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A Way Out: Hope in Acts 16

We’re working through Acts and the ministry of Paul for our preschoolers at church. I have to admit, the lessons taught by the preschool teachers often inspire me more than the sermons preached for the main service. In preparation for this week’s lesson, I reviewed Acts 16 and stumbled upon the account of Paul and Silas in jail. The jailer’s story always struck me, so let’s look at how the jailer finds a way out and gains hope in Acts 16.

The Passage

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailor woke up, and when he saw the prison doors were open, he drew his sword to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole household.

Acts 16:25-34 NIV

Hope in Acts 16

To be honest, I feel absolutely inadequate to speak on the issue of suicide. How do I distill such a complex, highly personal, and deeply emotional concern into a 500 word blog post? I’ve tried before, and I really don’t think it can be done. Yet, the weight of it prompts me to speak anyway, so here goes.

We find the jailer sleeping through the night shift when an earthquake shook open the jail. The jailer believed all the prisoners had fled. At the least, he imagined he would lose his job, and at worst, he imagined his execution. Faced with all hopeless options, the jailer decided to take his own life. At least, that was his plan until Paul yelled from the inner cell.

The jailer asked Paul to explain the Gospel, Paul obliged, and the jailer’s family converted to Christianity. It seems that Paul’s message of Jesus’ resurrection gave the jailer a way out from his fear and pain. Thankfully so! Unfortunately, belief in Jesus doesn’t take suicidal thoughts away from everyone. Suicide and suicidal ideation finds roots in everything from genetics to inflammation. Treatment can require more than a declaration of belief.

A Way Out

I prayed for a year for God to remove me from an unhealthy workplace. Every door that seemed to open later slammed in my face. I watched four employees who had only worked at the office for a few months move on to better positions while I still waited for a job in my dream writing field. My belief that God would provide a way out cycled with my fear that I would be stuck in the stressful position forever. After a year, the feeling of being trapped won out. The thoughts racing through my head scared me to death.

I accepted Jesus into my heart at 5 years old, so faith wasn’t holding back my mental health. I found a way out by seeking additional counseling and psychiatric help. Thankfully, I was able to remove myself from the unhealthy work environment and recover from home. I’ll be honest, God still hasn’t dropped a writing job out of the sky for me. He led me in directions with childcare and children’s literature that I never imagined for myself and that I now love.

Perhaps you relate to the jailer, and faith in a loving God would provide your way out. Maybe you’ve believed in God for a long time, but you don’t see a way out of your current situation. Or possibly neither scenario reflects your journey, and you just feel stuck. Please seek counsel that encourages you to keep trying (the National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255, and they offer texting). There is a way out, and it’s probably a path you never expected.

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Confidence to Speak: Peter in Acts

I’ve noticed a theme appearing lately in conversations with my friends. For some, this time of quarantine has grown my friends’ confidence to speak and move forward God’s kingdom. For others, this quarantine makes their need for confidence more apparent. It reminded me of Peter. We saw how Peter’s rash and impetuous nature changed after Jesus’ resurrection. After looking at Acts, I noticed that Peter’s redemption gave him confidence to speak.

The Passage

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city… They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

Acts 1:12, 14-17 NIV

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest of each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them…

Amazed and perplexed, [the Jews] asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel…”

Acts 2:1-4, 12-16 NIV

Confidence to Speak

If you flip back one page to the end of John, you will read an intense conversation between Peter and Jesus after the resurrection. (Granted, different people authored John and Acts, but I find the canonical juxtaposition interesting.) Peter responds in frustration to the point of anger when Jesus asks if Peter loves him. Basically, Jesus calls out and restores Peter all at the same time. This conversation seems to deeply impact Peter’s trajectory in life.

Back in the first chapter of Acts, we find the disciples anxiously waiting for God’s next directions. They pray and fellowship until Peter stands up in a moment of clarity. He points out how Judas’ actions fulfilled prophecy. Then, he directs the believers to appoint a new apostle. A few days later, the miracle at Pentecost came. It stirred up a big old ruckus with rumors flying. Who stands up to address the crowds? Peter does, and he makes sure everyone can hear him, too.

I hope you find comfort in Peter’s transformation. Peter continued to grow as the early church spread. Yet, Peter’s actions in the beginning of Acts shows us how believing in God’s power gave Peter the confidence to speak. Peter outright denied Jesus before the crucifixion. In spite of that, God gifts Peter with the wisdom and the confidence to lead His church. I can’t think of a greater mercy and love than that.

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Peter’s Response to Jesus’ Resurrection

Last week, we looked at Peter’s perspective of the Passover when Jesus was crucified. Thankfully, the story didn’t end with Jesus in a grave. Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to repent after His resurrection. It completely changed Peter’s life. Let’s look at Peter’s response to Jesus’ resurrection.

The Passage

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told [of Jesus’ resurrection] to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Luke 24:10-12 NIV

The third time [Jesus] said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do no want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

John 21:17-19 NIV

Confusion and Bewilderment

Peter’s denial of Jesus left him crushed, confused, and bewildered. He did not understand how the events of Easter would take place. So when the women return with news of an empty tomb, Peter ran to see it for himself. As it does for us, Jesus’ crucifixion showed Peter the weight of his sins and failures. Peter’s love for Jesus left him wishing he could change his choices at Passover. The remorse would forever alter the trajectory of Peter’s life.

Peter’s Response to Jesus’ Resurrection

As the Gospel of John shows us, Jesus lovingly gave Peter an opportunity to redeem his Passover denial. Next time, when the threat of death goaded Peter into denying Jesus, Peter remembered the lesson he learned. He no longer denied Jesus. Instead, Peter went to jail and ultimately endured martyrdom. Peter led the early church bravely, if imperfectly. Fear occasionally overtakes him regarding the church’s theology, but Peter refuses to deny his Jesus anymore.

Thankfully, Peter’s example gives us hope that Jesus restores us even when we fail. Like Peter, our story does not have to end when we mess up. Jesus extends His pierced hands to redeem us and use our struggles for good. As time pulls us away from this year’s Easter celebration, may we remember that Jesus’ offer of forgiveness does not.

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Passover Prophecy: Peter’s Denial

As we approach a rather unusual Easter Sunday, I keep thinking of my favorite early church leader, Peter. He possesses that feisty, fighting faith. He also screws up just as badly as all the rest of us normal humans. In honor of Passover today, let’s look at Jesus’ Passover prophecy of Peter’s Denial.

The Passage

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Luke 22:31-34 NIV

Passover Prophecy

Jesus warned of multiple betrayals at the Passover meal. He foretold that Judas would hand Him over to the chief priests. He explained to the confused disciples that the Kingdom of God was coming. Most surprisingly, He also prophesied Peter’s denial.

We think of Peter as the gutsy, often rash, unofficial leader of the disciples. He was that kid in school who had an answer for every question. Peter boldly brandishes his position, but he doesn’t realize that Passover will completely flip his life upside down.

Peter’s Denial

The Passover celebration harkened back to the Israelites escape from Egypt. The Israelites painted their doors with the blood of lambs, and their sons were spared from God’s judgement. (See Exodus 12.) To commemorate God’s mighty act, the Jews sacrificed a Passover lamb (see Luke 22:7-8). God doesn’t slack when it comes to fulfilling prophecies, so the chief priests capture and procure the death of His Son Jesus on that very day.

Of course, Peter doesn’t see this big plan. He only knows that he is devoted to his friend Jesus. I think Peter truly believes he will defend Jesus to the death. After all, the Bible reports only Peter following Jesus to his trial. However, as Jesus said in His Passover Prophecy, fear overcomes Peter when the bystanders recognized him. Peter denies Jesus three times, then he flees in shame. (See Luke 22:54-62).

This week, let’s sit with Peter in recognition of our sinful behavior. Peter failed to live up to his own expectations of himself. It crushed him, just as it would crush any one of us. Unlike Peter, though, we know that Jesus rose from the dead three days later. We know that Jesus’ resurrection gives us victory over sin and death, so we don’t have to live in shame like Peter. Next week, when we have celebrated the gift of Easter, we’ll see how Peter’s life changed because of this miraculous Passover.

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Suicide in Ministry: Lessons from Judas

While all of my blog posts need prayer, I had to say an extra one for this post. Suicide affects just about everyone in some form or fashion. It feels heavy and uncomfortable and hard to talk about. Even so, the longer we let suicide hide in corners of shame, the more people are hurt by it – especially by suicide in ministry.

The Passage

Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

Matthew 27:1-5

Suicide in Ministry

One of the most heartbreaking responses I received on my Letter to the Church about Anxiety and Depression came from a friend of a friend. She responded that her nephew who worked in ministry at a church committed suicide several years ago. Their family was still hurting from the event.

I can’t help but think that if Judas, one of Jesus’ own disciples who lived every day with Him for years, can struggle with mental illness to the point of committing suicide, then we should not forget our own ministers or look down on them for depression. That’s what the chief priests and elders – the ones who orchestrated the death of Jesus – did in rejecting Judas’ confession. They told Judas that it was his own struggle and they need not be bothered. I wish I could shout a rebuke to the church from the rooftops: mental illness is not a sin!

Friends, can we make an effort to bring mental illness out from the shadows? Let’s dig deep with our ministers and not shame them for struggling with the same things we do. Let’s sit with others in their pain and walk alongside them in their struggles. Perhaps we could keep a few more friends on this Earth with us for a little while longer.

For another article on suicide in ministry, check out this post on Christianity Today. As always, please seek professional counseling if you are struggling. The National Suicide Prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255, and there is no shame in calling it. We need your story with us in this world.

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Music and Depression: A Look at King Saul

I find it funny how music can affect my mood. Sometimes when I tense up with anxiety, I hear “Sunshine on my Shoulders” by John Denver and instantly calm to memories of my mother singing. Then there are times when the flowy worship of “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman makes me feel absolutely claustrophobic. It changes from day to day. When I think of music and depression in the Bible, King Saul of Israel best exemplifies the power music can have on mood.

The Passage

Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.

Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”

So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”

One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.”

Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.

David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”

Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

1 Samuel 16:14-23 NIV

While this passage speaks of Saul’s mental distress as an evil spirit, Saul exhibits many of the symptoms of a depressed and anxious person. His mood swings without warning. Later in 1 Samuel, Saul responds to irritations by throwing spears at the people in the room with him. He lives in constant fear of losing his identity as King of Israel. The only source of relief he knows comes from a young shepherd who knows how to play the lyre.

Music and Depression in Therapy

Many studies have been done on the links between mood and music. In this academic article, Lucille Magill Bailey, D.A., discusses the effect music had on families dealing with cancer. She found that music eased their anxiety, facilitated communication and confidence, and allowed families to feel peace when their loved one passed on. She noted that songs from all genres of music could ease the family’s depression and anxiety. Patients and families needed the links to memories and feelings more than they needed a specific key or instrument played.

2 Tips on Music and Depression or Anxiety

  1. Listen to what you need now. The song that calms you the most on Monday may drive you up the wall on Thursday. Honor your body’s changing needs and listen to the songs that best speak to you in that particular situation.
  2. Remember to breathe. Deep breathing regulates mood and tension quicker than any other trick out there. (In fact, most tips I know of for anxiety and depression involve reminding yourself to breathe.) Try adjusting your deep breathing to match the flow of the song. Singing also requires controlled breathing, so sing out if that helps you.

How does music affect your mood? Let me know in the comments! And as always, seek a professional counselor for advice on your particular situation. (Mental health is not one-size-fits-all!)

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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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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.