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Archive for the ‘Depression’ Category

8 Things You Shouldn’t Say If Someone You Love Has Depression

SOURCE:   Kelsey Borresen/Huffington Post

And what you can say instead.

When your partner is dealing with depression, you want to be as supportive and loving as possible. But it’s hard to know what to say or how to help, especially if you’ve never experienced depression firsthand.

Starting a conversation with your significant other is critical, but sometimes offering the wrong words ― while well-intentioned ― can do more harm than good. We asked experts to tell us some of the most damaging phrases people with depression hear from their loved ones and what more compassionate things you can say instead.

Don’t say: “You need to get help.”

Instead say: “I’m worried about you and us. I love you and want to support you. How can I help?”

“Ask your partner, ‘Do you want me to look into a therapist for you, or a couples counselor for us together? Or I​ can make an appointment for you to talk to your doctor about medication?’ This way it’s a team approach, not blaming one person. And if he or she is depressed, you finding a therapist or making an appointment for them may make it seem less daunting or exhausting. Tell him or her, ‘We’ll get through this together. It will get better.’” ― Shannon Kolakowski, psychologist and author of When Depression Hurts Your Relationship

Don’t say: “Things can’t be THAT bad right now.”

Instead say: “How have you been feeling lately? Is it worse at some times than others?”

“Ask, don’t tell. Don’t try to reassure your partner by telling them it couldn’t be that bad. Don’t tell them that they will get over it soon or that tomorrow will be a better day. Don’t tell them how to fix the problem. Instead, ask questions. How have they been feeling? Ask if it seems to be worse at some times than others. Ask what they think might have been the trigger. Asking gives your partner permission to talk about feelings. Talking establishes connection, which is very helpful because depressed people tend to socially isolate.” ― Susan Heitler, psychologist and author

Don’t say: “How much longer until you’re better?”

Instead say: “How are you feeling?”

“One of my previous partners used to ask me this after every therapy appointment, as though there was a set timeline for depression and an end date for treatment that was the same for everyone. This would make me feel as though I was failing at therapy, and would actually work against any progress I had made, since I felt so far from being where I ‘should’ be or where he thought I needed to be.

Open-ended questions, like ‘how are you feeling?’ or ‘in what ways do you think therapy sessions are helping you?’ may be more beneficial and feel like less of an attack. Stay away from statements that may cause your partner to feel like what they are experiencing is their fault. Acknowledge that your partner is not feeling well, and that you support them and love them, even if it takes a while for them to start to feel like themselves again.” ― Lauren Hasha, counselor and writer

Don’t say: “Why don’t you just get out of bed and go for a walk, or watch a happy movie?”

Instead say: “Would you go for a short walk with me?”

“When our partner is depressed, we want to help and fix it immediately. As the caregiving partner without depression, we tend to start sentences like, ‘Why don’t you just ― fill in the blank: go for a walk, watch a happy movie, get out of bed.’ After all, we can see what would help! While depression does often make it difficult to get motivated and create action, we cannot presume that our partner is ignorant to a healthier way of doing things. It may just be that in that moment, they simply cannot do what seems healthy. Depression is a liar, and often keeps those experiencing it stuck in a negative vacuum of destructive thoughts, immobility and inaction.

A different way of suggesting action and movement in a depressed partner may be to ask, ‘Would you go for a short walk with me?’ Or, ‘I’d like to watch this funny movie, would you watch it with me?’ You are asking your partner to participate with you in something that you suspect will also help them. They feel needed and wanted, and you may be able to move them off their depressive center.” ― Angela Avery, counselor who specializes in depression and marital issues

Don’t say: “How could this happen to you?”

Instead say: “I am with you. You are not alone in this. This happens to others.”

“Any remarks which communicate judgment, disappointment or negativity are problematic. A depressed person is already feeling terrible. What is needed are statements of acceptance and care. It’s helpful to say stuff like, ‘I am with you. You are not alone in this. This happens to others.’ While a depressed person doesn’t necessarily need a cheerleader, it is important to communicate confidence that he or she will be well again, and that this is a dark and difficult period but not a permanent situation.” ― Irina Firstein, couples therapist

Don’t say: “You’re so negative.”

Instead say: “It won’t be like this forever.”

“It’s true that depression can transform even the most positive person into someone who may only be able to see negativity in the world around them. This has nothing to do with the person and everything to do with the depression. When making a statement that begins with the word ‘you,’ it can feel to the other person that you are pointing your finger at them, accusing them of something that may be entirely out of their control in that moment. This will lead to hurt, defensiveness, and isolation between your partner and yourself.

Depression is a lens through which they are currently seeing the world, one that is unwelcome and unpleasant. They don’t want to see the glass as half empty, but right now, depression has taken over and that’s all they might be able to see. Gently and kindly remind yourself and your partner that in those moments, it’s the depression doing the talking. Also remind yourself (and them) that after the depression lifts, they will be able to see the positive things in the world once again. When someone is depressed, it truly feels as though the symptoms may last forever, so it’s important to remind your partner that they will pass.” ― Lauren Hasha

Don’t say: “You shouldn’t feel that way.”

Instead say: “I’d like to remind you that you matter to me. I need you, I want you, I love you.”

“Clinical depression is not a choice, it is a mood disorder caused by any number of biopsychosocial factors. When our partner is down, it’s normal to try and negate their seemingly irrational thoughts and argue for the positive, more constructive side of things. However, when a depressed person hears ‘you shouldn’t’ before any further words, he or she often feels more guilt, shame and sensitivity about their thought patterns, as if they’ve done something wrong.

The better choice is to frame their thinking and validate it through their depressive lens. What that sounds like is, ‘Your depression is telling you that you don’t matter to anyone. I understand it has a strong hold on your mind. I’d also like to remind you that you matter to me, I need you, I want you, I love you.’ Whenever we can promote the distinction between what depression is saying, and what reality is presenting, we are not arguing with our partner. Rather, we are showing them that there are alternatives to a thought.” ― Angela Avery

Don’t say: “You’re not fun anymore. We never go out.”

Instead say: “Let’s get coffee together.”

“Take simple steps to get out of the house with your partner. Suggest a walk together, or coffee with friends ― one simple routine activity each day can help lift your partner’s mood. ​And take care of yourself, too. Plan outings with friends or family, or take a day of relaxation to get support for yourself. This is essential to buffer you from also becoming depressed, which can happen when your partner is down.” ― ​Shannon Kolakowski

Depression: How to Fight for Faith in the Dark

SOURCE:  Stephen Altrogge/Desiring God

Three Lessons for Depression

I’ve often said that depression is like wearing tinted glasses. Everywhere you look, things look dark. Bleak. Black. Hopeless. Helpless. The waiting room for depression says, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Depression is both a physical and spiritual affliction. Neurons and synapses fail to fire properly, leading to chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances cause the depressed person to feel awful, like their entire world is a raw catastrophe hovering over the depths of despair. When everything is a catastrophe, it’s easy for faith to falter and stumble.

“Depression causes a person to feel only gloom and despair, no matter what they’re thinking.”

Normally, the prescription for faith is somewhat straightforward. We read the promises of God, let them diffuse throughout our hearts, and then embrace them fully. As we embrace these promises, our faith rises. When we have more faith, there is often a physical feeling of encouragement and hope.

But with clinical depression (and most other forms of mental illness), things don’t work quite that way. Depression usually causes a person to feel only gloom and despair, no matter what they’re thinking. Filling your mind with God’s promises is necessary, but it doesn’t usually alter the way you feel. It’s like having a migraine. Believing God’s word is essential, but it won’t take away the migraine (usually).

From Gloom Toward Gladness

When all you feel is gloom, it becomes very hard to have hope, no matter what you read in Scripture. As someone who labored under a lot of depression and anxiety throughout my life, I know that it usually doesn’t help a depressed person to say, “Just believe God’s word more!”

So if you’re depressed, how can you fight for faith? How can you believe while also stumbling through the dark? Here are some things that have helped me.

1. Distinguish between fact and feeling.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that 90% of the time in the midst of my depression, my feelings have zero connection to reality. This is key when you’re in the morass of mental illness.

I feel bad because something is seriously wrong with my body. Because my brain is rebelling — not because everything is really going to pieces. Reality is outside of my broken brain. It is defined by God’s word. It’s solid. Objective. Unchangeable. If I try to process my life or circumstances through the dark lens of depression, I will be terrified.

“Depression turns our brain into a swirling mass of half-truths and distorted perceptions.”

If you’re depressed, it can be dangerous to evaluate anything in your life. Don’t scrutinize your circumstances or friendships or prospects for marriage. I can assure you that you will misinterpret reality.

Instead, simply say, “I’m leaving that to God for now. I’ll think about it later and trust him to handle it.” God is good. He is faithful. He loves you even though you don’t feel it. He can handle your life even when you can’t.

Remember, faith is not a feeling. Faith is simply believing that God will do what he said, even when it doesn’t feel like it. I can guarantee that when you’re depressed, it won’t feel like God is faithful. But that feeling simply is not true. Don’t believe it.

John Calvin, a pastor acutely sensitive to the imperfect feeling of our faith, says that true faith “clings so fast to the inmost parts that, however it seems to be shaken or to bend this way or that, its light is never so extinguished or snuffed out that it does not at least lurk as it were beneath the ashes” (Institutes). Like David prays in Psalm 139:11–12our faith may often slip away from our sight, but it does not slip away from God who gave it in the first place.

Separate your feelings from the truth.

2. Find a friend to remind you of the truth.

Depression gets you stuck inside your head. Your brain becomes a swirling mass of half-truths and distorted perceptions. Up seems down; truth seems stranger than fiction. It’s impossible to think straight. It’s like looking upside down in a hall of darkened mirrors.

During these times, I need someone to tell me the truth. Not in a corrective way or as an exhortation, but simply as an anchor. I need someone to say, “Listen, here’s what’s true. I know it doesn’t feel true, but it’s true. Right now, you feel like you are doomed. But God is with you. He loves you and won’t let you go.”

“Just twenty minutes in the sun can do wonders for the darkened brain and the sunken soul.”

If you’re depressed, one of your greatest temptations is to shut people out. And I get that. It’s really hard to let people into the cage of your life. But you need someone to gently remind you of what’s real; a faithful friend to walk through the valley of depression with you.

When your friend speaks the truth to you, it gives you something to grab onto. In the moments of darkness, don’t believe what your mind is telling you. Believe the words of your faithful friend.

3. Give sunshine to the soul.

There is an intimate connection between the body and soul. The body often charts the way forward and the soul follows in the wake. When your body is deeply sick, it pulls your soul downward, like a weight tied around the ankle.

I’ve found that one of the most effective methods for increasing my faith begins with my body. When I exercise or go for a walk or sit in the sunshine, my body feels better. Blood and oxygen pump through my body, refreshing and nurturing it. When I feel better, I think more clearly and see things more accurately.

When I think more clearly, I can more easily process and embrace God’s promises.

When I embrace God’s promises, my faith surges.

Charles Spurgeon, who often fought depression, said,

A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours’ ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is the next best.

“God loves you even though you don’t feel it. He can handle your life even when you can’t.”

If you’re depressed, embrace the sunshine. Go for a walk or a jog. Sit on your porch and feel the warmth on your face. Drink your coffee and watch the sun rise.

You won’t feel like it. You’ll want to hole up in the darkness of your room or stay in bed. But just twenty minutes in the sun can do wonders for the darkened brain and the sunken soul.

A Grip Stronger Than Your Own

Ultimately, your hope in depression hinges on Jesus. He’s holding onto you even when it feels like you’re free falling. You may be in the dark, but your Shepherd is walking right beside you. He knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed by grief and swallowed by bleakness.

Your grip on life may falter, but his grip on you won’t.

How People With Depression Interact With The World Differently

SOURCE:  Lindsay Holmes

The condition has a huge impact on everyday life.

Nothing about depression is easy. But the way it affects a person’s daily life is arguably the most difficult part of the disorder.

Approximately 300 million people globally are affected by depression, according to the World Health Organization. Not only does it create emotional health issues, like excessive rumination and lack of motivation, but it also causes physical health problems, like headaches and trouble eating. It can also cause fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating.

The reality is that these symptoms all have a significant effect on routines, from running errands to social situations to even just going to sleep. As with any medical issue, the more knowledge you’re armed with, the better. That’s why we rounded up just some of the ways depression influences a person’s day-to-day life.

Below are a few ways people with the disorder interact differently with the world compared to their peers:

People with depression often ignore routine appointments.

For most, haircuts or dermatologist visits are expected blips on the calendar. However, depression can make these events feel like monumental tasks.

A case in point is a heartbreaking account from Kate Langman, a Wisconsin-based hairstylist. Her Facebook post  went viral after she shared the story of a client with depression who came into the salon.

She couldn’t get out of her bed for 6 months. Which meant she didn’t wash her hair or brush it,” Langman wrote.

Going to a simple, menial appointment is often one of the biggest victories.

They might snooze more than most.

Depression often leads to increased fatigue and irregular sleep patterns. This means that those living with the disorder may sleep more than usual or even experience insomnia.

This might not sound so bad in theory: Naps are awesome, right? But as writer Cory Steig put it in a Refinery29 post, napping when dealing with depression is more draining than anything:

[Y]ou know you’re probably not going to wake up refreshed and energized enough to take on the task you’re supposed to be doing instead of taking a nap.

They might leave work to-do lists unfinished.

The mental health disorder can take a toll on a person’s work performance. Symptoms like a lack of motivation or energy can prevent an individual with the condition from accomplishing tasks.

Or, the illness can keep people out of the office altogether: Employees with the condition miss approximately four workdays every three months due to its effects, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Serious mental illness costs the country more than $190 billion in lost earnings every year.

People living with depression may avoid fun activities.

Depression can cause a lack of interest in thing people once found pleasurable. That could mean going to parties, participating in sports or even engaging in sex is no longer the norm.

Depression makes your life dramatically different,” Dr. John Greden, executive director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center, previously told HuffPost.

Depression makes them see things through a glass half empty.

The condition often makes the person living with it see everything from a pessimistic perspective.

Depression is a negative view of self, of the world and of the future,” Greden said. “Everything is sort of being seen through dark-colored glasses … It’s pretty common, when people are depressed, for them to think that no one understands them ― and that’s a really tough place to be.”

People with depression have brains that are more prone to stress.

While some cases of depression can be acute and circumstantial (i.e. getting laid off of a job or going through a trauma), others can be more biological in nature. Research suggests depression can be influenced by environmental and genetic factors. A 2014 study even found that depression might make that person’s brain more susceptible to psychological stress.

In other words, the condition isn’t just something they “made up” or can “get over” so quickly. It’s a physiological issue that requires care.

Depression makes them want to push others away.

A common side effect of depression is changes to relationships. People living with the disorder may start to withdraw from their friends and family, and the mood symptoms may cause them to become irritable or angry.

That being said, a little encouragement can go a long way. Reader Avarie Downs, who identifies as having high-functioning depression, points out that even just an affectionate gesture can make a huge difference:

I wish he knew how overwhelming being sad during a depressive state is … sometimes it would be really nice to get a hug, instead of just the cold shoulder and being ignored because it is difficult to understand. Support is worth more than words could ever say.

Experts also recommend letting people with depression know that they’re not alone. Offering to listen to them talk about their experience or accompanying them to therapy can also help.

People with depression may need to see doctors more regularly.

Depression not only needs to be treated by a professional, but it also could put the person at a greater risk for other illnesses. So seeing doctors, between primary care physicians or mental health workers, on a more regular basis is so key when it comes to managing the condition.

Depression is a common problem,” Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, previously told HuffPost. “There shouldn’t be shame in seeking help for that. People wouldn’t feel shamed if they got help for a broken arm. Depression is much like that. It’s treatable and you should tend to it.”

Ultimately, depression ― just like any other medical illness ― alters a person’s daily existence. And the more people keep that in mind, the less stigma and more understanding there will be about what it means to live with the disorder.

Tan: DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

SOURCE:  Taken from Disciplines of the Holy Spirit by S.Y. Tan

Occasionally the Lord leads us into a time of isolation and solitude that can only be described, in the words of St. John of the Cross, as a “dark night of the soul.”  We may feel dry, in despair, or lost.  God may seem absent, His voice silent.  The prophet Isaiah declared, “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isa. 50:10).

Such dark times can be pregnant with God’s purpose; they can be times in which we are stripped of our overdependence on the emotional life, on things of this world, and on ourselves.  “The dark night” is one of the ways the Spirit slows our pace, even bringing us to a halt, so that He can work an inner transformation of the heart and soul.

Those who are hungry for God can expect to be drawn or driven into times of dryness or confusion, where faith and dependence on God are tested and deepened.

A. W. Tozer describes this process as the “ministry of the night.”  In these times, God seems to be at work to take away from our hearts everything we love most.  Everything we trust in seems lost to us.  Our most precious treasures turn to piles of ashes.

In times like these, says Tozer:

 

Slowly you will discover God’s love in your suffering.  Your heart will begin to approve the whole thing.  You will learn from yourself what all the schools in the world could not teach you – the healing action of faith without supporting pleasure. You will feel and understand the ministry of the night; its power to purify, to detach, to humble, to destroy the fear of death, and what is more important to you at the moment, the fear of life.  And you will learn that sometimes pain can do what even joy cannot, such as exposing the vanity of earth’s trifles and filling your heart with longing for the peace of heaven.

 

As we seek to draw near to God, we can expect to have times in our lives when we too experience the “ministry of the night.”  Our best response during these seasons is to wait upon God, trust Him, be still, and pray.

 

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Why do people cut themselves? And how to help them stop

[The Counseling Moment editor’s note:  Although this article is written to those who minister to others with this issue, the article contains insights useful to all.]

SOURCE:  

Self-harm behaviors can be a foreign concept to many of us adults, but they are on the rise among adolescents and young adults. The National Institutes of Health indicate rates anywhere from 7 to 24 percent in teenagers, but as high as 38 percent in college-age women.1 However, these self-harm behaviors are oftentimes misunderstood by those who seek to minister to them. Given such high incidence rates, though, pastors and ministers must not only understand the motivations behind self-harm but also know how to minister to those engaging in such activities.2

Understanding self-harm

Self-injurious behaviors most frequently present themselves in the form of cutting various parts of the body, like one’s arms or legs, but may also be seen in burning oneself, picking at scabs, punching or hitting oneself, pulling one’s hair, or a host of other behaviors that cause wounds or bruises. Most often, the effects of the self-harm are well concealed behind long-sleeved shirts or long pants, but other times the wounds cannot be covered and are visible to others.

Self-harm behaviors are almost always done to cope with difficult emotions such as sadness, worry, or fear.

But engaging in self-harm does not equal suicidal. One of the most common misconceptions about self-harm is that it is always linked to suicidal thoughts or intentions. However, this simply isn’t the case. While suicidal thoughts do often accompany self-injurious behaviors, the injury to oneself is not always intended to lead to suicide. In fact, some teenagers report engaging in self-harm to avoid getting to the point where they feel suicidal.

A word of warning here, though: sometimes self-harm behaviors either intentionally or unintentionally do become suicide attempts. While we cannot assume that self-harm is always connected with or intended to bring about one’s own death, we should understand the reality that either intentions change quickly or what is meant to bring only injury accidentally leads to even greater, perhaps unintended, harm or even death.

If you suspect that someone is suicidal, or that the person has means and has stated intent, take immediate action. That may mean calling law enforcement, engaging an experienced counselor, or taking the young person to the hospital.

So what are the motivations? Most often, self-harm behaviors are engaged in to cope with difficult, and many times overwhelming, emotional struggles. For instance, a teenager may be experiencing deep sadness, and for the first time in her life, this emotion seems overwhelming. Given her lack of life experience with such strong emotions, she engages in causing physical pain to cope with the emotional pain.

Alternatively, some young people express that they feel a lack of any emotion at all, so they engage in self-harm to be able to feel something, even if what they feel is negative. Paired with this, some report feelings of emptiness, guilt, or tension, and self-harm behaviors provide an outlet for those feelings.

Dealing with emotional struggles isn’t the only motivation for self-harm, though, so we cannot assume such. I have personally heard of teenagers being “bored” and having nothing else to do, who then engage in cutting themselves. I’ve also seen a trend of self-harm leading to attention from one’s peers, both positive and negative, but attention nonetheless. While we certainly cannot assume that self-harm is merely for attention, the social and cultural reality of young people also cannot be overlooked.

Ministering to those who engage in self-harm

So how can we best minister to those who engage in these behaviors? In particular, how can we love and care for these young people well when their struggle is one we have difficulty understanding?

Seek to understand. First and foremost, try to understand. The first time I sat with a counselee who engaged in cutting, I simply asked her to help me understand where she was coming from, as I had no personal frame of reference for her actions. I genuinely wanted to understand the emotions and thoughts driving her behaviors, and she was willing to share.

As ministers, we first must listen well to understand. Oftentimes, those who are struggling in this area are dealing with strong emotions that they have difficulty understanding, or they have experienced difficulties in life that we cannot imagine. We must be willing to enter their world and hear their struggles before we can speak truth into their lives.

Look for the root of the problem. Self-harm behaviors almost always point to something deeper. Most often, it is an emotional struggle. Ask questions, and ask good questions: What is the self-harm in response to, or what is it satisfying? Self-injury is a way of dealing with life problems, so we cannot simply try to change that behavior without dealing with the underlying issue. To do so would be like trying to scoop trash out of a stream when it is continually being dumped in upstream. The trash will just keep coming until we deal with the source of the problem.

What does this look like, though? Perhaps in listening to a young person sharing his story, you realize that his self-harm is in response to a world that he feels is in chaos, and hitting himself is the only way he has of controlling his own life. But without listening, you’d only be trying to get him to stop hurting himself rather than realizing that he is in harm’s way on a daily basis and that hurting himself gives him some sense of consistency and control.

Consider good questions versus better questions. So how do we know what to ask? I mentioned above that we need to get to what the source of the issue is, rather than simply the issue itself. While good questions may elicit facts like what their behaviors are or how frequently they engage in them, better questions get at motivations and desires. Here are some examples:

Good questions: Better questions:
Why are you hurting yourself? What situations do you find yourself in just prior to hurting yourself?
What’s going on in your life? What are you most struggling with? What are you most afraid of or anxious about?
How do you feel when you cut yourself? Does your cutting satisfy a need? What is that need?
Do you want to stop? What obstacles are present that make this difficult to stop?

Provide practical safeguards. Even though we should be listening well for the root of the problem, an immediate strategy we can take is to implement practical safeguards, for instance, removing razor blades or knives from the home or ensuring there is always someone else nearby. While we can’t feasibly remove every means of self-injury, we can remove many.

We can also instruct those around the self-injurious person to be aware of times when temptations may be at their highest. While parents can’t keep a constant eye on their teenagers, they can ensure that the teenagers are actively engaged, and they can be watching for changes in the teens’ emotions. Parents can find time as well to intentionally listen to their teenagers, asking good questions and providing encouragement for daily difficulties.

Share biblically based hope and promises. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that we have a great high priest who can sympathize in our every weakness, and that includes the temptation to self-harm. People struggling in this area have a Savior who has walked where they walk, who has been tempted as they are, and who was without sin. And as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, they can confidently approach God to receive grace and mercy. Help those who self-harm grasp that Christ understands their struggle and that He is approachable in their moments of weakness, ready to dispense grace and mercy. This truth can be used to encourage them to pray when they’re tempted to cut themselves and to help them understand that Christ accepts them when they sin.

We are told as well in Scripture that we will never be forsaken by God, and because of that truth, we do not have to be afraid. While this promise shows up over and over in the Bible, in particular we are reminded in Deuteronomy 31:8, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (ESV). Those fears that lead people to self-harm are not unknown to our God who goes before them, and He is constantly walking with them now.

Finally, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, we are also no longer enslaved to our sinful flesh, but are slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:17–18). That means that followers of Christ can overcome the temptation to self-harm, by the power of God’s Spirit, who lives and works in them. That brings great hope to those who find themselves in the cycle of these behaviors.

The gospel message, then, has much to say to those who are struggling with difficult emotions, overwhelming guilt, or feelings of emptiness and to those who deal with those struggles through self-injury.

Pastors and ministers, we cannot forget the hope of the gospel when ministering to these young people. Like all of us, they need it desperately. They need people to listen to them well, get at the heart of the issue, help establish safeguards, and give hope through Christ. In doing so, we are able to walk with them, bear their burdens with them, and watch the Lord bring them out of these cycles of self-harm.

What Do I Do With My Regrets?

SOURCE:  Jon Gauger/Family Life Today

Rather than letting go of our regrets, we often escalate the trauma by further indulging them.

I should be dead by now. Really.

Thankfully, as a boy of 15, I underwent surgery for scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Had my parents not opted for such a treatment, statistics say I wouldn’t be alive today because of the crushing my internal organs would have received from the twisting of my own spine. If not dead, my torso would resemble something like the fictional Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The surgery was no minor deal. First, an incision was made from my waist to the top of my shoulders (about two feet long). After straightening the spine and fastening two metal rods (each rod about a foot long) into the vertebrae, the surgeon chipped tiny fragments off my hip and then carefully placed them along the vertebrae to create a bone fusion.

Recovery was slow. Every four hours I was rotated from my back to my stomach on a circular bed frame resembling equipment from a circus acrobatic act. After nearly two weeks of rotating bed confinement, I was informed that the next day would be “casting day,” when I would get a plaster cast covering most of my upper body, allowing for near normal mobility. I distinctly recall the nurse warning me the night before. “Your incision is healing, and you’ll likely feel an itching sensation tonight. Whatever you do, don’t scratch your scar.”

But what I felt that night was more than an itching sensation. It was an itching assault. An itching warfare. I scratched (bad decision). And the scars itched more. I scratched more. And the scars itched still more. At the height of this agony (I do not overstate the moment), it was all I could do to force myself to clench the tubular steel of the circular frame bed and quote every Bible verse I’d ever learned over and over. It remains the most awful night of my life.

Who knew a scar could cause so much pain?

Regrets are scars of the soul.

We carry them around with us, and every now and then they itch. So we scratch them. We replay that thoughtless deed, that hurtful conversation. But instead of relief, we sense only a greater discomfort. Rather than let these memories go, we often escalate the trauma by further indulging our regrets.

What should we do with our scars when they assault us at night or in moments of tired reflection?

Scars, medical experts tell us, require regular and proper care (mine still itch or get occasional scabs). But what kind of care is there for scars of the soul? It’s a question we put to our contributors. Just what should we do with our regrets?

Walter Wangerin

This is simple: Pray for forgiveness. Ask the Christ who fought the devil to come and speak to our regret. Invariably, the word the Lord brings us is, “Go and sin no more. I have forgiven you. Now go on. Get up. Go back to your life and be better than you were.”

George Verwer

I read a long time ago that regret is the most subtle form of self-love. The temptation to regret comes the same way as any other temptation. What we need to do is readily embrace the gift of God’s grace. A lot of people have had their lives filled with failure, yet they do really well at the end. We need to encourage one another with that. Regarding our specific regrets, God has forgiven us. He knows how to work things out for good, so we can’t dwell on regret. We have to somehow move forward because it’s a form of anxiety to dwell on our regrets, paying too much attention to ourselves. We need to claim God’s forgiveness and grace and press on.

Kay Arthur

What do we do with our regrets? Now that’s a question I can answer readily for two reasons. One, I messed up so much before I came to know genuine salvation at the age of 29, and it had great ramifications. Second, I am a perfectionist. I battle with, “I could have done it better, I should have, I wish I had, why didn’t I?” This is where I must run to the open arms of my Sovereign God and all His promises and bring them to bear on my regrets. Also, I would add that we need to remember Satan is the accuser of the children of God (Revelation 12:10-11), so I have to stay dressed in His armor, rejoicing that He will make me “stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

The first thing we have to do is thank God for grace. Go back to the cross. Preach the gospel to ourselves and realize, “I am not the Christ. I am a sinner who needs a Savior—and thank God I have a Savior.” I thank God He has not dealt with me according to my sins or as I deserve. The sum total of my life will not be about how well I performed, how well I lived up to my goals, or how successfully I overcame my bad habits or sinful patterns. When it’s said and done, the sum total will be Christ my righteousness. He took my sin—He who had no sin—on Himself. He clothed me in His righteousness, and that is the only basis on which I will ever be able to stand before God and not be ashamed. Every day I have to preach that gospel back to myself and live in the constant conscious awareness that Christ is my life. He is my righteousness. He is my only hope in life and in death.

James MacDonald

Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I believe all of our sins—past, present, and future—are under the blood of Christ, that we’re forgiven. I think we need to live as forgiven people. Second Corinthians 7:10 says, “The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Genuine repentance is not thinking about what I should have done or what I could have done. It’s thinking about what Christ has done, and living in that. When your kids were little and they would act up, what you wanted was for them to forsake the bad behavior and go forward. That’s what I believe the Lord wants for us. Not to wallow in our failures, but to revel in His grace and to give it to others.

Joni Eareckson Tada

I love to read passages in Scripture that remind me that God has a poor memory when it comes to my sin. He remembers my sin no more (Isaiah 43:25). He separates me from my sin as far as the east is from the west, as high as the heavens are above the earth (Psalm 103:11-12). That is what makes the Good News so great! God will not remember our sins. You know what? We shouldn’t either.

Michael W. Smith

You use regrets for good. That’s one reason I started Rocketown, a club for kids in Nashville. I love speaking to youth. I’m able to say, “Hey, guys, let me tell you my story.” Based on my own experiences, I have a little bit of credibility talking to some kid who is smoking dope every day and getting high, struggling with drugs. I say, “I’ve been there.” He might respond, “Yeah, whatever.” Then I tell him my story, and all of a sudden he’s listening because I have been there. I get to say, “Guys, it’s a dead-end street. It’ll take you down. This is not what your destiny is.” Regret gives me an opportunity to speak into kids’ lives because of the fact that I’ve been there.

How a Heavy Heart Gives Thanks

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

We are, for the most part, troubled people.

We are troubled within, and troubled without. We are troubled in our bodies, and in our families. We are troubled in our workplaces, and in our churches. We are troubled in our neighborhoods, and across our nation.

We welcome trouble with our sin, but we are plagued by trouble even in our best efforts. Job’s friend, Eliphaz, while not the best counselor, got it right when he said, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Jesus himself said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 NIV).

“Jesus’s thankfulness to the Father as he went to the cross expressed like nothing else his trust in the Father.”

Therefore, we, for the most part, are burdened people, because troubled hearts carry heavy burdens with them.

And in the midst of all our nearly constant and complex trouble, Jesus says to us, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1). And Paul, who knew more constant and complex trouble than most of us will know, says to us, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

How are these commands possible? Most of what troubles us springs from moral, spiritual, or natural evil and corruption — and yet we’re to give thanks?

Heaviest Heart in History

No one in the history of the world was burdened in his soul like Jesus on Thursday, April 2, AD 33.

No one — no grieving spouse in a solitary house, no weeping parent beside a child’s grave, no heart shattered by a love betrayed, no wordless ache for a wandering prodigal, no desolate soul staring at a terminal test result, no felon in an isolated cell of relentless shame knows the burden that pressed upon Jesus as he walked up the stairs to share the final meal of his mortal life on this earth.

It was the Passover, and Jesus was the Lamb. Like the ancient Father Abraham leading his trusting son up the slope of Mount Moriah, the Ancient of Days was leading his trusting Son of Man to a sacrificial altar (Genesis 22; Daniel 7:13). But unlike Isaac, the Son of Man fully knew what lay in store and he went willingly. He knew no angel would stay his Father’s hand; no substitute lamb would be provided. He was the substitute Lamb. And his Father was leading him to slaughter where he would be crushed and put to grief (Isaiah 53:7, 10).

“If we trust God in the worst, darkest, most horrible troubles we face, he will make us more than conquerors.”

And oh, what grief and sorrow he bore (Isaiah 53:3)! Jesus fully knew the price he must pay to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). He knew the nature, scope, and weight of his Father’s righteous wrath. “Crushed” was not a metaphor; it was a spiritual reality. The Son of Man (John 3:14), God the Son (Hebrews 1:1–3), the Word made flesh (John 1:14), the great I Am (John 8:58), the Lord himself (Philippians 2:11), who came into the world for this very moment, would plead in bloody terror for the Father’s deliverance before the end (John 12:27; Matthew 26:39).

Broken and Thankful

His burdens in body and soul would exceed every humanly conceivable measure. He would be despised and rejected by those in heaven and earth and under the earth. Yet he took bread — bread representing the breakable body holding it — and gave thanks and he broke it (Luke 22:19). With an incomparably heavy heart, the anticipated horror relentlessly pressing in on all sides of his consciousness, Jesus gave thanks to his Father — the very Father leading him into the deepest valley ever experienced by a human — and then he broke the bread.

We should not quickly or lightly overlook Jesus’s gratitude because he’s Jesus, as if knowing it was going to be all right in the end made it any easier. He was thankful because he did believe it would be all right (Hebrews 12:2). But we know little of the agony he felt or the spiritual assault he endured. What we do know is that he “in every respect [was] tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). So, in our difficulty to see past our troubles to the joy God promises us, we get an inkling of the infinitely greater difficulty he faced.

Learn from His Heavy Heart

When Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled, and to give thanks in all circumstances, we can know that we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:15), and that he has left us an example, so that we might follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).

“Every troubled tear we shed in this life is kept and counted by God, and one day he will wipe away every single one.”

What is this example? In the face of unquantifiable, inexpressible evil — the worst trouble that has ever tortured a human soul — Jesus believed in God the Father’s promise that his work on the cross would overcome the worst, hellish evil in the world (John 3:16–17). He believed that “out of the anguish of his soul” he would “see his offspring” and “prolong his days” (Isaiah 53:10–11). He believed that if he humbled himself under God’s mighty hand, his Father would exalt him at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6), and that every knee would bow and tongue confess that he was Lord to the glory of his Father (Philippians 2:11).

It was that future grace of joy set before Jesus that enabled him to endure the cross, and to give thanks as he was being brought there to be crucified. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith because he believed the Father’s promise was surer than the doom that lay before him (Hebrews 12:2). His giving thanks was a supreme form of worship, for it expressed like nothing else his trust in the Father.

We Can Give Thanks

Therefore, Jesus is able to say to us in our trouble, “Believe in God; believe also in me” and, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 14:1; 16:33). We who believe in him have every reason to “be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). For an empty cross and empty tomb speak this to us:

  • In all our trouble, God makes known the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
  • He is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).
  • He will complete the good work he began in us despite how things look now (Philippians 1:6).
  • If we trust the Father in the worst, darkest, most horrible troubles we face, he will make us more than conquerors (Romans 8:37–39).
  • Every troubled tear we shed over the effects of the fall are kept in God’s bottle (Psalm 56:8) and will be wiped away forever (Revelation 21:4).

It is possible to give thanks with heavy hearts in the midst of trouble. Trusting the Father by looking to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), and remembering every promise is now “Yes” to us in him (2 Corinthians 1:20), will lighten our burden (Matthew 11:30). It will pour hope and joy into our hurting hearts, giving rise to faith-fueled, worshipful thanksgiving.

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