Wednesday, August 23, 2017

26 Tips For Dealing with Depression/Anxiety (Long Version)

            This is a revision of a section I had in the “How I Broke” post.  (It's a LONG post, just to warn you.  For the shorter version - half as long - click here.)  It’s about the things I have found helpful when dealing with anxiety and/or depression as a Christian.  It’s been a long year or so of dealing with it pretty regularly and intensely, and I have tried many things to get through it all, some really helpful and some just temporarily helpful.  But if anything I have learned can help someone else … well, that’s why I keep writing about it.  So in no particular order (well, kind of), here are some of the things I have tried and learned (there will be some overlap but that’s okay, I need to be reminded of this stuff as much as possible anyway):

1.  Clearly identify what you are feeling and why, if you can.  And pray about it all honestly.  Get real with yourself and with the Lord.  And let your pain draw you closer to the Lord, purify your trust in Him, and mature your faith.

            Doubts and fear and pain don’t have to destroy our faith in God.  They can actually make it stronger and more real.  But only if we are willing to be honest about it all with Him (and with ourselves).  Too many times, we Christians try to please God with nice, pleasing-sounding, polished-up prayers, while we hide the real, hurting, ugly parts of ourselves.  Afraid He might be displeased with us if we reveal them.  But this fakeness causes a breech in our relationship with Him.  I believe honesty is better.

            Write out exactly what's bugging you as thoroughly as possible.  And then bring it all to Him – all the ugly, displeasing thoughts, all the doubts and fears, the brokenness and weakness and failures.  Cry out to Him.  Tell Him that you need help, that you can’t do it anymore.  Be honest with Him about everything inside of you.  He knows it all already. 

          You don’t have to fix it all.  You don’t have to know what to do.  You don’t have to do it all on your own.  You are not alone in your trials and your pain.  He is always waiting for us to cry out to Him, to include Him in our trials, in our need, in our pain, to let Him into the broken parts of our heart so that He can heal them.  But you have to be honest.  To open up the doors that you have closed off in your heart.   

            Don’t feel like you have to polish yourself up first before He will accept you or give you His love, forgiveness, help, and grace.  That’s not how He works.  That’s not how love, forgiveness, help, and grace work.  These are gifts that are free and already available to us and that can never be earned but can only be accepted.  We don’t have to earn them; we just have to accept them.  To want them.  To reach out and grab them. 

            Bring everything inside of you to Him honestly, openly, humbly.  Pour it all out to Him out loud or on paper.  He can handle it all.  He knows it all already; He’s just waiting for us to finally admit it all.  To take off the mask and get real.  To learn how much we really need Him and how much He really loves us, even as the broken, hurting mess that we are.  To finally let Him love us and care for us and comfort us and be our strength when we are weak.  (And remember that we are all human.  And humans hurt.  And that's normal.  You are normal!)

            The more you can identify what you are feeling and why, the less power it has over you because you can then take it to the Lord, instead of allowing unnamed, invisible anxieties to float around in your mind.  And if you can identify a source of your anxiety or depression, pray and ask God what you should do about it.  But even if you aren't sure what to do about them, at least be honest with the Lord about your thoughts and feelings.  Because as you hand over more and more of those anxieties to the Lord and open up more and more of those closed-off parts of your heart to Him, you will experience more and more of His healing, of His goodness and faithfulness.  And your trust in Him will grow, even if life never becomes what you want it to be and you don’t get the answers you expected. 

            Pray honestly.  Cry out to Him.  Be real with Him and with yourself about your pain and your doubts and your fears and your weaknesses.  Let your first words when you wake up be "Lord, I need You today!"  Do not try to mask the pain or to polish yourself up.  That will only prolong the pain.  And it will make it worse because the harder you try to keep the pain down, the more it will build up inside of you and the more exhausted you’ll get trying to keep it down. 

            Just be real and raw and honest.  That’s a major part of humility.  (And if you have been trying to keep your struggles secret, tell someone that you trust.  Say the words out loud.  Say "I have been struggling with depression ... or anxiety ... or a panic attack ... etc."  The more we try to keep it secret, the more power it has over us.  Opening up about it is a way of taking control of it, instead of letting it have control of you.)

            Also, when it comes to dealing with anxiety or depression or fear or whatever, I have found it helpful to make a verbal “trade” with Him by pray honestly like this: “Lord, I am really feeling anxious and weak right now.  I don’t know what to do and I’m scared.  And so right now, I ask that You would take this anxiety and fear from me and give me Your peace and joy instead.  Please, You do the worrying for me; I can’t do it anymore.” 

            Make a trade with Him, out loud.  His peace for your fear.  Tell Him what’s hurting and broken, and ask Him for the help you need – the wisdom, peace, comfort, guidance, strength, joy, etc.  Sometimes, we get stuck in anxiety longer than we need to simply because we feel like we should have to bear the burdens on our own like a “good little Christian,” when in reality it would be far better to simply ask for the spiritual help we need.

            Blunt, raw, unpolished honesty is the most healing, helpful way to pray. 

            Do not just worry about things; pray about them.  Do not just think about things; pray about them.  Do not just wish and hope for things; pray about them.  Do not feel like you have to do it all yourself or like it's all up to you; pray and ask God for His help. 

            Grab a notebook and a cup of coffee, find a quiet place to sit by yourself (or a friend to talk with), and start writing out all the things that are on your heart and mind, all the fears and doubts and anxieties that are weighing you down.  And then spend time in prayer, confessing each one to God and asking Him to heal you and help you see things the way He does.

            Psalm 34:17-18:  “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 

            James 4:8:  “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

            Psalm 86:1-6:  “Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. . . . Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.  Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you.  Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.”

            Psalm 51:17:  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

2.  Journal your journey.

            Get a notebook for your prayers and requests.  In the front or on top of each page, write down verses about God and prayer and His faithfulness and how He listens to us and cares for us and loves us.  And then write out what your life and spiritual journey has been like so far, highpoints and low-points, lessons learned, doubts and fears and questions, the times you've been obedient and disobedient and what has happened, etc.

            And then as you face each new day, write out your prayers and requests in this notebook.  Keep a list of the things you have prayed over to God.  And keep track of any answers to prayers, any guidance He gives you, anything you’ve learned on the journey, anything good that came out of “unanswered prayers.”  And include past answers to prayer, the ones that have meant the most to you and strengthened your faith.

            And when you are tempted to panic, review the verses and the ways God has answered prayers before and the new requests that you have left in His hands.  Remind yourself that you have already given this new concern to God and trust that He has heard you and that He will answer in His time and in His way.  (Or simply keep a list posted where you can see it with your requests on it and a space to record when and how He answers.)

            I think that writing it down is way more helpful than just thinking it because we are “out of sight, out of mind” people who too easily forget what God has done for us in the past, what the Bible says about God and His character and prayer, what lessons we have learned on the journey, and what new concerns we have placed in His hands today.  But writing it down forces us to slow down and pay attention to our spiritual journey and to the lessons we've learned and the ways God has been good and faithful. 

            Write it out.  And be encouraged.

            [Additionally, if you want, make a prayer closet, a war room.  For a simple plan, click here.  Make this a time to meditate on verses and on God's character, to praise Him for everything you can praise Him for, to intercede for others, to lay your requests before Him, and to spend time in quiet listening to Him.  And write it all out in a notebook or on a master list.  Be deliberate about this prayer time.  It is so true that we are in a spiritual war.  But how little we realize it or live like it.]

3.  As part of prayer, ask Him if there is anything you need to do to make things right or better, to be obedient, or to get right with Him. 

        Ask Him what your responsibility is.  Ask Him for wisdom, to guide you down the right path.  Ask Him to open and close the doors as He sees fit.  Ask Him what your responsibility is and what it isn’t.  Is there anything you need to do to make something right?  Out of obedience?  To fix something that’s broken?  To get right with Him?  Is there something you need to grab onto?  Something you need to let go of and hand over to Him?  Something you need to stop pursuing?  

            He will reveal what He wants you to do … if you will listen and commit to being obedient.  (And if you are resistant to being obedient or are afraid of what He might ask of you, ask Him why.  Search your heart.  Your spiritual life will suffer until you get right with Him.)

            He will answer these prayers, but you have to be willing to wait for His way and His timing.  And know that He often moves a lot slower than we want Him to.  But His pace is always the right timing.  And He will make things clear as you abide in Him and walk with Him in obedience daily.  So be willing to wait on Him, to do what He asks you to do, and to NOT do what He hasn’t asked you to do.

          His job is to straighten out the path and to work it all together for good. 

          Your job is to be obedient and to “be still and know that He is God.”  

            Proverbs 3:5-6:  “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

            Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”

4.  Sometimes silence is the best – the only - prayer we can pray.

            And honestly, there might be times when you can’t pray.  And that’s okay, too.

            I had recently gotten to a point like that - where I couldn’t seem to pray and I wouldn’t even know what to pray for because I didn’t know what I needed anymore or what should happen.  I didn’t know how to make things better.  And, frankly, I was a bit afraid to pray for anything specific because it seemed like the things I prayed about didn’t happen or they got attacked.  I was a bit stumped - paralyzed by all the stuff that was going on.  In a way, I was too confused and too tired to pray.   

            And like Job falling down on the ground for seven days of silence after all the tragedies hit him, all I wanted to do (spiritually) was sit before the Lord in silence, in brokenness.  I didn’t want anything else and I didn’t want to do anything else, other than just be broken before Him for a time.  I wanted to be still in my spirit.  Quiet.  To let my silence and my brokenness be my prayer.

            Except for prayers for other people and those “immediate concern or need” prayers, I wanted to pray nothing other than “Thank You for all the blessings You have already given us.  Help me be content with life as it is.  Give me only what You want me to have because I don’t know what I need anymore.  Help me do my best in my daily job and to not worry about anything else.  And regardless of the trials, I believe in You, I trust You, and I love You.”

            I had tried and tried to make things better . . . and I had failed.  And I was tired of trying.  I was tired of thinking that I knew what I needed.  I was tired of wanting.  I was tired of waiting for things to be better.  I was tired of being tired.  I was just . . . tired! 

            And so I decided that I was going to simply sit in “Job silence” for a while - until it was time to get up, dust myself off, roll up my sleeves, and get back to it.  There would be a time for that eventually.  But for a while, I just needed to sit in spiritual silence and stillness, doing nothing more than counting blessings and praising God and learning to say, “It is well with my soul!”   

            You know, I used to get all upset with myself when I got into these funks, like there’s something majorly wrong with me and like I wasn’t being a “good Christian” and like I had to get out of it as soon as possible.  And in some ways, my efforts to claw my way out of the “depression” only made it worse, making me feel like more of a failure.   

            But maybe it doesn’t need to be so distressing.  Maybe it’s just a part of life, of being human.

            So I decided to do it differently that time.  I was not going to be distressed that I was in a funk, that I could barely even find the words to pray.  I wasn’t going to worry about being some super-human, spiritual giant who could “fix it all,” who was a shining example of what a “good Christian” is supposed to be, facing the trials with a chipper attitude and a smile on my face.  I was just going to be okay with being human.  With being broken.  I decided to let the funk happen and let it pass, waiting at the feet of God until it did. 

            And even though it might have looked like I was being a “bad Christian who isn’t pleasing enough to the Lord or doing enough for Him,” I think it’s okay.  I think there are times when wallowing in the dust is all we can do.  But as long as we are wallowing in the dust at the feet of God, it’s okay.  And I’m okay.  Because I trust in a good, loving, sovereign God.  (Be we do need to be careful to not get stuck in the silence.)

          Sometimes silence – heart-breaking, confused, distraught silence, when we are lying helpless at the feet of God, when all we can pray is “God!  Oh, God!” – is the purest form of prayer and praise. 

          Sometimes the most real prayers are the ones we pray with tears in our eyes and words that won’t come.

            It’s in the silence that we learn to “be” with God, to feel His presence more, to listen more, to stop trying so hard in our own strength and to just fall on Him.  Let the silence teach you to “be,” instead of “do.”  Let it teach you to listen, instead of talk.  Let it teach you to rely on Him, instead of on yourself. 

            Let it teach you that He is God and you are not, and that it’s okay.  

            “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”  (Habakkuk 2:20)

            “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”  (Ecc. 5:2)

5.  When you can’t find words to pray, let the words of others be your prayer.  And surround yourself with godly music.

            During last summer when I broke really bad and when I couldn’t pray at all, I found immense comfort in two things:  letting a friend and my husband pray for me because I didn’t have enough strength or hope to pray for myself … and letting the words of some good Christian music be my prayers.  When I didn’t have the words for prayer, I leaned on the words of others, even just repeating the Lord’s Prayer word for word or reading the Psalms or surrounding myself with inspiring, godly music. 

            I remember dragging myself out to my garden daily to tend to it.  And every time I did, I had tears in my eyes and earbuds in my ears, always listening to my favorite band, The City Harmonic.  I needed them.  I needed their hope-filled words to be my prayers because I couldn’t pray anymore.  I would let the painfully-beautiful truths in their songs fill my heart and mind, offering them to God as my prayers because I didn’t have any words of my own.  (Click on the links to the songs on the right side-bar.)  

            And I think that’s okay.  When we are at our lowest and we don’t want to try anymore and we are sick of trying to be that “super Christian” and we are incapable of engaging in life anymore, it’s okay to let others pray for you.  It’s okay to have no words of your own, to be silent before the Lord, to borrow the words of others.

            When you are going through the really hard times, listen daily to some uplifting Christian music.  (Or make a habit of listening to an especially uplifting song during your most vulnerable time of day, such as right when you wake up or are going to bed.  And when your mind starts to wander to dark places, recall this song, hum it, even if you can't listen to it.)  Fill your heart, mind, and home with inspiring, godly music.  I believe this is crucial because music oftentimes sets the tone for our thoughts.  If you listen to angry music, you will get angry.  If you listen to inspiring, hope-filled music, you will grow inspired and hope-filled. 

            And I believe that godly music helps protect us and our faith.  Demons are attracted to negativity and discouragement and anxiety and fear, etc.  And if we give ourselves over to those negative things, we give them “open doors” and “welcome mats” and will be more vulnerable to attack.  But filling our homes and minds with godly music is repulsive to them and it will keep them back more, protecting us more from attack and giving us time to gather our strength.

            You don’t believe me?

            “Whenever the [evil spirit sent by God to torment him] came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play.  Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.”  (1 Samuel 16:23) 

            There is power – good or bad – in the music we listen to, in what we fill our minds with.   

            Philippians 4:8:  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - is anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.”

            Proverbs 4:23:  “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

6.  Pray for spiritual protection.

        I don’t think enough Christians really believe that there is a spiritual battle going on around us.  They think of demons and angels as mythical creatures or “way out there in the cosmos” creatures.  But they are real.  And they are here and now.  And I believe that it’s important to remember that.  Demons and angels are affected by our prayers.

            An angel was dispatched with Daniel’s answer the moment he prayed (Daniel 10:12-13).

            There is a category of demons that can only be expelled by prayer (Mark 9:29).

            Prayer is a piece of the “armor of God,” a necessary part of faith and life (Ephesians 6:10-18).

            And a line in the Lord’s prayer – that Jesus Himself advised us to pray – is “but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).

            I believe that an angel’s job is to be God’s messenger and to minister to Christians and to fight on our behalf and God’s behalf.  I do not believe that we can order them around, but I do believe that we can ask God to send them to help us in the battle.  And so I make it a habit – especially when I am feeling weak and scared and vulnerable – to pray that God sends His heavenly angels to surround me and my family, to protect us from evil, to put a hedge of protection around us and to keep the demons away. 

            Of course, I can’t see what’s happening in the spiritual realm, but I believe that things are happening among the angels and demons and that our prayers do make a difference.  And far too often, we don’t think to ask for angelic help when we need it.  (It may also help and/or be necessary to say something like this out loud:  "In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you [demons] to leave."  For more on my views on demonic/angelic activity, read the previous post “Repost of‘Supernatural Stuff and the Armor of God’.”)                 

7.  Pray Scripture back to God

            Another thing to try when you don’t have any words of your own is to pray Scripture back to God.  It’s taking the promises that He has given us in His Word and praying them to Him, basically telling Him which promises we are grabbing onto and trusting Him to fulfill. 

            There are times that I have tried just about everything else I can think of to get through my anxiety (except medication and therapy, which isn’t out of the question).  But sometimes, the things I have tried only seem to help on a surface-y level.  And I can tell that my soul needs something more.  And so what I did was look up the verses that speak the most to me and put them into prayers.  And when anxiety and discouragement hit hard, I pray these back to God.  Even just reading His promises is comforting to my soul.  Here are some of the ones I have written up so far.  I hope they help you, if you need it. 

          Prayer for when Anxiety Strikes

            Psalm 55:22:  “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”

            Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

            John 14:27:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

            Lord, You say that we can present to You all of our concerns and needs.  You say that You will never let us fall, that You will sustain us, and that we will be filled with Your peace, if we are praying with thanksgiving.  Well, I am pouring out my fears and doubts and concerns right now to You.  I am acknowledging how weak I am and that I need You.  I am casting my cares on You because they are too heavy for me.  They are too much for me to handle and I need Your help.  I need to put them in Your hands and let go of them because the weight is crushing me. 

            And I thank You for all of Your faithfulness in the past, how You have always helped me through the hard times and have never left me alone.  I thank You that You can carry the things I can’t, that You can pick up the pieces I drop, that You can see the big picture when I don’t. 

            Now Lord, please, I need Your peace, the kind of peace that protects my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.  I feel scared and vulnerable and fragile and so broken.  I have no peace of my own.  I need Yours, please.  Thank You for being a God that truly cares about us and that won’t leave us alone in our pain.  Thank You for being faithful.  Thank You for being there, even if no one else is.   

          Prayer for Peace in the Face of Fear

            2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.”

            Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

            2 Timothy 1:7:  “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of sound-mind.”

            Isaiah 26:3:  “You will keep in perfect peace he whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

            Lord, I feel completely hard pressed, crushed, persecuted and struck down.  Life is bearing down on me and it’s too much for me to handle alone.  I need You.  Every moment.  I need You to keep me from going under all the way.  I feel so broken, and I can’t fix it on my own.  Please, help me. 

            You say that You will be my strength, that I don’t have to be afraid because You are with me.  Well, I need to feel Your presence now.  I need to sense that You are with me.  Before I crack completely.  Lord, this spirit of fear that I am living under is not from You.  I know that.  But my own mind has become an enemy.  Please, Lord, help me.  You give us a spirit of power, of love, and of sound mind.  And I need that power and love and sound mind right now. 

            I am making a trade with You, Lord; I am giving You the fear and anxiety and unanswered questions, and I am asking You to give me Your peace and power and love and sound mind.  I cannot seem to make my mind do what I want it to do.  But Your Word says that You will keep in perfect peace the person whose mind is set on You.  I can’t keep myself in peace; I need You to do it for me.  Help me to set my mind on You.  Help me to block out the enemy’s whispers.  Help me to hear only You, to trust in You, and to feel that peace. 

            Lord, I need You!

          Prayer for the Brokenhearted and Exhausted

            Psalm 34:17-18:  “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

            Matthew 11:28-30:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

            1 Peter 5:6-7:  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

            Lord, I am crying out to You right now.  I am brokenhearted and I need You.  You promise to save those who are crushed in spirit.  You promise to lighten my burden and to help my soul find rest.  I need that right now.  Please, help me find rest for my soul. 

            I am falling down before You right now, weary and exhausted.  I cannot keep carrying the burdens I have been carrying, and so I am putting them down at Your feet right now.  Help me learn what Your yoke is - the jobs and responsibilities that You want for me, not the more burdensome ones that I place on myself.  Help me to let go of my heavier and harder yoke so that I can take up Your lighter and easier one instead. 

            In fact, I realize now that even the depression and anxiety and fear are burdens that I have been carrying around, and they have become too crushing for me to carry anymore.  And so I am putting them down now.  I cannot bear those burdens any longer and I am giving them to You.     

            Lord, I admit that I have been trying to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, but it’s too much for me.  And it never was my responsibility to begin with.  And so I am putting the responsibilities that are not mine back into Your hands and asking You to take care of the things that I can’t take care of.  I am humbling myself before You, admitting that You are God and I am not.  I cannot keep trying to do Your job.  And please forgive me for doing so. 

            I cannot carry the world’s problems or anyone else’s problems.   I cannot even carry my own problems by myself.  I am not big enough or strong enough.  But You are.  And so I am trusting in Your wisdom and Your capable hands to carry all these problems and to help me through mine.  I am getting off of Your throne and humbling myself at Your feet and asking You to lift me up again when it is time. 

            I trust that You really do care for me and that You can handle my concerns, and so I give You all of my anxieties right now and ask You to fix them in Your time and in Your way.  (Maybe list each anxiety right now, on paper or out loud.)  Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness and for being able to handle the things that I can’t, for promising to work good things out of all the messes in life.  Please, just put Your arms around me right now and give me Your comfort.  Tell me that You are with me and that it will be okay.               

            Prayer about Resting in the Lord

            Matthew 6:25-34:  “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? . . . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

            Proverbs 3:5-6:  “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

            Psalm 46:1-3, 10:  “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. . . . Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

            Psalm 37:7:  “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”

            Psalm 25:9:  “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way…”

            Lord, You know how easily I give in to worry, to the concerns of life, the fear of the unknown, the fear that I will make too many mistakes and mess everything up and be too weak to handle everything.  You know that I can make myself crazy with fear.  But it’s hurting me.  It’s exhausting me.  It’s crushing me.  And I can’t do it anymore.  And I know that You never wanted me to live that kind of fearful life anyway.  I have been choosing it because I have let myself believe that it all rests on me, that I am alone in this and that I have to be big enough and strong enough and wise enough. 

            But I don’t have to be “enough” . . . because You are.  I don’t have to listen to Satan every time he says, “You see that burden right there?  You better pick it up.  There’s another one.  It’s yours, so pick that one up, too.  Have you thought about this concern and this other fear?  They’re your responsibilities, too, so you better carry them because no one else will.”

            Satan lies.  And I have been listening to him for too long.  I have been listening to the one who wants to discourage me and exhaust me and crush me.  And most of the burdens that I have been carrying around were never my burdens, my concerns, or my responsibilities to begin with.   

            You don’t ask me to take responsibility for most of the things that I worry about.  The only things that You really ask of me are that I live humbly and obediently before You, that I do the daily jobs that You have given me and let You take care of everything else, that I bring You glory in whatever I do, and that I rest in You and trust in You. 

            Because You are God and I am not! 

            You are the One who is big enough and strong enough and wise enough.  And I am not alone in this world.  You are there, carrying me and making things work out right, if only I will trust You enough to let You do it. 

            And so I am throwing myself upon You right now.  I am going to lean on You now, instead of on myself.  I am going to trust in You to make my path straight, to handle the things I can’t handle, to know the things I can’t know, to work things out for the best, and to carry my concerns and my fears.  Even when it feels like the earth is falling apart, You are still there.  You are still in control and holding it all together and will make everything work out for good. 

            I don’t have to always know what to do . . . because I know You.  And You will guide me in the right path and take care of me and handle my concerns and keep me safe and bring me peace.  My focus today is not to fix anything or make everything okay; it’s just to be still in You and to know that You are God.  You are my refuge and my strength.

            Prayer for when You Fear You’re Failing in Life:

            Proverbs 3:5-6:  “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

            Proverbs 16:3:  “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”

            Colossians 3:23-24:  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Jesus you are serving.”

            1 Corinthians 10:31:   “ . . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 

            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

            Matthew 6:19-21:  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in a steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

            Matthew 25:21:  “… ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

            Lord, you know how anxious I am, how much I feel like I am failing at everything, like everything is falling down around me and I can’t keep it together.  I need You now, Lord.  I need to know that I am doing okay.  (And if I not, then I need to know what needs to change.) 

             Please, Lord, speak words of comfort to my anxious, despairing heart.  To the part of me that feels like I’m going to let You and everyone else down, no matter what I do or how hard I try.  To the part of me that just never feels “good enough.”

            Lord, You promise to work everything for good.  Please take my feeble efforts and use them for Your glory.  Make something beautiful out of my messes and my shortcomings.  Sometimes I feel like that’s all I am capable of – messes and shortcomings.  But I know You can turn them into something good, because Your Word says so.  I might not be able to do much, but please take the little I do and work it for Your glory.  (And reveal to me if there is something that I claim to do for Your glory and purposes but that I am actually doing for my own glory and purposes.) 

            Lord, You know my heart and my motives.  You know that I want to please You, that I am trying my best to do my best at the jobs You have given me.  Please, be glorified in that, and help me know that I am doing okay in Your eyes, for I feel like I am failing in the eyes of so many others, including my own.    

            You say that if we trust You and lean on You then You will make our paths straight.  Please, Lord, I am leaning on You now.  I don’t always know the right step to take, so I need You to straighten the path as I walk.  And when I don’t have the strength to keep walking, I need You to carry me.  And when I don’t even have the strength to stand, please, Lord, just hold me for awhile and let me know that it’s going to be okay. 

            Help me remember that it’s not my job to always know which way to go in life or to be “strong enough,” but that my job is simply to let You lead, to lean on You when I am weak, to follow You in daily obedience, to work at whatever I do with all my heart for Your glory, and to let You work it all out for good and for Your purposes.

            The Bible says that if I commit my plans to You, Lord, they will succeed.  Well, I am committing my plans to You – the work I do everyday.  I want to do it for Your glory, Your purposes, and Your kingdom.  Help me remember to do my best simply because it matters to You, because You see what I do and why I am doing it.  And what I do matters to You, even if no one else sees it.  Guide me along as I go, as I do the jobs You give me each day.  Lead me in the direction You want me to go.  Use my efforts as You want to, whether they appear successful to the world or not. 

            I know that I might not see the rewards of my work, my efforts, here on earth or on this side of eternity, but may I be successful, Lord, in Your eyes, in the heavenly realms.  Help me remember to always work for eternity, not for the things I can see.  Help me build up treasures in heaven as I wait to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”    

            [Now find your own verses and put them into prayers and pray them out loud.  It helps your soul in a deep, supernatural, mysterious way.]

8.  Read your Bible.

            Learn more about the big picture, instead of just focusing on the concerns of life right now.  Learn about who God is and who we are, about how He deals with us and responds to us and loves us and forgives us.  Memorize Scripture and write it around your house so that you can recall it during a moment of need, when you sense an attack from the enemy or when your mind starts going to dark places.  Learn biblical truths – about God’s love and faithfulness and grace and all-sufficiency and forgiveness - so that you can preach these truths back to yourself, so that you can counter the attacks of the enemy and of your own broken mind.   

            When we are in pain, we tend to get tunnel-vision, to view God only through the lens of our pain and our confusion about why He’s not getting us out of the pain.  But He is so much bigger than that.  And we cannot base our view of Him on what is going on in our particular circumstances right now or on how He answers (or doesn’t answer) our prayers. 

            Life and faith and God are so much bigger than that.  Immerse yourself in the Word, with the intention of getting to know God better, not just trying to get what you want from Him or figuring out what else you can do to please Him enough so that He will finally give you want you want.

9.  Use your sword!

            If there is one thing I have been learning as I have faced the spiritual battles of depression and anxiety, it’s this:  I NEED GOD’S WORD!

            I used to see God’s Word as a good guidebook for life.  And, yes, it is that.  And, yes, it is a history lesson and a prophecy of things to come and God’s message of love, redemption, and salvation. 

            But it is still more than all that. 

            Ephesians 6:17 identifies the Word as the “sword of the Spirit.”  Along with prayer, it is the only offensive weapon we have in the spiritual battle.  The other pieces of “armor” (read Ephesians 6) are defensive, meant to help us resist the attacks of Satan.  But prayer and the Word (and the Holy Spirit) are meant to help us advance against him, to strike back. 

            The Word is a sword . . . and yet so often I treat it like a pillow.  Like a nice soft, comforting, cushy thing to lay my head down on at night to help me sleep better.  I read the Bible, get some good advice, learn about God’s love and forgiveness, check “Bible reading” off my daily list . . . okay, good, I’ve done my “good Christian” job for the day and now I can sleep easier. 

            I have been sleeping on my sword!

            In Matthew 4, when Jesus was being tempted in the desert, He used only the Word to fight against Satan.  That is quite a picture of the power of Scripture and our need for using it in spiritual battles.  If Jesus Himself needed it and relied on it, how could we think that we can get along without it?  That we can battle against Satan in our own power and wisdom?

            But we cannot fight spiritual battles with earthly, human weapons. 

            It won’t work. 

            We need the Word.  Especially during the trials and heartache and darkness and confusion.  Especially when it feels like God is far away and like He has left us to do battle on our own (which will happen at some point, usually when the internal battle is the fiercest).  Especially when we have been beat down and we are out of strength and on our faces, unable to get up and deal with one more attack.

            But we are not on our own.  We are not expected to fight the battles alone or in our own strength and wisdom.  We are not beat down forever.  God gave us His Word to lean on, to live in, to give us strength, to use when we need help in this life.  And as Jesus demonstrated for us, He expects us to use the Word to do battle with Satan.   

            This is not a romanticized, frivolous, pie-in-the-sky view of Scripture, as if God’s Word were some silly magic trick.  This is real.  This is war.  And it is a weapon - a powerful weapon that we all-too-often leave on our shelves, collecting dust, because we don’t understand the value of it or the power in it.

            Seriously!  How many of us really know and lean on the Word like we are supposed to?  How many of us just read it occasionally for a little burst of God, to make us feel less guilty about our lazy spiritual disciplines and our lack of serious commitment?  How many of us look at Bible reading as simply one more chore to check off of our list?

            But as I have been fighting the difficult spiritual battles of anxiety and depression over the years, I am beginning to understand the incredible need to use Scripture as the sword that it is, as a weapon against evil.  I am learning the value of memorizing Scripture, of posting verses around the house, of praying Scripture back to God, of reminding Him of the promises He has made and leaning on them and asking Him to fulfill them now, and of recalling Scripture during times of trial and need and weakness.  (And honestly, in battles with anxiety and depression, every day is a time of trial and need and weakness.) 

            Even just saying a well-chosen verse out loud - when fear strikes deep and I feel abandoned by God in the trials and like I am losing my mind - can help tremendously.  A verse such as 2 Timothy 1:7:  “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of sound mind.” 

            Feeling like I am losing my mind to fear is NOT from God.  He has given me power and a sound mind.  And not only that, but the Holy Spirit lives in us to help us through the trials, to help us have faith and strength and wisdom, and to help us defeat the enemy.  “… the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”  (1 John 4:4) 

            The Spirit is God in us.  God couldn’t be any closer than that.  And I need to grab onto these truths.  I need to refuse to listen to Satan who tells me that I am alone and that I have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and that I am too weak to do it and that I am going to fail and shatter into a thousand pieces under the pressure. 

            Because that’s not what God says. 

            God says (paraphrased) … “The earth is Mine, and everything in it (Psalm 24:1).  Be still and know that I am God; I am your refuge and strength, your ever-present help in trouble (Isaiah 46:1,10).  Cast all your cares on Me and I will sustain you; I will never let the righteous fall (Psalm 55:22).  Trust in Me and do not lean on yourself, and I will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).  Is My arm too short?  Can I not accomplish all that I promised (Numbers 11:23)?  Just be still, and you’ll see what I can do.  I will fight for you.  You need only to be still in Me (Exodus 14:13-14)!” 

          What He’s been telling me all along is this:  “Of course you are too weak to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.  You were never supposed to be able to carry all that weight.  The world is Mine.  Let Me carry it.  And you’re not supposed to fight the battles yourself or be strong enough to do it.  Let Me fight the battles with you.  Use the resources I gave you.  I know how the battle works, and I have made prayer and Scripture available to you.  Let Me carry you and your burdens, too, because I am strong enough and big enough.  And I know what I am doing.  You just focus on resting in Me and trusting Me . . . and I will focus on your concerns.” 

            We ourselves cannot defeat Satan.  But prayer can.  And God’s Word can.  And we need to get serious about using it as the weapon is it, not just as a pillow or a pretty knick-knack for our shelf. 

            [But remember that Satan knows Scripture, too.  Far better than we do.  And he will do all he can to twist it, to use it against us, and to give us only half-truths.  He did this to Adam and Eve and Jesus.  So we need to immerse ourselves in Scripture, to absorb it, to live in it, and to study it carefully so that we are not misled.] 

            Scripture (and prayer) is our greatest weapon against evil.  Take it up.  Turn it inside and out, until you know it deeply.  Carry it around daily – in your hand, mind, and heart – until it becomes a part of you.  Put verses up in your house where you can see them, and repeat them out loud whenever you need to.  And lean hard on the Word when you find yourself in a discouraging trial, facing fear and heartache and temptations and what feels like God’s silence. 

            When times are the toughest and the battle is the fiercest, rely on Scripture and God’s truth.  If you do, you will grow through the battles and hard times in ways you never dreamed of.  Yes, you will probably have some battle scars and you might be left with a limp, but when the battle is over, you will experience God and faith in a new way.  And it will refresh your soul and your faith will be stronger!

            So where is your sword?  On your shelf or in your heart?  Under your head to help you sleep more comfortably or in your hand to do fierce battle with the enemy?  He will keep coming at you, whether or not you are armed.  But if you want to stand a fighting chance, pray and take up your sword!  And start swinging! 

            [Even if you can’t find the verses you want, write out statements that you know are true or ones that you need to tell yourself – such as “God is always with me and I matter to Him … He can help me do anything … I will be okay because God gives me strength … I am thankful for today, today is a blessing, and I will notice the good things today, etc.” 

            Oftentimes, we make problems for ourselves because of the things we tell ourselves over and over again, such as “I hope I don’t wake up feeling anxious in the morning.  I’m afraid I’m going to lose it.  What if I wake up anxious?”  And then guess what happens?  You wake up anxious.   

            Or you tell yourself “I hate being in crowds of people.  No one ever talks to me.  What if no one talks to me and I have to stand there alone all night?”  And so what happens?  No one approaches you – not because they don’t want to talk to you but because you exude uncomfortableness and that makes them feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.

            Write out the negative things you tell yourself and then write out the things you need to be telling yourself instead, the truth from the Bible or just the truth in general or the positive side of the situation.  And read these every day if you need to.  Our words have a lot of power, especially over our minds and outlook.  And it takes time and effort to break the cycle of negative, self-fulfilling thoughts.  Who do you want to be?  How do you want to live?  What truths do you want to live by?  Write it all out.  And start living it.]               

10.  Make your own Psalm.

            When I couldn’t find my own words to pray, I also found it helpful to compile my own Psalm.  I read through the Psalms, marking a couple verses from each one and compiling them into my own Psalm. 

            I never did like the Psalms much before I broke.  They seemed whiney and complainy to me.  But after I broke and found myself on my face in the dirt at the feet of God, I began to read the Psalms with new eyes.  Suddenly, they were filled with the very things my heart was crying.  They were so human, so relevant, filled with pain, heartache, confusion.  The authors were pouring themselves out to the Lord honestly, nakedly, humbly … and then they would finish off with words of hope, about how they still trusted in the Lord, no matter the circumstances.

            And this was the kind of stuff I needed to do – to fully pour myself out to the Lord and then to preach words of truth and hope to myself, reminding myself of His love, goodness, and faithfulness.

            Read through the Psalms and compile the verses that speak to you.  Post it somewhere and review it regularly. 

            Or if you don’t want to do the Psalms, just compile whatever verses mean the most to you.  Or do a Bible study with others.  Maybe give my “Iron Sharpens Iron Bible Study” a try with a friend, over at my blogspot by the same name. 

            The point is to get outside of your own head and your tunnel-vision and your problems and to get into God’s Word, into more about who He really is and how He really works.  The more you learn about who He really is, the more faith and trust you will have in Him to be a “Big Enough God” who can handle your concerns.

11.  Consider your answers to these questions (see if any help you in your struggle with depression or anxiety):

            Do I really trust God?  Does my anxiety stem from not trusting Him or not trusting me?

            Do I feel like everything rests on me, like I have to be strong enough or smart enough or good enough?  Am I relying on myself, refusing to “need” Him, or refusing to be humbly broken before Him and reliant on Him? 

            Do I believe He is in control and can handle my concerns?  Am I exhausting myself trying to handle it all on my own?  Am I trying to deal with things in my own strength and wisdom and timing?  Do I think I can do better than Him?  Is it even my job to be concerned about the things that are bothering me, or am I taking responsibility for something that's not even mine to worry about?

            Do I think He’s good and faithful only when I am getting my way and life goes as I want it to?

            What is my faith resting on?  Do I really have faith in God or is my faith in something else?

            Am I feeling trapped by something in life?  Helpless?  Hopeless?  What is making me feel trapped, helpless, or hopeless right now?  What is really bothering me right now?  What does God want me to do about it (pray about it)?

            Am I running to something or away from something?  Am I relying on or pursuing anything other than God?  What does God want me to do about it?

            Where am I feeling stuck?  (Pray it over to God and ask His help in getting unstuck.)

            Am I blaming God for others people's mistakes or the ways they let me down?  (Remember that God has given us all the right to choose to do right or wrong.  If other people choose to do wrong, it's not His fault.  And it's not that He doesn't care.  It's just that He allowed them to choose how they wanted to act.  And they - we all - will be held accountable to Him for our choices.)

            How do I feel about myself?  What kinds of negative things am I constantly telling myself?  (Pray them over to God and ask Him to show you what He really thinks of you.  And read the Bible for what it says about His love for us.)

            What are my idols?  What am I striving for?  What am I working for too much – attention, praise, earthly success, security, money?  How does my focus need to change so that I am working for the things that matter and putting God first?  Am I willing to work for an “audience of One,” to work to please God alone and not be concerned about what others think or what earthly rewards it brings or what I can get out of it?

            What are my goals in life?  Are these goals God wants me to have?  Where does “bringing God glory” and being obedient and working for His Kingdom and righteousness come in on that list?  What does my life – the things I spend my time and money and effort on - say about what my goals are?

            What are my true needs?  And which of my “needs” are simply great, big wants?  Which needs do I need to stop pursuing, to set aside, to allow God to change or fulfill as He sees fit?  Do I have unrealistic expectations of life, of myself, of others, of faith, or of God?  What are they and what should they be replaced with?  (Pray about it.)

            How much time am I willing to give to worry and to thinking about all the ways I fail and the things I fear and the “what ifs” and to be upset by what I don’t have and can't accomplish?   Especially when all that worry and ruminating does no good anyway but only makes me more anxious or depressed?  Has my "worry" ever really led to anything good in the past?  Has it benefitted me more than it's hurt me?  When will I hand all these concerns over to the Lord and trust Him to handle them far better than I can?  When will I start living life, accepting the fact that I am only one person and can't do it all, that I am human and can't do it all perfectly?  When will I grab onto God's grace, trusting that He is sovereign over all and can make masterpieces out of messes and can work all things - even my weaknesses and failures and shortcomings - into something good?  (Write out your prayer requests and the things you have handed over to Him, and review it regularly and write down any answers or insights along the way.)

            If my circumstances never change, can I be okay with that?  Will I cling to Him or turn my back on Him?  Can I praise Him anyway?

            What can I learn from the trial?  How can it be used for good, for me or for others?

            What other questions should I be asking myself?  (Pray about this and listen for God's answer over time.)


12.  Be gracious toward yourself!

            You make sense.  You are not a hopeless mess.  You are human.  And humans hurt.  Humans break sometimes.  And we all need compassion and grace and understanding and love and forgiveness – for ourselves and for others. 

            So do not feel abnormal, like there is something wrong with you.  We are all broken in some way.  (It’s just that some people don’t know it yet.)  Give yourself permission to be human, to not know what to do all the time, to need help, to not be strong enough, to not have it all together, to not care about things you don't have to care about, to be real, raw, and unpolished. 

            It's okay to be less than a "super human," to be less than a "super Christian."  It's okay to be you.  To be real.  To be broken.  Our "less-than-ness" gives God room to move and work and be strong.  Our humanness gives Him room to be God.  Our brokenness gives Him room to put the pieces back together the way He wants them to be.  

            Life is about learning and growing and trying and making mistakes on the way and maturing on the journey.  Embrace grace!  Go easy on yourself for being human.  And remember that none of us really knows what we are doing in life anyway.  (Although some won’t admit it.)  We are all just trying to make it through as best we can.  So you are in good company – in the company of many other hurting, broken, clueless, weak, needy people.  The very people that God holds closest. 

            Psalm 34:17-18:  “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 

            And remember that it takes time.  Don't think there's something wrong with you if you can't "get it together" as quickly as other people think you should.  Give yourself time to grieve, to heal, to grow, to wallow at the feet of God if that's what you need to do.  He's got you, and He won't let you go, no matter how long the process takes.

            And another thing:  Suicide is not an option!  Drill this truth into your head.  Repeat it out loud.  "Suicide is not an option."  Find reasons for why it's not an option, why you need to live.  Don't daydream about ways to "end the pain."  Suicide is not an option!  (If you find yourself flirting with the idea of suicide, tell someone you love or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.)   

13.  Simplify!  And go slow!  And learn to “be still.”

            Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”

            When the stress hits hard and you are losing your ability to stand, simplify everything.  Your schedule, your responsibilities, your possessions, maybe even your relationships.  Say “no” to things, and don’t feel guilty about it.  And do not worry about what anyone else thinks or what their expectations are of you, just do the very simplest things that you need to do each day.  Wake up, make food, hug your family, pray, read your Bible, and give yourself permission to slow down and rest. 

            Above all, quiet your spirit before the Lord.  Learn to simply “be still” before Him, knowing that He is God and that you don’t have to be.  He can handle what you can’t.  He can fix what is broken.  He can carry you through when you don’t have the strength anymore.   

            Sometimes in life, we need to stop with our “To Do” lists.  We need to stop trying to impress the Lord with how much we accomplish and with how grand we can make our prayers sound and with how long we pray and with how many church activities we are involved in, etc.  And we need to simply be silent and needy and weak and broken at the feet of the Lord. 

            My New Year’s resolution this year was a very simple one:  “Be still” in the Lord.  Stop trying to make my life what I think it should be.  Stop trying to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.  Start learning to relax and to trust that God will manage all the things I can’t.  Let Him be God, while I simply fall at His feet, exhausted and in need of a rest from all my worries. 

            My goal – the goal that I believe the Lord wants for me - is just to begin to want to live again.  To enjoy living.  To enjoy His presence.  To live the life I have and let that be good enough for me, trials and all.  And for me, that includes …

            - Being kind to myself. 

            - Replacing negative, soul-killing thoughts with godly, soul-healing thoughts. 

            - Replacing Satan’s lies with God’s truth. 

            - Finding the good in the bad, the beautiful in the messy. 

            - Remembering that this life isn’t all there is, that the best is yet to come, that everything we do is working towards eternity, that someday God will make everything right again - and so I can put my hope in Him when I can’t put it in this life.  (Colossians 3:2:  “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”) 

            - Slowing my mind and body down and giving myself the time and space to breathe, even just by sitting on the yard swing with a good book and a cup of coffee on the quiet, warm mornings, watching the birds and feeling the sun on my face, while the kids sleep in. 

            - Doing the daily things I normally do but doing them with conviction and purpose: washing dishes, making meals, schooling the kids, cleaning up piles of paper, being neighborly and friendly towards others – knowing that I am only responsible for those jobs, the ones that come across my path today.  And God can handle the rest, all the jobs I can’t do.

            - Trying to rediscover the joy and healing effects of gardening - when what I’d really rather do is give it all up because gardening involves the idea that I should be allowed to have something to enjoy, to find pleasure in, to hope for.  And I’d really rather deny myself all pleasures and joys and hope because then I won’t get my expectations up and I won’t get crushed over and over again when it all inevitably falls apart.  The garden used to be my favorite place to meet with the Lord, to enjoy His presence.  But now I feel rather lifeless in it, like there is no point in enjoying it because it’s bound to get ruined anyway.  Whereas I used to be passionate about it, now I am half-hearted and barely there.  And so I am going to garden again this year, not because I want to but because I need to.  I need to get back up on that horse again, to prove to myself that despair and discouragement and hopelessness haven’t gotten the best of me, that there is still a little ember of joy and hope waiting to be fanned into a flame, that I can still “find God” there.       

            Honestly, right now, my goal is really just “learn to live again,” with the hope that “enjoying life” will follow. 

            When you get to a bad point - when you feel like retreating from life and like you can barely stand – slow waaaayyyy down and do nothing more than those super-simple daily things.  And consider it a victory.  A huge victory.  A step in the right direction.   

14.  Stay away from toxic things.

            As part of simplifying, stay away from the things that drain you, stress you, kill your soul.  When you are badly broken, Satan loves to pile it on.  And piling it on when we are already feeling fragile can “kill” us.  We can’t always stop the bad things from happening, but we can cut out many negative things.   

            Stay away from the news for awhile.  You already know bad things happen every day.  You don’t need to hear about every violent, discouraging, unfair thing that happens.  Knowing about them won’t fix them anyway.  It will just cause you stress.  The problems of the world will always be there, and when you are stronger and more healed then you can go back to caring about them and trying to do something about them.  Until then, give yourself permission to ignore them, take care of yourself, and let God carry the problems of the world.

            Stay away from social media if it discourages you or makes you jealous or pulls you away from reality too much or tempts you to be negative toward people. 

            Stay away from toxic people who suck your time and energy, who cause you stress and destroy your self-esteem and ruin your joy and take, take, take without ever giving back.  You don’t have to tell them they are toxic and that you are cutting them out for now, but tell them that you will be unavailable for awhile because you need to work on some things and take care of yourself.

            Cut out your own negative, toxic thoughts.  This is easier said than done.  But if you can, take a vacation from all the bad things you think about yourself.  What good has ever come from it anyway?  If you need to, write them down when they pop into your head, to dismantle later.  Or pray them over to God and ask Him to help you see yourself the way He does.  But refuse to dwell on them now.  You need a break from the negative beatings you give yourself … before they destroy you.   

            When we are broken really bad, we may need to take some drastic steps to cut negative things out of our lives.  Don’t feel bad about it.  Don’t feel guilty.  Your responsibility is to the Lord and to yourself and to your family.  Do what you need to do for you, to help you heal and make you want to live again. 

15.  Know your triggers and the times when you are most vulnerable.

            What things or thoughts will inevitably send you into depression or anxiety?  Which events, objects, people, times of day, memories, etc. trigger those negative feelings in you?  Figuring this out allows you to take control of your thoughts and feelings instead of having them take control of you.  It helps protect you from being blindsided by them.  You’ll know what starts them and when you are at your most vulnerable, and so you can be prepared for it and take precautions against it, if possible. 

            For me, even since the panic attack, I cannot read too many news stories.  I might check the weather or world headlines, but I stay far away from the tragic stories.  I won’t even let my eyes wander over the headlines if I sense that it’s a bad story.  In fact, I switched our internet homepage from a news-page full of headlines (most of which are depressing) to something totally mundane.  And I will start saying “DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT … DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT” to drown out a bad news story that has popped up on the TV news while I rush over to turn it off.  I don’t need to have any less faith in the world and in people than I already do.  I don’t need my joy and hope crushed any more than it already is.  I don’t need to bear the world’s problems on my shoulders right now.  I just need to stay away from it all for awhile.       

            And I am aware that morning-times and lying in bed at night are the hardest times for me, when I am most vulnerable to the nasty, hopeless, anxious voices in my head (not real voices, just my own thoughts – just clarifying).  Last summer broke me so bad that I felt really fragile for a really long time.  Like I could break into a thousand pieces with one more tiny trial.  Like my mind could implode and I would have to be committed to some mental hospital.  I still do feel fragile, but I’m getting stronger. 

            But for me, I know that I need to be very careful during these times when I am at my weakest and most open to spiritual attacks.  On the bad days, I can often feel the anxiety hitting me before I even get out of bed.  I don’t know where it comes from or what triggers it.  Maybe it’s just knowing that I have to wake up and face another day? 

            And I have learned that the best thing I can do, especially on those days, is to go really slowly in the morning, to just linger over my cup of coffee, reading the Bible or a godly book out on my backyard swing, watching the birds fly to and from the birdfeeders. 

            Thankfully, as a stay-at-home mom, I have the luxury of easing into my mornings.  Because at this point, it’s not a luxury.  It’s a necessity.  And I don’t feel guilty about it.  There are enough hours in the rest of the day to get the other necessary things done. 

            And at night when I am lying in bed is the time when my mind races the most with the things that I feel I am failing at, with all the worries I have about life and health and my family, with all the negative things I have ever thought about myself and others and the world, and with how much I just want Jesus to come back again and end it all.  And so I know to not trust my thoughts at that time.  In fact, I have “banned” myself from thinking about deep things at night.  If I have a real problem or concern, it will still be there in the morning.  So I don’t need to work myself up at night over it - when can’t I solve it or do anything about it or even think clearly anyway.  And so I put it off until the next day because I know that I will be thinking better and clearer then, after I have had my coffee and done my Bible reading.  (If you need to, pray at night that the Lord helps your mind sort it out and that He guides you into wisdom, even as you sleep.  Your body might be asleep, but your mind isn’t.) 

            I have often found that problems and concerns have a way of getting resolved satisfactorily even when I haven’t spent the night anxiously dwelling on it, wringing my hands and working myself into a frenzy over it.  Another part of “being still” in the Lord – trusting that if we commit our concerns to Him, He can and will handle them.  Oh! the stress I cause myself, thinking that it’s all up to me!

            Maybe it would be beneficial to simply decide to not stress over something.  How many times does “What if … what if … what if …” make us anxious?  What if I get an illness?  What if my kid gets hurt?  What if I fail?  What if she’s mad at me?  We lay awake at night playing the “what if” game.  A game we always lose because of the stress it causes. 

            But maybe we can use “What if …” to our benefit instead.  What if I didn’t get all anxious about this right now?  What if I gave this concern to the Lord?  What if I chose to trust that He can handle it and will work it out in time?  What if I simply rested and was still before Him, letting Him handle everything right now until I am strong enough to care again or do something about it?  What if God is really as good and wise and loving and faithful as He says He is?  What if He really is big enough to handle it all?

          Don’t let the “what ifs” destroy you or overwhelm you.  Let them mature your faith and trust in God by falling on Him in humble dependency.  What if I let Him be God right now, trusting that He makes a much better God than I do?


16.  Take care of yourself!

            Do what you need to do to care for yourself, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.  Eat right, get enough sleep, stop smoking, stop drinking, take walks, spend some time in quiet and in nature, visit with beloved people, turn off the tech gadgets and get away from the TV and internet and phone, adopt other healthy habits, etc.  Do the things that make you feel refreshed, more whole, more healthy and healed.  Say “yes” to things you’ve been aching to say yes to and say “no” to things you shouldn’t be taking on right now.

            Your mental and physical health is greatly affected by these things, which in turn affects your emotional health.  Even just trying one new thing will give you a small sense of accomplishment which might be a catalyst for change.    

            Here’s another one:  Don’t take yourself and life soooo seriously.  Learn to laugh at yourself and at the unpredictability of life, the wacky things that happen, the silly things you say and do, the ironic-ness of life, the “Murphey’s law” kind of things, etc.  Ignore the small stuff, the little annoyances.  Life is too difficult to let every little thing bother you.

            And if you need to try counseling or medication or taking a vacation or spending time alone or cutting off contact with people that make things worse, then do it.  And don’t feel that you have to please anyone else or to explain/justify yourself to the nay-sayers and doubters and “holier-than-thou-ers.”  Ask God in prayer what you need to do and not do right now.  And then follow through with it.   

            Although, if you are married, try to make sure to “stay on the same team” as your spouse and to include them and work through it with them, if it is safe and proper to do so.  You don’t want your efforts to heal to destroy your relationship with your spouse.  And be willing to listen to the godly advice and insight of those who love you, who are closest to you, and who have your best interest at heart.  They might be able to see something that you don’t see but need to.  And they might be able to offer you invaluable help. 

            But don’t let guilt or a desire to please them make you do things you shouldn’t do right now or take on responsibilities that you shouldn’t be worrying about right now.  There is a season for everything.  A season to help and chip in and participate, and a season to retreat and to care for yourself and say “no.”  Know what season you are in, and don’t feel guilty about it.

            After last summer, I found that talking to people was too stressful, so I basically stopped doing it for a while.  For a time, I simply avoided people, except for the one person I could talk to openly and honestly.  And instead, I retreated to my bedroom nightly – a couple hours every night - to watch my favorite show, Gilmore Girls.  I know it will make me sound pathetic, but I needed that time.  I needed my show.  I needed to give myself permission to hide for awhile, to take care of myself, to do nothing more than chill out and let my mind relax, getting lost in the safe, predictable “Gilmore Girl” world that I knew so well.

            [If you want counseling but don’t want to go to a counselor, then try “counseling” with a friend or by yourself.  Ask a wise, mature friend to meet with you and act like she’s a counselor.  Ask her to ask the questions that she thinks you need to hear and to give whatever insights and advice she thinks of.  Or be your own counselor.  We did this in graduate school (where I got a degree in Counseling Psychology).  Get a notebook and play the role of counselor and counselee.  Write the conversation out, asking yourself the questions that need to get asked and answering them honestly.  It’s illuminating.  But pray first and ask God to guide the “conversation.”] 


17.  Get outside of your house and outside of your head.  Do something relaxing and soul-refreshing.  Give yourself a goal, a project.  Look for ways to help others. 

            There is a time for hiding … and then comes a time for getting back out there.  For engaging in the world.  Don’t sit all alone at home in the dark all the time.  Open your curtains and let the light in.  Take a walk.  Go to the store.  Smile at others and say “Hi.”  Do not close yourself off from the world; it will only make you feel less human and more helpless and hopeless. 

            You need to remember that there is still life going on outside your door and that there is much good out there and much good that you can do in the world.  In fact, some of the best “good” you can do is to use your pain to help others.  So do not close yourself off from the world.  Find ways to engage, to help, to reach out, to let others help you.

            Do things that relax you and that refresh you.  Find a good hobby.  Give yourself a project, such as cleaning out all your closets or studying a subject or building something or volunteering somewhere.  Keep busy (good busy) in some way (except in those times when you really just need to be still), even just making sure you do what you are supposed to do each day.  It does no good to sit around and mope and let things fall apart around you.  Clean something, take a class in something, cook something, exercise, garden.  Do something to better yourself and your surroundings and your life.  It won’t make everything all better, but you will feel a little better to see that you accomplished something instead of just sitting there and moping.

            I found that taking walks, painting, watching and feeding the birds in the backyard, baking pies, gardening, and taking pictures of the garden (and posting it on another blog) are very relaxing to me.  And writing about my journey and my struggles on my blogs is very healing to me.  I don’t have many people to talk to, and so I write it all out.  This gets me out of my own head, where I tend to dwell on all the bad things.  I write out all the bad thoughts and feelings, and then I write about all the wonderful, spiritual lessons I have learned from it.  I “preach to myself,” reminding myself of God’s faithfulness and goodness and love and how He turns ugly things into beautiful things and messes into masterpieces.  I do this all on my blogs so that I can see where the journey has taken me and the good that has come out of it, instead of just dwelling on the bad.  And that gives me hope. 

18.  Hold things loosely – life, possessions, and people.

            Life:  I’ve learned that it’s really stressful to try to hold onto everything tightly, to maintain careful control over everything, feeling like I need to manage everything and to do it all just right.  I guess that I think if I can just keep everything under control then I won’t get hurt, that I can ward off disaster and heartache and trials.  And yet, the stress of trying to control everything – to keep all the plates spinning in the air - is exhausting.  And it hurts me.  And the problems keep coming anyway. 

          We choke on life when we bite off more than we can chew, more than our mouths were ever meant to hold. 

          And carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders crushes the life out of us.  Our shoulders just aren’t big enough for that.

          But God’s shoulders are.

            I have learned that the safest, most secure place is not to be the one is charge of everything, but to be the one who is lying helpless and clueless at the feet of God, trusting that He will hold everything together and work everything out.  He leads, we follow.  He holds the future; we only have to worry about our responsibility to live today, in obedience and for His glory. 

            Our job is not to “do it all” or to “control life and hold the future.”  Our job is just to do the daily jobs that He gives us, faithfully, for His glory, trusting that He will work it all out and guide us to where we need to be and use it for our good and for His glory.  We put on ourselves way more burdens than what He’s asked us to carry.  And we hold onto these responsibilities tightly, as though He needs us to hold onto them, to manage them . . . or else it will all fall apart and it will be all our fault. 

            But sometimes, the wisest thing we can do is to realize that they were never our responsibilities to begin with, to drop the burdens at His feet and to fall down next to Him, exhausted and needy for God’s care and presence.  He is so much bigger and wiser and stronger and more capable than we are.  And that’s a good thing.  And He is with us through it all, working for our best and for His glory.  He doesn’t need us to know what to do; He just needs us to need Him.  And knowing this will help us loosen our grip on everything.  It helps us put down the responsibilities and the burdens that were never ours to carry in the first place.   

            Possessions:  “Hold things loosely” also applies to possessions.  We tend to hold our possessions really tightly when we find our self-worth in them, when we need them to complete us, to define us, to make us important. 

            But we need to remember that everything that we have is a gift from God.  It all essentially belongs to Him, but it’s on loan to us to use for His purposes and His glory.  The gifts are meant to be enjoyed and shared, not to hoard or to control us.  We need to own them, not let them own us.  And we need to make sure that we are worshipping the Giver of the gifts, not the gifts themselves. 

            Hold your possessions loosely.  They do not define you.  They do not complete you or make you important.  They are things that will burn up in the end or that can be taken from you in an instant, in one random natural disaster.  (My heart and prayers are with Texas right now.)  Find your worth in the Lord.  Build up your treasures in eternity.  Work for the things that really matter and that will last.  If you keep eternity in mind, if you judge your “success” and “value” according to eternal standards, you might not get so upset about the “lack of…” and the seeming “failures.” 

            I think someday we will be surprised to see who the true successes are.  I think some of the greatest successes in the world’s eyes are actually great failures in God’s eyes.  And some of the greatest failures in the world’s eyes are actually great successes in God’s eyes.  I guess the key is, Whose eyes are we looking through?  By whose standards are we judging “success”?  What are we working for?  Eternity and God’s Kingdom?  Or earthly rewards and pleasures?

          Don’t trade heavenly treasures for earthly pleasures!

            People:  When I say “hold people loosely,” I know that it’s not an easy thing to do and that it can be greatly misunderstood.  I am not saying don’t cherish people or don’t fight for the relationships that matter.  I am saying that you cannot control other people.  You cannot make them do what you want them to do or make them stay if they are going to go.  You should not be manipulating them to fulfill you.  You should not let your view of yourself be defined by other people or let your joy hinge on them.  You should not put unfair expectations on others, needing them to be a certain way or do certain things to make you feel secure and valuable and worthy.  And you should not put the unfair expectation on yourself that if you can just do everything just right, then they will never leave you or let you down. 

            Other people are human, too.  We will all make mistakes and disagree with others and let others down at times.  And if we let our self-view be defined by other people and if we let them determine our worth, we will always feel unsure and at risk. 

          Our self-worth and view of ourselves needs to come from the Lord, to be defined by Him.  Our security needs to be found in Him.  He is the sure, stable foundation that we can plant our feet firmly on.  Not on other people. 

            Yes, cherish them, love them, enjoy the relationships.  But do not hold onto them so tightly or put so much of your “worth” in them that you are crushed when they let you down and are unable to extend to them forgiveness and grace and compassion.  We are hurt most by those whom we let define us and our worth the most, whom we hold too tightly because we “need” them to make us feel good about ourselves. 

            On a different note, do not put the expectation on yourself that it is your responsibility to fix everyone else or to make them make the decisions that are best for them.  Sometimes, in our love for others, we want so badly to protect them from themselves, to force them to do what we know is best for them, to keep them from making mistakes and from feeling pain and from facing the consequences of their actions.  But we cannot control others.  We cannot help those who don’t want to be helped (other than by praying for them and loving them and being there for them).  We cannot live their lives for them. 

            But we can trust that God holds them in His hands, that He loves them even more than we do.  And so when it comes to loved ones who are making bad decisions and when we’ve done all we can to help them, we need to release them into God’s hands.  Into His powerful, capable, wise, loving hands. 

            Ultimately and above all, that person is a child of God’s.  He is their Father and Creator.  He loves them more than we ever could, more purely than we ever could.  He loved them enough to send Jesus to die for them.  And we can trust that even if things don’t go as we want them to go, He will do all He can to guide and protect them, to bring them back to where He wants them to be, and to help them on their journey.  And He can use whatever bad and pain there is for good.  Hold those you love loosely enough that you allow God to take His rightful place in their lives and that you do not assume responsibility for them that isn’t yours to assume. 

            Does this make sense?  I hope so.  I know it’s a bit rambly.  But I think we cause much stress and anxiety for ourselves when we hold things too tightly.  Things we were never meant to hold or control. 

            Hold life, your possessions, and other people loosely, trusting that God is ultimately in control of everything, that He determines when to give and when to take away (and that He has His reasons), that you are valuable because He loves you, that He loves others more than you ever could, and that the gifts He has given to you are to be enjoyed and shared and used for His purposes and glory.

19.  Forgive.

            Going through painful trials often gives us tunnel-vision.  All we see is how everyone else is treating us wrong and how life is being unfair.  And we make the pain worse by dwelling on all the ways we’ve been cheated in life.  We catalog our hurts, the ways people let us down, the ways they treated us poorly, the ways God let us down, etc.  And we grow bitter and more discouraged and more closed-off.   

            Bitterness is a poison (and we can throw in there “jealousy, pride, self-loathing, fear, and all other things that need to be worked through,” too).  And it will slowly destroy our relationship with others and with God, our faith, our emotional health, and our physical well-being.  Good never comes from carrying around giant chains of unforgiveness and bitterness.  It only weighs us down, making our futures as pathetic as we think our pasts were.  And it deprives us of the kind of joyful, content life and the relationship with God that we were meant to have.   

            If you catch yourself dwelling on all the ways life has been unfair or with uneasy, joyless feelings, pray and ask God to reveal if there is any heart attitude that you need to deal with and ask forgiveness for.  Is there anyone you need to forgive?  Any grudge you need to let go of?  Any wrong that you need to place in the Lord’s hands, for Him to deal with?  Any heartbreak that you haven’t dealt with yet?  Anything you are beating yourself up about?  Anything you need to confess?  Any idol you are chasing after or clinging to? 

            Sometimes, the best way to heal and to deal with pain is to forgive, to let go of bitterness, to ask forgiveness, to make the first move, to forgive ourselves, to accept God’s forgiveness and “go and sin no more.”   

            Mark 11:25:  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  

            Matthew 6:14-15:  “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

            Basically, if you won’t forgive others then you don’t really understand the nature of forgiveness and God’s forgiveness toward you.  If you don’t really understand what forgiveness is and you haven’t learned who you really are before Him then you won’t be able to grasp God’s grace or share it with others.  You can’t give to others what you yourself never really got. 

            If we need to forgive others but can’t, we should ask for God’s help in doing it.  He will help us do what we cannot do on our own.  But be prepared that it might mean that God has to hold a mirror up to us first so that we can get a good, long, accurate view of who we are before Him.  And then when we understand who we are and what He has done for us – His grace, love, and forgiveness despite our sinfulness and brokenness – we will be able to extend it to others.

            Somewhere along the path to a whole, humble, genuine, trusting relationship with Him, all serious God-seekers will be forced to face and struggle with the issues that we hold deep in our hearts – the fears, the resentments, the bitterness, etc.  And we will have a decision to make:  Continue to hold onto the fears, resentments, selfish desires, and bitterness … or place them fully into God’s hands and grab onto Him instead.   

            He will not allow us to hold onto both.  We cannot hold on to fear, resentment, selfish desires, bitterness, etc., and yet still hold onto Him, too. 

            And these “decision times” are usually incredibly hard and painful because they often hit upon the scars and wounds and broken parts of our hearts and souls that we have tried to keep wrapped up, hidden, and safe for so long.  They hit upon the self-righteousness that we have built up by holding grudges against others, by tearing them down, by punishing them in the ways we see fit and necessary.

            Choosing to forgive, to let go of bitterness, to hand the control over to God often involves being vulnerable all over again.  It often means letting go of the control that we hold onto tightly to prevent ourselves from being hurt again.  And that is scary. 

            But God is after complete healing and growth and wholeness for us, and so He eventually asks us (“forces us”) to examine our unforgiving hearts.  To choose to ignore our pain or to work through it.  To choose to hold onto bitterness or to forgive.  To keep “playing God” or to let Him be God.

            Not too long ago, I was bothered for days because someone was sharing something about me with others that was a misrepresentation, and they were delighting in this misrepresentation.  But they would not listen to me when I tried to correct them.  Well, I was really bothered by this, but I had no recourse.  So I complained in my head about it for days.  And it was eating me up inside, making me bitter and miserable. 

            But what finally put a stop to it is when I realized that, in God’s eyes, my thoughts and critical attitude were probably “more” sinful than what this person was guilty of.  And I found myself saying, “Yes, Lord, what they did wasn’t right, but I am guilty of pride, unforgiveness, and a harsh, critical attitude.  And this is a sin against You.  Forgive me!” 

            It helps us keep a soft, forgiving, repentant heart when we look at ourselves instead of at others.  Of course, it is a great thing when we move from saying, “Look at the wrongs they have done to me” to saying, “Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they’ve been doing.”  But it is an equally great thing to move from “Lord, forgive them for they don’t know what they’ve been doing” to “Lord, forgive me for I don’t know what I have been doing.” 

            God will deal with the sins of others.  He is the one who will avenge wrongs.  We just need to be concerned with the plank in our eye and with our sins.  And all sins, whether they are actions or thoughts or attitudes, are really sins against God.  He alone really has the right to avenge them.  And He will right all wrongs in the end.  If we keep this in mind, it will help us to put bitterness, criticalness, and indignation aside.  (These things just kill us slowly on the inside anyway.)        

            Not only do we have the responsibility to forgive others and to seek forgiveness from God, but we are to ask for forgiveness from others for any offenses we have made against them.

            Matthew 5:23-24:  “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” 

            Being reconciled to others is so important to God that we are not even supposed to offer our gifts at the altar until we do.  But how many of us sing God’s praises at church while we have unfinished business in a relationship with someone else?  How many of us won’t seek reconciliation because we don’t think that we should have to?  “We didn’t do anything wrong; it was all them . . . right!?!  Besides, it’s history now!”  And how many of us harbor bitterness towards others for some offense?  How many can’t let it go because it seems so justified?  “They deserve it, right?”   

            Forgiveness is not so much about the other person; it’s about our relationship with God. 

            Unforgiveness is a sin that will block God from hearing our prayers (Psalm 66:18:  “. . . If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened”).  And even worse, unforgiveness (or any resistance to confessing any sin in our lives, for that matter) shows hard-heartedness, which is diametrically opposed to a healthy, open relationship with God.  And we will further block ourselves off from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  And the longer we refuse to forgive or to ask forgiveness, the more we will entrench ourselves behind the wall that we have put up between us and the Lord.  And the more numb and desensitized - and self-justified - we will feel.  

            It’s all about our heart and if we humble ourselves before a holy God. 

            Additionally, there is another aspect to forgiveness that we might struggle with.  And that is forgiving ourselves and “forgiving” God.  Sometimes it is easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves for the wrongs we have done.  Some of us live our whole lives punishing ourselves or keeping our distance from God and others because we feel too guilty for things we have done.  We do not feel that we deserve to be forgiven, and so we do not accept the forgiveness that God is so ready to give us.  Like knowing and accepting that His love is a free gift, we have a hard time knowing and accepting His free gift of forgiveness.  (And for some people, His free gift of salvation.) 

            Maybe we have never experienced true mercy and grace from other people in our lives?  Maybe we have never been given anything and we are used to earning everything we have?  But we cannot earn forgiveness and grace and mercy.  The only way to truly be forgiven is to accept it with a grateful, humble heart.  And when this happens, we find God’s love and His healing.  And we begin to want to live a life that honors Him, out of thankfulness for the unearnable gifts that He gives us.  If we are still trying to earn anything from God then we don’t have a correct understanding of Him. 

            I want to look for a moment at the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who was caught in the act of adultery.  (I wonder how they knew it would be happening at that exact time?  When Jesus was there?  And why did they not bring in the man, who was just as guilty?  Sounds like a set-up to me.  Just speculating.) 

            They are trying to trap Jesus, “in order to have a basis for accusing him.”  And instead of answering their question about if she should be stoned, Jesus writes on the ground.  We don’t know what he wrote, but we do know that it is enough to make them all leave after he says, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  (Verse 7)  (I think it’s interesting to note that the older ones left first.  I think as we age, we lose some of that dogmatic, self-righteousness that we might have had when we were young, and we begin to see that we are just as human as the next person.)        

            What I want to specifically note here are two things. 

            1.  Jesus was more disturbed by the unforgiving, self-righteous attitudes of the “spiritual elite” than He was by the humiliated, shamed, guilty woman.  And this should be sobering to those of us who are more bothered by what everyone else is doing wrong than by what we are doing wrong.  And to those of us who are so eager to accept forgiveness that we don’t deserve but who are unwilling to give it to others. 

            2.  And Jesus wasn’t nearly as concerned with where the woman was coming from.  He was much more concerned with where she was going.  “‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared.  ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’”  (John 8:11) 

            I point this out because I think too many people do not realize how ready and willing God is to forgive them.  They hold onto their guilt as a sort of punishment, too full of shame to accept God’s forgiveness and love and healing. 

          But God is much more concerned with where you are going than where you’ve been.

            Accept His forgiveness, let it make you free.  And forgive yourself and “Go now and leave your life of sin.” 

            And as I said, some of us might struggle with forgiving God.  Maybe our own sins and shortcomings don’t bother us, but God’s “shortcomings” or the ways He lets us down bother us immensely.  This is a whole different kind of heart attitude.  This is one where we feel like life should be the way we expect it to be, and it really upsets us when God doesn’t make it so.

          I think most discontentment comes from feeling like God owes us something that He isn’t giving us.   

            Some of us have lost health, loved ones, jobs, homes, etc.  Or we’ve watched our dreams get broken.  Or we’ve never gotten the things we desperately want or think we need.  And we struggle with wondering how a good, loving God could allow this to happen to us.  And we become unforgiving toward Him, living as though He failed us or owes us some explanation.

            But at some point, we have to decide if we will still trust God even when things don’t go the way we want or if we will harden our hearts toward Him because He isn’t the kind of God we thought He should be.   

            If this is where we are at in life right now, I believe that we need to look at our expectations of God.  Psalm 139:23-24:  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  Because I’m going to guess that we do not truly see Him the way that He is, the way the Bible says He is.  When we try to smoosh Him up into a little box that we made or to define Him according to our faulty or unreasonable expectations, it is easy to lose hope and faith and trust when things go wrong.  He isn’t the God we thought He was. 

            But it isn’t God who is failing us; it is our own ideas of God and life that are the problems to begin with.  And we need to sort these out if we are going to be able to see the situation clearly, to “forgive” Him, and to humbly trust Him and seek His comfort when things go wrong.  Life is hard enough without holding grudges against God.  Or against others or ourselves, too.

            Most discontentment comes from feeling like God owes us something that He isn’t giving us.  When in reality, we owe Him everything that we already have. 

20.  Cry when you need to.  Distract yourself if you have to.

              For months after my panic attack last summer, I would wake up nearly daily with anxiety.  I felt very fragile.  Very vulnerable.  I could feel this buzzing of anxiety in my brain.  And I was always afraid that it would suddenly overcome me and I would lose control of my mind and begin panicking and end up in the hospital.  And of course, our natural response to that fear is to do our best to control ourselves, to try to manage our emotions and to keep ourselves together.

            But one day, instead of trying to hold myself together, I began to cry.  To sob.  I was just so exhausted.  And when I was done, I felt better.  More relaxed.  And I realized that sometimes that anxious feeling is really just a need to cry that has been building inside of me.  And I didn’t even need a clear, obvious reason to cry.  I just needed to cry.  To vent it out.

            And so I made myself a mixed CD of the City Harmonic songs that spoke the most to me, that always made me tear up, that always gave me a little hope.  (I own the CDs – in fact I paid for the music twice, one set of CDs for me and one for my mom – so I wasn’t “stealing” the songs.)  And I labeled it “When Anxiety Strikes.”  And I listened to it whenever I felt the buzzing in my brain.  And inevitably, it would make me cry (in a good way) and I would feel a little better.

            And on other mornings, it helped to distract myself with light-hearted shows on TV.  If I woke up with the feeling of anxiety, I would turn on a show that didn’t have any bad stories or heavy drama, which in my case happened to be Green Acres (reruns on TV) or my 7th Heaven DVDs – simple shows that are relaxing to an anxious mind.  And I would watch it for about an hour, until the anxiety subsided and I had built up the energy to tackle the tasks of the day.

21.  Decide that you are too tired to be anxious.

        The last time that I felt a panic attack coming on and was afraid that I would lose it, I found myself saying, “No!  I can’t do it!  I don’t have the energy to be anxious.  I am too tired.  Lord, You panic for me.  You worry about the worries that threaten me.  Because I am too tired to deal with it all.” 

            And so I decided to not panic, to not pick up that burden that day.  I was exhausted and didn’t have the energy to be anxious. 

            And oddly enough, that simple decision really helped that day.  The anxiety subsided.  And it hasn’t come on that strongly ever since.  (Although, it does still hit me from time to time in lesser degrees.  It’s still a battle.)

22.  Lighten up.  Decide that it’s time to stop crying.

        You know how I said earlier that sometimes we need to cry, especially when it comes to anxiety.  Well, sometimes, when all you’ve been doing is crying, it’s time to decide that you’ve cried enough.  Decide that it’s time to stop crying and to start living life. 

            Sometimes, continuing to cry about the same thing happens because we are letting our minds dwell on that thing over and over again.  And we need to “take our thoughts captive” and begin turning our focus to other things.  We need to hand the thoughts over to God, replace them with biblical thinking, get God’s view of the situation, and choose to move forward and let God handle the things that discourage us. 

            A therapeutic tip: Schedule a time to think about the “bad things” and cry.  Maybe once a day for ten minutes or once a week for an hour.  So when the bad thoughts pop up and you feel like crying again, remind yourself that you have a scheduled “cry time” at 8:00 a.m. every Monday morning for an hour.  And write it down – the schedule and the things that pop in your mind throughout the day that you want to think about during that time.  This can be helpful because it lets your mind rest in between the scheduled times and it gives it some relief knowing that you don’t have to stuff it down forever, that you will eventually let it come out again if it needs to come out.

            And in between “cry times,” lighten up about whatever you can lighten up about.  Find things to laugh about.  Not everything is that dark every day unless you let it be that way.  Find the bright spots, the things that make you smile. 

            I have a little, solar-powered, dancing frog.  And he dances perfectly to George Ezra’s “Budapest.”  Sometimes, I will put on that song just so I can watch the frog dance to it.  It makes me smile every time because he looks so happy, just dancing away there to some fun music.  And I love to watch the birds at my bird-feeders or get down close to my flowers and watch a bee fly among them, looking for pollen.  It’s soothing to my soul. 

          When the problems seem so big and overwhelming, narrow your focus down to one simple thing.  Enjoy one tiny moment!  Marvel at one tiny wonder!  There is still beauty and goodness and delight in the itty-bitty and mundane things that we overlook every day! 

            Or maybe search “restore my faith in humanity” on Youtube and see what inspirational videos come up.  Sometimes, it helps to be reminded that there are still good people in the world.  Or maybe Google “Dover Police DashCam Confessional (Shake it Off).”  It’s that police officer singing along with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” while on patrol.  Just plain cute!  And then there are the funny “Bad Lip Reading” clips.  Particularly the “Ted Cruz” one, the “Bernie & Hillary” one, or the “First Republican Debate Highlights: 2015.”  This is some of the funniest stuff I have seen in awhile.  Light, fun, and off-the-wall.  There are also a bunch of movie ones, like The Avengers and Star Wars.  It’s just perfect for a tiny break from your stressful day.  A simple way to lighten up a little.

 (This is my dancing frog.  And his friend, Ducky.  Don't they just look so happy?)

23.  Sing.  A lot.

            I have learned that it is important to sing - out loud - throughout the day to some fun music, to some praise music, or for no reason at all.  Just sing.  Even when you don’t want to.  There are times to sing because we are happy, and there are times to sing because it helps us be happy.  It loosens our mouths from the tight-lipped grimace we walk around with.  It makes us speak and engage when we'd rather sit in quiet pain and retreat from existence.  It gives us words when we have none of our own.  It puts a tune in our hearts when all we feel is emptiness.    

            If you can keep singing, no matter what life hands you, then you are going to be okay. 

            And if you're really feeling brave ... dance too.  Dance around your kitchen or living room, all by yourself.

            [I wonder if there is a connection between singing praises to God and the help He gives us in difficult circumstances and times of need.  “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against [their enemies]…” (2 Chronicles 20:22)  As the people praised Him – even before He answered their prayers and resolved their difficulties – as they praised Him, He set about the defeat their enemies.  How many times do we exhaust ourselves trying to defeat our “enemies” when we really should have just been singing praises to God for being the God that He is, for being big enough and strong enough to defeat our enemies for us?]

24.  Count your own blessings, not someone else’s.  And be thankful for the things that haven’t happened.

            Part of dealing with the trials and the pain is to count our own blessings, not the blessings that others get, which only makes us bitter.  And when we are so focused on our own pain, it’s hard to remember that others have pain, too.  Sometimes way worse than we do.  And I think it’s important to also remember to be thankful for the bad things that haven’t happened to you, the trials that you’ve been spared from.  The newspaper headlines that didn’t have your name in them.  There are so many things that could’ve happened to me or my family but that haven’t.  And thinking of all the things we have been spared from makes me thankful for my trials and my pain.  Because I know it could be so much worse.

            If you take the blessings in your life for granted, all you are left with is the pain.  One helpful thing to do is to start a notebook where you keep a running list of the blessings that God has given you (read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts).  Basic things like enough food to eat or strength to lift heavy things or legs to walk.  Simple, overlooked things like a pretty sunset or an interesting rock you found on a walk or a goldfinch at your birdfeeder.  Or more “hidden blessings,” the silver linings on the storm clouds, the few roses among the many thorns - things like the fact that you hug your children every day because you were never hugged as a child or that you have one friend you can confide in when everything goes bad or maybe how someone else found a little encouragement through your painful story.

            (And can I recommend one more “list” idea:  Don’t write a list of things you want to accomplish.  Write a list of things you already have accomplished - the life things, the daily things, the trials you’ve overcome, the characteristics you like in yourself, the values you are proud of, the things you have made, the legacies you are passing onto your kids, the ways you've helped others, etc.  If all we look at are the things we haven’t accomplish but want to, we might get discouraged and overwhelmed.  Instead, start a list of what you’ve already done and see how far you’ve come in life.)    

            Maybe set a goal for yourself, such as writing down 10 blessings a day.  And bring some paper and a pen with you wherever you go so you can write things down when they are fresh in your mind.  The harder discouragement strikes and the more trials there are, the more deliberate we have to be about looking for the good.    

            Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

            Notice that “with thanksgiving” is part of what helps us find that “peace in God,” even in the face of the things that make us anxious.  Do not forget the “thanksgiving” part.  It is critical to the health of your faith and your mind.

            Good can be found in everything.  Focus on that part of life.  Because our thoughts will be molded by what we focus on.  And our feelings will follow our thoughts.  And our self-view, our view of God, our faith, and our outlook on life will be affected by our thoughts and feelings, which in turn will shape our futures.  

          It’s not what actually happens that has the biggest effect on us.

          It’s our view of it that affects us the most, what we choose to focus on, to remember about it, to learn from it all.  This is what will affect us and our futures long after the original hurts happened.  (A truth retold by Ann Voskamp in her book, The Broken Way: a daring path into the abundant life.)

            We can’t change the past, but we can change how we let it affect our futures.  (And this is best done with the Lord’s help, not on our own.  We are simply not strong enough.  And we don’t have to be.)

            Count your blessings.  Be thankful for the tragedies that have never happened to you.  Find the silver linings, the roses among the thorns, the beautiful lessons and truths that came from the pain.  Watch carefully where your mind goes because it will affect your thoughts, feelings, views, and future.  Stop the negative ones immediately (pray them over to God) and replace them with godly truths.  (In fact, write out the negative thoughts and self-condemning thoughts, and then write out God's truth next to it, the truth you want to live ... and review it often).  Compare your life against those who have it worse, not better, against those who have less, not more.  And be thankful … because you didn’t have to be given even that much.   

            I think if we suddenly lost all the good things in our lives – our health, our eye-sight, our homes, our food, our children, our freedoms – we would realize how truly blessed we were and how much we never knew it or appreciated it.  And if we could go back to the way things were, we would do it happily and be thankful and consider ourselves rich beyond measure.

          Richness – blessedness – is not about what we have in life or what happens to us.  It’s about how we view our lives and what we have and what happens to us (and what doesn’t happen to us).  And it doesn’t come from counting other people’s blessings, but only from counting our own.    

25.  Learn to praise Him in the pain and to trust that He walks through it with you and will bring some good out of it.     

            I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again…

            I think that praising God – even in the pain - protects us.  It makes us less vulnerable to the attacks of the Evil One and protects our hearts, minds, and faith more.

            I am not one of those who thinks you have to thank God for the pain, for the heartbreaks, for the tragedies.  It’s masochistic to thank God for divorce or abuse or disease or death, etc.  None of this stuff was in God’s original creation when He looked at the world and at people and said, “It is good!”  These are all effects of the Fall, of evil.  And I don’t think we have to be thankful for them - when God Himself didn’t want these things or plan for things to be that way.

            Yes, God lets the bad things happen.  And that’s because He has allowed mankind to affect things, to have certain responsibilities, to cause consequences, and to have a certain control over the world and events of the world.  And it’s also because evil is alive and well, affecting things, too, leaving its mark everywhere. 

            So we cannot “blame” God for the bad things, even though He allows them to happen. 

            The thing is, we want our free-will, don’t we?  We want to make our own decisions and choose what we want to do.  But the moment we cause bad consequences for ourselves or when others have caused them for us or when nature has gone haywire, we blame it on God, acting like He is the one causing everything. 

            But part of having free-will is having the job of choosing between right and wrong, between good and evil.  And humans have been doing this for millennia, from the moment Adam and Eve ate the fruit and introduced death and destruction and decay into the world.  They passed down to the next generation a broken world, broken minds, broken bodies, etc.  And we will all pass it down to those who follow us. 

            Bad things are the consequences of having that free-will that we like having.  These bad things are because of us and because of evil.  And so I do not think we need to thank God for them, as though He deliberately caused them and wanted us to have them.  (Not that He doesn’t deliberately cause “bad” things at particular times throughout history.  But I think it’s generally more that He “allows” them.  And we need to remember that from our limited perspective, we can’t always know if something was “good” or “bad,” not until eternity.)  

            He allows us to affect things.  He allows the bad things to happen.  And even if He didn’t deliberately cause them, He did allow them because He knows how to work it all into His plans and how to turn it all into good.  And He can help us through the painful trials.  We don’t face them on our own.  He is there with us, guiding us and giving us the strength and wisdom and peace to get through it all (if only we will accept His help).  And eventually, He will make all wrongs right again and do away with evil (and its effects) for good.

            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 

            And if nothing else, that is what we can praise Him for.  We can praise Him for the blessings that come from the pain.  We can praise Him that He holds everything in His hands, that nothing that happens to us happens without His knowledge and consent, that He allows whatever He does because He knows how it can be used for good, that He sees the big picture when we can't, that He gives us the strength to face the hard times, that He cries with us when we hurt, that He holds us when we ache, that He carries us when we can’t stand anymore, and that eventually He will make all things right again.

            Praising Him is not an act of our feelings.  It’s an act of the will.  We can praise Him – give Him honor and glory – even when we don’t feel like it.  Even when we are hurting.  We praise Him by thanking Him for His gifts.  We praise Him by including Him in our concerns, by running to Him, by calling Him “Father” even when life isn't what we want it to be, by trusting that He is listening and that He cares and that He will answer our prayers (in His time and in His way).  We praise Him by being obedient, even when we don’t want to be.  We praise Him by saying, "I trust You, regardless of my circumstances."       

            You know, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past depressing years, it’s that faith is messy sometimes.  Faith hurts sometimes.  It’s not as easy and predictable and “magic-wandy” as I used to think it was.  And I think a critical part of strengthening and purifying your faith – of learning humility - is going through the trials and learning to praise Him in the pain, regardless of what’s going on in our lives.

            Because it’s in the trials and the hurt and the messiness that I have learned to see God for who He really is and myself for who I really am.  It’s where I learned more about His love, grace, faithfulness, forgiveness, all-sufficiency, etc.  It’s where my faith grew (after much confusion and pain) and where my trust in Him was purified.

            I think many of us have faith in God at first because we think it will fix every problem, or because it’s fun and gives us an emotional high, or because we think it will make life the way we want it to be.  But the trials and pain and “unanswered” prayers force us to decide if God is real enough for us to have faith in Him, even when those things don’t happen.  They force us to decide if He is enough for us, if we will cling to Him anyway, if we will trust that He is still good and faithful, even when life is messy and it hurts and prayers don’t “work.”

            Painful trials are a line in the sand.  It’s God asking us “Which side do you choose … and why are you choosing it … and will you still stay on My side even if I don’t do all you want Me to do?”  

            I think our faith becomes more real and strong as we face the hard times and trials.  It’s easy to “have faith” when life is going like we want it to.  But that’s not really faith, now is it?  It’s gratitude that life is good.  It’s happiness because we are getting what we want.  And many times, it’s idolatry in disguise. 

            I mean, how many times do you hear that someone has left Christianity or turned their back on God because it “didn’t work”?  They were going through a hard time or needed some answers or were looking for something more, and so they decided to “try” God and faith.  But then when it “didn’t work” the way they expected, they gave it up and decided that it’s all just a fantasy anyway. 

            Trials and pain force us to decide if we really believe that God is real, that faith matters, that He’s good enough and faithful enough to keep clinging to, that there is more to this life and eternity than the circumstances we face.  They force us to decide who we really want on the throne in our lives. 

            And that’s the scary part.  It’s why many people turn from God.  If we sit on the throne ourselves, then we get to handle things our way and we believe that we don’t have to answer to anyone.  And we like that power.  But if God sits on the throne, then we have to accept His answers to our prayers, in His timing and in His way.  And that’s a hard thing to face when we are hurting and want relief,

            I think that to make it through our painful trials with our faith intact, we oftentimes have to take inventory of what our expectations and misconceptions are of God and of ourselves and of faith and life.  We need to get rid of our wayward, unfair, unrealistic expectations  and misconceptions of how life should be and how God should be and what He should give us and what He should do for us … and we need to replace them with biblical expectations, based on what the Word says about who He is and how He acts.  (Check out my “Through the Refining Fire: Your Sweetly Broken Journey” blog for a guidebook to help you through hindrances to your faith.) 

            Oftentimes, it’s not God who lets us down.  It’s our misconceptions and expectations that let us down.  If we base our views of God and faith on what we wish was true and what we expect to be true – instead of on what the Bible says in true – then we will be let down when the trials come.  Because we will think that God failed us and that He can’t be trusted.  If we base our view of God and our belief in Him on our circumstances – instead of getting to know Him as He really is in the Word – then it’s just a matter of time before we decide that faith “didn’t work” and we turn our backs on Him in bitterness and go our own way. 

            Because He wasn’t who we thought He should be. 

            But once again, it isn’t God who lets us down.  It’s our own views – our expectations and misconceptions – that ruined our faith because we were building our faith around them. 

            And I think this is sometimes why God allows the hard trials, the deepest heartaches.  They are what cause us to take a good, long look at what we believe about Him, about faith, about life, about ourselves.      

            And if we are wise, we will evaluate them and toss out the bad and replace it with godly, biblical truth.  (And if we are unwise, we will simply grow bitter and turn our backs on Him.)  And as we begin to understand deeper biblical truths and to see God for who He really is and ourselves for who we really are, our faith will grow and our trust in Him will become more pure (moving from a “what’s in it for me” trust to a “I will trust You regardless of what happens in my life because I know You too well to turn my back on You” trust) and we will be humbled before Him, as children at the feet of the Father.  And we will be able to praise Him for who He is, even when we hurt because of life.

            A faith that is based on the idea that we can manipulate God to give us what we want is not true faith in God at all.  It’s faith in ourselves, in our faith, in life working out as we plan it.  And that is not faith in God.

            We want to lead and we want our prayers to control God, whereas true faith in God says, “Whatever happens, I still believe in You.  And I will follow where You lead.”  Our hope should not be in the idea that God will eventually give us what we want if we just pray the “right way” and wait long enough for His answer as we tell Him that we trust that He will do what we are asking because of our “great faith.”  (Oh, how many times I fall into that!) 

            Our hope should be in the fact that God is here now and that He is working things out in His time and in His way, even if they don’t match our time and way.  It’s not letting the darkness and confusion pull us away from God, but letting it draw us even nearer to Him. 

            When we have learned to seek, desire, and enjoy Him more than the things He can give us, then we will find peace, contentment, and joy, even in the hard times.  Because our faith will be in Him, not in some idea of who we think He should be and how He should act and what He should give us.     

          In the trials and the pain, we say “I have faith in You that You can do what I am asking You to do.” 

          But God might just be saying, “Yes, but will you still have faith in Me if I don’t do what you’re asking Me to do?”

            Genuine faith in God is not one that says, “I asked for this and I believe that You can do it, so I’m claiming in faith that You’ll do it.”  (Unless it is in reference to a clear biblical promise God has given us, like for wisdom.)  That’s presumption about what God wants and about how He should answer. 

            Genuine faith in God is a faith that says, “I can’t see what’s ahead and I may not get what I want, but I still believe in You.  I believe that You can do what I am asking.  But if You don’t, I know that You are good and that You will work all things out for good.  You are God and I am not!”  This is putting our faith in God.  This is humility.  (And this is quite a journey, learning to get to this point of trust.) 

            It’s letting God be God, while we are the children at His feet.  We can ask, but we have to let Him decide how to answer.  We can desire and plan, but we have to include Him in the planning and be willing to let Him interrupt and change our desires and plans.  And when He wills that a mountain moves, it will move when we pray.  But in His time and in His way!   

          If we can’t say “Blessed be Your name” during the hardest trials then we don’t really mean it during the easier times either.  If we won’t follow Him in the hard times – if we turn our backs on Him when the going gets tough or when we don’t get what we want – then we were never really following Him to begin with.  

            The genuineness of our faith isn’t tested and proved by how well we handle the successes, how many earthly “blessings” we have, how much we serve at church, or how polished our words and prayers are.  The genuineness of our faith is tested and proved by how well we shoulder the crosses He places on our backs, how well we handle the trials and if we continue to follow Him even when times are hard and our hearts hurt. 

            As I laid there one night thinking about everything I’ve been through, I asked myself if I really wished I was one of those people who has “the good life”?  Who has it easy?  Do I wish that my life was one of smooth sailing?  

            Well, of course, yes.  That sounds great.  But honestly . . . no, I don’t. 

            While life sucks sometimes and the burdens are heavy, I wouldn’t trade them for “the easy road.” 

          I’d rather struggle with deep loneliness, feelings of failure, and unfulfilled dreams than struggle with how big of a television to buy. 

          I’d rather desperately desire more of the Lord’s presence than desperately desire the newest upgrade for my phone. 

          I’d rather know pain so that I can sense it in others than know such incredibly self-centered happiness that I fail to notice and have sympathy for those who ache. 

          I’d rather cling to a tiny bit of grace than a whole bunch of toys. 

          I’d rather know my brokenness so that I could know His grace so that I could pass it onto others than have so much self-confidence and self-sufficiency that I don’t need the Lord’s grace and don’t know how to extend it to others. 

          I’d rather spend my days struggling with deep, meaningful ache than fritter away my days on meaningless pursuits. 

          I’d rather struggle with a confusing faith and a mysterious God than have simplistic pat answers about how faith works and have a shrunken, easily-manipulated God that I keep tucked away in a little box until I want Him to do something for me. 

            It is in the struggle and the longing and the pain that I have learned just how sufficient God’s grace is, even if life still hurts.  I have learned that God truly is enough, because nothing else in life really satisfies.  Nothing else in life is that firm of a foundation.  I have learned to keep my eyes on and to work for eternity, because this life holds very little for me and it will all pass away soon.  I have learned that God is so much greater and more mysterious than I ever imagined, and I’m learning to be okay with that . . . because that’s what makes Him the God that He is and not a god of my own imagination (which would be no god at all).  I have learned to sense pain in others and to desire to speak a word of encouragement or eternal hope to them, because I know how a broken heart and broken spirit feels.  And I know that these trials are building something in my spirit and my faith that will come to fruition and fullness in eternity.  And so I can bear with them for now.  For they are temporary.  And they are building a character and faith and trust that will reap rewards in eternity.

            And so I can call them “blessings in disguise” and thank Him for the good He brought out of the pain.

            James 1:2-4:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

          2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all,  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

            To be clear, when I pray, I do let the Lord know about my wants and needs because transparency and connection matters, but I’m learning not to demand my way and not to let my faith be defined by the answers I get from Him.  I’m learning that my job is to ask, but His job is to answer.  His job is to guide and provide and lead and work things out, but my job is simply to trust Him to do this.  To thank Him for it.  To find any and all blessings that He has already given me – the ones I overlook or take for granted – and to thank Him for them.  To trust His timing and to trust that He will work it all into good.  To fall into His embrace every day and to keep putting one foot in front of the other in daily, humble obedience.  To work for eternity and not for the temporary.

            Matthew 6:19-21:  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in a steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

            I have had to learn to live the life I have and to praise God anyway.  While it’s been really hard and I have gone to some really dark places in my mind, I really do believe that the struggles have purified my faith in God.  I got to a place last year (2016 - the year I broke) where I thought, “I wish I could give up my faith!  It would be so much easier to not have to feel that God Himself was allowing this or like He wasn’t listening to my desperate prayers.  If I only had me to rely on, then I could do whatever I wanted instead of waiting on Him.” 

            But I know that’s not the answer.  And I know life would be so much harder if I was the only one I could rely on. 

            So why do I stick with my faith, when it doesn’t seem to be “working”?  When so much has gone wrong? 

            I guess I stick with it – with the Lord – because I have been through enough with Him to know that He’s real, to know that there is nothing else out there that’s worth believing in.  I know Him too well to be able to turn away from Him.  And I have learned that I cannot base His existence on whether or not I get what I want in life.  How short-sighted and self-centered! 

            Faith that is based on getting what we want is not really faith at all.

            And I guess that’s what I mean when I say that the trials have “purified” my faith.  They have caused me to say, “So why do I have faith, if it’s not because I think my faith will make my life smooth and carefree and happy?  I have faith because I know He’s real, because there is no one else to go to.  And so I will still cling to Him, no matter the trials.  I cling to Him not for selfish reasons but because I know He is real and because I have been through enough with Him to trust Him and to know that He is good.  Even when life is not.  And I have faith because I know this life is not all there is.  Everything in this world – the possessions, the blessings, the trials, the pain – is temporary.  And I am going to live for something more permanent, for the world beyond this one.  The best is yet to come.  And God will eventually make everything right and make something beautiful out of the messes and He will carry me through, if I will humbly throw myself at His feet and into His arms.  And that is what I can have hope in when I can’t place my hope in anything in this world.”

            While I have been praying quite honestly that God will shield me from more trials for awhile until I can regain enough strength to stand, I can see the sweet lessons – the bittersweet lessons – that the trials have taught me.  And I know that I will be okay!

            My hope is not in anything this world has to offer.  My hope is in the Lord alone, in that fact that He walks with me through the hard times, that He will make something good out of it, that I will see the rewards in eternity, that He will eventually make all wrongs right again, and that all of this struggle will be worth it when I hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

            And until then, I am learning to praise Him – just because of who He is.  And I am learning to trust Him, no matter what happens, because He has proven Himself to be a good, faithful Father time and time again. 

            It is because of the trials that my faith has grown from a “gimme” faith in a god of my own imagination into a real, hard-won, lasting, sustaining faith in God as He is - a God who is mysterious, who can’t be manipulated by me, who has His own plans and timing, and who loves us immensely.  Enough to die for us so that we may have eternal life, where He makes all things right again.

            That is a God worth clinging to!        

            Yes, I may be broken.

            But that’s okay.

            Because I know the One who specializes in fashioning beautiful things out of jagged, broken, messy pieces.  I am going to be okay.  And you are going to be okay.  Give the pieces to the Creator of beautiful things, and see what He can do with them.

26.  If don’t know God, what are you waiting for?  How bad does life have to get before you will turn to Him?

            If you don’t know what a relationship with Jesus is and why it matters, check out my post “Starting Your Own Relationship with Jesus Christ (and Why We Need Him)”  But if you already know that it’s something you want to do, then simply pray to Him out loud, tell Him that you believe in Him and that you need Him and that you are giving your life to Him.  Pray a prayer such as this:

            Dear God,

            I admit that I am a sinner and that I have been living life apart from You.  But I don’t want to do that anymore.  I want to spend eternity with You.  And so today, I am turning to You.  I am choosing to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I believe that He came here and died for my sins, and that He rose from the dead, proving that He is God.  I ask for forgiveness for my sins, and I choose today to make Him Lord of my life.  I open up my heart to You and ask You to fill it with Your Holy Spirit, so that I can live the rest of my life for You.  Thank You for Your sacrifice for me, and thank You that because of it, I can spend eternity with You.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen 

            Or if you can’t pray that much, simply pray “I need You, Lord.  I need You.”

            If you chose to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, tell someone about it.  Telling others is an outward testimony about what has gone on in your heart and it helps to cement your decision to turn to God.  And get a Bible and start reading, and find a good, Bible-believing church so that you can grow alongside other believers.  And welcome to the Family!

Do you have any tips for dealing with depression or anxiety?  Things that have helped or didn't help?  What advice or encouragement can you share? 

This post is linked up with Holley Gerth