Joy vs. Happiness

joyJoy has always been an issue that I’ve wrestled with. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

I’ve been a born again Christian for more than 10 years and the one thing I can’t seem to get a handle on is joy. I’ve had many people advise me that one of the hallmarks of being a Christian is being joyful. Galatians 5:22 lists the fruit of the Spirit; joy being secondary in the list next to love.

Thelma Wells The November/December 2008 issue of Today’s Christian Woman (TCW) published a special section that focused specifically on the topic of joy. TCW editor Ginger Kolbaba interviewed Thelma Wells, a popular Christian speaker and author who struggled with cancer. If anyone would know about the highs and lows of joy, it’d be a woman who was placed on life support with the grim prognosis of impending death.

The entire interview is worth reading but Ginger asks Thelma key questions that elicit winning answers—one of them being that people don’t lose joy but rather, it goes “underground.” I’ve highlighted a few of Thelma’s answers that I really identified with.

TCW: What gets in the way of us truly experiencing joy?

THELMA: Trying to be somebody we’re not. God made us wonderfully in his image. But we look at life from the eyes of our culture: where I should live, what I should drive, where my kids should go to school, what I should have in my house. We compete for status, for recognition, for all these things that mean little or nothing in the end. And when we do that, we become confused about who we serve and why we serve.

If we aren’t careful, we can become so depressed and confused and overwhelmed that our joy goes underground. [emphasis mine]

Here I can identify the source of my lack of joy: discontentment. I’m not discontent with my family or my friends or most of my circumstances, however, I am continuously discontent with myself. I am always trying to be—or wishing to be—someone I’m not. I am never satisfied with the person God made me. I try to be a social chameleon but never quite succeed (in my own mind anyway). Discontentment with myself breeds depression in my life.

Continue reading “Joy vs. Happiness”

Song of the Week: Pretty Amazing Grace by Neil Diamond

I don’t think Neil Diamond is a Christian — as far as I know, he’s still Jewish — but he wrote a song called “Pretty Amazing Grace,” which blows my mind because it has some strong Christian concepts behind it. Maybe he’s resolved things between him and God? Who knows?

I’m currently reading a book called Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. The book focuses on reminding Christians that God draws people to him based on his grace and mercy and not based on our merits or works. The Bible teaches there is nothing people can do to get to heaven. (Ephesians 2:8-9) I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior and became a Baptist 16 years after being a Roman Catholic. Coming from a Roman Catholic background, I’d view my standing with God based on a “points” system. For example, let’s start at zero. If I was nice to or complimented someone, I’d give myself a +1. But later on, if I told a white lie to my parents, I’d give myself a -1 putting me right back where I started. So I’d go back and forth on this points system trying not to reach a deficit. The new church I joined taught that there was no points system, people couldn’t earn their way to heaven, and that one had to rely solely on God’s grace — the gift he gives the people who believe in Jesus Christ.

not good enoughAfter a few years though, being a Christian became burdensome — not because of God — but because of the rules the church I attended would begin to impose in my life:

  • you’re in sin if you don’t wear a skirt past your knees
  • if you don’t go knocking on doors and proselytizing to people, you’re in sin
  • if you’re not in church every time the doors are open, you’re in sin
  • working on Sundays is a sin unless you’re a doctor or a nurse (it’s OK to heal people on the Sabbath)

The church taught one thing but did another. I began to feel as though I was never doing enough for God no matter how hard I tried. I was back on the points system.

Transforming Grace is a book intended to blow legalism out of the water. It takes legalistic concepts and casts them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) or puts them as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). It reminds Christians that any blessings they receive or any favor they find in God’s sight is not based on what they do, how good they are, or how many “points” they’ve racked up. After years of bashing myself as a bad Christian, this book reminds me that in and of myself, I’m a pretty bad person. (Romans 3:10-12) But with a belief in Christ, God doesn’t see me as bad; he sees Christ’s righteousness. So there’s no more points to earn. There’s nothing I can do to make God love me any less or any more.

And this is where Neil Diamond’s song “Pretty Amazing Grace” steps in. I don’t know what Neil Diamond’s spiritual belief is but somehow, he’s grasped the concept of God’s grace quite well. As a result, I’ve chosen “Pretty Amazing Grace” for the song of the week as I continue my studies in learning more about Transforming Grace. You can listen to the full song here, and the lyrics are behind the cut.
Continue reading “Song of the Week: Pretty Amazing Grace by Neil Diamond”

This Girl's Biblical View

A little late in posting this but better late than never.


“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:25-34
(NKJV)

Personal interpretation
This passage piggybacks off of last week’s verse (Philippians 4:6-7) about not being anxious. Here, Jesus says not to be concerned about God providing for our needs because He takes care of all the little details such as feeding birds to allowing flowers to grow and bloom. Plus, he adds, worrying doesn’t solve anything. (Know anyone who’s been able to fix an issue while experiencing a panic attack?) His listeners are told to first seek God’s will for their lives. Jesus also admonishes them to focus on getting through that day and not worrying about the next day because there are enough issues to deal with at that present moment.

Personal meaning
In this economy, it is so easy to worry about losing a job or if that happens, what would happen to paying the rent or putting food on the table. God says He’ll provide for our needs. Not our wants but our needs. Something to keep in mind is our finite human minds cannot comprehend what an infinite God deems as our needs.

Jesus also tells the listening crowd to seek after “the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The primary need Jesus emphasizes here is God. Everything else that we consider our needs (food, water, shelter, clothing, etc.) is considered extemporaneous, hence, why they are “added to” us. Our needs are first spiritual then physical. (And spiritual often ties into the emotional.)

Personal application
worryWorry. Anxiety. How can I apply this so it’ll affect my life?

The answer is simple: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

A personal application of this verse would be to do everything with God in mind and emulate His characteristics: holiness, truth, justice, love, care, compassion, and forgiveness among others. I am encouraged to “seek” those things — look for them, strive for them — they are goals to shoot for.

Recently, I’ve been learning the Westminster Catechisms. A catechism is a statement of doctrinal belief often made in a series of questions and answers. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

My chief end in life is to glorify God. Seeking after that could prevent so much worry because I’d know that God would take care of me no matter what happens.

For example, if my husband has shown evidence of his faithfulness to me, I won’t live in fear that he’s banging another woman every time he works late.

God has been in my life a heckuva lot longer than my husband has. He has proven Himself faithful to me time and time again. I’ve seen evidence of his goodness to me: how He brought me and my husband together, how He’s saved me from killing myself, and how He’s blessed me monetarily (we’re not poor). God, like my husband, has never given me any reason to worry about whether He’ll look after me.

My counselor suggested that I write a list of all the things God has done for me in my life so whenever I wonder about His passivity, I can look at it and see how active He really is. Something akin to a list of things I’m grateful for. Otherwise, I tend to have a short memory. The future scares me because I don’t know what to expect. It causes me anxiety and worry. Often it’s because I’m not seeking after Him.

Although I said the answer was simple, I never said putting it into action was easy.

Mood rating: 6

Song of the Week: It's Going To Be Alright by Sara Groves

Another regular feature that I’ll try to do is post songs each week that really mean something to me and apply to my life during this week. One of my favorite artists is Sara Groves who writes so many songs that have helped me through different periods in my life.

This past week, I suffered from severe social anxiety on Tuesday and ended up having a panic attack. (I thought I was going to die; I couldn’t breathe!) My husband and I were on our way to counseling that night and Sara’s song “It’s Going To Be Alright” came on. I sang along with the song, fighting back tears the entire time. Finally my husband asks, “What does that song mean to you?” Immediately I burst into tears and told him I was fighting back tears, especially toward the end of the song where she urges the listener to “cast your cares.” That specific line is based on I Peter 5:7 where Peter writes, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” I’ve been really struggling with trusting God in the midst of all this, freaking out about what my coworkers think of me. I’ve been going through a “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” phase. Where is God in the midst of my social anxiety? Where is he when I’m feeling alone and abandoned because my coworkers go out to lunch and don’t invite me? Where is God when I’m on the outskirts of forming close bonds with my coworkers just like they’ve formed close bonds with each other? Why am I the weirdo and the freak? What makes me so socially repulsive?

Then I hear Sara sing to me (it felt like it anyway), “I believe you’ll outlive this pain in you heart, and you’ll gain such a strength from what is tearing you apart” and those lyrics just GOT to me. It was as if God was speaking to me through the song and said, “Hey, it’ll be okay. I’m here for you and you’ll only get stronger from this situation. Marissa, you’ll be fine. It’ll be alright. Just talk to me. Tell me what you’re feeling. Tell me all about your pain. I’m here to listen and give you strength each day.” After feeling like God’s been like my dad for the past few years—not alive but up in the heavens somewhere, it’s like the silence was broken and He finally just communicated to me to turn to Him instead of running straight to my husband first. Talking to God is easier (and cheaper!) than talking to my husband.

Enough of the backstory. But now you know why I’ve chosen this particular song for Song of the Week. It seems like a good way to end the week on a good note. You can listen to the full song here. The lyrics are included below the cut.

Continue reading “Song of the Week: It's Going To Be Alright by Sara Groves”

Christian counseling: Nouthetic vs. Biblical

Last night, I spent some time on the phone with my husband’s friend’s sister (aka my former pastor’s sister). We’ll call her Natalie.

Natalie was very sweet and kind, really encouraging and strengthening me by sharing her testimony of faith in God. She suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, which has led her to take Paxil (on and off) for the past 7 years. She says the drug has helped her tremendously and who am I to knock the drug (knowing what I know about Paxil/Seroxat) when she has seen the wonders that it has worked in her life?

I briefly explained my story of depression, history of suicide, and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although she couldn’t fully relate, she was very sympathetic and understanding. In fact, our conversation was so fruitful, I ended up taking notes!

Jay AdamsWe briefly touched on the issue of Nouthetic counseling (NC). She has undergone the course and simply needs to be certified. The counselor I currently see is associated with the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF), which has roots in NC and was founded by the man—Jay Adams—who developed the method. However, CCEF is now known for what is called biblical counseling. The organization has since moved away from pure Nouthetic methods and become more a bit more varied, taking bits and pieces of psychology (and perhaps psychiatry) that line up with the Bible. Adams, disagreeing with the organization’s approach, founded the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and uses the Bible as the sole counseling textbook. According to the wiki entry on Nouthetic counseling, Adams developed the word Nouthetic based on the “New Testament Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be variously translated as ‘admonish,’ ‘warn,’ ‘correct,’ ‘exhort,’ or ‘instruct.'”

NC was developed back in the ’70s as a response to the popularity of psychology/psychiatry. Many Christians reject some of the teachings of such popular psychologists as Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, etc. Adams’ highly successful book, Competent to Counsel, criticizes the psychology industry and counters its teaching with a Nouthetic approach.

But NC has its Christian critics.

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"Being bipolar"

Here’s a comment that stuck out to me recently that I wanted to highlight:

I think a lot of us feel like our disorder defines us and who we are. Often times, I feel this way. When I meet new people (which is a difficult thing in itself), I can always tell a difference in how they treat me once they learn that I’m bipolar. It only serves to solidify the notion that being bipolar defines me.

When I began this blog, my subtitle for my blog, depression introspection, was “a born-again Christian female ponders whether she is her diagnosis or whether her diagnosis is part of her.” I wrote back in February 2007 about how people are not their diagnoses. I no longer subscribe to the idea that I am bipolar but that I, rather, suffer from bipolar disorder. I beg to differ that we are not our diagnoses and I will do everything I can to remind myself that Marissa does not equal bipolar disorder. I am so much more than my diagnosis. As I said on my “Who I Am” page in the More About Me section:

This blog has helped me to recognize many of the things that I am.
That
I truly am more than my diagnosis and that my diagnosis does not define
me. I am not just a person with manic and depressive episodes. I am a
person with a personality….
This is my journey to learn more about myself, my diagnosis, my medical
treatment, and anything relating to my personal life and general mental
health.

Not only that, but as a Bible-believing Christian, I’m learning that my identity needs to be grounded more in God and what He thinks of me rather than what I think of myself.

Failure and Success

God has really been hammering me on the issue of fear in a slightly different way than I’d imagined. He keeps showing me stories and verses related to failure and success. Here’s a devotional that I found in my inbox this morning:

Thoughts for Today
What words come to mind when asked to describe yourself? Sometimes we might define ourselves by listing our failures and our negative traits. But God has a different perspective! If we are followers of Christ, this is how God sees us …

We say: I’m a failure. I can’t do anything right.
God says: You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Philippians 4:13

We say: I still feel guilty about things I’ve done in the past, even though I’ve confessed it all as sin and don’t do those things anymore.
God says: I blot out your sins and remember them no more. Isaiah 43:25

We say: Sometimes I feel so unlovable. How can God possibly keep on loving me?
God says: God says nothing can separate us from his love. Romans 8:38-39

We say: I tend to be such a fearful person.
God says: The righteous are as bold as a lion. Proverbs 28:1

God sees us as righteous, wise and forgiven. He sees us as his treasures, his children.

Prayer
Lord, thank you for clothing me in the righteousness of Christ. Help me not to think too lowlyor too highlyof myself, but to see myself as you do. In Jesus’ name …

And then I read an article on Olympic diver Laura Wilkinson in Today’s Christian Woman (TCW) and she addressed the issue of failure and success. If God doesn’t get to me through this, I don’t know what will! I’ve posted excerpts of the TCW interview that spoke to me (occasionally interspersed with my commentary) under the cut.

Continue reading “Failure and Success”