El Día de Acción de Gracias


A brief one for Thanksgiving, because there are things to say.  

I’m not going to get political, much, though this holiday is deeply conflicted.  Unless you whitewash it the whole way, we’re celebrating some bad things and we don’t have any National Days of Mourning or Grieving or Repentance, because that isn’t our style. Today when we were talking to the borrachos who hang out outside our house, Kim asked them if they knew what Thanksgiving is.  One of them said he thought so, but they all knew what Black Friday is.  Sigh. On the other hand, I don’t think you can be too grateful, to God or to the people who love you and make your life worth being alive for.  

Recently, I sat at a table and ate and drank and conversed in Spanish and laughed hard with friends, people I love in this strange (to me) land that’s been home for working on seven years now.  One of the people is abused.  None of us can fix it.  Sometimes it goes better.  Sometimes it gets a lot worse.  We’re involved and invested and all those great words that really do mean compassion and time and money.  But our lives are so utterly different.  Yet we sit together and joke and laugh and care for each other.  That’s what we can do.  

Yesterday I got such awful news it literally knocked the breath from me, like a knee driven into my chest.  It’s so bad and so private I can’t even hint at it, but it’s from someone I love, about someone I love, and all I could do was listen and feel my guts churn.  I was the safe place for it, the person who could share a little of the overwhelming pain.  That’s what we can do.  

My son is not a great baseball player and may never be.  But today when I said, “Hey, let’s go play baseball,” he said, “Oh, yes!”  We played for about an hour and I can see how he is improving.  I can tell him.  I can do what my father did for me and love him with my time and sweat and sharing what I know about fielding grounders and going with the pitch.  I’m never really sure how I’m doing as a dad, but this I can do.  

My wife often feels like when we prepare for celebrations, she does most or all of the work.  Today, the kiddos and I were able to help with some significant prep work while she was working on gifts for the moms of her preschoolers from the little preschool she and two neighbors run in our barrio.  She still probably did the majority of the work, but we did a good job with our list and when she got back, it was all done and the kitchen was clean.  I’m not the servant to my wife that I aspire to be, but today, we did okay.  

Thanksgiving crew! (Disregard the Christmas decor, it really is Thanksgiving.)

Today, in addition to being grateful for the people in my life and how they love me, I’m grateful for how I get to love them.  It’s imperfect and messy, always, but also life-giving and healing, both ways.  I believe we are healed through loving others.  

The Nicaraguan translation for Thanksgiving is “el Día de Accion de Gracias.”  I really like this.  Literally, “the day of the action of thanks.”  That means both “the day of giving thanks” and “the day of thankful action.”  

These are my thankful actions.  In the end, this is what we can do.  

Fighting for Hope: Depression


the-labours-of-alexander-1950 Rene Magritte

I am a bit scared to share this one.  People judge a lot for this.  But I hope it can help someone–maybe you, maybe someone you love–and if so, I want to do what I can.

The truth is, there are days for me when it’s hard to get out of bed, hard to pray, hard to breathe. There are days when just being takes all my energy. It isn’t because I’m lazy, it isn’t because I lack motivation. It isn’t even because I’m unfaithful. I struggle with depression and I have some dark days.

I have days when doing anything at all feels exhausting. Some of those days I’ll sit and read my Bible and pray and the clouds lift and the weight comes off my chest. But others, I’m praying and exercising and eating healthy and doing everything I know how to do and it doesn’t seem to change anything. Or maybe because I’m doing those things it doesn’t get worse, but it’s like I’m fighting to a standstill.

My father was diagnosed bi-polar. Genetically, that means I’m about four times more likely to develop this condition than someone without a close relative who is bipolar. About 10% of children with a bi-polar parent will exhibit symptoms themselves. So that’s fun. I didn’t get to choose; those are my cards. God loves me. I’m His. He’s given me gifts and He uses me for His Kingdom. And I also have to be vigilant about my mental and emotional health, probably more vigilant than many people, and I walk through some tough days.

God might heal me completely someday. Then again, compared with what I saw my dad suffer, God has mercifully spared me already.

Right this second, a number of people are re-evaluating me, trying to make what I’ve just said fit with their picture of me. I may have just lost a bit of standing with certain people.  Someone else is saying, “Oh, my gosh, me, too!” It may look different on you than me, but the core is the same.

One of the funnest things about depression is the shame, the feeling that something fundamental is wrong with me and if people knew, they would…well, they would think as lowly of me as I sometimes think of myself.  And that would be a bummer. So the predictable response to depression is to isolate, because a)you don’t feel like doing anything, and b)telling other people you’re like this is a huge risk.

That’s not an unfounded fear, either. I’ve certainly encountered people who don’t understand depression and who assume that it’s just self-pity or a lack of faith or laziness.  Part of understanding is knowing what these words we use so freely mean.  I need to define things so that we’re clear on our terms.

I’m quoting Archibald Hart, who was the Dean of the School of Psychology at Fuller Seminary when I was studying there:

Depression can be seen as a symptom, a disease, or a reaction.  As a symptom, depression is part of the body’s warning system, calling attention to something that’s wrong. It alerts us to the fact that there has been a violation of some sort. Something is missing or lost. It can also be a symptom of something physically wrong. Depression accompanies a wide variety of physical disorders, such as influenza, cancer, and certain disturbances of our endocrine system. But depression is also a disease in itself.  In its most severe form, the psychotic depressions, it is an illness category all its own. Known as a major depression, it has two forms: unipolar depression (one just gets severely depressed) and bipolar depression (alternating manic and depressed moods). Finally, depression can be a reaction to what is going on in life or more specifically, to significant losses one experiences. This last form is known as reactive depression. It’s the kind most people have to contend with in their daily lives. If we are emotionally healthy, we deal with those losses promptly, and the depression is short-lived. If we’re not, the depression lingers and may even get worse or chronic.

  So depression is complex, and we’re really talking about 3 different categories with similar effects:

1)Depression as a symptom of things ranging from flu to cancer;

2)depression as a serious disease, and

3)depression as a reaction.

I think this is partly why people can get so confused and overwhelmed about depression, and why some people don’t understand what others go through. Most of us know what the flu feels like, how your body just seems to drop into low gear. Many of us here have suffered loss or grief, and reactive depression can hit hard and last for a while, and then gradually or suddenly lift again.  A smaller number suffer depression as a disease, and this also has a range, from low-level doldrums to a crippling extreme that makes functioning in normal, everyday life impossible.

Jesus experienced depression. He certainly did.

What did Jesus feel in the garden of Gethsemane when he was preparing to face his arrest, torture, and murder?

He left the upper room with his disciples, who were singing a song together. He told them what was about to happen—how he would be betrayed and deserted—and they told him “No, you’re wrong.”

He went out to be alone with God but asked his three closest disciples to watch with him and they fell asleep. He asked them for help—one time in the Gospels where Jesus specifically asks for help—and they failed him.

“I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here and stay awake with me.” They fell asleep. He found them sleeping and rebuked them, then exhorted them not for him, but for their own sake, ”Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He goes off and prays in utter misery, so that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.”  He came back…and they were asleep again.

This is a perfect description of reactive depression. Of course it’s not sin; Jesus is suffering loss, he’s in agony, and his body is registering this physically.

Studies show that people who are in the “helping professions” experience reactive depression more often:  social workers, community organizers, pastors, missionaries. That makes sense, because it’s a physiological response to loss.  It’s one stage of grief.  When someone you love and have been helping makes horrible decisions and/or walks away from God, you feel depressed. You may not exhibit the symptoms I described earlier.  You may have different coping mechanisms to deal with it.  Or you may be internalizing these losses and pushing on, which almost always leads to problems later.

But everyone experiences depression from external events that impact us strongly.  When we’re deeply invested in people, we’re going to face pain and sorrow with them, and because of them.  Would any parents disagree?

The disease level of depression is often triggered less from external conditions and more from internal mechanisms, from brain chemistry out of balance. But studies show—and believe me, I’ve studied this—that genetic and environmental components also play a part. This is where people who haven’t experienced severe depression can misunderstand what’s happening to those suffering it.  I’ve already touched on this, but I’m going to say it more directly:

Depression is not sin, and telling people to “just get over it” is akin to telling people with physical diseases to “get over it.”

Depression can lead to sin; it can make us more vulnerable to sin. But condemning people for being depressed is badly misunderstanding what is happening to them. Telling people that they’re depressed because they lack faith is like telling someone with diabetes or cancer that they are sick because they don’t have enough faith. That’s behaving like Job’s “friends”: “Gosh, you’ve got problems–you must really be an awful sinner!”

I don’t claim to speak for all people suffering depression everywhere—I’m not signing up to be Poster Boy for Depressed Folks—and please forgive me if my description does not helpfully address what you experience.  But I am going to give you four truths that I know about depression.

#1:  God knows.

Scripture addresses depression. Have you read Psalm 88? What’s different about this Psalm? It doesn’t resolve. It doesn’t end with a rallying cry of hope and a declaration of faith. Most of the Psalms, even the most downer-sounding of them, conclude with God’s faithfulness, God’s judgment on the wicked (those wicked often being the cause of the downer-ness), and a reaffirmation of hope in God.

In God’s wisdom, we also have Psalm 88. There aren’t dozens of Psalms that end with “life sucks,” which I take as a guideline not to wallow in our pain. But there is one, which I take to be a promise that God understands and that our struggles are not unique; we are not alone.  Though depression always makes you feel isolated and cut off from humanity, that is not true—you are not alone in feeling this way! The psalmist felt the same way, and this is part of our Scripture. Psalm 88 is a prayer.  It’s a cry to God for help in despondency. “O Lord, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.”

The writer goes on, “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with your waves.”

It’s easy to blame God when you feel this way. The psalmist totally does: “You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them. I am shut in so that I cnanot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call on you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you. “But I cry to you for help, LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me? From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;I have borne your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.You have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend.”

The writer doesn’t say, “There’s this situation right now that is really getting me down.” “From my youth I have suffered and been close to death.” We don’t know the objective situation of the writer, we don’t know how bad things are, but we know the psalmist feels miserable and describes this as a long-term struggle, “from my youth.”

This may be a lifelong battle with depression, or this may be how, when you’re depressed, everything can seem horrible, including your entire life retroactively. God knows. I think this is validation.  Feeling depression, even long term, is just what some people deal with; these are the cards they drew. Or we drew. Depression is hard enough to deal with, without adding self-condemnation on top. It’s crucial to believe that God knows, He understands our situation.

#2 God is with us in our struggle.

Believe me, I am not saying this cheaply. It’s not a cliché for me. Not everyone considers Luke 22:39-46 a crucial passage for their faith. I do. Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane and he is miserable. I don’t love this passage because Jesus is miserable, I love this passage because God used it when I was most depressed to help me believe that He understands me and is with me, even in my darkest times. When our son died, I was furious with God and could no longer see how he loved me. I was refusing to accept Isaac’s death. I felt like if I told God it was okay that it happened, then I would have to accept it and go on. But it wasn’t okay. So I stayed angry and figuratively held my breath, demanding that God change it. He didn’t. He didn’t raise my son from the dead.

But this is what stationsofthecrossgardenhe showed me: Jesus prayed in the Garden, “Lord, if it be your will, take this cup from me.” That’s the most ludicrous prayer in the history of existence. Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, The Incarnate Word of God who was Present at Creation, who knows better than God the Son that this is the plan for Redemption—and yet Jesus asks, “Could we change it now? Would that be possible? I will do your will, Father, but maybe we could try a different plan?”

What is that? That is Jesus’ heart. That is the intimacy between Son and Father, that Jesus prayed exactly what He felt, knowing full well that it was impossible, that God would not answer that prayer in the affirmative. For me, more than any other Scripture, this proves to me that God knows my suffering and is with me in my suffering, no matter how ludicrous my thoughts or how impossible my demands. This passage is bedrock for me. Because in depression, in grief, in our struggles down in the depths, we need to know more than anything else that God is with us. He is.

“If I make my bed in hell, you are there.”

#3 Healing means coming into the light.

Pain, injuries, depression, and bitterness, many things fester and grow worse in the dark. God’s healing is always in the Light. Keeping our secrets, whether because of shame or humilation or pride, does not lead us to life. Why does God choose to work that way?

I know many of us have prayed and prayed for healing and help in private, just us and God, and it sure seems reasonable that God would answer those prayers, for so many reasons. But God prefers to work through community. That is as clear as anything in Scripture. God’s Kingdom is communal; our prayer, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is a corporate plea. The “me and Jesus” approach, for the most part, is not Biblical. Sorry, I’d often prefer it, too. But God heals us through our brothers and sisters. We seek God in community.

Our Enemy is much more convincing when we face him alone, when we have no one to remind us of the Truth. I never win arguments with Satan. Never. And sometimes I can just step back and let God defend me, but sometimes I’m not able to grasp the Truth that saves me without a human voice to remind me. That’s my weakness, yes, but that’s our condition. We are weak. And we’re inclined to believe lies.

I’m not saying that depression magically goes away when people speak God’s truth to us, but I know that one of the most crucial weapons in the battle against depression is people faithfully speaking what is true about us to confront the negative things we have internalized. You might be shocked by how loud and constant the negative voices in my head are; if you can’t relate, God bless you and I’m happy for you. Or you might sing this exact song with me, note for note. I don’t have an off switch for those voices, but one of the things that helps most is seeking the truth to confront the lies. I can do that by reading Scripture, by praying, and by hearing my brothers and sisters—and my wife—tell me what’s true about me.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should dietrichbonhoefferseek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”  Bonhoeffer, Life Together



I need to make a caveat now. Not everyone can handle hearing what we suffer. Just like some of us suffer from depression and other mental struggles, some of us suffer from lack of compassion or empathy, and some simply have not yet reached the depth and maturity to walk with others through certain kinds of suffering. It takes wisdom and grace to handle hearing about someone else’s struggle, and it takes wisdom and discernment to choose the right person or people with whom to share these things. Sharing pain with someone who can’t handle it can make things worse for everyone. It’s important that we not think, “If I tell someone, I’ll automatically get better.” That belief can set us up for crushing disappointment.

One aspect of this is that some people struggle with depression at a level that will require more than a willing ear. I was a pastor for about 10 years and I’ve been in vocational ministry for coming on twenty. I had one, one, pastoral counseling class when I was in seminary. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve read a lot, I’ve receiving counseling and I’ve offered counseling, but I’m not capable of dealing with every level of depression. I can love people. But I also need to be able to recognize when I am out of my depth. Like I said before, that can be particularly difficult here, where it’s such a risk to let someone else see one’s struggle.

On the other hand, we have to walk carefully, because “This freaks me out” or “I don’t want to deal with your pain” is not the same as “I’m out of my depth.” I believe in both God’s power to heal and God’s use of our minds, education, and understanding.  Psychology without the Gospel doesn’t have the heart of the Truth, but sometimes we need the Gospel applied with the tools psychology offers.  Pray and ask for God’s leading before you open up.*  Pray and ask for God’s leading if someone opens up to you. Keep their confidence, but if you suspect their struggle might be beyond what you can walk through—I don’t say “fix” or “heal,” but journey beside—then seek counsel.

#4 Final Truth: God is bigger.

God’s grace is bigger than however messed up and discouraged you or I might be. This is the bottom line. This is the most important thing I can tell you about depression. This is my choice to believe every day of my life. Depression is not sin, but we can sin in our depression, and it is easier to sin when we are depressed, believe me. But where sin abounds, Grace is Greater. Hear me: God’s Grace is always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS greater. I know it doesn’t feel that way. I am a very feeling-oriented person. But sometimes our feelings are just wrong. It’s not a sin to have wrong feelings, and sometimes those feelings are caused by brain chemistry that is not functioning correctly.

I told you my dad was bi-polar.  He had so many untruths that he believed and battled every day. I watched this battle from long before I could understand what was going on, and he wanted to tell me his problems from much younger than I could handle hearing them (choosing your young child for your confidante: bad idea) and he passed on a lot of these characteristics and genetic dispositions to me.  Here is my final Bonhoeffer quote:

We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.

I resented and even hated my father for a long time, especially before I became a Christian. Now I understand a lot better, both intellectually and viscerally. My life looks very different than his did, because he lived a Job life and didn’t come to peace with God until the last few of his 68 years. But God’s grace was greater than my dad’s pain, if only Dad could have availed himself of it decades early, and God’s grace is greater than my struggles. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ says that sorrow and depression and death do not have the final word. Even on the days when we feel like we’re hanging on by our fingertips—maybe especially on those days—God’s Grace has the final word, and that Word is Eternal, while this fight is temporary. I’m not one to tie up messy theological or existential struggles in neat little bows (depression and the death of a child defy those easy answers), but God is doing something in us through this struggle, because he never leaves bad things to rot; He is the Redeemer.

“And I know, as my Redeemer lives, that at the last he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been destroyed [and all this damnable misery with it], then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”


*If you are depressed and have never prayed before, this could be the time to start.  If you want to write me, please do.

Identity, Value, and Trudging Home


One of the most readily affirmed truths in Christianity is that we are children of God and all our value comes from that identity.  By that, I mean we recognize that God’s love and adoption of us as his children imparts our value to us.  Not our abilities, not our possessions, not our fame or fortune or friendships or degrees or social standing or accomplishments make us any more valuable in God’s estimation than we were to begin with, simply because he created us and adores us.


I’m always wrestling with which pronoun to use, because “I,” “you” and “we” convey
monumentally different things, and I don’t always feel confident or qualified to move beyond first-person singular.  So I will start with the one about which I am certain.


I say these words easily but they are not yet true of me:  My only value comes from being a child of God.  Actually, they are true, I believe by faith.  But I don’t believe them.

Huh?  Yeah, I said that.  I believe in the truth of this statement, but I do not believe this about myself on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis.

Can I believe a statement is true if I don’t live by its truth?  Of course.  I believe that sin hurts us and if I avoided sin, I would spare myself oodles of suffering and misery.  Yep, I believe every word of that.  I don’t stop sinning, mind you.  But intellectually?  I’m all in.

And yet, and yet, we have to ask what we mean (oops, slipped into first-person plural) by “believe.” Does it mean, “I affirm this truth,” “I assent to this fact,” or does it mean, “I live by this knowledge and order my life accordingly?”

I believe that eating healthily all the time is the best thing for my body.  I don’t always eat healthily, but generally I try.  And sometimes I just gorge.  Mostly on holidays or special occasions when I’m calling it a feast day and just taking it off from eating more wisely and selectively.  Or when I’m depressed and think that eating junk food will cheer me up, which never works in the long-term but does make me feel a little better in the instant gratification time-frame.

Back to identity.  My conflict feels different to me than sinning or eating badly, because with those I know I’m wandering away from reason, but in the moment I’ve just decided a)I don’t care, b)the consequences are worth it, or c)I’ll swim in denial for a bit.

When I say, “Being God’s child alone gives me value,” I am speaking a truth that my head buys and my heart simply doesn’t.  So I know it’s true, but I don’t believe the truth I know.  In case you are not conflicted in this manner, I can recommend some wonderful higher mathematics sites that you might really enjoy.  But Paul who wrote Romans was.

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.  But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

I had a leader of a mission trip I was on tell me that this is a passage for non-Christians and does not apply to Christians.  It may not have applied to him, but it still describes me and I’ve been a Christian for coming on 30 years now.

I would like to know and believe the truth about myself.  Heck, I would like to know, believe and live the truth about myself.  How cool would that be?  When I imagine what “God is faithful to complete the work he started” means, I picture this.  Consistency, across the board.  But today, I’m still all over the map, like the start of a Risk game when you’ve got one or two armies on each country spread out hither and yon with no pattern other than the random draw of cards.*

Today I received four compliments, seven insults, a few hugs, a nasty look, and an email thatstocksrisingandfalling might have been joking or else was a dagger camouflaged as humor.**  Does my value change like a volatile stock that bounces up and down as its shares are bought and sold?  Nope, it does not. I know that.  But those things impact me because some part of me believes that that’s exactly what happens.  Days where I can do no wrong, everyone sends sunshine my way, and my little goals in life seem to be getting accomplished, I don’t just feel happy–I feel more valuable.  That’s a confession.  I shouldn’t.  I know better.

• The things people say are largely, if not entirely, about them, not me.  Every compliment must be taken with a grain of salt and every insult should probably be taken with a salt lick.

• There are SO MANY variables going on with every interaction I have:  People are having skubula days, they are in crises I know nothing about, parenting is not working out for them today, they (like me) suffer from insomnia, they’re feeling lousy, etc, etc, etcetera.

• I can’t be a reliable witness to how others intend their words.  Oh, I can guess and speculate–and do, all the time.  But I’m no expert witness.  No case should be decided based on my evaluation of whether that tone you just spoke to me in was light-hearted, mocking, indifferent or dismissive.  I don’t know your intentions.  I’m doing my best to decipher them, but even after I guess I still don’t know whether I’m right.

That’s a tiny list of reasons I shouldn’t let my value rise and fall on my interactions with others.  I know all this stuff.  But if you, whom I love, or maybe like a whole lot, speak sharply to me or maybe don’t trouble to speak to me, I feel bad.  It might be legitimate for me to feel concern for you, or be troubled about the state of our friendship (or whatever we have), or even question whether I did or said something wrong.  But I feel bad about me.

Truthfully, my negative response ranges based on how important the speaker or ignorer is in my life.  And this is exactly why I should root my value in God’s view and only God’s view.

• God alone has the objective view.

• God isn’t having a bad day, pissed that his car won’t start, etc. x 3.

• What God thinks of me, in the end, matters the most…by a wide margin.

In the same sense that either God exists or doesn’t, I am either valuable to God or I’m not.  According to the Bible, God does and I am.  Both unchanging.

You may say, “Come on, Mike, those negative things might hit your emotions, but they aren’t really impacting how you see your value.  Right?”  Thus did I choose to write this from my very own first-person singular perspective.  You may love advanced equation websites and you may never have felt the Romans passage I quoted above applies to you.  If that’s genuine, awesome.  If that’s your version of denial…stay with me.  We’ll get there.

I’ve become convinced that these things hit my emotions so hard precisely because I still have them connected with my value as a person, or as a Christian, or whichever part of my identity gets bruised or coddled.  Going up is just as dangerous as going down because a)what goes up must come down (i.e. if I’m invested in praise I’m also invested in criticism) and b)feeling too good about myself apart from God’s value he has imputed to me runs me smack into pride.  Anything referred to as “the root of all other sins” is just as well avoided.


What now?  If you are going to jump into this boat with me acknowledge that you’ve been in this boat with me all along, I’ll shift to what we might do.

My value comes from God’s love, straight up, no chaser.  God loves me whether I spend tomorrow in the fetal position, accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God, or manage some middle ground betwixt.  God loves me whether I’m wallowing in my sin or loving him with all my heart and my neighbor as myself (he has a strong preference between those, largely for my sake, but his love doesn’t waver).  If God’s love for me stays consistent regardless of my own behaviors, it’s sure and certain not to change with others’ treatment of me, nor with any of the other things that tend to swing me with their lassos.

We need to internalize this truth.  We need to integrate it into our thought patterns and let it become the measure by which we evaluate every interaction.  I know, that might sound exhausting and a little unrealistic.  Am I really going to stop after every conversation and mentally compare it with the truth about God’s love for me?  But I’m pretty sure this is what some other folks already have built in.  That’s how it appears to function in my wife.

To get this truth internalized, we need to soak in it.***  Let it saturate us.  Make it the air we breathe and the chocolate food we eat.  Let it become the water we swim in.  Meditate, memorize, reread over and over every single day, passages that convey God’s love for you.  Pick your favorites.  I don’t care if that’s cherry picking.  If you struggle with the same kind of negative thoughts I do, you are already very clear on passages about judgment, sin, and failing.  God’s grace is greater.  Jesus died for us when we were enemies.  Nothing separates us from the love of God.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

The next time you feel yourself plummeting due to someone’s words or actions, step back and hold up what they’ve said or done/your reaction to what they’ve said or done**** against the words that you’ve been ingesting.  Yes, they may even have spoken something true about what you’ve done wrong or need to repent of or do differently, but that doesn’t change who you are.  It doesn’t change how God sees you.

If you can, ask someone close to you to speak these truths to you when you can’t manage it for yourself.  This can be uncomfortable, awkward, embarrassing.  It’s tough to let other people see how screwed up we feel.  But the right people can help us to believe what we struggle to accept about ourselves.

Pray.  God can change hearts, God can change minds, God can change our screwed-up wiring.  There’s a reason for each of us why we started believing untruths about ourselves.  Something happened in us that caused us to attach our value to other people’s responses or our own success or failure or whatever thing(s) we’ve hooked on to apart from God.  God can get into that sealed-off chamber in us and transform and redeem what’s in there.

I’m not saying it will happen like magic–“Presto!”–nor that it will be painless.  The truth will set us free, but first it will kick our butts.  Healing often hurts.   That’s the paradox, but it’s one we see in our physical bodies and everywhere in the world around us.  What I’m describing may require intensive prayer, or counseling, or a support group, or some other form of deeper work.  Sorry that sounds rough.  We agreed we are in the boat and leaving denial behind.*****

I am God’s beloved child.  

You are God’s beloved child.  

There are a whole bunch of other things we think we are, we’re told we are, and we’ve believed we are.  They’ve got to be dragged out into the sunshine.  The father who loves us gets the final say.  Do you think the prodigal son, while trudging home, believed the truth about himself?


Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son

We’re trudging home.

I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.



*Sometimes we played random draw for countries and sometimes we took turns choosing them.  The latter better look a little more like strategic planning.  Maybe winning at Risk is the image of having God’s work in me completed, in which case the other colors are truly my enemies…not too bad of an analogy.  I think I’ll leave it there before it collapses with rolling the dice.

**I’m making these numbers up so that my problem-solving friends don’t try to figure out where they figure in.

***Some authors I highly recommend to help with this:  Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Joyce Meyer, Timothy Keller, Rob Bell.

****Because remember, we’re only interpreting their intentions through our own lenses.

*****I disavow any pun here.  If you thought it, it’s yours.