Negativity thrives in the dark, in the hidden. When I find myself avoiding friends, running towards lonliness, refusing company, I know I’m in the midst of a depression battle. My instinct is to run to my bed and wallow in the bad feelings. To fight it I must force myself to reach out and grab community. Say yes when someone invites me out. Answer the phone. Have real conversations. Let people in. God can use people powerfully in my life if I let them in.
In Genesis 16:13, Hagar gives God one of my favorite of His names. She says, “You are the God that sees me.” She is in a dark place, has been mistreated and suffered, but in the midst of it God comforts her. God sees us. He is the God who sees me. I’m choosing to believe that. I believe and know that He loves me. He wants real life for me. He sees me. He sees you. He knows you and loves you. His heart hurts when yours does and breaks for you in your suffering. He is the God who sees you.
I’m a talker. Always have been. Like many great talkers, I’m not always the greatest listener because I’m often formulating what I’m going to say next rather than hearing what the other person has to say. It is a very real fault of mine and I long to be a great listener. When it comes to listening to what the Lord has to say to me, I’m often too busy to slow down and listen. This past Sunday our pastor preached on Psalm 46 and the need for us to just be still and listen, and know that He is God. It was exactly what my soul needed to hear. He asked us if we would even recognize our soul if faced with it, and my answer was, “I don’t know.” I want to be a woman who knows herself and her soul and her Jesus. I want to be a person who listens to what God has to say to me and spends quality time with my Savior each day.
In a world taken over by two very small but demanding people, it is a challenge to have silent alone time. We all have excuses, don’t we? Before kids came along it was something else. My challenge to myself this week in my quest for Life to the Full is to slow down, shut up, and listen. My plan is this: get up 30 minutes before my kids, grab a cup of coffee, read my devotion for the day, and listen. In silence. Will you join me?
This week’s challenge: Spend time in silence with Jesus.
How do you carve out time to listen to the Lord?
You can read the rest of my Life to the Full series here.
Who do you want to be when you grow up? What steps are you taking to become that person today?
Who am I? Who do I want to be? For what will I be known or remembered? These are the questions of life and as I come upon my one year anniversary of leaving a career I loved to stay home with my children, I find myself wrestling with them yet again. My own little mid-30s existential crisis is taking place. I look at who I think I am and how I would describe myself and realize that most people would not see that person if they looked at me right now. If you read my blog today, do you know what I’m about? I don’t know. I want to change that. I want to be the person I want to be RIGHT NOW. Not in ten years. Not next week. Now.
I want to live intentionally and work towards being the person I’ve always longed to be. First I have to figure out who she is. I have to define myself. Not who I used to be, but myself right now. Motherhood is wonderful. It is all I had hoped for and so much more, but it has a dangerous way of eclipsing all that a woman was before and causing that to disappear in a wave of spit up and dirty diapers. I am a mother, yes. What what else? Who else? Right now my wee ones are dependent on me for everything and so that role can easily swallow up all my others. Soon they will be independent creatures and I will be left not knowing what to do, who to be, who I am. I want to continue to be me, the person God has made me to be, while mothering and loving my children with my whole self. Is it possible? We’ll see. First I must define who I am and what I want to do with this one life I’ve been given.
Growing up, we all made fun of my mom constantly for her habit of leaving half drunk cups of coffee all over the house. I never understood how she could keep forgetting her cup and never quite get through it without having to reheat it. Let’s just say the veil has lifted.
I am now the mother of 2 children under age 2 and can barely find time to feed myself, much less finish a cup of coffee before it gets cold. I’ve found my forgotten half drunk cups all over the place from the microwave to the changing table and everywhere in between. The other day I found myself complaining about never getting a chance to just sit down and enjoy my coffee and breakfast. I felt an ache in my heart for my old job in full time ministry with Young Life. I loved that job and pray that He calls me back to it when this season is over. In that moment I felt the Lord’s gentle reminder that THIS is the season I am in right now and it won’t last long. This season of 2 in diapers and nonstop breastfeeding and 3 hour intervals and never being alone and never having a completely clean house for more than 10 minutes – THIS is where He has me right now. In a brief moment my baby will be a toddler and my toddler will be a big kid. Before I know it their complete dependence on me will be gone forever and I will have all the time in the world.
I am so thankful for the reminder to be where He has placed me right now. So today I am choosing gratitude. I am thankful for 2 healthy children who need me constantly. I am thankful for an easy childbirth and quick recovery. I am thankful for a teacher husband who has only a few days left of school before summer vacation. I am thankful for nap time. I am thankful for this high calling to be a stay at home mama. I am thankful for a God who loves me even when I choose to be a brat instead of a grateful child of His.
Although I’ve been a follower of Christ for 14 years, my rebellious spirit hasn’t changed. The season of Lent is so good for me because it causes me to embrace spiritual discipline and die to myself over little, insignificant sacrifices. As any good rebel knows, our instinct is to fight anything that goes against us having our own way, sometimes to our own detriment. Lent is just that. We are supposed to give up things that get in the way of our relationship with Jesus and be reminded of His sacrifice. My very nature fights this so hard. I’ve come to the conclusion that for me at least, Lent is less about what you give up and more about the spirit of sacrificing a bit of what you want on a daily basis to have a bit more of Jesus. For me, Lent is not about dogma or rules or punishment. Lent is about reminding myself of the suffering my Savior endured so that I could have the life of freedom I embrace the other 325 days of the year.
It is for this freedom that Christ has set us free. Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galations 5:1). I refuse to let myself become a slave to anything, not my own wants, not religion, not anything of this world. Lent reminds me of how selfish and sinful I really am, and makes me ever so much more grateful that Jesus died for me WHILE I am still a sinner. Not after I cleaned myself up. Not after I got my act together. Right in the middle of my mess He gave His life to pay the ransom for mine. And yours. While I’m still sinning. Amazing grace indeed.
Will you sacrifice anything this Lenten season? I plan to, but I know I’ll mess up, cheat, give in, and start again, probably by the end of this week. You probably will too, but remember this spiritual discipline is teaching us through our mistakes and helping us to grow in our faith as we struggle against our own sinful self.
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:4-5,7,10)
One of my summer staff ladies from Trail West, Susannah, posted this verse on our group wall on Facebook. It was a great reminder of what our mission in this life should be, to abide in Jesus. He is the one who will cause us to bear fruit. Without Him, we are dead branches produce nothing. This weekend the Bear and I watched as Jed pruned the shrubs in front of our house. The Bear loves watching his daddy do yard work, and Jed explained to him that the shrubs would grow much faster the more he prunes them. It was such a picture of how our Father prunes us so that we can grow and bear fruit.
Prayer for the week:
Father God, I long to abide with you and your Son. Teach me what that means and how to go about it daily. I hope to obey your commandments. Help me to be faithful. I strive to bear fruit for your glory. Lord, make me fruitful. Prune and shape my life so that it can bear much fruit. Amen.