In Loving Me, You Made Me Lovable (On The Anesthetizing Effects of Low Self Worth)

In loving me, you made me lovable.

“In loving me, You made me lovable.”-Brennan Manning

Constantly, we are bombarded with messages via social media of positivity and self worth. From body positivity to accepting who we are in all other areas of life, and loving ourselves. It can be daunting sometimes, frequently hearing all these messages telling us to love ourselves, when we absolutely do not.

In a study aimed at school children to research self esteem, 69% of boys and 60% of girls in middle school answered yes to the question “are you happy the way you are?”

When high schoolers were surveyed, the numbers plummeted to 46% of boys and 29% of girls answering affirmatively. Now, I’d be curious to see what kind of statistics a longitudinal study of the same children from middle to high school would yield. And even more curious to hear how they’d answer that question in adulthood.

There’s no way to have solid statistics for this, but it’s estimated that 8 percent of Americans suffer from anxiety and disorders related to depression. That’s somewhere in the ballpark of 25 million people.

This fear of failure, of not being good enough, of being unworthy has seized us as a culture. We live in an age that is gripped by the terror of not measuring up. So the dichotomy between what people actually feel vs. the “positive” messages on sites like Upworthy and Buzzfeed tells me that we are also a culture that is passionate about finding the answers to all of our dysfunction.

The numbers also tell me that it is often the insecure that seek a cure for insecurity, the damaged that try to fix, those who feel unworthy who try their darnedest to remind others of their worthiness and inspire hope in others.

I guess that’s why I write this. Because I, too, have felt worthless. I’ve felt worn down, beaten up, completely unworthy. And I’ve heard those stories from so many other people and I constantly pray for an end to the epidemic that is sparked by lies of the Enemy. The Gospel says that, though in my flesh I may feel worthless, I am made worthy by the blood of Jesus. It shows me, no matter how dire the circumstances, no matter how bleak my current outlook may be.

C.S. Lewis said that faith “is the art of holding onto things your reason once accepted in spite of your changing moods and circumstances.”

I write this to encourage you, if you are reading this and feeling unworthy, I want to assure you that, if you are in Christ, he has made you whole. In his love, no fear or insecurity or sin has seized you where he hasn’t provided an escape route for you. No pain, no suffering, no lack of wisdom, no enemy can overpower you, you are free. In loving you, Jesus has made you lovable. He calls you friend, he calls you a son or daughter of the God who keeps you going.

Self-worth is an illusion, it is a band-aid for deeper problems. The cure for low self-esteem is listening to the words of the One who created you when he professes his undying love for you. Be swept up in that. If all of this sounds too idealistic and cheap for you, I want you to know that, no matter what you do or don’t believe, you are loved. The love of God is real, it is strong, it is persistent, it has not left you by the wayside. It is a strong hand to rescue you from yourself. The Gospel is not just for me, it is for you. And it is this, the God of the universe saw our pain, our sin, and our desperation and he became like us, died a very real and brutal death on the Cross and rose again, defeating death once and for all. And he’s calling you.

In the words of the monologue by the band Life in Your Way:

The Kingdom of God is for the burnouts, the broken, and the broke, the drug addicts, the divorced, the HIV positive, the herpes-ridden, the hopeless, for the outcasts that have been created by the church, and for the outcasts of our society that have been created by us. The Kingdom of God is for the brain damaged, the incurably ill, for the barren, for the pregnant too many times, and the pregnant at the wrong time. This is for the over-employed, the underemployed, the unemployable, and the unemployed. This is for the swindled, the shoved aside, the left aside, the replaced, the incompetent, and the stupid. This is for the emotionally starved and the emotionally dead. The Kingdom of God is for the bigoted, the murderers, the child molesters, the brutals, the drug lords, the terrorists, the perverted, the raging alcoholics, over consumers, the incredibly ugly, the dumb, the ignorant, the starving, the filled, and the filthy rich. The Kingdom of God is for everyone and the Kingdom of God is for me.

That’s me, and that’s you. I write this for all of us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

I Know

It was cold. That’s all I remember. I felt barely anything as I was in the throes of grief and trying to make sense of God, a task bigger than the groaning emptiness packed tightly beneath my skull. I tried to explain this to my friend who was in the car with me, but he didn’t understand. No one did. Folks could listen, and try to assuage my feelings of guilt and incompletion but none of them had lost a friend. None of them understood their own mortality the way Jordan’s death had thrust it in my face.

Dying at 21 wasn’t supposed to be possible. Not for us.

And all of my friends still understood the world as one of bright hope, optimism, and opportunity. But no matter how hard I tried, or how much I prayed, I couldn’t see it. Back then, I always said something along the lines of “God won’t let me sleep.” While insomnia was the least of my worries, it was the ever-punishing constant that defined my nights and made me question everything I’d once held sacred.

Greif is like an emptiness, like an absence that’s felt so strongly, your brain won’t shut off. A few months after the accident, and I was still picking up the phone to text him, still getting messages weekly from his Mom and never knowing what to say in response.

The word “bleak” used to mean very little to me, but at that point in my life, it was the only thing I knew. And expressing these thoughts to another person? Thinking back, spending time with me during those months was probably a real drag. But all I wanted was someone who understood, someone who really understood and didn’t have to pretend. I wanted to be able to share with someone who knew what I was feeling to the point where we didn’t even need to use words. I didn’t need a speech, I needed someone to look at me and boldly say, “I know.”

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ. I got that. More than that, I got to be that for others on so many occasions. Because if dealing with grief taught me anything, it’s that I never want anyone to feel damaged or stupid or different for having such heavy emotions that they don’t always have words for.

As a believer, I can choose to see tragedy as proof that God doesn’t care or as proof that he does. Let me unpack that:

My hope is in Christ. My peace is in Christ. When waves of doubt come over me, or life’s trouble makes me feel like I am drowning, he is my only constant.

And because of the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve lost, the addictions that once had me crushed beneath their weight, I have been given a gift, the gift of relating to others. I can choose to dwell on suffering or I can choose to let it shape me into a person with greater compassion and patience for others.

As one of my favorites, Oswald Chambers, said:

“You can always recognize who has been through the fires of sorrow and received himself, and you know that you can go to him in your moment of trouble and find that he has plenty of time for you. But if a person has not been through the fires of sorrow, he is apt to be contemptuous, having no respect or time for you, only turning you away. If you will receive yourself in the fires of sorrow, God will make you nourishment for other people.”

Those words give me life. They remind me to use the pain I’ve experienced to give others life, or at least point them to the One who can. I’ve learned, more than anything, to stop talking and look at them and boldly say, “I know.”

And that may be one of God’s greatest gifts.

Pouring From An Empty Glass


Capture

“Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:30-31)

My heart is so heavy tonight.

Somewhere in the world, someone is suffering. It might be two cities over, it might be next door. It may be happening in your head.

All around me, I feel the shockwaves racing from the epicenter of a crumbling world. An earth that groans for reconciliation, a kingdom that has, for so long, run from its king but is desperate for Him. And maybe they don’t even know that he is what they really desire.

I write in flowery, pretentious prose because the groaning is too close to home, and I am tired. On days like today the purpose behind my calling to be minister of the Gospel of Jesus is so very clear, and the need so evident, but even still, so very hard to grasp in my hand.

I feel like an empty glass, striving to continue pouring out, even when nothing is left. If I were smarter, or older and wiser, I might just put the cup back under the faucet and allow myself to be filled again before I try to continue giving. But my go to is always to stress about it and demand answers to questions I’ve not been brave enough to ask.

Seasons of transition and turmoil often feel like seasons of silence, and I’ve not figured out why. To be separate from others is one thing, but to feel like your prayers are going unanswered or that God has left are the most terrifying times one can experience.

To ask God where he’s gone but then remembering: I have pastoral aspirations and responsibilities, I’m not allowed to ask those questions.

But then. Maybe sometimes it takes talking to an impartial audience. Oh, that’s it, I’ll write a blog. I’ll be transparent about my struggles and questions and folks will be sure to solicit some help, or at least someone will congratulate me for being open and honest (because thats the fashionable thing to do), that or it’ll bring out the “I told you so’s” from the atheist crowd.

Maybe writing these thoughts will un-knot my mind long enough to let me hear God speak. Maybe if I quiet myself just enough…

…They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…

Weariness. It’s probably the most poetic word to ascribe to that poured out glass feeling. It’s such a beautiful way to say “beaten down, washed up, beyond tired.”

When I look back on the past ten years of my life, I’m met with a reminder from God. It was always during the times I’d described myself as weary that God spoke most powerfully into my situation. It was always when I was at my wit’s end that he either gave me the answers I so feared or used me, by words and actions, to speak the truth of the Gospel into the lives of others.

Suffering doesn’t always hit you over the head and grind you into the dust. Sometimes it’s that dull ache in your chest that won’t go away. The anticipation that comes from the fear that something bad is about to happen and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

And then, though we don’t always have the answers to life’s burning questions, we press on. We wait on God to speak or to propel us into the very action that our souls crave without knowing it.

I’ll say from experience that God has used me most effectively when I was in transition. When I stopped moping and accepted that things aren’t always going to be easy or feel good. But God. He saw the needs in my life and in the lives of those around me and he finally spoke. Or maybe I finally listened.

To be filled, we have to put ourselves in a position to receive from God that which restores us and mends our brokenness so that others, seeing the healing of God within us, will be drawn to repentance and salvation and receive what God wants to give them.

At the end of my life, I want to look back and say with resolve that I have poured out all that which was given to me, and to know with confidence that God’s wells never run dry. What you might think is silence could be preparing you for something better.

I preach this not just to you, but to myself. AΩ

What You Lose (or, grief still feels like fear.)

“And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen…”–C.S. Lewis

Some feelings strike all at once, like being suddenly slugged in the face. There is no denying the impact, no gnawing anticipation for the pain you know is coming sooner or later. The pain is there, throbbing and ever-present, always calling you back to the moment of collision.

But other expressions of emotion take time to fully form, like a sickness that you know is there, but takes a long time to show any side effects. Grief is one of those expressions for me. I have seen it take so much from me and from those I love that sometimes the part of me where doubts and fears run rampant wants to respond to Paul’s admonition of death in 1 Corinthians 15 (O, Death where is your sting?) with a biting, “It is here. And boy does it sting!” And I still do not understand nor can I articulate the depths of pain grief brings.

If you know me personally or have followed this blog for very long, you probably know that I started it back in 2012 as an outlet for me to deal with losing one of my best friends. I stand firm on the belief that the pain of loss is one thing about this world that shows you that all is not as it should be. As much as I may or may not be adjusting to life without Jordan, over 2 and a half years later, and as much as I stand firmly convinced that God’s mercy and grace is overwhelming in the face of all that overwhelms me, I cannot shake the thought that a 21 year old dying in a freak accident is an atrocity, a tragedy that cannot just be explained away as an act of God that would make more sense to us if we were only spiritual enough.

All that said, it is with a heavy heart that I add a chapter to the story of how I personally have interacted with the closeness of tragedy.

It was a normal Sunday morning. I went to church as usual and sat in my pew. I felt a staggering peace come over me that morning. Let’s call it gratefulness. And I remember praising God for blessing me with this job, this church family, for relationships in my life that truly meant something, for teaching me even when my stubborn self did not want to be taught, the whole nine yards.

I drove the church van that morning. As I dropped off the remaining teens, my cell phone started ringing. My friend DeMarcus and I sat at the stop sign for a minute for me to answer. It was my Dad.

“Hey, Dad. What’s Up?” I said, as if everything was normal. It wasn’t.

“Hey son,” he replied. Something was off. “Where are you?”

“I’m driving the van, on my way to drop DeMarcus off and then back to the church.” Silence. Odd silence.

“Oh. Call me when you’re done…we need to talk.”

We needed to talk? Was this a father-son conversation or was I being dumped?

“What do you mean? Is everything okay?” I stammered.

“No. It’s not.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

He sighed, “Charlene passed away this morning.”

Tears welling up. Heart hammering. My mind full of questions, doubts…fear.

“I’ll call you back.” I barely got the words out before I hung up. I apologized to DeMarcus and told him in what probably sounded like broken English what was wrong and that I needed a minute. He graciously gave me all the time I needed.

There at the stop sign, right outside of two of my teenagers’ house, I wanted to unbuckle my seatbelt, jump out of the van and beat the ground until it broke. I wanted to scream. I couldn’t form coherent sentences. I couldn’t stop shaking. I wanted to get out and run as fast and as far away as my legs could carry me. I wanted to run from Kannapolis to Belmont and hug my Mom, who just lost one of her closest friends. I wanted to embrace her and let her cry on my  chest until the tears couldn’t come anymore, like she did for me when I lost Jordan.

I wanted to take the pain of Charlene’s kids, her husband, her brothers and sisters, and throw it into the ocean. I wanted to reverse time, or pretend it never happened.

There are so many questions.

So many unanswered questions.

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I’ll never forget how she made people feel loved. How she, in my entire army of “second moms”, always took the role of the one who would remind me that everyone could see my underwear and I needed to pull up my pants…NOW.

How she always gave me the most creative (and hilarious) birthday cards.

And, most importantly, how she (and all my parents’ other friends) showed me the importance of surrounding yourself with good people, with loyal people who loved you and supported you. They modeled what healthy friendships looked like, and that has made all the difference in my own friendships.

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I guess I say all that to say this:

I am 24 years old, and I have lost so many people, gone way too soon. And it’s sometimes hard to balance what I believe about heaven and the afterlife with the gnawing emptiness that comes after experiencing a loss.

After Jordan died, I always felt bad that I felt bad, if that makes sense. I believed he was in heaven. I believed he was free from pain and from suffering. I believed he was with God and met Christ, the object of his affections, face to face.

But the gnawing emptiness did not leave. On some days, it still resurfaces. And I miss him. I miss him like I miss my friend Jennifer, who also died young due to complications from surgery. And Ariane, a friend from college who fought a terminal disease to the very end. She died on her birthday. And like I miss Charlene.

I want to make a few things abundantly clear:

1.) Fellow Christians, never minimize anyone’s grief. You may think you’re doing them a favor by reminding them that they are not God and do not know the big picture, but I promise you they have a crushing awareness of that already. If you invalidate their grief and dismiss it, you are not helping, you are damaging what is already damaged. You are kicking them while they are down. This is the most un-Christlike thing you could ever do.

2.) To those experiencing the kind of grief I’m writing about, you are not alone. Your feelings are normal and you have no reason to feel wrong or stupid. I promise you that God is a big boy, and he can handle your sadness, your depression, your darkest thoughts, and your most cruel indictments of his Character. I pray for you. That you would let him hold you close, let him heal those wounds and let you grieve how you need to grieve. He is a God who loves you as you are, not as you need to be. But God’s love is a transformative love, one that changes you, one that embraces you and leads you to embrace others.

The thing about loss…it isn’t the initial loss that hurts. It is the pervading absence.

It is the thought of living day after day after day without hearing the sweet voices of those you love again.

It’s those torturous moments where you think you see them in a crowd and you hold your breath. You know it is too wonderful to be true, but a part of you hopes the rumors of their death were greatly exaggerated.

It is the crushing defeat the day you finally have to delete their telephone numbers because you’ve accidentally called them more than you’d like to admit.

And it is the embarrassment and wave of nausea that hits when you accidentally call your other friends and family by the name of the one you’ve lost.

Grief is the sickness that leaves you guessing when it will rear its ugly head. I’ve had moments in the past two years (and two days) where I just start crying with no provocation. Where did that even come from? I think to myself. But it is there.

I have grown significantly in my walk with Christ in the past several years. My orientation towards grief is daily becoming less one of fear, and more of acceptance. That I don’t have all the answers to life’s injustices, and frankly, I don’t need them.

I am learning to rest in God.

I am learning that when Paul writes those bold words to death in 1 Corinthians, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” He is referring to the encompassing victory of Christ over our damnation. His proclamation that death is not the end. That there is peace, overwhelming peace to be found in Him alone, and nothing can overcome his furious mercy.

So I have hope. I have peace, like I felt Sunday morning, I know that I will grieve and I personally don’t fear it anymore, I know it is coming and I welcome it, trusting that Christ who bore all of my burdens bears them still.

When Jordan died, I raged against the very God who knit me together, who held me close to his chest as I soaked him with tears and curses and voiced all of my grievances, believing they were falling on deaf ears.

And though I am at a place in my life and my faith where I do not need answers to be sure of God’s well, God-ness, he has so graciously given some of the answers my heart has asked for in groans and hushed sighs.

The main one: Where are you in all of this, God?

His response was simple: Stephen, I am right here. With you.

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If you’ve made it this far, thanks. These are unfiltered thoughts, they may not make a whole lot of sense all jammed together. But I’d ask that if you are a believer, please pray for the family of Charlene. And please pray for my Mother. My heart breaks for her as I have lost a best friend. I know what that’s like and it isn’t something I would wish on my worst enemy. May God bless you all.

Here’s a song that came on my iPod as I drove to my hometown yesterday. I thought it was appropriate:

The Man that God Wants

I looked down at the note card filled with writing and then back up at him. I saw eyes full of pain, scarred from a life of bad decisions and suffering inflicted on him by others. I saw genuine repentance in his eyes. I saw a heart that seems irreparably broken into pieces by a lifetime of living a life that he was not made to live.

prison_0

It was a normal night with the prisoners, like the many I had experienced over the past four years. I spoke on Ezekiel 37, the same passage I preached from my last Sunday at Beulah. There are some things that God just sears into your head, never letting you forget. And from time to time, it becomes necessary to speak those same passages over others. As I talked about the grace of God, a God who does better than simply making us to be good people, but instead brings us from death to life and continually issues the charge for his people to prophesy  and let the power of God bring the dead around us, the dead in us, to life again, I looked out, wondering if the words I believed were from the Holy Spirit held any weight or could hold meaning for anyone in the room.

And I caught one man’s eyes. He may have been in his mid thirties and had tattoos all over exposed skin. He looked lonely, quiet, and like he didn’t really feel comfortable. We broke up into groups and the man I locked eyes with came up to me and asked if he could speak to me away from the group. Hesitantly, as to not want to leave my partner alone, I went to the corner with him where he handed me a note card with prayer requests written all over it. In it, he talked about a lot of things that were going on in his life. The rest of the details were very personal and it’s not my place to share, but on it he wrote, “please pray for God to help me change into the man that he wants me to be.”

We talked for maybe 20 minutes and he began to cry. He kept saying it felt stupid to cry, and I encouraged him to do whatever he needed to do. The Spirit then prompted me to intercede for him out loud, so I put my hand on his shoulder and prayed for Jesus to overcome him with need. Need for him, daily, purposefully, an ever consistent longing for the presence of God that will break the chains of addiction, depression, and the need to be self-sufficient.

We were not made to do life alone. And from my one bedroom apartment to the college campus I lived on then to a homely old prison chapel made of cinderblock walls and pews creak and groan when you sit on them, God has a funny way of placing people in our path that need his mercy.

I need his mercy, every day of my life.

And this man, who told me that he didn’t believe he could even construct a pure thought if he tried, was so overcome with his need for a Savior that I looked at him and smiled. From somewhere deep in my soul, I smiled and told him that maybe the purest thought we could ever have is in our need for God. We spoke about a lot of things that night, and he pretty much spilled his whole life story to me in the span of a few minutes and I was reminded of why Prison Fellowship has been such a huge learning experience for me.

I let him know that, though I’d never struggled with some of the things he has dealt with, I know what it feels like to feel so incredibly lost that the only words you can speak to God are “help me.” I understand that most days I value myself and my desires above my desire for Christ. I know what it feels like to be addicted, lonely, and afraid. But that he is not alone.

That Jesus Christ is the only desirable thing in me, and the sole objective of our lives is to make him the sole desire of our hearts.

He told me he missed feeling the Spirit on him, and I told him that I do too.

He told me he wanted to become the man God wants him to be, and I told him that I do too.

And as he spoke, I saw the spark of desire in his eyes and knew that he was so close to seeing what I strive (and many times fail) to see every single day.

God wants a broken heart, a contrite spirit, he wants us to be men and women that are primarily concerned with desiring him more fully. He is not content with half-hearted devotion, but instead wants everything from us.

A decision to follow Christ is not about the perks you can amass, it’s about finding your greatest treasure buried in a field and selling everything to buy the field so you can have the only thing that consumes your heart. It’s about coming to end of yourself in a jail cell and realizing your need to be saved. It’s about sitting across from a self-proclaimed loner/addict/criminal and seeing his desire for Christ and reminding yourself that he and you aren’t so different. It’s about growing up in a Christian home with loving parents and being so consumed with doing the right thing that you lose your way and become a slave to legalism and secret sins that rip your soul to shreds and coming to the end of yourself in a college dorm room your freshman year and realizing your need for Christ and knowing that you are nothing without him.

If those guys at prison and I have anything in common, it’s that we are united in our inability to save ourselves.

Humanity’s common denominator is its collective brokenness.

May Christ raise us up to be men and women who seek him, who desire him above every worthless thing and every worthless lie we have believed.

I pray that for me, that I could be the man that God wants me to be.

And I pray that for my brothers who have lived a life they weren’t meant for, that God would call each and every one of them to repentance and into a relationship with Jesus.

I’ve heard so many people talk about “jailhouse religion” and it frustrates me to no end. That may be true for some, but to doubt that God meets us at the end of ourselves and brings the dead to life in Jesus is to doubt that he is who he says he is. And, like I told my new friend, I don’t presume to know your life, to understand the depths of who you are, and I in no way mean to belittle the struggle that is this life, but God loves you. He loves you so much that he sent his son to die for you so you would be set free. Acceptance of this doesn’t make life easier, but it makes it better. It bends it toward purpose and makes you into the man or woman God desires for you to be as you desire him more and more every day.

I kept my friend’s note card. And I prayed for him, that God would undo the shackles he has placed on himself, and that at the end of the day, the desperation he feels would point him to Jesus, and if the only cry he can muster is “help” that God would honor that and draw him to himself. That his desire for Christ would overwhelm every vain thing that tries to take its place in his heart.

“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.”-A.W. Tozer

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Dirty Words (or, how we sterilize Jesus and the Gospel)

Depression. Anxiety. Suffering.

depression

What are the first things that come to mind when you hear those words? 

It’s no secret that I was raised in church, my Dad being an associate pastor for much of my childhood, and I knew a lot about the Bible. I could tell you what it said about any issue, well, almost any issue. You see, in my formative years, I knew a few things about my faith but firmly rooted myself in the notion that I knew everything. I was that kid.

And I was wrong.

1.) I knew that God was good.

2.) I knew that Jesus loved me.

3.) I knew that Jesus wanted me to be happy.

I knew that the first two were true, and by extension, the third is true. And if people weren’t happy, well, obviously they were lacking in understanding the first two. Because duh. Because Jesus. Because good Christians don’t get sad. Good Christians don’t get depressed. And good Christians certainly don’t take medication for it. So if words like depression or anxiety flew across my radar, I chalked it up to a blatant misunderstanding of who God is.

Because for me in those days, the Gospel was wholly contingent on happiness, on how I’m getting along, on how much faith I had and the sincere belief that if something was wrong in my relationship with God or in my life, it must be my fault.

I believed that lie until I was old enough to comprehend that my Dad, a pastor, suffered through the very things I decried as faithlessness.

The echoes of Job’s friends had been my theology, the cries of Jesus’ disciples asking whose sin caused the man to be born blind had been my theme song. I was the Pharisee, antagonizing the son of God with my disbelief because I believed that I could be justified in myself, because my goodness depends on me.

Let me be clear: Depression, mental illness, or a general suffering is not sinful. It is not selfish. It is not evil.

Countless people I know and love have suffered with crippling mental illness. I myself, though I don’t know what living with a chemical imbalance feels like, have seen grief and pain and felt the sting of an emptiness in losing someone I loved. Until you have walked through the darkness with someone who can’t explain the gnawing depression inside of them, until you have stood by them at their most dire moments, do not assume to know what it’s like for them. And if you have walked with someone through their sickness, you know better than to assume anything.

In the church, we don’t have an excellent track record with ministering to people who are depressed. We’ve made words like “anxiety” and “mental illness” into bad words, symptoms of our lack of trust in a God who is good, who loves us, who wants us to be happy.

I no longer believe those criteria are the proper formula for ultimate joy. Ultimate joy rests in Christ and his work on the cross. And feelings are fleeting, joy is a constant understanding of those truths without having to moralize every little thing that happens in our lives.

So I won’t judge a fellow Christian who is suffering with depression, won’t tell them to just be happy, won’t tell them that if they are hurting, they aren’t trusting God enough. Because I believe that God is greater than your depression (that he is good), I can trust him to one day help you find resolution, and find peace. Because I believe that the love of Christ is stronger and better than anything this world can offer (that he loves you), I can trust that he is with you in the middle of your struggle. And because I believe that God wants you to know the difference between finite happiness and everlasting joy, I can trust that no matter what you’re feeling, Jesus is better and I will sit with you in your pain and cry with you and pray with you and suffer with you. 

Back to John 9, when Jesus’ disciples asked him about the man who was born blind:

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi,who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.  “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam”. So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”-John 9:1-7

It was a popular idea in that day that suffering came because of someone’s sin. Jesus cleverly debunks this myth and shows his power over stigmas by saying “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” and proceeds to upset the status quo even further and rub his dirty spit on the mans eyes. After rinsing them in the pool of Siloam, he was healed.

No, I do not believe that depression cannot be healed. But when we moralize chemical imbalances it’s no better than moralizing blindness or a broken limb. I read somewhere before that when someone gets a cast, people flock to sign it, and when people say they are depressed, people run away.

This stigma is everywhere, but it bothers me the most that it exists in the church. We claim love and mercy and grace, yet many of us cannot be sensitive to hurting people because we have sterilized the Gospel. But I serve a Jesus who holds you in your pain. I serve a Jesus who breaks protocol and in the sight of a sterilized, sanitized congregation and rubs muddy spit on your broken heart.

A Christ who doesn’t care where you’ve been, only where you are.

A Savior who saves us from our darkness and loves us in the midst of it.

A God who commands us to mourn with the mourners and rejoice with the rejoicers.

A Lord who tells us, time and time again, to come as we are and be made whole.