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*Welcome to SPAG Magazine

*Welcome to SPAG Magazine

Welcome in wood Thanks for dropping by! 

Are you a Christian? Do you love God? Do you want to be encouraged, challenged or inspired in your Christian walk? Then you’ve come to the right place.

SPAG Magazine is a FREE quarterly, electronic magazine for Christian adults. While we have a focus on singles, our articles are suitable for all Christian adults. We’re an international, inter-denominational publication, and we aim to honour and exalt God. We believe that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word.

The updated issue 13 is now available!

The June/August 2018 issue of SPAG Magazine is finally here and what a great selection of articles there are in this issue.

Initially, we had a problem with our “Letters to Lou” pages, but they’re now all updated and uploaded to the online issues.

Our 13th issue of SPAG Magazine coincides with our 3rd birthday! We have a great bunch of fascinating articles which I’m sure will get your thinking, and hopefully bring you closer to God.

The articles in the issue include:
– Hate like Jesus;
– Domestic violence and the church (Part 2);
– God’s gift of life: NO to euthanasia;
– Road to Damascus;
– Open Doors: from muslim sheikh to secret believer;
– Josie and the gift of singleness;
– Creation Ministries: Cuttlefish colour changes inspire new TV screen design;
– Condemned to celibacy?
and lots more!

Following are the links to the current issue:

We’re celebrating our third birthday with a whopping 60% off all of our previous issues (until the end of August 2018) so you can catch up on all of our earlier great articles, and it’s an easy way you can also help support this important ministry. (Link to our store)

Time is running out for this offer: we’re offering 50% all promotions in our September/November 2018 issue. Find out more in our promotions/advertising page here. 

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Let us know if you would like to subscribe for your very own quarterly issue. Email us: 

Warm regards

From Vicki Nunn, Editor and the staff of SPAG Magazine

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Calling all singles!

 How Do You Respond to Those Dumb Comments?

How do you respond when other people make silly, annoying, rude or repetitive comments to you about being a single person? What kinds of things do they say? We had an article in the March/May issue of SPAG Magazine, sharing things that people have said to other Christian singles about their state of ‘unwedded bliss.’

If you’d like to share some of the comments said to you, please fill out the form on this page, or email us:

How do you like this humorous idea?

I’ll be doing a series of these images based around singleness, spinsterhood and bachelorhood to go into my personal shops, sometime in the near future.

I’ll put them on cups, shirts, cushions and other items.
If you like the idea, please let me know and I’ll redirect you to the shops where they’re located, once I upload them in my personal online stores.

Vicki Nunn
Editor

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Becci and Robbo from the Rise and Show program on Vision FM interviewed me on 24 March about my near death experience, which I shared in an earlier issue of SPAG Magazine. Here’s a link to a copy of that interview:

Bridget Brenton from Christian Today wrote a fantastic review about an earlier issue of SPAG Magazine. You can find the review here.

AND FOR YOU: a FREE devotional booklet for one month:

We hope this book will bring you into a closer relationship with God through praise, prayer and worship.

Here’s the link to the downloadable pdf  (link here)

OR view the online ‘flippable version:

Praise To God Devotional Booklet No. 1

(Note: there may be some advertising on this third party website.)

SPAG Magazine is FREE – covering our costs is essential if we want to continue making this terrific magazine available at no cost to you and to all of our readers. Please prayerfully consider how you may help:

Or send along your friends to our shop.

You can also help us by submitting the following for our consideration:

  • your own article;

  • your scenery photograph for our back page;

  • your comments in response to an article or other item; and/or

  • your suggestion for a topic for us to consider.

One of the items available in our store is the gorgeous “Reflections” e-book which contains over 120 pages of beautiful photos and includes inspiring quotes and Bible verses to lift your spirits as well as to challenge you in your walk. Here’s the link to buy this lovely e-book through our shop. (At present it’s only available in flippable format to view on a third party website.)

Your purchase will help to support this ministry. Thank you for your kind consideration.

Join our Prayer Network Team

One of the most important things you can do for SPAG Magazine is pray for us. We need prayer to not only increase our readership, but to enable God to reach out to Christians and Christian leaders across the world, with articles which will encourage, inspire and challenge them.

We also need your prayers for enough finances to keep SPAG Magazine going.

If you’re interested in joining our prayer network, you can become a member on Facebook on this link.

Can 73¢ a day really help SPAG Magazine?

While we’ve recently overhauled some expenses to reduce costs, there are still lots of costs we need to cover to ensure we keep SPAG Magazine available and to provide it to you for free. Presently all outstanding costs are met by our Editor, Vicki Nunn who has a limited income on a disability pension. Yep, it’s almost like she pays you to read it.

Our total operating costs per quarter are around AU$662. If ten people could contribute just 73¢ a day for a year, all of our operating costs would be met. Would you consider being one of those ten people? (Perhaps you could ask nine people from your church or singles group to make up the remainder.)

73¢/day x 10 people/year = all operating costs*

Other costs:

There are also a couple of other costs as well including the Glasbergen cartoon and costs for promoting SPAG Magazine, which total around AU$100 per quarter. If ten people could contribute just 11¢ a day for a year, our remaining costs would be met.

11¢/day x 10 people/year = remaining costs*

Your generous contribution can make a big difference! You can also help by purchasing items from our online store: www.spagmag. com/shop.

Here are those 2 costs again:

73¢/day x 10 people/year = all operating costs*

11¢/day x 10 people/year = remaining costs*

Consider also that in the past 18 months or so we’ve spent $2,000 on a new computer and monitor as our old computer had been making strange noises for two years.

Would you make a commitment to help SPAG Magazine in its mission?

Our mission is to inspire, challenge and encourage Christian adults in their walk, and to honour and exalt God.

Email: 

* (NB: Wages for staff have not been included.)

If you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Warm regards

Vicki Nunn
Editor
SPAG Magazine


[Voice] The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.


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Believers Who Suffered Depression

Believers Who Suffered Depression

by Vicki Nunn (1 December 2016)

“A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear (that results) from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl.”

Stephan Hoeller

Introduction

Some Christians and churches claim that depression comes from demonic possession, or from sin, perhaps a curse, or because God is punishing us for a wrong-doing. As we discussed in the article “Can Christians Have a Mental Illness,” while on some occasions it may be the result of an ongoing sin, for most believers, depression doesn’t usually arise from these things.

We’ve looked at possible physical causes of depression as well as circumstances which may cause it. It can be the result of drug and alcohol abuse, physical injury or as part of an illness, as a side effect of certain medications, or as a consequence of physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse.

Seeking help for depression is not sinful, nor is taking anti-depressants. Getting over depression isn’t about “having more faith,” or “looking on the bright side,” or “just getting over it.” There is no pithy quote, Bible verse or inspirational saying that will snap us out of it. In fact, there are quite a number of Bible verses that speak about depression, and Bible characters who struggled with it.

Depression is not a new thing – it’s been around almost since day one!

One of the more important things we learned in that earlier article is that a good proportion of the population will experience depress-ion at some time in their life, and therefore it’s likely that many Christians will also go through it.

Being a Christian doesn’t automatically make us immune. Depression doesn’t mean that a person is lacking in spirituality or immature in their Christian walk. Do you need reassurance on that? Then hopefully this article will provide enough evidence to demonstrate that some of the strongest, most faithful believers have suffered depression – and God still loved them.

Depression

Normally in each issue of SPAG Magazine we endeavour to provide an article on one inspirational person. In conjunction with issue 7’s focus on depression and mental illness, we’re sharing a little about the lives of inspirational believers who suffered depression  – from the Bible, from history and also from the present day. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I encourage you to find out more.

If you’ve ever suffered depression, it may ease your burden to know that profound Christian thinkers, passionate champions of the persecuted and down-trodden, God-inspired prophets, and those who reached great pinnacles of wisdom and strength in their Christian walk, have shared the trials and torments of depression with us.

If those with such resounding faith, profound knowledge and deep compassion can experience the same depths of sorrow, anguish, and moments of doubt; times when God seemed silent to their urgent, tortured pleas for help or for answers; then we, the more common, ordinary Christians are not alone – we aren’t wrong or broken or in need of deliverance. For some of us, it is part of the demanding journey of what it means to be a Christian.

It’s almost freeing to know that these exceptional Christians share such a bond with us. Perhaps it is those who have never known depression and those dark, tormented nights of the soul, who miss out on this distinctive experience. Perhaps we who have known depression, are the chosen ones who God deems worthy of undergoing such an ordeal. Perhaps our journey will be all the better for it.

As bizarre and unreasonable as it sounds, perhaps there’ll come a day when we’ll be able to look back and say “Thank you Lord.”

Whatever the circumstances, depression is very real, and can have a profound and long-lasting impact on us. Those who have never suffered depression cannot understand the terrible pain and suffering it causes.

Biblical Believers Who Suffered Depression

(a) Adam and Eve

While there is no Biblical evidence to confirm it, I imagine that both Adam and Eve suffered depression after they sinned and were cast out of the garden of Eden.

Having previously been so intimate with God, it must have been devastating for them to lose that close and loving relationship. No longer did they know that kindred closeness of spirit, soul and purpose. Adam and Eve knew without a doubt that they were no longer Holy – that purity of their holy relationship with God had ceased to exist.

I’ve heard hell described as the absolute and complete awareness of our aloneness and separation from God. Perhaps in a way, it was similar to how Adam and Eve felt.

Their daily lives of toil to grow food and to survive would have been a constant reminder of the repercussions of their sin, and their unending loss.

The consequences of their sin were later brought home to them, when their own son Cain killed his brother Abel.

(b) King David

There are more than three dozen examples of David’s experiences with depression which he shared in the Psalms. In Psalm 6:2-7 we read words that sound similar to what we might say when experiencing deep depression. Along with the anguish, his words seem to be touched with frustration and even anger:

“Show me grace, Eternal God. I am completely undone. Bring me back together, Eternal One. Mend my shattered bones. My soul is drowning in darkness. How long can You, the Eternal, let things go on like this?

Come back, Eternal One, and lead me to Your saving light. Rescue me because I know You are truly compassionate.

I’m alive for a reason – I can’t worship You if I’m dead. If I’m six feet under, how can I thank You?

I’m exhausted. I cannot even speak, my voice fading as sighs. Every day ends in the same place – lying in bed, covered in tears, my pillow wet with sorrow. My eyes burn, devoured with grief; they grow weak as I constantly watch for my enemies.” [Voice]

(c) Job

We can understand why Job would have suffered depression, after he lost all he had including his children and his wealth. While he must have grieved for his children, he was able to accept that loss was part of life – he’d come into the world with nothing, and would leave the world with nothing.

When Satan was allowed to afflict Job with a terrible illness that not only caused him awful physical pain, he also lost the affections and closeness of his wife, the comforts of his home, contact with friends and loved ones in his community, and was cast out of his home town because of his disease.

Here was a different sort of trauma to the losses he’d suffered earlier. This next step meant that he’d lost everything else including his dignity, his health, and his position within society – he was even mocked by low-life people because of how far he’d fallen from God’s grace.

Additionally, he was constantly in pain which would have affected every physical movement and would likely have plagued his sleep. Lack of sleep and relentless pain alone can cause depression, but the added losses and indignities would have piled up upon his already low spirits.

He’d lived a good life and had tried to be obedient to God. When he was suffering so terribly, he questioned God, demanding a response from Him about what he’d done to deserve such harsh treatment. Doesn’t that sound a lot like what most of us would probably do in Job’s situation?

We can almost hear the anger and perhaps even a little touch of rebuke in his voice in Job 6:8-10:

“If only my one request were answered, if only God would grant me the fulfilment of my only hope: That God would be willing to crush me, to kill me, that God would release His hand and cut me off.


At least then I would have a crumb of consolation, one source of joy in the midst of this relentless agony: I never denied the words of the Holy One in my pain.”
[Voice]

We can hardly blame or judge Job for feeling angry with God. In fact, that kind of a reaction has been around since the time of Cain and Abel, when Cain became angry upon God asking where his brother was.

We can still love God and feel angry and upset with Him. In fact, it really isn’t a surprising response when we’re obedient and go through difficulties and pain and don’t understand why we’re suffering.

Eventually God healed Job and restored his blessings including more children and wealth, and a long, healthy life.

For most of us though, restoration of good health, the return of our wealth, or a child or a partner to replace one we’ve lost, don’t usually happen, and our pain and suffering may remain with us.

(d) Elijah

Elijah was one of several people in the Bible who suffered depression. Here was a man that saw some incredible miracles including ravens sent by God to feed him when he was hungry; provision of food for himself, a widow and her son during a famine; and then Elijah raised the woman’s son from the dead after he passed away.

On another occasion he prayed to God to send fire down from heaven to burn up his sacrifice, to show His power to Baal’s prophets and to the Israelite people. The Israelites saw God’s power and were filled with fear, awe and wonder.

In the same chapter we read that he was able to supernaturally run faster than Ahab who’d left earlier in his chariot!

Despite all of those amazing miracles, he knew and trusted God, and yet Elijah sunk into a terrible depression, even seeking to die.

In 1 Kings 19:4 we read:

“He journeyed into the desert for one day and then decided to rest beneath the limbs of a broom tree. There he prayed that his life would be over quickly and that he would die there beneath the tree.

Elijah: I’m finished, Eternal One. Please end my life here and now, even though I have failed, and I am no better than my ancestors.” [Voice]

After he overcame his depression, Elijah continued in his work for God, and took on Elisha as his apprentice. Later, as his time on earth drew to a close we read in 2 Kings 2:11b:

“A blazing chariot pulled by blazing horses stormed down from the heavens and came between Elijah and Elisha. Then Elijah was swept up into heaven by the fiery storm.” [Voice]

God favoured Elijah so highly, that he took him straight up to heaven! Surely then we must consider that depression is no hindrance to being close to God, or for God to accept each of us completely, or for us to be able to do His work.

(e) Other Bible People

You may like to read about other Bible people who suffered depression, such as: Jeremiah; Hannah; Jonah; and Jesus.

The night before His crucifixion, Jesus spent time in prayer, His spirit in distress. While not necessarily depression, He was in extreme anguish so great, that he sweated drops of blood.)

Christians in History Who Suffered Depression

(a) C.S. Lewis

Most of us know Lewis’ work from his beloved Narnia series. Lewis, was a great Christian thinker who also wrote books on theology, and yet for such an intellectual who understood God so well, he suffered depression.

After his wife died of cancer, just three years after they married, he wrote of his experience, when he desired an answer or some kind of sign from God:

“…But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.” (“A Grief Observed.”)

Lewis struggled to connect with God during his difficult days, to focus his heart and mind on God, just as many of us do. In his book, “A Grief Observed,” he said of his suffering:

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”

And when it seemed to him that God wasn’t responding:

“’Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?”

(b)  Mother Teresa

The compassionate and caring nun, Mother Teresa is often presented to the world as an iconic image of supreme Christian service, of one who was content in her work, faithful in her service and unwavering in her devotion to God.

There was also the Mother Teresa that few of us know, who suffered depression and struggled to find God, especially during periods of dark despair, but her soul hungered for Him even when she didn’t sense His presence.

In her book “Come Be My Light,” (edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC) she said:

“I want to smile even at Jesus and so hide if possible the pain and the darkness of my soul even from Him.”

And later she wrote:

“With regard to the feeling of loneliness, of abandonment, of not being wanted, of darkness of the soul, it is a state well known by spiritual writers and directors of conscience. This is willed by God in order to attach us to Him alone, an antidote to our external activities, and also, like temptation, a way of keeping us humble in the midst of applauses, publicity, praises, appreciation, etc. and success.”

(c)  Other Christians in History Who Suffered Depression

Other well-known Christians who suffered depression included: Charles Dickens; Martin Luther; John Calvin; John Wesley; Handel; Emily Dickinson; Sir Isaac Newton; Charles Spurgeon; Pope Francis; Florence Nightingale; and many more.

Well-known Christians of Modern Times Who Suffered Depression

(a) Barbara Bush

The former first lady of the USA suffered terrible depression in the 1970s. According to a New York Times article, she sometimes had to stop her car on shoulders of the highway because she feared that:

“…she might deliberately crash the vehicle into a tree or an oncoming auto.”

(b) Joyce Meyer

Joyce was abused as a child which impacted on her emotional and mental development enormously, and led to her depression. In her article “Is it Really Possible to Beat Depression?”she said:

“I know what it’s like to be depressed. For many years I was unstable emotionally because of abuse that I experienced during most of my childhood. It caused me to be negative, critical, and easily discouraged. I used to believe that it was better not to expect anything good to happen to me because if nothing good happened, I wouldn’t be disappointed. But I was still miserable and had no peace.”

Joyce believes that we can allow depression to take hold of us, and that there are ways to stop it. She said:

“Depression begins with disappointment. When disappointment festers in our soul, it leads to discouragement.”

(c) Other Well-known Christians of Modern Times Who Have Suffered Depression

Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ” has suffered depression.

Others in this group include: John James (Newsboys); Sheila Walsh (singer and talk-show host); Tina Campbell (Mary Mary); Richard Smallwood (gospel music artist); Buzz Aldrin (astronaut); Lecrae (hip hop artist, record producer and actor); Kevin Sorbo (actor); Mel Gibson (actor, director and producer); and Ashley Judd (actor).

Conclusion

For each of us who suffer depression or other mental illnesses, our journey and our experiences may be different, but we are bonded together in a unified Christian experience.

We aren’t alone in our suffering. The similarities of our anguish, the deep depths of our depressions, the struggles of our condition, the unanswered, perplexing questions and even at times, silence from God show us by their similarity that God has found a way to stretch us and shape us, even sometime agonisingly, but purposefully into something more than we were before.

We may not see that we’ve changed for the better, or understand that the suffering that we bore began a transformation within us.

While in the midst of our struggles, sometimes we feel torn, broken, battered and weak with trembling, God isn’t unaware of the battle we are waging, He is not absent from us though His silence may make it seem that He is.

These troubling experiences and depression are another part of our journey. Perhaps we undergo this pain and suffering because there was something deep in us which God needed to change or to remove from us, which required such a forceful and intense experience.

When we take those final steps at the end of our human journey and find ourselves standing before God, instead of asking Him “Why?” our minds, hearts and soul will grasp it at last and we will say, “I understand.” [End]

 

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“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.”

Elizabeth Wurtzel

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eye-with-tears-and-makeupsm

 

alone-sad-depressed-mansm

 

After Adam and Eve sinned, there were cast out of the garden of Eden, and realised their separation from God.

After Adam and Eve sinned, there were cast out of the garden of Eden, and realised their separation from God.

King David in prayer

King David in prayer

Job and his friends

Job and his friends

Elijah destroyed the messengers of Ahaziah by fire

Elijah calling down fire from God

Jeremiah in the ruins of Jerusalem

Jeremiah in the ruins of Jerusalem

Jesus and the crown of thorns

Jesus and the crown of thorns

Charles Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

John Calvin

John Calvin

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton

Handel

Handel

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

Bibliography:

[Voice] The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.
Ekstrand, Dr DW, no date, The Transformed Soul “Dealing with Anger Toward God,” available: http://www.thetransformedsoul.com/additional-studies/spiritual-life-studies/dealing -with-anger-toward-god – accessed 04/11/16.
McDaniel, Debbie, 4 May 2016, Crosswalk.com “7 Bible Figures Who Struggled with Depression,” available: http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/7-bible-figures-who-struggled-with-depression.html – accessed 04/11/16
No author, no date, A Christian Faith “Psalm 42 – Spiritual depression,” available: http://www. christianfaith.com/resources/psalm-42-spiritual-depression – accessed 04/11/16
No author, no date, Wikipedia, available: www.wikipedia.org – accessed 04/11/16
Borchard, Therese J, no date, Beyond Blue – A Spiritual Journey into Mental Health: “Mother Teresa: My Saint of Darkness and Hope,” available: http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/beyondblue/2007/08/mother-teresa-my-saint-of-dark.html – accessed 04/11/16
Justice, Jessilyn, 21/08/15, Charisma News: “When Famous Christians Suffer Public Depression,” available: http://www.charismanews.com/culture/51159-when-famous-christians-suffer-public-depression, accessed 04/11/16
Carey, Jesse, 9/12/14, Relevant: God – “7 Prominent Christian Thinkers Who Wrestled With Doubt,” available: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/7-prominent-christian-thinkers-who-wrestled-doubt”- accessed 04/11/16
Meyer, Joyce, 20/12/10, CP Living: “Is It Really Possible to Beat Depression?” available: http://www.christianpost.com/news/is-it-really-possible-to-beat-depression-48134/ accessed 04/11/16.
Skinner, Michael, no date, “Famous People With a Mental Health Concern/Illness,” available: http://www.mskinnermusic.com/home/advocacy-2/famous-people-mental-health-concern-illness/ accessed 04/11/16.
James, John, 2016, Full Gospel Businessmen’s Training: “John James,” available: http://www.fgbt.org/Testimonies/john-james.html accessed 04/11/16.
Heitzig, Skip, no date, Christianity Today “Journey Through Spiritual Depression,” available: http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2001/february-online-only/cln10214.html accessed 08/11/16
Kolodiejchuk, Brian, 4 September 2007 by Doubleday Religion “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta”
Wines, Michael, September 8 1994, The New York Times: “In Memoir, Barbara Bush Recalls Private Trials of a Political Life,” available: http://www.nytimes.com/1994/09/08/us/in-memoir-barbara-bush-recalls-private-trials-of-a-political-life.html accessed 10/11/16
Lewis, C.S., Published April 21st 2015 by Harper San Francisco, “A Grief Observed,” accessed 09/11/16

Having Struggles?

Having Struggles?

Here are some articles which you may find helpful if you are going through struggles. We will continue adding to these as we share them in issues of SPAG Magazine. If you have an issue or a topic that you’d like us to cover in an upcoming issue, please let us know. You can complete the form at the end of this page, or email us at: 

Can Christians Have a Mental Illness?

Five Key Ways to Support a Friend (or Stranger) With a Chronic or Invisible Illness

Good Grief: Coping with Chronic Illness

Happiness Habits – Articles on Learning How to be Happy:

  1. Keep a happiness journal;

  2. Forgiveness and friendship;

  3. Difficult decisions;

  4. Friendship;

  5. Understanding yourself;

  6. Putting off procrastination;

  7. Derailing Depression (parts 1-3)

Believers Who Suffered Depression;

Let’s Talk About Sex;

  1. Introduction

  2. Purity (or the world is not enough);

  3. Masturbation and celibacy;

Where is the Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Why Do I have Trouble Making Friends?

Tell us what topic or article you would like us to share in a future issue of SPAG Magazine:

Can Christians Have a Mental Illness?

Can Christians Have a Mental Illness?

Vicki Nunn

by Vicki Nunn

Introduction

Over the centuries, people with mental illnesses were locked away in institutions or jails and subjected to the most appalling treatments and conditions. Some were killed out of fear, or (as happened in various countries early in the 20th century including Australia and the USA), they were sterilised or euthanized as a means of ‘improving’ the genetic human stock, or to remove them as a burden on our society. Unfortunately this concept arose from the theory of evolution which was taking a strong hold in many countries at the time.

When I was growing up, people never talked about mental illness other than just to make fun of the ‘crazies.’ Television programs and comedians mocked people with mental illness, and many people were so afraid of them that they took care to avoid them and to ostracise them, and to ensure that they were locked away.

As an adult, I’ve been fortunate to have personally known people who have suffered various mental illnesses including schizophrenia, bipolar-affective disorder, depression and more. I say fortunate, because it’s given me more of an understanding of the problems and issues with which mentally ill people struggle, and also because I came to value them as individuals, and to admire them for their resolve in living as normally as possible while struggling with their illness.

As someone who has personally suffered depression and panic attacks, I know that mental illness can have a profound and life-changing impact upon us.

Mental Illness in Modern Times

It is really only up until recently in our society, that mental illness has been more openly discussed, and we are becoming more accepting and compassionate towards those with mental illness. Rather than just locking people up and treating them as ‘unfixable’ or even as less than human, we are at last finding some medical treatments and psychotherapy to help them as best as possible.

Within the church though, it is an area that has been slow to change. In some churches there is still the belief that Christians simply do not suffer mental illness, unless they’re committing sin or are lacking in faith and are being punished for their actions, or possibly even as a result of a curse.

Other churches run with the concept that the person needs to be freed from demonic possession.
Some still treat the afflicted as if they are carrying an infectious disease and should be avoided, or they arrogantly look down their noses at the poor unfortunate, offering them indifference or condescension instead of solace and compassion.

Those then that suffer from mental illness while they are Christians, are usually forced to hide their condition in shame and embarrassment, as if they are disgusting failures. As a consequence, many Christians who struggle with this, do not seek out help from within their own churches or they feel that they can’t discuss their situation with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Many struggle on alone, for fear of being judged and shunned.

Thankfully this is changing, and more churches are recognising that Christians can suffer a mental illness and it’s not always because they’re sinning, possessed or cursed. More are offering support and help.

What Causes Mental Illness?

In most cases, the causes of mental illness are still unknown. Research suggests that they are caused by physical, biological and environmental factors or a combination of these.

The illness can come about from a disruption in the unborn infant’s brain development or caused by injury at birth. Sometimes neurological pathways in the brain function incorrectly. It can develop through a physical injury to the brain as a result of an accident or it may be caused by chemical imbalances.

It may result from a brain infection, exposure to toxins or lack of good nutrition, particularly in one’s developmental years.

Some families are born with genetic abnormalities that make them more susceptible to mental illness which may be triggered by trauma, abuse or other factors.

Other mental illnesses can be brought on by the use of drugs such as marijuana or long-term alcohol and drug abuse.

Some mental illnesses can be the result of physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse, particularly in childhood, which can impact on the person’s psychological development.

How Can People with Mental Illness be Treated?

A combination of medication and psychotherapy can assist, though the person may still continue to struggle with the illness’s effects throughout their life, particularly its impacts on their personal and social functioning.

While these therapies assist in many cases (but not necessarily cure), not every person is able to find a successful treatment and some people will need to remain in the care of their families or in institutions for the remainder of their life.

There are many families who struggle daily with caring for a loved one with a mental illness. (See our other article – “Good Grief: Mental Illness” in issue 7 of SPAG Magazine which is available to purchase online – link here)

Can Christians Have a Mental Illness?

Yes, many Christians do have a mental illness, although few make it known.

As a result of misinformation and lack of compassion within some churches, some Christians come to believe that they’re lacking in faith if they’re not healed, and may be actively discouraged from seeking medical and psycho-therapeutic help. Others unsuccessfully try to have the demon removed, or they may simply suffer through it because they’ve been lead to believe that because of their sins, they’re being judged and punished by God. Many suffer in silence because they don’t want to be condemned and shunned by their fellow Christians.

Of course, if a Christian is consciously indulging in a sin, then this is the first thing which they must put forward to God, seeking help and healing, praying for wisdom and forgiveness and with the Holy Spirit’s help, deliberately working at ways of ridding themselves of it. This isn’t always easy to do.

We must understand though, that not all illnesses in the believer, whether mental or physical, are the result of our sin or because we are cursed. By Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection, our former, present and future sins are forgiven. We don’t have to prove ourselves worthy of forgiveness – it is Jesus who was worthy to take our sins for us, so we already are forgiven by our faith in Jesus and God’s promise for the forgiveness of our sins.

Can We Assume that it’s Mostly Due to Sin?

So what do we say to those who are still suffering sickness? Do we judge them simply as sinners and not offer them compassion, prayer and comfort? Why would our loving heavenly Father on the one hand promise forgiveness of sins, and with the other, punish us for them through mental or physical illness?

I’ve known many Christians who have long-term illnesses, both physical and/or mental, and I know that their illness is not the result of sin. I know this because I have seen God working in them and I see that they seek to make God the priority of their lives.

Personally, I know that physical and mental ailments are not always due to sin. I was born with a congenital defect in one hip which affected me even as a child. Was my problem due to sin? Of course not – I was born with this defect.

Then when I was in teens, I developed a spinal disease that led to the development of scoliosis and caused pain. By the time I was 21, the pain began to increase and by my late twenties was impacting my movement. The pain and restrictions affected my every day activities as well as the ministry to which God had called me.

In prayer I regularly sought God’s guidance about whether it was from sin and asked repeatedly for healing and clarity about whether I would be healed of it, but if anything, my pain and physical restrictions increased. In my mid thirties, God eventually answered my prayer and told me that I wasn’t going to be healed, not as a form of punishment because of my sin or lack of faith, but so that I would develop compassion and empathy for others who suffer.

Therefore, mental illnesses too are not always the result of sin. What do we say to those who are born with a mental illness? “You’re obviously still sinning, so don’t come and talk to me about that until you’ve fixed it?” Of course not! Can we make the judgement that a newborn infant is responsible for a deliberate sin and is being punished for it with a mental and/or physical ailment? If a person can be born with a physical or mental ailment, or develop it later, we cannot condescend to assume that the person is actively sinning and being punished for it.

In fact, not a single one of us is without sin. Yes, we are forgiven, but not a single one of us is able to go about our lives without committing a sin. If we don’t suffer a physical or mental illness, does that mean that we are somehow better than others who do have one? Are those with a physical or mental illness somehow committing a sin that’s worse than ours?

Let’s ask an important question, “Are some sins worse than others?” The Bible makes it clear that there is only one unforgiveable sin: blaspheming of the holy spirit. No other sin is unforgiveable or worse than others.

If we are suggesting that a person with a physical and/or mental illness is being punished for sin, than why isn’t everyone being punished for theirs, because none of us is able to live without sinning. Yes, we are working towards becoming more like Jesus, but that work isn’t completed in us until after we die.

accusing-judging-a-man-walking-away-ashamedsm

Churches and Believers Are Becoming More Compassionate

Thankfully there are churches which offer compassion and understanding to Christian sufferers, and hopefully more churches will learn to accept that those with a mental illness should be allowed to seek appropriate medical treatment without fear of condemnation.

Just as we treat people with physical illnesses with proper medication and treatments, we should also treat people with mental illnesses with compassion and allow them to seek the medical and psychological treatments available to them. Would we deny medical help to a person with diabetes or heart disease or for a broken leg? Why then should we deny treatment to those with a mental illness, particularly since some mental illness are caused by physical problems?

Perhaps the reason we don’t treat those with a mental illness the same way we treat people with physical illnesses comes from our long history of superstition and fear in connection with mental illness, and because we don’t understand its cause or know how to treat it properly.

Perhaps even, we shun sufferers out of pride and our own sense of superiority.

hands-4-holdingsm

Conclusion

While mental illness may in some instances be a sign of demonic possession, once a person becomes a Christian there is no way that a demon would be allowed to remain inside someone who is occupied by God through His Holy Spirit. God abhors evil, and so He would not allow evil to reside alongside Him in a believer’s heart and mind.

We cannot make the assumption either that mental illness is caused by demonic possession in every non-believer, although it’s possible in some cases.
Aside from demonic possession, we’ve discussed that while mental illness may on occasion spring from deliberate sin, in most instances it arises from various physical, biological and environmental causes, or a combination of these.

Modern medication and psychotherapy can be a tremendous assistance to those with a mental illness, although not everyone can be helped. Hopefully as our medical knowledge increases, we will be able to improve our treatments.

As Christians, we need to be mindful that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering from a mental illness. Statistics suggest that as many as 45% of the Australian population will suffer a mental health condition in their lifetime. I can only assume the statistics are similar in other countries. In any one year, around one million adults have depression, and more than two million suffer anxiety. Depression is claimed to be the leading cause of disability worldwide¹.

We should ask God to help us to become more empathetic towards those who are afflicted, rather than add to their already heavy burden by our own callousness or judgement. If we act towards the mentally ill with intolerance, indifference or out of a sense of superiority, then which of us has the worse ailment?

Challenge

Here’s a challenge for you to prayerfully consider. What is your response towards those with mental (or physical) illness? On the day of judgement, how will God view your attitude and actions towards those who are afflicted?

Bibliography
1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.Bibliography:
Unknown author (unknown date) “Causes of Mental Illness” (WebMD) available: http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-causes-mental-illness, accessed 17/10/16
Unknown author, no date, FAC – Family Caregiver Alliance: “Grief and Loss,” available https://www.caregiver.org/grief-and-loss, accessed 20/10/16
Authors: Glynn, Shirley M., PhD, Kangas, Karen, EdD, and Pickett, Susan, PhD, no date. American Psychological Association: “Supporting a family member with serious mental illness,” available: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/improving-care.aspx, accessed 20/10/16
Author: Karen Hanna, 23 March 2016, Karen Hanna Coaching: “Grieving Mental Illness,” available: http://www.karenhannacoaching.ca/uncategorized/grieving-mental-illness-2/, accessed 20/10/16

7. Derailing Depression

7. Derailing Depression

by Vicki Nunn

“Why am I so overwrought, why am I so disturbed? Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will believe and praise the One who saves me, my God.” Psalm 42:11 [Voice]

Introduction

Depression is a mental illness and Christians can suffer it too, although there are some Christians and churches who think they know better – ignore them because they are uninformed. We discussed this in more detail in our article “Can Christians Have a Mental Illness” in the Dec 2016/Feb 2017 issue and have shared it on our website (link here.) We even took a glimpse into the lives of well-known Christians and Biblical people who struggled with depression at some point in their lives.

sadness-depression-unhappy-fake-smilesmWhile sometimes depression may arise from sin, more often it does not, and no amount of confessing our sin or asking for deliverance or just having enough faith, will necessarily remove it.

As someone who suffered depression and anxiety for several years, I know that mine was the result of ongoing bullying and harassment combined with terrible, long-term physical pain and lack of sleep, which eventually led to depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Mine was not the result of sin, or not having enough faith, or being disobedient towards God.

Unfortunately for some of us, depression can be a nasty cycle where the depression causes unhealthy behaviours, eg avoiding people and social activities, not getting enough sleep, not eating properly etc, which can then contribute to deepening of the depression and perhaps other disorders, and around and around it goes.

As we begin this topic, may I remind you that God’s love for you is unchanging. When we are weak or troubled, God loves us no less than when we are strong.

God has no wish to inflict pain and suffering on us – why would He desire to see our child raped and murdered; or to cause us horrendous bodily harm; or to see our family persecuted or our home burnt to the ground? It’s not in His nature to wish harm on us.

He can and will use our experiences though, to stretch and shape us, and from them we can develop more empathy, compassion and understanding for others who also suffer. Since one of our greatest commandments is to love one another, then developing these traits can be a helpful gift for us in our interaction with those who suffer.

While personally I would have preferred not to experience horrendous pain and depression, I believe that I’ve become a more compassionate, understanding and tolerant Christian as a result.

What is Depression?

Depression is a feeling of sadness that doesn’t pass quickly and can include lack of enthusiasm in our normal activities, stress at the thought of interacting with others or attending work, and ongoing negative thoughts and feelings that are not normal for us. Some people can experience other symptoms as well such as anxiety and panic attacks.

Many people with depression try to mask it and can outwardly appear happy, but are twisted up inside. They fear judgement by their fellow Christians, as if they’re failures. Those who have never been through depression, haven’t a clue about the suffering and pain that depression brings.

Where Does Depression Come From?

One of the problems with depression is that it’s not something we can be talked out of by “just getting over it,” “by looking on the bright side of life,” “confessing our sin,” or “having more faith.” It really is a serious issue that should be tackled and in many cases, it can’t be overcome without help.

Depression can stem from trauma and stress, even dating back to our childhood. It can result from being in a hostile work or home environment, from ongoing financial hardship, to worries about what is happening in the world, concerns about our children and family, loss of a partner or family member, health issues, long-term illness and so on.

It can also occur due to a physiological problem such as a chemical imbalance in the brain, hormonal imbalances, thyroid problems, lacking in particular vitamins or minerals or even not getting enough sunshine. It may stem from another mental illness, or as a side-effect from some medications, use of narcotics or alcohol etc.

Statistics suggest that as many as 45% of the Australian population will suffer a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around one million adults in Australia have depression, and more than two million suffer anxiety. It is claimed that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide1.

Symptoms of Depression

Some of the symptoms of depression can include:

  • Difficulty sleeping or too much sleeping;
  • Finding ourselves focussing on the negative and unhappy things in our life;
  • Difficulty enjoying things we once took pleasure in;
  • Feeling emotionally numb or apathetic, or feeling like crying, screaming or shouting even over trivial matters;
  • Complaining a lot, particularly if this isn’t something that we usually do;
  • Worrying much more than usual;
  • Overeating or not eating;
  • Feelings of guilt that don’t seem to pass;
  • A physical reaction such as knots in the stomach or tightening of the throat muscles that won’t relax;
  • Lack of enthusiasm for socialising, lacking the motivation to leave our home or perhaps even wanting to close the doors and windows and turning out the lights, as if we’re trying to shut out the world;
  • Anger with people around us and even God, which may be out of proportion to the situation, or won’t go away;
  • Lack of patience and even lashing out at others over small things;
  • Doubting that others love us, including God or perhaps feeling like we aren’t worthy of love;
  • Reluctance to read the Bible or pray, or to attend church or Bible Study;
  • Feeling hopeless or even like there’s no point in going on, perhaps even as if we’re in a deep, dark pit with no way out; and
  • Thoughts of suicide.

If several of these ring a bell, particularly suicide, I would encourage you to seek help as soon possible. There’s no point in delaying or making excuses, because in many cases, depression doesn’t go away on its own. Obtaining medical help in the early stages of depression can make it much easier to manage than when it’s in full swing.

While God sometimes does heal depression, for many people it will be a part of the struggle of our life’s journey, perhaps even one of the burdens that we carry for life.

There are many things that can lead us down the path to depression including unhealthy workplaces, nasty people, broken people in our families, and even our own learned responses and behaviours may be unhealthy and can contribute.

Blaming Others – Nasty People

There’s something important that we should know – we can’t blame others for how we feel or react to a situation – it is entirely up to us about how we deal with our emotions. Our emotional responses are ours to deal with. Nobody else is responsible for our feelings and our reactions.

While it’s true that nasty people can affect us emotionally, we may have options about how to deal with them. In the workplace we may need to take the situation to a manager, someone in a higher position, or the Personnel Officer. If it’s a toxic working environment, sometimes it may be necessary to seek employment elsewhere.

Prayer is vital, particularly asking God to help us to ignore any nastiness, and as difficult as it may sound – praying for the person responsible and asking for God to bless them. That’s a shocking thought isn’t it – that we should ask for God’s blessings on such a horrible person? Our natural human response is to say, “Hey! That’s not fair! They don’t deserve it.”

Having worked in such a situation myself, daily asking for God’s blessings on a particularly horrible person for two years, I was slowly able to let go of that person’s rudeness and pass it onto God, even though on occasion they still managed to hurt me. After a while, I began to feel sorry for them, because they must have felt so unhappy and miserable with their life, for them to act like that. Through my prayer, God was slowly able to change my attitude towards them, and my anger began to dissipate.

In time, I came to a point where I was able to forgive them. That doesn’t mean that I ever trusted them or expected them to change their behaviour. Forgiveness isn’t so much about healing our relationship with that other person, but about healing our own broken or hurting heart, and then being able to move on.

There’s a well-known passage in Luke 6:27-38 about loving our enemies. I particularly like the way it’s worded in The Voice Bible version:

“If you’re listening, here’s My message: keep loving your enemies no matter what they do. Keep doing good to those who hate you. Keep speaking blessings on those who curse you. Keep praying for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other cheek too. If someone steals your coat, offer him your shirt too. If someone begs from you, give to him. If someone robs you of your valuables, don’t demand them back. Think of the kindness you wish others would show you; do the same for them.

Listen, what’s the big deal if you love people who already love you? Even scoundrels do that much! So what if you do good to those who do good to you? Even scoundrels do that much! So what if you lend to people who are likely to repay you? Even scoundrels lend to scoundrels if they think they’ll be fully repaid.

If you want to be extraordinary – love your enemies! Do good without restraint! Lend with abandon! Don’t expect anything in return! Then you’ll receive the truly great reward – you will be children of the Most High – for God is kind to the ungrateful and those who are wicked. So imitate God and be truly compassionate, the way your Father is.

If you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge. If you don’t want to be condemned, don’t condemn. If you want to be forgiven, forgive. Don’t hold back – give freely, and you’ll have plenty poured back into your lap – a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, brimming over. You’ll receive in the same measure you give.” [Voice]

Aren’t those words in the first verse challenging?

Keep speaking blessings on those who curse you. Keep praying for those who mistreat you.”

Perhaps I should print that on a poster and put it somewhere so I’m reminded of it every day.

Time to Move On

Sometimes workplaces are toxic, particularly when the management encourages awful behaviours – I’ve been there too! Eventually, despite our prayers and our best efforts to ignore the nasty behaviours, we may have to accept that it’s time to move on. God doesn’t expect us to stay in a situation where it contributes to us developing or adds to our depression.

Is it possible to move to a different branch within the business? We can work at making ourselves as employable as possible by undertaking new training, and then seeking a job elsewhere.

While we aren’t responsible for suffering depression, we are responsible for trying to overcome our own emotional responses to difficult situations. Sometimes though, it’s ok to give up on a situation or a person – it doesn’t mean that we’ve failed – it’s just time to move on. We shouldn’t stubbornly cling to the belief that a particularly nasty situation or person can improve – sometimes they do, and sometimes they never will. That was a difficult and painful lesson for me to learn.

This is the same for our relationships with friends and family – people can be toxic anywhere, even within the church. As mentioned, prayer is vital in these situations. Pray also for clarity in any difficult situation – ask God to make it clear about whether we should stay in contact, or if it’s time to move on.

We Have the Right to Healthy Relationships

We have the right to have healthy relationships with others. If someone is nasty, just because they’re a relative or a Christian in our church or in our circle of friends, that doesn’t mean we have to put up with their awful behaviour. There will be times when we can’t avoid those nasty people and we may have to take the step of speaking to them (as scary as that sounds), eg if they say something racist or nasty, we can say “I didn’t feel comfortable with that comment.” If they say awful things about others, we can respond “I don’t feel comfortable with gossip.”

If the person continues with comments that make us feel uneasy, we can add, “I think it’s time to change the subject.” There are times when no matter what we say, a person will continue with their negative remarks. In those circumstances, we have the right to walk away.

Getting Help for Depression

Sometimes when we’re depressed, it can be hard for us to recognise that what we’re experiencing is depression nor understand that we need medical aid. We should listen to our family and friends if they’re suggesting we seek help. Depression isn’t something about which we should be ashamed, especially when we consider the earlier, startling statistics about depression in the general population, and yet it’s something seldom discussed, as if it’s some terrible thing we should hide it because people might think we’re weak or weird, or as in some churches, that we must be terrible sinners.

  1. eye-with-tears-and-makeupsmSee Our Doctor

If we’re suffering depression, our doctor should first rule out any physiological cause for it. If it stems from a physical issue, then our doctor should be able to help with the right medication, vitamins etc, by switching medications if necessary, or looking into other medical interventions.

  1. Get Medication and/or Help from a Therapist

On the other hand, if our depression is not from a physical cause, then our doctor should be able to guide us to where we can find help. They may recommend a course of anti-depressants combined with guidance from a qualified therapist.

If our depression arises out of another mental illness, then our doctor should be able to put us in touch with a psychiatrist or psychologist who specialises in mental disorders.

  1. Pray, Pray and Then Pray Some More

We should be keeping prayer as the cornerstone of our day. This can be challenging when we are depressed, but if our relationship with God is not at the core of our life, then it can make matters worse and is likely to deepen our depression.

Happiness Habits for Helping to Keep Depression at Bay

If we’re suffering depression or heading towards it, and they don’t have a physical cause, are there some happiness habits which we can put into practice? Yes, there are, although I can’t guarantee that this is some magic cure, but it should hopefully contribute to an improvement in our mood, and help us to handle each day a little better. It may even stave off severe depression.

What are these habits?

  • Prayer;
  • Counselling;
  • Focus on facts – not feelings;
  • Look after ourselves;
  • Find things to enjoy; and
  • Find God’s purpose for us.

1. Prayer

While it may seem obvious to pray when we’re depressed, it can sometimes be difficult for us to do so, because our depression can mess with our minds and cloud our thoughts. We may struggle with finding the enthusiasm to pray, or the depression may overwhelm us so much, that we simply can’t focus other than to say a few perfunctory sentences.

Because prayer is such an essential part of every Christian’s life, we can’t afford to neglect it. I’m not suggesting that prayer will cure us of depression, though in some instances, getting into a regular prayer time may help us overcome it more quickly, but if we aren’t regularly in communication with God, than how can God help us? For that matter, how can we possibly have a relationship with Him without prayer? In all of our interactions with others in our every day physical life, communication is vital to the health of any relationship, therefore it’s also vital in our relationship with God.

For many of us, prayer is HARD – we don’t all have the gift of prayer. I can tell you that in my thirty years as a Christian, I still struggle with my prayer time. There are days when I’ve felt too lazy or when I just couldn’t seem to settle my mind, or when I want to allow the busyness of my life to take priority.

In addition, it’s far too easy for us to get into the habit of just praying for ourselves, and when we do that, it can cause us to focus on what’s going wrong in our own lives and can add to our depression. In a way, it’s a bit like acting as a petulant, spoilt child because prayer becomes all about “Me, me, me!” (I’m putting my hand up there and admitting to indulging in that one at different times.)

In an earlier issue of SPAG Magazine, I shared about a simple prayer technique which has stood me in good stead over the years: JOY. = Jesus; Others; and lastly Yourself:

(a) J = Jesus.

First, praise God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. For some of us, it can be a struggle to praise God because we are so focussed on our physical life, that sometimes it can almost seem like that’s all there is.

Spending time in a regular prayer routine, can help us to change our focus, our attitude our mind and our spirit towards God. There are many amazing resources on the internet about different prayers for praising God, and lots and lots of good books. An old hymn book may aid us in this matter, and daily devotionals can be a great source of inspiration. The Bible has many prayers of praise and can remind us of God’s unchanging love.

Hebrews 13:15 reminds us that believers are supposed to keep offering praise:

“Through Jesus, then, let us keep offering to God our own sacrifice, the praise of lips that confess His name without ceasing.” [Voice]

Following are some suggestions for praising God:

  • Praise God for His salvation.

In Ephesians 2:8-9 we read:

“For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.” [Voice]

  • Praise God for His loving kindness.

In Psalm 117 it says:

“Praise the Eternal, all nations. Raise your voices, all people. For His unfailing love is great, and it is intended for us, and His faithfulness to His promises knows no end. Praise the Eternal!” [Voice]

  • Praise Him for His goodness.

In Psalm 135:3 it reads:

“Glorify the Eternal, for He is good! Sing praises, and honour His name for it is delightful.” [Voice]

  • Praise God for His wonderful grace.

See Ephesians 1:6 which reads:

“Ultimately God is the one worthy of praise for showing us His grace; He is merciful and marvellous, freely giving us these gifts in His Beloved.” [Voice]

  • Praise Him for His mercy, justice and holiness.Psalm 99:3-4 reads:

“Let them express praise and gratitude to Your amazing and awesome name – because He is holy, perfect and exalted in His power. The King who rules with strength also treasures justice. You created order and established what is right. You have carried out justice and done what is right to the people of Jacob.” [Voice]

(b) O = Others.

woman-young-upset-cryingsmSecondly, pray for others, including our family, friends and our church and its Pastor. I’ve personally found that praying for persecuted Christians very helpful, because it takes my focus off myself and my own problems or needs. It also helps me to put my own problems into perspective and to see how truly blessed I am. Previously I’ve mentioned that we have a prayer page on our website with prayer needs for many of our persecuted brothers and sisters which you may like to use.

(c) Y = You.

Finally, it’s time to put forward our own needs and problems to God. We shouldn’t be discouraged or worried about opening up to God – He already knows what we think and feel, but opening up that communication between us will enable the Holy Spirit to commune with us, so that God can speak with us. We should discuss our depression and the struggles we’re having, and asking God for guidance and clarity about how to manage them.

(d) . = Stop.

Yes, that’s a full stop there. We should endeavour to take some time to try and sit in silence and listen to God. Don’t worry if this is difficult to do – I always have a few dozen things going on in my head at the same time and have trouble switching it off. Sometimes on days when I have so much going on in my mind, that I just tell God. “Sorry Lord, there I go again. I don’t know why I can’t switch it off. Please help me to focus on what You have to say.” Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least I can try and I’ve left a channel open for God to reach me.

Occasionally God speaks to me, or puts ideas or thoughts into my mind, but on most days, I don’t hear anything from Him. I figure that the more I try and listen to Him, the more easily I’ll recognise His voice and His guidance.

2. Seek Counselling

In the past, if we’ve experienced harmful or negative relationships, particularly in our childhood homes, or if we’re currently in a difficult marriage or have friends or family that cause us stress and anxiety, we should seek counselling to try and work through the issues.

I’ve known several people who grew up in an unloving or harmful home environment, and as adults several struggled with developing healthy relationships. If we’ve grown up with unhealthy attitudes and behaviours towards others, we may not be able to clearly see them in ourselves.

It may take years for a trained counsellor or psychologist to help us break through and perceive how our thinking proce sses and our behaviours need to change, because in our mind they’re perfectly normal – that’s how we were taught to think and behave.

Without this insight, we are unlikely to change, and the more we continue with our unhealthy and even harmful behaviours, the more ingrained they will become.

Counselling can help us to put things into their proper perspectives and can enable us to learn appropriate and healthier behaviours in our adult relationships, and particularly with our spouse and our children.

In any marriage that is troubled or where poor communication is an ongoing issue, both parties should seek counselling to improve their relationship.

There may be some local support groups we can attend where we can share our problems, eg Al-Anon if we’re from a home with an alcoholic. Sometimes just knowing that there are other people who struggle with depression or who understand what we’re going through, can help us to recognise that we don’t have to do it on our own, and that our responses and behaviours are normal, and we aren’t weird or unfixable.

One of the worst things about depression is that many people think they have to manage it on their own, perhaps because some see depression as a weakness and are afraid of being judged and looked down upon. From what I understand, this response is more common in men than it is with women, often because men have been taught to ‘tough it out,’ or not to talk about their feelings.

3. Focus on Facts – Not Feelings

Feelings can be wrong, but true facts cannot. If we find we’re looking for the negative too often in our life, it can mislead our thoughts into feeling that things are hopeless or that nothing is good, and may lead us down the slippery slope into depression.

I remember going through a period like that many years ago, and one day I realised that I was losing my enjoyment and enthusiasm for life. There was nothing seriously wrong, but I had allowed my thoughts to become pessimistic which led to feeling negative.

I didn’t like feeling that way, and so I made a conscious decision to focus on what was good and to try to let go of the negative.

Some people allow pessimism to control their lives, and whenever I’ve encountered someone like that, they’ve usually been a misery to be around.

If we’re too critical of ourselves, we may allow ourselves to feel useless and that we have limited skills and abilities, or that we aren’t very clever. Perhaps we compare ourselves to others, or are always too negative about our efforts, particularly when we make mistakes. Maybe we are highly critical of ourselves when things don’t go right or even blame ourselves for other people’s mistakes. Perhaps we exaggerate the size of our mistakes and blow them all out of proportion. This is one way that we focus on our feelings and not the facts.

The fact is that yes, we all make mistakes, even those people who seem to have it all together. Yes, we may not be the cleverest person in the world nor have any wonderful talents, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn. At my age (53) I’m still learning. When I look back over the past thirty years, I can see how much I’ve grown, not just as a Christian but in my talents and interpersonal skills. I’ve accepted that there are some things at which I’m never going to be particularly good, eg sports, book-keeping or growing geraniums, but I can improve if that’s something that I really desire, though I’m realistic enough to know I’m never going to run a marathon. We don’t have to aim to be the very best at something. We can learn new skills or develop old talents and lear n to be content with our development.

How do we focus on facts and not feelings? Grab a pen and a pad and make three columns. On the left-hand side, write down all of the things about which we’re feeling negative. Then in the middle column, write down as many positive things we can about the item on the left, and then in the right-hand column, note down how we may be able to fix it if we need to (see the table at the top of the right-hand column.)

When we focus on our feelings instead of the facts, situations can often appear ‘unfixable,’ or just too hard to deal with.

Writing it down helps to clarify the circumstances and can cement the facts, rather than the feelings, in our minds. This may provide us with ways to overcome the problem, or simply to improve the situation, or reduce our feelings of negativity. Perhaps it can enable us to change our mind-set which had been focussed on the negative emotions, so that we can perceive and concentrate more on the good and positive things instead.

4. Look After Ourselves

(a) Keeping Busy

Keeping ourselves busy, both physically and mentally is an important part of keeping healthy, and helping to turn away depression. I’m not suggesting that ‘busyness’ for the sake of being busy is the aim, rather that our purpose is to work at developing our body, mind and spirit.

(b) Improving Our Relationship with God and With Others

If we are developing our under-standing of God, and endeavouring to maintain a good relationship with Him, that is also good for us spiritually and can improve our emotional well-being.

Let’s not be content with the status quo – if we actively seek to develop our understanding of God, of others and of ourselves, we can more fully develop as Christians – endeavouring to act as brothers and sisters who love as Jesus would have us love.

(c)  Improve Our Knowledge and Understanding of the Bible

We can develop our minds and spirits with regular Bible study or other Christian learning activities. There are many good websites where we can obtain free, daily Christian devotions, or even do online Christian courses.

Even at my age, I am more mindful than ever that I cannot be content to think that I know all of the answers. The day that I start thinking that, is the moment that my growth halts. Show me a Christian who thinks they know it all, and I’ll show you a shrivelled up, hard-hearted, stunted human being who is useless to God, to others and to themself.

(d) Looking After Our Health

In the busyness of our lives, particularly when working, raising children and giving of our time and efforts to the church, the community and/or charities, it can be challenging to find the time or the energy to develop our own minds, spirits and bodies.

If we are to continue working well for God and to sustain our relationships and our well-being, we should make an effort to maintain our overall health, or eventually we’ll run out of energy, physically, spiritually and/or mentally. If we work ourselves too hard, it’s actually possible to wear ourselves out and sometimes, we may not ever be able to return fully to our previous energy and health levels.

I understand that it will be difficult, if not impossible for those who suffer from poor health to be physically active or to maintain a healthy body. It’s important though that we take the proper medications, to regularly rest and eat well, and if at all possible, to attend occasional social activities.

(e)  Keeping Up Our Social Skills

From my own experience, I know that it can be easy for us to lose our social skills if we rarely leave the home, and have little social interaction, it can encourage depression to take hold more easily.

For those suffering depression, especially anxiety and panic attacks, it can be difficult to overcome our reluctance to leave the home and face people. The fear starts taking over, our heart begins to palpitate, and we may even feel physically ill.

Perhaps we can set a goal in the beginning, to get out of the house just once a month to attend a Bible study or social group. Once a month, say for one hour, that’s just one hour in 744 hours. Then we can aim for two hours in the next month if possible, and so on.

Remember it’s not a competition – we don’t have to push ourselves too hard, but we should push ourselves at least a little.

(f)  The Little Things That Make Us Feel Good

When we’re even mildly depressed, we can start getting slack with our appearance and our home environment. Sometimes it all just seems too hard and takes too much of our energy.

When we start going down that path, it can become more and more difficult to keep it under control, and it can contribute to a deepening of our depression, particularly if our home environment begins to look (and smell) like a pigsty.

  • Keep up the good hygiene – bathe regularly, wash our hair and keep it trimmed;
  • Wash our clothes, iron them and repair if necessary;
  • Do the dishes every day and put them away. It’s awful to have to get up every morning when we’re already feeling down, to be faced with a sink full of dirty, yucky dishes;
  • Make the bed every morning and change the sheets regularly. It may all seem too much, unless we break it down into how long it actually takes us. Thirty-seven seconds in our day to make the bed, really doesn’t seem so hard;
  • Keep our appointments with our counsellor or mental health worker;
  • And so on

While these things seem obvious, they can sometimes be one of the first areas where we lose our focus. The more we let it go, the harder it will seem to even want to bother. Before we know it, we can be living in a such a messy and dirty environment that the task to fix it will just seem too overwhelming. We should get to it before it gets out of control.

Conclusion

This article developed into a much larger and wordier piece than I’d anticipated, but there are so many areas that contribute to our well-being which can discourage depression that it seemed appropriate to include as many as possible. I’m sure there are many other things we can do in our efforts to reduce our vulnerability to depression, but hopefully we’ve covered some of the more important ones.

We must remain mindful that God desires for us to be healthy in our bodies, minds and spirits, and to have a healthy and balanced self-image. There are behaviours and thought processes that are unhealthy for us to indulge, and which we should avoid.

I hope you will be encouraged to start these techniques in your life and your every day living, and to actively look at ways that will derail depression before it begins to take a hold, while at the same time ensuring that your first priority is your relationship with God above all others things.

  1. Find Things to Enjoy

Each of us can make conscious choices to undertake activities or change behaviours which result in a boost of the good chemicals in our brains which encourage us to feel more positive, and can reduce our depression. It’s exciting to think that we can actually make a literal difference in our own brain chemicals.

(a) The Little Things:

The happiest people I’ve known are not those who seek after possessions, power or position, but those who find enjoyment and joy in the small things. It may be as simple as taking the time to enjoy a sunset, the smell of rain, or a tasty dish of sausages and mash!

When we allow ourselves to wallow in a pity party, when we focus on the negative things in our life or what we haven’t achieved or what we don’t have, we’ve usually forgotten to enjoy the simple things. It often takes a conscious and sometimes daily effort to change our approach.

One of the things we discussed in an earlier issue of SPAG Magazine was a ‘Happiness Journal,’ were we daily write down some of the good things we experienced during the course of our day. If we can begin this habit, of pausing to enjoy something, and making a note of it at the end of our day, it can begin to alter in the chemicals in our brain which make us feel more positive – apparently it’s been scientifically proven.

(b)  Practicing Gratitude

There’s a reason why attitude sounds like it’s part of the word gratitude – changing our attitude can once again stir up those good brain chemicals. While this is linked to the previous section about enjoying the little things, this takes it up a notch or two.

We can use the Happiness Journal to write down something for which we are grateful every day. For some of us it’s easier to harp on about things that are going wrong, particularly if we’re depressed, but focussing our mind each day on at least one thing for which we are grateful, can help to knock depression onto its butt, or maybe help to derail it before it takes hold.

A neuro-psychologist by the name of Donald Hebb believes that groups of neurons in our brains that trigger during our life experiences, actually fuse or wire together if the experiences are similar. If we complain a lot and more often focus on the negative things in our life, those neurons that fire when we complain also fuse together.  The more we complain, the more easily those neurons are triggered until eventually they begin to fire much more easily than neurons that result from positive experiences.

That means that we teach our own brains to become wired to being negative and critical.

The opposite is also true – the more we focus on being grateful and endeavour to find joy in our life, the more easily our brains will trigger our positive and happier thought processes.

If we’re struggling to find things because we’re feeling down, it can be challenging to look past such difficulties, but there are almost always things for which we can feel grateful, eg a child or grandchildren, a partner, music, our eyesight, the use of our hands, a talent, our favourite food etc.

In time it becomes a little easier each day to write one thing, and sometimes we may want to write down even more. We can use our journal any way we want – there are no hard and fast rules – it’s ours to use to help us on our journey.

Then in a year, we may like to go back to those early entries to remind us of all of the things for which we are grateful during that period.

(c)  Setting Goals

Another way to boost those good brain chemicals is to achieve a goal. Whether it’s something small or large, we can set ourselves a goal and work out how we’re going to achieve it. There’s no point in setting ourselves a goal in which we’re likely to fail – no, sorry, you’re probably never going to be an astronaut. Set a realistic goal, and break it down into steps. Here’s an example – goal: to get healthier – aim to walk 5,000 steps in a day.

Step 1: buy an inexpensive pedometer;

Step 2: for one week, walk 1,000 steps;

Step 3: for week two, walk 2,000 steps;

Step 4: find a nice park to walk to and aim for 3,000 steps every day for one week; and so on.

… Step 6: walk 5,000 steps!

If we’re prone to being tough on ourselves or being far too competitive and want to push ourselves too hard, remember the aim here is to reach a goal. We’re not actually required to punish ourselves if we don’t achieve that day’s or that week’s goal. There’s no need to beat ourselves up, because that’s going to mess with those lovely, happy-feeling chemicals going on in our brain.

If we don’t achieve that day’s goal, that’s fine – we can continue the following day. That’s hard for those of us who are competitive – to let go of our need to over-achieve. We must remember what the aim here is: to get healthier – it’s not about killing ourselves and over-extending or possibly even harming ourselves. We’ll feel pretty foolish if we tear a tendon in the first week because we pushed ourselves too much!

Once we’ve achieved that goal, we can celebrate with a silly dance; reward ourselves with a night out at the movies; or do whatever appeals to us. After that, we can choose to continue our 5,000 steps each day (if we have the time and enthusiasm) then set ourselves a new and different goal, eg read all of the Psalms in one month; learn how to paint; take up archery; or save up enough money to buy a new camera.

We should start planning for our next goal just prior to completing our last one and we’ll be ready to go when the time arrives.

While small aims are great, we should also encourage ourselves to set big ones as well.

If we’re feeling uninspired, we can go online and read about the goals other people have set themselves, or think about those little dreams we’ve had over the years.

When I was eighteen I undertook a ceramics course, and I enjoyed it so much that I promised myself that I would do it again. It wasn’t until thirty-four years later that I was able to finally achieve that goal!

While there may be limitations to achieving all of the goals we had when we were younger, whether due to limited finances or physical restrictions, I’m sure there are still many things that we can achieve, even when we’re well past retirement age.

(d) Hugs, Friends and Puppies

While that may sound like a strange title, having friends, giving and receiving hugs and owning pets, particularly dogs, can boost the good chemicals in our brains as well.

Culturally, at least in Australia, we don’t seem to get anywhere near as many hugs as we need, particularly adults. While men may feel uncomfortable with that thought, we human beings are made to be hugged. I’m not suggesting that we rush out and grab hold of complete strangers or start hugging everyone in our workplace – that’s unlikely to be well received!

If we feel uncomfortable with hugs, perhaps it’s about time we should overcome our hang-ups, otherwise if possible, we could get a dog and be prepared to give and receive lots of doggy love. Cats can be good too, though they may not always be in the mood for a hug when we need it.

(e)  Remembering Our Achievements

Another brain booster is reminiscing about things in our past that we’ve done particularly well, or were commended for. While I’m not suggesting that we focus all of our time thinking about the past or wishing things were as good now, indulging in a little spot of day-dreaming every now and then, remembering those achievements, is good for us.

It’s not supposed to be about pride, but more about reminding ourselves that we’ve done some pretty good stuff, and that we still have the capacity and the time to achieve more.

(f)  Releasing Endorphins

Most of us have probably heard that eating chocolate or laughing can release endorphins (more chemicals) which make us feel good. While it may seem almost fake if we have to force ourselves to smile or to laugh, oddly enough, it really can work. Just by stretching our lips into a smile for ten or twenty seconds, can start stirring up the endorphins. The more we smile and laugh, the more our endorphins kick in. Throw on a comedy or a classic TV series we used to enjoy, and even when the jokes are old, it can still make us feel good.

We can add more to the list of things which may boost our endorphins including smelling vanilla or lavender, eating spicy foods, or just stretching our bodies. Perhaps stretching soon after we arise in the morning might just be a good way to boost our mood, and to start our day well.

A good dose of laughter each day, or just smiling and getting those smiling muscles moving, really can make us feel good.

(g) Eating Well

In the rush, rush , rush of our busy lives, it can be easy to leave good nutrition out of the equation. If we aren’t obtaining the proper nutrients from our diet, it can certainly impact on our health and also on what is happening in our bodies and brains, which ultimately affect our moods.

It’s not my responsibility to nag you – so take the time to improve your knowledge and perhaps even your cooking skills. I’m not suggesting that you need to be an amazing cook or to get obsessed with nutrition, but to practice and improve your knowledge and skills. I’m not a great cook, but I’ve certainly improved from practice, and I’ve put together a small recipe folder with my tried and tested easy recipes that I go to time and time again.

 (h) Meditation

The majority of us find it difficult to meditate, especially in a world where we are switched on most of the time with our electronic devices making phone calls, sending text messages and tweets, keeping up on social media, watching television and so on.

While it may have been easier for our predecessors to meditate in the past because they had fewer distractions, they also had much less leisure time than us and were likely physically more tired than we are.

Meditation isn’t something that many churches seem to discuss or encourage Christians to put much effort into. Meditation is a learned technique that can take a long time to master, but it’s a God approved practice which is discussed and encouraged in the Bible:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy.” Philippians 4:8 [Voice]

“Often at night I lie in bed and remember You, meditating on Your greatness till morning smiles through my window.” Psalm 63:6 [Voice]

“And yet I can’t forget the days of old, the days I’ve heard so much about; I fix my mind on all You have done; I ponder the work of Your hands; I reach out my hands to You. All that I am aches and yearns for You, like a dry land thirsting for rain.” Psalm 143:5-6 [Voice]

“Your majesty and glorious splendour have captivated me; I will meditate on Your wonders, sing songs of Your worth.” Psalm 145:5 [Voice]

What is meditation and how do we do it? We often think of meditation as someone sitting cross-legged, eyes closed and monotonously repeating the mantra “Aum,” or something along those lines. (That isn’t Christian meditation but rather Buddhism.)

Meditation can form a part of our daily time with God, and it’s a prayer where we meditate or focus our mind on the nature of God and His works, such as Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.

We may choose to look at the wonders of His creation, or His holiness or majesty. Otherwise we may just sit quietly in His presence, trying to be open to the touch of His Holy Spirit.

To begin meditating, we must put away distractions and give ourselves sufficient time to relax and focus on God, even if it means we have to get up a little earlier each day. Find a comfortable spot in which we can sit straight, but not stiffly. There’s no need to sit cross-legged or to have any special pose. For some it’s helpful to close our eyes, while others may find it easier to concentrate with our eyes open. (If I close my eyes, I’d likely fall asleep!)

Some people like their meditation to be quite structured because it helps them to channel their thoughts, while others may be more relaxed in their approach. Some find it easier to talk out loud, but meditation for many people is usually quiet.

There are myriad books and websites that provide suggestions and techniques which encourage us in our desire to mediate on God. While eastern mysticism also suggests the use of meditation, we should avoid any cross-over between the two, particularly repetitive phrases that quickly lose their meaning.

The Psalms can be a good place in which we can find ways to praise God, or to encourage our minds to focus on His greatness, such as Psalm 145:5-9:

“Your majesty and glorious splendour have captivated me; I will meditate on Your wonders, sing songs of Your worth.

We confess – there is nothing greater than You, God, nothing mightier than Your awesome works. I will tell of Your greatness as long as I have breath.

The news of Your rich goodness is no secret – Your people love to recall it and sing songs of joy to celebrate Your righteous-ness.

The Eternal is gracious. He shows mercy to His people. For Him anger does not come easily, but faithful love does – and it is rich and abundant.

But the Eternal’s goodness is not exclusive—it is offered freely to all. His mercy extends to all His creation.” [Voice]

We don’t need to chant but simply to focus on an aspect of God and to try and brush aside the random thoughts that flit through our minds. It will be challenging at first because we’re so used to letting our minds race around with no focussed control.

If this is something that we desire to pursue more deeply, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us to develop the necessary skills and to quieten our thoughts, and with time and practice it will become easier.

  1. Find God’s Purpose for Us

God gives each of us gifts which we should be deliberately working at developing. Those who’ve grown up in unhealthy environments as children, may have come to believe that they’re not a worthwhile person, or that they have no gifts or talents.

Some people miss out on opportunities to develop their talents as they’re growing up, and others may not even be aware that they have any. Some of us come to believe that the little talent that we have isn’t worth anything, or isn’t as good as those of other people, but that isn’t true.

We seem to honour people whose talents are more in the frontline of the church such as the pastor or the worship team, sometimes forgetting the many unseen or forgotten workers whose talents keep a church operating such as: cleaners, gardeners, teachers, IT people, church accountant, secretary, treasurer, organisers, deacons, missions co-ordinator and so on. There are many people whose work outside of the church are also important: RE teachers, prayer warriors, Bible study leaders, missionaries, and many more.

Nobody came into those positions without putting in effort to develop their talents in some way. We have a responsibility to seek out areas in our lives and our skills where God can use us, and as time passes, we may find opportunities to develop further talents.

Conclusion

This article developed into a much larger and wordier piece than I’d anticipated, but there are so many areas that contribute to our well-being which can discourage depression that it seemed appropriate to include as many as possible. I’m sure there are many other things we can do in our efforts to reduce our vulnerability to depression, but hopefully we’ve covered some of the more important ones.

We must remain mindful that God desires for us to be healthy in our bodies, minds and spirits, and to have a healthy and balanced self-image. There are behaviours and thought processes that are unhealthy for us to indulge, and which we should avoid.

I hope you will be encouraged to start these techniques in your life and your every day living, and to actively look at ways that will derail depression before it begins to take over, while at the same time ensuring that your first priority is your relationship with God above all others things. [End]

———————————

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.

Bibliography:
No author, no date, All About “Praise to God,” available http://www.allaboutprayer.org/praise-to-god.htm accessed 28/10/16
No author, no date, CBN “Overcoming Depression,” available http://www1.cbn.com/overcoming-depression, accessed 28/10/16
No author, no date, God Questions.org “What does the Bible say about depression? How can a Christian overcome depression?” available: https://gotquestions.org/depression-Christian.html, accessed 29/10/16.
Johnson, Andy J, PhD, 2016, Life Counselling Center “Understanding and Overcoming Depression” available: http://lifecounsel.org/pub_johnson_understandingDepression.html accessed 30/10/16.
No author, no date, Wikipedia “Christian Meditation” available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_meditation, accessed 01/11/16.
Hampton, Debbie, no date, The Best Brain Possible “How Happy Happens in Your Brain” available: http://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/how-happy-happens-in-your-brain/, accessed 31/10/16.
No author, no date, OpenBible.info “What Does the Bible Say About…Meditation” available: https://www.openbible.info/topics/meditation, accessed 01/11/16.
No name, no date, The Hearty Soul “How Complaining Physically Rewires Your Brain to be Anxious and Depressed,” available: http://theheartysoul.com/complaining-brain-negativity/?t=MAM&W=spirit, accessed 07/11/16.
[Voice] The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society All rights reserved.

1. Keep a ‘Happiness Journal’

1. Keep a ‘Happiness Journal’
thumbs-up-with-smiley-facesm  happiness-habits

“Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.” Anon

Keep a ‘Happiness Journal’
by Vicki Nunn

Gratitude can have a major impact on our attitude and a ‘Happiness Journal’ can help us to focus on the good things in our lives and distract us from the negative ones. Too many negatives can overwhelm us and make it hard for us to keep going.

journal-decorated-with-butterfliessm

At this point you may be thinking to yourself, “I’ve heard all of this rot before.” Perhaps you may consider that a ‘Happiness Journal’ is a complete waste of time, or that it’s only for girls, or for wimps. If you have trouble with negativity, then a ‘Happiness Journal’ is exactly what you need.

In a way, gratitude is a bit like an air-pump: every time we feel grateful for the positive things in our lives, it’s like a burst of air goes into our floatation device which helps keep us afloat and buoyant, which is especially helpful when waves of trouble threaten to swamp us.

Buy a writing book and a pen (they don’t have to be expensive),  and place them somewhere you’ll easily find them, such as on the table next to your lounge or in the bedside drawer. The book should only be used for your journal and not for anything else.

Put aside a few minutes at the end of each day and after noting the day’s date, write down all of the good things that happened to you. It could be something as simple as finding a car-park right when you needed it, or noticing a funny face in a cloud. Perhaps it was something delicious that you ate or a joke or a humorous situation. Maybe it was the simple pleasure of taking the dog for a walk or the fact that you didn’t have as many aches and pains as usual. Perhaps it was the enjoyment of a lovely shower and the appreciation of having clean, drinking water.

Writing them down before bed can help improve your mood which may help you to sleep better. The following morning, remind yourself to look out for the good things in your day.

Oddly for some of us, there’s a strange appeal in indulging in pessimistic thoughts. In a way it’s a protective mechanism that tells us that if we look on the bright side, we’re sure to be disappointed. Unfortunately, pessimism can be quite habit-forming which can suck us into a spiral of unhappy thoughts that grow darker as the weeks and years pass.

I’ve personally indulged in both camps, but found that continually looking at one’s life as a half-empty glass ultimately made me feel miserable, and I decided one day that I didn’t want to live like that anymore. Since then I’ve come to know several people who are active pessimists. Frankly, they’re not pleasant to be around and their negativity impacts badly on their relationships with others. For people like me who struggle with negative thoughts, I avoid pessimists because it’s hard work to stay positive or feel good around them.

The following quote from Elisabeth Elliott really got me thinking:

“It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than resentful over what is withheld – one attitude or the other becomes a way of life.”

I’ve learned that we can be both an optimist and a realist at the same time. Being a realist doesn’t mean we have to be a pessimist, rather that we understand there are bad things and bad people in the world, but we choose not to focus on them, but rather look for the good. We choose therefore not to let the negative things in the world overwhelm us or impact on our thoughts and feelings.

writing-in-journal3smIf you struggle with negativity and pessimism, and notice that watching the news or reading the newspaper often make you feel more depressed afterwards, then perhaps you may need to consider omitting them from your life. The media loves to tell us about horrible events and rarely about the good ones, and I personally find it impossible to maintain my optimism if I listen to the media on a regular basis.

Finally, let’s look at that ‘Happiness Journal’ again. If you keep up the journal for a year or so, at some point, go back and re-read some of your earlier entries. There will sometimes be events that you’d quite forgotten about that will make you smile. It can also be a good reminder that perhaps you did after all, have a very good year. [End]