Opening New Doors: Developing Interpersonal Communication Skills

Interpersonal communication skills, when strengthened, can help you express your feelings clearly and precisely. You can use these lifelong skills to move further up the career ladder, express yourself to your spouse or children, make new friends, and network with people who can help your cause.

The good news is that most people are not born with good communication skills. It’s a skill you can begin mastering today to effectively and assertively convey what you mean.

The Different Types of Communication

There are several different types of communication, but they all boil down to verbal, nonverbal (actions), written, and visual. These skills also referred to as people skills, can take you far.

Unfortunately, some people find it difficult to communicate with people and allow others to control and manipulate them. By learning it’s okay to speak up (and how to do so constructively), you can develop self-confidence.

The types of communication are:

Verbal – Verbal communication uses spoken language to convey meaning to others.

Nonverbal (actions) – Nonverbal communication includes nodding, shaking your head, and other actions such as crossing your arms over your chest (body language), facial expressions, or slamming doors when angry.

Written – Written communication includes books, letters, emails, newspapers, text messages, and other printed or digital words.

Visual – Visual communication concentrates on the things we can see and understand as an outlet in expressing feelings and thoughts. This includes artwork, graphs, charts, drawings, and pictures.

Some people learn better when several of these types of communication are combined. For example, you might be more comfortable learning new information using written and visual materials. And it might be easier for you to express your thoughts of very detailed, personal matters through written material (a journal) rather than talking (verbal communication) with someone.

Another type of communication frequently forgotten, but possibly the most important skill is active listening. Active listening is trying to not only hear the person but to understand them. This means not losing your focus to distractions or thinking about how you are going to respond to their comments. While active listening, you nod or shake your head, speak when necessary, and show empathy.

Developing Interpersonal Communication Skills

Perhaps you do well with one or two public communication skills but are sorely lacking in the others. You can learn how to develop good communication skills with a little practice. You can begin by implementing a few of the suggestions listed below.

If you are interested in learning more about how to strengthen your communication skills, you can find printed books and eBooks on the subject as well as courses that cover interpersonal and public communication.

How to Develop Active Listening Skills

Developing the ability to actively listen to someone requires you to focus solely on the person speaking. If the person is sharing an emotional story with you, be sure to respond as necessary with kindness and empathy. This is not the time to judge the person in front of you, but to try to understand what they are going through or the instructions they are giving you.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up on our responses to the other person that we simply stop actively listening. Take your time in your response if you need to. You want the other person to feel important and heard.

How to Develop Verbal Communication Skills

To truly improve your verbal skills, you should expose yourself to a wide range of vocabulary. Read books (both printed and eBooks) in various genres as well as nonfiction. Consider joining a book club to discuss insights on a book to improve critical thinking skills or join a debate team to pick up how to form an argumentative opinion.

Speak precisely and with confidence. It is not necessary to bog down a conversation with five-syllable words as most people will come away from the exchange either intimidated or bored.

If you are nervous about meeting a new acquaintance, approach the person with a kind smile, compliment them, and ask questions. People love to talk about themselves and what is important to them. Start with asking about their family, career, hobbies and interests, and what they want to do with their life. As people confide, they will begin to trust you because you care to know about them.

How to Develop Nonverbal Communication Skills

Whether you realize it or not, you are constantly giving away your thoughts and feelings with body language and facial expressions. For example, crossing your arms over your chest while talking to someone is considered a defensive move for protection. Do you feel threatened by what they are saying? Do you find their comments hurtful?

Strive to be mindful of your facial expressions and posture when you are talking to someone. Smiling and maintaining a relaxed and open posture will translate to others that you are a warm and friendly person with whom they can spend time conversing.

How to Develop Written Communication Skills

The written word surrounds us daily with billboards, newspapers, chat messages, text messages, and emails. How many emails and texts do you send daily? It is important to improve your writing skills, so you convey the correct meaning and induce the appropriate response.

People today have shorter attention spans due to the constant barrage of distractions. Keep your sentences short and cut out any flowery words. Make sure you reread your material for clarity and accuracy. If writing seems awkward to you, try journaling. The act of recording your thoughts and emotions is simply the practice of communicating with yourself.

How to Develop Visual Communication Skills

You can use visual images to communicate with others. Most people remember pictures and videos even if they don’t remember the words they read. You can use visuals to help you remember important things.

For example, a student might draw a diagram, breaking down a difficult topic for a class. Or, a mother might create a chores graph for her children to use to make the daily tasks fun.

If you want to express your beliefs and thoughts to others using social media, you can create videos or pictures. You might find it easier to record and edit a video of you talking than speaking in-person to a group of people.

Social Communication Disorder

A child who cannot seem to express himself with the appropriate verbal and nonverbal cues may be tested by their pediatrician for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). If autism is ruled out, the physician may diagnose the child with Social Communication Disorder (SCD).

Children demonstrating signs of SCD may have trouble responding appropriately to others, misjudging when to take their turn speaking, expressing their feelings verbally, and using language to ask questions and hold conversations.

Children with Social Communication Disorder may also have another mental health condition that requires therapy. Speak with your child’s pediatrician about adding the professional services of a speech-language pathologist, either at school or home. Some states provide programs, such as “Birth to 3,” to help babies and toddlers to overcome speech disorders and delays.

There are things you can do to help your child improve his communication skills. Make reading a priority in your home. Not only will your child enlarge his vocabulary, but he will learn to think critically and form opinions.

When possible, combine written and visual materials to teach your child about important topics. Many children are visual learners and can pick up a subject quicker with images.

Arrange for your child to spend time with other children and help him get started with conversations by asking questions. Once he sees that he has common interests as the other children, it may be easier for him to hold the conversation.

One Final Word

Communication skills are vital in every area of life. Whether you speak to a room full of peers, work behind a desk answering phones and sending emails, or need to assert your self-worth, mastering the skills to effectively communicate will serve you for the rest of your life. It’s a skill that no one can take from you.

Photos:
“Admiring the View”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Phone Call”, Courtesy of Kevin Laminto, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Chatting”, Courtesy of Charles Deluvio, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Happy”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Unforgiveness and Its Effect on Our Lives

The idea of dishing out our own brand of justice is a tale as old as time, and it finds expression in comic books, movies, books, and in our lives. Some of our favorite pop culture heroes are the vigilantes who serve justice outside the lines of the law.

The Guy Ritchie-directed movie Snatch, starring Brad Pitt and Jason Statham among others, put an interesting definition of the word “nemesis” in the mouth of one of its foul-mouthed characters, a gangster named Bricktop. Bricktop, in one of his many memorable pieces of dialogue, said something like this: “Do you know what nemesis means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent. Personified in this case by . . . me.”

When someone wounds or offends us or the people we love, it is natural for us to want to retaliate, to inflict retribution. Sometimes, we feel like fixing things ourselves will be the best and quickest way to see justice done. Bricktop, for his part, thought himself to be a proper agent of righteous retribution, even though under the circumstances he was far from being righteous.

Set that next to the notion of forgiveness, which doesn’t often sit well with us, especially when we’re deep in our feelings about a situation. Forgive that person who just insulted me, my faith, or my people? Forgive that person who just rudely cut me off in traffic and then had the gall to insult me and my driving?

It’s often difficult enough to forgive our loved ones, but to forgive those we would call our enemies? That seems like a bridge too far. In those moments, it seems to make more sense to follow the way of Bricktop than it does to follow the way of Jesus.

What unforgiveness does to us

Every action we undertake has an impact on our lives. On the other side of that is the reality that whatever our hearts are full of will emerge out of our mouths and into our lives, showing us what’s going on inside of us.

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good person brings good things out of the good stored up in them, and an evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in them.Matthew 12:34-35

Forgiving people is hard. We are concerned, and rightly so, that they will hurt us again, that forgiving them will seem like condoning their behavior, or that forgiving them will allow them to keep doing what they did. It is understandable that faced with the choice between offering forgiveness and withholding it, we often withhold it and live in a state of unforgiveness.

What, though, is the effect of unforgiveness on our lives?

It creates a barrier between us and God

In our own lives, we make many, many mistakes. We are repeat offenders in God’s books, and we find ourselves often at the throne of grace asking God for forgiveness. In the prayer he taught his followers, Jesus taught them to ask God for forgiveness even as they pray for daily bread (Matthew 6:9-15).

If we know ourselves well and are honest, we should acknowledge that we need forgiveness from God and other people often. God is gracious and freely forgives us, casting our sins away from us as far as the east is from the west.

The challenging part for us is that God asks us to extend forgiveness to others in the same way that he forgives us. What we have received, we are to pass on and bless others with.

So, that prayer for forgiveness that Jesus taught his followers goes, “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…” and he closes off the conversation by saying, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:11-12, 14-15).

When we withhold forgiveness from other people and live in a state of unforgiveness, it brings a challenge to our relationship with God. As one interpretation of these verses puts it, “In prayer, there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part”.

We exist in a complex web of relationships. God cares about what happens between us and our neighbors, and we can’t isolate or insulate our relationship with them from our relationship with God. The new life God gives us enables us to live in harmony with others and empowers us to do the impossible, like forgiving people.

It’s bad for your health

Forgiveness is connected to massive health benefits. Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that “Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of a heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.”

“There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” says Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in many changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and immune response.

Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease, and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”

Living in unforgiveness and holding on to negative feelings about other people is bad for your health.

It robs us of the freedom God intends

One of the gifts that God has given people in Jesus is freedom. That freedom takes shape in different ways, but one of the surprising ways is that we are freed from our old selves, which were prone to feelings such as “bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander” (Ephesians 4:31). These are part of the old way of life.

That doesn’t mean that no situation will arise where we feel those things. Living out the life of God in us means that we give less and less room to those negative emotions, and learn more and more to “be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven [us]” (Ephesians 4:32).

Feeling angry toward someone as a result of unforgiveness can be so draining. As we’ve already pointed out, unforgiveness includes a heavy physical burden to carrying those emotions all day. Feeling anger and resentment toward other people also just wears down your soul and robs you of your joy. Have you ever noticed what happens when you’re in a good mood, and a person you have something against walks in the room?

All your energy gets taken away from the happiness you were feeling and is redirected toward avoiding that person’s gaze or just wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible. That’s a burden. Rather than carry that, God’s people can be sure that God will take up our cause and do what is right at the right time, so we don’t have to burden ourselves with holding onto our anger and wanting revenge (Romans 12:14-21).

It affects relationships and causes us to miss what God is doing

The story of the lost son in Luke 15 is a remarkable one about people finding a way back from a very dark place. The younger son in the story is wayward, and he squanders the family wealth on alcohol, parties, and fast living. He brings shame to his father and the family. The older son stayed home all the while, faithfully working the fields.

When the younger brother ran out of money and lost his friends, he thought to come home and restore some semblance of a relationship with his father. The wayward younger brother in the story stood for the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus was welcoming and eating with.

The older brother, standing for the religious leaders, angrily stood far off from the wayward brother, and would not extend forgiveness, welcome, or rejoice when the generous father had welcomed the wayward son home.

Was the wayward son wrong in what he had done? Yes, very much so. Is it natural and normal to feel offended, much like the older brother did in these circumstances? Yes. But in that story, Jesus was trying to show that the joy of welcoming back a wayward brother who has repented ought to overtake our offense at what they did.

The Pharisees were unwilling to welcome the tax collectors and sinners even when God in Jesus was welcoming them into the Kingdom. Choosing to forgive isn’t easy, but living in unforgiveness made them, and it can make us, miss out on what God is doing.

Photos:
“Love At All Costs”, Courtesy of Gus Moretta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Let It Go”, Courtesy of Brett Jordan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Please Forgive Me”, Courtesy of Brett Jordan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Felix Koutchinski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

What Does the Bible Say About Marriage? 6 Truths from God’s Word

Have you ever wondered, “What does the Bible say about marriage?” If so, this article is for you. In the beginning, when the world was young and harmony reigned, God blessed the first marriage, between Adam and Eve. After Adam was created, there was nothing in the creation like him, and God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone”. God created and brought Eve to Adam. Created in God’s image and Adam’s equal, Eve was “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh” as Adam put it.

Adam and Eve had one another in this brave new world – someone who was an equal but different and complementary. Since people are made in God’s image, it makes sense that Adam and Eve had an innate desire for relationship and that it wouldn’t be good for either of them to be alone. As descendants of Adam and Eve, all of us are the result of this first marriage.

Cut to the 21st century, where many struggle with the relevance of the institution of marriage. Despite our difficulties with marriage, there is a beauty to the way marriage brings two lives together and the two become one flesh, one new family unit when they leave their parents and cleave to one another (Genesis 2:24).

This “leaving and cleaving” creates a committed space of unashamed intimacy within which a man and woman build a life together. What can we continue to learn from the Bible about marriage?

What Does the Bible Say About Marriage?

It is good

One of the things the Bible says about marriage is that it is good. The book of ancient wisdom called Proverbs puts it this way: “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Presumably, she who finds a husband also finds what is good.

Again, this makes sense in light of human nature and our inclination toward being in relationship with others, including this most intimate of human relationships. The marriage relationship is a life-long commitment (Romans 7:2). All things being equal, weddings are generally a time of celebration.

In some liturgies, the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) where Jesus turned water into wine is mentioned as another divine endorsement of marriage. If God was behind marriage when the world was perfect and the specter of arguments and divorce was absent, the wedding at Cana shows us God still endorsing marriage even in our broken world. It is good, and it is worth celebrating.

It is a mystery

Of all the things one could say about marriage, one apt description is that it is a mystery. It’s a mystery in a least two ways. First, despite our culture’s fractious relationship with marriage, the vast majority of people are still drawn towards making the public and lifelong commitment that is marriage.

Second, and more important, reflecting on marriage while writing to Christians in the city of Ephesus, the apostle Paul brings up what was said in Genesis 2 and reminds these believers that when two people get married, something monumental takes place – the two become one flesh.

But then he says that human marriage is an echo of the relationship that Jesus has with his church. This is a “profound mystery”, he says (Ephesians 5:32). It’s a bit mind-bending, but human marriage is patterned after and is an echo of the relationship between Christ and his people. Getting married draws you inadvertently into something beyond yourself, something timeless and cosmic – profound mystery indeed.

It isn’t for everyone

Even though marriage is a good gift, it isn’t for everyone. There are some for whom the celibate life is their calling. Both Jesus and Paul make this point. Some people have made the choice to remain single “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus continues, saying, “Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:12).

In other words, some people may decide to stay single to maintain an unswerving focus on the kingdom. Paul puts it this way:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him…if you do marry, you have not sinned… I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.1 Corinthians 7:17, 28, 32

In other words, if you want to get married, that’s great, but marriage comes with certain responsibilities or anxieties, and you must be aware of that. If you want to stay single, that’s also great. The single life enables a certain kind of unbroken focus on the kingdom. In other words, the calling toward either marriage or singleness is morally neutral; each life comes with its own joys and burdens.

It’s not perfect

Marriage is not perfect because the people in it aren’t perfect. The reality is that people no longer get married in the blissful context of Genesis 1 and 2. Married life is now way more complicated than that. Coming after Adam and Eve and their rebellion, all marriage now happens in the context and shadow of Genesis 3.

Adam went from composing poetry for Eve, his beloved wife, saying, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23) to blaming her for his disobedience of God’s command: “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some of the fruit from the tree, and I ate it”, he says (Genesis 3:12).

She’s now merely “The woman”. Humanity moved from loving adoration to shifting blame to one another, from being both “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:25) to covering our nakedness and hiding ourselves and our motives from one another and God.

Instead of mutual care and self-giving, there is now selfishness, inordinate desire and seeking dominance over the other (Genesis 3:16). Sin entered our lives, complicating and twisting this beautiful relationship given to us by God.

It should be protected

Because we are not perfect and we’re getting married in a post-Genesis 3 world, marriages are fragile and need protection from the people in (and those not in) them. The Bible is full of warnings against adultery, but it also concerns itself with harmful attitudes between husbands and wives that undermine love, mutual appreciation, warmth, forgiveness and so on.

It also addresses the harmful attitudes of others who are not in the marriage and who don’t take the marriage covenant seriously. The letter to the Hebrews says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).

God is aware of the world we live in, the temptations and challenges we encounter in daily life. Sometimes the spouses in a marriage, or the people close to them, don’t honor the marriage covenant. This can have dire consequences for all involved.

It’s a partnership

A marriage is a partnership in which both spouses have a role to play and something to contribute to the nurture and health of the relationship, and any children that may come from the marriage. Both the husband and wife have a role to play in instructing their children and in how they relate to each other.

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction,” says Proverbs 1:8, “and do not forsake your mother’s teaching”. Paul talks about the framework within which our relationships work. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”, he writes in Ephesians 5:21.

There is to be a conciliatory attitude in the marriage relationship to help that relationship flourish, so when we talk about “submission” and “loving one another,” it is not about sublimating your personality or strength but about leveraging it toward making the marriage work. This requires the work and wisdom of the Holy Spirit in us.

Christian Couples Counseling

Our marriages need strengthening and for us to grow in listening, handling conflict and hardship in a constructive manner. Couples counseling is a great way to continue this growth and address any underlying unaddressed issues so that your marriage flourishes.

Whether you are encountering persistent difficulties within your marriage or simply want to continue working toward a flourishing marriage, prayerfully consider Christian couples counseling with your spouse.

Photos:
“Bride and Groom”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wedding in Abruzzo”, Courtesy of Foto Pettine, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love”, Courtesy of freestocks, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Putting the Ring on the Finger”, Courtesy of Sir Manuel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

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.

Photos:
“In the Word”, Courtesy of Christin Hume, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Catching a Feather”, Courtesy of Javardh, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Flowering Grass”, Courtesy of Kien Do, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yellow Flowers”, Courtesy of Masaaki Komori, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

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!

Photos:
“Grief”, Courtesy of Marquise Kamanke, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “A Grief Observed”, Courtesy of Yuris Alhumaydy, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Remember”, Courtesy of Matt Botsford, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cross”, Courtesy of Maria Oswalt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

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.

Photos:
“Couple”, Courtesy of Jacob Postuma, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “God’s Place”, Courtesy of Anthony Bevilacqua, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hold On,” courtesy of Priscilla du Preez, cdn.magdeleine.co, CC0 Public Domain License; “Candles in the Round”, Courtesy of Mike Labrum, Unsplash.com, CC0 License