Still Struggling Even When Life Is Good? It’s Not Just You

Do you ever feel like everything’s going really, really well in all the parts of your life except inside your head? That’s where I’ve been at for a while now. I started grad school and that’s going really well. I’m teaching and tutoring a wide range of ages and subjects and that’s going really well. I have great relationships with my parents and siblings, I’m getting a new sister next year when my brother gets married, and I have a stable, supportive church family. It’s all fantastic. This is probably the best my life has ever been.

And yet, I keep finding myself sinking into depression and struggling with anxiety. What if all this goes away? Going to grad school was always my back-up plan and if that doesn’t work I don’t have anything in mind to fall back on. I look at what’s going on in the world today, and I don’t really have a lot of confidence that society’s going to remain stable. I tell myself that I’m okay with being 32 and single–that I’m not sure I even want a relationship at this point–but then I feel like I might be lying to myself. So I start worrying, and then I feel guilty for worrying, and then I worry about how my glumness is affecting the people around me. And when people who care about me notice there’s something wrong I struggle to tell them what’s wrong because there’s no good reason for all this worry.

This post isn’t just about me sharing my struggles, though. I’m going to be okay–I’m seeing a counselor again a couple times a month to help get myself back on track with my mental health. My reason for writing today is to get us thinking about how to work through the guilt, shame, and disconnected feeling that can go along with having mental health struggles when everything in life seems to be going well. I often hear people talk about how it’s normal to struggle with depression and anxiety when things in your life aren’t good, or recommendations to focus on the positive and get engaged with your life so those feelings will go away on their own. But what if things are already good, and you are engaged with all the positive things in your life, and you still struggle? That can be “normal” too. Not normal in the sense that it’s a good thing to stay there, but normal in the sense that there are lots of other people struggling with it as well.

Fighting the Battles in our Heads

Some time ago, I wrote a post called “Fighting Something You Can’t See.” I’ve been thinking about that idea recently, and I just went back and read what I wrote three years ago. Near the end of that post, I said, “It’s so hard for me to turn anxiety over to God. In a way, letting go of the thoughts demanding constant attention doesn’t seem safe. … [but] God doesn’t want us to cower in the face of attacks inside our minds. He wants to help us fight back. Casting our anxieties on God frees us to let Him help us fight the real battle behind all the other struggles we face.” Past-me had some wise advice, and I think I need to tell myself this once again.

This idea that God wants us to keep trusting Him during the tough times is also something I’ve been studying recently, sort of by accident. It came up when I was reading Peter’s letters as part of studying for the next post in my new series on the general epistles (you can read my post on James here). Peter spends a lot of time, especially in his first letter, reminding people that confronting trials is a normal part of being a Christian and that the source of those is the adversary, the devil who stalks about like a lion seeing to devour God’s people. Peter is also very clear that, with God’s help, we can resist this adversary.

And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you. Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering. And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him belongs the power forever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-11, NET

May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!

I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence.

2 Peter 1:2-3, NET

God gives us tools for success. He does not promise we won’t face trials or that we will not need to fight battles. Rather, He says He’ll be with us through those things. James and Peter even agree that we can have joy during the challenges and trials we face. That joy comes from us having faith faith and hope that provide context for understanding what we’re going through (James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:3-9).

Practical Steps We Can Take

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

It’s all very well to talk about having faith, hope, and joy when we face trials and using the tools God gives us, but how does that work in real life? As I think most Christians who struggle with mental health issues can attest, it’s not like we haven’t tried praying about these things. We know we’re supposed to turn things over to God and stop worrying, but if you’re like me you’re not really sure how to do that.

I’m going to share a few tips now for practical steps that we can take. Some of these work for me already, while others are recommendations that others have shared and which I’m working on trying out. It’s not an exhaustive list, and since we’re all so different they won’t all work for everyone. I hope, though, that you’ll find something here that’s helpful for you or which sparks an idea of something that might help.

  • Practice mindfulness. My dad, sister, and counselor have all stressed this to me recently. It’s not a good idea to live in the fearful “what ifs” of the future. They might not happen at all, and we don’t really have control over them anyways. As Jesus says, “So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34, NET). Being mindful of the present is a conscious choice/effort. It’s part of taking “every thought captive to make it obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, NET).
  • Keep the context in mind. When we’re struggling with something inside our minds, we need to remember that we’re not alone and that this is a very real fight. Paul counsels us to remember that “though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds,” including ones inside our own minds (2 Cor. 10:1-5, NET). When you feel like your mind’s under attack or like you’re fighting against something, you’re not going crazy. We are fighting in spiritual battles, and we are not doing it alone. Remind yourself of this, and go to God in prayer. Ask Him to keep His promise to fight alongside you.
  • Sing and praise. One way to counter the dark things inside our minds is to speak light out of our mouths. Did Paul and Silas sing in prison because they were so happy to be there, or because they knew that praise would connect them with God, who is the source of the strength and joy they’d need to get through this? (Acts 16:24-26). I’m not sure, but I’m starting to suspect that it’s not very helpful to try and muster up joy silently when we’re struggling. We need to speak/sing to God whether we feel like it or not, and then the joy may follow that. I know I tend to feel better when I sing and listen to Christian music, but I’ve gotten away from that recently. Today as I write this, I’m listening to a lot of Jean Watson and I find that music very uplifting. I also find Jason Gray’s “Sparrows” very fitting for how I feel right now.
  • Talk with someone. I know it’s tempting to keep everything to yourself and not let people know how much you’re struggling. But the people who love you would rather have you let them know what’s going on and how they can help and support you than to have you struggle on your own. And if you don’t have anyone you can talk with (or even if you do have someone but your struggles are still having a negative impact on your life), I highly encourage you to seek professional counseling. Click here to start searching for therapists in your area.

Those are the four things I’m using right now to try and work through the anxiety and depression that I’ve been dealing with recently. I’d love to hear from anyone else who wants to share their experiences in the comments or who has advice for others going through similar things. What tips do you have for maintaining a focus on God and holding on to joy during times of inner struggle?

Featured image by StockSnap from Pixabay

What Do You Do When You Don’t Feel Good Enough?

Have you ever read one of those self-help books, articles, or blogs that encourages you to think you’re enough? That who you are is “good enough” and you don’t have to keep trying to measure up to an impossible standard?

I’m sure for some people this is encouraging. But what about when you don’t feel good enough?

If you’re really struggling with feelings of unworthiness, then just hearing assurances that you really are good enough isn’t going to help much. Positive affirmations have their place but they can’t dislodge or replace thoughts that are really rooted into your mind. They’re not a substitute for personal growth work and (in some cases) getting help from a professional therapist.

So what do you do when you feel like you’re unworthy? How do you change things when you think you aren’t “good enough” and this belief is part of what defines you?

Figure out where this thought came from

When you struggle with ongoing feelings of unworthiness, combating the voice that says “I’m not good enough” can often be easier when we understand where it’s coming from.

Therapist Karyl McBride says, “this message of unworthiness” usually “goes back to the family of origin” (“Do You Feel Not Good Enough?”). At some point, someone or something that had a deep impact on your formation as a person put the message “you’re not good enough” inside you. It may have been deliberate or accidental, but the fact remains many people picked up the idea that they’re unworthy from other people while they were growing up. Read more

Take Care of Yourself and Feel Everything

How much time do you spend taking care of yourself? I’m starting to realize self-care really is important. In fact, one might argue it’s vital if you want to keep functioning. Of course you don’t want to develop a self-centered attitude, but meeting your own needs isn’t selfish. In fact, it’s kind of a prerequisite for being unselfish because you can’t be there for other people if you’re worn so thin there’s nothing left to give.

I backed a Kickstarter last week called “Own Your Stigma – A Pin Series.” The creator lives with anxiety, depression, and ADHD and wanted to make a series of enamel pins for other people with an invisible illness. The Kickstarter is closed now, but they’ll be opening up for other pre-orders within a few days if you’re interested. I’m not quite sure which ones I’m going to order yet, but I’m strongly leaning toward this one after the week I’ve had:

Snarky Co. pins

I talk about my anxiety pretty openly now. But I have a much harder time talking about my depression. For some reason, admitting I struggle with that washes me in a sense of shame that I don’t really feel anymore in connection with anxiety. So it’s not all that easy for me to write that for the past six days I’ve been barely functioning because even though nothing happened that would explain me feeling depressed I just emotionally “crashed.”

I probably won’t be ordering this particular pin style, but this past week climbing out of bed or talking with people did feel like something I might deserve a ribbon for.

Snarky Co. pins

It’s amazing how “little things” that seem so easy when you’re not walking around in an apathetic fog or feeling like you could fall asleep any moment suddenly become well-nigh impossible Writing, cooking, eating, driving, interacting with people — they’ve all felt incredibly difficult. But there are some things I’ve just had to keep doing, like meeting certain work deadlines, eating food, and going to church. I know that if I miss those things I’ll feel worse and/or it will have long-term negative effects on things that are important to me when I do care. So I made myself get them done.

Still, even though there are some things you just have to keep doing when you’re down, I don’t think it’s good to push yourself to do all things you’d be doing if you felt fine. It’s okay to crawl back in bed for a while when you feel like you can’t sit upright a moment longer. It’s okay to feel sad, guilty, confused, anxious, etc. even if it’s for no reason that you can identify. Which brings us to one pin I definitely want to get from this series:

Snarky Co. pins

The text on this pin reads “feel everything.” I’m becoming a firm believer in this. I certainly don’t mean you should let your emotions control you or that your feelings are always going to tell you something that’s good for you. But I do think it’s vital that we let ourselves feel what we’re feeling and learn to process those emotions in a healthy way. Bottling things up and refusing to address them doesn’t usually make them go away. It just lets them build up until you’re forced to deal with a whole messy jumble of emotions farther down the road.

So let’s all make the time to take care of ourselves and give ourselves permission to feel everything. And maybe we can all learn together how to process the tough things and help each other when we’re struggling.


If you like the pins I’ve talked about in this post, then make sure you check out Snarky Co. Here’s a link to their Instagram.

Featured image credit: Foundry Co via Pixabay

Crash Course In Ecclesiastes

It’s always puzzled me why so many people think of Ecclesiastes as depressing. For me as a teenager, it provided a map for navigating my way out of depression. Of course, I’m not saying it’s a magic cure for mental illness, but if you’re struggling with questions about the meaning of life or frustrated with how pointless it all seems, this book can provide a great deal of hope.

The book of Ecclesiastes contains the reflections of a deep thinker who works through an existential crisis. This sort of crisis happens when an individual starts to question whether their life (or life in general) has any purpose, meaning, or value. Solomon wrestled with these questions and records his thoughts for us to learn, as he did, that true meaning and purpose can only be found in God.

Ecclesiastes is one of those books that it’s not a good idea to read isolated pieces from. That’s one way you end up thinking there are few spiritual lessons in this book or misinterpreting its message. The whole thing is interconnected, with layers of thoughts building on each other as Solomon goes back and forth asking questions and contemplating possible answers. It’s vital that we look at this piece of writing as a whole before we start to dive deep into individual passages.

Cycles of Futility …

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecc. 1:2 ,WEB). Thus the book of Ecclesiastes opens, and Solomon will repeat this phrase throughout and in the conclusion (Ecc. 12:8). He presents everything in life as vanity, or hebel (H1892) — a vapor/breath; a transitory or unsatisfactory thing. That might seem like a depressing outlook, but can you really look at the world and say he’s wrong? Do things of this life last? Do they make sense? Is this world satisfying? Not on its own. Read more

Letting Death Give Us Perspective On Life

Ecclesiastes records the reflections of a deep thinker who works through an existential crisis and concludes meaning can only be found in God. While many people find this book depressing, I think taken as a whole it offers a remarkably hopeful perspective that can actually help us work through the sort of questions that were weighing on the author (most likely Solomon’s) mind.

When I recently went back to studying Ecclesiastes, I had this grand vision that I would write a post about the entire book (similar to “Crash Course in Romans”) in less than a week and post it today. I’m currently laughing at myself for thinking that was an attainable goal. Instead, we’re just going to talk about a handful of verses in the middle of the book that have captured my attention, and save the Crash Course in Ecclesiastes for next week.

The Vanity of Everything

Like Romans, Ecclesiastes is hard to understand if you take bits and pieces out of context, so before we get to the verses that I want to focus on today we need to take a quick look at what came before.

Solomon had shown the vanity of pleasure, gaiety, and fine works, of honour, power, and royal dignity … [and] there is as much vanity in great riches (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Ecc. 5:9-17)

He has also been questioning the meaning of life. If all the things that people pursue on earth are meaningless, then what is there for us? Several times he argues that there is “nothing better” for men than to rejoice in this physical life (Ecc. 2:24; 3:13, 22; 5:18). But that’s still not a satisfactory answer for him. He wants more, something to explain why we should keep trying and what’s the purpose in living.

For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he spends like a shadow? For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun? (Ecc. 6:12, WEB)

A Different Perspective on Death

Up until this point, there has been a, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we will die” theme running through Ecclesiastes (Is. 22:12-13). It seems that in Solomon’s mind at this time, death was the point at which hope falls apart. Sure you can enjoy this life, but it’s all emptiness because you still end up dead with no guarantee that you have anything to show for it. Now, though, Solomon suggests that we can use death to give us perspective on life.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men, and the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the face the heart is made good. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (Ecc. 7:2-4, WEB)

We must not forget that there is “a time to be born, and a time to die … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecc. 3:2, 4, WEB). There’s nothing wrong with feasting and laughter in its proper time, but staying there makes your heart foolish. Wise men keep their ends in mind. Death reminds us that we only have so much time to decide how we’re going to live our lives and what we’ll be remembered for.

Letting Death Give Us Perspective On Life | LikeAnAnchor.com
Photo credit: Rosie Fraser via Unsplash

The End Is Better

We just talked about verses 2-4 in chapter 7. Now let’s go back to verse 1:

A good name is better than fine perfume; and the day of death better than the day of one’s birth. (Ecc. 7:1, WEB)

There is much value in a good life well-lived. Solomon has already concluded that “wisdom excels folly, as far as light excels darkness” (Ecc. 2:13, WEB). Here he reinforces that a good name — that is “a name for wisdom and goodness with those that are wise and good”(MHC on Ecc. 7:1-6) — is worth more than all the pleasures, wealth, etc. that he’d found so empty.

if we have lived so as to merit a good name, the day of our death, which will put a period to our cares, and toils, and sorrows, and remove us to rest, and joy, and eternal satisfaction, is better than the day of our birth, which ushered us into a world of so much sin and trouble, vanity and vexation. We were born to uncertainty, but a good man does not die at uncertainty. (MHC on Ecc. 7:1-6).

Death is not the end of the story, and for a man who considers his death and prepares for it (as Solomon goes on to say in the next verses, which we’ve already talked about) he has the opportunity to die with “a good name.” The word for “name” here is shem (H8034), and in the Hebrew concept it’s always connected with your reputation and character.

Those who die having a good reputation and a good character are no longer subject to the evils of this present life and await their resurrection to a much better life in the future. That gives those of us left behind great hope even in the midst of sorrow (1 Thes. 4:13-14).

Backing Into The Future

Letting Death Give Us Perspective On Life | LikeAnAnchor.com
Photo credit: Ashim D’Silva via Unsplash

The idea that the day of our death is better than the day of birth can be a hard one for people to come to grips with, even given the context we just talked about. We still grieve at death even though we know (as Solomon also concludes by the end of this book) that “the spirit returns to God who gave it” and that He will raise believers up in the last day (Ecc. 12:7; John 6:40). But maybe another verse in this section of Ecclesiastes can provide further explanation.

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning. (Ecc. 7:8, WEB)

The Hebrew word for “end” is achariyth (H319). To understand achariyth, we have to understand that the Hebrew concept of time is like “the view a man has when he is rowing a boat. He sees where he has been and backs into the future” (H.W. Wolff quoted in TWOT entry 68e). That’s why this word translated “end” can also mean last/latter days, after part, future, or reward. The end of a thing is better than the beginning because you will have arrived at the future goal and can now look back on where you’ve been with a better perspective.

If you’d rather not think about death then the idea that the end is better than the beginning can be a depressing one because it forces you to confront something uncomfortable. But ignoring the idea of our lives ending is foolish. Everyone is going to die whether we think about it or not, so why not use the fact that our lives will end as motivation to make the life we have a good one?

 

Featured image credit: carolynabooth via Pixabay

Fighting Something You Can’t See

Choosing to follow God means we’re walking in harmony with Him. And that means we’ll be walking out-of-step with this world and with “the god of this world,” as Yahweh’s adversary is called (2 Cor. 4:4). In many ways, our Christian walk is one of warfare and struggle.

One of my ongoing struggles is with anxiety. My mind wants to loop through worst-case scenarios and imagine all the “what if?”s in a given situation. I’m often nervous, jumpy, and preoccupied with what’s going on in my head. My anxieties are something I can’t see, and unless I tell people about them or have a panic attack in public most wouldn’t have a clue how much it impacts my life (they call this “high functioning anxiety”).

Scriptures tell us that as Christians, the battles we face have spiritual components. These sorts of battles are difficult whether they’re visible to other people or not; whether they’re internal or external. But even when we feel like we’re battling something we can see — a nasty coworker, a disease, a failing relationship — Paul reminds us that we “do not wrestle with flesh and blood.” There are spiritual forces behind all the battles we face (Eph. 6:12). And we can’t see the full extent of our battles, or fight them effectively, without God’s help.

The Usual Type of Battle

It’s often a struggle for me to answer the question, “How’ve you been?” or “How was your week?” Unless something electronic breaks or someone I care about is going through something, my weeks would usually look pretty good from the outside. And I don’t want to tell most people that I’ve been struggling all week with something that’s only a problem inside my own head.

There’s a stigma against admitting you’re struggling. You might be seen as a saintly example of endurance if you’re facing a physical trial. But in many churches it’s a different story when you’re battling something mental or emotional. So many people see interior struggles as either a lack of faith or something that you could just “get over” if you prayed about it enough. However, there’s a passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul makes it sound like struggles within ourselves are the kinds of battles Christians usually face.

For though we walk in the flesh, we don’t wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5, WEB)

Our warfare isn’t primarily a physical battle. It’s a spiritual and internal one that can also spill over into our outer lives. Even when the Adversary uses outside attacks it’s still part of a battle for our minds, hearts and spirits. It’s well past time for Christians to recognize this and start supporting each other through the invisible battles we all face. Read more