Treatment for Depression: Relational Risks and Remedies

When discussing treatment for depression, it’s important to begin by considering the various causes of depression. mentioned in a previous article written by this author on the topic of depression,Causes of Depression – including Relational and Spiritual Perspectives,” there are a variety of reasons why someone succumbs to depression. Often a mixture of genetics, brain chemistry, and family history play a role in the development of depression.

Furthermore, certain individuals may have a biological predisposition or vulnerability to mood issues when faced with overwhelming stressors. When ample distress is added to a pre-existing vulnerability, an individual is likely to become emotionally dysregulated with symptoms ranging from anxiety to depression.

Depression can be situational or characterological, meaning it can be caused by trauma or loss, but it can also be a kind of personality adaptation as well (think Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh).

Underlying medical conditions (such as thyroid or hormonal issues), use or abuse of prescription medication or other substances (alcohol, marijuana, etc.), a lack of adequate nutrition (eating too much sugar or processed foods) or physical activity, and any pre-existing addictions may contribute to the development of depression.

Of course, family history and environment also play a part in developing depression, as does the experience of childhood neglect and abuse. In my practice of psychology, I have discovered that a pattern of dishonesty or living outside the bounds of integrity is an often-overlooked contributor to depression.

While a biological or medical cause of depression may be helped with prescription medications for a time, it is still essential to identify and resolve the underlying behaviors and emotions which support a biologically based depression. Keep in mind that even a biologically based depression (such as post-partum depression) is always also behaviorally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually supported.

Treatment for Depression

While many practitioners readily focus on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and depend upon medication as treatment for depression, it is rarer that a therapist understands that it is our relationship with our self, others and God which must also be assessed, addressed, and re-calibrated to effectively cure a depression (and possibly protect against it in the future).

Throughout several decades of clinical practice and observation, I have noticed that most mental health issues tend to be tied to a failure to adapt in some way to something for which one is unprepared or inadequately prepared. Stressors have come along for which the person is under-resourced either internally (within themselves) or externally (via necessary support structures, friends, family, community).

Destructive defense mechanisms and misinformed or misaligned coping skills are responsible for much mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual suffering. Whereas wellness or the antidote to mental illness always involves achieving greater alignment among each aspect of our human “being.”

Wellness also involves repair and reparation in relationships with those with whom we have been unloving, insensitive, hurtful, unfair, neglectful, or abusive. Assuming appropriate responsibility in our interactions with others is generally accompanied by a greater sense of confidence and freedom, as well as more mutually satisfying relationships.

Good psychotherapy presents us with an opportunity to identify and correct aspects of misalignment within ourselves and within our relationships with God and others. This kind of relational misalignment is evidence of a lack of integrity in the individual, meaning that the person is fragmented within and incapable of clear and effective self-expression.

A lack of or repression of self-expression predictably leads to depression. Finding one’s voice and beginning to express oneself authentically is another pathway that leads away from depression and toward health and wellness.

We must understand how our everyday choices and patterns of interaction either contribute to or destroy our serenity and capacity for happiness and joy. Furthermore, each decision we make, especially under duress, is a determinant in moving us either closer toward or further away from a state of mental illness or mental misalignment.

As stated in the previously mentioned article by this author (see above), once the root cause(s) of your depression is/are understood the therapeutic remedy follows accordingly. Please be aware that the solutions offered by a practitioner tend to be tied to the medical or mental health professional’s understanding of the nature of depression. One’s professional point of view often tends to determine the type of treatment for depression prescribed.

For example, a psychiatrist is likely to prescribe medications to address and enhance neurotransmitter functioning. Of course, while this type of treatment for depression can bring some eventual relief, it also leads to a kind of subscription service that maintains one’s dependence upon a medical professional as well as the prescribed medication over the long term.

So, while in some cases, medication may be necessary, in my opinion, medication alone merely maintains a level of functioning and helps with the management of mood issues. Meanwhile, the person’s lifestyle and life choices may continue to support a dysfunctional level of inadequacy which can undermine one’s success and satisfaction in meeting the changing demands of daily life.

From another perspective, a fitness and nutrition-oriented mental health professional is likely to focus on your lifestyle habits and nutrition as a possible culprit in ongoing depression. While a psychodynamically oriented therapist will look for the source of depression in your early family life experiences.

In my practice, I work holistically, taking into consideration many possibilities of origin and then matching the focus of treatment for depression to the individual’s current level of resources, needs, and desires.

Some of the areas we will explore together include lifestyle and nutritional profile, extended family and upbringing, cultural influences, unresolved trauma, unprocessed pain, spiritual alienation, interpersonal misalignment, experiences of abuse or neglect, medications and supplements, sleep and exercise, and how well resourced you are internally and externally in terms of self and other support.

Relational Risks and Remedies

Problematic (interpersonal and intrapersonal) styles of relating contribute to the development of depression. While the word “interpersonal” refers to interactions between two or more individuals, the word “intrapersonal” describes our relationship with (and within) ourselves.

Problematic patterns of intrapersonal relating (the way we relate to ourselves generally as well as how we respond when disappointed, hurt, or rejected) tend to be overlooked and/or misunderstood in terms of their contribution to the development of depression and other mood disorders.

Let me assure you that the way you treat yourself matters even more than how you respond to others – especially because you are in a lifelong (even eternal) relationship with your inner being, your soul. Self-betrayal is a frequent and significant contributor to all kinds of mental health problems.

Being kind, compassionate, and understanding with yourself while also being principled and disciplined in matters of importance is the antidote to the deadening pain of ongoing self-criticism, self-rejection, self-betrayal, and a feeling of failure.

One of the most common intrapersonal causes of depression is a practice of saying “yes” when you authentically have an inclination or gut reaction to say “no.” Such behavior is an example of a kind of inner abandonment or self-betrayal which is never something God asks of us. Behaving this way is inauthentic and self-victimizing.

The motive for engaging this undermining pattern usually involves fear and a subsequent felt need to control, manipulate, or manage the impression of another person. A pattern of saying “yes” when you want to say “no” is a kind of dishonesty.

It is also unfair to others and makes you an unsafe person in relationships. You may want to ponder this paragraph for a bit to help this information seep into your soul as a reminder of God’s intention and purpose for us as his “fearfully and wonderfully made” children.

A second quite common intrapersonal risk involves a pattern of overriding your intuitive sense (gut reaction) when it indicates a lack of safety. This undermines one’s sense of self, sense of personal efficacy, and sense of personal dignity. It is essential when seeking to live a life of integrity to conscientiously and prayerfully determine whether something asked of you is in your best interest or whether it undermines and destroys intimacy.

This is because a foundation of trust is necessary to establish and maintain healthy intimate relationships. A pattern of ongoing self-betrayal is a recipe for distrust and eventual relational disaster. This is one of the first things I pay attention to when getting to know a new client. I ask each person, with whom in your life do you have difficulty saying “no?” and then we explore the meaning of this and how it came to be.

Another significant relational risk contributing to depression occurs because of an ongoing pattern of spending time with someone you genuinely dislike or distrust. Over-giving and a lack of relational reciprocity also lead to a relationally based depression.

Do you find it difficult to express yourself when something matters to you? Is it difficult for you to expect that your preferences, opinions, and needs will be considered a priority in your close relationships? Are you able to inform others fairly and firmly when you have hit a personal limit?

Are you comfortable establishing and maintaining a self-protective boundary or do you mistakenly believe that boundaries are things we set for other people in an attempt to govern their behavior? Difficulties in any of these areas may be fueling or feeding symptoms of depression. The antidote to depression is to develop a full range of authentic self-expression.

Please come back next week for the next article in this series in which I will be discussing the risks and remedies of a spiritually-based depression.

If you’re ready to begin treatment for depression, I invite you to contact me or one of the other practitioners in the counselor directory to schedule an appointment today.

Photos:
“Feeling sad,” courtesy of Danny G, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stay with me,” courtesy of Christiana Rivers, unsplash.com, CC0 License; Quote images designed by California Management Services, copyright 2020, all rights reserved

The Importance of Choosing Forgiveness

There comes a point in each person’s journey when forgiveness is needed. People will hurt you. You will hurt people. And you will break the heart of God, too.

Forgiveness is such a heavy word. There are feelings of pain that come up for some, feelings of release that come up for others. It is complicated and hard to understand and even harder to do.

But as Christians, people are commanded to forgive just as Christ forgave them (Ephesians 4:32). So if this is this important, then what is it? How do you forgive others? How do you ask for forgiveness? Why it is so important?

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a major theme in the Bible, if not the theme. It is a part of the whole narrative of scripture, describing the process of the fall of man in sin and God’s forgiveness of sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

God’s forgiveness is radical, even to the point of completely forgetting sin (Hebrews 8:12, 10:17; Jeremiah 31:34). Jesus talks of forgiving “seventy-seven” times, and Paul says that you “should forgive just as the Lord has forgiven you” (Matthew 18:21; Colossians 3:13).

To know God’s forgiveness, simply ask for it. He freely gives it when you ask for forgiveness. To really know it, read and study it in the word. It is beautiful and rich and undeserved. It is given freely to anyone to turns from his sin, turns to God, and asks Him to forgive him.

Those in the world of secular Psychology have also found the value of practicing forgiveness. They see it a little differently than how the Bible discusses it. This is how most seem to define it:

“Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition).

Many in the world of psychology have also focused on what forgiveness is not because it such a complicated and heavy concept.

What Forgiveness is NOT

In Anger Management for Everyone, the authors define forgiveness like this:

“A process that allows you to untangle the relationship among your thoughts, your actions, and the responses of your body. As you’ll see, forgiving people for what they did doesn’t mean forgetting what they did. It also doesn’t mean accepting it, excusing it, defending it, or being neutral about their nasty actions. It doesn’t mean becoming passive and taking no action to make things better. Rather, forgiving requires developing a better understanding of the actions of others and taking steps to improve your family life, work life, and overall happiness. Forgiveness means letting go of the anger.”

The authors then list what forgiveness is not:

  • Forgetting: Though forgetting what another has done to you is possible, it is not necessary for the forgiveness process. “Forgive and forget” is near impossible in some hurtful situations, but it is possible to not dwell on them as much in your thoughts.
  • Accepting: To forgive does not mean to passively accept or be indifferent to some injustice done to you or another. For example, a teacher sees a student cheating on a test. While the teacher does forgive the student when the student asks, she still will not accept the behavior. The student receives a failing grade.
  • Excusing: Similar to accepting, forgiveness is not saying what happened was OK as long as there was a reason for it. For example, he is only mean when he is drunk, but he has a drinking problem. He is not mean when sober. This is an excuse for his mean behavior.
  • Neutrality: This suggests that no sides are taken in a conflict. Forgiveness does not have to mean this. One can forgive and still “choose a side.” For example, someone drinks and drives and crashes into your daughter’s car. You can choose to forgive the driver, but you remain loyal to your daughter in the legal battle that follows.
  • Justifying:Forgiving does not mean acting as if nothing wrong happened, or as if all is right. Though Christ’s forgiveness does this for those who believe in Him, it does not seem to look like this in relationships. For example, a friend says something unkind that attacks your character and does not apologize or think he is wrong. You are hurt, choose to go through a process of forgiveness, but you still share with him that it is not OK for him to treat you that way.
  • A One-time Thing:Forgiveness is a long process. It is not usually a one-time decision, but a long road of decisions to daily forgive. It occurs over time. This is possibly what Jesus meant when He said to forgive seventy-seven times. He knew it was a process of choosing to forgive over and over again.
  • Seeking justice and compensation: At times, people think they will only feel better if justice is served or they get some sort of compensation for the wrong done to them. Forgiveness is an act of understanding, not demanding something in return. In fact, many times forgiveness is one-sided, meaning that they receive nothing in return, except freedom from the burden of their own anger.
  • Condemning: There is no condemnation with true forgiveness. There is no attack on the person or their character.

Why should someone choose to forgive?

“By minimizing your anger, resentment, bitterness, and desire for revenge, you become stronger and more able to live with greater joy. Forgiveness involves letting go of negative attitudes and anger and adopting a perspective of understanding, compassion, and goodwill toward the person who triggered your anger.” (from Anger Management for Everyone)

When you choose forgiveness, you choose to release the hold that bitterness has on you. Unforgiveness does not hurt the other person as much as it hurts you. It plants anger in you that grows and simmers into resentment and mistrust of others. It is often what keeps you from entering into new meaningful relationships in the present and future.

More than the relational and psychological benefits, forgiveness is an act of obedience to God. It is not easy to do, and it requires full dependence on God to be able to do it in a way that honors Him. Though it may not be humanly possible to forgive each other as radically as Christ forgives, His model is a great place to start. However, some have worked to demonstrate what this process of forgiveness could look like.

How do you forgive someone? (from Anger Management for Everyone)

Step 1: Uncover anger

The process of forgiveness really begins when you can acknowledge the wrong done to you and the effect it had on you. What happened that hurt you or triggered your anger? How did you feel about it? How did you react? When anger subsides from a situation that led to anger, what feelings are below the surface?

Step 2: Decide to forgive

Continuing to focus on the triggering event and unhelpful thoughts associated with it will only lead to more anger and bitterness. Forgiveness is a choice to let go of those feelings and thoughts. Ask yourself, “What is my anger toward this person doing to me?”

Step 3:Know what forgiveness is/not (see above)

Step 4:Work to understand why others behave badly

It is important to find some compassion and understanding for the one who harmed you. This does not mean you are justifying their actions or release them from their responsibilities. It just simply means that you attempt to understand their actions.

Why did they do what they did? No matter the situation, human beings are imperfect and inevitably hurt and disappoint one another. There always will be more to the story, but that is one thing to remember.

Step 5: Give

Offer forgiveness to them, even if (when) they do not deserve it. It could be as simple as stating, “I am choosing to forgive you.” This is an act of grace and mercy toward another. It demonstrates to them that you are letting it go, and it gives them a picture of the way Christ forgives them, too.

Forgiveness is challenging, but it is possible. When you choose this road less traveled, you will experience freedom from the burden of bitterness, and Christ promises that you will be forgiven, too.

Resources:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition

Bible Verses from the English Standard Version

Tafrate, Raymond C., Ph.D. and Kassinove, Howard, Ph.D. Anger Management for Everyone: Seven Proven Ways to Control Anger and Live a Happier Life. 2009.

Photos:
“Hands and Flower”, Courtesy of Lina Trochez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Gus Moretta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Felix Koutchinski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Broken Heart”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

How Could the Enneagram Personality Test Relate to Christian Counseling?

Words can be a funny thing. Over time, their meaning can change and new words come into our vernacular. One word you might be hearing more often is “Enneagram.” For those who don’t know what it is, it might sound like a diagram. Others think it’s a medical tool, like a sonogram. Often people hear it and think it’s something scientific that doesn’t apply to them.

Today let’s unravel what it is and why it’s useful for everyone. This helpful personality tool is being used by counselors, spiritual directors, pastors, small group leaders, and everyday people. It has even been connected to the Seven Deadly Sins to help us understand our sin nature.

What is the Enneagram Personality Test?

“The Enneagram opens you to an extraordinary view of the truth about you. It can help you recognize your unique melody as well as where you are off-key internally and relationally.” – Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram, by Adele Doug Calhoun and Clare Scott Loughrige

At its most basic, it is a tool for understanding personality. As we expand from there we see it’s a valuable resource for spiritual development. It teaches us ways we’re prone to struggle, our weaknesses and strengths, and ways to find harmony.

Nine Enneagram personality types are the main focus. Though there are sub-types and wings as well, most people are concerned with their main type. Each type corresponds to a number. These types influence how we understand and interact with the world, others, God, and ourselves.

The name comes from the Greek word enneawhich means nine andgram meaning figure. Each of the nine types is mapped out into a geometric design. On this chart, we see how the other numbers interact with and influence one another. It can also show ways we lean to another number during periods of stress, trauma, or transition.

The exact origins of the Enneagram personality test are a mystery. It’s an ancient method for understanding human personality. This tool has been used by Christians and other religions around the world for centuries.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that tool came to the United States. American-trained psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo brought it here. He helped merge the nine types and modern psychological research. After bringing it to the US, one of Naranjo’s first students was a priest named Father Robert Ochs. He began teaching it as a tool at Loyola seminary. It has continued to spread and is now known by millions.

Today many of Ochs’ original students are teachers themselves. Often those who teach and offer Enneagram coaching share their lineage to Ochs. This is similar to how we share our family lineage. Coaches are available through counseling offices, churches, private practice, online, and more. You’ll find books, classes, and even a few apps available to help guide you on your journey, all thanks to one man bringing it to the US.

Using the Enneagram in everyday life

It can be far too easy to take a personality test and never think about it again. We take the test everyone on Facebook is taking, think “hm, that’s interesting,” post our results, and never think about it again. Even with a tool this transformative, this still happens. There is an urge to find out our type without exploring it so we feel like we fit in is for all of us.

Diving into our type feels vulnerable. It feels like opening ourselves up to parts we may not want to know about or face. Yet diving in has the chance to transform your life in the best of ways.

Knowing what our type looks like as healthy and unhealthy gives us tools to approach challenges. Your study will point back to yourself, as well as to how you relate to others and to God.

Benefits of the Enneagram

These are some of the ways the Enneagram has benefited people in their everyday lives:

  • Couples have found it helpful to understand their partner’s behaviors, beliefs, core longings, and struggles.
  • In the workplace, bosses and managers are using it to improve productivity, employee satisfaction, and build a strong team.
  • Pastors and priests can use it to better understand themselves and their parishioners.
  • Parents have found it to be a wonderful way to relate to their adult children.
  • Our type can also give us unique insight as to how we relate with God, the areas where we sin, and spiritual disciplines that will benefit us.
  • In small groups knowing one another’s type can help group members interact with each other with more grace and kindness.

This is transformative and has changed countless lives worldwide. According to author Beth McCord “…The Gospel itself is the transformation. The Enneagram simply illuminates our heart’s intent. The Enneagram can show us what’s wrong; only Christ can fix it.” (Becoming Us: Using the Enneagram to Create a Thriving Gospel Centered Marriage)

Some people are private about their type. Perhaps they feel ashamed of their type or feel revealing their type will give away information they’re not ready to share. Just as we never push someone to tell us personal information, we never want to push someone to tell us their type.

Finding your Enneagram type

People are usually eager to find their types. For some, this is a quick process and they’re able to find their type within a matter of days or even hours. In other cases, it can take weeks, months, or even years.

It seems to be especially difficult to find one’s type if someone has been through trauma, chronic stress, or other challenging situations recently. In those situations, we often lean towards a different type. It’s not at all uncommon for someone to type themselves then study more or come out a chaotic life situation to realize they were actually a different type.

The best way to begin finding your type is to read brief descriptions. Next, find additional resources and do more in-depth reading about that type and its wings. Sometimes people will choose to do a thorough study of each type over a long period of time. Then they type themselves after coming to an understanding of all the types.

There are a few apps and online quizzes that offer the ability to type yourself as well. As with anything online, some are better than others. Take them with a grain of salt as only a good way to get initial ideas. Then dive into deeper research of that type to see if it sounds like you.

You’ll find courses and books galore. There are dozens of podcasts, YouTube videos, and sermons available to help out. The Christian band Sleeping At Lasteven wrote a song based on each type. People have found them to be quite helpful when trying to discern their type.

It can be tempting to type others but don’t try. We want to relate to them better, unravel their quirks, or justify their actions. A person’s type is personal. In typing ourselves, we face aspects we may not have ever faced before. Typing oneself involves exploring things our closest friends and family may not even be aware of. It’s not possible to know what others think, feel, or experience so it’s not possible to type anyone else.

Don’t worry if this all feels overwhelming to you – it’s almost like learning a new language. Exploring with a trusted guide such as a spiritual director, pastor, priest, or counselor can be helpful. They can help you to find your type and help work through feelings that might arise. Then you can work together to figure out how to engage with God and how you understand God in light of your type. Christians are finding this to be one of the most helpful resources in understanding their own sin nature and building a strong walk with God.

The Enneagram Personality Test is also a powerful tool in the context of a counseling relationship. Working with the psychological background in mind has proven to be quite helpful. Let your counselor know if this is a tool you’re interested in exploring together.

Photos:
“Writing”, Courtesy of Green Chameleon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Discovery”, Courtesy of Noble Mitchell, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Ethereal Lane”, Courtesy of Casey Horner, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Studying”, Courtesy of Joel Muniz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Scriptures on Relationships: What Does the Bible Say about Friendship?

Our lives are made up of a web of relationships – with colleagues at work, at home with parents, siblings and children, with our neighbors, and so much more. One important type of relationship, which can take different shapes and develop around a variety of interests, is friendship.

Friendships range from the casual acquaintance or former classmate you bump into or “friend” on social media, to the kinds of friendships where you would entrust your life and the lives of your loved ones into their hands.

Some friends are the people we rely on – we cry, laugh, sing, pray, and do life with – and they can do the same with us. To find and have a good friend is something priceless.

Scriptures on Relationships

What does the Bible say about friendship, and what timeless wisdom can we glean from the Scriptures on relationships to navigate this important part of our lives?

We are built for relationships

One of the realities about us as people is that we generally gravitate toward other people and toward relationships with them. Even if we struggle to trust people or connect with them, we have something of a yearning to meaningfully relate to other people. This is understandable when you realize that human beings were built for relationships.

Do you know why you really, really enjoy your friends and their company? And why we crave connection with other people? Genesis 1:27 says that human beings were made “in the image of God.” This means there is something about us which reflects who God is.

We will get into this more a little later, but one of the things about God is that God is relational by nature. God made us to be in relationship with one another – despite being surrounded by immense beauty and a plethora of animals, God thought that human solitude was ‘not good’ (Genesis 2:18).

We need the company and connection with other human beings. That’s why one of the worst punishments which can be inflicted upon a person is to place them in solitary confinement.

While there may be many complications involved, we are fundamentally built for relationships and connection with other people. The capacity and desire for meaningful relationships is an integral part of who we are as beings made in God’s image.

Friendships are enriching

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” says the ancient wisdom from the book of Proverbs (27:17). When we are friends with someone, we let them into our space, let them get to know us, and allow them to have influence in our lives.

When a friend speaks into or over your life, because they are someone you have grown to trust, you take what they say seriously. And so, our friends have a role in developing and molding our character.

If they tell us something true about ourselves, even though it might be hurtful, “wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:6). Deep friendships enrich us because good friends challenge us to be better versions of ourselves. In the same way that iron sharpens iron, good friends help to build us up even as we do the same for them.

The Bible also talks about friendships that are deeper than even the bonds of blood. Proverbs 18:24 speaks about “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” One example of this in the pages of Scripture is the relationship between David and Jonathan.

These two men pledged friendship to one another, so much so that when Jonathan’s father, King Saul, was hunting down and wanting to kill David out of jealousy, Jonathan went out of his way to warn his friend to keep him safe (1 Samuel 20). Some friends will go way out on a limb for us, much more than even our own siblings or parents. Such friends are precious.

This is the positive side of friendship, but there is another angle the Bible also talks about.

Certain friendships can derail us

The dark side of friendships is that they can derail us, depending on the person. Because our friendships can shape us in profound ways, we need to be careful who we befriend and invite into our inmost spaces.

As kids, many of us had at least one friend that our parents warned us about that they didn’t want us to play with. At times these parental bans were reasonable, because that kid didn’t care about school and her influence was affecting your grades.

At other times, parents had their own hang-ups and they simply didn’t want their kids to hang with a kid from a different background, and this was often not reasonable. But when God tells us to be careful who we associate with and who we let into our friendship spaces, it is being done from a place of wisdom and love.

God knows us through and through – our strengths, weaknesses, and so much more. God also loves us deeply and desires for us to flourish. The Bible is full of verses that warn us that we can become ensnared in the bad behavior of our friends, such as being hot-tempered (Proverbs 22:24), plotting violence (Proverbs 24:1) or overindulging in alcohol and food (Proverbs 23:20-21).

Whoever we invite into our inmost spaces to become our friends, to have influence in our thinking and behavior, they will have a profound impact on the development of our character. As Paul puts it, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

This does not mean that we are to be unloving, judgmental, hostile, or unhospitable to people who display some of these behaviors. No; Jesus was loving towards us and hung out with the “lowest of the low.” We are to always be courteous, loving, and kind, regardless the individual.

As Paul put it elsewhere, if we refused to associate with everyone who acted in this and other ungodly ways, we would have to leave the world altogether (1 Corinthians 5:10). Friendship, however, is deeper than mere association. To exercise wisdom in choosing our friends, the question is whether we are letting people into a position where they can influence and counsel us toward what is ungodly, or toward what will build up our character and theirs.

A true friend

There is one friendship we have not spoken about yet. Earlier, we touched on how as people we are hardwired for relationships, and that’s because we reflect who God is. Is it any wonder, then, that one of the friendships the Bible talks about is between God and people?

You may know of the song that goes, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear . . . .” This song is talking about something profound – that God desires relationship with people.

Jesus says that His disciples are His friends, and not just simply followers or servants. Do you recall that verse about a friend who sticks closer than a brother? Jesus – who is the same yesterday, today, and forever – exemplified that.

In John 15:13, Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus said this on the evening before He laid down His life for the sake of His friends, and the world. He demonstrated that great love for us.

What’s remarkable about all this is what another Bible writer says: “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:6-8). It’s not for nothing that Jesus was called the “friend of sinners.”

Conclusion

As people, we are hardwired for relationship. We crave connection with other people, and despite some of the difficulties we may have in forming deep and long-lasting friendships, our hearts always yearn to find meaningful relationships.

By applying wisdom in this area of our lives, we can pursue healthy friendships that nourish us and our friends, helping us to grow more into the people we can become as bearers of God’s image.

Photos:
“Friends”, Courtesy of Omar Lopez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friends”, Courtesy of Trung Thanh, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Laughing with Friends”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friendship,” Courtesy of rawpixel, unsplash.com, CC0 License

Scripture for Anxiety Relief: Finding Hope in God’s Word

A racing heart, gripping fear or a persistent worry cycle that keeps you up at night are just some of anxiety’s many symptoms. The Collins Dictionary defines anxiety as a feeling of nervousness or worry. Health websites explain that anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress: the approach of a predatory animal would have set off an alarm in early man’s body – a rush of adrenaline triggering a “fight-or-flight” response.

While running from large animals and imminent danger is a less pressing concern today, our anxieties now generally revolve around work, money, family life, health, and other issues that consume our thought life.

While in some instances the adrenaline rush is helpful (that nervous feeling before doing a speech can make you try harder and lead to enhanced performance), in most cases anxious thoughts are unpleasant.

Scripture for Anxiety Relief

If we look at what God has to say about anxiety in the Bible, it is something that we need to submit to Him. Here are some helpful verses from the Bible about not worrying, for anxiety, and God’s Word can help calm your fears.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6

There are times in life when this command may feel impossible and not calming at all. God says we must stop feeling this way but how do we do that? We could easily end up feeling anxious about our anxiety, striving to be content but still feeling defeated. Reading the verse carefully, we see that the verse gives a better alternative. Instead of feeding fear, we should tell God what we think we need.

Praying to Him, with a thankful heart that acknowledges that He is a Father who cares and gives good things, is our strategy to combat anxiety. The verse that follows in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” is a promised result that comes after identifying our desires and handing them over to God.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7

This word “cast” occurs one other time in the New Testament, in Luke 19:35, in exactly the same form. Referring to the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem on on Palm Sunday, the verse says, “They brought it to Jesus, and casting their garments on the colt, they set Jesus on it.”

So the meaning is simple; if you cast the garment on the donkey, you no longer carry it anymore, the animal does. God is able and willing to carry your anxieties in the same way a donkey works for you and lifts your load. He wants to be a burden bearer because it demonstrates his power, as Isaiah 64:4b says, “no eye has seen any God beside you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

The reason why you are able to cast your cares on the Lord is that he cares for you, and this is where the rubber meets the road. Do you believe this promise? Then trust him. He cares about the thing that is worrying you and wants you to trust him for that.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?

So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:25-34

Of all the Bible verses about not worrying, this passage from Matthew is probably read most often. It speaks so directly to the physical needs that cause us concern. In John Piper’s post, “Do not be anxious about your life,” he mentions eight reasons why Jesus says his disciples should not be anxious from this passage.

The first is that we ought not to be anxious about food and clothing because they cannot provide the great things of life – the enjoyment of God, the pursuit of his gracious favour, the hope of eternity in his presence. The second is that the birds have taught us that God can be counted on to work for us tomorrow just as much as today.

Thirdly, anxiety is useless; fourthly, God delights in adorning us; the fifth reason comes down to unbelievers being anxious about worldly things so we need to set ourselves our apart in this way; the sixth is that when we are anxious it shows that we don’t think our Father in heaven knows our needs, the seventh that it is foolish to carry burdens that God has promised to carry for us, and lastly, that God has appointed to each day its portion of pleasure and trouble, so we need to believe that God will be God tomorrow.

There are many more Bible verses about anxiety that we can reflect on to help calm fears, as we meditate on God’s character and what he has done for us in Christ. Here are a few more to cling to:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand. – Isaiah 41:10

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. – Psalm 94:19

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. – Psalm 34:4

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13

If you struggle with anxiety know that the Bible offers hope. The verses above, along with many others throughout the Scriptures are good food for meditation and memorization. When anxiety strikes, bring these passages to mind and rest in the calming assurance that God is in control.

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7 Bible Verses about Death: Finding Hope in God’s Word

The Bible teaches us that ever since Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, this world has been fundamentally dysfunctional. Sin and death and various kinds of pain and loss are grim realities that remind us that things are not the way they are supposed to be.

Friends, family members, or beloved pets die; jobs are lost; health and independence decline, homes are lost to fire or flood – grief is an unwelcome but inevitable part of life.

Though the picture may seem dark, God has not left us without instruction and comfort. In fact, there are many Bible verses about grief that can bring comfort to the grieving Christian.

7 Bible Verses about Death and Grief

If you are going through the grieving process, meditate on the following Scriptures on grief and let God’s Word give you comfort.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.Psalm 31:9

In this verse, David is experiencing deep grief (we are not told over what) that is intense enough to have physical effects on his body. Rather than wallowing in his misery, however, David pours out his heart to God, pleading for His grace.

The first step when you are grieving is to take your grief directly to God. Though God already knows what you are going through (you are not giving Him any new information), it is His will that His children come to Him in prayer with their concerns and requests.

Much as a father might see his young child struggling to complete a task and yet wait until his child asks him for help, God often waits for us to ask Him for help before He gives it. However, unlike a human father who might become irritated or might not hear his child, God always hears His children and delights to answer their prayers.

A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.Proverbs 15:13

Here we see that happiness in the heart generally produces a happy countenance, but by contrast, grief in the heart can be soul-crushing. This teaches us the truth that a person’s outward behavior is profoundly affected by the state of their heart. Happy heart = happy face. Sad heart = sad face.

We see this reflected both in ourselves and in our daily interactions with others. It is often easy to tell a person’s state by the expression on their face. Proverbs are general observations, however, meaning that this is not a hard-and-fast rule. We will see a contrasting thought in the verse we look at next.

Even in laughter, the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.Proverbs 14:13

Sometimes the outward appearance can be the exact opposite of what is happening in the heart. Though a person may laugh and smile on the outside, it may be just a mask for genuine pain and grief.

Solomon (the wisest man – other than Jesus – who ever lived) implies that this ironic sort of occurrence is normal. Sometimes, in order to cope, or because a person doesn’t want to spill their guts to someone, they need to put on a mask of normalcy that hides their inner pain.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.Psalm 147:3

Suffering from grief can be overwhelming. We can feel as if we will never recover – never move past it. The psalmist, however, teaches us that though we may be in the midst of deep and crushing grief, God has compassion on those who are brokenhearted and heals their emotional wounds.

This is not to say that God makes everything better and that the source of the grief goes away. Rather, as Saint Augustine once said, “Oh Lord . . . our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

God heals broken hearts by giving Himself to His brokenhearted people. We find healing and rest for our souls when we find our comfort and satisfaction in Him.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.Psalm 23:4

David, the “sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1) was no stranger to grief. Many of his Psalms deal with the subject in depth. In Psalm 23, possibly the most well-known of all of the Psalms, David describes the rest and peace that God provides.

Even though David is facing death (whether his own or that of someone else is not specified), he finds his comfort in God’s discipline (God’s “rod”) and guidance (God’s “staff”). In other words, God is taking care of David through daily correction, instruction, and wisdom.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.Matthew 5:4

Next, we come to a verse about grief in the Bible that has caused a lot of confusion over the centuries. Contrary to much popular exposition, the phrase “those who mourn” in this verse refers to those who mourn over their sin. These people will be comforted because their sins will be forgiven.

This makes sense when we think about the nature of “blessedness” and mourning. “Blessedness” means a deep-seated joy, which would appear (at first glance) to be contrary to mourning. However, if one is mourning over their sin, then they can have this kind of joy, knowing that God has forgiven them.

Though this verse does not directly address grief and loss, there is a secondary sort of application to those of God’s children who mourn over traumatic events. They will be comforted both in this life and in the life to come as they come to a deeper knowledge of God and grow in likeness to Christ. Their comfort will derive from the fact that their sins are forgiven and that any grief and pain that they suffer in this life is temporary.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.2 Corinthians 1:3-4

The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the people of the church at Corinth who were apparently suffering from affliction of some kind. Paul tells them that God is the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort,” meaning that He is characterized by compassion and is the source of any comfort that they experience.

Next, Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that God brings comfort to them in all of their afflictions. This is a precious promise! God does not leave His children to flounder aimlessly and wallow in their grief. He ultimately brings comfort to them by giving them Himself!

However, God does not merely comfort His people so that they will merely live happier, more joyful lives. He comforts them so that they can bring the same comfort to others who are going through affliction and grief. In other words, comfort in our times of trouble is never an end in itself. It is to overflow from our hearts as we reach out to others who are suffering.

Loss can strike God’s people unexpectedly, so the time to get the proper perspective on grief is before it hits. Figuring out what one believes about God, His sovereignty, and His comfort while in the midst of grieving is dangerous. If a person’s heart is not firmly grounded on the precious promises of God, times of grief can completely destabilize and overthrow their faith.

This is not to suggest that the grieving process will be easy, however. God can and will teach His people many things as they grieve, all of which are designed to make them more and more like Christ.

If you are struggling with grief, seek out a trusted friend or your pastor for wise counsel. If these are not available, however, a Christian counselor can come alongside you and help you work through the grieving process. Don’t wait – get help today!

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Encouraging Bible Verses for Seasons of Mourning and Grief

Loss is something that most of us will face in some form or another at some point in our lives. Whether it is the termination of employment, reduction in mobility or quality of life, or the death of a loved one, whether expected or unexpected, loss can be devastating.

The effects are long-lasting and life-changing. If not processed properly, the grief that one experiences can bring on a host of other mental health conditions, including (but not limited to) depression, anxiety, anger issues, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts and behavior.

In such times, it is wise to turn to God’s Word for help. Reading and meditating on encouraging Bible verses about loss can help you fight off depression and find comfort from the God of all comfort who alone is able to give us peace.

Encouraging Bible Verses for Mourning and Grief

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.Psalm 147:3

Though it can seem as if God is distant or uncaring when we have experienced loss, in this Scripture for loss we read that God is compassionate. He cares for those who are brokenhearted, tenderly bringing healing to their wounded hearts.

This does not mean that everything will suddenly be better, but when you have suffered loss and are in the middle of the grieving process, let the psalmist direct you to reflect on God’s loving character and look to Him in faith.

…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

In times of loss, it is common to experience fear. What we had depended on to be there for us (whether a person, a position, or something else we deemed important) is now gone and in its place has come fear – fear that nothing is permanent or even stable.

In such periods of emotional weakness, it can seem as if God is absent. As Isaiah teaches us, however, that this is far from the case. God is always with us and though we may not always realize or recognize it, we are constantly being strengthened and upheld by him.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. – Revelation 21:4

In this verse, we have the precious promise of the world to come. The new order of things will not include sadness, tears, or pain because this world of sorrow, misery, and sin will be swept away. Whatever pain or loss the Christian may experience in this life will be wiped away by the sheer fact of God’s presence.

Not only that, but whatever caused the loss, even death itself, will no longer exist because the old order of things will be gone. Though we still have to live in this world, we can rejoice in the glorious truth that all will be made right in the next.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:26

When we have suffered a loss, it can feel like our heart has been shattered and the effects on our body can be profound. Just getting up in the morning and moving through our day can seem like insurmountable tasks.

In these sorts of situations, it is necessary to orient ourselves on God, our ultimate reference point. Everything must be understood as it relates to Him. When feeling beaten and broken, we look to God for strength and for the eternal sustaining grace that He promises to His children.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18

Not only do we have the promise that God will hear us when we cry to Him for help, we read that God comes alongside those who are downcast and depressed saves them. He does this by giving them Himself. His grace is the answer to our pain.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28

Admittedly, this verse has been misunderstood and misapplied by many in our time. Though often taken to mean that “everything works out for the best for everyone,” this verse is actually a promise made only to God’s children – those who are “called” according to God’s eternal purpose.

For the Christian, then, all things are done for his good. Though loss is undoubtedly painful and unpleasant, the Christian can move through the grief that accompanies that loss with the knowledge that God has permitted it for his or her good.

This is not to say that it is easy. The sin that we are born with (and which Satan loves to agitate) will attempt to make us look accusingly at God and draw our hearts away from Him. It will try to get us to focus on the loss instead of on the God who made us.

But regardless of how painful the loss may be, the Apostle Paul promises that everything that happens to us is for our good. Loss is designed to detach us from the love of this world so that we become more focused on the next. It also causes us to put our trust more firmly in God, who wants the ultimate good for His children.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. – John 14:27

Let’s face it, the world makes numerous promises of peace. It promises peace if you eat certain foods, behave certain ways, know certain people, etc. In other words, it promises peace if you become like the world.

On the other hand, Jesus promises a peace that is unlike that which the world gives. His peace is comprehensive and lasting and it is not based on something you do. His peace is a peace with God that has both objective and subjective elements.

Objectively, He gives peace with God that indicates a cessation of hostilities. In other words, He gives salvation. Subjectively, Jesus gives a peace that (while based on objective peace) means that the believer receives all of the benefits of God’s love and care for them.

As mentioned in Romans 8:28, this includes the knowledge that everything that happens to the believer in this life is meant for their good. But it also means that when the believer’s heart is rightly oriented toward God, their fears eventually subside and their inner turmoil is ultimately quieted.

Though practiced extensively in the past, the art of Christian meditation has fallen on hard times. It has largely been replaced by Eastern forms of meditation that encourage one to empty the mind.

Meditation that is specifically Christian, however, involves focusing the mind on some passage of Scripture or biblical teaching for an extended period of time, while free from distractions. Meditating on Bible verses for comfort in a time of loss can help you orient your thinking toward the God who can fill the empty space in your heart.

If you have suffered loss and are in the midst of grief, look for a trusted friend or pastor to help you carry the burden. If this is not possible, seek out a Christian counselor who can come alongside you and guide you through the grieving process and help you deal with the loss in a godly way.

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9 Principles from the Bible to Enhance Your Married Life

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the institution of marriage has fallen on hard times. The divorce rate has soared even among couples who would label themselves as “Christian” and even where divorce has not actually taken place, many marriages are unhappy, unhealthy, and unfulfilling.

A quick search through a local bookstore or online will turn up thousands of books on the subject of married life. Even after allowing for what could be termed the “celebrity factor” well-known people writing books on a topic because it’s fashionable one is still left with an overwhelming list of books and the unmistakable sense that many peoples’ marriages are in trouble.

God, the inventor of love and marriage, has much to say about love and marriage in the Bible. It has rightly been said that married life can be either a Heaven or a Hell on earth. Which one it is will depend on how well a couple is able to adopt God’s view of marriage and to put His principles into practice in their relationship.

What Does the Bible Say about Marriage?

Though there are many Bible verses for married couples, here are seven Bible verses about love and marriage to get you started.

Marriage was invented by God

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.- Genesis 2:22

One of the first things that we notice about marriage is that it was invented by God. This may seem basic but it is such a profound truth that it has affected the history of mankind ever since creation.

It was God who created the first woman and God who brought her to the man. Marriage was God’s idea.

Marriage is a good thing

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord. – Proverbs 18:22

In this verse, Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, tells us that finding a spouse is a good thing. This is a natural conclusion to be drawn when we understand that God invented marriage and that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

Furthermore, Solomon tells us that one who finds a spouse “obtains favor from the Lord,” meaning that our spouse is a gift given to us by God Himself! Where two partners are striving to live lives pleasing to God, these things are true of marriage.

The bad news, of course, is that people and their relationships are not what they should be and couples often do not seek to live their lives according to God’s Word. However, the fault for this lies squarely at the feet of mankind and the corrupting power of its sin, not in the institution of marriage.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. – Proverbs 19:11

How often in your married life has your spouse done something to irritate you? Probably daily. How did you react? Did you let your anger loose and snap at them?

Again, Solomon tells us that being “slow to anger” displays good sense and this is nowhere more true than in married life. We shouldn’t let little things irritate us and when they do irritate us, it is to our glory to overlook them. How much more peaceful would our homes be if we were to put this principle into practice?

God hates infidelity

…the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant . . . guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. – Malachi 2:14-15

In this passage, we see God’s view of infidelity in marriage. Some translations actually prefer the word “treacherous” in place of “faithless” which rightly gives it a much more sinister and menacing tone.

We have developed an amazing range of words to soften this particular sin. We call it “having an affair,” “cheating,” “a fling,” “playing around,” etc. anything to avoid the force of the word adultery. God calls it “faithlessness” and points it out as a sin.

Because adultery strikes at the heart of the covenant relationship that was made before God that lies at the center of marriage, there is never any excuse or justification for it under any circumstances. It is always wrong, always a sin, no matter what. Period. End of story.

God hates divorce

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. – Matthew 5:31-32

In our time, divorce is available to anyone for any and every or even no reason and the reasons society invents are endless. “We just don’t love each other anymore,” “He says mean things to me,” “Our sex life has grown stale,” “All we do is argue all the time,” “I don’t feel fulfilled,” “It was time for a change,” or “We’re incompatible,” are just a few of the excuses that people give for seeking a divorce.

In this passage, however, Jesus narrows down the legitimate reasons for divorce to just one namely, infidelity. In 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul adds one other legitimate reason abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. Any reasons other than these two are not biblical and are therefore sinful.

These are hard words to hear in a culture dominated by easy, no-fault divorce. But Jesus didn’t come to give us words that we want to hear He came to give us words that we need to hear. Other than for the exceptions mentioned above, God intends for marital issues to be worked through, not divorced over.

God loves forgiveness

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

Every one of us are sinners and we sin against our spouse and against God every day. Though the primary reference is to the church, this passage has much broader applications for all of our relationships. The Apostle Paul teaches us that we are to be characterized by forgiveness in our relationships.

We are to not merely forgive in a grudging way (which is not really forgiveness at all), but to be “tenderhearted.” This means that our forgiveness is to be at hand, ready for when it is needed.

Why is our forgiveness of others so important? The rest of the verse tells us it is because we have been forgiven by God. If you are a follower of Christ, then you have no reason in the world not to forgive and every reason to forgive. After all, when Christ has forgiven you such a huge load of sin, how can you not forgive your spouse’s sins against you?

As Ruth Bell Graham has said, “A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”

Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. – Ephesians 5:25

In this verse, we read that husbands are to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the church. This is a tall order. Christ loved the church by sacrificially giving Himself to die for her. While, admittedly, most husbands will not be called on to die for their wives, they are nevertheless called to live sacrificially for her good.

In Ephesians 5:27, Paul reveals that marriage is a picture of Christ and His church. This makes the command for husbands to love their wives even more urgent. Imagine how many fewer divorces and how much greater marital harmony there would be if more husbands sacrificially loved their wives this way!

Love and respect

However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Ephesians 5:33

Here we read that there is to be a mutual love-respect relationship between husbands and wives. The husband is commanded to love his wife “as himself” and the wife is to make sure to respect her husband.

It might be tempting to conclude that the husband somehow needs to learn to love himself before he can love his wife but that is absolutely not Paul’s point. On the contrary, the implication is that the husband already does love himself in that he does good to himself by nourishing and caring for himself. In the same way, he is to love his wife by nourishing her (physically, emotionally, intellectually, etc.) and caring for her.

Wives, on the other hand, are to respect their husbands. One of a husband’s greatest needs (relationally speaking) is to know that his wife respects him. It may be many wives’ greatest struggle to respect the man she married. She may love him, but respecting him may be hard.

None of this is to say that husbands don’t have to respect their wives, nor wives love their husbands. Rather, Paul tells husbands and wives what they most need to hear.

Don’t fight

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. – Philippians 2:14-15

It may be against the common wisdom to say that married couples should avoid arguing and fighting, but the common wisdom is not always wise. In this passage, Paul tells us to do all things “without grumbling and without disputing.”

This is not merely to retain marital harmony, though that certainly is in view. We are to maintain peaceful relationships because the society around us is watching. Paul tells us that we are to appear as “lights in the world” that show up in contrast to the “crooked and twisted generation” around us.

This is, of course, an ideal. Very few married couples are able to go through life without any arguing or fighting. However, even when they do, it is to be overcome and handled in a way that is pleasing to God.

Christian Marriage Counseling in Newport Beach

Does all of this strike you as idealistic and impossible to put into practice? That’s not surprising, because it is. As an unbeliever, you won’t have the power of the Holy Spirit to help you overcome your native sin and selfishness and so you will struggle to even accept that these things are necessary for your marriage.

Even if you are a believer who has the power of the indwelling Spirit of God to help, you will still struggle with the sin that remains in you even after you became a Christian. The sinful self always struggles to dominate the life of the Christian even though it is “on its way out,” so to speak.

Prayer, a necessary element of the Christian life, is a vital component to any marriage. Through prayer, we communicate our trials, struggles, and temptations to God, the only one who can truly help.

If you struggle to put these things into practice in your marriage, and you do not have a pastor available to help, try seeking out a Christian counselor to assist you in working through these things for your marriage.

A Christian counselor can come alongside you and share the joys and pains of living the married life before God. They can help you work through the problems or issues that might arise and be a neutral party in settling disputes.

May your marriage grow and prosper and may “God, the best maker of all marriages, Combine your hearts into one.” (William Shakespeare)

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What Does the Bible Say about Depression?

The word depression gets used quite a bit in society. You might hear things like, “You look depressed” or “You are depressing me.” Depression is discussed pretty casually despite being a serious mental health condition that, according to the Depression and Bipolar Health Alliance, affects 7.1% of the population, which is over 17 million Americans.

Unfortunately, despite the severe impact the condition is having on our society, many refuse to acknowledge it as a real issue. Instead, people encourage each other to “feel better” or “stop being so blue,” as if depression was a choice.

The same attitude is also often true in the church. Many Christians assume that it is sinful to feel depressed and are striving to experience the joy of the Lord. This mindset is only perpetuated by fellow churchgoers and church leaders who don’t have space to hear and be with people who feel the weight of depression.

Instead of sitting with them in their pain, many choose to quote some Christian truism to their pain, saying something like “maybe this pain is a blessing in disguise” or “you have to let go and let God.” While ultimately these statements may be theologically accurate, they do little, if any, good for those experiencing depression.

Is there any discussion of depression in the Bible? Yes, there are a whole host of verses speaking to the issues of sadness, heartbreak, sorrow, and despair, which are all symptoms and feelings caused or associated with depression. Let’s take a look at several key passages on this topic that will give us a taste of what the Bible has to say about depression.

What Does the Bible Say About Depression?

In the Depths of Despair, He Cares

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. – Psalm 22:1-2

This is one of the most famous cries in all of Scripture. It appears both here in the Psalms and is quoted later by Jesus on the cross. The cry encapsulates the experience of facing the limits of despair, as clearly displayed on the cross. In the Psalms, the psalmist expresses his pain by articulating his inability to find peace by day or by night.

What is important to notice about this Psalm is the raw vulnerability with God. In the midst of his anguish and despair (i.e. depression), he cries out to God. He doesn’t run from God or try to act like everything is alright. Instead, he cries, wails, and beats his chest as a sign to God that everything is not okay.

And God isn’t angry at him, rather God, in His perfect love, wants to meet him in His darkest places of despair. Some may see this as an affront to God, but it is actually an invitation for God to meet with the psalmist in the valley of the shadow of death where God can and will comfort him. We are able to issue God this same invitation.

The Lord Restores

I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. – Psalm 40:1-3

Here is another Psalm of deep authenticity and vulnerability. In this Psalm, the psalmist again verbalizes that in the midst of his troubles, he came to the Lord. He didn’t hide or act like he was okay. Instead, he was present, raw, and real with God in the midst of his depression, acknowledging his feelings and need for God.

As a result, we see God lift him from the depths of depression. It’s important to not jump too quickly to the resolution of the Psalms. If we do, we miss out on the real heartbreak and despair that the psalmist is feeling. And it is also important to recognize that everyone’s timeline will be different.

All we get to see is the recounting of the Psalm, we don’t know how long he waited before he was lifted up. The wait might have been a long time, so don’t be discouraged if your depression has been around for a while, in time it will be relieved.

The Father of Compassion

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

While the two Psalms above focus on our human experience of depression, this passage highlights the truth of God and His love for us. He is the Father of compassion, and He comforts all those in trouble.

This is a promise to everyone going through difficulties, such as depression. He doesn’t promise that we won’t go through difficulties, but He promises to be with us and comfort us along the way. This passage also explains that our suffering is not useless because, in its proper time, it will be used for the good and benefit of His kingdom when we can comfort others.

Lay Your Burdens Down

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

Depression is a weight. It can feel so heavy at times you don’t know how to function. You might find yourself lying in bed with absolutely no motivation to get up, anchored down by your depression. Or maybe you can get up, but you find yourself sitting at work with an absent mind unable to do what you need to do.

This is the unseen weight and burden of depression. The promise in this passage is profound. Jesus wants your weight. He wants your depression. He wants to unburden you, so you can live freely. This is no small thing, and it may not come with a quick fix, but at the end of the day, this is Jesus’ heart and longing for you to live in freedom from your burdens.

In Him, There is Victory

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

Finally, this passage is a tremendous boost in confidence. This is a very triumphant Bible verse for depression. If you feel like you just can’t make it and your depression is overwhelming you, take heart. God is for you. He is your God.

Throughout the Old Testament, God acts as the mighty warrior for Israel, going to battle on their behalf. God is fighting for you too. When you feel unable to stand, God is there to stand for you. This might mean giving you the strength get back up or have that hard conversation, or maybe it means God will intervene and change the circumstances.

Either way, the point is God is with you and for you. Take comfort in this on the darkest days, remembering you have a warrior fighting for your cause.

Conclusion

God loves us deeply and His heart breaks as we experience the heavy weight of depression. There are many Bible verses for depression. In the midst of the pain and apathy, we must remember God cares and that this is an opportunity for Him to meet us in our weakness.

Don’t hide your depression from God, come to Him with your feelings of despair, asking for Him to lift your burdens. Hopefully, this list of Bible verses for depression will help you remember that He deeply loves you and can handle your sorrow.

How to Set and Achieve Realistic Personal Development Goals

It is important to live with intentionality. To achieve our own personal growth, we need to set goals and make active progress forward. These can’t just be any goals. They need to be specific goals covering three aspects. These goals need to be guided by purpose, give you direction, and need to be made thoughtfully and well.

Imagine a motor boat. It has all the normal parts an engine, propeller, rudder, compass, and hull. The engine and the propeller allow it to move forward. This is your purpose. The rudder and the compass help it navigate the seas. This is your direction. And finally, the hull makes sure it makes it through stormy seas. This is a thoughtful, well made decision to help you get through adversity. Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.

Personal Development Goals: Guided by Purpose

The first aspect of goals we will examine is the purpose. A good goal is guided by purpose. Every goal should move you toward a purpose, and more importantly, toward your purpose.

To put it simply, the purpose of a goal is knowing what you want to achieve.

As a result, you can set goals like this in all sorts of realms whether it be financial, spiritual, personal, romantic, etc. The idea of a goal is to keep us heading in a direction with a purpose rather than vaguely moving forward.

What can be more difficult to determine is to ask “what is your purpose?” “What are you supposed to do?” “Why did God create you?” To help you orient yourself, consider a few general principles about human purpose. We exist for the glory and joy of God and should live in a way that honors our calling to him. We should live for others, willing to give up things for ourselves.

Romans 12:1 states, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”

This verse speaks of offering ourselves upon the altar, which could be translated to giving up ourselves for his mission and calling on our lives.

When we consider our personal development goals, we consider them in connection with our general calling as children of God. Once you move beyond our general calling given by God, you can begin to consider your individual purpose and calling. Maybe you haven’t really considered your individual purpose before if so, that’s okay!

There is a lot of anxiety surrounding the ominous question of “what do you want to do in your life?” especially among younger people. What helps eliminate some of the stress is to re-frame the question, asking “who do you want to be?” This often helps people release some of the pressure to perform and focus on who they want to be.

By focusing on who you want to be, you are able to move beyond work. Perhaps you would like to have more space for your passion. Or maybe your passion can become your work. Or maybe you want to be able to provide well for your family and you know that requires long hours.

Making decisions regarding who you want to be can turn into your individual purpose. Then, you just need to make sure your goals line up with this purpose, and you will be headed in the right direction (or as MxPx put it: free to do what you want to be).

Finding Your Purpose

As you start to think about your purpose, remember the importance of prayer. It is a good place to start. Ask God to speak to you and show you what he has for you. What you feel called to might be scary or risky. It might not even totally make sense financially, but remember money can’t grant you fulfillment. Remember the verse from Romans 12, it calls us to sacrifice, not comfort and riches.

Also, remember this will require trial and error. You will likely need to explore a few different paths before you find what exactly is your purpose and that’s okay! Your story doesn’t have to match the timeline of a friend or a sibling, it’s yours. Sometimes it will take years to fully discover your purpose and that’s okay. You will figure it out along the way as you move forward.

Lastly, when you do find your purpose, keep in mind that it probably will (and probably should) influence all areas of your life (social, personal, professional, spiritual). Finding your purpose reorients your life. It isn’t just a hobby or a side hustle. It will produce meaningful and significant changes to your life!

Goals Give Direction

The second important aspect of personal development goals is to provide direction. If you’ve ever wondered what you are doing with your life and felt like you were going nowhere, then you probably weren’t setting up goals guided by your direction.

It may be helpful to think of personal development in both the short-term and the long-term. First, start with the long-term — Where do you want to be? When do you want to be there?

Start with the short term. What do you need to do to get headed in the right direction? Are you considering ministry, then maybe you should look into seminary or pastoral internships? Or maybe you want to get into web design? Then it would probably be good to find a coding bootcamp to get started.

When it comes to direction, a contradiction exists. You need to start with something small that moves you forward. Even reading this article is a good step. But on the other hand, you need to remember that achieving your greater goals takes time.

In order to achieve your personal development goals, you will need to have patience, motivation, and energy. It takes time to accomplish goals, which is okay, but the waiting can be frustrating, especially when you are eager to move forward. It can feel like if you don’t start right now, that you will never be able to accomplish your goals, but remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Another note about direction is to start big. Think as if there were not obstacles. Imagine where you would go if nothing stood in your way. You can deal with obstacles better when you know where you are headed. Even when you know where you are going, obstacles remain obstacles.

But if you don’t have a larger vision, simple obstacles can turn into full on roadblocks. By thinking big from the beginning, you will be able to stay focused on what lies behind the problems, so you can face the difficulty as it comes.

Goals are Manageable When Made Well

Finally, personal development goals need to be made in such a way that sets you up for success. If your plan is to “get to Mars,” you’re not likely to achieve your goal. But, if you are in NASA or the Air Force, then maybe it might work out.

The best goals can be defined as SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Bound). To help illustrate this definition, let’s consider someone with a passion for wildlife working on a biology degree so they can work on a creation care team. Their love for animals and desire to help care for them give them direction and purpose.

But, they are struggling in some important courses and currently have D’s.

Specific goals include a higher desired grade, not simply “doing better.”

This is also a measurable goal because if you work hard, you will see your grade raise.

Other goals will be more difficult to measure, which may force you to think more creatively about how to quantify your given circumstances.

The goal needs to be achievable,

which means that an A might not be possible to achieve halfway through the semester, but you can still try for a B. Setting unrealistic goals can be discouraging.

Goals need to be relevant.

For example, cutting out TV may help improve your grades, but isn’t directly relevant. It is better to set an amount of time you want to study for or to get a tutor.

Lastly, it should be time bound,

which means you need to have a deadline. It can’t be ambiguous and open ended.

Making time bound goals helps you create checkpoints, thereby making them more measurable. For example, you could decide to study for two hours a night for two weeks in order to get an A on a test. The is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound. Each goal will look different, but you should always have an end date.

How Christian Counseling Can Help

If this article has you excited, but you still feel apprehensive the amount of work you need to do or don’t know where to start, that’s okay.

A great way to jumpstart your personal development is counseling. Counselors can help you understand your passion and purpose so you can establish personal development goals and overcome any obstacles you face. They are a force of clarity and accountability as you seek to grow.

When we try to do things alone, it’s very easy to get distracted or lose track, but a regular counseling session can help keep you on track toward your long-term goals. So don’t just sit there! Get started on your personal development today.

Photos:
“Boating”, Courtesy of Nick Karvounis, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wish for it”, Courtesy of SOCIAL CUT, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Man on Arrow”, Courtesy of Smart, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Goals,” courtesy of rawpixel.com, pexels.com, CC0 License