Restoring Relationships

JosephIf anyone held good reason to not trust others, it was Joseph. Not only did his brothers betray him (Genesis 37), but Potipher’s wife lied about him (Genesis 39), and the cup-bearer forgot his promise to Joseph (Genesis 40). Many people would give up after betrayal by family. Most of the rest would give up after being lied about and thrown in jail. And the third incident would secure the existence of bitterness and anger for anyone remaining.

But not Joseph. He bloomed where he was planted, and his faithfulness in every circumstance proved and strengthened his character. As a result, Joseph was trusted with greater responsibility every step of the way.

The story of Joseph provides a familiar setting worth revisiting in terms of what it teaches about restoring relationships. Please take a few minutes to read through Genesis 42-45 with this theme in mind before proceeding.

Lessons from Joseph on Restoring Relationships

Joseph gives a terrific example on many fronts, including solid character, perseverance and trusting God. His story, especially the ending, also provides a terrific lesson on the restoring process relationships can undergo providing those involved admit mistakes, forgive where necessary, and have the right focus. With those thoughts in mind, let’s look at 5 lessons Joseph has for us regarding restoring relationships.

  1. Keep restoration as an option (Genesis 42:8). Joseph instantly recognized his brothers, while his brothers failed to recognize him at all. Sure, they assumed him dead for many years, but I find it strange they didn’t notice something… anything… reminding them of Joseph. Perhaps this comes simply because Joseph never lost hope for restoration with his family, while his brothers never had it.
  2. Provide opportunity for building trust (Genesis 42:14-17; Genesis 44). Joseph immediately provided opportunities for his brothers to build and earn trust with him. He gave them ways to show they had changed for good, and they certainly showed they had truly learned from their mistakes.
  3. Recognize and express emotion, but refuse to let it control actions (Genesis 42:24; Genesis 43:30-31). Don’t you love how Joseph truly felt emotion over first seeing his brothers and then over the prospect of restored relationship with them? Yet, he refused to let that emotion cloud the trust-building process and instead moved forward practically.
  4. Get God’s point of view (Genesis 45:5). Joseph continually focused on God, and I believe this allowed him to not just forgive his brothers but to work toward restored relationship with them. Joseph saw the big picture of how God used the bad in his life to work for good, and he refused to get bitter over the betrayal of those he trusted.
  5. Give God the glory when restoration succeeds (Genesis 45:6-7). Joseph gave God the credit for working in the whole of his life. He refused to focus on the human aspect of his situations and instead focused on God. Doing so also helped seal the deal for restoration as he purposefully eased the guilt his brothers felt.

The story of restored relationship between Joseph and his brothers gives me hope for the same story of renewal in my own life. It also helps me believe that people can truly change even after significant breeches of trust, especially when those they hurt choose to focus on God and believe that He truly does work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

DISCUSSION: What else can we learn about restoration from Joseph? What other examples can you think of in Scripture?

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Pursuing Unity

Be at peaceWhile studying unity, see “Struggling for Unity” for details on that effort, I could not escape the role of individual responsibility for the creation, growth and continual existence of unity. I did not necessarily like (in my flesh) what I found either because it requires significant change on my part both in action and in mindset.

Paul addressed unity a lot within the early church, and the issue remains a constant struggle still today for most (all?) churches. While there are numerous Scriptures throughout the Old and New Testaments touting the importance and even the absolute necessity of unity, one portion in particular strikes me as a sort of mantra for unity. Ephesians 3 provides the motivation for unity (because we’re called, saved & equipped with God’s power), and Ephesians 4 gets into the details of what unity in the body looks like. I encourage you to read all of both chapters now, but at the very least meditate on these key phrases from Ephesians 4 while considering your individual role in creating and maintaining unity.

“Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each others faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.”

“One body… one Spirit… on glorious future… one Lord… one faith… one baptism… one God and Father…”

“… hold to the truth in love…”

“Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

“…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life…”

“So put away all falsehood and ‘tell your neighbor the truth’ because we belong to each other.”

“…be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

With those verses in mind, consider the following statements as you contemplate your own role in the unity of the body. These statements simply reflect my personal agenda for positively impacting the unity of my family and my church.

For the sake of building unity in the groups of which I am a part, I commit to…

  1. Preferring others by not insisting and arguing for my own way, wants & desires.
  2. Allowing others to make mistakes without receiving criticism from me and to instead offer encouragement and sometimes instruction.
  3. Refusing to assume because I know that assumptions (always? often? usually?) lead to foolish behavior.
  4. Avoid operating on misinformation while at the same time realizing that some things are simply none of my business.
  5. Treating others with respect even when I don’t agree with them.
  6. Focusing on facts over feelings.
  7. Realizing there is often more than one right way to accomplish a goal.
  8. Accepting people where they are and encouraging them to always be growing.
  9. Making sure I’m always growing spiritually since no one is responsible for my growth but me.
  10. Refusing to give up on unity by continually praying for and working toward peace with others regardless of their efforts.

Consider taking time to write your own plan for building, promoting and protecting unity. Ephesians 3 and 4 were used as guides for my own statements, but really the entire book of Ephesians provides tremendous help toward playing an active role in making sure unity thrives in your relationships. Other Scripture driving home the point include 1 Peter 3:8-9, Psalm 34 and Psalm 133. I encourage you to make unity a priority in your life and to “do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

DISCUSSION: What are you doing regularly to build and protect unity?

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Struggling for Unity

UnityAchieving and sustaining real, productive unity seems more and more like grabbing a handful of water these days. Sure, we see glimpses of people uniting for a cause or to accomplish a specific task or goal, but those events seem more like a bandage on a gaping wound than any real gain toward unity.

Instead, many (most?) countries lack a unified people and/or government, and so many companies and organizations struggle in a constant state of mismanagement and overwhelm. Broken marriages divide families and erode trust. Even churches crumble under the weight of selfish disagreements leading to division and strife.

Unity Takes Hard Work.

Feelings often encourage one direction while unity requires another. The choice between self and others continually drives a wedge into any efforts toward unity.

Often, people attempt to avoid disagreement and struggle in an attempt to create unity, failing to realize that unity exists as individuals work through disagreement and struggle. In other words, we find unity as we persevere through differences in opinion and preference and instead work toward peace as we focus on a singular goal. Refusing to quit in the struggle usually leads to great gains in unity.

The Bible teaches on unity more than on Heaven or Hell perhaps because while Satan may not be able to steal our salvation, he can undermine our effectiveness through disunity. He knows that the church and God’s people need unity in order to accomplish the goal of spreading the Gospel. He also knows that unity flourishes as we obey the command to love God and others, and getting our focus on our own desires keeps us from taking the path of love that leads to unity.

Basic Truths About Unity

Let’s look at some basic truths about unity found in Scripture in an effort to realize the significance of the stability unity brings to God’s people, benefits that flow well beyond the body of Christ.

  1. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17). In fact, His last prayer before taking the road to the cross focused on unity among God’s people. He knew that Christians united under God could accomplish much for the Kingdom than individuals operating on individual agendas.
  2. Unity is a command (Ephesians 4:3). A church filled with believers focused on leading Holy-Spirit led lives leads to a unified body bound by peace. Peace and unity together create a strand not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
  3. Unity brings God’s blessings (Psalm 133). Harmony among God’s people refreshes the body of Christ. The pleasant and precious nature of unity spreads and soothes even into areas where chaos reigns.
  4. Unity is a powerful witness (John 13). Simply put, unity and peace make Christianity – following Jesus – attractive to the world. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
  5. Unity meets deep, emotional needs (Philippians 2:1-2). Encouragement. Comfort. Fellowship. Tenderness. Sympathy. Where these flow, unity and love exist in abundance.
  6. Unity comes through the spiritual growth of individuals (Colossians 2:2). Encouragement and strong ties of love come through confidence in the Gospel. That confidence results when individuals focus on knowing Christ.
  7. God gives us what we need for unity (Romans 15:1-6). Through God’s gifts of patience and encouragement for the purpose of preferring others, individuals adopt the attitude of Christ as a lifestyle, and unity naturally results.
  8. Unity is the strength (essence) of a healthy church (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 3:28). A unified church recognizes the need for every individual to do his/her part, each playing an integral role in the unified body of Christ.
  9. Love results in unity (Colossians 3:14). In fact, love exists as the most important piece of “clothing” a Christian wears because of its role in creating unity.
  10. We must guard unity (Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:1-5; 1 Peter 3:8-9). Guarding requires deliberate attention, which means intentionally focusing on the elements that create and sustain unity.

Unity requires a lot of consistent hard work (Psalm 34). Doing nothing to promote unity means allowing it to evaporate and become all but invisible as the gaping wounds in individual lives, in families, in churches, and in countries fester and reach epidemic and infectious proportions.

On Thursday, we’ll look at our individual responsibility for the creation, growth and sustained existence of unity. Get ready… eliminating severe infection often requires pain and sacrifice.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts about unity?

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How to Build Trust

TrustWith lives securely based on trust in God, we can move forward in imperfect relationships. We work toward holiness together, knowing we’ll make mistakes but also seeing progress made toward complete perfection. And that moving forward requires building trust even within imperfect relationships.

Establishing trust involves first understanding some truths about trust that may be difficult to admit and accept. We’ve talked about these truths already in previous posts (listed at the bottom of this post), but let’s revisit them for a moment here.

  1. Only God is completely trustworthy. He never changes, and we can be completely confident in Him at all times.
  2. Expectations and past experiences shape trust. Sure, how much we trust others depends on their overall trustworthiness, but how much we trust them also depends on our lifetime of experiences with trust as well as on our expectations.
  3. You’re the only person whose trust you control. Determine to be trustworthy. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Purpose to live peacefully with others as much as it is up to you to do so.

Understanding how trust works allows us to build and establish trust in relationships. We must always remember that learning to trust is a process, and we must continually work to maintain that trust. And often, we must choose to enter the process of learning to trust even in the absence of trustworthiness because people need the opportunity to be trusted in order to become trustworthy.

Consider practicing the following as you work through the process of building trustrust puzzlet in relationships:

  1. Verbalize it. Talk about trust. For example, I tell my kids that how much I trust them is up to them. They determine the level of trust I have for them based on their overall choices. Discuss broken trust when it happens, learn from it and move toward reestablishing it. Never forget the tremendous role communication plays in building trust.
  2. Tolerate it. Since human relationships involve imperfection, we either have to tolerate broken trust or refuse to be a part of any relationships because building trust in relationships requires tolerating broken trust. Tolerating doesn’t mean accepting the behavior, but it does mean committing to dealing with it when it happens, hopefully without severing the relationship.
  3. Wait for it. Trust takes time to establish. It also takes a lot of ups and downs. Determine to stick to building trust over the long haul, and refuse to give up even when trust is broken.

After being hurt yet again by broken trust, we naturally want to retreat and live a life not trusting others in an effort to avoid being hurt again. Yet, when we focus on the One who is completely trustworthy, we can enter relationships, be hurt by broken trust in them, and continue moving forward.

We don’t have to be constantly derailed by broken trust. Because we’re safe in the hands of the One who is trustworthy, we know He won’t let anything ultimately hurt us. He’s got us for eternity, and nothing can take that away. This motivates me to bravely enter relationships knowing I’ll be hurt. It leads me to ask others to trust me even though I’ll likely let them down at some point.

Since no one can take away that which is most important – salvation & a relationship with Christ – living within the boundaries of imperfect relationships doesn’t frighten me anymore. I can feel the pain of broken trust and choose to move forward, working for peace and unity and knowing doing so pleases Him.

DISCUSSION: How does your relationship with Christ encourage you to keep working toward trusting in relationships?

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Other posts on trust:

Building & Establishing Trust

TrustWhen we firmly establish our source of trust in Christ, as we discussed in How Do We Live Out Trust? and Where Should You Place Your Trust?, we can now move on to the activity of trust within imperfect relationships. This activity of building & establishing trust in relationships begins with first living a trustworthy life.

We live trustworthy lives by:

  1. Focusing on pleasing God not people. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
  2. Determining to be trustworthy with the Gospel. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
  3. Relying on the Holy Spirit. (2 Timothy 1:14)
  4. Being dependable at work and at home. (Proverbs 31:10-11; Titus 2:10)
  5. Learning from those proven trustworthy, though not perfect. (Moses, Nehemiah, Daniel & Timothy)

Only when we live trustworthy lives grounded in the One who is perfectly trustworthy can we then begin to build trust in our imperfect relationships. Since our trust lies rooted in God, we must purpose to show that we truly trust Him as we move forward in establishing trustworthy character. When trust is secure within us, rooted and grounded in that which cannot be taken from us, we can then move on to building trust with others.

Trusting in Those Who Fail

Before moving on to how to build trust, we must address this struggle. We must come to terms with the fact that building trust often means trust was broken. Sure, we build trust in new relationships, and that takes a lot of work too, but it’s the building of trust with those who failed us – who broke trust – that provides a more difficult challenge.

At least, for me it does. I want to trust others, but it’s very difficult for me to get their breach of trust out of my thoughts sometimes. There’s this constant warning light going off, and my flesh wants to do whatever I can to stop that light from blinking. The easiest way I’ve found to stop the blinking is by avoiding the person. Yet, not only is that not always possible, it doesn’t line up with Scripture.

So, I must do the tough work of choosing to trust those who fail me simply because I know it pleases God. That’s where my relationship with Him – where my trust being established in Him – becomes crucial. Because there’s no way I can trust those who have failed me if they are the source of my ability to trust.

Trust quotes

With that, here are just a few examples to consider as you look toward building trust in relationships where you’ve been hurt.

  • God trusted Jonah despite previous disappointment. (Jonah 3:1-2) Jonah ultimately comes through, but he never really gets the point God is making. (See God is a God of Second Chances for more on this.)
  • Christ reinstated Peter after his predicted denial. (John 21:15) Not only did He reinstate Peter, but He trusted Him with tremendous responsibility in the spread of the Gospel.
  • Barnabas gave John Mark a second chance even though Paul disagreed with doing so. (Acts 15:37-39)

Ultimately, we choose to trust others because we know that trust exists at the heart of relationships. God trusts humans with tasks purposed for His will because He desires relational partnering, giving us the example to follow. Because He trusts in this way, knowing He’ll be let down, we too can continue working to build trust even with those who have and likely will again let us down.

Since our trust flows from the One who is perfectly trustworthy, we can live and operate within this cycle of broken trust knowing He desires our pursuit of relationship even at the cost of personal comfort.

With that, we’ll next move on to our final discussion about trust by discussing “How to Build Trust.” That will be our focus Thursday.

DISCUSSION: How does God’s example of trusting others inspire you to do the same even in light of broken trust?

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How Do We Live Out Trust?

Trust

Living Out Trust

Trusting another person makes a bold statement about your trust in God, a statement saying you choose obedience over trying to protect yourself. Because we have a 100% reliable source of trust, as discussed in “Where Should You Place Your Trust?,” we move forward in relationships with others who will let us down knowing God never will. His trustworthiness exists regardless of what others do or don’t do.

The best place to start living out trust that is rooted and grounded in God is through tangible expressions of that trust. In other words, through practical expressions and actions that show God exists as our source of trust and confidence.

We show our trust in God through:

Actively showing our trust in God opens us up to being able to trust others because we know our trust lies rooted in Him, not them. But that doesn’t mean trusting in others is easy. It’s not, especially with a fresh wound from unbroken trust still festering and knowing other wounds are forthcoming as long as you commit to working toward building trust in your relationships.

Trust in the Lord

People & Trust

People will break my trust again. But it ultimately doesn’t matter because they can never take away what truly matters, that which only comes from God. The most important thing I have to lose – my salvation – can’t be lost. So really, it’s not important as much whether others are trustworthy as it is whether or not I’m living a life that truly trusts in the only one who is trustworthy.

But how do I live this out? How do I show my trust is nowhere but in God?

  • By choosing to trust people knowing they’ll let me down and knowing God can make good out of it, that He rights wrongs. (Luke 18:7)
  • By building relationships and striving for unity even amidst continually broken trust simply out of obedience to the One who is completely trustworthy.
    (Ephesians 2:21-22)
  • By looking at my expectations and adjusting or eliminating them. Doing my part to live at peace with others involves not setting them up for failure, and this sometimes means lowering my trust level by lowering my expectations.
    (Romans 12:18)
  • By not mistaking people letting me down for God letting me down. This means not blaming God for people breaking my trust and choosing to follow God’s will regardless of what others do or don’t do. (Joshua 24:15)

I choose to continue trusting others because my trust isn’t based in them. I work to build trust and live peacefully with others, knowing they’ll let me down, because God is bigger than any broken trust.

The victory of Christ on the cross revealed a power greater than that of broken trust. The death and resurrection of Jesus proved that God will never let me down because He gave everything to establish a relationship with me. It proved that I can extend trust to others again and again knowing they will let me down because I know He has never and will never break trust.

But this doesn’t mean broken trust is ever easy to accept. It never feels good, and we need to know what’s involved in “Building & Establishing Trust” because we’ll have to work at it eventually in most, if not all, relationships. That topic is our focus for next Tuesday.

DISCUSSION: How does your daily life show trust in God?

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Where Should You Place Your Trust?

TrustAnalyzing Trust

What or whom do you trust? Friends? Family? Spouse? Parents? Teachers? Doctors? Pastors? Authors? Children? Finances? Abilities? Talents? News? Television?

To some degree, every object of trust breaks trust at some point. We all know the sting of broken trust. If we’re honest, we all must admit to being the source of that sting at times too.

The level of trust you extend another depends greatly on your view of their overall trustworthiness, dependability and reliability. How much you trust also depends upon your overall ability to trust in general. In other words, trust exists specific to the trustworthiness of the person or thing being trusted, but it also exists based on your overall life experience with trust as well as on your individual expectations for trust.

For example, I trust my husband more than any other person because our shared experiences over the past 26 years prove his overall trustworthiness. Doesn’t mean he’s never let me down, but it does mean his life speaks to a solid character deserving of trust.

On the other hand, broken trust surprised me enough times over the years to the point of lowering my expectation for trustworthiness in general. People I thought I knew were not who I thought they were. Apparent character turned out not to be true character. And spoken values ended up as dust in the whirlwind of busyness and overload.

So, while my overall trust of my husband still stands strong and gives hope that trustworthiness still exists, my overall trust of people in general exists weaker today than it did five years ago.

Choosing Obedience Over Feelings

Unfortunately, today even with a trustworthy spouse, I stand questioning the trustworthiness of people in general. Befuddled by what seems to be an epidemic gap between the private self and the public self in way too many individuals, I expect the appearance of character to no longer match reality and am pleasantly surprised when it does.

My reaction to these feelings involves wanting to live an introverted life, a natural bent for me anyway. But even more than what seems natural, I find myself drawn away from connecting and gravitating toward keeping people at a safe distance emotionally.

Yet, a pull deep within me keeps me from withdrawing. It keeps the desire for connection alive even at the risk of hurt caused by broken trust. That inclination involves the Holy Spirit’s work within me creating a desire to please God, to do His will regardless of my feelings.

Scripture says to love others. It says to to connect and encourage and admonish and give advice and get advice. So, withdrawing goes against God’s desires. As I write this, I admit to being at odds with Scripture’s directive to connect with others. My desire to lessen the continual sting of broken trust rides high in my awareness, and I often struggle resisting it.

The sting of broken trust leads me to pull against what Scripture says about loving others. And since what I’m feeling does not match with what I know of God’s Word, I must discover the disconnect and better align my thoughts and feelings with God’s heart. With that realization, let’s consider what God says about trust.

First, Scripture clearly tells us where NOT to place our trust:

  • Weapons (Psalm 44:6) – Weapons (tools) exist as an outlet for expressing trust, not as a source of trust.
  • Wealth (Psalm 49:6, 7) – Wealth provides as a means for sharing blessing not as an object of trust.
  • Leaders (Psalm 146:3) – People make mistakes and fail; no one remains 100% trustworthy.
  • Man (Jeremiah 17:5) – Allowing people to be your source of trust brings curse, not blessing.
  • Works (Jeremiah 48:7) – Trusting in skills and abilities leads to captivity; works are never enough.
  • One’s own righteousness (Ezekiel 33:13) – We simply don’t possess the ability to obtain righteousness, to do enough to be completely trustworthy.

Scripture helped me understand the hurt caused by broken trust came because I expected trust from people and things unable to deliver complete trustworthiness. I expected too much.

Second, Scripture clearly tells us where TO place our trust:

  • God’s name (Psalm 33:21) – His name reflects His attributes, His character. God always holds true to His character.
  • God’s word (Psalm 119:42) – Scripture provides the answers needed for every struggle of life.
  • Christ (Matthew 12:17-21) – The hope of all the world rests securely on the perfectly trustworthy shoulders of Jesus.

We are to trust in His Word, in who He says He is and with hope in the death-conquering power of Christ. My trust should belong nowhere else. And as is the abundant nature of God, He also gives BENEFITS OF TRUSTING IN HIM:

Trust blessings

When reading this list of benefits of trusting in God alone, I wonder why I trust or have confidence in anyone or anything else. Which returns us back to the idea of obedience. Unless we truly want to live inside ourselves and void our lives of human contact – and ultimately go against what Scripture expects of us – we must trust other people even though we know they’ll let us down. On Tuesday, we’ll get further into this topic as we look at “Living Out Trust.”

DISCUSSION: In what state does your trust level exist these days? Why?

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How to Help Those Struggling with Depression

The post below first appeared at Cycle Guy’s Spin as part of a series on depression with the focus of helping those who have loved ones struggling with depression but who have never themselves personally struggled with it. The depression series stemmed from my second chance story, which was part of a series on 2nd Chances on Cycle Guy’s Spin.

With depression coming even more to our attentions with the death of Robin Williams recently, I decided to repost the depression series here on Struggle to Victory.

Help

How to Help Those Struggling with Depression

If you’ve never struggled with depression, do you ever wonder what you can say or do to help those who do suffer? If you do, this post will hopefully offer you insight into accomplishing that desire.

When I was at my most depressed, I received little to nothing of what others said or did to try and help me. I just couldn’t see anything positive. Looking back, I realize that even though I didn’t think so at the time, having people just not give up on me even when I had given up made all the difference. No matter what I said or did, they always took me back and forgave me.

The best counselors and friends were the ones who simply listened but maintained boundaries in that they refused to climb into the pit with me. They were able to maintain mental and physical health in their own lives and not let me pull them in the pit. So, I saw them as stable people who accepted me where I was as well as examples of where I wanted to be.

While some did suggest I simple “change,” just “be happy,” for the most part the people in my life allowed me to be however I was going to be, not really accepting the behavior, but loving me regardless. And when they saw any positive, whether momentary or a genuine step toward change, they latched on to that for as long as the wave existed even when they knew it would fade. This went a long way helping me make small, gradual changes that over time added up to make a huge difference in discovering victory.

Related to this, those who did not try to force me to change were the ones I wanted to be around. I know most of them were praying for me, but they did not try and insist I change. They accepted me for who I was at the time. When I did reject them, which I did often since intimacy of any sort was thin at best and impossible at worse most of the time, they did not take it personally. They knew, somehow, it wasn’t meant personally. They gave me the space I needed, even letting me be miserable, and were always available when I came out of the darkest recesses of the pit for a while.

Generally speaking then, the people in my life who had never suffered depression, helped me by staying consistent with who they were, by accepting me for who I was and where I was, by seeing beyond where I was and to who I could become, and by praying for me.

My husband said he felt helpless when I was depressed, and I guess he kind of was. I assume that’s how many people who have not had depression feel. The odd part is that this is how people with depression feel too. So, realize that the helplessness you feel in not being able to help the person get out of depression is similar to the helplessness the depressed person feels in being trapped in it. Interesting, don’t you think?

DISCUSSION: What can you add regarding how to help someone who is depressed? Any questions?

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Staying Out of the Pit

The post below first appeared at Cycle Guy’s Spin as part of a series on depression with the focus of helping those who have loved ones struggling with depression but who have never themselves personally struggled with it. The depression series stemmed from my second chance story, which was part of a series on 2nd Chances on Cycle Guy’s Spin.

With depression coming even more to our attentions with the death of Robin Williams recently, I decided to repost the depression series here on Struggle to Victory.

pit

Staying Out of the Pit

What you read on Struggle to Victory covers my main approach to keep from falling back into the pit of depression. I get into the details of topics I am struggling with, find out what Scripture says about them, and process them by writing about them. Doing this helps tremendously in capturing thoughts and not letting them hold me captive, which is what happened when I didn’t know how process feelings. At some point, I just determined not to let my thinking exist without boundaries and structure anymore, and writing gives me a way to establish the boundaries and structure I need to keep well away from the pit.

But writing isn’t all I do. I’ve discovered that one thing rarely does exactly what you need in any area, at least not for very long. Writing simply provides an outlet for my very busy inner life. Being an introvert, my inner life is as busy as the outer life of most extroverts. Writing gives me a way to order that world and to deal with it in a healthy way.

In addition to, or rather alongside and within writing, there are various ways I keep from going in the direction of pit dwelling. First and most importantly, I maintain a daily, consistent relationship with God through Bible study and prayer. I’m not saying this as a high and mighty “look how spiritual I am” statement; instead, it’s meant to simply say that I know I am completely and utterly unable to stay out of the pit of depression without Him. Without the Holy Spirit working in my life, and without God’s mighty power active in and through me, I would not be alive today.

I also make staying physically healthy a priority by eating healthy, exercising and getting plenty of adequate rest. I’m willing to try different approaches to health and wellness because I’ve learned that limiting yourself to the approach of traditional, Western medicine only limits and may even inhibit your ability to overcome depression and become healthy. My approach is along the lines of integrative medicine.

Staying aware of personal triggers is important too. I know the signs of my getting overwhelmed (digestion issues, sleep problems, anxiety & general grumpiness, for example), and I make adjustments as soon as I realize what’s happening to prevent any more veering off into bumpy territory.

While I need routine and structure to some extent, I must balance them with flexibility and variety. Otherwise, I get into a rut of boredom that also leads to depression. Fortunately, my husband and sons help tremendously with this area not just with their busy schedules but also with their zest for discovery and adventure.

Knowing what to avoid is also key (examples for me include sugar, romance novels, and television shows in general). One area of thought that I need to be extra careful with is absolutes. Saying “I never…” or “I can’t…” or “I always…” usually takes me down a very narrow and precarious path. I’ve learned to leave the absolutes up to God who has the capacity to follow through with them simply because He doesn’t change and I do.

As you can see, I have a variety of ways I keep from falling back into the pit. All of them are negotiable except my reliance on God.

sooner quoteIn Retrospect

Some ask what I would have done differently now that I am able to look back on depression with some objectivity. Let me simply say that I just would have done all of this sooner. I would have taken the small steps needed to get out of the pit sooner. I would have asked God to help me sooner. I would have let others help sooner. I would have let my pride go sooner. Nothing really done differently since all were necessary parts of the journey. They just all could have happened sooner.

So much (most really) of what caused my depression was outside of my control, so I don’t think I personally could have prevented it. I could have just taken the steps to get out of it sooner. That’s all on me.

DISCUSSION: How can someone not suffering from depression help those who do struggle stay out of the pit?

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Depression vs Anxiety

The post below first appeared at Cycle Guy’s Spin as part of a series on depression with the focus of helping those who have loved ones struggling with depression but who have never themselves personally struggled with it. The depression series stemmed from my second chance story, which was part of a series on 2nd Chances on Cycle Guy’s Spin.

With depression coming even more to our attentions with the death of Robin Williams recently, I decided to repost the depression series here on Struggle to Victory.

Depression2Depression vs Anxiety

First, let me clarify that while I was formally diagnosed with chronic depression, I was never officially diagnosed with anxiety. I self-diagnosed anxiety because I knew it wasn’t depression, which I knew very, very well, and because I had learned the power of educating yourself as a way to help heal yourself.

Depression and anxiety hold many similarities. They both involve uncontrollable feelings of often vague origin, and they both involve some level of hopelessness and helplessness. Both are also deep to the point of affecting every part of a person.

AnxietyThe differences between anxiety and depression, for me, was that depression felt like a dark pit while anxiety felt like a heightened (too aware) state of awareness. In other words, depression was a low energy state while anxiety is a high energy state.

Another connection between the two involves the idea that any lack of control can lead to depression without the right thinking to surround it, and anxiety certainly feels like no control. Yet, all my efforts to gain control as much as I could over whomever I could were fruitless. Only when I finally gave up seeking control did I discover healing and victory over depression.

Note that I said “was” for depression and “is” for anxiety, that I declared healing and victory over depression but not anxiety. This is simply because I still struggle with anxiety from time to time. Two things cause anxiety to flare up for me. One is becoming overwhelmed, a topic you know I’ve addressed at length on my blog.

Another is the physical component, which I cannot ever dismiss or consider too lightly. It has a huge role to play both in depression and anxiety, and I’ll address it a little more in another post. Suffice it to say, the physical aspect of the self – my health and wellness – played a significant role in my whole depression/anxiety story. Staying physically healthy and making adjustments as I age goes a long way in maintaining mental health. The two – mental and physical – go hand-in-hand, and neither part should be ignored.

DISCUSSION: Why do you think depression and anxiety are so closely linked? How do you see the connection between the physical and mental playing out with regard to depression and anxiety?

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