What It’s Like

Have you ever noticed no one ever really asks what depression is like? It’s odd, considering people are prone to ask all kind of questions about other seemingly taboo conditions, everything from colonoscopies to prostate exams to hemorrhoids. With depression, though, there seems to be some type of fear of the unknown, as if knowing about it will forever lead a person down as long and dark a road as the person they are talking to.

What I have found, however, is that people who suffer from depression seem to not have much of a problem talking about themselves. Or at least they don’t have a problem talking about it with counselors or other depressives. With the rest of the “normal” population? Eh, not so much. I know in my case it is because I feel an immense weight to keep up the facade that I am a good person who has been blessed greatly and always does what is right.

I can assure you here, I am not that person.

Take today, for instance. The blade on my riding lawnmower has stopped working for the umpteenth time now. In itself, this would be a regular snag of life, something to be repaired in the natural stream of occurrences. Not for a depressive who is having an off-day, however. I was already quite overwhelmed by school and work from the rest of the week coming into today, and I had not been able to get to the yard all week because of intermittent rain nearly every day. Even the sections I finished were difficult, as wet grass kept clumping up beneath the blade deck, actually killing the engine a few times. About 15 minutes in, I just wanted to be done with the whole thing, but I still had a at least another acre to go.

This feeling of wanting to quit eventually began to spread into other parts of my brain, and suddenly nothing seemed particularly worth doing anymore. I tried to pray that the lawn would become easier to mow and that the feeling would pass, but that was almost exactly when the blade stopped engaging. I was then able to completely bypass everything else and focus all my anger and frustration directly on God, who, instead of making things easier, saw fit to make them infinitely more difficult. Yes, I believe God can control lawnmower blades.

Following a (very) halfhearted and unsuccessful attempt at using a push mower to complete my task, I decided depressionperhaps a bicycle ride would do me good. After all, exercise is highly recommended for those who suffer from depression. It is supposed to work as a natural mood enhancer, and sometimes it does. Today, however, I was struck nearly immediately by the same feeling I had on the lawnmower: I want to quit. Being nearly four miles from home, however, I didn’t really have much option as to whether to continue on. I did make it home eventually, but I really wasn’t feeling any better about things.

And now I am here at this keyboard, realizing I haven’t written much of anything at all here all week, even though blogging is probably one of my most enjoyable activities. Today, though, nothing is really feeling like much of an enjoyable activity. No future scenario looks all that good to me. No present assignments seem all that important to complete. And at the same time, I feel an overpowering fear within me of being bored and finding myself un-useful to everyone. I want to be alone, but I am afraid of being thrown away. I know exactly what I want, but I have no way of getting it at the moment. Or at least that is what I have convinced myself.

So this is what it can be like. Is every day like this for me? Thankfully, no. But a lot of them are. And a lot of them are for other people as well. We just don’t tell you because we know you’ll either judge us, run away from us, or start trying to help us by throwing out advice we’ve heard about a billion times before over the course of our lives. We put up strong, friendly, smiling fronts, and all the while we can feel tears welling up behind our eyes and lumps buried in our throats. We don’t want you to see that, though. More accurately, we don’t feel like we can let you see that.

Sometimes we just need to know we can break down. We need to know we can unleash our secret thoughts and not be judged for them. We want someone to just say hello for the heck of it. We want to think something is worth fighting for, without everyone dictating to us what that something is. We need honesty and transparency. And more often than not, we get none of those things.

This is what it is like.

 

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God And Suicide

“The man who kills a man kills a man
The man who kills himself kills all men.
As far as he is concerned, he wipes out the world.” – G. K. Chesterton

I am not Catholic, but I formed a very firm belief growing up: If a Christian (or anyone else, for that matter) commits suicide, they will go to Hell. That was just the rule; God didn’t like suicide, so if you took your own life, you were going to spend your eternity in endless torment. Period. End of story.

Today, I’m not so sure anymore.

———-

I’m not sure if this is due to my depression or personality or selfishness or just outright sinful nature, but my relationship with God always seems to be in a state of perpetual flux. I grew up largely afraid of Him, knowing that if I didn’t “get saved,” I would be doomed to eternal damnation. Despite singing “Jesus Loves Me” a billion times or attending every vacation Bible school in the county every year or seeing those painted pictures of the meek and mild Jesus, I was convinced God was not someone I wanted to cross. I suppose I was right, in a way. The fear of the Lord, after all, is the beginning of wisdom.

From there I moved on to firmly believing God was real and that Jesus was His one and only son. Once I realized what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross of Calvary meant for me, I developed a sincere appreciation for what he had done. That appreciation gradually morphed into a genuine affection, which was then assaulted by years of well-meaning Christians manipulating, bullying, and using me. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. I came to believe God didn’t really like me very much and merely tolerated my existence because He had to. It was a miserable place to be.

In recent years, I’ve come to understand grace better. I don’t constantly worry about my every sin sending me to hell anymore. I don’t think God hates me anymore. I’m even developing something of a compassion for those struggling with sin, which my early version of faith simply had no tolerance for. At the same time, though, Christianity sometimes feels more like a set of rules I am destined to never keep fully, even though that is the point of grace in the first place: We will never be good enough on our own. That is why Christ’s sacrifice was required. Still, the notion of constantly failing sometimes weighs on me. I mean, can’t I get it right just once…?

———-

Still, despite some of my struggles and misgivings about my faith, the notion of a graceful Father and Son has taken hold of me as of late. I’m beginning to believe His grace extends far beyond where I initially thought it did. Sometimes I think I might be becoming a little too comfortable with the concept of grace. I mean, this is still a God who does not let everyone into Heaven, no matter how good they’ve been. He demands allegiance, but He asks for it in love. It is a strange combination, and it is not one I claim to understand fully.

Circling back to the topic of suicide, one of the more common arguments I hear for those who commit it going to Hell is that it breaks the sixth of the Ten Commandments – Thou shalt not murder. The logic here is that if someone kills themself, they have in effect committed murder against their own person. Therefore, instead of saying “He killed himself,” you could say “He murdered himself.”

This argument doesn’t really hold water, though. If breaking the sixth commandment will cast you into Hell, what about the ones about lying or stealing? People covet stuff all the time. Is that an automatic ticket to Hades? Apparently not, as many people who covet things are still recognized as being Christians. In fact, murderers were put to great uses in the Bible, most notably in the case of Saul/Paul.

I suppose, then, that perhaps it is the person killing themselves’ relationship with Christ that is the key part of this equation. Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible to know. Attempting to figure out if someone is “truly” a believer is like trying to figure out what a dog is thinking at any particular moment of the day. You may have an idea, but you really don’t know. Only that person and God know. Someone might say the evidence here is in the fruit, where a person chose to check out rather than have faith in things getting better. Suicide is the ultimate lack of faith, they might say.

I think they’re wrong.

———

Here is where my problem with the “Everyone who commits suicide goes to Hell” theory lies: I’m not so sure a loving God, who is compassionate and kind and just, would look upon a person who has been abused or molested or is chemically imbalanced or has never been able to grasp happiness of any kind in this world and condemn them to the pits of Hell forever if they reached a moment where they just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to end their own life.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t think God smiles upon the practice of suicide. In fact, in every instance in the Bible I can think of where one of his representatives in this world wanted their life to end, He very directly provides them a reason to keep on living. I believe He does have a purpose beyond the pain, and I believe He desperately wants everyone to embrace life and not throw in the towel. To ever call God an advocate of taking one’s own life would be madness.

As we all know, though, God’s intentions and our actions do not always coincide with each other. Even though He wants His children to succeed, they fail. In fact, they fail spectacularly sometimes. This must grieve Him, as it would any father. If one of my children were ever to commit suicide, though, would I stop loving them? Would I hope for their punishment because of what they did?

What kind of father would I be?

———-

In the end, even after all of my rambling, there is no definitive answer to the question I have posed here. None of us can be completely sure of where the soul of someone who commits suicide finds its final resting place. Whereas the Quran very specifically forbids suicide, the Bible is strangely vague about the subject. In fact, the Bible is vague on a great many things, as if God wanted us to figure things out on our own rather than be mindless robots in His service.

Perhaps vagueness is the point on an issue such as this, though. Perhaps the hint of doubt, uncertainty, and fear of what might happen if we went through with the act was purposefully left there by God to keep us from going all the way. I mean, what is scarier than Hell? We have to know that whatever torment we are facing here would be magnified a hundredfold in Hell. The lake of fire becomes a safety valve in this instance. What’s going on now may be bad, but it couldn’t be as bad as that.

For the moment, I am choosing to believe that the person who succumbs to the temptation of suicide does not automatically go to Hell. The more I come to know people who have wrestled with the concept of it and have been touched by it themselves, the more I realize life is harder for some than for others. Some constitutions are sterner, some shoulders broader, some wills more unbreakable. God bless the strong people. The weak people need you. need you.

———-

The great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis has inspired me more times than I can count over the course of my life. This man observed intense grief and wrote about it eloquently in his book “A Grief Observed.” I’d like to conclude with a quote from that work:

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”

 

Read More, Pray Harder

“As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane? Are we not all a little off the balance? Some minds appear to have a gloomy tinge essential to their very individuality; of them it may be said, ‘Melancholy marked them for her own;’ fine minds withal, and ruled by noblest principles, but yet most prone to forget the silver lining, and to remember only the cloud.”

To many people of faith, the preceding paragraph may border on heresy to their sensibilities. That “gloomy tinge” should not exist in a mind set on the joy and peace of Jesus Christ. Remembering “only the cloud” runs counter to admonitions to command your downcast soul to praise the Lord at all times. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Right?

What heretic uttered these blasphemous words? None other than Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers.” spurgeon_chairSpurgeon did not just have his down days; he suffered from bouts of full-blown depression. “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for,” he once said. He described his depression as his “worst feature” and spoke of how he was “heartily ashamed” of it. He also firmly believed, though, that “there is no remedy for it like a holy faith in God.”

To be a Christian with depression is often an uphill climb, not only because of the sometimes debilitating effects of the illness itself, but also because it seems almost offensive to other believers. There is frequently a sort of unspoken vibe that maybe that depressed person is not really doing enough to deal with their mood. Maybe they’re not reading their Bible enough. Maybe their prayer life is lacking. Maybe they don’t really know God that well. Maybe they’re not saved at all.

Of course, as in Spurgeon’s case, those doubts could not be further from the truth. In many instances, depressed people are turning to the Bible more and praying more than most of their fellow congregants. For the severely depressed who have reached the end of their ropes, their cries to God are probably more fervent than any jubilant saint. Too often, though, the advice given to Christians in this predicament is almost offensively simple: “You need to read your Bible more and pray harder.”

It has been a struggle in my own life to not harbor resentment toward fellow Christians who did not understand not being able to fully grasp piece of mind. After many years, however, I realized anger was a wasted emotion in this instance. Some people, I finally concluded, just don’t understand depression because they’ve never experienced it. They may have had “the blues” from time to time, but never wrestled with days of utter hopelessness. While their advice may have been misguided, it was not malicious. They just wanted to point me to what worked for them, and that’s fine.

Spurgeon was correct in his assessment that a holy faith in God can lift a soul from the depths of depression. Just as he never stopped battling his own hopelessness, however, sadness in a fellow Christian is not an indicator that they have given up the fight. They may be chasing God with all their heart and soul. The good news is, if they are, He will be found.

Super Weird, Part II

Oh, America, America. What has happened to you?

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. I mean, it’s been this way for years and years now. The ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, even during this young century: Everyone is looking for love. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to give love to someone else. Everyone just wants everyone to love each other. Love, love, love.

It’s always the funniest commercials that usually make the headlines the morning after the Super Bowl is played, and those are usually the ones which leave people talking the longest. Every year has its share of serious spots as well. Oddly enough, some of the most touching commercials in recent years have been advertisements for beer, although other companies struck a more gentle tone this year as well.

1422463197_budweiser-lost-dog-zoomMacDonald’s is encouraging people to pay for their food at the restaurant “with love.” A computer tech spilling a bottle of Coca-Cola inspired all kinds of thoughtful acts in an ad for the soda company. Numerous commercials touted the noble attributes of family and fatherhood. And then, of course, there was that adorable little Budweiser puppy dog being rescued from a pack of wolves by a herd of thundering Clydesdales. Even the horses were showing love.

There’s nothing wrong with love. It’s great. It’s fantastic. Close-knit families, kind human beings, even affectionate animals are all wonderful things.

They’re just not enough. They’ve never been enough. And they’re not ever going to be enough.

That was my pervading thought as I watched all these messages of love flash across the television screen in front of me. We live in a love-starved world. It’s a vacuum we are all desperately trying to fill. My question would be, though, if we have been promoting love for all this time, in so many creative and different and uplifting ways, why is it not taking hold? Why do we all still seem to be so lacking in it, and why do we still feel the need to promote it, as if our message is going to resound differently than the million that came before it?

We are running from God. We are running from the only love that can save us. We’ve been running from Him forever, decade after decade after decade, thinking we can replace His place in our hearts with just enough of this or just enough of that. It’s folly.

I am certainly not going to disparage anyone from promoting peace and love, especially considering the heinous acts human beings perpetrate on each other on a daily basis. Love needs to be shouted from the rooftops every chance we get, even during the Super Bowl. It’s an incomplete message, though, and it’s going to keep missing the mark until we understand that in order to love fully we have to turn to the one who loved us first.

I applaud every company which used its advertising dollars for this year’s Super Bowl to promote positive, encourage messages aimed at making this world a better place to live in. They can’t make us love God, though. We’re the only ones that can do that. He’s still waiting. Why are we?

The Myths Of Me

I would consider my teenage years to be largely wasted ones. I have no way of knowing, but I believe the depression I wrestle with today had me firmly in its grip even back then. It’s not that I don’t remember any happy times at all, but I don’t remember many that weren’t overlapped by the shadows that lurked in my mind. There was lots of confusion, anger, and sadness, even more than the usual teen mind is able to muster.

As a result, I formed a lot of perceptions about myself which were almost entirely negative. My self-esteem was virtually non-existent. These beliefs about myself were so powerful that I carried a large majority of them into adulthood. In fact, most days I feel as I’ve hardly grown at all over the years. This is who I thought I was then and, on many days, who I believe I am now:

– Unattractive physically
– Shy and awkward
– Immature emotionally
– Talentless
– Unappealing to the opposite sex
– Too skinny
– Not athletic enough
– Unable to obtain what I wanted
– Unsure of what I wanted to do with my life

All of this doesn’t even take into account the fact that I had what was termed a “nervous stomach,” which caused me all kinds of embarrassment. Or that my hair curled at puberty and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to make it look like anything. Or that I had the usual teenage bad skin and acne. I did the typical fast food job all teenagers these days get, and I was a miserable failure at it. I couldn’t even work at Wendy’s.

true falseI had a chance to take a long walk by myself today. The sun was out, my schedule was clear, and I was itching to get in some kind of physical activity, so I took off. I have always struggled with what is God’s voice and what is the voice I generate with my own thoughts, so I hesitate saying God spoke to me today, but as I walked I began to think about how I still view myself in much the same way I did back then … and how much of that is wrong.

One by one, counterarguments began to present themselves against what I have believed about myself for so long. I am not confident enough to say my life changed today, but I knew by the end of that walk that I needed to get to a computer or piece of paper and write down everything that had come into my mind. Here, then, are some arguments against my own perceptions of and beliefs about myself:

Unattractive physically – I found a woman who found me attractive enough to marry me, and we have been together now for 16 years. I’ve cut out most of the sugar from my diet and hardly ever drink carbonated beverages anymore, so I rarely get pimples now. I grew a beard and keep my hair cut short, so it looks neat now.
Shy and awkward – I still struggle mightily with social anxiety, but I couldn’t even count the number of people I have met over the years. I have so many friends now that I never would have dreamed of meeting. I know lots of people through my job.
Not athletic enough/Too skinny – I can ride my bicycle ten miles at a time on the road. I don’t have a gut hanging over the front of my pants like so many guys my age. An antidepressant and an occasional pill for seasonal allergies are the only medications I take, whereas I know so many of my friends already on blood pressure medication. I’m thinner now than when I graduated college.
Talentless – I can play guitar and bass fairly well. I won a Kentucky Press Award when I worked as a newspaper reporter. I have over 150 followers on this blog, and it’s only been up a few months. I’m on the radio every day. I can even sing a little.
Unsure of what I want to do with my life – After going to counseling for my depression the past couple of years, I have decided I want to pursue a Masters degree in counseling. I am currently studying to take the GRE test to get into graduate school.

I should have written all of the things I was thinking down immediately, because I’m certain there were more. I realized my stomach isn’t upset as much anymore because I realized years ago I was slightly lactose intolerant. All those cartons of milk in school were tearing my stomach to bits. And the list goes on…

I still feel as if I have so many things mentally to overcome. I still live in the same town I grew up in, so sometimes it seems as if I’ll never escape what others will always believe about me, no matter how much I change or grow. I still feel so out of place sometimes, and you probably noticed I didn’t address everything I had listed concerning how I felt about myself. I don’t want to be who I was anymore, though. I can’t ever reclaim those lost years; all I can do is make an attempt to make the ones I have left count for something. I hope and pray I can hold onto what I was thinking on that walk today. I’m so afraid I’ll forget.

Maybe I should start reading my own blog.

Someone, Sometime, Somewhere

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you didn’t matter.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you weren’t good enough. Actually, worse than that. They told you that you would never be good enough. Ever. They didn’t apply that to what you were doing; they applied it to who you were. It wasn’t a matter of your ability or your skill level of your aptitude for learning things. They made you believe you were so flawed as an individual that nothing you ever did would succeed.

Someone, sometime, somewhere made you believe you couldn’t really be worthy of love. Sure, you may have found love in different places or relationships. You may have experienced it on a deep and personal level. But you never felt like you deserved it. If anyone ever found out who you really were, they would take their love away. All of your relationships would have to be maintained by you never quite letting the other person see everything. You would always be one bad move away from being left all alone.

ImproveSelfEsteem_thumbSomeone, sometime, somewhere made you believe you would never get better. Your depression, your addiction, your sickness… You were going to have to live with those forever. You could try a lot of different things – medication, therapy, prayer – but none of them were really going to work. You might make a little progress here and there, but you would always slide back to your basic state. They may have event old you it would be better just to put an end to everything, so you could save yourself and everyone around you a lifetime of heartache.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you a lot of things. You’re ugly. You’re crazy. You think too much. You feel things too deeply. You over-analyze everything. Your feelings aren’t relevant. You’re too shy. You’re too loud. You’re not aggressive enough. You’re a hothead. God couldn’t love someone like you. You can’t change. You’re going to be the way you are forever. You might as well just give up.

Someone, sometime, somewhere also told you that you were wanted. That you were loved. That you had hope for a future and strength enough for the present. That you didn’t have to stay the way you are. That it might take years and year of work, but you could actually get better. That you were handsome enough or pretty enough. That you would never be left all alone. That you could actually win every now and then. That you had hope.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you did matter.

Who do you believe?

The Bicycle

dark nightOne of the curses of thinking like a writer is the phrase that just won’t let go. I say this is a curse for several reasons. One is that quite often constructing a story to work the phrase in question into is nearly impossible, so it winds up losing its power because it gets shoehorned in where it doesn’t quite belong. Another is that sometimes even though you know a phrase is a good one, you don’t particularly feel like using it. This mainly happens with me when I know what I’m thinking is right, but I don’t want to admit it.

Case in point. Earlier today, the following phrase popped into my head: “Walking with God is like riding a bicycle.”

It sound ridiculously simple, for one thing. Walking with God requires a complex interaction of emotions and bodily control and spiritual discipline. Riding a bicycle requires, well, balance. For another, it seems incredibly clichéd. To me, comparing walking with God to just about anything we could do here on Earth seems like a gross understatement, completely lacking in the depth it needs to be accurate. It sounds like something someone would put on a meme and blast out over the internet.

At the same time, though, there is an undeniable truth within the two parallels. In both instances, there comes a time when we pretty much think we have everything figured out. We feel as if we are in control of the situation, and that nothing can topple us again. We may even start to believe we’ll never be hurt again. Of course, all of those assumptions are incorrect. We will eventually crash at some point.

I thought of this today as I was considering the ongoing struggles I have with depression in my life. A few months ago, I believed I had this thing licked. I felt as good as I ever had. My troubles seemed a million miles away. I was coping with things beautifully. And then I began to slip back into old habits. I let old thought patterns creep back in. I started to complain a little more. Next thing I knew, I was having to rebuild from the ground up again. Well, maybe not the ground up, but it sure felt that way.

Once I learned how to ride a bicycle as a kid, I went many years without falling off, save for one disastrous trail 469273_10151421480105217_1614021527_oouting in which I discovered it was indeed possible for a human body to hit the ground and not bounce. I knew how to balance and pedal and accelerate and break. I couldn’t see myself wiping out again, as long as I didn’t do anything too daring. Then, one beautiful spring day a couple of years ago, as I swung my left leg over my bicycle to get on it, my foot got caught, bringing me crashing down on top of the frame. My worst biking injury in years, and I wasn’t even moving.

Did that bicycle injury mean I hadn’t ever learned to correctly ride a bike in the first place? Well, no. Did it mean all those other years of not crashing were apparitions? No, of course not. Did it mean the person who taught me to ride a bike would be totally disappointed in me? Probably not. So, conversely, does that mean if I sin or let my guard down or entertain depressing thoughts that God will turn his back on me entirely? I used to believe that was true. Today, though, as much as I want to believe that punishment is coming, I’m learning God is much more interested in seeing me get back on the bicycle than keeping me lying on the ground.

So, there. Walking with God is like riding a bicycle. Phrase used. Mission accomplished.

Not Enough?

I turned 40 years old in April of this year, and we all know what that means: I’m at that age. When the eyesight starts to fade a little more. When the physical prowess begins to decline. When the luster of the job begins to wear off. When, theoretically, half of a man’s life is over, which means two dreaded words…

Midlife … crisis.

midlifeI actually do plan on writing about this subject a little more in-depth here in the future, but for this particular post I only introduce it to bring up a line I noticed in a book I was recently reading: Men in Midlife Crisis, by Jim Conway. I checked the book out of a local library just before Christmas, and, unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish reading it, but what I managed to get through was quite insightful. In fact, I may have to add it to my own personal library at some point in the future.

As expected, the book contains plenty of discussion on affairs, a hallmark of many men’s midlife periods. I’m certainly not going to explore that subject here, but I was struck by something Conway wrote about it. Observe the following paragraph on attempting to end an affair:

I have helped both Christians and non-Christians through the painful disengagement process. None of these people has been willing to disengage simply because of the clear moral teaching of scripture – “You must not commit adultery.” Nor have any of these midlife men been convinced to disengage because of obligations to their families or previous commitments. It is my experience that people are only ready to disengage from an affair if the dissatisfaction level rises high enough so that the couple feels there is greater stress and less satisfaction than what they had hoped for.

A local Bible teacher who passed away earlier this year used to have a saying: God plus nothing equals everything. There’s the principle of sola scriptura, the sufficiency of scripture. There’s even an old Southern Gospel song that says, “When Jesus says it’s enough, it’ll be enough.” What gets us to Jesus and draws us into scripture, though? There has to be some breaking point where we just say, “Okay, I’ve had enough. This is just not working anymore. I’m done.”

I’m not trying to say that Jesus cannot lift us out of any situation, or that scripture is somehow not sufficient to instruct us on how to live our lives correctly. God, after all, parted the Red Sea and formed man from the very dust of the Earth. In many instances of life, though, we have to come to a place where we decide the path we are on is vastly inferior to the one He wants to take us on. We have to see in real life that our decisions aren’t working and our habits are harmful to us and we need to make a change.

It almost feels blasphemous to even suggest it, but sometimes what works isn’t enough. Sometimes the strain of what is not working has to become so great that we are spurred to action. Things have to become intolerable sometimes to make us want to change. I wrote here Friday about the insanity of how I stubbornly refuse to give up certain habits that only worsen my depression. I’m beginning to notice a life principle here: Getting sick of a situation or a behavior is often the only way to begin the process of getting rid of it.

So as the new year rapidly approaches, if you’re hearing that tiny voice in your head saying, “This isn’t worth it anymore,” maybe you should give it a listen. It might be prompting you toward the answer that really is enough.

Christmas Is For Losers

I have a difficult time letting my children watch Peanuts cartoons. “What?” you might be asking. “What kind of problem could you possible have Snoopy and the gang?” Well, it’s quite simple, really: The other kids treat Charlie Brown like crap most of the time, and I don’t really want my kids thinking it’s okay to talk to other people that way.

charlie brownThere was this one time, though, when all the other kids came together and were actually nice to Charlie Brown. It happened one Christmas. You know the one. Charlie Brown was in charge of buying a tree for the school’s Christmas program, and he came back with a glorified twig. After a stern lecture from Linus, the gang decides to give Charlie Brown’s tree a makeover, and Christmas cheer is felt by all.

That seems to be the theme for most Christmas stories: Somebody gets heckled or cheated or messed around with, but by the end of the story everything comes together for them (See: Bob Cratchit.) In real life, though, the downtrodden don’t always get the breaks in the end. For someone suffering from depression, it’s very easy to look around a room and think everyone has it more together than you do. Better jobs, better relationships, better social skills, etc., etc. It can make a person want to find the nearest hole and hide in it.

If you’re thinking that just because your Christmas is rushed and hectic and not going according to plan, however, it should be pointed out that the “first Christmas” wasn’t exactly the most organized event either. Think about it for a minute. A baby was born in a stable. People are taking off to other countries because of dreams. Everyone is crowding into town for a census. There’s chaos happening everywhere.

And then there are the people. You have a carpenter who just found out his fiance is pregnant, and the only explanation he has is “It’s God’s son.” You have a young bride-to-be who would have been dumped, save for another dream intervention by an angel of the Lord. The first group of people called upon to visit the Christ child was not teachers or scribes, but sheep-herders called in from the fields. Really, couldn’t God have picked a little better cast for this?

Depressed people have a tendency to think of Christmas as a time when everyone has it better than them. They have difficulty going to parties or attending family gatherings or even facing the holiday because they feel sort of ashamed of where they are in life. They should be happy. It’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” right? When they don’t feel joy during a season which is specifically set up to provide it, they get a double-dose of guilt.

In reality, though, Christmas is practically tailor-made for the losers in life. Jesus, the whole reasonjesus understands for the holiday, was born in a stinky barn. Then he ended his life on a cruel Roman cross. He understands what it’s like to be on the low end of the totem pole. He understands what it’s like to be an outcast. He knows anxiety because he sweated drops of blood. The whole reason he came down, and the whole reason we have a Christmas today, is because Jesus went looking for the losers – the depressed, the anxious, the lonely, the afraid, and the addicted.

Some people may have more finely-decorated homes, flashier presents, and better-looking families, but everyone has Jesus on Christmas Day. Even Charlie Brown.

Default Mode

buzzRemember in Toy Story 3 when Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear and his gang found that switch on the back of Buzz Lightyear that would change his settings? While that switch provided some laughs later on in the movie when it turned the space ranger into a Latin love machine, it also enabled Lotso to revert Buzz’s personality back to his original factory settings … and the change in personality was not a good one.

I believe everyone has a sort of default mode we revert back to if certain switches are activated. For some people, that default setting is one of confidence. For some, it’s one of determination. For many, flipping the switch can be a good thing, resetting the system and getting everything back in line. For others, though, what they revert back to or fall back on is a state of negativity, uncertainty, and doubt.

I’ve heard a lot of recurring themes coming from people around me lately. “Stop saying you’re sorry. You’re not allowed to apologize anymore.” “People wouldn’t notice your negative faults so much if you wouldn’t point them out.” “I know you can do this. Why do you think you can’t?” “You should learn to accept compliments.” “Stop beating yourself up so much.”

I could write all this off as a series of coincidences or just the results of a particular phase of life I godspeakinghave entered. I’m not that naive, though. I can see when God is trying to tell me something, even if I’m still trying to fight it tooth and nail. I’m being pushed to change, but I want to switch back into default mode. I’m really not good enough, I’m inadequate, I won’t get it right, I’ll be discovered as a fraud eventually. It’s where I’ve naturally gone for so long, it’s difficult to think another way.

Just like the Buzz switch, though, maybe I’ve got another setting I didn’t know about. Maybe I can actually think positively about myself and the things I can do. Maybe I can realize everyone has their own set of issues and problems they deal with, and I’m not the only one to ever struggle. Maybe the things I don’t feel I do as well as someone else are good enough for me and better than I realize. Maybe I can change after all.

Of course, the next step in the process is to remove the “maybes” from all those statements. I basically have to replace my default setting, altering the state of mind I slip into when pressure arises. I may not become a Latin dancing machine, but I do believe I can become a better person. That should take me to infinity … and beyond (Sorry, I couldn’t resist…).