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I got an email from a long time close friend. We are alot alike in personality, stage of life, work, etc.  He told me he’s in a real funk and can’t seem to figure out why, or how to shake loose.

He expected me to give him the “suck it up”, “buck up”, “quit whining” speech (which is appropriate sometimes) but as I read what he wrote I saw some other possibilities… some things I know a lot of people can relate to.

I wanted to give you the essence of how I responded to him AND ask you for your advice and comments. Maybe we can all learn something together.  I’m going to divide up my response by giving you the nutshell of each question or topic he wrote about, then my response.

Note: as I talk about “depression” I”m talking about run-of-the-mill everyday “blues” and negative feelings we all deal to varying degrees. I have to always give that disclaimer so I don’t get inundated with emails about severe cases of depression that “prove” I’m wrong about what I’ve said here.

Do You Believe God’s Providence, That He Brings People Into Your Life At the Right Moment?

Of course I believe in God’s providence. I would say humbly that I may be even more aware and sensitive to it than average simply because I’m actively looking for signs of it all time.  I’ve seen God work so many times over the years that it’s almost a personal hobby to keep an active eye out all the time looking for evidence of God’s providential arrangements.

For those who maybe don’t understand “providence” it means that God is actively aware of and involved in our life, arranging things, appointing things, making things happen according to His will and our blessing.

I Feel Depressed; Should I Just Buck Up or Does God Have a Purpose For It?

Unlike the current popular humanistic worldview, for  a Christian, we know depression is an emotion God has built into our humanness. Given that, instead of trying to avoid it, medicate it or treat it as a sickness, we should seek to discover God’s purpose in it, learn why God uses it, and find what blessing God has for us on the other side it.

Like pain, depression serves to focus us on some things we need to deal with, walk through or change. It might be sin, maybe we are off track and God wants to redirect us; maybe God wants us to examine our life and make changes or start pruning things out of our life. Maybe God just wants us to recognize something that is sad… and spend some time being sad about it.

I would encourage you not to view your depression as something that is wrong with a goal to shake it off and get rid of it. If you are depressed then God is trying to show you something, expose something, get you to change something… embrace depression as a useful emotion of self-evaluation and reflection. Sometimes I think it God uses it to slow down guys like you and me; making us less self-sufficient, stripping us of some of our “look how much I can handle” need to impress or “look how incredibly capable I am at everything” mentality.

I believe that once God’s purpose in the depression is achieved, it doesn’t always simply (or easily) disappear because our flesh can get bogged down in it. At that point, it’s time to CHOOSE to “buck up” and CHOOSE to step out of the depression and no longer give it a place (the world would tell you have NO choice and are powerless against it). If we’ve learned what God wants us to learn, I believe He honors our choice to then willfully reject depression to live out our new-found lesson or wisdom.

Our flesh can easily want to linger in depression as an excuse not to get moving or press on.  It is our unique human sinfulness that can use depression as an excuse for self-pity, inaction or laziness. A mature Christian seeks Godly counsel, prays for wisdom and is alert to WHEN the purpose of the depression has been fulfilled, and now its time to press on.  Humanistic psychobabble labels depression as a sickness that can be manipulated by experimental and dangerous psychotropic drugs, or worse, by giving in to it completely to the point of disability or inability. The world would have you believe you are powerless against this “sickness”.  Human foolishness… but such is the entire false premise of humanistic psychotherapy. That will get me plenty of hateful email I’ll deal with in another post.

What If I’m Depressed About Money?

If money is the reason for depression then money is the area God is trying to get you to change… change what you are doing, change in attitude, change of understanding, change your focus. Depression shouldn’t be a way of life, it is a time to learn and change.

Sometimes we get depressed over money because we’ve bought into the world’s idea of lifestyle, success and financial security. We wish we had more money so that we could work less, have more fun, and enjoy an increased or previously unattained lifestyle.  Sometimes we simply feel sorry for ourselves because we WANT more money and more ease.

Often we confuse depression with SELF PITY or even covetousness especially when it comes to money. When that is the case, we need to immediately make changes in attitude and perspective. Self-pity is the most pitiful and useless of human emotions, and never appropriate for Christians.  It is EASY to feel self-pity about money simply because we are prone to look at what we don’t have, what others do have, or how hard we have to labor to get what we have… we want it to be EASIER, more fun and more comfortable.

Is Depression Really Just Self-pity?

Only YOU can determine what is really happening in your life. Are indulging a little self-pity (stop it immediately!) or walking through some legitimate and useful depression (find out what God is trying to show you, change in you or teach you).  Don’t be too hard on yourself even if you do determine it’s a little self-pity. Everyone deals with it to varying degrees and it’s harmless unless you indulge it and allow it once recognizing it.

I’m Getting Older… What About Retirement?

We get trapped in the world’s idea of a comfortable retirement with plenty of money, an idea which is foreign to Scripture. That doesn’t make it wrong but if it was as important as the WORLD says it is, then God surely would have given us some imperative about it.

“Retirement” is is a matter of personal liberty. I do not think the person who plans and works toward retirement is materialistic or greedy. Nor do I think the person who does not see a need for retirement savings a foolish person who will become a welfare recipient.  Many mature Christians believe they will work, serve and minister until they drop dead, and God will provide for their needs. This is clearly an acceptable Christian view.

The world says you are a FAILURE if you don’t have a big nest egg to live out your twilight years in comfort and ease.  That view is arguably at odds with Christian living. However, the idea of savings, investment and planning for the future most certainly is very Scriptural. It’s up to each Christian to work out how God would have them do this in their life.

But, too many Christians would declare someone ignoring “retirement planning” as irresponsible or lazy.  It is certainly appropriate for Christians to believe we can continue our life to the end of our days serving God, and trusting that He will provide for us as He promises.  There should never be a financial “dark cloud” (related to insecurity about future needs) for Christians because God promises to fill our needs. Ask George Mueller.  I think Christians need a serious paradigm realignment on the matter of retirement and put it firmly into the realm of personal liberty. Like too many things, we have adopted the world’s views to a large degree and/or declared our personal convictions as dogmatic fact.

Why Do I Feel Guilty About Financial Decisions I Made Even Though They Were Responsible?

Sounds like false guilt to me (my friend told me he thought maybe he could have invested the money and turned it into more money instead of paying off debt). Why would you regret wisely and responsibly spending money and paying bills with it?  By paying off your debt you 1) relieved that specific pressure from your marriage and life and 2) actually “made more money” than any investment or stock by saving your self interest charges, penalties, etc.   There’s not an common stock or business investment on the planet that can touch the interest rates of credit debt and loans (not to mention the reward of following God’s command to “owe no man” and avoid the Proverbial situation of “the borrower is slave to the lender”).  Reject those false accusations that Satan is using to cause you spiritual stress.

If you are making a good salary and your wife is still “forced” to work, perhaps a downgrade in lifestyle is in order. Forced to work? I find this rarely to be true. It’s a choice 99.9% of the time (though we CONVINCE ourselves it’s not). We choose our lifestyle level and  a second income is necessary to sustain it.

I’m living proof a second income is a choice and I’ve known countless other families who choose one income too (one spouse working). We have only my income and seven kids; after Abby got cancer, my income was cut IN HALF and we still trusted God on one income.  My ever-growing-girth is testament that we’ve never gone without.   A lifestyle downgrade is often just what the Great Physician orders for a marriage and family under stress because it allows a spouse to stay home making more time for the marriage and more time for kids to have a parent.

Relentlessly Increasing Lifestyle…

Americans creep UP in lifestyle relentlessly, and most keep themselves right on the edge of financial stress all the time.  Men especially feel sometimes that if we are not constantly increasing our family’s lifestyle, we are failing and our family cannot be proud of us. Our friends won’t be impressed either. It is a lie we have bought into in our materialistic culture.  My wife and I have actively chosen a lifestyle downgrade and “freeze” for several years and we have far less financial strain than ever.  It looks like this:

  • We live in a 40 year old small house, that I expanded and improved with my own blood and sweat, debt free as we could afford it.
  • We drive two decent, clean ten year old cars with 100K miles. We’ll drive them till they die.
  • We don’t use credit cards.
  • We don’t buy it if we don’t have the funds available.
  • College: our kids our educated about their own education. We tell them it is not a birthright or entitlement. They are responsible for it, and we will help when and if we can.  I think even wealthy parents should take this approach. Young adults simply appreciate and take college more serious when they are breaking their own necks to pay for it.
  • Cars and insurance: kids responsibility.  They drive more careful and take care of their automobiles when it is coming out of their pocket.
  • Food: learn to cook raw foods which are cheaper and infinitely more healthy.  Packaged foods and eating out are several times more expensive than bulk raw food.

Especially concerning kids, America has a real but wrong parental peer pressure. Our kids, according to several highly profitable industries, DESERVE MUCH (and in fact are entitled to): cars, college, big proms, expensive class rings, latest clothing styles, braces if one tooth is crooked, expensive hair care and cosmetic services, cell phones, computers, technology and an endless array of products and services. It is a predatory  market based on one thing: parents made to feel guilty if they don’t give their kids all the stuff that the rest of the kids are getting.

People think a lifestyle downgrade is some sort of austere way to live. Hogwash… the reward is that you will not have the financial anxiety that destroys half of all marriages and produces countless joyless lives. When you couple this with a readjustment in belief and attitude about “retirement”, it doesn’t leave much to be depressed about concerning money.  Add to that a refusal to be “guilted” into giving kids all this stuff our culture says they deserve (and profit from) and you really can get to a point where finances aren’t a source of anxiety, regret or disappointment.

Why Do I Feel Over-Burdened By Life?

Depression can often simply be a case of being TIRED for people who work hard and joyfully take a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. Depression can be a signal to take a break, get some rest. It can be a wake up from God that we need to do some pruning and cut some things loose. It can be God getting us to see that we have fallen into the trap of earning love and respect by “doing” all the time. It can be a sign that we have allowed our insecurity to guide our life (I feel secure if I am always achieving things, impressing people and proving how wonderful and talented I am).  And again, it could simply be a little “poor me, I have to work so hard all the time” in which case it is simply a choice to “man up” and refuse to ever feel sorry for yourself. Self-pity is always wrong and destructive unlike depression which is an emotion God uses to teach us something, or allow us time to process something painful or difficult.

Can My Work Ethic Make Life a Burden?

Many people often proudly declare their “work ethic” when the reality is we simply are not in balance and it is our own personal desire to work so much (for various reasons: self-satisfaction, security, addicted to achievement, or it “proves” what a good person we are).

The Lord Jesus “got away”, rested and took time to refresh Himself.  He didn’t brag about his 27 businesses and 64 projects and never having missed a day of work. What would happen if you take some time away: something might slip through your fingers and out of your control? You might not be aware of every single thing going on in your world and not get your chance to defend yourself, have your say or be informed? Someone might do something you don’t approve of or don’t know about? Someone might accuse you of not having the world’s most incredible work ethic?

There are lots of GOOD reasons to have a remarkable work ethic.  I would say a good work ethic is absolutely Godly. On the other hand, there are lots of sinful reasons hard working folks defer to their incredible work ethic (pride, control, insecurity, doubt, lack of trust in God, addiction to achievement, fear of letting go). Only you can determine why you work so hard and rest so little thereby becoming depressed and tired because life seems to be day after day of burden.

Therapeutic Christianity Makes Matters Worse…

Christianity today has evolved into “therapeutic faith” which exacerbates this problem. We teach incessantly that we must do more, serve more, work more to prove our worth, feel better about ourselves, be satisfied with our spiritual growth and be secure in God’s opinion of our “walk”. We are far out of balance in this regard, forgetting that God’s work for our salvation and His approval was done, and is done, APART from anything we can do.

Yes we are to serve but not to the point of burden. Didn’t the Lord Jesus declare that His yoke is easy and His burden is light? We have made His yoke heavy and laborious by our relentless declarations that we must serve more, minister more, do more in order to be “better Christians, more pleasing to God” which is really a lie covering up our desire to FEEL GOOD ABOUT OURSELVES. It is in essence an attempt to earn God’s approval; the age old lie of working to merit God’s favor disguised in Christian ministry and service.

We need rest where we detach from our burdens and responsibilities and trust God to take care of regular life while we get a REAL rest. That doesn’t mean a couple of weeks of incessant activity and travel and plans… that means CHILL OUT and CEASE activity for a while. Find a lake house or campground.  Empty your life and schedule for a couple of weeks.

Is God Asking Me to Get Rid Of Some Stuff In My Life?

Perhaps God is calling for some pruning and delegation of unnecessary burdens. Maybe a lifestyle downgrade and an “expectations” adjustment. Only you know what that may be but keep in mind Jesus’ words: my yoke is easy and my burden is light. If your life is a hard and laborious burden of “work harder”, “serve more” and “increased ministry success”, then perhaps you have replaced Jesus’ yoke with your own.  Don’t confuse this with “a life of hard work” or hard circumstances. I’m talking to those whose life is burdensome because they are seeking the wrong things, working for the wrong reason, striving to earn the favor of men and God.

Hard work is good. The Lord knows we need more people who will work hard. But hard work is not the same as a “heavy burdensome yoke” on our life. Hard work has to be balanced with times of enjoying life, relaxing and letting go of our (guys, are you listening?) need to achieve, impress, accomplish, prove ourselves and have more, more, more.

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Ironically, and predictably, after I wrote this I realized how much I needed to hear this myself. It’s easy to tell others how things should be. It’s hard to see that I’m not even following my own advice.

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