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Stay in Your Lane, Michal

I think Michal gets a bad wrap. Her father was unstable and her husband had his own struggles with mental illness. She’s bounced around from husband to husband and place to place. All of that builds up, until one day she sees her husband acting a fool in the streets, and it all boils over. She bursts out in frustration when he gets home. And she’s told – stay in your lane.

The Passage

Now King David was told, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

2 Samuel 6:12-16 NIV

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said “How the King of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel – I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.

2 Samuel 6:20-23 NIV

When You Stay in Your Lane Too Long

I imagine that the years of uncertainty and chaos took its toll on Michal. After all, her father, king Saul, starting throwing spears at people in random fits of rage. Then she marries David, and she has to cover his disappearance by sending him out the window and hiding an idol in their bed. At some point in the ensuing chaos, Michal marries another man. When her brothers and father die so that David assumes control of Israel, David’s bargain forces her to leave her current husband and return to his palace. While the Bible does not state Michal’s feelings on the matter, her husband Paltiel “went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim,” (2 Samuel 3:14). She disappears among the throng of wives, concubines, and children whom David amassed during his conquering years.

I think that would cause a heap of frustration in anybody.

*It is important to note that Michal clearly struggled with some spiritual issues of her own. Based on 1 Samuel 19, she had easy access to an idol. David’s rebuke in 2 Samuel 6 involved Michal’s concern for outward appearance rather than pleasing God. However, today we are focusing on Michal’s emotional state and what led her to the outburst in 2 Samuel.

Stuffing Your Feelings

Michal carried the weight of years of pain and frustration inside her. She had no opportunity to express her feelings to the male family members in her life; her father Saul raged without warning, her husband David disappeared for many years, her brother Jonathan was often in battle, and her brother Ish-bosheth completely depended on his father’s army commander to make decisions.

Without having any way to release her negative emotions in a way that caused positive change, Michal’s feelings festered. It is no surprise to me that Michal lashed out at David for acting the fool when she grew up watching her father do the same. Unfortunately for Michal, that outburst cost her dearly. She lost her already tenuous standing in the midst of David’s household. She never bore children, which could have given her purpose.

Like Michal, stuffing our emotions too long can lead to disastrous consequences in our own lives. For information on other ways of managing anger and negative emotions, check out this article. And as always, a professional counselor can be a great help in navigating these deeply entrenched patterns in our lives.

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"Meaningless": Solomon's Mental Struggle

History knows King Solomon as the wisest king of Israel. He wrote Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, all of which are jammed packed with pithy guidance for living a fruitful and content life. So why does Solomon repeat “everything is meaningless” in Ecclesiastes?

The Passage

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 1:1 NIV

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-14 NIV

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV

If King Solomon, the wisest man probably of anyone except Jesus Himself, struggles with despair and finding everything “meaningless,” I think it is fair to say that many of us will, too. And I don’t think we failed if we do. Solomon found that our world is broken. That truth wedged its way into our world back in Genesis 3, and Solomon noted its effects on every aspect of life. He found that it did not matter whether you were wise or foolish, rich or poor.

Solomon saw the big picture of the world, and it overwhelmed him. The brokenness of the world can overwhelm us, too. What are some ways we can cope?

3 Ways to Overcome the “Meaningless”

  1. Focus on the basics. Often called creating boundaries, I have to remind myself that I cannot control anything other than my own actions. When I focus exclusively on acting in a way that pleases God, I am empowered to help others without worrying about things outside of my control. I am in no way good at this. Therefore, I employ all sorts of tricks like deep breathing and exercise to occupy my mind and overcome my tendency to people-please. This book is an excellent resource if you struggle with boundaries.
  2. Act according to your beliefs. I learned the hard way that living in a situation that goes against your beliefs takes you to a very dark place. “Meaningless” only begins to describe it. However, I want you to remember that there is always another option. You may feel stuck with no hope of escape; I certainly did. It took family, friends, and my therapist to help me see a way out of the job situation that caused me intense internal conflict. Once I left, I flooded with relief knowing that I was following a path that upheld my beliefs.
  3. Evaluate your beliefs. Through the process of leaving my job and fighting depression, I learned that we often hold beliefs that hurt us. I tell myself what I “should” or “need” to be doing every other sentence in my head. Sometimes, it’s just simply not true. I create the impossible standards that depress me when I cannot live up to them. Therefore, I try to habitually evaluate my beliefs to determine if they are true and helpful or if they are misconstrued and harmful. Talking with a professional counselor can be very helpful in working through your beliefs.

What are ways that you combat depression and feeling that “everything is meaningless”?

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Is Praying Anger Away Really Possible?

I’ve talked about David in blog posts before related to anxiety and depression. Today, I wanted to take a different look at David’s emotions. I started reading 2 Samuel and found multiple accounts of David killing those who killed Saul’s family. It was a smart move for uniting a country after years of political unrest, and in it David demonstrated his reverence for God’s ultimate authority. However, David’s response also rockets from grief to anger and violence then back to grief.

It brought me to the idea of praying away your anger. It was honestly a strategy my mom tried to instill in my brother and me as children so that we would calm down and process our emotions instead of hitting or kicking each other. But is praying anger away really a viable strategy for handling emotion? Let’s dig in!

The Passage

“What happened?” David asked [the Amalekite]. “Tell me.”

“The men fled from the battle,” he replied. “Many of them fell and died. And Saul and his son Jonathan are dead.”

Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till the evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and the army of the LORD and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

David said to the young man who brought him the report, “Where are you from?”

“I am a foreigner, an Amalekite,” he answered.

David asked him, “Why weren’t you afraid to lift your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed?”

Then David called down one of his men and said, “Go, strike him down!” So he struck him down, and he died. For David had said to him, “Your blood be on your own head. You own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I killed the LORD’s anointed.'”

2 Samuel 1:4, 11-16

Your Anger May Be Something Else

In researching emotions and anger, I was shocked to find this article discussing people whose anger and violent thoughts flared out of control. Most of the individuals affected by these violent thoughts had some sort of head trauma as a young child that affected their temporal lobes. One individual even had a genetic condition that altered the structure of his temporal lobe, which gave him terrifying violent thoughts.

I love watching CBS’ Seal Team. Last season dealt a great deal with traumatic brain injuries and how they can affect mood, behavior, and memory. However, I had no idea that trauma could occur to the temporal lobe as a child or due to genetics that would influence a child’s anger forever. Thankfully, the individuals in the article all received treatment and gained control of their anger. As with other mental illnesses, it turned out that these individuals’ anger issues actually had a deeper physiological root.

If Your Anger is Purely Emotion

For those whose anger is not caused by a malformation or injury to the brain, there are techniques available for controlling our anger. This article from the American Psychological Association has a great list of ways to cope with and redirect anger. Does prayer make the cut?

If you use prayer as a “calming” tool or to help you reframe the experience in your mind, then you should absolutely continue using prayer to control your emotion. However, whether you habitually pray to control anger or are trying prayer for the first time, make sure that you do not suppress your feelings with prayer. Our goal is to express the source of our anger in a nonjudgemental way so that we can improve in the future.

If you feel that your emotions swing like David’s or you are having explosive anger, you may benefit from seeking counsel from a certified professional. Please check out the APA website for more resources and to find a counselor in your area.

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Job Suffered: Coping with Anxiety and the Unexpected

When I think of how Job suffered, I usually think of depression. I think of losing everything – family, friends, possessions, and health. Job tried to maintain faith when everyone around him told him to give up. He could not see a way out from his current situation. Uncertainty, discomfort, and pain surrounded his head like smog.

My biggest takeaway from Job was that his friends were most helpful when they sat with him in silence. After that, their conversation consistently discouraged Job. In fact, God calls them out on their pious “you weren’t religious enough” talk at the end. This passage makes it pretty clear to me what works and what doesn’t work to help friends enduring suffering.

However, the stress of unexpected events and future uncertainty can appear in more forms than just depression. For many, stress reveals itself in blatantly physical issues like upset stomachs and a string of infections. For others, the physical response is less obvious and appears as anxiety due to overactive “fight or flight” hormones.

Job suffered and definitely endured stress in his time of trial. Can Job teach us anything about coping with anxiety in spite of the unexpected? Let’s dig in!

The Passage

“If I have concealed my sin as people do, by hiding my guilt in my heart because I so feared the contempt of the clans that I kept silent and would not go outside – (Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense – let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, and I would put it on like a crown. I would give him an account of my every step; I would present it to him as to a ruler.) – if my land cries out against me and all its furrows are wet with tears, if I have devoured its yield without payment or broken the spirit of its tenants, then let briers come up instead of wheat and stinkweed instead of barley.”

The words of Job are ended.

Job 31:33-40 NIV

Two Tips for Coping with Anxiety like Job

  1. 10 Minutes of Meditation: Not to be confused with “prayer makes your anxiety go away,” prayer as a form of meditation reduces levels of stress in the body. Job spends numerous chapters of the book praying to God, which could help his body cope with the physical aspects he endured. In fact, Job speaks in 10 separate monologues before God responds in the storm. Job suffered, and his prayers allowed his emotional and mental response to ebb and flow. He does not reject any emotion but allows himself to feel it and move on. He does not cling to thoughts but practices release. We, too, can practice prayerful meditation to cope with stress hormones and anxiety.
  2. Focus on Logic: Job uses logic in the face of his friends’ accusations. He knows that he has not sinned. The monologue in Job 31 shows him proving to himself that he did not sin and cause his suffering. Even after God tests Job in chapters 38-41, He acknowledges that Job did not sin against Him but instead maintained a true view of God. In Job 42:7, God proves this: “After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.'” Like Job, we can use logic to keep negative thoughts at bay.

For More Information…

First, this article provides a good explanation of the similarities and differences between meditation and prayer. It clarified some of the traditions and history we aren’t necessarily taught in Evangelical churches. Second, I was first introduced to the idea of centering prayer in Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I highly recommend reading her book for an authentic, humorous attempt of focused prayer.

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Handling Stress like Moses: Two Methods

Moses was a pretty stressed-out dude. I mean, leading thousands of grumbling people through a desert when you really don’t like talking anyway doesn’t sound like the best way to spend your day. But, God called Moses to lead His people, and Moses was obedient. That doesn’t mean God left Moses to learn handling stress on his own, though! God sent advice in a surprising source: Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro.

The Passage

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws.”

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

Exodus 18:13-23

All the grumbling people were wearing Moses out! It seems to me that Moses didn’t even realize how much his work as judge was affecting his health and ability to lead God’s people. It took an outsider, Jethro, looking in on the situation to notice the path that Moses was headed down.

Two Tips for Handling Stress like Moses

  1. Listen to advice from those who know you. Moses had lived with Jethro a “long period” before he found the burning bush and returned to Egypt (Exodus 2:23). He tended Jethro’s sheep, married Jethro’s daughter, and lived in Jethro’s house. When Jethro watched Moses at work, he knew Moses well enough to recognize that the work would overwhelm him. In response, Moses listened to Jethro’s advice. He acknowledged the relationship he had with his father-in-law, recognized the advice for the help that it was, and implemented the advice quickly to avoid the negative outcome he was headed for. It’s not always easy to take advice, but sometimes it can make a dramatic difference in our health if we listen.
  2. Delegate, delegate, delegate. Jethro’s advice was fairly simple. If Moses taught other faithful, respectable men God’s commands directly, they could handle the smaller cases based on that knowledge, and Moses would only have to judge the difficult cases. Delegation isn’t easy. It requires time to teach the skills and principles needed to complete the work. It means the delegator has to trust the workers to implement what they’ve learned. However, delegation also took a lot of repetitive busy work off of Moses’ plate. Delegation allowed Moses to focus on what was important – leading the people in God’s will – and helped him in handling stress.

God sent Jethro to teach Moses ways of handling stress. Just as God provided food for the Israelites in the desert, and just as God provided Aaron to be Moses’ mouthpiece, God provides us with wise friends who warn us when we are headed down a path that is dangerous for our health.

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How Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz Overcame Depression

The book of Ruth in the Old Testament is known as one of the sweetest love stories in the Bible. It’s a tale of unimaginable heartbreak, a kind stranger, and a fairytale ending that continues the family bloodline from which King David and Jesus Christ eventually come. For good reason, we praise Ruth’s faithfulness to her chosen faith, and we admire Boaz for his obedience to the Lord. Girls everywhere use Ruth as a model for patiently waiting for a husband.

But what about Naomi?

The Passage

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me – even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons – would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!”

Ruth 1:11-13 NIV

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

Ruth 1:19-21 NIV

According to verse 4, Naomi lost her husband and her two sons over the span of 10 years. She ran out of hope. Not only did she lose the three people closest to her and most important in her life, she lost her protection and provision from the rest of society. She decided to return to Israel, but as shown by verses 19-21, Naomi was full of pain and despair. She even tried to shut out her two daughters-in-law by sending them to back to their birth families in verses 8-9 and 11-13. So, how does Naomi get from this place of hopelessness to a place of purpose at the end of the book?

Ruth: A Constant Support

Ruth refused to leave Naomi, even when Naomi warned her that Naomi would not be able to do anything to provide for her when they got to Israel. In fact, Ruth makes the bold proclamation, “May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me,” (Ruth 1:17b). Ruth does not try to detract from the pain that Naomi is feeling. Indeed, Ruth probably felt a great deal of pain from the situation, herself. However, she stayed present with Naomi in her grief, even when that meant traveling to an unknown country.

Ruth also ensured that Naomi’s physical needs were met. After they arrive in Bethlehem, Ruth offers to pick grain from the fields to provide for their need for food (Ruth 2:2). It was not an easy job, nor a safe job (see verse 20), but Ruth knew that food was an imperative part of their physical and emotional survival. In fact, when Ruth brings grain back on her first day, Naomi says her first hopeful words in the book. Her rapid questions in chapter 2 showed that she didn’t expect kindness, but the provisions surprise her into a glimmer of hope.

Boaz: A Generous Provider

Though Boaz’s support of Naomi is less direct than Ruth’s presence, he provides support for Naomi’s physical needs by ensuring Ruth always has plenty of grain when she works in his fields. He even gives extra portions when Ruth interacts with him directly at Naomi’s urging (Ruth 2:14-16, 3:15-17). Not only does he provide for their needs, Boaz provides generously, and his generosity gives Naomi hope.

In addition to food, Boaz provides for Naomi and Ruth’s protection by seeking the appropriate kinsman-redeemer to purchase their land (Ruth 3:12, 4:1-9). He is generous with his time and seeks out the closer kinsman-redeemer first thing in the morning. He obeys the processes that the Lord established to protect the poor and widowed, and when the first kinsman-redeemer backs out of the task, Boaz immediately provides protection himself as second in line. Boaz does not think of how bringing a foreigner into his family might injure his reputation, as the other kinsman-redeemer does in Ruth 4:6. He simply obeys God’s laws and ensures the women are provided for.

Lastly, Boaz’s redemption of his family’s land led to him bearing a son with Ruth. This son, Obed, gives Naomi hope and purpose again (Ruth 4:16-17). In caring for Obed, Naomi receives the family she thought she would never have again when her two sons died.

Three Tips from Ruth and Boaz

It is often hard to know how to respond to someone struggling with depression. In my experience, I often don’t know how to help myself when I’m in a funk, which makes it even harder to ask others for what could help me. Here are three things Ruth and Boaz showed us that we can do to help those who are struggling with depression.

  • Provide for their physical needs. Ruth and Boaz both ensured that Naomi had food to eat and sustain her. Boaz also provided physical protection by becoming her kinsman-redeemer and giving her a permanent home.
  • Be present. When Naomi was deep in her pain, Ruth acknowledged the situation and pledged to stay with her. Most importantly, Ruth followed through on her promise and lived with her mother-in-law, which ensured Naomi maintained interpersonal relationships.
  • Remind them of their purpose. When Ruth and Boaz have Obed, they brought Naomi in to be a part of his life. This gave Naomi hope and a productive task she could enjoy.
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How Hannah Coped with Depression in 1 Samuel 1

Happy New Year, everyone! Today is the first day of my new devotional series on coping with mental illness in the church. To be honest, I’ve gotten progressively more nervous about writing these posts the closer it’s gotten to 2020. I take that as proof that this is what I’m meant to be doing. Prayers are appreciated!

When I started thinking about depression, anxiety, and mental illness in the Bible, Hannah’s story was the first that came to mind. I always remember her story with the image of her weeping and praying so desperately that Eli the priest thought she was drunk. I can feel that swallowing hole in my chest that she must have felt. I can feel the sobs that come so hard I believe my eyelids flipped inside out. If anyone knows deep emotional pain, it is Hannah.

The Passage

Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

1 Samuel 1:4-8 NIV

As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.”

“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

1 Samuel 1:12-18 NIV

I imagine Hannah’s husband and rival wife did not help her depression. In fact, verse 7 says that Peninnah would remind Hannah of her barrenness so often that it led to Hannah refusing to eat! She exacerbated Hannah’s negative thinking out of sheer pettiness, as best I can tell. Then, there is Hannah’s husband, Elkanah. Verse 5 says that he loved Hannah, and he did give her a double portion of sacrifice to prove his love and care for her. However, his response to her weeping winds up being pretty selfish. I think if I was unable to have a child and my husband asked me, “Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” I would be ready to slap him. Hannah’s feelings weren’t about Elkanah. She was struggling with an issue of her identity.

Then, we meet Eli the priest. Eli’s first response to Hannah’s anguish isn’t much better than Elkanah’s. He asks her if she’s drunk. Whether as a cry of indignation or an outpouring of pent up hurt, Hannah tells Eli her story. Eli responds with the first helpful statement in the whole chapter. Eli recognizes Hannah’s strength of character and faith, and he offers her a blessing.

Hannah dealt for many years with a situation of barrenness that no one ever wants to go through. Coupled with undeniable relationship stress at home from Peninnah, it is not surprising that she sometimes feels hopeless and has no appetite. Thankfully for us, the author of 1 Samuel included three ways that Hannah responded to depression that turned her hopelessness into joy and generous obedience when her son finally was born.

Three Ways Hannah Coped with Depression

  1. She reached out for help instead of hiding. If I were Hannah, I would have run away in embarrassment and anger when Eli asked me if I was drunk. Instead, Hannah took the opportunity to reach out for help. She told Eli her story and entered in a brief conversation with him. Likewise, we can reach out to others in our depression and engage in a conversation that reduces our feelings of isolation.
  2. She allowed Eli’s blessing to reshape her view of herself. Before Hannah went to the tabernacle to pray, the identity spoken over her most often was from Peninnah. Peninnah, a petty rival wife, probably forced the idea down Hannah’s throat that she would never bear a child and that she was the lesser wife for being childless. However, when Eli spoke a blessing over Hannah, Hannah allowed herself to view her situation positively. She believed that her situation was not a flaw of her character but one in which God would prove His faithfulness. By listening to Eli, Hannah turned a negative view of her circumstances into a positive one.
  3. She addressed her physical needs. In verse 18, the Bible says that Hannah ate and then her face was not downcast. Praying and talking to Eli did not immediately fix her situation. In fact, verse 20 says that Hannah did not immediately get pregnant after this event, but that bearing a child occurred “in the course of time.” Instead, Hannah addressed the physical needs she had been neglecting by not eating. The combination of food and a changed mindset redirected Hannah’s path from hopelessness to praise.

Hannah’s deep pain of childlessness is exacerbated by a cruel rival wife and slightly clueless husband. Though the Bible does not call her depressed, her symptoms of anguish and not eating indicate that she probably struggled with years of depression just like many of us do today. Thankfully, the Bible shares a few tips we can use to cope with our depression like Hannah does so that we can praise God for His faithfulness in difficult situations.

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Psalm 32 and Finding Your Voice

When I was in middle school, I quit talking.

This is how I start most conversations when people ask me to tell my story. I became a Christian at five years old, so I don’t have a crazy salvation story to share. I just have a story of hardship and God’s faithfulness, which one day turned into doubt and despair, and which ultimately reminds me that God is in the smallest of details even when I believe, “[God’s] hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer,” (Psalm 32:4).

Verse 3 of David’s psalm struck me as so succinctly encapsulating how it feels to stay silent. He says, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long,” (Psalm 32: 3). Based on the rest of the passage, I believe David is speaking of staying silent instead of confessing his sin to God, because once he does, he says he is blessed. That said, I imagine David also had days when he stayed silent to other people because he felt afraid and sought shelter in God. He says, “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance,” (Psalm 32:7). Staying silent from fear feels different from the silence of rebellion.

I spent the first part of eighth grade walking through fluorescent white hallways with my eyes trained on the speckled, white laminate below me. My brain only input as much information about avoid the black backpack, don’t run into the blue sweatshirt, and those guys are really loud as would get me through the halls with as little interpersonal contact as possible. I had refined the method over the span of four years, and I was pretty good at it. For some reason, though, a guy in my choir class couldn’t stand for the silence. He spent three minutes every other day walking me to computer class and alternating between asking me, “Why don’t you talk?” and “Can I wear blue socks with black shoes?” (He knew the second question almost got me to answer.) But at that point, I was so afraid of the words that might come out of my mouth, and that the words might end up hurting someone, that I refused to say anything at all. A dull, constant loneliness seemed less painful than the stabbing throb of knowing my words had cost me a friendship.

Eventually, I did speak to him. Then, I thought we had lost him. I spent a good week of my life thinking every time the phone rang, it would be my best friend’s mom calling to say the boy had killed himself. Thankfully, that call never came.

I didn’t learn to talk again immediately after that week, but I do think that week jolted me awake. That, and another boy in my gym class asking me how I could still smile when the other girls were so mean to me, and I was too shocked to say “Because Jesus” before he ran off to play basketball. I was learning that staying silent could cause as much pain as speaking.

I am thankful for God’s faithfulness during those years. He kept sending these boys I didn’t know to ask me random questions that stunned me speechless. And in the years since then, He has continued to send people who force me to speak, including my husband and some of my dearest friends. As David points out in verse 3, staying silent slowly eats away at your spirit until you feel dead inside. That’s why I’ve learned to pray for courage and speak up. I’ll mess up the words nine times out of ten, but it feels so much better to have the words out in the open instead of eating me up like a disease on the inside.

I’d like to end today’s memory with the praise at the end of the psalm. David gives us such a hopeful exhortation to leave with. I pray over you today, “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11). Shout for joy so those words don’t get trapped inside you. Someone just might need to hear them.

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Psalm 31, Christmas, and Luke 23

I opened to the Psalm for today and was struck by the title, “Into Your Hand I Commit My Spirit.” For some reason, the words echoed in my head in the voice of my college Bible professor. I could picture him standing at the front of the room, looking mildly uncomfortable in his jet black blazer, and shaking his hand in deep concentration as he repeated the words. But, I remembered him quoting Jesus when he said the words, and I was currently reading a psalm of David. Thankfully, Google can be a pretty quick concordance.

Luke 23:46 says, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” It’s a unique version of Jesus’s last words. Mark and Matthew both quote Jesus as saying, “‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” and reflects the opening lines of Psalm 22 (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46). In John, Jesus’ last words are, “It is finished,” (John 19:30). So, what does Luke 23 have to do with Psalm 31?

Psalm 31 shows David beseeching God for rescue from his enemies. Regardless of the outcome, David praises God and trusts that He will not let David be overtaken by his enemies. David expresses deep pain from the rejection of his neighbors. He then requests that God will have justice on the wicked and thanks God for His goodness to the faithful. The last two verses of Psalm 31 exhort believers to “Love the LORD, all you his saints!” and stay faithful to the One who maintains justice.

It makes sense that Jesus would reflect this psalm in His sacrifice on the cross. He endured horrible physical pain, the mocking of the crowds, and intense mental stress. In spite of this, He remained obedient to God’s will and sacrificed His perfect life in the place of our sinful ones.

As we spend today remembering the sweet baby lying in a manger and celebrating His humble entry to this world, we also want to remember the reason He came. We focus on love at Christmas time, and if we look at Luke 23 and Psalm 31, we’ll see that Jesus’ love for us goes even deeper than we could possibly understand. Merry Christmas, everyone, and may we all feel His love surrounding us tonight.

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Psalm 27 and Making People Feel Seen

I have devoted most of my recent podcast listening to the Don’t Keep Your Day Job podcast by Cathy Heller. I just love her emphasis on making people feel seen and using that idea as the motivation for our work. Some of the most heart-filling moments of my life have been when friends or family make a comment that lets me know they were listening and that they understood. I think that’s why I so greatly enjoy making people cry with my writing. (Happy tears, of course.) It means by God’s grace I wrote something to make someone feel noticed and cared for. David seems to speak of this in Psalm 27:10 – “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.” How beautiful that God gives us the gift of caring for and noticing others as a reflection of how He cares for and notices us!

We spent last weekend in the mountains with a couple of the dearest people on the face of the planet. It was one of those weekends when my dominating inner introvert didn’t mind interacting with people for three days straight. We drove from Pigeon Forge to Gatlinburg to walk the Skybridge that my suitemate and I were so excited about trying while our husbands cautiously agreed to join us. We meandered the strip and ran in and out of shops looking for Christmas presents for our families. We ate lunch at 3, had dinner at 8, and didn’t mind if we spent an hour waiting in the Skybridge line a second time to see what Gatlinburg looked like covered in Christmas lights. It was one of those weekends where everyone laughed and took turns DJing music and could just enjoy being.

We went to see the Hatfield and McCoy dinner show. We sat down at checkered-covered tables, and a thick-accented waiter in overalls and a denim ball cap came to ask what we wanted to drink. “Crick water” was an option, he said, “but don’t worry, I took the fish out.” We ate fried chicken and “squirrel brain” barbecue. The waiter poured soup out of a pitcher and asked if we wanted “naner or chocolate” pudding. He disappeared as soon as his five or so tables were cleared of all but drinks and pudding.

My suitemate started wondering how many of the servers were also acting in the show. One pre-show singer bounced off the front of the stage, tied on an apron, and started making rounds. Sure enough, when the show started and the stage turned into a swimming pool, my suitemate called to the table, “Look, that’s our waiter!” I scanned the group diving into the pool and could hardly tell who was who until the dogs started diving and swimming to the ladder at the edge.

It was an impressive show, and as soon as the main actors bowed and the lights came up, our waiter was back to clean off the table and reset for the next show in thirty minutes. “Well, I thought he was one of the divers, but his hair is dry,” my suitemate said. Her husband dared her to ask the waiter if he was in the show. When my husband stopped the waiter to pass him our tip, she asked him.

“Yes, ma’am,” he was a diver. She asked how his hair was already dry. “Oh, it’s not. I’ve just got a hat on.” He took his hat off and ran his hands through his hair to show us. We thanked him for his hard work and filed out of the theater with the rest of the diners.

It amazed me how easily she could talk to strangers. I was in awe of how naturally she could ask questions and reach out to people in a way that made them feel seen. I wanted to be like that, but oh, I thought, having to talk to people, having to go up to them instead of the other way around! My inner introvert shrunk back towards the shadow in the corner.

The whole concept has been nagging at me for the past week. I went to a women’s event at church where I spent half of the night awkwardly standing at the edge of circles until one of my friends came up to talk to me. I kept thinking about my suitemate’s bravery and wished I had the social grace to do the same thing. When I read Psalm 27 today, the first verse struck me – “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

I long for that kind of courage, so Psalm 27 became my prayer for today. When I doubt my social aptitude, I pray verse 11 – “Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” When I shrink in general fear, I pray verse 14 – “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” Lord willing, one day I’ll have that courage to ask a question of total strangers that lets them know I see their hard work or their suffering, and I care.