How to be a Good Friend

In Luke 5:17-26, Luke recounts the time Jesus miraculously heals a paralytic.

At the time Jesus’ popularity was swelling. All kinds of people wanted to be around him for many different reasons.

Some wanted Him to provide miracles in their lives. Some were intrigued by His mysterious teachings and healings. Some wanted to follow Him all the time because they knew He was God. Others were offended by Him but stuck close by looking for an opportunity to outwit Him and/or condemn Him as a blasphemer of Jewish law.

In Luke 5:17-19, Jesus is in a house teaching, and people of each group listed above literally pack out the house. It is crowded with people hanging on every word that comes out of Jesus’ mouth.

The second part of verse 17 reads, “And the power of the Lord was present for [Jesus] to heal the sick.”

How curious!

However, a quick perusal of commentaries told me I am the only one, in fact, who finds this statement curious.

It seems to me this verse implies Jesus “needs” the power of “the Lord” in order to heal the sick. Typically, the Greek word for Lord used here refers to Jesus. But that doesn’t make sense in the sentence as we English-speakers have constructed it.

Assuming we didn’t screw up the meaning of the verse by translating it oddly, “the Lord”, then, must be a reference to God in general.

We could chase a bunch of rabbit trails here (actually, I’m already doing that…), but I think this verse is interesting because it shows Jesus’ relationship with and interdependence on God the Father and/or God the Holy Spirit.

Just as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do things at times (Acts 1:8, Galatians 5, Romans 8), so was Jesus, at least while He was here on earth. Another discussion for another time.

ANYWAY, the actual point of this post: while Jesus was teaching, some friends of a paralyzed man “tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus,” (Luke 5:18).

Why?

Because these friends believed Jesus could heal this man if they could just bring him to Jesus. (Oh, the symbolism practically writes itself, doesn’t it?)

Verse 19: “When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.”

What great lengths these men went to in order to give their friend the opportunity to be healed!

They carried him up the stairs, illegally damaged a dude’s roof by using some sort of non-electric tool to bore through sturdy ceiling tiles, found some extra long rope, and rigged up a pulley system situation to lower their friend down into the home. (Any friend who is willing to employ physics to help you is a friend indeed.)

And then beautiful verse 20, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.'” (Spoiler alert: Jesus also physically heals the man a few minutes later. He just chooses to address the man’s greater need–spiritual healing–first.)

What gets me is how the friends’ faith played a crucial role in the paralyzed man’s healing. They persistently and creatively pursued Jesus on the man’s behalf. They believed Jesus could physically heal the man, and, as his BFFs, they were determined to give their buddy an opportunity for Jesus to do just that. They were not swayed by the obstacles they encountered along the way.

They were going to get their friend to Jesus no matter what it took.

And if that doesn’t smack you between the eyes, I don’t know what will. (I will, actually, if you want me to…)

As I read this story, I first thought about times in my life my friends did whatever they had to do to get me to Jesus. How I even became a Christian in the first place is a direct result of persistent, faithful friends.

But even after I became a Christian, there were hard times during which faithful friends kept pointing me to Jesus and petitioning Him on my behalf. They had faith that He could heal me emotionally and did whatever it took to give me the opportunity to be healed by Him.

And then I thought, “Am I that kind of friend to my friends who need healing? Do I do whatever it takes to keep pointing my friends to Jesus when they are going through major trials? Am I going to great lengths to lead my non-believing friends to Jesus for the opportunity for salvation? Am I going to great lengths to encourage my struggling believing friends to pursue Him for the healing emotional comfort only He can provide?”

In some cases I think I’m doing all right. But in others I could be doing a lot more.

And I bet you “score” about the same.

So today we should all spend a minute or two thinking about specific things we can do to be as good of friends to our friends as the paralyzed man’s friends were to him. (I know, that sentence is confusing. Allergy meds have taken over my brain.)

And then, after we do some good thinking, we need to actually do the things we thought of.

We can do it. He can help. (And, in some cases, so can Home Depot.)

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What to Do with Grief

It’s hard, this life.

This summer, in particular, has felt like one gasp after another – personally, globally. Murder is everywhere, in every form. The pre-born, the just born, the born not-long-ago, the bearing, the bearing arms, the unarmed, the armed forces, the forced to bear arms, the forces of faith and fortitude born within me… they’re all being murdered all around us every. single. day.

What do you do when you can’t breathe anywhere?

Our hearts weren’t made to grieve all the time.

But how do you not when pictures of unattached pre-born hands and legs in petri dishes pop up on your screen? You can’t unsee that. You can’t unfeel that.

How are we not swallowed whole by grief when the heads of babies and children and pregnant women are rolling daily on the desert floor, sometimes at the hands of pre-schoolers who should be rolling playground balls instead?

How do we keep our heads above water when our police officers and Marines are being shot in theirs by career criminals and brainwashed terrorists who don’t understand that they are loved by the Creator and are worth so much more than the identities they’ve settled for?

How do we breathe when racism has choked out the breath of unarmed men because hundreds of years of a false sense of superiority keeps getting passed down in white families in our country?

How do we not grieve when we know the one behind each and every one of these incidences hasn’t stopped there but has incited a personal attack inside each one of us, seeking to kill and destroy whatever faith and hope we have in God?

It’s too much, this daily onslaught of heartbreak.

We have two choices, as I see it.

We can let the grief win. Here’s how that process typically looks for me:

  1. Hear bad news/realize Satan has the upper hand in my spiritual life.
  2. Feel like I am suffocating.
  3. Try to combat that uncomfortable, paralyzing feeling with any manner of distractions.
  4. Try to encase my heart with steel in an attempt to not feel anything.
  5. Fail at all of these things.
  6. Feel depressed.
  7. Get angry I am losing the battle against grief, depression, and Satan.
  8. Lament things will never get better.
  9. Stop making any effort at anything whatsoever.
  10. Generally irritate myself and everyone around me.

As you can see, this is a super mature, wise, and productive way to handle grief. It enhances every relationship I have, including my relationships with myself and with God. My loved ones really get the message that I love them, and Jesus is glorified through me.

I may or may not have chosen this approach to grief the majority of the summer, and that may or may not have played a huge role in why I have contributed nothing to this blog for six weeks. (You’re welcome.)

The alternative response to the chronic soul-crushing chaos that constantly threatens to consume us is to use the grief for our good.

We can choose (so I’ve been told) to see grief as a gift.

A grieving heart is one who understands things are broken. And it’s not until we understand that reality that we can comprehend how dire our need for a Savior is. And it’s not until we understand our desperate need for Jesus that we will choose to sprint to Him for holding and healing and hope – for Him. And, of course, it’s not until we draw near to Him that anything will be right at all in our lives and in our hearts. And none of this will happen without our experiencing grief in the first place.

Grief is a gift that leads a willing heart to the heart of God.

And when we get there, He gives us the breath we can’t find any other way.

What to do with grief

What to Do When You’re Depressed

Tonight was one of those nights I casually flipped through my Bible looking for something to speak to the crap in my heart. Usually, I can rely on David to put pen to paper for me, so I broke open the Psalms and started reading at random. About ten minutes into it, I found what I needed to ponder.

Psalm 13.

Allow me to mash the NIV, ESV, and Amplified versions together to propose the most impactful reading possible:

How long will You forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and have sorrow in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; lighten the eyes [of my faith to behold Your face in the pitchlike darkness], lest I sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. 

Cheery so far, no?

It’s important to point out that David is speaking like this to God. I know that seems pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth mentioning because I have a hunch a lot of religious people and/or new believers don’t understand they have the freedom to be transparent with the Lord.

David is depressed, and he just can’t keep his overwhelming thoughts to himself anymore. Although he has tried to keep his thoughts sorted out and his emotions in check, verse 2 tells us he hasn’t been successful. He’s spinning his spiritual wheels, and he can’t take it anymore. So, to borrow an expression from my friend, David verbally vomits all over God.

Now, David is not blaming God for whatever challenging circumstances he has found himself in that are causing his depression. And David is not being disrespectful toward God by expressing his feelings, albeit passionately. Yes, we’re allowed and encouraged to be candid with the Lord, but we still must be mindful that He is God and we are not, and, therefore, He is due respect at all times.

David communicates his painful feelings of sorrow, neglect, and frustration, and then he asks the Lord to “lighten the eyes” of his faith to behold God’s face in the utter darkness of his depression. That’s an interestingly worded request.

David understands his feelings are not necessarily reflective of reality. He feels forgotten and abandoned by God, but he knows he isn’t. Why else would he continue to pray? If he truly believed God had left him, David wouldn’t be calling out to Him anymore.

As inaccurate as they may be, his feelings are still a powerful force that needs to be dealt with. So David asks God to refocus his heart. David asks for his faith to be refreshed and his spiritual eyes to be put back on God.

Why does David make this request of God? Perhaps because David knows he can’t accomplish this feat himself. In the throes of depression, David doesn’t have the strength nor the will power to “pull himself up by his boot straps” and “turn that frown upside down”.

He asks the Lord to “lighten his eyes” because he can’t possibly lighten them himself. If you’ve ever been around a depressed person, you know this is true. There is no light in their eyes – no hope or faith in God – and no amount of them wishing there was makes it so.

[Note: I am not saying depressed people are not people of faith. Don’t send me letters. Read this instead.]

David knows if God doesn’t correct his eyesight – restore hope to his soul by refocusing his vision on the Lord – he WILL be overcome. David is in a desperate place, and, in a very literal way, his life is at stake. I don’t know that we can go so far as to say David’s lament that he will “sleep the sleep of death” if God doesn’t rescue him from his depression is an indication that he may have been suicidal. But I don’t know that we can rule that out, either. Most of the commentaries like to think of this as a reference to spiritual death – David’s soul will be so utterly overwhelmed if the Lord doesn’t deliver him that he will be as good as dead. In either case, David’s life will be profoundly changed for the worse – either literally through physical death or spiritually through spiritual collapse.

Just when this psalm couldn’t get any graver, David pens this conclusion:

But I have trusted, leaned on, and been confident in Your mercy and loving-kindness; my heart shall rejoice and be in high spirits in Your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Wait, what?

Where did that come from?

In verse 4 David is on the brink of spiritual annihilation, and in verse 5 he is skipping through fields of wildflowers with Pharrell’s “Happy” as his soundtrack.

This is about the point I want to shut my Bible and say, “I can’t even.” David and I had been tracking together just fine until now…

Just after he says he can’t pull himself up by his boot straps, he does? No, I don’t think this change of heart came from David’s can-do attitude. Remember, he just got done communicating he didn’t have what it took to overcome his thoughts and sorrow himself. He needed God in the worst way!

No, I think David’s sudden change of heart wasn’t of his own doing; I think it was a direct answer to David’s prayer in verse 4.

(I legitimately wonder how much time passed between David recording his plea with the Lord to deliver him from his depression in verse 4 and his inspirational self pep talk in verses 5 and 6. I’m thinking DAYS.)

The Lord answered David’s request to refocus his heart on God by empowering David to recall God’s trustworthiness, dependability, mercy, and unfailing loving-kindness, as well as by reminding David of his salvation and other blessings from the Lord. No matter how long it did or did not take for David’s tune to change, the Lord pulled him out of his depression by directing him to mediate on these things.

You and I can take a page out of David’s book when we’re flat on our backs emotionally. We can be honest with the Lord – passionately and transparently, yet respectfully honest – about how we’re feeling when we’re down. And we can fervently ask the Lord to “lighten our eyes” and refocus our hearts on Him. And then – and this is my favorite part – we can wait for the Lord to lift us from our sadness by empowering us like He did David to think truthful, helpful thoughts.

We don’t have to get ourselves together. Frankly, often we can’t. But God can. He did it for David time and time again (see Psalms 42, 43, and 55 for more examples), and He can do it for us too. Ask.

What to Do When Pain Overwhelms You

I’ve had a heavy heart the past week or so. I’ve been blaming gray winter clouds hiding the sun that I need to light me up and the beige walls of my home closing in as winter weather held our family hostage all last week.

And maybe they have something to do with it.

But the Lord brought it to my attention this morning that those things aren’t the true source of my disquieted spirit.

No, my sullen disposition lately is a product of my internalizing a lot of hard news instead of exporting it to the Lord.

I’ve struggled to get the savage murders of the 21 martyrs off my mind. The images of them in orange jumpsuits with knives to their throats are still all over the internet. And today I woke to news that at least 90 more Christians have been kidnapped. We know in our sickened guts which way that’s going to go…

A couple of high school kids drove a rural road two weeks ago and slammed into a tree. Dead. I drive by the gifts laid at the bottom of the giant oak every day. A headlight still hangs on a branch, and part of the bumper lies unclaimed a few feet away. My heart aches for those boys’ moms. My lungs burn when my imagination jumps to “What if my kids…”

Last night a 16 year old in a nearby community took to a highway I’ve driven many times and threw himself off a bridge into oncoming traffic below. Gone. Every overpass I drive under I hurt for his family… his classmates that had to digest the news this morning… his teachers who had to keep it together enough to guide teenagers through tragedy… and the driver who struck the boy as his body fell in darkness…

All of this news is devastating. Although none of it “personally” involves me, I am a person with a soul and emotions and so it goes that I am personally affected by each horrific story.

I think I may have forgotten this.

I took each piece of news as it came. I heard about it, I read about it, I saw images of it, I have tangible reminders of it. But I never processed it with the Lord because I never considered it mine. Sure, I uttered a plea for mercy, “Oh, God,” each time I learned of an event, but I never said, “Lord, this hurts my heart.” I didn’t sit with God and let Him minister to me.

So these pains piled up in my soul. I drove to a ministry this morning where I knew it was highly likely I would face more deadly news. Driving under overpasses and imagining what that boy who jumped must’ve been feeling before he leapt, God connected some dots for me.

I wasn’t even particularly thinking about Him as I drove until my heart got so heavy a sentence fell out of my mouth: “I can’t handle this!” The weight of the emotions inside had become too much. And the Lord responded in turn, “You’re not meant to. I will handle this.”

I marveled. Then I tried to decipher what, exactly, He meant. I had meant that I couldn’t handle the hurt in my heart anymore. And He knew what I had meant. So logic tells me what He meant in His response was I am not meant to handle all these emotions that are too big for me; He is supposed to handle them for me.

After giving me time to come to that conclusion, He continued, “Just bring me your heart.”

Ah. That’s all I’m supposed to do during heavy times. And I’ve known God long enough to know His solution would work. If I brought Him my battered heart, He’d tend to it.

To be honest with you, I didn’t have time to let the Lord stitch up my heart at that moment. I was walking into a war zone where Satan tries to do some of his best work by convincing women who have made mistakes that they are unlovable and that having an abortion will somehow solve their problems.

But I did have time for a quick band aid.

The Lord brought to mind a verse I had discussed with my kids a couple days earlier.

Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Paul was instructing the Colossians on how to live holy lives with one another. I told my girls we can learn three things from this verse.

  1. There is peace that comes from Christ, and God wants that peace to control us because
  2. God expects Christians to live at peace with one another.
  3. And when we don’t feel peace in our hearts, we can get some if we start giving thanks for things God has already done.

Although, linguistically, it doesn’t necessarily follow that thankfulness causes peace to rule in our hearts, I am certain these ideas were put next to each other for a reason. The ideas are connected in some way. And experience tells me, whether this verse does or not, that cultivating gratitude does lead to peace in my heart.

This mini lesson resurfaced in my mind this morning, and I asked myself, “Okay, am I going to do this and live this thing out or not? I have a choice right now, what’s it going to be?” Most days my heart rolls its eyes and the heaviness wins. But not today.

I started thanking God for what I knew to be true about all these tragedies. “Thank You, Lord, that You are in control of all these situations. Thank You that You are willing and ready to comfort all the hurting right now. Thank You that You care.”

That was it. That was all I had time for before I walked through the doors of my clinic and had five counseling sessions with women who were hurting in their own right. But my short act of giving thanks had birthed enough peace in my heart that I was able to offer some to them. 

Pain and suffering and grief are hard. They are big, ugly problems we can’t handle. But we’re not meant to. It’s His job to handle our hearts. We just have to let Him. 

How to Survive Depression as a Christian

I’ve probably read about 30 articles on depression and suicide since Monday night. From the well-known writers and publications to the amateur bloggers, it seems every writer has an opinion on the subject, and most are saying the same thing: depression and suicide are complicated, and those who aren’t familiar with them need to learn a thing or two… quick.

I’ve never cared to be a social commentator – at least not on the internet, because, let’s face it, a medium devoid of facial expressions and inflections can turn good intentions into culture wars (and do so, more often than not) at the speed of Wi-Fi. No, thank you.

No, my shtick is to speak from my personal experience in the hopes that you will see yourself somewhere in my story and be motivated to step a smidge closer to Jesus Christ as a result. So I’ll stick with that purpose.

Now that my preface is out of the way, on to the point of this article: how to survive depression as a Christian.

Hello. My name is Kelly, and since I was 12 years old (which was 19 years ago, if you must know), I’ve shared my head space with an unwanted “house” guest: depression (dysthymia and double depression, to be exact).

It took me 7 years and a few good friends to agree to talk to a counselor about it and to go see a doctor that could prescribe medication.

Since I was 19 years old, I’ve taken most of the antidepressants you’ve heard of as well as those you haven’t. I’ve seen a multitude of counselors and physicians and a psychiatrist. My house guest has come and gone with no rhyme or reason, but he never goes far… at most, he steps out on the porch of my mind for a cigarette break, and then he’s right back at it again, disheveling the rooms of my brain.

I became a Christian when I was 16, which may seem like a misplaced detail at this juncture of my story, but, I assure you, it’s not.

I was depressed before I became a Christian; I was depressed after I became a Christian. And no amount of spiritual maturing on my part changes the fact that I continue to wrestle depression for control of my “home”.

So what do I do about it?

As a Christian who has depression and is still alive, I suppose I’ve learned a few things about how to survive this illness. The things I’m going to suggest work for me, and by “work” I do NOT mean they pull me out of my depression. There are no silver bullets for chronic depression. I simply mean these tactics help me endure the dark hours and days and weeks until the light chooses to dawn again.

  • Go to a Christian psychologist or counselor. I know, going to a “shrink” makes you feel like you’re only validating that you are crazy. You aren’t crazy; you’re depressed. And talking to someone actually takes more strength and humility (both good Christian virtues) than staying home all day in your pajamas, sullenly wishing Taco Bell delivered. (Not that I’ve done that… today…) Not only will talking to someone with some training help you feel understood and less alone, working with a professional who understands the truth about our souls as well as our brains gives you an essential added dynamic to unraveling and surviving depression as a Christian. Non-Christians don’t correctly understand God, and we are made in God’s image, so it follows non-Christians cannot correctly (and/or fully) understand human nature. It’s true, Christian therapists are limited, too (they are finite and fallible, after all), but they are much more likely to understand more accurately a larger portion of the puzzle that is the human mind/spirit combination than non-Christian therapists, in my opinion.
  • If your type of depression warrants it, take medication. Hear me, Christian. You are not a second class person nor a second class believer if you happen to need an antidepressant to help your brain function correctly! I spent 7 years in misery because I was too embarrassed to admit I might need medication. A loving friend finally convinced me to see a medical doctor by explaining chemical depression is no different than diabetes – they both require synthetic medicine, and neither need is shameful. Your counselor can tell you if she thinks you may need medication. If there is any reason to believe you might benefit from an antidepressant, go see a psychiatrist. I cannot emphasize this point enough. I wasted too many years (10!) relying on my general practitioner and OBGYN for my meds. They know a lot about…other things…but brain chemistry is not their specialty. I know, the side effects are annoying. I know, you’ve tried a lot of medications, and none seem to work. I know, some can be expensive. Take them anyway. My counselor told me it can take 6 months to a year, on average, to find the best medication at the best dosage IF you’re willing to work faithfully with a psychiatrist. Invest that time and money. Honestly, life isn’t going to feel worth living if you don’t, but it might if you do.
  • Get a little help from your friends. I know, relationships are difficult and exhausting when you’re depressed. I know, you don’t feel like you have any friends. I know, you’re scared to show your frailty to anyone. But you must – not to everyone, just 2 or 3 folks that are safe to be transparent with. Surround yourself with a handful of people that are willing and able to remind you they love you just as much (if not more) when you are at your lowest as they do when you are at your best – people who will simply be with you physically and/or emotionally when you need to feel less alone. Pick people you know will pray for you, not just people who will say they will but don’t. Pick people who speak God’s grace to you when you speak self-condemning thoughts to them. Pick people who acknowledge you feel like there is no hope and there will be no end to the darkness while they simultaneously remind you, ever so gently, that light will come again. Pick people you know you can text or call any time and they will inevitably respond with a listening ear and an empathetic spirit. Pick people who don’t succumb to the societal pressure that makes them feel like they need to “fix” you but instead focus on the task of making you feel loved.
  • Keep communication open with God. I know, you don’t feel like He hears you. I know, you’re angry with Him at times. I know, the scriptures aren’t comforting when you read them. I know, the commands to “be joyful always” only serve as catalysts to heap condemnation on yourself. Tell Him all of this. Whatever you’re feeling about Him, about the words you’re reading from the Bible, be straight up with God. He is listening, even though we may not sense Him responding (Psalm 34:15). If you don’t know what to read, go to the Psalms. And not the happy Psalms, but the depressing Psalms (ex. 42, 43, 55). It’s yet another way to feel less alone when you read people in the Bible felt depressed, too, and most of the depressing Psalms end with the depressed person praising God, an example we could learn from. And don’t let Satan grow those feelings of condemnation in your mind! Jesus understands how depression limits our ability to be joyful always. Frankly, even optimists with perfect brain chemistry can’t uphold the commands to rejoice all the time. We’re all on an even playing field with this one: try, and let Jesus’ grace cover the shortfall.
  • Rest. Depression is tough. It sucks the energy right out of you. So say no to all the good church (and life) activities that others want you to do. I know, they need someone to work in the nursery. I know, they need someone to pass out the fliers. I know, they need someone to greet at the door. Save the limited energy you have for one or two church things that really contribute to your mental health instead of detract from it (might I suggest attending a Bible study?). Hear me, though. I am NOT saying retreat. If you drop out of everything at church and hole up in your house, you’re not “resting”, you’re “retreating”, and you’re going to sink deeper into depression than you ever have before because that’s what happens when you’re alone all the time. You don’t have to go be Mr. or Ms. Socialite, but force yourself to attend something once a week and to speak to at least one person beyond, “Good morning.” Then go home and take a nap. Even if it’s only 11 AM. You’ve done well.

And that’s about it. These are the things I do as a Christian both to keep depression at bay as well as to endure depression when it descends upon me. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. There are no silver bullets.

My psychiatrist would tell me I also need to add eating better and exercising 30 minutes 5 times per week to my list, both of which would be Christianly ways to survive depression on account of the whole we ought to take good care of our bodies thing (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But those are really hard things to do when you’re depressed. So I’m still eating Taco Bell on my couch on a regular basis.

My pastor suggested he anoint me with oil and pray for healing per the directive in James 5:14. I haven’t done it yet, but I plan to, and I invite you to try it, too, even if you’re uncomfortable with it. He’s done this for me twice in the past in regards to different health issues, and both issues resolved, albeit several months after the fact. I don’t know that the anointing and prayer had anything to do with it, but I don’t know that they didn’t either. So it’s worth a shot, in my book.

If you’ve read this far, it’s likely you’re either a depressed Christian yourself or you are close to someone who is. Drop me a line in the contact box below, and I will pray for you. I will stop everything and pray for you. Also, if you’ve discovered anything else that helps you survive depression, share it in the comments section to help others.