Author Archives: SRQTom

Dealing with Depression

World Mental Health Day is October 10th. Obviously this post is late for that, but is published with the intent of bringing awareness to mental health issues.

Depression is something that you really don’t fully understand unless you have been through it yourself. Even observing it in a close friend or loved one still doesn’t give you a full appreciation for the condition in my opinion. So since I have had to deal with my share of depression over the past couple of years, and since I’m starting to feel better finally, I’ve decided to share my perspective on it.

To begin I want to distinguish and define what I am referring to with the term depression. What I’m describing here is not a synonym for the sin of acedia. While both of them have many of the same physical signs: apathy, laziness, despair, dejection, sleepiness, lack of motivation and desire, etc the causes are different. Acedia is a spiritual disease which affects behavior. Essentially acedia is Hell on the installment plan; that is, a person has decided to no longer follow God [for some reason] and by doing so is gradually rejecting God and gradually progressing towards Hell. Depression, as I’m referring to it here is a physical condition which affects behavior. It refers to a chemical imbalance in the body which affects the overall life of a person.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I think there is a definite spiritual dimension to depression. There are times when I am angry at God and think He has just abandoned me and left me to an awful life. There are periods when I don’t bother doing any sort of personal spiritual devotion or practice and I feel like I am wasting my time on Sunday mornings. There has been real damage done to me spiritually while going through this, and I suspect it will take me quite a while to repair it and get things back on track.

However, I want to be sure that I distinguish between the two because I think Christians have a tendency to spiritualize everything and I want to make it clear that what I am talking about has a physical cause, not a spiritual one. I recognize that there is a spiritual dimension to it, but I am not talking about a spiritual disease. Depression as I define it is not something you can just pray your way out of or try harder and be cured from. Depression as I define it is something where you are basically helpless until you get yourself physically back to health.

Causes and Symptoms

Depression has a myriad of causes and identifying and treating the correct one can take some time. In my case it has really ended up being a hormone imbalance which has been further exacerbated over the past few years by the stress of graduate studies, not sleeping well, and not being able to get the rest I needed post-seminary. Basically it was depression caused by severe burnout. The hormone imbalance itself is quite treatable and since having resumed Clomid finally I feel much better physically (don’t get me started on how terrible my experience with the healthcare system in Sarasota was). The rest and sleeping well has been harder to come by, but since putting out the fires that suddenly popped up when I got back and actually treating my hormone issues I have finally started to sleep better and I am finally getting rest.

The main symptom I noticed during my depression was that my mental acuity was gone. Everything I did took longer and was far more difficult than normal. I could stare for 30 minutes at my computer writing a paper and not type a single thing and have no idea where the time went. My thoughts never moved from my brain to my fingers. This is a big problem when you’re doing graduate level work; you need to be at 100% mentally to do this level of work.

There were other significant symptoms as well: lack of energy, no motivation, no desire, no pleasure in previously enjoyed activities. I actually tried to avoid people as much as possible so that I wouldn’t have to talk to them and interact with them. I didn’t want to do anything because nothing was fun or enjoyable and I knew it would just be a waste of time for me.

Supporting Yourself While Depressed

Over the course of my experiences with depression I’ve discovered several things that were helpful in dealing with the symptoms. This is of course just my list based on my personal experience and not a substitute for professional medical advice. There, you have a disclaimer.

Identify the cause. I think this is the most important step because it can help understand and make sense of what is happening to you. For me I knew that I had been pushing myself way too hard and that several things did work out the way that I expected to them to. Add this all up and it is a ton of stress to deal with. I also knew that my testosterone was off because I went to a doctor and had it tested. Overall I’ve found that knowing my life was very stressful in seminary (especially the final 2-3 years) along with being able to point to a biologically identifiable marker such as imbalanced hormones really took a lot of the unknown out of it for me. As a result my depression wasn’t some mysterious thing that came out of the blue, but something with identifiable and correctable causes. I think that knowing this really brought me a lot of peace about the situation.

See a doctor and a therapist. You need help to get through depression. A doctor can provide the help you need physically and prescribe the correct medication to get you feeling better. A therapist can help you work through all the emotions and feelings you are experiencing. You really need this combination of care and not just one or the other. Depression might be physical in origin, but it affects you emotionally and spiritually also, so you need to make sure you take care of yourself in all of these areas.

Eat and supplement correctly. This is something that I think might not get enough attention when it comes to treating depression. To be sure I don’t think you can cure depression with a healthy diet and supplements alone, but I do think they can be a tremendous help. You can exercise your Google muscles and find out what a healthy diet is if you don’t know, so I won’t get into that here. What I will get into here though are the supplements that I found to helpful during my bouts with depression:

  • Probiotics. I found the Garden of Life brand worked the best for me, but RenewLife worked pretty well also. I started taking them because I noticed my bowel movements were, shall we say, unpleasant and runny. I also felt like I hadn’t eaten even though I was eating regularly. I took this in the morning before breakfast and then had a Greek yogurt for lunch which had more probiotics in it. I’ve been able to drop the supplement since starting Clomid, but I still eat the Greek yogurt for lunch.
  • Creatine. This is primarily used by athletes, but I found it was helpful during depression also. One of the problems I had was feeling physically weak, and creatine basically is supposed to make you stronger (that’s the overly simplified version anyway), so I figured I would try it to see if it would work. It did. From my understanding it is actually a pretty safe supplement and can be used for several months at least. It might not work for you, but it is worth a shot I think. Since starting Clomid though I’ve been able to stop taking this as well.
  • Multivitamin, B-Complex, Fish Oil. I took all these to make sure that I was getting all the nutrients I needed and to help with stress. Nothing special about these, but make sure you are getting quality versions of them. I found Nature Made vitamins work pretty well personally.
  • Magnesium. I’ve found Magnesium to be helpful with energy. Even though I generally eat foods that have magnesium in them I found a supplement in addition to them to be helpful. There has been some speculation that there is a link between magnesium deficiency and depression, so I decided to try it and see if it would work for me. It did. I took it at lunch separate from my multi, B-complex, and fish oil supplements because calcium can apparently interfere with its absorption.

I found these supplements helped tremendously during my depression. They didn’t make me feel “normal” or anything, but they at least made me functional so that I could get out of the house and do at least a few things. It really took Clomid for me to start feeling better and closer to normal. I still take the multivitamin, b-complex, fish oil, and magnesium supplements though because I do weightlifting 4x a week find them to be beneficial while expending so much energy.

Treat yo’ self. This is last on my list, but I think it is the most important. When you are dealing with depression you need to take care of yourself first and not worry about others. So do what makes you happy. I like video games, so I played a lot of video games. Other people might like painting, or walking, or photography, or any number of other things. I found that the way to counter all the negative thoughts and feelings I was having was to have fun so I could start having happy and positive thoughts and feelings. It didn’t happen overnight, and it hasn’t eliminated all the negative thoughts, but at least now the good and pleasant thoughts are outweighing the negative thoughts.

Supporting Someone Who is Depressed

Depression is not only hard on the person experiencing it, but also on those who are close to them.  Here is one list of things to do. And here is another. Here is mine:

Recognize that they can’t just ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it.’ The tough-love approach will not work. Depression is not simply a mental state. It is a mental state caused by a chemical imbalance. It requires medication and professional medical care. Exercise might help a little, it did for me, but it didn’t cure my depression. There is nothing a depressed person can do about their state and trying to ‘motivate’ them out of it will only be harmful.

Recognize that what you are seeing is not who that person really is. When you are depressed you think all sorts of crazy things about all sorts of people and situations that are most likely highly inaccurate. In my experience I found that I was unable to view a situation accurately from a wholistic perspective, but instead generally misinterpreted people’s body language, words, and actions to mean that they didn’t like me. I wanted to think otherwise, but I just wasn’t capable. Little things that would ordinarily go unnoticed by me, or at least not bother me, really got under my skin and irritated me.

Learn about depression and the signs of suicide. The more you understand about depression and its effects the better the position you are in to be able to empathize with someone who is dealing with it. I was never suicidal in my depression, but I certainly understand why some do arrive at that place; you are just so absolutely miserable that you do not want to live.

Try small gestures. Depression isn’t just a lack of motivation or desire for career or life ambitions, it’s a lack of desire to do anything, including basic hygiene, cooking, cleaning, etc. A small gesture such as a meal, or cleaning their rooms, or even a haircut could go a long way and tell that person that they are still loved and not forgotten about.

Be patient. It takes time to get out of depression and it takes time to heal from the effects. I have found that even though the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness are gone the experience and thoughts surrounding them still remain floating around in my heading just waiting to be triggered by some event and come flooding back in. So just be patient with them and let them take their time.

End the Stigma

For some reason there seems to be some sort of stigma surrounding depression and discussing it, and this needs to end. Essentially depression is due to an organ malfunction, and that organ is your brain. There is no stigma surrounding heart failure, or liver failure, or kidney failure, but for some reason when your brain is malfunctioning no one wants to talk about it or knows what to do about it. So hopefully this post will contribute in some small way to ending this stigma and educating people about depression.

When Failure Isn’t Your Fault Part 2: Why I Still Have Faith

In my previous post I related some of the feelings and frustrations related to not having achieved any version of “success” in my life. In this post I will continue that discussion into how my faith has been affected by those failures.

I think the largest and most significant emotion that I have felt during the past 2 years has been betrayal. Some of this betrayal has come from others, but their betrayal doesn’t really bother me a whole lot anymore. What bothers me a whole lot more is feeling betrayed by God. I can handle people betraying me. It doesn’t feel good, but I can handle it. But what do you do when it seems like God has betrayed you? What do you do when you believe in an all-sovereign God who loves you and wants the best for you, but in reality your life feels like nothing more than a series of crushed hopes and dreams?

I don’t believe that anything that happened to me during seminary was beyond God’s ability to prevent or redeem. From my health issues to the actions of others to whatever. All of it was within His power to prevent. And if He wasn’t willing to prevent it I believe it was within His power to redeem and use for good. Well it has been 1 year since I graduated and 2 years since everything started crashing and burning for me and I’m still waiting for this entire mess to be redeemed. I’m still waiting for the smallest semblance of “success.” Still waiting to not feel ashamed about my lack of accomplishment in my life. To not feel ashamed about being 33 (almost 34) and living with my parents. To not be in an area that feels suffocating to me and seems to hold no future (like seriously, I do not like SWFL). To not feel like I wasted 6 good years of my life and a hefty chunk of change on an endeavor that so far has turned out to be mostly a waste of both time and money.

So why go on believing? Why not just curse God and die? Well, because everything I’ve described so far are just feelings and I do not believe that feelings determine reality. Just because you feel like God has abandoned you doesn’t mean that He has. One of the more useful experiences I had in seminary was being chronically exhausted. I was able to experience just how much different reality felt when I was I exhausted compared to when I was well rested. I learned and experience just how fickle feelings are and how quickly they can change from one moment to the next.

God is not a feeling for me. God is a reality for me. Just because I feel like God has abandoned me doesn’t mean that He has. Reality is independent of our feelings. Furthermore, Jesus Himself, literally God incarnate, also felt the same way:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27.46 (quoting Psalm 22.1; also cited in Mark 15.34)

For me it is a comfort to read these words. To know that Jesus felt abandoned by God, and that I as a follower of Christ feel the same way tells me that I am doing something right. It tells me that what I need to do is endure and persevere. If God can redeem someone from death then He is certainly capable of redeeming my situation also. But waiting for that redemption is hard. Very hard.

When Failure Is Not Your Fault

It seems popular these days to advise people that if they fail it is all their fault and that they need to take ownership of their failure and learn and grow from it. While I think this is certainly the case most of the time, as Captain Picard reminds us above, it is not the only scenario for failure. Sometimes we do everything correct and we still fail. Or sometimes the circumstances of our situation are such that no matter what we do we will never succeed. Perhaps we are aware of these circumstances, but perhaps we are not. It doesn’t really matter in the end because we will not be able to overcome them.

I believe that it is better for failure to be your fault rather than to fail because success was impossible. If your failure was because of something you did or didn’t do, then that means success was likely within your control. You can analyze and reflect on your failure, correct your mistakes, and succeed (or at least improve) the next time. It might not feel good to admit that you failed, but long term it is better to have failed and learned and grown from it.

It is far worse though, I think, to fail simply because the circumstances would not allow you to succeed. To be sure you can still reflect on such failures and learn what you could have done better. But knowing that success was ultimately impossible and that there was nothing that you could do to change that is a different kind of hurt. It’s a hurt that leaves you feeling helpless and hopeless. Whatever things you might realize in hindsight that you could have done better are overshadowed by the feelings of despondency that come with realizing success was never an option.

I feel like my life has been a series of this 2nd type of failure. I feel that even though I have reflected on and learned what I could have done better or improved, that ultimately success was impossible.

Now before I go any further, allow me to explain what “success” in life is for me. At different points in my life I have had different versions of success. At one point success for me was having a family and being wealthy enough so that money wasn’t a limiting factor in pursuing opportunities. Then as time progressed I stopped caring about wealth and just wanted sufficient income to support my family. Then some more time passed and I stopped caring about having kids. Then still more time passed I stopped caring about having a wife. Now I am at the point where for me success is simply being able to support myself and move out of my parent’s house. While the devolution of my vision of success is likely significant it really doesn’t matter for the purposes of this article because at no point in my life have I achieved any of these versions. And furthermore, being able to support myself is a fundamental requirement for all these versions anyway.

So is it possible for someone to try for 15 years and not even achieve the most basic level of success of any version of success he has ever had? Oh yes. It is quite possible.

I graduated High School in 2004. I decided that I wanted to do computer network management, so I enrolled in a program for training in that. I graduated that program with an Associate’s at the end of 2007. Oh yes. Do you remember what happened in 2008? I do. I remember quite well. It was The Recession. Now Florida, where I was living at the time, was one of the hardest hit states by The Recession. In fact we were competing with California and Michigan for the highest unemployment rate. Not exactly something that you want to win. So the economy that I graduated into was one of the worst in U.S. history. And as you might expect I wasn’t able to really even get this career off the ground because there were literally no jobs around, not even in the tech industry in my area.

So with my first attempt at success having failed because of something I could do nothing about I figured I would get a Bachelor’s degree. The only job I had found was at a call center, which I hated but it was money, and since I was considering seminary and needed a Bachelor’s for that anyway I figured it was a good next move. So I enrolled in a web development program at a local University. Unfortunately that program ended up being completely worthless, but between grants and scholarships I didn’t spend any money on tuition there anyway. Not to mention that it really failed to instill any passion for web development in me because it made the practice so convoluted and unclear.

So having failed a 2nd time because of a University’s terrible curriculum I decided to make a 3rd attempt at success. After all, 3rd time’s a charm right?

No. No it isn’t.

Initially I was very excited to have been accepted to DTS. At this point I am 8 years or so out of high school and I still have yet to really start a career due to so many things going wrong. So when I got in it felt like something finally went right and I was for once excited and optimistic about the future. In hindsight though it seems I only got in so that I could fail again. Some of you are aware of the many health related issues that I dealt in seminary (if not they are documented on this site elsewhere) and how no matter what I tried or did I simply could not get things under control. Ultimately these issues cost me most, if not every, opportunity I had post-seminary.

So now I feel like I have failed a 3rd time for reasons that I ultimately had no control over.

And now I am just tired. Tired of failing for reasons I can’t control. And quite honestly I don’t feel like trying anymore. Even when I do get the motivation and the energy to start working towards “success” again it isn’t long before the ghost of past failures shows up and starts whispering to me, “this attempt will also end in failure and there is nothing you can do to change that outcome.”

Now I don’t think that my situation is typical, but I think it does happen. And maybe someone reading this is in a similar situation and needs to know that sometimes failure isn’t your fault. Sometimes the circumstances of your situation are such that you were never going to succeed no matter what you did. Unfortunately though I have no advice or “solution” for when you when run out of motivation and just want to give up. All I can say is that I am right there with you. But if you figure something out, please let me know.

Questions Do Not Indicate Doubt

PC: Joel Overbeck | Unsplash

The story of Lisa (and Michael) Gungor recently came to my attention (I’ve been kind of busy the past 6 years or so with seminary). There’s a lot that I suppose could be commented on regarding her story, but there was one aspect in particular that stood out to me: the shutting down of her questions: 

 
“We went to this very wild, charismatic church, and the church was exciting and the way of Jesus was revolutionary to me. And I had little questions, but you weren’t really allowed to ask them.”

Here’s the deal: questions don’t indicate doubt, they indicate curiosity and engagement. Questions, assuming they’re honest, come about as a result of being engaged in thinking about something. If you are teaching a topic and someone asks a question regarding it it means that they are engaged and care about what you are saying! It means that they have been following and processing what you are saying and are trying to understand it better. Perhaps something is completely new to them. Perhaps it conflicts (or seems to conflict) with what they already know. Perhaps they find the topic interesting or intriguing and want to know more about it. So for a child, who is growing up in church, to be asking questions about the faith is a good thing and something that should be welcomed!

Unfortunately though that’s not what happened in Lisa’s case. Questions were apparently viewed as doubt and doubt “was the opposition of faith.” The problem with this logic is, as I’ve tried to show above, that questions do not indicate doubt, but engagement and curiosity! When you are apathetic and not engaged by a topic is when you fail to be curious about it and do not ask questions regarding it. Questions are good, and should be asked. 

The results of their curiosity being shutdown were not good. The questions didn’t go away. They kept gnawing away at both of them until they found answers to them. That is after all the only way to get rid of a question: answer it.

I don’t know what their exact questions were since they don’t mention them specifically in the article. However, the “problem” of evil seems to have been one of them given the mentioning of their experience from their visit at Auschwitz and Lisa’s problem with reading the Old Testament. This is a very good question! In fact, this question is only a “problem” within the Judaeo-Christian worldview. After all, if God is good and created everything, then why does evil exist? Why the horrors of Auschwitz? Why modern day genocides? Why senseless murders? 

These are not new questions. Christianity has been around for 2,000 years and so have these questions. The ultimate answer (because there is quite a bit to discuss regarding this issue) to the “problem” of evil is that God allows it and uses it to accomplish His purposes, one of which is to bring glory to Himself. Yes, I am quite sure that God could have accomplished His purposes and glorified Himself through some other means, but He didn’t and in the end we have to discuss what God actually did, not what He might have done or could have done.

Issues with the Old Testament are also not new. In fact they are so old that the New Testament even deals with some of them! Specifically, that Christians are not under the Mosaic Law because through their union with Christ they died to the Law because Christ did what the Law could not: free us from sin! (see Romans 6). In Galatians 3 also Paul argues that people have always been justified by faith, not by doing the Law. He goes on to say that the Law was just a tutor whose purpose was to lead us to Christ, but now that Christ has come there is no longer any need for a tutor.

Obviously there is much more that can (and should) be discussed regarding these two questions. My point here is simply to show that questions are not evidence of doubt or a lack of faith. Questions are evidence of curiosity. They are evidence that someone is thinking about the faith and wanting to learn more about it, or reconcile things that don’t make sense. Honest questions should be engaged with honesty and compassion. The goal of engaging these questions is not to win an argument or convince someone of our view of things, but to win the person. To communicate to them that we understand where the question is coming from and why it is an issue for them. To communicate to them that we love them and are concerned about them. They could be motivated by genuine curiosity, or they could be motivated by pain, but we will never know until we engage them.

But whatever you do, don’t shut questions down or consider them to be a lack of faith. Especially if they’re coming from children. The questions aren’t going to go away. The person asking them will eventually answer them, and part of that answer will be: “God doesn’t love me.” And nothing could be further from the truth. 

Being Taught by Trees

PC: Imat Bagja Gumilar | Unsplash

I believe that God has created the world in such a way that we are constantly being taught about Him by it. Unfortunately these days we live in forests of concrete and steel, rather than of trees and plants and so I think we miss many of these opportunities for creation to teach us.

Ancient people however were very much in contact with the natural world that God created and were thus able to be taught by it. I suspect then that the reason agrarian imagery is used frequently in the Bible is not only because society at the time was agrarian and such images would have been easily understood, but also because it is accurate.

Think about it for a minute. When you plant something either it prospers and grows and produces something good, or it doesn’t grow or produces something rotten; there is no intermediate state. This is really the truth illustrated by the parable of the four soils: in the first three the seed, the word of God, doesn’t really produce anything, but it does in the fourth because they understood and believed the word of God. So, either we are growing spiritually, or we are dying spiritually; there is no intermediate state.

Another agrarian image frequently used to illustrate the spiritual condition of people are trees. If a tree is producing good fruit, or leaves or flowers you know that the tree is healthy and growing. But if a tree is producing bad fruit, or no leaves or no flowers you know that the tree is unhealthy and dying. So I don’t think it is surprising then that Jesus used tree imagery to describe people:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

— Matthew 7:15–20 (ESV)

But what is good fruit? And what is bad fruit? In Paul’s letter to the Galatians we find out that what is good fruit and what is bad fruit are the types of actions and attitudes in our lives. The bad fruit produced by someone who is spiritually diseased or unhealthy is:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

— Galatians 5:19–21 (ESV)

But the good fruit produced by someone who is spiritually healthy is:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

— Galatians 5:22–23 (ESV)

The good fruit comes because:

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

— Galatians 5:24 (ESV)

Regardless of where someone is spiritually, whether they are healthy and producing good fruit or diseased and producing bad fruit, both need to be nourished by the living waters found in Christ:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

— John 7:37–39 (ESV)

The spiritually diseased person becomes healthy and begins to grow and produce good fruit. And the spiritually healthy person continues to be healthy and grow and produce good fruit. Those who are nourished by the living waters in Christ will endure whatever trials or hardships come their way:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

— Jeremiah 17:7–8 (ESV)

So next time you see a healthy tree (the bigger the better) perhaps take the time to say a quick prayer and ask God to make you like it, rather than simply passing on by. Just as many animals benefit from a healthy tree, either by finding food, shelter, or whatever, so will many people benefit from you being spiritually healthy. They will benefit from your love for others; your peace in the midst of hardships; your patience with their faults. We need to produce this sort of fruit in our lives. Not for our own personal benefit, but for the benefit of others.

The City of the Soul

PC: Aniket Deole | Unsplash

I think we are all afraid of God. Whether we are the most devout Christian on the planet, or the most hardened atheist, I think we are all afraid God. The difference I think is in to what extent we have gone to insulate ourselves from our fear.

Some of us have built massive sprawling metropolises in our souls to deafen them to the voice of God. We have used concrete and steel to construct buildings and skyscrapers in order to feel safe and secure in our pleasures, whatever they may be. Whether it’s in fine food. Or sex. Or athletic ability. Or professional accomplishments. Or money. Whatever they are we don’t want to hear the conclusion of The Preacher:

I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted;
I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure.
So all my accomplishments gave me joy;
this was my reward for all my effort.
Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished
and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it,
I concluded: “All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless—
like chasing the wind!
There is nothing gained from them on earth.”

Ecclesiastes 2.10-11 (NET)

The roads in our cities are paved. The reasoning, we tell ourselves, is so that we don’t have to walk in dust and get dirty. The real reason though is that we don’t want to be reminded that we came from dust and will one day return to it. We don’t want to be reminded of our death. Our death that comes about because we rebelled against God:

But to Adam he said,
“Because you obeyed your wife
and ate from the tree about which I commanded you,
‘You must not eat from it,’
cursed is the ground thanks to you;
in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
but you will eat the grain of the field.
By the sweat of your brow you will eat food
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3.17-19 (NET)

Finally, we artificially light up the darkness of our souls with false hopes. Political parties. Technology. Economics. Sciences. Philosophies. Whatever we think will set the world right we put our hope in and light up our souls with. However by doing so we blind ourselves to Jesus, the true light:

The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children —children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.

John 1.9-13 (NET)

And so we insulate ourselves, whether consciously or not, from the voice of God. We don’t hear or see what He is telling us. We don’t see the stars at night. We don’t see the animals during the day. We don’t see the crops we get our food from. We’ve closed ourselves off from any and all reminders that we made neither ourselves nor the world we’re living in. We don’t hear what creation is telling us:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the sky displays his handiwork.
Day after day it speaks out;
night after night it reveals his greatness.
There is no actual speech or word,
nor is its voice literally heard.
Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth;
its words carry to the distant horizon.

Ps. 19.1-4 (NET)

I don’t like cities. I don’t like what happens to my soul when I don’t hear the voice of God because other concerns are crowding it out. For all the loneliness and isolation that may come from being in the desert it is a far more profitable place spiritually. In the desert there is no concrete or steel or artificial light to distract you from the voice of God. And I think this is why we don’t like being in spiritual deserts: because when we are in such a place we cannot get away from God even though we want to.

Give me the desert over the city.

 

Seminary: Looking Back

Note: This is post is really therapy for me. It’s something that I need to write and say before it starts eating away at me.My time in seminary is coming to an end. As I look back over the 6 years I’ve spent earning this degree I’m not sure how to describe them. Would I describe them as good? Well that depends how you define good. If you mean “pleasant,” then my answer would be a resounding NO. I don’t think I’ll ever find myself looking back on these years and think, “Man, that was so much fun, I wish I had the opportunity to do it over again. Sure there were some tough times, but overall it was an enjoyable experience.”

However, I wouldn’t describe them as bad either; I did finish after all. No I think I would describe them as somewhere in between good and bad, if such a middle ground exists. This verse is a good description I think:

The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
— Ps 118:18

The imagery in Psalm 118 is the psalmist being surrounded by many nations, and even though he was almost was defeated God saved him from them; even though he was disciplined severely God did not allow him to be killed by them.

I’d say seminary for me has been a battle similar to the one the psalmist describes. I felt I was constantly fighting the whole time and every time I tried to gain the upper hand whatever move I did was immediately countered. It was unreal. And also very frustrating. I survived, so it wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t good constantly being under a perfectly evil combination of low testosterone and chronic stress for 3 years.

Or perhaps it would be better to describe it with a little metaphor…

One day I embarked on a journey in a boat. I didn’t know where I was headed exactly, but I was certain that God had led me to that boat and wanted me to get on it. So I got on it. At first everything was going smoothly. The skies were clear. The sea was calm. Everything looked good. But after a short while a storm came along. Not unexpected. For as long of a journey that I was on storms were to be expected.

However, this storm never left. It stayed and kept raging and raging and never let up. As the boat was tossed by the storm I watched as one by one my hopes, dreams, and expectations were thrown overboard and drowned in the dark, watery, chaotic abyss below. Then despair begins to take hold of me. I begin to wonder if I am the next thing to be tossed overboard. Sometimes I begin to hope that I am next. What good is my life without dreams? Without expectations? Without hopes?

Then finally the storm begins to break. I look around and find that some of my hopes and dreams are still on board! Not everything is lost! I begin to recover some optimism. But it is quickly dashed because before the storm clears completely it smashes the ship into a reef. Now whatever little did remain of my hopes and dreams is lost, gone and drowned in the sea forever. Despair regains its grip on me and I begin to consider just giving up and drowning. But I am able to break out of its hold long enough to notice that there is land a swimmable distance away. So I grab a life jacket and start swimming for shore.

When I get to shore I find cliffs there. So I find a cleft and sit there and wait for the storm to pass. At some point while waiting for the storm to blow over I pass out. When I wake up I find the storm gone. The sun is shining. The Gulls are calling. I can smell the salty sea air. For the first time in I don’t know how long things are calm and pleasant.

I begin to walk along the beach to see if I can find anyone. Eventually I see a man sitting by a fire cooking something. He sees me and says to me, “Come over and eat.” But I don’t go over. I freeze. I know who he is. He’s not a man. He’s the God-man. It’s Jesus. I feel the adrenaline start coursing through my veins. I feel the anger start rising in me. I think to myself: “Oh, I’ll come over there alright. I’ll come over there and beat you with that frying pan.”

Before I am able to move though something — or someone, perhaps the Spirit, perhaps my own reasoning, some combination of the two, I don’t know — says to me, “Is this attitude of yours good? You are weak and need food and he has it. Go and eat.” As I begin to consider this statement I only get more angry — or perhaps I get angry in a different sort of way — because I know it’s true. My dreams weren’t the only the thing to get tossed overboard in the storm; my food went also. I had somehow by some miracle managed to save the water, but the food was lost. I don’t remember when I ate last because I lost track of time in the storm; when you don’t see the sun or moon or stars the days all blend into one another.

As I continue standing I feel the anger subside a bit and I grudgingly drag my feet over to the fire and sit down and eat. I don’t say anything. There’s no point. He already knows and I’ve already said it a million times before. So I just sit. And wait. I still feel the anger, but it is not as great as it once was. So I just sit and wait.

And that’s what my experience in seminary has been like.