I have seen and heard a lot of vitriol recently in my social media feed regarding our government, the coronavirus response, and quarantine life in general. Although some of the vitriol has come from non-Christians, I have seen a disturbing number of professing believers also being just as vicious in their messages, and, as a follower of Christ, that makes me so upset and sad. Just to clarify, I have also seen some believers being very gracious and kind in their responses to those who disagree with them, especially my former pastor who responds with the grace and dignity that I can only hope that more people, no matter their religious affiliation, would emulate. However, here are some things that I have heard and/or witnessed myself with some of those who profess belief in Christ that have grieved me, and that believers (myself included) should make sure we never do or stop doing, if we struggle with these issues.
Not showing grace to those who disagree with them.—Years ago, before I was a true believer in Christ, I have to admit I was guilty of this. I condemned and cursed those who would even criticize my favorite musical group. Thankfully, I have grown from that, and I aim to show grace to those who disagree with my views on life. Unfortunately, I was reading one of my friend’s social media feeds (The friend is a strong believer), and their friends (also believers) seemed to be attacking one another and not showing very much grace to one another. I would be horrified to hear what non-Christians who witnessed this would think of us believers now in light of this! I would advise believers like myself to refrain from engaging in arguments or discussions if you are unable to keep from condemning or otherwise bad mouthing your opponent. This silence will keep your witness from being marred or even destroyed and from giving the enemies of the Lord occasion to blaspheme (2 Samuel 12:14).
Loving their neighbor, but hating their enemies.—Going along with the first point, we should strive to love those around us, even our enemies. I know it’s tough, and I also struggle with this. However, when we see even our enemies, as fellow image-bearers of God with real dreams and goals, we can make a new friend out of them! When I decided to humble myself before God and follow what Jesus said in Matt 5:44, which says,” Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” winning them over is eventually what happened in numerous situations. For instance, I had trouble getting along with one of my now-former managers. In fact, at some point, I would actually have been honest in saying I hated them! However, after God revealed to me the unnecessary bitterness and anger in my heart towards them, I eventually saw them with eyes of love and compassion. Now, I hold them close to my heart as one of my good friends.
Being prideful or self-righteous in any situation, especially when being confronted with sin in their lives.—I can usually tell if a person is a mature Christian by the way they respond to criticism and when they are confronted with their sins. For instance, when confronted with criticism over an article he linked about obeying government, my pastor did not respond with vitriol or pride. Instead, he humbly and gracefully explained his position, which caused some of the people who criticized him to examine the issue further and not get upset. However, I also had a friend who I had to confront because they had violated my boundaries more than once, and instead of humbly apologizing or respecting me, they got upset and told me I was “crazy.” Both my pastor and my friend would claim to be professing Christians, but the way each of them responded reflects how true their belief in Christ really is. Unlike what society around us may say, pride is not an attractive quality in anyone. Humility is, because it shows that you can be real with someone without playing the victim or feeling attacked.
Being one person in public, and another behind closed doors.—Believing one thing and doing another is called being a hypocrite, and being two-faced will grossly undermine any credible witness you may have. In order to combat this, strive to be transparent with others about how you are living your life. This may include sharing your struggles with at least one or two close friends, and inviting their accountability and encouragement to do better. Also, do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. In Galatians 6:2 (KJV), it says, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” I believe when this verse says to bear one another’s burdens, it also includes letting other people bear yours! Yes, I understand that trusting others is difficult sometimes, but do you trust God to do what is best for you through them? God will never let you go, and He has a good plan for you always, for a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28).
When we as a Body of believers resolve never to do these four things, we can have a major impact for the Kingdom of God! We can be the authentic, cross-bearing, Jesus loving believers we were created by God to be!
I am saddened and dismayed by the political vitriol and discord that has gone on in my country, and frankly, around the world as well. Unfortunately, I have taken part in heated and aggressive arguing before. It was about twenty years ago in an online forum. I may have considered myself a believer in Christ, but I doubt I really was at the time. Worse yet, one of my hateful messages became a featured message on that particular website! I regret writing that message to this day, and hope it is not still up there. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but I know it didn’t build up or respect anyone at all. Thankfully, God did not leave me hate-filled and aggressive like I was before, and He has taught me, through many respectable and grace-filled Christians, how to speak my mind more gracefully. Here is what I learned, and continue to learn:
When confronted with a person or person with an opposing view, make sure you understand what they are actually saying, and define terminology. —I was in an online discussion on a social media platform that got heated because both sides seemed to not understand what the other person’s view actually was. That’s why I asked them to define terms. For instance, I’ve seen and heard people arguing against the stay at home order in their state. Other people accused them of being “selfish” because they are arguing against it. In order for either party to share their beliefs with grace, they need to try to understand where the party with the opposing belief is coming from. The party that called the people protesting or arguing about the stay at home order “selfish” could instead see what part of the stay at home order they are against. The people protesting may not be against all stay at home orders, but just the more restrictive parts of it. The people who are for the stay at home orders may just come out of a concern and care for others’ well -are and safety and are not intending to be “tyrannical,” as those protesting the orders may think. Also, it would be useful for both parties to define clearly and precisely the term “stay at home order.” What would it include? What would it not include?
Focus on what you agree on, not on what divides you.—In my example about the stay at home order, it may be useful to focus more on what unites you, not only what you disagree about. Both parties in arguing about the stay at home order issue seem to come out of a concern for what they feel is the greater good. The party that supports people staying at home until COVID-19 passes wants people to stay safe and not potentially spread the virus, especially to the most vulnerable in society. The party that supports lifting some restrictions on the stay at home order in their state may want the economy to recover so that less people would be out of work and have income to buy food and other necessities.
Never name-call or denigrate the other side.–What I see in many bitter and contemptible debates is that people tend to demonize and denigrate the opposing side. They do not see the opposing side as humans with goals and dreams like us, but instead as a demon or even the devil himself! If we want to speak our mind with grace, we can never demonize the other side. We must remember that no matter what side a person is on, they are humans, created in God’s image, like we are. They have hopes, dreams, and families, like we do. If someone, especially in an online forum, starts resorting to name-calling or otherwise denigrating you, you can shut down the conversation by not responding to their comments and getting out of the forum. This will allow both parties to cool down, or, at least stop the verbal escalation from getting worse. Sometimes, I even refrain from sharing my beliefs, not so much because I’m afraid to, but because I do not want to get into a name-calling, hateful debate with others.
I find that when we try to understand where our opponent is coming from, when I focus on where I agree with my opponent instead of only what divides us, and when I treat my opponent with respect and grace, that we will understand and love each other better. This pandemic alone won’t unite people, but a heart that respects and gives grace to even our opponents, can and will. Let’s feel free to share our beliefs, but let’s do so with a humble and a gracious attitude.
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.
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.
Sunday night, after a snowstorm had ended for the day, I realized how much pain and anguish Jesus had gone through for us—for me, during the last hours of His life, 2,000 years ago, as my pastor relayed the excruciating details of what Jesus had suffered. Over the past few weeks, I confess there had been so much stress going on in my life that I had lost sight of God’s presence and even love for me. However, as I look back over my entire life, I realize that Jesus had not only saved and redeemed me through His sacrifice 2,000 years ago, but also through various people and events in my life. As I look forward to celebrating Easter, I want to remind you—and myself—of God’s saving grace, not only for my sake, but also for yours, so that you will remember how God has been good to you and how blessings have poured into your life.
This is my story, but more importantly, it is His!
On April 9, 1999, I wrote these despairing words in a
journal, “I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without
being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I
could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where
is it, at least in me?” At that time, I
was feeling very restless and felt like something was missing from my life.
Tired of all the pretense around me in my life and feeling like I couldn’t
relate to the lyrics of most popular songs, I began searching for deeper
music. That is when I was led by God to a
Christian radio station that played songs in the popular style I liked, but
also had deeper lyrical meaning for me.
Through that, God used this longing for something “more” in my life to
lead me into a Christian bible study group at a public school I attended. Some months later, I accepted Christ as my
Lord and Savior.
God has also saved my literal, physical life several times
as well. When I was struggling most
severely with depression and suicidal thoughts, each time He reached out to me
and prevented me from doing the unthinkable.
Also, on June 14, 2014, after having been hospitalized already a month before for food poisoning, I had to be hospitalized again. (For the whole story on how and why, please visit this page. ) I had been throwing up blood earlier that morning, and I knew something was wrong, so I went to the ER. I found out later that I had to have gallbladder surgery because my gallbladder was twice the size it should have been, was inflamed, and I had several gall stones! Thankfully, I had gone to the ER in time because if I had waited longer, I may not have been here on earth today. God was definitely a part of the timing in this and in guiding the successful surgery by my surgeon.
Then, about four years later, there was a severe blizzard ensuing outside. Many associates had called in sick at my current job, and because I was feeling bad for one of the managers that worked overnight, I wanted to help him. He had so much work to do, with not enough people to do it. I had worked from 2 pm, and my shift was supposed to end at 10 pm. However, I planned to work another shift to help him out. However, when this manager, let’s call him *Chris, realized that I lived more than a few minutes away from work, he told me, “I care about my associates.” and told me in so many words that he would rather have me safely home than me worrying about him getting the work done and possibly have an accident by going home later, when the storm was more severe. I sensed that God was telling me to listen to Chris, and I did. I not only was able to get home at a decent time, I had to call off the next day because the weather was so bad! Thankfully, God moved in Chris to care about my safety, and thus He used Chris to save my life!
Another way, Jesus has redeemed me is by providing me hope
and purpose in serving Him. When I was
struggling to find lasting work, He provided me activities at my now-former
church, like the food pantry and the clinic, to be able to serve the needs of
others. By serving at the food pantry
and the clinic at my now-former church, my eyes were opened to the pain and the
needs of others. I saw people find hope
and purpose, as they were being served by my fellow volunteers and me. I saw
Jesus work through both ministries in powerful ways, as many people felt loved
and cared for by the volunteers there. It was there that I also met some of the
most genuine, loving, and caring people, including one of my friends, Laura,*
that now attends the church which I am now a member.
After that, through my mentor J, and others, I was able to
get my first stable job about six years ago.
There, I learned much about customer service, which I strive to apply to
my current job. God also led me to see
every day as an opportunity to minister to those around me—both customers and
Then, about three years ago, on a cold, wintry February day, I got my current job, being hired by one of my now-former managers, Chris*(Yes, he is the same one that helped save my physical life in February 2018!) , and several months later, Hope,* one of my managers, promoted me to full-time. God has used this job, not only to help me serve Him better, but also to continually mold and shape me, and so He could tear away the layers of my selfishness and pain of having been bullied by peers and others growing up. I am also constantly able to learn new things about how to serve customers better and to be a better person, personality-wise.
A few months before I got my current job, on December 2015,
I started the blog, “God’s Whisperings.” From there, God led me to engage with
other like-minded individuals in a blogging group. He also gave me a vision to
start this blog as a way to teach others what I have learned from Him, so that
they would know His love and goodness in their own lives as well. About a few months ago, I was led by God to
join a local writing group, as a way to, not only have a concentrated time to
continue to write, but also to learn from others.
Finally, Jesus has saved and redeemed me through various trials, because without them, I would not be the person I am today. Before I got my current job, I applied and got interviewed for a job at a local bookstore that just opened. This was what I had considered one of my “dream jobs.” However, I quickly learned during the interview that I was not a good fit for that job. I felt very disappointed, and slightly despairing, until I interviewed for my current job in February of 2016! Had I had gotten that job at the bookstore, I don’t know how long I would have lasted, or if I would have learned as much as I have at my current job.
Jesus also saved and redeemed me through failed friendships and relationships. He saved me from several people who did not have my (or His) best interests in mind, and who betrayed my trust. Jesus saved me from those who would have hurt me if they had been in my lives much longer. Finally, Jesus continues to redeem my life, through the changes I am currently experiencing, including the redemption of several friendships and relationships that I thought were doomed forever. You can read about one of them here.
As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection this Sunday (for those
that are Christians), let’s remember
what God has done in our lives to bring us to where we are today, and for the
blessing it is that He is alive and working in us today! Thank God for not only His salvation, but
also for the plenty of times He has redeemed us in our lives!
I am not like many, or even, most people. At my church, most
people are older than me, have children and even grandchildren, are married,
and have been there for a long time. In
contrast, I am single, have exactly zero children, and have only attended this
current church for a little over two years. I’m not only different at church,
but also at work. While many people at
my job have either hated or just tolerated their job, most of the time, I find
great joy and passion in my job, which is why I strive to give it my all every
day. In general society, I am different from what most would consider “the
norm” because I am neurodivergent, have the rarest Myers-Briggs personality
type there is (In case, you are wondering, I’m an INFJ, and have only found one
person in real life with this exact type as me!), and love organizing things
more than most people.
And I like it that way.
Being different has forced me to not be able to hide myself
behind a veneer of familiarity well, leading me to be able to be more genuine.
For instance, when I try to hide behind a veneer, such as having no passion for
my work and not trying my best, people will immediately notice something is
wrong and that I am not really being “myself.” In fact, one time when I was
just trying to get things “done” and not really striving for excellence, a
manager admonished me for that, but understood I was just really stressed
out. Standing out in my differences has
allowed me to be more genuine because I know I have an interesting life story
to tell others.
Being different has also enabled me to bring a fresh
perspective and new ideas into the world around me. Because I am realizing that
many people do not think like I do, when I say something from my heart and
offer my unique perspective on things, people will be more apt to listen to me
since I stand apart, than to someone whose ideas are more common . Being different has also helped me to learn
about other perspectives with a fresh and more invigorating view. For instance,
I observe that many people use small talk to get to know a person better. I do,
too, however, I also strive to see into the soul and observe what their dreams
and goals are in life by what they talk about.
Being different has helped me move away from the status quo
when necessary. For instance, when I see or hear of something that I feel is
not right, I won’t be as afraid to say so , because I am not pressured to
maintain the status quo as other people may.
Even when most people are doing “A”, I won’t be afraid to do “B’ if I
feel that would be the right thing to do. Sometimes, because I am different
than most, I stand out more anyway. So,
I am less afraid of backlash in standing up for what is right.
Being different has motivated me to stand up for and support
people who have been unfairly discriminated against due to their differences,
including, but not limited to, certain minority ethnic groups, people who
struggle with mental illness, those who are disabled, and other societal identifiers that may be
outside “the norm”. Because I have also
experienced teasing and bullying throughout my life due to my differences, I am
able to better understand what it is like to be ridiculed, ignored, and bullied
because of them. These painful
experiences have enabled me to have more compassion for and better able to
relate to others who have been through similar abuse and bullying.
Yes, I am often considered an anomaly to the norms of
society. Yes, I may be sometimes treated unjustly because of them. However, not
being like most of society has allowed me to have a greater impact on it then I
otherwise would if I were a carbon copy of the “normal person” in society.
We may be more or less “normal” than the standards and
characteristics that society may deem “normal,” but everyone has uniqueness
that makes them stand out in some way. Embrace yours, and accept others! Upset the applecart to do what is right
sometimes, and use your differences to be a catalyst for positive change in
On December 20, 2018, I said goodbye to one of the best
managers I have ever had the privilege of working under. When I first met her, I never thought I would
learn so much from her, or that she would be a picture of the type of person I
aspire to be. She taught me so much
about not only the work I was doing, but also the type of person I should
aspire to become.
Here is some of what my former manager taught me, both
through her words and actions, and how I have applied her lessons to my life:
She taught me to never give up.—When I was having a really bad day and was so stressed out that I considered quitting my job, my now-former manager, Elizabeth*, reminded me that I had done so much to encourage her and others, and not to give it all up just because I was so stressed that day. She told me that she thought I was amazing (though I think that she is more amazing than me!), and that I should not worry so much about my circumstances or what other people thought about me. “Just care about your family and God,” she had said. When I remember this instruction, it has actually led me to worry less about my circumstances and people’s judgments and thoughts about me, and be more able to persevere through the difficulties at my job and throughout the rest of my life.
She taught me to always do my best.— When I was so overwhelmed by having to do so many things that I failed to do my best work, Elizabeth admonished me for that, but at the same time did not insult my character. By admonishing my specific action (not working my best because I was so stressed) and encouraging me to slow down so I could do better, she instilled the confidence she had for me in my heart, so that I would be more careful to do my best and not get too overworked and anxious in my spirit. So many other people in my past had tried to admonish me by attacking my character as well as the action, so I would change. However, this only made me feel despondent and defensive. By only admonishing my action and not my character, as Christ has done with me, I was more willing to change for the better and not get so defensive. By encouraging me to do my best by also not being overbearing and micromanaging, I was forced to look for solutions to my own problems without always going to a manager. This helped me gain confidence in my own abilities and grow as an associate and as a person.
She taught me to not take the time, with those I love, for granted.—A week before her last day at my job, she told me that she was going to leave. I was really sad and devastated at first, but I quickly realized one of her unspoken lessons to me—not to take the time with those I love for granted. One of the reasons why she left us, was to spend more time with her family, and I really respect that because it shows me that she is not willing to take the time she has left with her loved ones for granted. I strive to also spend more time with my family and friends, because I know that people in my life will come and go, and that I don’t really know how much time I will have left with any of them. So, I will treasure them all the more, when I keep this lesson in mind.
These lessons that Elizabeth taught me has helped me not only cope with life better but continue persevering in the midst of life’s trials and challenges. I hope that Elizabeth’s new associates will also learn these and other important life lessons too, and that she will know why she is still a sparkling light in my life.
I’m not going to lie. Being content is still a struggle for
me, but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I am more content now
than I was even five years ago. Over the past couple years or so, I have
learned many things about how to be content and why for many people,
contentment with life seems to elude them.
In this New Year, contentment can be a reality for you. It
can be an even greater reality for me. In general, from what I have read,
heard, and learned, these are some of the major factors in cultivating
contentment in one’s life:
Live with purpose.—I had always had this lingering question in my mind about work: Why do most people hate or dislike their jobs and have no passion in what they do for a living? When I observed people and the general trends from the world around me, I found the answer. Basically, for a lot of people, their attitude towards work and much of their other parts of their lives, too, is “I’ll do what I can to survive another day.” While that can motivate some to not give up, I believe we need to live with greater purpose than just survival if we are to be truly content. I recommend that to find your life purpose (if you haven’t already), you think about what your passions are in life, and what God-given abilities you have, and see how they can fit together. For instance, one of my passions in my life is to see people know and experience the joy and love of Christ in their lives. God has given me the ability to articulate myself well through writing (though I am much less gifted in speaking!). Therefore, I have chosen to write a blog about lessons I’m learning about God’s love and joy in my life, and how others can cultivate the same. Though my day job does not involve writing at all, I can still be content in my job, because my passion to see people experience the love and joy of Christ is still being realized through the opportunities I get to interact with people on a daily basis.
Live in forgiveness.—I used to hold grudges against certain people for years, and then wonder why I wasn’t content with my life. It was like there was something always holding me back from experiencing true joy. Once, I held anger and resentment against someone that was so bad that I started experiencing PTSD-like symptoms and a real dread of ever seeing them again. However, when I finally forgave them and let my anger go, I felt an enormous weight lifted off me. I was finally able to live in love and freedom from the bitterness that held me captive for so long! Some people think if they forgive someone, they are letting them off the hook, so to speak, or excusing the offender’s behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth! The very fact of having to forgive someone necessitates that they did something wrong or sinful to hurt you. Also, like so many others who have struggled to forgive someone, I used to think that the longer I held a grudge, the longer I would make the offender “suffer” for what they did to me and feel the isolation and pain of my hurt. Then, I realized that the offender often either does not know what they did to hurt you or to what degree, or if they do, they don’t care at all. I realized that holding a grudge only makes you and the people around you that have nothing to do with what the offender did suffer. Let. It. go. By holding a grudge, you are continuing to let the offender hurt you. Get out of your offender’s prison! Forgive them—for your sake, not theirs!
Live with gratitude.—I believe that one of the biggest barriers to contentment is a complaining spirit. Often the people who complain the most are also the most depressed. This has little to do with the person’s circumstances, and more to do with the person’s attitude towards them. For instance, I know several people from my church who have had to struggle through cancer. Even though a lot of them had some trying times just battling the disease and having to go through strenuous treatments to combat it, they remained in good spirits because they focused on God and the good that was still in their lives. When I looked back on the good in my life and the blessings that God has given me, I find that I am much more satisfied with my life than when I focus on the negatives. One thing that I find helpful is to start a list of some of the blessings in your life. I keep mine in a notebook that I update occasionally throughout the year. I started it about 10 years ago, and it has over 100 ways that God has blessed me throughout that time!
These are the three main lessons that I am learning about
contentment. Though practicing these things is not always easily, and we may
fail to live these at times, never give up.
The more purpose, forgiveness, and gratitude are implemented in our
lives, the more content we will be with our lives. Try living these, and you
won’t be disappointed with the results.
I know most people have heard the phrase, “So much to do, so little time.” I know this has been the case for me, more so just in these past couple of days, as those around me have become more “time-conscious.” One of my friends reminded me that Jesus is coming soon (though we don’t know the day or the hour). My parents let me know last night that our days in this place may be numbered. So many U.S government employees are wondering how much their savings will last until the shutdown is finally over (which I hope, for their sake, is very soon!). As my pastor has said repeatedly, “Time is life.”
Time is life.
That alone should point to the importance of how we spend
our time, and help us not to waste so much time, me included.
Other reasons why time is so important are implied in these
Time is limited.
You can never get the time you lost back.
Time is valuable.
Yes, we live longer than we have, let’s say 100 years
ago. Even so, we will all eventually die
and face our eternal destiny. Time is
Sadly enough, we all have been guilty of wasting time, at
one point of our lives or another. I know I am not immune to this. I have
wasted too much time being bitter about people that either didn’t mean to do me
harm, or didn’t care that they harmed me.
I should have just forgiven them and moved on in my life, instead of
brooding about what they did and how much they had hurt me. I have also wasted too much of my life
wallowing in self-pity, anger and despair.
Maybe you have had similar stories of time wasted.
Maybe instead of
appreciating your spouse (if you are or were married), you catered to your own
selfishness and self-indulgence, until it was too or almost too late to save
your marriage. Maybe instead of caring for that relative or friend, you brushed
them aside in their time of need because you were too busy to attend to
them. Maybe you have wasted time doing
other things that were just not that important, and neglected the things that
should have been most important.
I think the reason we sometimes waste time is that we are
not conscious of time. We perceive we have more time than there actually is.
Some people don’t anticipate change—or that time will move on without
them. Moreover, we think we can make up
for lost time, only to discover it was too late!
So, how do we redeem the time (i.e.. not waste time)?
First, we have to be time-conscious. Most people are more
time-conscious when they know their time is limited, such as when a loved one
dies or when they attend a funeral. However, we don’t have to wait for death to
knock at our door in order to be time-conscious.
Lose the attitude that you have all this time in the world!
Strive not to procrastinate! Do what you can today, and strive to live each day
as it was your last. Some people go to work, or even approach life, as if it
were drudgery that will last forever, doing nothing to change their attitudes
or their circumstances. I am not talking
about people suffering from depression or who have already done what they could
and are still miserable. I’m just talking about those that are determined to
stay miserable no matter what. Know
that time is fleeting. If you are having a tough time now, there is hope
because this will eventually pass. If you are content with your life now, be
thankful for all that you have been blessed with.
Secondly, we have to determine what is important to us. In
order to not waste time, we need to prioritize what is most important to
us. We need to ask ourselves what we
value the most, whether it be God, our family, our friends, or other
priorities. Then, we need to spend the most time on those things we value most.
For instance, I value God, family, and friends, in that
order. If I want to redeem my time that
I have in life, I will focus on the interests that matter in my relationship to
God, my family, and friends. I would not waste time wallowing in self-pity or being
idle in regards to these priorities.
Also, we need to be sure that what we value will last
through eternity, and not put so much emphasis on those things that are
fleeting. For example, if a manager or co-worker at your job has a bad day and
gets snippy at you, don’t become bitter and angry for more than a day with them
and let that destroy your relationship with them, if you value relationships as
eternal. Instead chalk it up to them
having a bad day, and forgive them for their frustration at you.
Since our time is limited, valuable, and can never be
regained, we should be sure not to waste time.
In order to do that, we need to prioritize what is most important to us
and be sure we are conscious of the scarcity of our time here on earth, valuing
each day as if it were our last.
Let’s redeem our time today, and do positively in the days
we have left on earth!
Along my blogging journey, I have met some amazing people that have encouraged and inspired my own as well. One of these people is R. Christian Bohlen, who has quite an extraordinary testimony of how he came to know God, through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
R. Christian Bohlen has been
involved in ministry and church leadership for over thirty years, including
oversight of a prison ministry program in central PA. He holds an M.S. degree
in communications and has received multiple personal and team awards as a human
performance improvement consultant, instructional designer, and program manager
to Fortune 500 companies throughout the United States and Canada.
His prior work with juvenile offenders and his own
family’s trauma due to mental health issues instilled a commitment to somehow
help those who need it most to find comfort in Christ. For over twenty years,
he has labored to simplify and clarify the beauties of the life of Jesus Christ
for everyone, regardless of background or knowledge of the scriptures. In 2018,
he launched Christ on the Inside
prison and addiction recovery ministry with the goal of making easy-to-read
books about the life of Jesus available at no cost (and no profit to anyone).
My Conversion Story
I’ve devoted over 20 years to
writing a book about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, mostly because of
the remarkable and unforgettable way Christ kept pursuing me and not giving up
In my 20’s, the confusion of trying
to find my way to God was torturous—in spite of my sincerest efforts.
Finally “finding Christ”
brought the peace and clarity I was looking for, but it certainly wasn’t like
walking into a door labeled Nirvana and then thinking, “Ahh!
It’s all good now.”
There was a process that gradually
filled me with light—triggered by one key insight and the most difficult
decision of my entire life.
Up in Light and Truth
I was raised by faith-filled parents
in a gospel-centered home. It was an idyllic setting. A family with father,
mother, three children and a large community with kids everywhere, bordered by
the dense forests of northwest Pennsylvania where we played and fantasized.
Attending church every Sunday was a
given. Family prayer was routine and sincere and our home had a spirit of
meekness, love, and obedience to God.
As a child and teenager, the other members of our small church family were important influences on me. The older members of our congregation had the Spirit of God with them when they spoke. Their kind and patient ways were noticeably different than the world around me, showing a “peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).
I was taught many stories from the
scriptures. These often touched me and, looking back, I sensed that they were
true. I felt good when I read the scriptures myself, although I typically had
better things to do and simply didn’t bother.
I didn’t pray on my own. I didn’t disbelieve
that there was a God but I didn’t really believe it. And I certainly didn’t
feel his love, nor did I ever feel what I would call love for God either.
Sayings like “God loves you” just bounced off. “Everybody knows
that,” I would think to myself.
But I didn’t know it.
Gift to the Undeserving
Maybe you can relate to what I’m
about to share. Maybe in some way, God touched you whether you deserved it or
whether you were seeking him or not. Maybe, at the time, you didn’t recognize
it as such.
God reached down to me powerfully
twice when I was a teenager.
One day in church, after watching an
inspiring video about some story in the scriptures, I recall walking into the
hallway feeling touched and uplifted. I paused in front of a bulletin
board and looked at a picture of Christ surrounded by people in
old-fashioned clothes like the ancients might wear.
A pure spiritual light of
understanding entered my whole being as I stared at Christ in the center
of this picture. I wasn’t consciously trying to think of anything. It just hit
I comprehended that Christ was God,
the unchangeable God of the universe. I mean, I knew it and I understood
it. I comprehended that the trends and fashions and ideas of men will come and
go, but the wisdom and supremacy of God are unchanging. It was obvious why some
people were bent down in an attitude of worship. This insight was a gift
of spiritual light that filled me mercifully, with no effort of my own.
This gift entered my soul at a time
that I was behaviorally in rebellion against God and was giving him no thought
whatsoever. It was pure grace.
The next day I was supposed to meet
someone new—a large scale drug dealer—to buy a sheet of acid (meaning, a large
volume of LSD doses intended for distribution and sale). This was only one of
several drugs I was involved with. Getting caught selling hard drugs would have
changed the course of my life with a minimum of many months in a juvenile jail
and all that comes with entering the “system,” the stigma, and
dashing my parents’ hearts.
I stood there nearly in shock.
“What am I doing to my life? How can I do this tomorrow?” But I had
been panged by remorse before and it had only lasted a day or two and I went
right back into my double life.
Nevertheless, I never met with that
person. I don’t recall why. And I never pursued it again.
Unforgettable Witness of Christ
A few months after that incident, I
was getting ready to head out for college. I had been taught many times that
there are a few important crossroads in life that we’d better pay attention to
and make the right move: going to college, getting married, those kinds of
I recognized this as a chance to
reprioritize my life. So, I sought out one of our pastors for counsel and
began making small steps to get ready for a big change. Like the Parable
of the Lost Son, I was trying to leave the “wild living” behind and
trying to head back to the house of my Father (Luke 15:11-32, NIV).
This pastor asked my friend and me
to sing a duet during our last Sunday in church before leaving for college.
“Sure, no problem,” I answered. I didn’t think much about it.
The song was, “Abide with
There we stood in front of the small
congregation that we knew so well. My friend and I had decent voices and had
practiced a time or two and I wasn’t too worried about it.
But the strangest thing happened.
The sounds of the hymn became hauntingly beautiful, moving me to a different
place. I was filled with the sound of the notes as the words became crystal
clear on the page and full of significance:
other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.”
Suddenly, I couldn’t see well. The
words blurred as water filled my eyes. To my teenage horror, I was crying, on
stage in front of everyone.
But I couldn’t stop. Just like
before, the light that filled me was sweet and clear and so satisfying. It was
worth more than anything. I just kept reading and listening to the surreal
At that moment, I understood the
character of Jesus: the help of the helpless. The compassionate one who cares
when nobody else does.
The revelation continued, flowing
pure and sweet into my mind and heart. Again, I understood that God was the
supreme, unchangeable being—more important than any earthly thing. I tried to
sing but could only read the words and listen as my friend sung his part. He
kept looking at me like, “Whoa, what is goin’ on here?”
joys grow dim, its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see— O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”
It all made perfect sense. I was
comprehending the character of Christ, “who changest not,” and for
some reason he chose to “abide with me,” on that stage, in front of
the entire congregation.
Forward to Near Madness
Within one week of this precious
gift I was back to “wild living.”
I didn’t realize it but I was an
I’m not going to recount my entire life story here, but suffice it to say that my life went back and forth between long periods of no drug abuse with sincere strivings to live a godly life and occasional relapses.
My feelings regarding the goodness
of the gospel were real but I lacked the faith and understanding to truly live
the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had no real foundation.
At one point in 1983, I reached a
crisis of sorts. My efforts to live the gospel and keep the commandments of God
were not working. I was intensely miserable and confused. I decided the only way
to get past it was to start over again: forget everything I knew about God,
religion, and just follow my heart, make the best decisions I could, and see
where that would lead me. I didn’t know what else to do!
I stopped going to church and
stopped “keeping the commandments of God,” as such, although that
doesn’t mean my life turned into a hedonist free-for-all either. I treated
people decently, didn’t party, and did a lot of thinking.
“How could this happen?” I
often thought. “I had really tried to change my life. I tried to follow
God and ‘follow the rules.'”
After a year or so of this, I
suddenly became despondent. I was scared, in fact, at how gloomy and hopeless I
felt. I feared that I was losing my sanity and thought about taking my life to
I can still remember where I was
sitting and staring at the floor in this unstable, panicked state with no idea
of what to do.
A thought came to me: “Go see
Bob was a good friend, a former
spiritual advisor, and a man that I simply trusted. I felt a tiny bit of hope
and decided to do it.
Our conversation was intense and his
love for me was palpable and comforting. He said I was “hanging by a
thread,” which I felt was a truthful statement and didn’t take it as an
insult at all.
“You are in Satan’s
power,” he said, “and you need to cast him out.”
Hmm… Okay, so this was kind of
dramatic and not what I expected. A little crazy, to be honest. “Me? I’m a
pretty nice guy,” I thought. “I’m not like a Satanic dude or
anything.” I started to pull back from Bob.
“I want you to tell Satan to
leave you,” Bob said.
“Huh? How?” I asked.
“Say, ‘Satan. In the name of
Jesus Christ, I command you to leave me,'” Bob instructed.
I probably just sat and looked at
him. I don’t remember. But I do remember being frightened and feeling very
unstable. Not evil, but very confused and unhappy.
“Oh, great,” I
thought. “Me. Possessed.”
Could it be true? As crazy as it
sounded, I opened my mind that it might be true. I had a tiny, new hope.
As we parted that day, he hugged me
and just wept and wept and wept. I sensed that it was the love of God reaching
through him in hope and celebration for my willingness to try.
Reality of Satan
Writing this now, in 2018, I’m sure
that most people have not and will not ever experience what I’m about to
describe. But it was a reality for me and what I felt and experienced was
I learned what constitutes light as
I truly witnessed darkness.
I went home and awkwardly explained
to my mother what was happening to me and what Bob counseled me to do. I have
no idea how I broached the topic with her but somehow my mother and I sat side
by side on a couch and I decided to do what Bob advised.
I opened my mouth and verbally
commanded Satan to leave me in the name of Jesus Christ using the words above.
Within seconds, I felt a terrifying,
dark force pull away from me. The best I can explain it is that I knew it had
been enmeshed with me and now it was just a “few inches” outside of
me. It was menacing and extremely angry at what was happening and by no means
intending to stay outside of me. It was waiting for me to lose focus and come
But now I knew there was
“me” and there was “it” and I could distinguish the two.
I commanded Satan again. And again.
Always in the name of Jesus Christ. Over time, the line between us because
firmer and the distance greater. My peace and sense of self were forming again.
Truthfully, I had forgotten some of
these details until just a year ago when my mother said, “I sure know that
Satan is real, like when you cast him out as we were sitting together. What a
horrible feeling that was.”
From her vantage point, she had
experienced it as vividly as I had: an awful, frightening, threatening presence
in that room. I did not know (or recall) that she felt it that way until she
shared her memory of it with me last year.
In the weeks and months that
followed, I continued to tell Satan to leave me in the name of Christ, as
Two things were certain and beyond
The evil force I felt was real. Satan was an actual entity and not just a concept.
The name of Jesus Christ has real power. Satan was enmeshed with me but he could not disobey the command to leave, in Christ’s name. I had been given a tool that worked 100% of the time and that was enormously reassuring.
How Christ Found Me and Cared for Me
I’ve listed just a few episodes in
my life where Christ reached out to me to teach me, inspire me, help me
understand the truth, and save me—even when I was doing little or nothing to
seek him out.
I can’t say that I found Christ. I
prefer to say he has been watching over me all my life and finding and touching
me, according to his own wisdom and ways.
He gave me sweet and loving parents who shared their testimonies of truth lived godly lives to the best of their understanding.
He gave me the examples of other church members whose sincerity and willingness to love God first was real to me, even as a boy.
He gave me light and understanding as I read scriptures, participated in church activities, and that one eventful day in front of the bulletin board.
He gave me the freedom to make decisions and figure things out on my own but he was always watching for my return. At the first sign of turning, he ran to me like the father of the lost (prodigal) son and whispered the idea to call Bob Johnson to help me.
He kicked Satan out of my life like the mighty God of the universe that he is. All I had to do was invoke his name, which always has power.
Christ Finds and Cares for You
I know that our Christ reaches out
to every living soul on this earth in ways that are suitable to that person.
Take just a moment to reflect back
on your life. Who were the people that were good examples in your life? It
might not have been your family. What were the experiences where heavenly light
and understanding called you to something higher and helped you understand the
things of God? Maybe you appreciated it. Maybe you didn’t.
All of us have been touched and
called to something higher. Through somebody. Through a life experience.
Through the Spirit of God directly to our souls. But every living soul feels
the fingers of God reaching down. But will we take that hand?
When did you hear something or read
something that touched you? Maybe you felt an impression like, “I can do
more with my life; I can turn away from these destructive things in my
life,” or “God really is there and he wants me to listen and trust
Those inspired impressions are from
God. When we say, “I want to please God and keep feeling those good things
more than my destructive, sinful past,” we are moving toward Christ.
I Came to Christ: Believe in the Name of Jesus
My troubles weren’t over yet,
however. Confusion returned frequently because other than knowing how to get Satan’s
power to release me, I didn’t really understand what to do next.
I recall telling people, “I
feel like I have no foundation. I’m walking in quicksand. I don’t know where to
For someone who had attended church
for most of his life and had read the scriptures many times over this seems
ludicrous, looking back, but so it was. I found that there’s a difference
between knowing from the head and internalizing from the heart. But I did find
my way to Christ.
I recall a certain day when I was
staring at green, patterned carpet in a different bedroom, trying to figure out
what to do next.
Because I knew the Bible well
(meaning, I had made some good decisions in the past to invest effort and try
to learn the ways of God), a key phrase popped into my head:
is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John
“Just believe in the name of
Jesus Christ,” I repeated to myself. I didn’t know Jesus as a man. I
had never seen him. But I could just believe in his name. I mean really
put my whole heart into it. I could decide to trust this Jesus Christ.
“Just do it,” I recall
But oh, it was hard to do.
I had many atheist friends who
poo-pooed the idea of believing the unseen. Their faces and voices in my mind
made this a spiritually terrifying decision.
But one thing I knew for sure. I had
factual, first-hand, experiential knowledge of this: the name of Jesus Christ
has power. “So why not believe in that name,” I reasoned.
“Perhaps more good will follow?”
I then received another merciful,
beautiful insight: Into my mind’s eye came the John the Apostle and John the
Baptist. I pictured Peter and Paul. I felt them saying, “We gave our everything
to give you this knowledge. Believe it. We love you. Believe in the name of Jesus.
I felt in my heart that these dear scriptural friends were just and holy men. Real people. Worthy of my trust.
The Pivotal Decision: Jumping in
with Both Feet
Sometime in 1983, I made that great decision. I opened the faucet of belief in Jesus Christ and the water of life began to trickle into my life. I could feel the difference. What the scriptures call “salvation” was happening for the first time in my life. (See Acts 16:30-33
I often said in my mind—and still do
to this day—”I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He was sent from the
Father. I believe He is the Messiah. I believe Jesus Christ is the very Son of
God.” These thoughts and intentions fill my heart with light and happiness
There is power in believing. We should never underestimate the power of believing on the Light of the World.
Today, I am grateful and thrilled to tell you that—praise
and thanks be to God—I am truly happy. Genuinely, deeply happy and at