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Archive for the ‘loneliness’ Category

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.

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15 Subtle Signs Of Depression That Everyone Ignores

SOURCE:  Silouan Green/Lifehack

Depression begins its terror in subtle ways that can go unnoticed to others. I spent years there myself recovering from a terrible jet crash and some other unfortunate events. The perceived isolation and hopelessness can be numbing, the inevitability of a horrible fate as real as the sun rising.

I have spoken hundreds of times on depression and PTSD and I’m always asked something like, “I want to help, but people don’t always tell you when they are suffering and need help.” That is true, but there are still signs, and you can use these signs as a signal to respond.

Reach out to those who seem depressed:

You should never be afraid to engage with someone who is depressed. Your hand might be just what they need to begin the process of coming out of the dark and healing. Remind them that they are not alone. Follow your gut, and to help with that, here are 15 things you can look for if you are concerned someone you know might be depressed.

Look for these signs of depression:

  1. Sadness – An overwhelming mood of sadness. You see it in their faces. Often it is unexplainable. Don’t be afraid to let them know how they look and that you are concerned.
  2. AnxietyMind numbing anxiety. They go to sleep and their head won’t stop spinning. Waking up, they look just as anxious as they did when they went to bed.Be patient with them, just sitting and listening can help to calm them.
  3. Poor Concentration and memory – “Where did I put that list, I forgot that appointment, what was their name?” Let them know you forget things sometimes too! Encourage them to write down and make lists. Writing itself is therapeutic.
  4. Guilt and Bad thoughtsLife seems to come in waves, all the bad things and disappointments in life feel immediate. Talk to them about your own guilt. Guilt is worse when we think we are alone with it.
  5. Emotions of lossThere is a hole in their heart, they are missing something that they don’t know how to fill. Remind them that the best way to make sense of loss is by how we live. Some things can’t be replaced, but we shouldn’t let loss stop us from living which only makes the hole deeper.
  6. InsomniaThey try everything – white noise, the couch, warm milk, – yet all they do is get deeper and deeper into the numbness of Insomnia. Encourage routines, no late night eating or drinking, turn off the TV, phone, etc.
  7. Hopelessness – “Hope, what hope! Life is what it is and will only get worse.”The best way to bring someone hope is to engage with them.
  8. Eating ExtremesFrom starving themselves to gorging, food can become a drug for the depressed. Keep a good eye on this, don’t let them keep this habit in the dark. Confront them.
  9. FatigueThey are tired all the time. Help them with a sleeping and waking routine. Encourage a healthy diet, and a curb in the TV watching and internet browsing.
  10. Pessimism – “You can’t help, I’ve tried everything, this is all I’ll ever be.”Encourage them to get it out, write it down, and see it for what it is.
  11. Suicidal ideations – “Death would be better than this, death would solve my problems, everyone would be better off if I was dead.” One of the best ways to lower the risk of suicide is to encourage someone to tell you when they are thinking of suicide. Don’t be afraid, talking about it lowers the chances it will happen.
  12. IrritabilityThe smallest things can set off a flood of emotion. Again, show patience. A willingness to just sit and listen while the storm passes.
  13. Aches and PainsBack hurts, legs hurt, headaches, and no amount of massages help. Go see a Doctor! Find out if the pain is coming from an acute condition or from the stress of the depression.
  14. RecklessnessDrugs, sex, speed, life without restraints because we don’t really want to be there. Put a mirror to their actions. Ask questions. Help them set limits.
  15. Isolation – “I’d rather be alone, leave me alone.” Find ways to interact with them – coffee, a walk, a movie together – whatever it takes to regularly engage with them so at least they can count on you.

Act Today!

The signs you see may be nothing, or they could be a clue to deeper problems. Regardless, life is better when we look out for each other and remind ourselves that all of us have experienced those moments of despair and hopelessness. Reach out to someone today.

Will I Be Single Forever?

SOURCE:  Stephen Witmer/Desiring God

I was single all through my twenties, and I enjoyed it a lot of the time. When I wanted a particular food for dinner, I ate it. When I wanted to take a week to hike a one-hundred-mile section of the Appalachian Trail, I hiked it. When I felt called to pursue graduate work in another country, I went. And there were other, less selfish benefits, including more time and energy for building deep friendships and fruitful ministry.

But, all in all, I found singleness pretty tough. There were seasons of terrible loneliness when I wondered if God would ever give me a lifelong companion. At times I was like a severed powerline, the voltage of unfulfilled longing causing me to thrash about in ways that hurt others. I was sometimes jealous of married friends. I did not always navigate singleness with grace, poise, deep faith, and steadfast joy. Instead, I blundered between enjoyment and regret, happiness and longing, purity and sin.

I wish someone had helped me understand, and then live, my singleness in the light of eternity. I think it would have helped me to enjoy a godlier, more productive, more contented life during those years.

A Stable Ground for Soaring Hope

Eternity changes everything, including our singleness. By “eternity” I mean the future new creation God describes in the Bible. This is a future beyond our wildest imaginings and most fervent hopes. It’s this present world renewed, restored, and remade into a perfect place with no more sin, suffering, brokenness, tears, pain, or death.

The new creation will be far better even than the original Eden, because 1) Jesus will be physically present there (Revelation 22:1) and 2) it will last forever, with its inhabitants never falling into sin — unlike Adam and Eve. In other words, the world’s perfect future will be better than its perfect past. Eden was lovely fragility. The new creation will be gorgeous stability. Eden was like an exquisite china bowl — beautiful but breakable. The new creation will be like the Alps — breathtaking and immovable.

We’re imperfect people living in an imperfect world, but this perfect future becomes our future when we’re united to a perfect Savior through faith. We can then be completely assured that this future is ours. In the Bible, that firm assurance is called “hope.”

Christian hope is the confidence that an amazingly good future is securely ours, and this hope changes the way we view our present. It strengthens and equips us in every life situation, including singleness. It heightens our restlessness for the new creation, and that restlessness makes us more content.

To Grow More Content, Get More Restless

One of the feelings I often experienced as a single person was lack of contentment. Even some of my most enjoyable adventures and sweetest experiences were shot through with a longing to share them with someone else.

A robust longing for eternity helps us with our discontentment by increasing our restlessness. That sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not. The apostle Paul was a tremendously restless person, one who said he strained forward and yearned for God’s final future (Philippians 3:13–14). And yet he also said that he had learned the secret of contentment in any circumstance (Philippians 4:12). The two are intimately related after all.

The reason we grow discontent in our singleness (or our job, or marriage, or car, or children, or anything else) is because that person or thing (whatever it is) looks so big and eternity looks so small. If you hold a coin close enough to your face, it will obscure an entire city skyline.

When our present circumstances look bigger than eternity, we have lost perspective. When we lose perspective, we tend to load too much of our contentment onto something never designed to bear the weight. We look to a spouse, a friend, a vacation, or an accomplishment to give us the happiness they never can.

Your Marital Status in Heaven

The problem with this way of living is that it leads to perpetual discontentment. If God gives us a better job but we’re still seeing our job as bigger, more important, and more meaningful than the new creation, we’ll either sacrifice everything to excel at it, or be destroyed if we lose it.

If we’re single and all we can see is our longing for a spouse rather than eternity with Christ, we’ll load down a God-sent spouse with the crushing weight of needy expectation, or become a resentful or cynical or broken-hearted single. A discontented single person will become a discontented spouse and then a discontented parent . . . until eternity breaks in and moves to the center.

God is more concerned with a change in our perspective than a change in our marital status. If eternity is at the center, and a husband or wife or child fails us — or if we don’t have the husband, wife, or children we’re longing for — it will be painful but we’ll be okay, because we know a perfect eternity is still ours. There’s ballast in our boat, and it will hold us steady through the disappointments, missed opportunities, and tragedies of this life.

The more restless we are for the new creation — the more our thoughts and emotions are captivated by it — the less we’ll be shaken by disappointment in this life and the more we’ll see every present blessing not as a final destination but as a signpost pointing toward eternity. The more restless we become, the more contented we are.

Perhaps if you’re a single person, your identity as a “single” has moved to the center of how you think about yourself. But it appears from Jesus’s teaching that in eternity we’ll all be single. There won’t be marriage in the new creation. What will define us forever will not be our marital status, but our enjoyment of the perfect presence of Christ.

That means a single person who loves Jesus is much more like a married person who loves Jesus than like a single person who doesn’t know him. We’ll know Jesus forever and be loved by him for eternity. This is way more central to our identity than our marital status. Don’t think of yourself as unwanted by any prospective spouses. Know yourself as loved forever by Jesus.

It’s likely that for many (not all) singles, there will be moments and seasons of loneliness and longing — times when it feels awkward to be the only single person at the table or the party. That was certainly my experience. But knowing our God and his final future for us plus knowing ourselves in light of that future can produce a profound contentment in our present.

What To Do When You Are Lonely In Marriage

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

As humans, we are not meant to be isolated. We all crave deep and lasting connections with other people. But we know it’s possible to feel alone in the middle of a crowd, and it’s possible to sleep in the same bed with someone for years and still feel lonely. Many of us never expect to be lonely in marriage, hoping that our spouse will be the lifelong companion who saves us from loneliness. Over time, however, couples can gradually disconnect from one another and find themselves feeling isolated and withdrawn.

Loneliness is not just about physical proximity, it’s about emotional connection. FamilyLife’s Dr. Dennis Rainey and his wife, Barbara, explain, “You may have sex, but you don’t have love. You may talk, but you don’t communicate. You live together, but you don’t share life.”

If you’re feeling lonely in your marriage, here are some ways to reconnect with your spouse:

Make the first move. Feelings of loneliness are seldom felt by only one person in a relationship. If you’re feeling isolated, chances are your spouse is, too. Take the first step to reconnecting with them, even if it’s just a small gesture. Open up to them about how you feel and give them an opportunity to do the same. Healing cannot begin if you hide or mask your pain.

Forgive past hurts. Especially if you have been feeling alone for a long time, hurts have likely been building up in your marriage. Nothing breeds loneliness more than unforgiven hurt and conflict. If you have been wronged, make the decision to forgive your spouse. And if you have wounded them, seek their forgiveness immediately.

Spend time together. This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes couples get so busy or caught up in their individual lives that they neglect to simply spend time together. The less time a couple spends together, the more likely they are to feel distant from each other. This can be resolved by deliberately scheduling date nights in, date nights out, TV-free nights, and occasional weekend getaways—just for the two of you.

Make your time count. The quantity of time together is important, but so is the quality of that time. Couples have to be intentional about their time together to create a marital connection. When you and your spouse are talking, put down your cell phone, set aside distractions, and focus on each other. Find ways to bond over shared experiences: taking a walk, cooking dinner, going to a concert or sporting event, or playing a board game or cards together. Encourage and compliment your spouse. Make your moments together count.

Prioritize physical closeness. This is not just referring to sexual intimacy, though that is certainly an important part of marital closeness, but also to the little things that may have fallen by the wayside like holding hands or snuggling on the couch. The key to resurrecting physical touch is to start small. Sit close to each other, give neck massages, and pull out a surprise kiss. Getting closer physically will naturally lead to feeling closer emotionally.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. While the idea of seeking outside input on your marriage can be intimidating to many people, nearly every couple can benefit from marriage counseling. Getting an outside perspective can be extremely helpful to you and your spouse. Read my post to help determine if you should get counseling, and find tips to make sure you find the best counselor for you.

You may feel lonely in your marriage, but you are not alone in the struggle for marital intimacy. We have all experienced loneliness in our lives, but you don’t have to feel it in your marriage.

THE DARKNESS OF CHRISTMAS

SOURCE:  Courtney Reissig/The Gospel Coalition

Until one year, when it didn’t.

I had been married a little more than a year when my first dark Christmas hit. I had every reason to think I would be bursting out of my normal clothes and growing a little baby. But I wasn’t. There were no food aversions, no bouts of nausea, and no need for stretchy pants. The baby inside me had stopped growing weeks before. I was devastated. I felt little Christmas joy that year; there was only Christmas ache and a longing for what might have been. It wasn’t my last sad Christmas, as we waited for God to provide us with children. What was once such a happy family time for me, suddenly became a stinging reminder of the very thing I wanted most but still lacked—a family filled with children of my own.

Whenever we talk about Christmas we think about happy, joyous times, and that is most certainly the case for many. In the years since our first loss, we’ve had Christmases of joy and Christmases of sorrow. We know the feelings of both. But for others, Christmas can carry a dark cloud of sadness, a sadness that never seems to let up and is only exacerbated by the happiness swirling around you. For some, Christmas is a reminder of the darkness of painful circumstances. It carries no tidings of great joy. Maybe you are facing your first Christmas without your spouse or parents. Maybe you are reminded every Christmas season of your longings for a spouse. The loneliness can make celebrating the holidays too much to bear. Maybe your table is missing a beloved child who is wayward, and things never seem the same without him. Maybe your parents are divorced and you shuffle between two houses on Christmas day, while your friends spend family time together. Christmas feels isolating and meaningless when all is not as it should be.

Whatever darkness you are facing this Christmas, know this: with all of the songs and festivities that point to good cheer and great joy, Christmas recalls darkness unlike any we will ever experience, but a darkness that brought light into a fallen world.

Mary’s Soul-Piercing Pain

While Christmas is about the dawning of great joy in the coming of our Savior, it also foreshadows the darkness of his crucifixion. Simeon told Mary of her son’s purpose, that a sword would pierce her own soul (Luke 2:35). Mary, the woman whose heart warmed for her son with every kick in the womb. Mary, the woman who nursed and diapered the very Son of God. Mary, the woman who loved and raised her son like any other mother would do. And while he was no ordinary son, he was still her son. Bearing the Son of God did not make her numb to the often painful realities of motherhood, and her pain would be excruciating. No earthly person felt the weight of Christ’s purpose like she did. While many were rejoicing at his coming, she would one day face the agonizing grief of watching her son suffer on the cross for her sins and our sins.

It’s easy to idolize Mary as a super-human vessel, ready to do whatever was asked of her. While she was certainly godly, she was still human. She was still a mother. This is what Simeon is getting at in his prophecy. With the atonement for our sins came the motherly pain of Mary. As she stared at that little baby in the manger, she may not have fully understood all that was going to take place, but God the Father did. The birth of our Savior carried an ominous shadow of the darkness to come.

God’s Chosen Pain

Mary may not have fully understood what Jesus was sent to do, but God the Father knew of this imminent grief and ordained it to be (Isa. 53:10). Jesus knew what was expected of him, and he agonized over the grief and suffering waiting for him at Calvary (Luke 22:39-46). With every shepherd’s praise and magi’s gift, the Father knew that the perfect fellowship would soon be momentarily broken for sin. In her book When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote of the Father and the Son’s grief at the cross:

The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind from every century explodes in a single direction. “Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!” But heaven stops its ears. The Son stares up at the One who cannot, who will not, reach down in reply. The Trinity had planned it. The Son endured it. The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished. God set down his saw. This is who asks us to trust him when he calls on us to suffer.

With the joy over this little baby in the manger came the promised reality that the joy would soon turn to momentary grief. We have a perfect heavenly Father who knows what it means to grieve over loss. The darkness of our Christmas is not foreign to this God. He is not aloof. He is present with us, because he knows us deeply and walks with us in our pain. He has endured deep pain, too.

When we think about Christmas and are heartbroken to face another holiday with tears, we have hope. While Mary faced heart-piercing grief as she birthed her son, this grief was for the good of us all. While God the Son suffered at the crucifixion, by this suffering we are healed (Isa. 53:5), and he is a great high priest who can sympathize with our sufferings (Heb. 4:15).

Whatever darkness you face this Christmas, it is not the final word in your life. It may be lifelong. It may feel like it will never let up. It may threaten to undo you at times. And it is real. But we can grieve this holiday with hope that one day the baby who came in a manger will wipe every tear from our eyes and make his blessings flow for us forever (Rev. 21:4). The darkness that hovered over his cradle did not win. And it won’t win over us either.

You’re Never Alone

SOURCE:  Lysa TerKeurst/NIV Real–Life Devotional Bible for Women

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” —Hebrews 4:16

Do you ever feel lonely?

Recently, I was at an event full of people. Everyone else seemed gabby and were effortlessly making easy connections with others.

I just felt out of sorts.

Someone had said something to me earlier that day that hurt my feelings and knocked me off kilter. It was one of those “I would really like to be at home alone, in a bubble bath, eating something chocolate” kind of nights. But I had to go to this outing, so here I was—lonely.

I politely smiled my way through the evening and finally got to go home. As I crawled into bed that night, I asked Jesus, “Why am I letting some thoughtless comment someone made affect me like this?”

There was no deep explanation. There was no Bible verse that instantly popped into my head. There was no sudden rush of peace through my heart. There was only a very gentle reminder in the depths of my soul that Jesus loves me—insecurities and all.

Jesus loves me.

Simple but so powerfully profound, that one statement grounds me in the truth of who God says I am. Friends can’t make you feel accepted all the time. Accomplishments will never truly make you feel secure. Having lots of people around you does not mean you won’t ever feel lonely. And chocolate, while it is deliciously distracting, is just a little too temporary.

So I turn to the One who is Everlasting, Prince of Peace, and Immanuel—God with us. I draw close to him so he can help me separate solid truth from shifting emotion.

And I’m reminded by the writer of the book of Hebrews that God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

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