Working Toward Balance

Escape?

Don’t we all dream of escaping from life from time to time? A warm, tropical beach. A quiet house on the lake. Just a place where the noise of life stops, and we can hear ourselves think and breathe.

For most of us though, total escape is just a fantasy because it just isn’t practical. Family. Work. Church. Lots of commitments. Plus, life doesn’t stop just because you take a break.

Still, the lure of time and space to think lurks in the back of most people’s minds at least occasionally, and we usually make one of two choices when we become aware of these thoughts.

  1. Push any personal desires, wants or needs to that area of the mind specializing in forgotten hopes and dreams.
  2. Pursue selfish ambitions regardless of the impact on others.

Two extremes. Neither a great choice. Fortunately, there is a third option. We can also choose a more balanced approach somewhere between giving in to selfish desires and forgetting all sense of individual needs.

Choice #3 requires a more constant effort because it resists natural tendencies, whereas the first and second choices provide absolutes that push to extremes that seem easier to maintain. In other words, saying “no” or “yes” to everything is easier than saying “no” or “yes” to some things.

A 3-Step Process for Balance

This three-step process can not only help bring a sense of balance, but it can also help keep it there for the long haul.

  1. Plug In. Whether introvert or extravert, sanguine or melancholy, everyone needs connection. Connection with others happens in a variety of ways from personal interests to church attendance. Plugging in regularly to Christ on an individual, one-on-one basis is, of course, the most essential relationship and needs emphasis. Plugging in revolves around the idea of filling up the reservoir to be able to nourish others.
  2. Recharge. Failure to recharge batteries often enough, and in many cases at all, results in complete failure at some point. Recharging is about balance. Recharge regularly by eating healthy, exercising, and drinking enough water. Oh, and get enough sleep too.
  3. Unplug. Unplugging means alone time, a treasure so many of us crave and fail to get enough of regularly. Pick one or two things you enjoy that allows you time to unplug. Then, make them a priority. Finding small pockets of time for unplugging can be an quite effective method for finding balance if done consistently.

Many who read this will say something like this…

“Sure, that would be wonderful, but there’s no way I can make that happen in my busy life.”

You’re right! YOU cannot make that happen. Without a deliberate an intentional plan and the help of those closest to you, this process is not going to happen for anyone.

3 Essential Elements in the Process

Three elements that must exist for anyone to truly be able to take care of themselves in a way that allows for as consistent of a state of balance as possible.

  1. Be Deliberate and Intentional. Carefully consider how taking care of yourself not only makes you healthier as an individual but positively contributes to the health of your family as well. Purpose to find ways to regularly plug in, recharge and unplug.
  2. Focus on Small Things. Chances are that a week-long vacation alone is not going to happen for most of us, and even a weekend away is probably iffy. But, working in small pockets of time for plugging in, recharging and unplugging can add up over time to make a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to schedule time on the calendar for this either.
  3. Be Determined. Time to plug in, recharge and unplug will not happen by itself. Well, it won’t unless we run ourselves so ragged that illness or depression force us to stop. We must make a determined effort to schedule time for ourselves because it simply won’t happen otherwise.

Think of how balance is achieved when someone is riding a bike or standing on one leg… by making constant small adjustments. That’s the idea we’re getting at with the above steps and essential elements.

Keep moving forward. Keep making adjustments. Keep working toward balance.

5 Habits for Getting and Staying in Shape

athletic-2

The New Testament uses a variety of athletic metaphors to describe the life of a Christian. These references were certainly understood by those to whom the letter was written since the Olympic games, along with the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games and the Pythian Games, had been held for hundreds of years prior to any New Testament events taking place. And these metaphors are understood well still today in a culture where exercise and healthy lifestyles exist on a continuum from obsessiveness to belligerent avoidance.

These athletic metaphors were used in Scripture because many of the same habits for getting and staying in physical shape hold true for getting and staying in spiritual shape as well, not the least of which are similarities regarding the necessary mindset needed for both. Better understanding of these connections can lead us to effectively,

“run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Perseverance. Discipline. Self-control. All essential elements, along with many others, in both physical and spiritual vitality. These elements, all laced within the athletic metaphors used in Scripture, work with other related habits to create a solid training program applicable both spiritually and physically.

athletic-1For me, the following 5 habits for getting and staying in shape are crucial for my continued physical and spiritual health, both continual struggles even within consistent victories.

  1. Accountability. Physically, a gym membership and/or an exercise partner provide accountability, a key component to staying physically active. Likewise, membership in a Bible-believing fellowship along with connection to individuals through deepening relationships establish the essential element of accountability needed for spiritual fitness. Surrounding yourself with others for support and encouragement goes a long way in remaining consistently strong, both physically or spiritually.
  2. Variety. Exercise can become boring very quickly without variety. For this reason, my workouts vary from running and elliptical to biking and boxing to weights and video workouts. Relating this idea to spiritual fitness, avoid limiting yourself to one way of serving or studying God’s Word. Yes, serve in your area of strength (play on the worship team if you have musical ability) and have systematic approaches to reading God’s Word daily, but be willing to go outside of your comfort zone too (work in the nursery even though you normally teach adults or do a key-word study once in a while). Healthy variety not only helps prevent boredom, but it allows space for God to work in weaknesses, which ultimately makes us stronger overall (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  3. Rest. Neglect adequate recovery time between workouts, and injury will eventually occur. Spiritually, this equates to regular quiet time with God as well as getting physical rest since lack of proper rest inhibits the ability to confidently say “Yes!” when asked, “Are You Giving Your Best?” Being tired physically as well as spiritually significantly impacts effectiveness in every area of life.
  4. Stretching. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Are you will to try new activities? Stretching physically means trying new activities as well as regularly stretching muscles to make them better able to handle activity without injury. Spiritual stretching might involve getting to know new people, especially if you’re an introvert like me, doing an in-depth Bible study if you always just do a short devotional, or joining the choir even though you’ve never performed in front of an audience. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for opportunities to stretch physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Refueling. Our minds and spirits are like cars with regard to fuel; they need it in order to function. Physically, a healthy diet gives us the energy we need. Mentally, proper fuel (what we eat as well as drink) allows us to think and reason clearly and effectively. Spiritually, our spirits need filled up regularly on the truth of God’s Word. They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit through prayer, praise and submission. Life constantly asks more of us, which continually drains our energy. Refueling properly allows us to give without being drained and to do so on a consistent basis.

Adding to the connection between spiritual and physical fitness is the realization that both involve also ridding our lives of negative influences. Physically, this means avoiding unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, smoking and drugs. Spiritually, this means avoiding those things like that Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5-9 to “put to death.”

Developing positive habits and eliminating negative ones helps strengthen our perseverance, discipline and self-control, all essential elements of getting and staying in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. Development in this way increases our effectiveness and productivity in amazing ways.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

What habits can you adjust to become physically and spiritually stronger?

Consider studying this topic further by meditating on the following Scripture:

  • Philippians 2:16
  • Galatians 2:2
  • Galatians 5:7
  • 2 Timothy 2:5

He Knows My Name

Name

As a writer, I have thought a lot about becoming well known. My name on the cover of a book. My book on The New York Times Bestsellers list. But my writer dreams don’t end there. I’ve thought about someone famous discovering my blog and asking me to ghostwrite for them or maybe co-write with them. I have even thought about being asked to do inspirational and motivational speaking. All pretty crazy ideas, I know.

In my reality, I know people who always seem to know other people no matter where they go. The coffee shop. The mall. Restaurants. We’re regularly interrupted. People know and use their name. I feel like a third wheel, or at least what I imagine a third wheel feels like, for however long they talk, most of the time not included in the conversation. I’ve just never been someone who has been known. (Except for in college when I had a byline in the campus newspaper every week. I enjoyed that probably too much.)

Much of my life, I’ve struggled with feeling overlooked and unimportant. Not just because people often don’t know my name but also because my introverted, shy personality keeps me backstage most of the time. (Don’t think because I’ve taught college classes and Bible studies that this changes anything. I’m pretty good at hiding behind my topic.) Ultimately, that’s where I like to be. Yet, a part of me has always wanted to be noticed, to be known, by others.

As I have taken this need to the Lord over the years, I have an increasing awareness of my messed up motives for wanting to be noticed. The Holy Spirit isn’t brutal about it, but He helps me realize that recognition by others won’t satisfy, not for very long anyway. Only God can satisfy my need for significance and notice.

He Knows My Name” by Francesca Battistelli (If We’re Honest album) speaks well to my need and to His satisfying of it.

I don’t need my name in lights.
I’m famous in my Father’s eyes.
Make no mistake.
He knows my name.

After years of struggling with this, my desire to be known on this earth no longer matters much most of the time. If it’s not His desire, then it’s not my desire either. If He ever decides for others to know me on a larger scale than my quiet, small-town life, then He’ll make that happen and at the same time give me the desire for it.

How did I find victory over this particular issue? His presence.

When He’s my center, my focus, worldly fame and notice fall off the radar. When His agenda replaces my agenda, my soul experiences overwhelm with Him, and my schedule no longer looms overwhelmed and overloaded.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

My name on a book or in lights or even called across a coffee shop… none of those really take up my mental energy anymore. What does? How to have more of His presence. Nothing else matters except that He knows my name.

Gifts to Give Someone Struggling With Depression

Artistic Christmas Tree with GiftsWith Thanksgiving over and Christmas rapidly approaching, many people start to feel the opposite of what they’re supposed to feel this time of year. Instead of feeling joy and happiness, too many instead find themselves depressed.

Depression touches everyone. Most people either know someone who struggles with depression, or they have their own struggle. This comes as no surprise considering the that…

About 9.5% of the U.S. adult population suffers from a depressive disorder in a given year. (That’s about 18.8 million people.)

Depression has been a lifelong battle of mine, and those closest to me have struggled with what to do during my depressed times. For the past five years, though, depression has no longer held a choking grip on me. While still a struggle from time to time, I no longer feel as though I’m barely holding my head above water.

There are 5 gifts others gave that helped me reach victory over depression. At best, these gifts give a depressed person a much-needed lift out of the deep end, and at worst, they don’t do any harm.

  1. Acknowledge feelings. This does not mean to necessarily agree, but it does mean to acknowledge the feelings are real. To say someone who is depressed should not feel a certain way and then proceed to present a case as to why that is true only makes a depressed person feel worse. Simply acknowledge the feelings exist whether or not they are accurate.
  2. Keep advice to yourself. The worse advice I received was anything close to “Just be positive” or “Just cheer up.” My response was always the same: “Don’t you think I would if I could?!” When a person is seriously depressed, no amount of advice is going to bring them out.
  3. Value them and their ideas. To know my ideas and thoughts have value gives amazing encouragement. As with acknowledging feelings, this doesn’t necessarily  mean agreement. It does mean, however, acknowledging a person’s value and ideas even if their reasoning makes little sense.
  4. Listen. Sometimes a depressed person just wants to vent. Being able to vent to someone who listens without judgment takes off some of the heaviness depression creates in a person’s mind.
  5. Confirm loyalty. The person closest to me for most of my life stated more than once, “I will not leave you.” Knowing that no matter how low I got I would not be alone made a tremendous difference in my outlook. At times I didn’t believe it, and I tried to convince him staying was a bad idea. But he held true to his word, and I believe this is one of the main reasons depression no longer controls my life.

There are so many reasons for depression, and those reasons do need addressed in order to be victorious over depression. Along the way, giving the above gifts tells a depressed person he is not alone, that someone will listen and not dismiss his feelings and that someone believes he has value. These gifts can truly make a key difference in helping someone struggle through and find victory over depression… my life is a testimony to this fact.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you have for helping someone who is depressed?

See “Making the Church a Safe Place for Mental Illness” by Stephen Altrogge  for another perspective on this topic.

Pursuing Encouragement Through Fellowship

As an introvert, spending time alone comes quite easily for me. As a writer, aloneness is often required for productivity. Even though my career and my personality promote solitude, and I really do like the peace and quiet, I cannot escape the need for regular connection. If I go too long with out it, which happens periodically, I become discouraged and even depressed almost without realizing it’s happening.

Everyone needs connection, whether they admit – or realize – it or not; in fact, it’s one of the primary ways God encourages believers. We’ve already talked about how He encourages through Scripture and through His Holy Spirit. Let’s now look at the role fellowship with other believers plays in encouragement.

Fellowship

Encouragement Through Fellowship

Scripture says quite a lot about encouragement, and much of it focuses in on the encouragement received through fellowship. For example, encouragement through fellowship…

  • Promotes watchfulness as Jesus’ return nears. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 & Hebrews 10:25)
  • Defeats selfishness as we seek to build others up. (Romans 15:1-2)
  • Creates unity among believers. (Romans 15:5-6)
  • Provides opportunity to use spiritual gifts. (Romans 12:6-7)
  • Glorifies God. (Romans 12:8-9)

While I believe each of these to be accurate simply because I trust the inerrancy of God’s word, experiencing encouragement in action takes this knowledge to, well, a more encouraging level.

Barnabas’ Example

A man in the early church named Joseph was given the nickname Barnabus.

Barnabas

Barnabas encouraged Paul by helping him gain acceptance into the church even after he persecuted it (Acts 9:27). Barnabas also encouraged Mark by helping him gain a second chance after serious failure (Acts 13:13 & Acts 15:39).

While I love how Barbabas encouraged others by helping them move forward after serious mistakes, I love even more that he was willing to take a back seat to others. When others give of themselves for our benefits, we are encouraged. When they put their reputation on the line, that usually provides motivation for doing our best.

If you look at the list above for how believers receive encouragement through fellowship, it’s not hard to see how Barnabas lived out each of them. And I’m pretty sure, based on the Barnabas’ in my own life and that I’ve watched in the lives of others, that he not only encouraged those he was directly involved with but also anyone who witnessed him in action. Encouragement has a tremendous ripple affect after all.

So even though spending time alone comes quite naturally for me and in fact energizes me in ways that extroverts cannot understand, I also know that being with others is essential for my spiritual health. And while I read Scripture that tells me how and why encouragement comes through others, it’s the actual encouragement in action that solidifies my belief in this truth.

DISCUSSION: How have you witnessed encouragement in action through the lives of other believers?

Thanksgiving in August?

TitleEver heard of Christmas in July? Well, how about Thanksgiving in August? Seriously, the whole kit and caboodle… turkey, dressing, green bean casserole. Whatever your family traditionally does for Thanksgiving, why not make it happen this August too? While we’re at it, bring on the pre-Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales at the same time!

No? Okay, maybe not. But at least let’s consider the spirit of Thanksgiving as we approach the back end of summer. For that matter, why not think about how to move from the yearly pilgrimage celebrating Thanksgiving as a holiday to a year-long “Thanksliving” frame of mind? (Thanks for the term, Steve Miller.)

In moving from Thanksgiving to “Thanksliving,” we must take a deliberate and intentional approach to thankfulness. In doing so, the actions of gratitude — the ways we show the thankfulness hopefully existing within us — become increasingly and continually visible.

Moving from simply knowing that I should live out thankfulness to actually following through in tangible ways is a struggle I’m not proud to admit exists. But, I’m learning to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving and to slowly but surely transition my life to be more consistently one of “Thanksliving.”

Changing my attitude to a more positive, thankful one is not going to happen by me wishing it. I must deliberately choose to pursue “Thanksliving,” and this happens by taking the time to regularly verbalize thankfulness — even when not encouraged by any holiday — and to also stop blocking God’s work in my life.

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 3:17)

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

We’re designed to show gratitude. Every part of us longs to give thanks, not just sometimes but continually. Everything we do exists as an avenue for living out this part of our spiritual DNA. We simply must take the time to pay attention to God’s workings in our lives. Doing so grows that desire and moves our focus beyond just celebrating Thanksgiving and into a mindset of “Thanksliving” all year long.

Question: What steps can you take live a life of “Thanksliving”?

Socialize Your Blues Away

Defeating the Winter Blues

social interaction 1In the post “Defeating the Winter Blues,” tip #7 mentioned the importance of socializing for the purpose of helping defeat the winter blues. This post delves into that point a bit more and gets at what the very obvious social nature of extroverts can teach those of us who struggle with and even avoid socializing.

I’m an introvert by nature who has occasional bouts of shyness too. Plus, I’m a writer and love to read. In other words, my natural tendencies and interests gear me toward social isolation. Balancing this area of myself, which I realize is both a strength and a weakness, requires a lot of deliberate effort.

Antisocial Tendencies and Depression

The journal of Clinical Psychology says, “Social isolation puts you at greater risk for mental health problems.”

My own experience confirms this research. The more antisocial I am, the more I struggle with mood and the easier I become depressed. On the other hand, the more consistently I engage in social interaction, the easier it is to maintain an optimistic and hopeful perspective. This truth also exists infused into my Christian walk.

The Socially Interactive Christian

Even though the words “though shalt interact with others” do not exist in Scripture, you don’t have to read very far into the Bible to realize that it’s a book about relationships. The 10 Commandments start with directives in our relationship to God and end with commands regarding our relationship to others. Paul’s statement in Romans 13:9 takes these commands and connects them with all we are to be and do as God’s children.

social interaction 2

Love requires action, which requires interaction with others. I’ve yet to find a way to truly love another person without human interaction. In my mind, and experience again supports this realization, I need social interaction in order to truly and fully live out God’s Word to love Him and others.

The Extrovert Example

In my experiences with social interaction along with my studies of personality styles, I wondered if extroverts, who seem to actually need social interaction, struggle much with depression. I even researched the topic and found little specifically – and nothing truly helpful – regarding extroverts and depression.

While I’m certain that some extroverts do struggle with depression, I don’t personally know any. Or, more accurately, I have not seen a true extrovert show visible signs of depression. Maybe extroverts are just better at hiding depression. Or, perhaps, they truly get depressed a lot less frequently or possibly just less severely than do introverts.

Since research yielded little information on the topic, I decided to look more closely at my extroverted friends to figure out how they ward off melancholy moods of any severity from a funk to the winder blues or doldrums, which everyone gets from time to time, to depression. Before I get to the two points about how extroverts seem to avoid any lengthy down moods of much severity, let me share two related observations.

First, I’m surrounded dominantly in my social circles (starting with my husband and youngest son with my oldest son being in the middle and then moving into my close circle of friends) by extroverts, though I’m not sure if this was subconsciously intentional or not. Second, my extroverted friends help me tremendously in what is one of my greatest weaknesses, the desire to be alone and the growth of social isolation, by nudging me toward regular, meaningful interaction with others.

As I asked myself why my social circles are dominated by extroverts, though my few introverted friends do hold a special place in my life, I discovered two tendencies my extroverted friends ALL have in common.

  1. They’re active.
  2. They’re interactive.

Extroverts tend to be more active in general than introverts, sitting less and needing activity more. They also maintain a very interactive social life and in fact gain energy from being around others.

Since my extrovert friends seem to have more consistent victory over depression or any other sort of mood struggle or disorder and since they ALL have these two points in common, I make a deliberate decision to apply their example and incorporate consistent activity and social interaction into my life.

While I will always need more alone time than my extroverted friends and while I will always get my energy from being alone and getting more rest than them, I am constantly reminded by their consistently upbeat moods that I must also maintain a certain level of activity and interaction on a regular basis. While the amount varies from one introvert to the next, it likely exists as a greater need than most will admit.

DISCUSSION: What are your experiences with extroverts and introverts regarding activity and social interaction as well as mood?

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Where Should You Place Your Trust?

TrustAnalyzing Trust

Where do you place your 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 completely honest, we all must admit to being the source of that sting at times too.

Where you place your trust and the level of trust you extend to 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 29 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 with other people 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 false. 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 in people, my overall trust of people in general exists weaker today than it did five years ago.

Choosing Obedience Over Feelings

Today, 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 completely 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 and 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. I admit to often being at odds with Scripture’s directives regarding connection. My desire to lessen the sting of broken trust rides high in my awareness, and I often given in to it.

The sting of broken trust leads me to pull against what Scripture says about loving others.

Since what I’m feeling does not match with what I know of God’s Word, I must analyze the disconnect and better align my thoughts and feelings with God’s Word.

With that realization, let’s consider what God says about trust.

What God Says About Trust

Scripture clearly tells us where NOT TO place your trust:

  • Weapons (Psalm 44:6) — This gets at the idea of our ability to defend ourselves.
  • Wealth (Psalm 49:6, 7) — A means for sharing blessing not an object of trust.
  • Leaders (Psalm 146:3) — Leaders often make mistakes and fail to meet our expectations.
  • Man (Jeremiah 17:5) — Placing people as the source of trust brings curse, not blessing.
  • Works (Jeremiah 48:7) — Trusting in skills and abilities leads to captivity; works are never enough.
  • Righteousness (Ezekiel 33:13) — We simply don’t possess the ability to obtain righteousness, to do enough to be completely trustworthy, on our own.

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

Scripture also clearly tells us where TO place your trust:

  • God’s Name (Psalm 33:21) — His name reflects His attributes and 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 Him.

Place Your Trust in God

Trust blessings

When reading this list of benefits of trusting in God alone, I wonder try to trust or have confidence in anyone or anything else.

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Other posts on trust:

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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Addiction, Avoidance, Distraction & Technology

texting 2Electronic Fellowship

In a hallway between the sanctuary and fellowship hall at my church sits a pew where most Sundays a half dozen teens fellowship with their cell phones, Ipods and Kindles. During service, their fellowship continues, and many adults join in the fellowshipping with their Ipads and smart phones too.

This electronic fellowship ceases – sort of – during worship but returns fully at sermon start, continuing until the “stand and pray.” Sure, some may use their devices for Bibles, but I’m pretty sure doing so involves less thumb movement.

I realize the caution needed here regarding law and rules and judging others, so let me turn this on myself. I leave my cell phone at home on Sundays and Wednesdays when I go to church because if I don’t, I’ll fellowship with it instead of fellowshipping face-to-face. No matter how much I say I’ll leave it in my bag, the temptation to check it usually wins out at some point.

And yes, I’m even tempted during the sermon (sorry, Pastor) to check messages. I’m simply better focused on connecting with the body and hearing from God if my handheld device gets alone time at home while I’m at church.

But I can’t help but wonder…

Do so many teens stay on their devices while at church because they don’t want to talk to other people? Or, are they simply that addicted to texting or gaming or whatever they’re doing? Do the adults on their devices during the sermon simply have an addiction to staying connected? Or, are they using them to distract themselves from what they know they need to hear but don’t want to hear because then they’ll have to change?

For my part…

I know it’s addiction since I sometimes just can’t seem to resist the lure. It’s avoidance too, because some days my introverted self finds my cell phone much easier to connect with than the people around me. And while I’m at it, I’ll admit that its also distraction. After all, mindlessly surfing the Internet is a great way to not deal with life and forget about mistakes.

Beyond the Church Walls

Certainly, this is not a church-specific problem since this particular challenge with technology exists abundantly outside the church walls too. And unfortunately, our obsession not only allows for easy avoidance and distraction, but it is also creating some serious social issues with far-reaching impact.

According to Psychology Today, a prolific use of technology causes…text 3

  1. Isolation – We feel socially isolated because we end up substituting or mistaking electronic relationships for physical ones.
  2. Unhealthy substitution – Reading LOL in no way lifts your spirits like hearing a person’s laughter. Likewise, electronic confrontation limits effective resolution since emotions rarely come across as accurately when written as when experienced in person. These types of substitution limit the necessary human contact relationships need to deepen and grow.
  3. Loss of etiquette – Many people say online what they would never say in person. Likewise, electronic communication allows for avoidance of difficult situations simply because ignoring and sidestepping is easier electronically than face-to-face.

These are just some of the challenges presented by over-use of mobile devices, challenges that happen when we choose electronic communication too often over face-to-face connection. And, unfortunately, this causes us to become increasingly uncomfortable experiencing and expressing true emotion but at the same time craving it to the point of desperately seeking it out even more and usually in the wrong places.

In closing, consider the following quote by Jonathan Safran Foer in “How Not to Be Alone.

“Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat… My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.”

DISCUSSION: Weigh in on how you see addiction, avoidance and distraction with regard to the use of technology. Please offer any solutions and bring in any relevant Scripture application.