It’s been a wonderful, hectic week leading up to my wedding this weekend. I moved into our new house on Monday and I’ve spent the week unpacking, organizing, and trying to figure out where I put things when packing (I did label all the boxes, which helped immensely). Friday was all about finalizing seating charts, baking three cheesecakes for the wedding, and trying to find clothes to pack for the honeymoon in the chaos of boxes and suitcases that is our new bedroom.
We didn’t have internet in the house until Wednesday, which is one reason I didn’t have as much time to write a blog post this week. Of course I can Bible study off-line, but I’ve gotten used to having all the tools like Bible Gateway at my fingertips and it’s much easier to draft these posts directly in WordPress, so instead of working on Saturday’s post I caught-up on my scripture writing study for this month.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about as I organize the new house is that I’d like to work some favorite Bible verses and/or hymns into the decorations. A while ago, I found some kitchen towels with “Be Thou My Vision” and “Come Thou Fount” printed on them, but they’re now out of stock. Maybe some wall hangings?
I’ve also been thinking about the scriptures and Christian songs that I go to when I don’t have as much time for formal Bible study. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to memorize scripture, but repeated reading and especially setting them to music makes some passages stick in my head so they’re there when I’m cleaning the kitchen or running to the store to try and find blinds that will fit our 1890s window frames.
What are your favorite Bible verses and/or Christian songs to memorize and carry with you throughout your day?
Songs and hymns that I frequently go to when thinking of the Lord and wanting to sing to Him:
I wanted to take a some time to share with you new projects and changes that you’ll be seeing here within the next few weeks. They won’t affect the blog posts much, but some things are changing with my books and I’ll be releasing a new study guide in June.
I’m getting married on June 4 and I plan to take my new husband’s last name. Since I’ve already published books and this blog as Marissa Baker, though, I had to decide how/if to change my author name as well. Here’s the plan I’ve decided on:
INFJ Handbook: no change
All my involvement in the Myers-Briggs type community has been under the name Marissa Baker. I don’t want to make it hard for people to find my The INFJ Handbook if they read a post or listen to an interview with Marissa Baker, so I’m not planning to change anything about that. Also, when I guest post about personality types on other blogs, I’ll still write under the name Marissa Baker.
Blog and Study Guides: name change
On this blog and for my Christian study guides, I’ll be using my new name, Marissa Martin. Since I’ve only released one of the Study Guides as Marissa Baker and am continuing the series, it makes sense to change my author name on those to the name I plan to use for the rest of my life.
I’d also like to start publishing Christian fiction as well, though I haven’t yet decided if I want to try traditionally publishing or if I’ll self-publish those like I do my non-fiction. I’m not ready to announce any upcoming releases just yet, but when I am I’ll also publish those as Marissa Martin.
New Study Guide
Speaking of the study guides, I’ll be re-releasing The Beatitudesin a new edition with my married name. Once that is done, I’ll continue the series with The Armor of God. I’m so excited to release this new study guide; my early readers tell me they enjoyed it even more than The Beatitudes.
Look for the new edition of The Beatitudes and the new Armor of God study guides in June.
No Post June 10
The name update and book news won’t affect much on my blog. I’ll still share Bible study blog posts every Saturday morning, so posting schedule and content aren’t changing. The only thing that will be affected is that I’m not going to have a blog post on June 10 since I’ll be on my honeymoon.
Well, that’s all for the update. At least for now; I have some crafty projects in mind once we move into our new house and I finally have the space to set up a sewing table. I’ve been thinking about either blogging or filming those projects to share them. Let me know if you’d be interested in seeing me build cat trees and sew Star Wars-inspired 50s style dresses (like this one I made a few years ago). I’d probably host those on a YouTube channel and/or over on my Star Wars blog rather than here.
I had a strange moment at church several weeks ago. As I was sitting at a table fellowshipping after services and looked around, it hit me that I was the only person in my 30s in the whole room. That day, there wasn’t anyone there in their 40s, either. The 50-and-older and younger-than-30 age groups are well represented in my congregation, but there’s a whole generation that’s missing.
Technically, I suppose we do have some younger millennials and older Gen Xers, so it’s more like two halves of two generations. But there’s a whole two decades’ worth of people that’s represented by just a few people. I can find people my age and a little older if I travel to other congregations across the country, but it still seems like a pretty small number. And from what I’ve heard talking with people in other church groups and denominations, low numbers of Millennials and Gen X in Christian churches is fairly common. If you’re a Millennial who feels alone in your church, there’s a good chance it’s (at least in part) because you’re the only person there in your age-range.
Of course, I already knew that I’m the only person in my congregation in my 30s before that moment a few weeks ago. And I don’t really feel “alone” because I have great relationships with other people in the congregation who are younger than me or who are my parents’ age. But this time, I started to dwell on the idea of being the only one here since I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful that weekend (as I shared a couple weeks ago, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression again). I started worrying about whether or not my church group would vanish some day, decades from now, as the older people grew older and younger people moved away. I wondered if the younger people who are here would be ready and able (and if there’s enough of us) to step-in and take over service roles in the church in the years going forward as the people in their 50s, 60s, and older need or want to cut-back on their responsibilities. I started feeling sorry for myself, thinking about how this is one of the reasons I’m still single.
I journaled about these thoughts and mentioned them to my counselor, who reminded me this isn’t an uncommon thing to see when looking at Christian groups today. As I started writing this blog post, I did a little more digging into the numbers of Millennials and Generation X in churches. I found that a Pew research study in 2014 reported the number of people who say that religion is important to their life drops as the generations get younger. The younger the generation, the less likely they are to identify as Christian, believe in God, or place a high priority on any religion (click here for more info).
A more recent worldview survey released in 2021 by Arizona Christian University reported that “Millennials Seek a Nation Without God, Bible and Churches” (click here to read). Though 57% of Millennials (which this survey defines as those born between 1985 and 2002) identify as Christians, the report also noted that only 16% “can be classified as born-again Christians based on their beliefs about personal salvation.” This report also reminds readers that what’s going on with Millennials is continuing a trend away from belief in the Bible and God that began gaining ground with Gen X. It’s definitely a trend I’ve noticed among my Millennial peers and Generation Z as I interact with them at university.
My counselor is the one who suggested I blog about all this rather than keeping it just in my journal. It’s a relatable topic, since there are so many Christians in their 40s, 30s, and younger who feel like I did when they look around their churches. There just aren’t that many of us here. I’m not sure what the right word for this feeling is. “Lonely” or “alone” doesn’t seem to fit because we can still have great relationships with people older than and younger than us. No one in a healthy church ever needs to be alone since the church can provide a community and support system (though of course we can still feel lonely even when surrounded by people we genuinely like). “Underrepresented” is probably closer to what Millennials in the church face, but it seems a little odd to use in this context; as if Churches should recruit based on age rather than welcoming all faithful believers who are called by God.
As I’ve been working through my most recent struggles with depression and anxiety, I’ve been asking questions about my thoughts. Questions like “Is this helpful or useful?” and “Is this encouraging?” Musing on how lonely or underrepresented I could feel isn’t either of those things. But is there something helpful or useful that could come from thinking about the dwindling number of faithful people as we look at more recent generations? Perhaps there is.
I think it’s useful to acknowledge that people from certain age groups are less common in the churches for a few reasons. Firstly, it helps those of us in that age group know why we feel like there aren’t very many of us in the churches, and lets us know we’re not alone in that feeling. Knowing which generations seem less interested in and committed to faith also gives us a chance as churches to examine ourselves. The diminishing numbers of younger people is likely a sign of the increasing secularity of the world as we draw closer to the time of Jesus’s return. Even with that being the case, we should still see if there’s anything we ought to change and improve in order to be more faithful and therefore a better environment for new people (of all ages) whom God is calling. To give a few possible examples, we might guard more closely against hypocrisy, embrace enthusiastic worship services, preach a stronger message of personal responsibility, or show how meaningful a life of faith can be.
Ultimately, we can’t force people into churches to fill some kind of quota we set up in our minds. God the Father is the one who calls people, though we do get to participate in sharing the gospel. Prayer is the best thing we can do in response to worries, questions, or loneliness related to the decreasing interest in faith among young people or our feelings of being alone in our churches. We can pray that each of us, as individuals and as parts of church communities, be drawn into closer and more meaningful relationships with each other and God. We can pray for the gospel to reach more young people and touch their hearts. And if we are feeling lonely, we need to be praying about that as well. One of David’s psalms says, “God sets the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:6, WEB), and He can do that for each of us.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Are there any generations that seem to be “missing” from your church group? Or maybe you’re part of a group that does have a lot of people in their 40s, 30s, and younger and you’d like to share what that’s like. Let’s discuss in the comments!
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
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?
I was chatting with my sister a couple days ago about blog post topics, and she asked if I’d ever updated my readers on how Flynn is doing. When I adopted this 2-year-old cat back in March 2018, I shared “Lessons From My Nervous Cat” and a follow-up post a few months later called “Anxiety Kitty: The Not-So-Surprising Way Pets Improve Mental Health.” He was such a frightened cat when I adopted him. After a few months, though, he’d started to settle in and trust me. I’m pleased to report that now, a few years after his adoption, he’s turned into a happy, contented cat.
This year has been one with big changes for us. I started grad school, which means Flynn and I moved from my parents’ home to an apartment shared with my sister. I was worried he wouldn’t do well with that transition to a new and smaller place, but he’s settled in quite nicely and only hides now if strange people knock on the door (as I write this, he’s under the bed because UPS dropped off a package). We did discover during the move that he hates car rides, even though I borrowed a medium-size dog carrier from some friends so he’d fit comfortably since my cat carrier is too small for this chonker (he is on a diet so please don’t worry about him too much).
We’ve discovered that Flynn likes watching horror movies with my sister (something I’m not interested in, so she appreciates having a movie-watching buddy). We’ve also found that he steals cotton swabs out of bathroom trashcans, he likes to hang-out in the bathtub for some reason, and ping-pong balls are his new favorite toy. He also likes to nap on my pillow since the head of my bed is near a window where he can spy on the neighbors, including the occasional bird or squirrel.
As I’d shared in my previous posts about Flynn, I struggle with nervousness and anxiety too. And I’m thankful to report that Flynn’s not the only one of us who’s doing well with the recent changes in my life. The anxiety isn’t all gone, but I am doing better. There were some days (including a couple weeks in the middle of the semester) when I was starting to worry about myself again but I got through it. I’ll probably set up a couple appointments with the on-campus counselors next semester, mostly as a preventative sort of thing to help keep myself mentally healthy.
I’ve also realized that I have a much better sense of who I am and what I bring to the table now than I did 12 years ago when I started college the first time. In one sense I suppose that should be obvious–it was so long ago that I’d be worried if I hadn’t grown! But sometimes I think it’s easy to miss how much progress we’ve made until there’s some big change to shake things up and make us take a close look at ourselves.
I can’t imagine 18-year-old Marissa working directly with people coaching them on how to do something like improve their writing, or see her speaking up during meetings and offering suggestions for making the campus writing center better. She also had a lot more difficulty adjusting to college than I’m having now with coming back, even though there were 8 years between graduating with my Bachelor’s degree and coming back to school for my Master’s. In some ways, being back in academia feels like coming home (which I’m taking as confirmation I’m in the right graduate program).
Life’s not without its challenges (an understatement, especially in 2020) but there are good things happening, too. I’m hoping that’s true in your life as well, and I’d love to hear about it!
What are some of the positive changes, challenges overcome, or good things that have happened in your life this year?
My first panic attack happened in a Blockbuster about 14 or 15 years ago. I was high-school age and trying to spend a gift card I’d won in a library reading program. I hadn’t been in there before and new places made me nervous, but I’d planned exactly what I was looking for and my mom and sister were with me so it was going to be fine. Then the DVD wasn’t there. And I can’t make up my mind what to do, my mom wants me to hurry up because we’re running late, my sister says just make a decision already, and suddenly I can’t breath so I grab a DVD march up to the counter, and get out. Then my family asks why I was rude to the cashier and seem so angry.
It didn’t feel like anger. My heart was racing, hands shaking, breathing shallow. I felt hot all over and my skin seemed too small. But other than embarrassing, I didn’t know what it was. And then it happened again months later in a Hobby Lobby. I’d worked up the courage to ask about a price that seemed too high, which lead to a confrontation with the manager and the realization that I was the one who’d read the sign wrong. Again the tightness in my chest, the shallow breathing, the shaking, and too-warm feeling. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
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Realizing I Had Anxiety
I’m not sure exactly when I began to suspect I was dealing with an anxiety disorder. In June of 2013 I wrote on this blog, “I’m not very good at letting go of my anxiety.” But I was still thinking of it more in the sense of “I worry too much” rather than “a psychologist would say I have anxiety.” I started feeling guilty for thinking of myself as anxious, especially when people who knew they had anxiety started following my blog and I realized mine didn’t seem as bad as theirs. Maybe I was just a wimp who was overeating to normal, everyday worries. Read more →