I am willing to be friends with almost anyone, but every
person that I consider to be my close friend embodies these characteristics.
No, they are not perfect, and may fail at times, but they have consistently
embodied these traits. Not only do I prefer these following character traits in
close friends, but I think, everyone, me included, of course, should strive to
embody these traits every single day, so we can make a true difference in this world:
The most important trait that my close friends all have is
authenticity. This means they always present themselves as honest, trustworthy,
and genuine. They do not act one way towards
others, and another way towards you. They don’t do things with ulterior
motives. All my close friends do not do things for people just to get something
from them, but because my friends really want to help and bring joy to their
lives. Also, another part of how they
are authentic is their honesty. For
instance, when one of my close friends gives me her wisdom, she always tells me
the truth, even if it hurts. Some people have been afraid to tell me truth
because they are scared that I will get upset at them and they will be looked
upon as harsh or mean. Nothing could be further from the truth! I appreciate this about my friend because her
honesty shows that she values me and having integrity—a rare, but needed
trait in our society today! By telling me the truth, she is inadvertently telling
me that I am worth what is true. Sure,
some of the things she has said may “sting” a little bit, but I appreciate that
because it shows that she values honesty.
Another trait that my closest friends all have is a
servant’s heart. All of my close friends
have lived in one capacity or another to serve the Lord and to serve
others. Some are serving the Lord as
missionaries. Others are serving their families when everyone else has
abandoned them. Still others are serving
their community through their resources, gifts, and talents. I strive to do the
same. When we have a servant’s heart, we emulate Christ, who went so far as to
die on a cross for us, and to wash every one of His disciples’ feet, even those
of the one who would eventually betray Him!
They are constantly thinking of others above themselves, working to make
the world a better place for everyone.
Also, another trait that my closest friends all have is the
willingness to be vulnerable. I define
vulnerability as being willing to share openly not only one’s triumphs and
victories with a trusted person, but also one’s trials and struggles. When I
see someone that is unwilling to admit to me or to the world that they are not
always “perfect,” I feel like they are lying to me in a way, because I know no
one, except God, is really perfect. Mark
Hall, of the contemporary Christian band, Casting Crowns, once said, “[I]t
doesn’t bother the world that we sin. It bothers the world that we act like we
don’t.” (CBN.com) One of my friends, Veronica,* is so passionate about being
vulnerable, it saddens her when others are not willing to open up to her. In years past, I admit I have struggled with
being vulnerable because I did not want people to judge or ridicule me. However, I have realized over the past five to
ten years or so, that being willing to be open about one’s struggles opens up other people to not be afraid to share
their struggles. It shows unity in our human-ness, and creates a deep bond
between people who are like-minded in their willingness to open up to each
other. It also enables others to help us
through our struggles, and us to help in theirs, so we will not feel alone in
our pain and struggles.
Another ultra-important trait my close friends have is
thoughtfulness and care towards others.
Along with having a servant’s heart, they are truly intuitive to the
needs of others. One of my close
friends, Erica,* knowing that I have struggled off and on with the loneliness
that comes with long term singleness, gave me a book that she thought would
help me (as it has helped her as well) with my lonely and unfulfilled feelings
that I sometimes struggle with, for my birthday. I will always treasure the thoughtfulness of
that gift and her friendship, even though we are not able to see each other
very often right now. A few days ago, when I was distraught and anxious about
several events that were going on in my life, my friend *Bonnie was willing to
take time out of her busy life to answer my texts and encourage me, as she
sensed that I was hurting and sad. I aim
to do the same for her, when she has issues, and also for anyone else who wants
moral support in a time of need. All my
close friends are willing to take the time to attend to others’ needs and to give
them the encouragement they need, especially in a tough time.
Last, but certainly not least, all my closest friends have
spiritual and emotional depth in them. This is what I aim to have in my life
more and more, though it is often a struggle for me, as it is even for these
friends. This does not mean they shut themselves off from the world around
them. However, this does mean that they are able to relate on a deeper level
with people. For instance, when I want to discuss why there is injustice in
this world, they can give me spiritual insight in wisdom into why God allows
this and how we can remedy it. In contrast, some people either don’t care about
these things or aren’t able to understand these things. For believers in Christ
to have spiritual depth to them is an essential ingredient in being able to
relate to others in their church and to get others, even those who don’t go to
church, to think about their purpose and goals in life and how they can relate
better to the world around them.
I’m so thankful to have these great, close friends—you
know who you are—who embody these characteristics. I pray that we all would strive to embody
authenticity, a servant’s heart, vulnerability, thoughtfulness, and depth to our
lives so we can bring love and joy to others, and lead them to freedom from
their pain and fears.
Growing up, I seemed this bubbly, albeit, times, hyperactive little girl who got decent grades at school. I seemed to have it all—two parents who loved me, a cute little brother, and stability.
What they didn’t know was that inside I was being tormented by thoughts about never being “good enough” to the outside world. Unfortunately, many of them confirmed my fears. Most of my peers didn’t want to know me on a level deeper than “acquaintance”. I was bullied by several of them for any quirks that they saw in me. There also were some racial and cultural prejudices that I had to endure.
I remember at the tender age of ten when the word “suicide” first entered the recesses of my mind. The demons in my mind deceived me into thinking this was a way out of all the pain I held inside for so long, laughing that they were going to somehow get me to ruin myself.
However, God in His sovereignty didn’t let that happen. I am still here, more than twenty five years later.
Though God saved my life through Jesus’ shed blood on Calvary seven years after I first battled depression and that ugly word crossed my mind, it wasn’t until about seven years ago today that God revealed to me that I had indeed another weapon in my arsenal to defeat the demons in my head that had harassed me for so long.
However, I was terrified to be vulnerable (i.e…open up) to others about my struggles. I feared rejection, ridicule and condemnation, which I believed would kill me emotionally and spiritually, if not, physically as well. In fact, in high school, I was voted “Most Paranoid” because I trusted so few people.
But through the Spirit’s promptings, I obeyed Him, and began to share my story and my struggles to others—first just to close friends, then more publicly in my blog.
The rejection and ridicule I feared receiving was few and far between. Most people instead either related to me about their own similar struggles with depression or said that they would use my story to help their loved ones who were struggling similarly.
The more I opened up about my struggles, the more I saw people around me, both online and offline, the more I realized that my story needed to be told. God, in His sovereignty, had a reason for allowing me to go through these trials. He needed to use my story to give people His hope and love that He gave me so many years ago, when He first came into my life and saved me. God saved me from more than hell—He saved me from giving up on myself and those around me that needed to hear my story, as much as I needed to hear theirs.
A recent study by Cigna found that about half, or one out of every two Americans, feels lonely. (1). In the age where everyone and everything seem more closely connected than ever, especially by the Internet and social media, this statistic is particularly alarming. Moreover, a study by the CDC, found that suicide rates are also increasing by as much as 30% over the past decade (2). In fact, during junior high through my sophomore year in high school, when I felt the loneliness, I often had suicidal ideations. Thankfully, God, in His mercy and sovereignty didn’t allow me to go through with that option.
We were all created for community. Even when Adam was
surrounded with animals, God acknowledged his need to be surrounded by at least
one other person when God said in Genesis 1:18 (KJV), “It is not good that the
man should be alone.” So, after that God created Eve from Adam’s rib. Even
Jesus, in order to fulfill the purpose which the Father had for Him, had to be
surrounded by people, at least some of the time. Believers in Christ or not, we are all
created to be with at least one other person. This doesn’t have to be in the
context of a romantic or marital relationship, but we do need some kind
of relationship with another to truly be content with our lives.
When I was growing up, I didn’t really feel connected with
my community at school and I rarely attended church. As I consequence, I
struggled on and off with loneliness throughout most of my childhood. Many people, especially the younger
generation, sadly feel the same way I did when I was growing up.
Though we are, in some ways, more connected to each other
than ever, through phenomena like globalization and the Internet, we can also
be more isolated. While we may have more
virtual connections, our face-to-face connections as a society have
suffered. Because many people may see
that their face-to-face connections are suffering, instead of confronting this
problem head on, they may be tempted to retreat into virtual reality. For instance, in my personal life, I found
that when I am stressed and/or feel lonely, I tend to isolate myself more.
One of the things that God has taught me through all that,
is not to isolate. For instance, about two weeks ago, I was so depressed I
couldn’t get out of bed to go to church!
However, later I decided I should try to go the evening Sunday school
class at church, so maybe I’d feel better.
Not only did I feel better, but some of my friends were able to help me
through what had been causing me to feel depressed in the first place! Also, when we are part of a community, there
is place for both accountability and vulnerability. (Yes, there are toxic
communities where people will not feel safe to be vulnerable or accountable. In
that case, I would find another, more genuine community, and not give up until
I found the right one.) . In a community, we can learn from one another, be
accountable, and can encourage one another. That is why, in Hebrews 11: 25,
Christians are encouraged not to forsake the assembly of believers (i.e…Don’t
neglect your local church community).
Another thing that God has been teaching me about combating
loneliness is the connection between being lonely and the temptation to forge
idols. I know several people who have
turned to idols, whether it be smoking, workaholism, alcoholism, gambling, or a
number of other life-dominating vices, because they sensed a void, or
loneliness, in their lives. One of my
pastors said that the reason that many people turn to idols because they have a
mistrust of some aspect of the character of God.
So, God has been teaching me, that In order to combat true
loneliness, I need to forsake any idols that I have used as a “filling in” for
any of my perceived feelings of loneliness.
One thing that I have realized combats both the loneliness and idolatry
is basking in God’s presence and learning about and believing His character. In my class that I attend Thursday nights at
church, when I learned about God’s steadfast love and that He would never leave
or forsake me, through Scripture, I found that I became more joyful and more
aware of His presence in my life. It goes without saying, that I no longer felt
stressed or lonely that day, in dealing with life. Also, I was surrounded by a
community of believers that were able to help and/or teach me to overcome some
of my temptations to idolatry, so I would be less likely to fall into that trap
God has also been teaching me that some people are lonely
because they feel afraid to forge connections with others, even though they may
crave it. This may be due to a number of
reasons, but one of the major reasons I found in what I have observed with
people around me, is that people don’t want to forge connections because they
are afraid of getting emotionally wounded by another person again. They have been wounded, manipulated, and/or
betrayed by so many people in their lives; they would rather risk loneliness
than be abused again. I don’t blame them for this reaction, but ultimately it
will ruin them as well. I used to be one
of these people who was afraid to be vulnerable and really connect with others,
and thus, I was constantly depressed and lonely. However, I found that when I
became vulnerable and was able to be myself that I not only became less lonely,
but I also became more confident of who I was and where I was going in
life. So, how was I able to be more
“real” and “vulnerable” with others?
First of all, I surrounded myself with people that really had my best
interests in mind and were supportive and caring, even in my darkest
times. I also strived to forgive those
who had hurt me somehow. For instance, I forgave several managers at work who I
had bitterness and anger against for a long time. Since a lot of people
respected them, I sometimes felt alone.
However, when I let go of my bitterness and start to consciously think
good things about them, not only did I not feel alone anymore, my relationships
with these managers also started to improve dramatically! Also, in order to not feel lonely for a
prolonged period of time, we must persevere in forging relationships with
others, even though it may be difficult at times. People may irritate us, be
rude to us, or treat us unkindly, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on
relationships completely. Also, God may
want us to learn something, even if it is how not to be, from these rude or irritating people.
We were not created to be alone. That is why children and
adults who are isolated from others for a long period of time, may have
irrevocable damage and trauma from that experience. However, when we experience
true unity among one another, we can find love, joy, fulfillment, and community
in our lives that gives us purpose and hope for this hurting, broken world.
October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and I am blessed that
God has provided me with two wonderful pastors, and one Pastor Emeritus who
have served and labored over my local church for many years. I have been in several different churches,
but my current church has been the best so far.
I have learned more in the past three years, than I have in the previous
sixteen years in the Lord. I owe all this to God and His sovereignty in placing
the people in my life today, especially the pastoral leadership of my church.
One of the major things my pastors taught is how to more
effectively relate to others. About
three years ago, I had a tumultuous work relationship with one of my managers
at the time. One day, things became so
bad between the manager and me, that I actually went into one of the services
upset and very bitter towards this person, even though I was not scheduled to
work that day and hadn’t even made contact with this person in a few days. So, I decided as a last-ditch effort to maybe
quell my intense emotions and be able to concentrate on the sermon that night,
that I would talk to Pastor John* about what was going on. (You can read the whole story here.) Pastor
John gave me a few poignant Bible Verses. I told Pastor John, “I tried to be
nice to him [meaning my manager], but I don’t think anything is happening. “ Then, Pastor John told me something I will
never forget: He said, “Patricia, you have to trust God’s timing. Just because your manager hasn’t responded
now, doesn’t mean God will not work in his heart later.” This not only convicted me to be more patient
with my manager, but also helped me to see that I hadn’t really been trying
that hard at all at being kind to him.
That night, I wrote an apology note to my manager, asking him to forgive
me of my bitterness towards him. The next day, I was able to see my manager as
a person in need of grace and love, rather than the monster that I crafted into
my mind for one and a half years. Thus, Pastor John was instrumental in helping
me reconcile with my manager, whom I’m pleased to say I’m on good terms with my
now-former manager and he’s happy where he is at now. Pastor John recently helped me to think
differently about my job, through one of the sermons he preached. Instead of
thinking of my job as a “necessary evil,” especially when I’m stressed, God spoke through my pastor, and they helped
me realize that I am at the job I’m in for a reason—to give hope to others
and to spread Christ’s love there. Yes,
my job gets very stressful at times, but as long as I’m doing what God (and
those He put over me at work) commanded me, God’s sovereign will and His
faithful love will cover me during those times.
Pastor Don* and Pastor Todd* also taught me how to more effectively
relate to others through how they are patient with others and willing to serve
wherever they are called.
Another thing that my pastors have taught me is how to be
more authentic, both in my relationship with God, and others. One of the things that I always appreciate
about people in general is their willingness to admit fault and to be
vulnerable, and not try to maintain this “perfect fake image” in front of
others. All my pastors model this to a
good degree, but I have especially appreciated this coming from Pastor Todd.
One time he admitted on the pulpit that he got pulled over for speeding!
Thankfully, because the police officer liked our church, Pastor Todd got off
with a warning. I found this
vulnerability and honest confession refreshing in an age where there are many
church leaders who will try to hide their sins and flaws; with the appearance
that they know “everything” and that they are “holier-than-thou.” There were
other times too that Pastor Todd was open about his personal struggles with sin
and temptation. This is refreshing to me because I feel that Pastor Todd’s
honesty makes him more relatable to someone like me, who also struggles with
sin and temptation on a daily basis. In other words, his vulnerability and
authenticity makes him more human and trustworthy!
One of the most important things that my pastors have taught
me is how to be more passionate about Jesus Christ. All of them have emphasized, over and over
again, God’s love and sovereignty over the whole world. I learned from Pastor John that God’s
sovereignty intervenes in our whole lives, down to the bosses we will have and
the parents we have. I learned from
Pastor John that if we loathe our bosses and constantly complain about them, we
also have a problem with God, because it is He who put them there in our midst,
possibly to teach us something or for God’s sovereign and good purposes in our
lives! This has taught me in order for
me to be more passionate about Jesus that I need to trust Him even in the
tougher circumstances of my life, and not to complain about the people He
decides to place in my life. I learned
from Pastor Todd that in order for me to be more passionate about Jesus, I need
to learn that Jesus loves me very much and He always has good in mind for me,
according to His purposes. I learned
from Pastor Todd’s teaching on the book, “God is More Than Enough,” that when I
become discontented with my circumstances, I need to check my heart to
eliminate any worldly and selfish desires on my part, especially the want for
something more than what Christ has already graciously provided me. Pastor Don, Pastor Todd, and Pastor John all
have taught me the importance of spreading the Good News and to show God ‘s
love to all those around us, even those we may consider our enemies.
Because of my pastors’ commitment to teaching exactly what
Jesus taught, and because they strive to live authentic and blameless lives,
they have helped strengthen and shape how my faith is today. Of course, none of
us are even close to perfect, but I will always appreciate the good that these
three men have done in our church and in my life.
For over 25 years, I have gone in and out of the throes of
depression. During my worst episodes, I seriously considered ending my life.
Thankfully, every time I wanted to give up, God rescued me out of the pit of
despair and helped me see His love and light. Even though I would have
preferred to not go through the darkness for so long, and though I had wanted
to give up so many times, I am thankful that God taught me so many valuable
life lessons that I now strive to apply to my life:
One lesson I learned from going through depressive episodes
is to be more open and genuine with others in expressing my true self. In the
past, I was so afraid of what people would think of me, that I never told
anyone for a long time about my struggles, past and present. Unfortunately, I
got so used to hiding that when I finally decided needed help with my issues,
some people thought I really didn’t have those issues! However, the longer I
struggled, the more apparent it became to me that I needed to talk to someone about my issues, and more than
likely, several people.
Then, I started to talk. I began opening up the layers of my
pain in my past. What I realized is that many of the people I opened up to
struggled with similar issues! Also, I didn’t get most of the judgment or
condemnation I had feared, and those that judged me were often the same ones
that God would later remove from my life anyway. When I started opening up and
being vulnerable with others, not only did I forge stronger bonds with those
around me, but I found that the pain I went through in my depression lessened,
as I started to heal.
Another lesson I learned from going through depression is to
be value my time– especially the good, depression-free times– more. When I am
depressed, I can only see the wounds and ugliness of myself and life. I feel
like I am in a long, dark tunnel with no end to it. However, when I am content
with life and glance back at (but not dwell) on my depressive episodes, I
realize how blessed I am! Reflecting back causes me to value and appreciate the
good times more, because I see how far God has brought me from the darkness of
the worst of my depressive episodes.
The most pertinent lesson that God has taught me from going
through depression, in my mind, is that He had a purpose and a plan for
allowing me to walk in the dark for so long. I have learned that God has been
using my struggle with depression, and the past hurts that had exacerbated my
depression, to help me minister to others with similar or even more complex issues
than I ever had! He has also used my
struggle with depression to help me be more compassionate and caring towards
others in pain, and in order to strengthen my character by tearing down the
layers of selfishness and self-righteousness in my heart.
If anyone is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts right now, know that God has a good purpose for all you have been through. We may never know what it is this side of the world, but God never wastes our pain. Let this be our hope to never give up no matter what life brings us.