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

Fighting on the Battlefield of Forgiveness

Last week’s post was about how much God wants to forgive us. This week’s is about how much we need to forgive each other. There are plenty of Bible verses about this topic and so, like most Christians, I knew how important forgiveness is before writing this post. But something Paul said in one of his letters made me want to take a closer look at the subject.

The reasons Paul gives for forgiving someone in the Corinthian church provide us with a compelling reason for forgiving others. I’d never thought about forgiveness being a key part of spiritual warfare before, but I do now. Whether or not we choose to forgive is one of the things that determines whether Satan gets an advantage over us, or we get an advantage over him by drawing closer to God.

Don’t Give an Advantage to Satan

For background, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he told them they needed to put a man out of their church who was actively engaging in sexual sin (1 Cor. 5). Now, in the second letter, Paul has heard that this man repented and Paul tells the church to forgive him and accept him back.

This punishment which was inflicted by the many is sufficient for such a one; so that on the contrary you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his excessive sorrow. Therefore I beg you to confirm your love toward him. … Now I also forgive whomever you forgive anything. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Cor. 2:6-8, 10-11, all quotes from WEB translation)

Choosing to withhold forgiveness– even when someone has sinned so egregiously they were put out of the church; even when you’ve heard about their repentance from someone else instead of seeing it for yourself — would give an advantage to Satan. The Greek word pleonekteo (G4122) carries the idea of taking advantage of or  defrauding someone. The word for “covetousness” comes from this word (The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: New Testament, by Spiros Zodhiates Th.D.).

Talk of Satan (which means “adversary”) gaining an advantage over us also brings to mind the idea that we’re in a spiritual battle. If you don’t forgive, you’re giving the adversary a foothold in your life. And that ought to be a terrifying thought. However, it is something we can prevent because, as Paul says, we’re not ignorant of his schemes.

Armor Up With God’s Help

We are part of a spiritual battle. The adversary (ha Satan in Hebrew) is fighting against God’s family, and we’re part of that family. Every human being has the potential to become part of God’s family and those of us in covenant with God are already adopted as His children.

Beloved, now we are children of God. It is not yet revealed what we will be; but we know that when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

God’s adversary hates what God loves. Satan accuses us before our God day and night (Rev. 12:10; Job is also an example). He tries to use his wiles against us, and he’s behind the “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” that we wrestle against (Eph. 6:10-13). The last thing we should want to do is give Satan an advantage over us in this fight. Rather, we want to stay close to God, put on His armor, stand, and resist the devil.

Fighting on the Battlefield of Forgiveness | LikeAnAnchor.com
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Avoid Things That Separate You From God

The reason that unforgiveness is so very dangerous (I think) is connected to the wedge it drives between us and God. We’re more vulnerable to the adversary’s attacks when we are not sticking close to the source of our armor and strength. There are certain things that separate us from God, and we need forgiveness and reconciliation to heal the breach of relationship that sin causes. But we don’t get forgiveness if we’re not willing to give it.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt. 6:14-15)

Jesus’s parable in Matthew 18:21-35 puts this in even more chilling language. In this parable, forgiveness that has already been given by a master to an indebted servant is withdrawn because that servant refuses to forgive someone who owes him a much smaller debt. Jesus caps this parable off by saying, “So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.” That’s quite a sobering statement.

God is merciful and good. He knows forgiveness can be so hard that sometimes it feels like fighting a battle. He doesn’t abandon us just because we’re struggling. But He does expect us to make an effort to deliberately, consistently forgive other people. Carrying bitterness, grudges, anger, and judgmental attitudes around will not help our Christian walk and can, in fact, hinder it.

Consider Jesus’s Example

Therefore let’s also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:1-2)

Fighting on the Battlefield of Forgiveness | LikeAnAnchor.com
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Whenever it becomes difficult to lay aside the weight of unforgiveness, look to Jesus. The book of Hebrews tells us to “consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that you don’t grow weary, fainting in your souls” Heb. 12:3). When we consider the example He set us, we see Him forgiving even in the worst of circumstances.

When they came to the place that is called “The Skull”, they crucified him there with the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33-34)

If Jesus could forgive the people who tortured and killed him while He was hanging on the cross, surely we can forgive whatever it is that people have done to us. Especially because God has given us warnings and instructions through His Bible and help through His holy spirit. We know the dangers of unforgiveness and we have what we need to follow Christ’s example. Let’s resolve to forgive, and to keep forgiving as often as need be, following the example of Christ and resisting the adversary’s influence so “that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.”

 

Featured image credit: Thomas Anderson 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

A Story of Battle And Victory

Once upon a time, a great King and Prince decided to they didn’t want to be alone anymore. There were other beings in their realm, but none like them. No one else to share their love and unity with, at least not in the way they longed for. So they came up with a plan. They created a beautiful garden and from the earth they molded living, breathing people patterned after their own image. They wanted these people to be their companions, but not as servants or slaves, and that meant the people had to be given free will. They would need the opportunity to choose the King and Prince just as the King and Prince chose to want them.

But there was an evil force at work. One of the other beings, prideful and jealous of the King, led a revolt and became the Adversary. And as Adversary, he made it his goal to thwart the King’s plan, including the great plan to grow his family. The Adversary was not powerful enough to destroy the King. But he knew if he could kill these new people who the King wanted to become his children he would have his revenge.

When tempted by the Adversary, the King’s new creation fell into his lie. They chose a path that led away from the king their Father and the Prince their brother. And that choice changed the battle field between the King and Prince and the Adversary. Now they fought over the fate of the King’s children.

The King and Prince weren’t caught off-guard by the Adversary, though. They already had a plan, but it seemed a strange sort of plan for going into battle. Rather than using force to get the King’s children back they used love. The Prince came as a suitor asking for his adopted sister’s hand in marriage. And some of the people made a covenant with him, but there was still a death penalty hanging over their heads. The Adversary had talked them all into breaking the King’s law and someone had to pay the price justice demanded. So that’s what the Prince did, leaving his kingdom and making himself vulnerable on the battlefield.

The Adversary threw everything he had against the Prince, but he didn’t win. The Prince conquered the Adversary personally and then gave his own life to pay the penalty hanging over his beloved’s head. In doing so he sealed the ultimate victory. The Adversary keeps fighting though, trying to destroy as many people as he can before his time is up.

But even though the Adversary is still doing damage in the world, the King is holding off on the final battle. He wants to get as many people as possible on his side because he knows if they don’t accept the victory he and the Prince already won that they’ll take part in the Adversary’s defeat. And his goal all along was to make every single person part of His family. He’s not giving up on reaching as many of them as he can. So he keeps calling people to join in following the Prince as the Adversary keeps trying to yank them away.

A Story of Battle And Victory | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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Called To Fight

That is the situation we’re called into today when we begin a walk as Christians. Our Prince, brother, and rescuing lover Jesus has achieved victory. But His people here on earth are still fighting the Adversary Satan, waiting for the final battle to end all this. Read more

Praying At All Times

We’ve spent the last nine weeks looking at the famous Armor of God passage in Ephesians. There are six pieces of armor named there: the Girdle of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Footwear of the Gospel, the Shield of Faith, the Helmet of Salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit. Those six character traits and spiritual items are where most lists stop, since they’re the ones compared to physical pieces of armor. But there’s a seventh item on the list.

with all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the Spirit, and to this end being alert with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Eph. 6:18, LEB)

All the armor must be put on and used with prayer. In this context, we can see prayer either as the connective tissue buckling the other armor on us or as a necessity before and when using the armor (or both). Whether you count prayer as a piece of armor or not, it’s clear that praying is essential when going into a battle we want God to fight for and with us.

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Prayer Before Battle

As with the six pieces of armor listed earlier, we have examples of prayer being used in physical battles as well as spiritual ones. People of God have always recognized that even when facing physical enemies there’s a more important spiritual side to the battle. And it’s the Lord of Hosts who determines the outcome.

Three righteous kings left us records of their prayers before battle. Asa prayed when facing “an army of a thousand thousands” (2 Chr. 14:9-12), Jehoshaphat when facing “a great multitude” of Moabites and Ammonites (2 Chr. 20:1-29), and Hezekiah when threatened by a powerful Assyrian army (Is. 37:8-38).

In all three cases, God answered with a powerful victory. “Yahweh defeated the Cushites before Asa” and his army (2 Chr. 14:12, LEB). The Lord sent Jehoshaphat and his men armored into battle, but did all the fighting Himself (2 Chr. 20:16-29). And Hezekiah woke up one morning to find his enemy struck dead outside (Is. 37:36-37). Clearly, prayer is an effective battle strategy for those following God and fighting against His enemies. Read more

Sword Of The Spirit

Thus far, the armor of God we’ve been studying has all been defensive. The girdle, breastplate, footwear, shield, and helmet all protect us. They’re essential in battle, but they’re not something we can use to attack and (with the exception of the shield) they’re not actively defensive either. This next piece of armor, though, is a weapon.

receive … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17, LEB)

Paul tells us exactly what we’re given as the only weapon included in this Armor of God. It’s called the Sword of the Spirit and it is the Word of God. Now it’s up to us to learn how to use the word as a sword.

Sword Of The Spirit | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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Avoiding Word Confusion

There are two words in Greek for “word,” and we have to start by defining them if we want to avoid confusion. Just looking at the English, we would connect Eph. 6:17 with Heb. 4:12, which says, “the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit” (WEB). But these versus aren’t talking about the same thing.

In Hebrews, it’s talking about the logos (G3056). This word refers to a spoken word of intelligence, and it’s what’s used as a name for Jesus in John 1:1, 14. Reading on in Hebrews makes it clear that He’s being talked about in this passage as well (Heb. 4:13-16).

In Ephesians, on the other hand, the word is rhema (G4487). It refers to the spoken or written sayings of God, but isn’t used as a title for the speaker. So in Hebrews, the Word as a sword refers to Jesus cutting into people’s spirits and knowing them deeply. Ephesians is talking about wielding the word, or scriptures, of God as a weapon. Read more