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.
EDIT: Many people in my shoes would be unhappy about having to work tomorrow (Thanksgiving Day) in the U.S, but I’m thankful that I have a job and that they will serve a meal where I work. I am so blessed! According to a recent survey, by the Conference Board, only 46% of those surveyed in the U.S were “satisfied” with their jobs. I hear people complaining about their work every day at my job, and in other companies as well. However, for me, though there have been some days where the stress seemed overwhelming, I can say with confidence that I am grateful for my job.
One of the main reasons why I’m thankful for my job is because of how God allowed me to get this job. Before I got employed at my current job, I had an interview at a bookstore about twenty five minutes from my home. I really wanted this job, because I thought it would be my “dream job” and that I would thoroughly enjoy it. However, the interview didn’t go as well as I planned, and I quickly realized that I would not get the job and was not adequately qualified for the job. I was despondent and disappointed, but luckily I did not quit trying.
One wintry day in February, I just happened to stop by my current place of employment to get a few items, and God’s Spirit happened to impress on me that I should check the status of my resume since I hadn’t heard anything back for a couple of weeks. Long story short, I got an interviewed scheduled for a few hours later. Even though, I was super nervous during the interview and wasn’t sure I would be accepted for employment, I got a job offer not even an hour after the interview! The next day, I accepted, and the rest is history.
Another reason why I’m thankful for my job is because of all the things I learned that I can apply to other places. The first day I worked there, I knew next to nothing about working at my current company and was unable to help customers as well as I can now. I did not even know how to operate a cash register, which is essential in retail. However, my now-former manager Elizabeth* allowed me to train on the register for at least 15 minutes every week, even though many people discouraged me from doing it because they thought it would be too stressful or anxiety-producing for me. Because Elizabeth continued believing in me and refused to listen to the negative voices about me that surrounded her, I was officially a trained back-up cashier about a year ago today. Someone told me that the CSMs (the Customer service managers that are responsible over managing the cashiers) would probably never call me up to ring. However, just two days ago, I was called up to ring, and the day before that I was cashiering for one and a half hours, which is a long time for a back-up who also had to straighten up two departments and do returns afterwards!
I also learned how to relate to different types of people. Because of the diverse crowd that shop at our store, and the associates that are employed there, through different experiences that I have been through, I am constantly learning how to relate to different types of people. Even if I fail at an encounter, I do better next time, and thus God is using my relational experiences with all these people, both good and bad, to help strengthen my character and to help me see something about Himself. For instance, I had a difficult time with a fellow associate, but through a series of circumstances, I learned how to forgive them and realized that I was sent by God to be a light to them and to be an encouragement to them, and not have them blaspheme God’s name because of my un-Christ like actions.
Even though I am not considered wealthy, by societal standards here in the U.S, I am grateful for my job because it provides income and benefits. I am also grateful for the meals that my store provides the employees each year on Thanksgiving because it shows that they appreciate us working that day. I also am grateful that I am able to be full-time at my job, which means more hours and benefits.
Even though there may be many reasons why I could be unhappy at my job, I am happy because God has given me everything I need at my job and in life. When I make God and doing His work my primary focus, I find that I am happier and that I am able to have purpose in my work that goes beyond just getting a paycheck. That is where I can find true joy and gratitude in my work.
All my life, I had wanted to be happy and be
loved. According to Pastor Mark Jobe, it’s a desire of 95% of people you may
meet randomly on the street. I even remember reading an article ( I don’t
remember which one.) that quoted A.J McLean of the Backstreet Boys saying, “
What do people want? They wanna be happy!”
However, the longer I have lived, the more I have realized that the
pursuit of happiness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I found that for many
people that their pursuit of happiness often turns into self- indulgent
hedonism that can quickly spiral out of control if one isn’t careful. But being
happy isn’t a bad thing. Moreover, if these things are true in your life, you
may be well on the way to true and
In order to be truly happy, we must live with
an other- centered focus. If we live with a self-centered focus, we will most
likely sprout seeds of discontent in our lives because there will always be
some people and situations that won’t comply with our wishes! We will also miss
opportunities to truly make a positive difference in others’ lives because we
would be too busy thinking about ourselves. A self-centered focus always
demands more for itself, and thus is never satisfied with what one already has.
However, if we live to see that others are happy as well, we will be too busy
serving them to even think selfishly. Moreover, we may even see the fruits of
our service to others, and there is great satisfaction and joy in that. For
example, my former pastor served faithfully at my current church for over 40
years, and, as a result of the relational investments and services he made to
others, many people he mentored are either now in leadership positions in my
church or on the mission field. These people are likewise also actively serving
in their communities. Thus, we are able to make a great impact on the world and
the heavenly Kingdom as well.
Another thing we must practice in order to be truly happy is being grateful for all God has given us. I have observed and realized that people who constantly complain are one of the most miserable people on the planet because they only focus on what is wrong in their lives, completely ignoring the positives. Gratitude is why the Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:11, is able to say, “[I] have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (KJV) One way to be more grateful is not to compare yourself with people having “ more” of what you desire than yourself, but to compare yourself with those having less than you. This thinking has not only helped me be more grateful for what I have, but also be more compassionate to others in need.
In order to be truly happy in life, along with being grateful and other-centered, we must strive to try your best in life. One area we could do this in is our jobs. Most people I encounter approach their work and/ or careers as simply a means of earning a paycheck. But what if we approached our work as a way to serve others and make a great impact on changing our world for the better? What if we served God in our jobs wholeheartedly, instead of only doing the minimum required to “get by”?
Why should we give our best, not only at our jobs, but in all aspects of life? Not only because we will feel better about ourselves and reap the rewards of doing right, but because we will greatly please God and glorify Him. We will also reap much greater rewards if we know we have done our best we could in serving God with our whole lives than if we just did the minimum or accomplished something with minimal effort because we will be able to have a much greater impact and influence when we are passionate about living life positively the best we can.
True happiness, otherwise known as “joy,” had
eluded me for many years. I have struggled with depression on and off for more
than half my life. However, thanks to God, and to all my past and present
teachers of God’s pure and unadulterated Word, I have learned these secrets of
joy– having an other-centered focus, being grateful for all I have, and giving
God the best in my life, and serving Him with my whole heart. May you,
likewise, live in true happiness today by applying these secrets of joy to your
I have been repeatedly reminded in these past few weeks that
nothing on earth is going to stay the same or remain forever. To that end, I
have also been reminded that one day I will pass from life on this earth, to
life in eternity with God. I have sensed
in my heart that God has been whispering to me over and over again, “Patricia,
you don’t have much time left.” The
following is the message I believe God is relaying to my heart, and also, I
believe, God’s message to all of us, to live life so that we will die well:
I know no one wants to ponder their death. It all seems so depressing and
final—but it doesn’t have to be. Dying
well, to me, does not mean having all the toys and grandeurs of this world. One
can have that, and still not die well.
Dying well does not just mean being popular and having everyone love
you. To me, dying well means to have
lived knowing you have fulfilled your purpose and that God will say to you when
you come before Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
So, how does one fulfill his or her purpose? Well, first one
needs to find out what it is! I believe
that my overarching purpose can be surmised in the Westminster Shorter
Catechism, where it says, “The [purpose] of man is to glorify God and to enjoy
Him forever.” If you are a follower of Christ, that should be your purpose
However, I think God gives us different assignments, if you
will, to help us fulfill that purpose, through both our circumstances and the
people He puts in our path. For
instance, despite the stresses that my day job brings, I believe He has and
continues to use that job as a calling for me to minister to broken and hurting
people around me and to strengthen my character. In this job, I am learning, not only some
marketable skills in my job, but also how to be more patient, kind, caring and
at peace with life. I have learned that
anxiety gets me nowhere, but trusting God does.
When I cooperate with God in these lessons, I am much better able to
fulfill His purposes for me. When it is
my time to depart this world, if I persevere in this and all other assignments
He gives me to fulfill His purposes, then I would die well.
Another example is my faith hero, Rachel Joy Scott. She
became a Christian a few years before her death in April 1999, and God used
people in her school, her church, and her job to strengthen and build her
character and to be a dynamic example for those around her that would be
recounted long after she had departed this earth. Although Rachel died what many consider a
tragic death, I think she died well, not because thousands of people came to
her funeral, but because of the positive impact she had and continues to have
in millions of people’s lives today because of how she had lived her life and
fulfilled her God-given purpose.
I believe to truly die well, we must die to self. In fact,
in Luke 9:23-24 (KJV), Jesus says, “ If any man should come after me, he must
deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose
it, but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Jesus is saying that in order to live, and,
ultimately, die well, we have to be willing to give up our selfish desires,
ambitions and hopes for the benefit of others.
I can attest to this fact in my own life. When I am thinking selfishly,
I often find that I don’t get what I wanted anyway, and my life unravels before
me. Not only that, people often lose respect for me, and I become an angry,
resentful and bitter mess. However, when I humble myself and submit my desires
and ambitions to God, I find that I am more at peace, no matter what my
circumstances are, and things often go a lot more smoothly. I also find the same is true for those around
me. Those around me who complain the
most are often, and not just coincidentally, the same people who have not
submitted their selfish desires and ambitions to God! What a miserable way, not only to live, but
to die! Many people think that when we die to self, we will live a miserable
life and never get to do what we want to do. I won’t lie; sometimes I am
tempted to believe this very lie!
However, in reality, the opposite is most often true. When we are willing to sacrifice for others,
we become more fulfilled in our God-given purpose and are more likely to be
content with our lives, rather if we just lived for ourselves and our desires.
Another part of dying to self is being willing to serve
others. Helping others not only encourages us to keep the focus off ourselves,
it also makes us more content and fulfilled with our lives, because we sense we
are making a positive contribution to this world. For instance, when I work to
focus on making the customers satisfied and happy with our products and
service, I find I feel much more confident and willing to serve them, rather
than if I am focused on just checking something off my list. Dying well, means
having died knowing that you served others the best you could, and were not
just out for yourself.
In order to truly die well, I believe we must strive daily to
fulfill our God-given purpose for this life, deny ourselves, and be willing to
live to serve God and others with a whole heart. As God has said in my heart, repeatedly, “You
don’t have much time left.” Yes, we
don’t have as much time left as we may perceive in our minds, but we can use
what is left to make sure we die well, and full of purpose.
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.