Depression During the Winter Months

The Pain of Change

Depression used to be my standard operating system. It existed like an evil best friend I knew was bad for me but who also held together my destructive comfort zone. Strange how we’ll stay in poor habits just because they’re comfortable, isn’t it?

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Gradually, I divorced this evil friend and found freedom from depression. I’ve lived outside of the pit for many years now. Yet, I still find myself occasionally gazing back into its miry depths. More than other times of the year, battling depression during the winter months is especially difficult.

Why Depression Intensifies in Winter

Part of the reason for this occasional visit seems to be that depression impacts so many people. It’s simply impossible to avoid altogether.

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Another part of the reason is that many of the elements leading to depression seem to converge and intensify during the winter months. Here are just a few that make depression in the winter months intensify.

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Then there’s the uniqueness of the holidays. They take us out of our normal routines. They present us with seemingly endless sweet and savory opportunities. We essentially let our guards down, and that’s all the opening depression needs to gain a foothold once again.

Refuse to Let Depression Win

The sooner you can reestablish that guard, the less damage depression can do during the winter months. In fact, you can actually more than just get through them — you can enjoy and celebrate them.

But this is so difficult to do all on your own. I know I simply cannot remain victorious over depression without help from others. A lot of others.

On Struggle to Victory, you’ll find a great deal written about depression. As hard as I’ve tried, I cannot separate myself from it because it played such a large role in shaping the person I am today. My prayer is that my experiences can help you or someone you love find victory too.

You can click on the Depression category along the right side of any page and find many posts related to overcoming depression. Also, I’ve listed several below that you may find especially helpful with depression during the winter months.

Refuse to give up the fight. Refuse to let depression win. The best tip I can give in that effort is to simply not quit. Persevere. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. I pray that the resources I offer here can help you or someone you love continue doing just that, especially when depression during the winter months seems inescapable.

The Perfect Blend

Every coffee drinker prepares the perfect cup of coffee in a unique way. I like bold coffee sweetened with liquid Stevia. My husband likes a little light-bodied coffee with his creamer. My mom likes straight-up black coffee.

The perfectly blended cup of coffee depends on the individual. A person’s cup of coffee provides a visible example of his tastes, and maybe even his personality.

Unique Personality Blend

Every person has a unique blend of personality traits, just like every cup of coffee has its own individual flavor… if it’s good coffee, that is. Some people are more task-oriented, while others focus more on social events. Some people gain energy from being around other people, and some need alone time to charge their batteries.

God created each person as a unique part of His body, each designed for a specific plan and purpose.

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” (Ephesians 1:11-12, MSG)

The Perfect Blend of Faith and Works

One way this reality of “glorious living” bears true comes through the perfect blend of faith and works in our lives.

“Now some may argue ‘Some people have faith; Others have good deeds.’ I say, ‘I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.’” (James 2:18)

At first glance, James seems to contradict Paul in Romans 3:28.

“Man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Deeper investigation into both James’ and Paul’s writings helps us realize that the two actually complement each other. Together they tell us that while works don’t bring salvation, they sure do give evidence of a life changed by God through His saving grace.

In other words, before salvation works mean nothing. After salvation, they mean a everything.

True faith involves total commitment to God. Works do not substitute for our faith, but they do verify and bear witness to its existence. So, Paul’s and James’ teachings really work together to describe the perfect blend of faith and works in a life devoted to Christ.

Whatever their unique personality blend, every believer also must blend the reality of his faith with his actions to create a living faith that is a testimony to others. We may all live out our faith a bit differently, just like every coffee lover expresses his unique tastes, based on our unique personalities and interests, but genuine faith will be lived out in some way in every believer.

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A Glimpse of Infinite Power

Horses Grazing Religious Worship Background

Throughout history, men have placed their trust and even their very lives in the hooves of horses. The unique qualities and abilities found in horses are why they went first into battle and why thousands flock to see them race throughout the United States. Horses have a way of capturing our hearts and minds unlike any other animal.

Horses allow us to be a part of their worlds, too, even have dominion over them. They allow us to direct and teach them and to use them for our own benefit and gain.
Because of the role horses have played throughout our history, the comparison made in Psalm 20:7 holds tremendous significance for helping us better understand God’s power in our lives.

“Some boast (praise; trust; are strong through) in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.”

In King David’s day when he wrote the Psalm, many opposing countries conquered through the strength of their war chariots, and they wrought fear in whatever people they faced for this reason. The Israelites, under David’s leadership, chose instead to focus on the name of the Lord, a power infinitely beyond any other, and He came through time and time again.

Horses always give an imposing show. Even when grazing in the cool morning on dew-laden grass, their peaceful beauty speaks of a strength almost beyond measure. Yet, they’re weak in comparison to the power of the almighty God.

Instead of the comparison diminishing horses in any way, it actually works to expand my view of the strength of the Lord and make the power of the invisible God, the Creator of horses and humans alike, more visible. When I read and watch stories about tremendous horses like Seabiscuit, I am once again in awe of my Lord simply by glimpsing Him thorough one of His most magnificent creations.

This post was inspired by the book Seabiscuit by Laura Hildebrand.

Struggling for Simplicity

simplicityDo you long for simplicity? In the chaos and confusion of overwhelm and overload, do you instinctively know your life wasn’t meant to be this way?

Our bodies crave simplicity. They long for whole foods instead of processed filler. They want activity balanced with rest. When our muscles tense and stomachs ache, our bodies are telling us to satisfy the craving for simplicity.

Our minds seek simplicity too. When our thoughts whirl and our heads pound from decision overload, that’s our clue to slow down, to simplify. A clue most ignore.

Why do we ignore the signal’s our bodies and minds send us as they cry out for simplicity? Do we really believe there’s no way out, no other way to live?

Now consider the soul. As our lives burst with activity and commitment, somewhere deep inside — in the truest part of ourselves — we recognize the lack, the emptiness of it all. We realize that in the overwhelm of life, our souls are underwhelmed because we’ve neglected their care.

Pursuing Simplicity

While overwhelm and overload happen almost without effort, simplicity only comes through disciplined and deliberate choices. And, experience tells me, the motivation for making those choices only comes when my focus falls to my Creator, to His desire for my life. Nothing else works.

I’ve wavered between simplicity and overwhelm. I’ve wanted one but felt trapped in the other. Until my body and mind said, “No more,” and I finally heard my spirit’s “feed me” cry, I lived constantly worn out and depressed.

Then I pursued — and found — a simple life. You can too. How?

  1. Learn the value of small steps. Educate. Try. Assess. Educate more. Try again and again and again.
  2. Learn to rest. Develop an appreciation for quietness. Realize that life doesn’t need to constantly be filled with noise and activity.
  3. Learn to say “No.” A quality “yes” only comes by saying “no.” We just can’t do anything well without letting other things go. Lisa TerKeurst addresses this well in her book The Best Yes.
  4. Learn the value of reading. Scripture first & often. Then, lots of positive and uplifting books that feed and inspire you. Refuse to say, “I can’t.” It’s an excuse to avoid the hard work. Reading trains your mind to think like nothing else can.
  5. Learn to prioritize. Most decisions involve good, better or best, not good or bad. Find out what’s most important, and make it the most important.

The simple life still comes as a struggle for me, but I’ve tasted it enough to know not to let it go. I’m holding on the best I can, often returning to what brought me there.

Listen to the clues. Slow down. Pursue balance. Step out of the chaos. Feed your soul. Struggle for simplicity. It’s worth the effort.

DISCUSSION: How do you struggle for simplicity?

How to Not Exasperate Your Children

Do you exasperate your children?

Ephesians 6:4 gives this advice regarding parenting…

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Note: Just because this scripture singles out fathers doesn’t mean mothers are exempt. It just means that since fathers should be the spiritual heads of the house, this command is first directed toward them for setting the example.

Exasperate means…

“to irritate or provoke to a high degree; annoy extremely.”

Colossians 3:21 provides further detail on the concept by adding the component of why not exasperating your children is important.

“Fathers, do not embitter (exasperate) your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Children can become frustrated and discouraged because of their parents, and most parents know that frustrated kids are individuals who too easily head down the wrong path in life. As parents, we should deliberately choose not to frustrate our kids since there’s already enough in this world to exasperate them.

Before you think I’m advocating giving kids what they want when they want it, let’s look at how we can be parents who aid, assist, cooperate with, encourage, facilitate, help and support our kids. Let’s consider how we can avoid discouraging our children by evaluating our parenting in light of the following elements.

  1. Consistency. Children need security, and they need to know what to expect. They need to know they will be disciplined when they do wrong and that the discipline will be fair. They need to know they will be praised when they do right and that the praise will be appropriate. The more children know what to expect from their parents, the more secure and stable they will be overall.
  2. Availability. Being available for your kids doesn’t simply mean being a taxi service, cooking meals and meeting clothing needs. Availability involves truly listening (that means stopping what you are doing and making eye contact), and it means letting them express feelings and thoughts in a safe environment.
  3. Priorities. Children need to know they are important to their parents. They need to know their parents value them and consider them unique and special individuals. Sure, a parent can say this, but kids really need to see it through actions. This means scheduling time to simply hang out, play, talk, etc. with your kids. It means intentionally asking about their days, their friends and their struggles. While your kids may not be THE highest priority in your life (your relationship with your spouse and with Christ should be higher priorities), they need to be a top priority for sure.
  4. Integrity. There is always someone watching. This is especially true when you have children. children watch their parents to learn how to live life. Parents’ actions teach kids about integrity. The question all parents need to ask themselves is if they are the same at home as they are in public. If a parent is putting on a different face in public than at home, they send a confusing message about integrity. From the smallest to the biggest moments in life, you can teach your children about integrity in ways that will stick through them all their lives.
  5. Respect and Obedience. Having a zero-tolerance approach to disrespect and disobedience goes a long way in teaching children how to be successful adults. How many adults do you know who do not have a healthy respect for their bosses, coworkers or pastors? If someone struggles in this area, they likely struggle more in every area of life than is necessary. Teaching your kids respect and obedience sets them up for victory in life in a way that is dying out in today’s culture.

When parents focus on being consistent and available, when they make their kids a priority, and when they strive to teach them integrity, respect and the value of obedience to authority, they are giving them great advantages in life because frustration and discouragement will be less of an issue for them.

Not exasperating your children simply involves teaching them the character qualities that will allow them to focus on who God created them to be. They’ll learn contentment in this process as well, and they’ll one day thank you for instilling these values in them.

DISCUSSION: What advice do you have for fulfilling Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 as a parent?

Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part II

In Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I, we discussed how “busy” is the new “fine” and how stepping toward balance and away from busyness involves having actionable approaches that generate progress. In this post, we’ll explore three principles of balance that will help create the thinking necessary to leave busyness, overload and overwhelm behind. We’ll also consider a few essentials for maintaining balance for the long term.

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Principles of Balance

In order to truly establish an overall balanced life, a person’s actions and thinking must align. Actions create steps, and thinking defines the path. We’ve already discussed the steps, so let’s now take a look at the principles that help shape right thinking with regard to balance.

  1. Balance is subjective. Balance is personal and individual. It looks different for every person and is impacted by personality, temperament, physical needs and more. When it comes to balance, to compare is to despair. Get ideas for how to live balanced from others, but create your own definition of balance. You’ll never find balance trying to make it exactly like someone else’s.
  2. Balance requires a long-term perspective. While balance involves a short-term element (small steps, as discussed in Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I), it also requires a long-term approach. This approach involves looking at finding balance like success in the stock market. Not every day will be balanced, and there will even be seasons where you are out of balance. The goal is an overall balance lifestyle, one where the periodic unbalance doesn’t derail you into the abyss of overwhelm and overload again.
  3. Balance and simplicity go hand-in-hand. A balanced life looks more like riding a bike or yoga than it does plate spinning. Simplicity involves a freedom from complexity and division into parts, and a balanced life is a relatively simpler one. As with balance, simplicity is also subjective and will look quite different from one person to the next. Balance and simplicity working together get at the idea that focus determines reality. If everything is a priority, the nothing really is a priority. Simplifying helps bring the reality of balance into focus.

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Essentials of Balance

While balance exists as subjective, and the exact path to take to achieve it are unique to the person, some essentials do exist for every person hoping to obtain and maintain a balanced life. These essentials must be in the forefront of the mind of anyone looking for an authentically balanced life.

  • Balance is counter-cultural. You’ll likely feel like an outsider in your efforts to become less busy and especially if you truly manage to achieve a balanced life. To counteract this, I remind myself of how miserable I was when I was overwhelmed and overloaded, when busyness ran my life. This helps me stay true on my path to becoming excellent at doing fewer things rather than returning to a mediocre life at best.
  • Isolation is the quickest path to unbalance. We need others input because we can easily deceive ourselves. The benefits of accountability are unmeasurable. And while you’ll feel like an outsider amongst your overwhelmed and overloaded friends, you’ll discover there are those who desire a simpler and more balanced life too. Remember, you become who you most associate with on a regular basis.
  • Simplicity is trendy. Pursuing a minimalist lifestyle is cool these days. Yet doing so for the sake of the trend only leads to comparisons and a more fashionable busyness. And we all know fashion is impossible to keep up with. While a minimalist approach can be a balance life, for too many it can also be a fleeting fancy. Don’t get caught in the trap. Focus on the long-term perspective.

Start your journey of finding balance in a busy world by asking yourself two questions: What does balance mean to you? What would produce a more effective you?

Now take the approaches detailed in Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I and combine them with the principles of balance detailed above to not only find your balance but to also maintain it for the long term.

DISCUSSION: What are you going to do today to start your journey toward finding balance in a busy world?

The Best Lessons from a Track Meet

track 1Track meets provide a unique perspective on being the best. At one meet, a runner can get the best time and win a race only to find himself less than the best at the next meet even if he runs the same time as in the previous meet.

Then there’s the idea of a personal best. Regardless of time in comparison to other runners, running a personal record (PR) trumps overall place and time. Even the slowest runner at a meet relishes the idea of a personal best.

Also consider the idea that the best in one race, say a 400 meter (once around the track) may very well fail to be the best in a sprint (shorter than a 400 meter) or in a 3,200 meter (8 times around track). In other words, the best in one race usually won’t be the best in every race.

track 2We tell our son, “We’re happy when you do your best,” whatever that might be on any given day. We remind him that his best will vary from day to day too. If he gets a personal record, we need not remind him of this. But when he struggles, like all of us do, he needs reminded of how best fluctuates but always remains the goal of the day.

The best involves giving all you have to the task at hand. It doesn’t mean living for chance but combining chance with preparation. Weather can impact your best, other runners can impact your best, even the crowd may impact your best. But your preparation, good or bad and sufficient or not, exists as an element you can control, and it also significantly impacts your best.

Best also never means that better isn’t possible, first because best varies from day to day and second because the element of growth always leaves open the possibility of a new best. The key, then, lies in progress over perfection.

Strive for the best.

Be your best.

Prepare for the best.

Appreciate the best.

Push beyond the best.

Progress over perfection.

DISCUSSION: Do you always strive for your best, whatever that is on any given day? If not, what needs to change for this to happen?

Learning Humility from an Astronaut

In “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth,” Col. Chris Hadfield says that in new situations, people are generally viewed in one of three ways. Based on their attitude and actions, they may be seen as a minus one, someone who is actively harmful and creates problems. Or, they may be viewed as a zero, which means their impact is neutral. Third, they may be viewed as a plus one because they actively add value to the situation.

Hadfield believes the best approach for success in any situation involves “aiming for zero” because it’s an attainable goal and often a good way to get to a plus one.

What Hadfield is really getting at is the value of humility, and he gives examples in the book of why it’s a worthwhile approach not just in new situations but also in situations where you’re the most experienced person in the room (or spaceship). In fact, Hadfield says “aiming for zero” contributed greatly to his success.

“Two decades into my career as an astronaut, I felt as close to being a plus one as I ever had. And I knew that my best bet of getting the crew to see me that way was to keep on doing what has always worked for me: aiming to be a zero.”

Whether knowingly or not, Hadfield lived out the principle of humility extolled in Scripture.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

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Aiming for Zero

Hadfield gives examples of where he purposefully worked to make others successful instead of seeking recognition for himself. He also gives advice on how to stay humble or “aim for zero” whether you are the newest or most experienced person in space or on earth.

  1. Enter a situation without causing a ripple.
  2. Observe and learn from others.
  3. Try to learn rather than seek to impress.
  4. Be teachable. Don’t assume you know everything.
  5. Try to be ready for anything.

The value of humility comes down to realizing that every act, no matter how small, holds tremendous value when it contributes to the mission. Having a humble mindset where you “aim for zero” not only allows you to contribute to the mission more effectively, but it allows others to do so also.

Hadfield sums up his “aim for zero” approach to humility this way:

“But if you’re confident in your abilities and sense of self, it’s not nearly as important to you whether you’re steering the ship or pulling an oar. Your ego isn’t threatened because you’ve been asked to clean out a closet or unpack someone else’s socks. In fact, you might actually enjoy doing it if you believe that everything you’re doing contributes to the mission in some way.”

In space, the specific mission varies. As Christians, though we carry out our part of the mission uniquely based on our God-given talents, abilities and opportunities, the mission itself never changes.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Just as each astronaut plays a specific role as well as fulfills general duties on any given space mission, so to do Christians have general and specific roles in God’s mission on earth. As we each aim to complete them with an attitude of humility even though our performance may be a plus one, we avoid becoming a minus one and negatively impacting the mission.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts about Hadfield’s approach to “aim for zero” as a path to a successful mission?

Diligent, Peaceable & Occupied

The posts “Pursuing a Quiet Life” and “Balanced Goal Setting” give perspective on living out Paul’s directive for early Christians regarding focus and ambition.

“Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters… to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent upon anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12)

The Aramaic Bible in Plain English translation deepens our application of this advice as we consider our own forward growth.

“And that you would be diligent, peaceable and occupied with your business, working with your hands just as we commanded you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:12)

This version gives three descriptors to consider as we pursue a quiet life. (Note that in “Pursuing a Quiet Life” we looked at how “quiet” reflects an inner attitude rather than an outer physical state.) The Aramaic version of this verse also helps dial in a bit on the inner attitude that drives Paul’s directive.

First, a few definitions:

  • Diligent — constant in effort
  • Peaceable — inclined to avoid strife; not argumentative or hostile
  • Occupied — filled up; engaged mind, attention and energy

If we combine these definitions, we come up with a comprehensive view of the attitude we’re seeking when we think of a “quiet life” in the sense that Paul is encouraging it.

Make a constant effort to avoid arguing and hostility and to engage your mind, attention and energy in the work you’ve been given to do.

What does this constant effort look like in a practical way? In other words, how can we live quiet lives by being diligent, peaceable and occupied?

  1. Do your part to get along with others. You can only control and change yourself. (Romans 12:18)
  2. Focus on the work God gives YOU. When you do, you’ll have a lot less time to criticize others. You’ll also be much more productive this way. (Romans 12)
  3. Let grace carry you through your mistakes. When you make mistakes, learn from them, forgive yourself, and move forward in the grace of God. (1 Peter 1:13)
  4. Verbalize thankfulness in your victories. Realize that God does work good for those who love him, so give him the credit for working good in your life. (Romans 8:28)
  5. Pursue a quiet life in increasing measure. Refuse to let the chaos of the world infiltrate your attitude. Instead, secure your spirit in the peace that passes all understanding but that can also draw others to Christ. (Philippians 4:7)

When our energies focus in these ways, we’ll find our lives increasingly productive and effective. In addition, we’ll discover that the work we’ve been given — loving others and living to please God (1 Thessalonians 4:1-11) — happens through the living of quiet lives in our own unique ways.

DISCUSSION: What other ways can we increase our efforts to live diligent, peaceable and occupied lives?

You Are a Piece of the Puzzle

puzzleIf you enjoy putting puzzles together, the ultimate in frustration comes when you realize you only have a a few pieces left, and one is missing. What a letdown! No matter what, that puzzle will always be incomplete. Just one piece is indispensible for the complete picture.

My boys once put together a puzzle shaped like an elephant. The elephant was made out of hundreds of smaller pictures of other animals. So, not only was the puzzle itself a picture, but within that picture were other pictures. Therefore, a missing piece not only affected the puzzle as a whole, but it also the individual pictures that combined to make up the whole picture.

We all have our own puzzles that are our lives. Each of our lives also combines to create a larger picture. For the Christian, that is the body of Christ. The absence of any one piece and the picture is incomplete. The absence of any person and the whole picture is marred by the gaping hole much like a missing piece stands out in an otherwise-completed puzzle.

A body of believers (often called a church body) works the same way as a puzzle. Every individual in the body is a crucial piece for the complete picture.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

In other words, we are all integral parts of the whole, which is the body of Christ. Each part has a specific function with a different purpose. We must avoid thinking we are the most important part, but we also must not think we are unimportant either. Instead of comparing one part to another, each part must fulfill its own purpose and must also work together to create a cohesive unit that glorifies Christ.

When a piece of the puzzle is missing in the body of Christ, there is a void that cannot be filled. While that does not mean that the work of Christ won’t ultimately be accomplished, because we know it will, it does mean that it will go forth differently than if that void was filled by the piece created to go in that space. God created each person to play a role in His will with each role being unique and able to be filled by only one person. If you don’t place yourself into the pile of pieces, you can’t become a part of the puzzle and the puzzle essentially can never be completed.

Life is so much bigger than any one person, but each person plays a part in making life complete. No one has all the pieces alone; we all need each other to complete the puzzle. We are each a piece of the puzzle of God’s will within the larger picture of the church. We all need to be in the box together, ready to complete the picture.

DISCUSSION: How does this play out in your life? What does it mean for you to be a part of the body of Christ?