Parents need direction to know when and how to find help when their child is struggling. They also need wisdom to know what emotional health looks like for themselves. Raising Emotionally Healthy Kids is readable and useful– not too long but packed with practical help. It is a balance of biblical wisdom coupled with a clinical understanding of emotional development.
Five Things to Say to Help a Depressed Christian
Depression afflicts many people. In fact, some of the latest numbers show that over 300 million people worldwide suffer from a regular sense of feeling depressed. For some it might be more severe, for others it can just be a lingering sense of melancholy or a general sense of feeling down. The severity can vary as much as the experience of it.
What depression is like?
A person who is depressed does not always feel sad. They can feel exhausted or lose interest and motivation toward things they normally enjoy. Some people with depression can push through and engage in regular activities, while others shut down. Some people with depression cry often, while others not at all. Sometimes it can bring the experience a lot of feelings, making life emotionally exhausting, and other times it is the experience of being emotionally numb or flat. Sometimes suicidal thoughts can accompany depression and other times a person who is depressed will never have suicidal thoughts.
Depression is suffering. It is deep pain that somebody lives with day-to-day. And sometimes, it’s even debilitating. It is complex and doesn’t go away overnight, and some people will live with it their entire life.
What is clinical depression?
You might’ve heard the term clinical depression and wondered what that mean1. If somebody is clinically depressed, they’ve been diagnosed by a doctor, probably a psychiatrist or maybe a general practitioner. What this means is that they’ve met enough of the markers for this diagnosis which will include things like:
- Having a depressed mood most of the day or nearly every day.
- Having a diminished interest in almost all activities most of the day or nearly every day.
- It also can include physical symptoms like significant weight loss or weight gain which can corresponds to a loss of appetite or disinterest in eating, or maybe increased eating for emotional relief.
- It can also include things like a noticeable loss of energy or sense of feeling easily fatigued.
- Other markers are a diminished ability to think and concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
- Sometimes recurrent thoughts of death without a specific plan or intent to commit suicide can also be present.
- Having to spend at least an hour everyday trying to cope is also a sign of clinical depression.
How you can help?
While these descriptions can help you understand depression a little more, you don’t have to know if someone has been clinically diagnosed to help them. You don’t have to be a counselor to be a loving and compassionate friend. I will offer some direction on what can help a Christian who finds themselves dealing with depression. Below are five things you can say that can help. You can use these exact words or make them your own but keep in mind that your tone is often as important as your words.
Five things you can say to help a friend who is struggling.
- God cares about your suffering. Your pain matters. God isn’t looking down hoping you get it together soon. He loves you. He grieves with you. And he cares that you are hurting.
- Your thoughts are never too dark for God. No matter what you are thinking, you can pour out your heart to God. Thoughts of death. Feelings of hopeless. Questions and doubts. God wants to hear them all. He wants to hear your whole heart. The Psalms are great examples of people who poured out their hearts to God during unrelenting suffering.
- Depression does not mean you are a bad Christian. Depression happens for all sorts of reasons. While we all still struggle with sin and temptation, many people who are depressed are spiritually right with God, yet still depressed. Don’t assume your suffering means you are lacking faith or not a good Christian.
- You are not a burden. In fact, you are needed. You are needed in your relationships and you are needed in the body of Christ. We need you. Your perspective on life helps others better understand how to love others who struggle and can help us all become more compassionate friends.
- You are not alone. You may feel like no one understands your experience of pain. You might think you struggle alone, but God is always with you. The Bible says that God is an ever-present help in troubled times. He is present with you. You belong to Christ, and he is with you. You are his and God has placed you in the lives of others. They may not always understand what you are going through, but they are given to you to be with you in this.
Join the journey!
There may not be a more needed book than this one. We live in a culture that is always on and constantly going. We are surviving but exhausted, pushing through but wearing out. Join me on a journey of exploring what it looks like to live a whole and balanced life. Watch this short video to learn more about The Whole Life book.
What I am about to tell you might surprise you. Despite completing a biblical counseling certificate program and a masters degree in counseling, I never received specific training in trauma. Yet, as a biblical and licensed counselor I encounter trauma regularly in caring for people. The lack of trauma training is not a result of a sub-par education or inferior equipping. On the contrary, I received excellent training both biblically and clinically. Instead, it has more to do with the fact that best practices for trauma care are relatively new to the world of counseling and even more novel to the world of biblical counseling. At the same time, it is also true that people today are more significantly impacted by trauma than ever before.
It was once assumed that a person had to have gone through a tragic situation or personally witnessed something horrible to experience trauma. But now, with access to atrocities through the internet, we are exposed to trauma at increasing rates. And it’s is not just exposure but re-exposure as we watch and rewatch tragedies unfold on the screens we carrying around in our pockets. In addition we are far more aware of the compounding impact of “little t” trauma as well as vicarious trauma that we encounter in our efforts to help others. There has never been a time where training in trauma is more needed than there is today. There has never been a time where biblical training in trauma has ever been more crucial and relevant than right now. Despite this, there are few who have the expertise to offer trauma training from a biblical perspective. This led me to pursue specific equipping in trauma and I am thrilled to be one of the instructors for an upcoming trauma training for Christian counselors and biblical lay counselors.
Fundamentals of Trauma Healing is an eight-hour training designed for the Christian professional and lay counselors who desire to learn the basics for counseling clients who have experienced past trauma. The instructors will teach the course content using biblical principles from a distinctly Christian worldview.
The course is offered in an online live venue through Zoom. All participants will receive a packet of materials prior to the course which will include session outlines and resources. Participants will interact with the instructors through Q&A and chat messages during the scope of the course and may be given the opportunity to process with others through smaller breakout groups.
This course is an overview of counseling practices for providing counsel and care after a traumatic event or series of events. It does not cover advanced methods, but will lay a foundation to help you care well for the traumatized. Due to the interactive nature and sensitive topic of this training, it is best experienced live. Recorded sessions will not be offered.
Elements included in the training inclue:
- A Biblical view of trauma healing
- Attachment and trauma
- The effects of trauma on the brain and body
- Grounding techniques
- Guided prayer in trauma healing
- Assessment measures
- Treatment tools and techniques
- Current research on trauma healing
July 23, 6:00-9:00 pm, Central Standard Time and July 24, 8:30 am – 4:00 pm, Central Standard Time
- Professional Counselors$150.00+$10.76 Professional Fee (CE’s available for TX licensed counselors.)
- Students/Lay Counselors$100.00+$7.72 Professional Fee
Friday, July 23:
6:00-7:15pm Session 1: Trauma & the Biblical Worldview
7:30-8:45pm Session 2: The Brain/Body/Soul Connection
Saturday, July 24:
8:30-9:15am Session 3: Childhood Attachment and Trauma
9:30-10:45am Session 4: Stage 1 Healing (Safety and Stabilization)
11:00am -12:15pm Session 5: Stage 2 Healing (Processing Trauma)
1:30-2:15pm Session 6: Stage 3 Healing (Integration of Healing)
2:30-3:30pm Session 7: The Trauma-Informed Church, Family and Society
3:30-4:00pm Session 8: Q&A
What makes self-care biblical?
To understand self-care biblically we need to look at it rightly. The best way to approach self-care is through the lens of stewardship. The Bible teaches us to steward all the gifts that God gives us (Luke 12:48; 2 Corinthians 9:6–15; 1 Peter 4:10). When God blesses us with resources, it is our responsibility to steward them wisely. Self-care is simply stewardship of our body, our time, our decisions, our responsibilities, and our relationships.
In The Whole Life: 52 Weeks of Biblical Self-Care, biblical self-care is defined as follows: “The practice of drawing on divinely given resources to steward our whole lives for personal enrichment, the good of others, and the glory of God.” Read that again.
This definition always has God’s glory as the target. In addition, others are blessed but not at the expense of totally depleting yourself. Too often, Christians pay little attention to their own needs or care. They believe this is a selfless way of living, but it often ends up driving them to a useless state of burnout.
Biblical self-care means we steward the body God gave us and respect our limitations. We steward our life by engaging in things that bring spiritual, emotional, and physical health.
Biblical self-care means we steward our time and seek to wisely say “yes” or “no” based on what is best for ourselves, our families, and others God has placed our lives.
Biblical self-care means we steward the gifts and abilities God has given us to bless others without exhausting ourselves in the process.
Engaging in self-care does not contradict self-sacrifice, nor does it necessarily lead to a self-centered life.
So what might biblical self-care look like in your life?
It is engaging with God in the ordinary sacred places. Perhaps it is you in your favorite chair with just a Bible and a cup of coffee or tea. Or it might meeting with God as you take a walk around the neighborhood or in a park. It can be as quiet as moments in prayer in the middle of the night, or as noisy as a foyer full of chatter as you enter the familiar four walls of your church.
A person who engages in biblical self-care recognizes the best place to go for refreshment is to the One who restores the soul. It is trusting God enough to allow things to wait while you take a nap, eat a meal, exercise, play a game, read a book, or watch show. It is enjoying God through the smile of a dear friend, in the giggles of a little child, or in the unhurried conversation with your neighbor. It is noticing when you are stressed and changing course. It is scheduling check-ups, taking vitamins, asking for help, or taking a vacation. It is doing all these things for your enrichment, for the good of others, and for the glory of God.
The picture in this post is a place I go to often. It is a spot along a walk where I commonly stop to take in the beauty and breathe in the grace of God. For me, this is self-care.
How will you engage in the much-needed practice of biblical self-care?
A year ago almost every biblical counselor had a decision to make–namely, how and when to continue to provide counseling under imposed government regulations. As biblical counselors we may have wondered if a day would come when the government would stop the work that we were doing. None of us, however, could have predicted what actually happened. Instead of an attack on our practices and principles, this disruption came unexpectedly from a virus. Federal regulations related to the global pandemic of 2020 shut down our offices and churches, sent us all home and counseling, for the most part, came to a halt.
Uncertain about just how long the orders to stay home would last, many counselees and counselors chose to “wait it out.” But when days turned to weeks and weeks to months, we began to consider alternatives to in-person counseling. Going virtual became the predominant option. In a matter of weeks we all became very familiar with Zoom, Google Meet, WebEx, Got To Meeting, etc. Well over a year later, most counselors are still using technology to meet with their counselees. What does this mean for the future of biblical counseling? As we begin to see the lifting and removal of regulations, we ought to consider how technology should fit into the future of our continued care. In light of that, I offer words of optimism and caution regarding technology and biblical counseling.
- Furthering the reach of biblical counseling – Counselors practicing under a state license are restricted to the jurisdiction of their license. During the pandemic some exceptions were made for continuity of care, but in general the restrictions remained. Biblical counselors, however, are under no such restrictions. The conditions of the pandemic put a spotlight on the value of being a biblical, non-licensed counselor. Biblical counselors continued to offer care regardless of where they or their counselees resided. They provided care across state lines and beyond. Whereas licensed counselors encountered limitations, biblical counselors, with the help of technology, expanded their reach. Technology will continue to provide this opportunity even after in-person counseling resumes.
- Flexibility for the counselee and the counselor – Technology and the circumstances of stay-at-home regulations also afforded greater flexibility for counseling sessions to take place at different times and places. No longer spending time in long commutes or participating in extracurricular activities, counselors were freed up to devote more time to care for others. In addition, many counselors who were normally dependent on available church-office space were able to hold sessions online from the comfort of their own homes. Childcare was also no longer a barrier for the counselor or counselee. Marriage counseling was taking place after the kids were in bed. Counselors and counselees juggling a family schedule could capitalize on a toddler’s naptime or plan their appointments when another parent was available to help with children. Many sessions happened while young children played or watched a movie in the next room. The blessing of being home allowed counselor and counselee to re-engage with family or other responsibilities as soon as sessions were over. Going virtual removed some of the logistical stress that can surround counseling appointments. The flexibility of virtual sessions increases the likelihood that people will seek out screen-based counseling in the future.
- Favorable environment for many – As mentioned above, counseling from the comfort of home often created a more desirable environment. Counselees found their favorite and most comfortable place to have their session which often included a comfy pillow or throw, the company of a beloved pet, or relaxing in casual clothes. In addition, counselors and counselees with physical limitations found virtual sessions more favorable and accessible on many levels. While the convenience was a welcomed aspect for most situations, exceptions are worth noting. Counselees living in negative home environments or who have difficulty finding privacy in a busy home may have found virtual sessions more challenging. Even with that said, people will still likely expect the choice of online counseling to continue even after the pandemic is far behind us therefore virtual counseling sessions should remain an option.
- Regard the safety and wellbeing of all – It is important that you know where your counselee is during your sessions. Are they at home, work, at a friend’s or family member’s home? Find out if they are alone or if others are in the house with them before the session starts. You can do this casually without much attention drawn to your questions. Since you are not in the room with them, you need to be sure you know how to get them help should the situation prove necessary. Meeting virtually necessitates that you have their emergency contact information up to date. Another way to protect your counselee is to be sure you are meeting in a private location where they do not have to worry that what they are saying might be overheard. Wearing headphones regards their privacy and displays a more secure environment for them. You should also regard your wellbeing. Avoid overscheduling or giving your counselee more access to you than is healthy. Technology opens avenues of connection, but it must be guarded for your wellbeing also.
- Respect healthy boundaries – It is important for the counselor to build in transition times between sessions. Going from one Zoom call to the next can be easy, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Allow space to process the session and regroup your thoughts and emotions. Create space to prayerfully prepare for the next session. As mentioned above, avoid being always available to your counselee. The more technology connects us the more we must cautiously and carefully engage it. Consider creating office hours that are set aside for your work as a counselor. Generally speaking, calls, texts, or emails should wait to be read until your set office hours. Consider having a separate phone number for counselees to reach you and turn off notifications for that number outside of office hours. On the same point, respect your counselee’s time. Avoid contacting them for follow-up, logistics, or scheduling during their family time when they may be tempted to reply immediately.
- Resist distractions – You and your counselee are limited to what can be seen on the screen; consequently, the temptation to multi-task will arise. A notification or a text on a phone that would have normally been out of sight during a session is not only visible but can be read surreptitiously. A quick glimpse at an email can go undetected. Small inconspicuous activities such as manicuring your nails or making a to-do lists can lure you away from listening intently to your counselee. Distractions on your desk or curiosity regarding what is in your counselee’s room can interfere with your concentration and conversation. Take measures to create a space that will allow the least mental diversion. This includes what is visible in your screen. Create a visual place that allows your counselee to focus without disruption.
As counseling moves back to in-person sessions, consider how technology has afforded opportunities for biblical counseling to fill an even larger space than before. What an amazing opportunity to reach more believers, and even unbelievers, with hope not only for their current circumstances but also for their eternal wellbeing. Let’s continue to utilize technology wisely and regularly, offering biblical care beyond the borders of our hometown.
1. How do you see technology improving the future of biblical counseling?
2. What concerns do you have when you think about counseling and technology?
3. What boundaries might you need to implement when providing virtual counseling?
Originally posted on The Biblical Counseling Coalition.
Thoughts are interesting things. They have no material value. They have no physical weight, no measurable space, and no visible presence. They come from inside us with little to no effort from us. And although they are innumerable they are invisible. Or are they?
In 1952 author Norman Vincent Peale brought the importance of this subject to center stage when he wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. Shining a spotlight on our thoughts, the book went on to be a New York Times best seller. Apparently, our thoughts, tucked away in the privacy of our minds and imperceptible to the external world have a significant impact on us. Thoughts are formative to our very lives. But we don’t need a self-help book form the 50’s to tell us that. The Bible states clearly that “as a man thinks in his heart so he is” (Prov. 23:7). Our thoughts determine what we do, develop how we live, and define our identity.
Our thoughts determine what we do, develop how we live, and define our identity.Eliza Huie– Changing Negative Thinking Tweet
Think about the truth.
We need to fill our minds with what is accurate and factual regarding ourselves. Since our thoughts shape who we are, we must be concerned with thinking about the truth. In light of this, it underscores the importance that our thoughts be true.
Not so good truth.
What if the truth is not good? What if the truth is that we really messed up or we failed in this or that area? What should we do with true thoughts that remind us we say or do things that are unkind, wrong, and sinful? What if the truth is that our lives our filled with bad news and very real troubles? When this is the case, we can find ourselves stuck in patterns of destructive thinking. Similarly to the self-help book title, we also know the power in negative thinking is very significant.
What else is true?
We cannot deny that some true things are not good. In fact, some truth is just awful. Mistakes cannot be undone, and harsh words can’t be unsaid. Painful realities we have endured cannot be wished away and our minds can be flooded with not-so-good thoughts. When this is the case, we have a choice to make. When the negative thoughts come, acknowledge their truth but then ask yourself; What else is true? What other truth do you need to be thinking about right then and there? Let me make this practical with an exercise.
And What Else
I can’t remember where I first learned this exercise, but I find it very helpful. When negative truths dominate your thinking, when you can only call to mind the bad you have done, or when reminders of the wrong done to you feel as though they are on continual recall, use the three letters A-W-E to help guide you toward a change in your thinking. These three simple letters can change the barrage of negative thinking. They simply stand for And What Else. Yes—you have said and done some regretful things but what else is true of you? Yes—You had a terrible experience but what else is true? Yes—it was truly awful what happened but what else is also true? The awful things that happened really did happen and they were terribly bad, but what else is true? And what else: A.W.E. Allow yourself space to think about what else is true. As a Christian there is so much more that is true of you. Here are some examples. Read them slowly, thinking about each one.
- You are a child of God. (Jn. 1:12)
- You are a friend of Jesus. (Jn. 15:15)
- You are loved and not condemned (Jn. 3:16-17)
- You are forgiven. (Col. 1:13-14)
- You are justified. (Rom. 5:1)
- You are a saint. (Eph. 1:1)
- You are free of condemnation now and forever. (Rom. 8:1-2)
- You can find grace and mercy when you need it. (Heb. 4:16)
- You have full access to God. (Eph. 3:12)
- You are protected from the evil one. (1 Jn. 5:18)
When negative thoughts fill your mind pause and intentionally think or, as the Scripture says, meditate on what else is true. When you do this, the simplicity of the acrostic comes to life as it moves you to stand in awe (A.W.E) of the amazing truth of who you are in Christ and how much God loves you.
Practice makes _________.
This exercise is exactly what Paul was instructing us to do in Philippians chapter four verse eight when he wrote:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Most Christians know that verse well. Maybe you have even memorized it. But did you know what comes right after that? Verse nine says this:
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Did you catch that? Paul says these things take practice! Negative thinking comes easy. Right thinking takes practice. This takes intentional focus, but it is life changing. We have all heard it said that practice makes _______ (fill in the blank). “Perfect!” I actually think it is more accurate to say that “practice makes permanent.” When our thoughts accurately reflect the truth of Scripture and we practice meditating on what it says regarding who we are, it changes us permanently.
I hope this motivates you to practice the A.W.E exercise the next time you feel yourself spiraling downward in negative thinking. The more you practice, the more permanent the truth of God’s word will become the dominant source of your thoughts.
Since our thoughts shape who we are, we must be concerned with thinking about the truth.Eliza Huie– Changing Negative ThinkingTweet
 A recent research project concluded that the average person has approximately 6200 thoughts a day. It is likely this will change the more research is conducted. https://www.newsweek.com/humans-6000-thoughts-every-day-1517963
How should I respond if my child sees pornography?
This is a question I get asked often. It is an important question, but I want to actually ask this question in a slightly different way. In the way that I feel is more helpful.
How should I respond when my child sees pornography?”
Instead of if, let’s say when. It’s a slight change but is more than likely the reason why you are reading this article. And reframing it this way allows parents to be prepared for what sadly is more than likely a reality. Whether it is an accidental glimpse of an image, a classmate sharing something on their phone, or a curious search on their own phone, laptop, or tablet, your child will likely see porn. It is so easily available and sadly statistics tell us that the average age of the first exposure to porn is just 11 years old and, in most cases, this happens in the child’s own home.[i] As a parent, your response when this happens is very important.
When your child is sees pornography, it is an opportunity for two things. It is a teaching opportunity, and it is a gospel opportunity.
A Teaching Opportunity
It’s an opportunity for you to teach your child about their own sexuality and God’s good design for sex. It is an opportunity to teach them about the incredible value people have as image bearers and how we should never use other people—even if it is just pictures of them—in ways that do not honor them or the God who made them.[ii] It is an opportunity for you to teach your child about what are appropriate pictures to see of others and what are inappropriate. It is also a good chance to teach them what are appropriate or inappropriate pictures to have taken of themselves.
A Gospel Opportunity
It is also a gospel opportunity. When your child sees porn, you have an amazing occasion to bring the gospel to your child in this moment. The fact that pornography even exists shows just how far our hearts have strayed from the Lord and reminds us of how much we all need Jesus. Whether your child saw pornography willingly or accidentally it is great opportunity for you to remind them of the forgiveness we have in Jesus. People who make or engage in porn can have their sins totally forgiven. And children, who curiously explored pornography also can find abundant grace from God when they confess. Remind them that 1 John 1:9 tells us that, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The kindness of God is available for all who to turn to Him.
So, keep these two things in mind—it is a teaching opportunity, and it is a gospel opportunity.
As a parent I know resources are a big when raising children. In light of that, here are a couple resources I have written on the topic of both sex and screens to help parents when asking this or other related questions.
The first is called Raising Teens in a Hyper-Sexualized World. And while the title says Raising Teens it is very beneficial for parents of elementary and preteens as well. In it I share 7 tips for navigating the topic sex. One important tip for parents to consider how their reaction to learning about a child’s exposure to porn impacts their relationship with their child. Discovering that your child has seen pornography is very upsetting but parents must bring their sorrows, anger, or disappointments to the Lord first and ask Him to help move into the conversation in a way that shows the child see that what has happened is not too big for God nor is it not beyond his grace.
The second book is called Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World. It is designed to help parents who are raising digital natives. The five quick tips discuss ways to model digital discipline in your home and answer questions like “when should I give my child their own device?”
Both of these books are short and practical allowing the busiest of parents to get through them.
In summary keep in mind that exposure to pornography is likely going to happen at some point as you raise your kids. Reframing these the situation by remembering that this it is a teaching opportunity and a gospel opportunity turns these moments into opportunities of growth. And most of all remember the Lord is our helper you so lean into him in everything you face with your children.
[ii] Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139:4, Romans 12:10
This Fall a little boy in my neighborhood started preschool. I can see his house from my front window, and I love to watch him skip to his car in the morning with his Daniel the Tiger backpack and matching lunchbox. He climbs into his car seat with evident excitement for what is in store for his day at school. He’s a typical preschooler yet his preschool experience is far from typical. Along with crayons and markers his school supplies include facemasks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.This little boy has never known a school-day without a mask. He doesn’t know that seeing his teacher and classmates in facemasks is not a typical preschool experience. And while wearing masks in school may be normal to him, there is still so much that is not. Though he is young, he is old enough to know that the presence of masks means there is an invisible sickness that everyone is hoping to escape.
From preschoolers to the elderly, the pandemic has affected everyone. In the last year we had to restructure how we did work, church, school, family and social life and none of it was easy for anyone. In addition to the stress of all the changes is the looming threat of sickness. It makes sense that even while children are adapting, they are also feeling anxious and confused. And parents, having never parented through a pandemic before, can feel uncertain about how to help children feel at ease while, at the same time helping them understand the need for significant caution. Parents want to point their children to the wisdom of protocols but don’t want them to miss the comfort that God provides in times like these.
I was recently given a copy of a book that I feel will be a big help for families with young children. God Cares for Me by Scott James could not be more right-on-time! I read it and knew this is a book parents will be grateful to have. It’s begins with a scenario that any child will find relatable. Lucas, a young boy wakes up not feeling well. As the story unfolds, the author empathetically captures the feelings children have when facing sickness. In an engaging way, the story highlights the comfort of God and the importance of loving others even while we are sick. My favorite part of this book is how it uses Scripture as the main teaching tool throughout the story. The pictures are charming. The bright and cheery colors sure help when you are talking about something as gloomy as being sick. On a side note, I was personally encouraged to see diversity in the characters and roles being represented to children as they read this book. Hats off to the illustrator and the publisher for their intentionality.
As a parent I appreciate stories that help children trust God in real-life situations. As a counselor I love resources that can help families turn the challenges kids face into gospel opportunities. God Cares for Me does both! This is a season of learning for all of us, and some of what we learn will remain important even after the threat of the pandemic subsides. The lessons of love in this book are enduring. You can find this book at New Growth Press and I recommend you go grab a copy for the child or grandchild in your life. While you wait for it to arrive you can check out this video clip where I share more tips on parenting through a pandemic.
I had the recent privilege to sit in on a hearing in the district court. It was a chance to witness the public proceedings to which this country gives open access, and I am grateful. But more so, it was an opportunity to hear the courageous testimony of a victim who gave voice to her story and for that I am deeply honored.
As I sat in that courtroom three words came to mind. They are familiar words to anyone living in the United States. School children, before they learn to read and write, memorize these words. Whether you are born here or immigrated, if the United States is your home, you will learn the words “justice for all,” the last three words of the Pledge of Allegiance. Sitting in the court filled me with passion for those words. We were there for justice.
The situation was complex, spanning many years of repetitive coercion, manipulation, threats, and violence leading to deep confusion and the crushing of a spirit. She was a college student volunteering in children’s ministry. He was her pastor. She was vulnerable. He was powerful. The grooming and lies started early and led to atrocious abuse of power and authority. Yet, as evidenced by the brief lines of introduction before the judge, this would be abridged to a single incident shared in the courtroom where she was not a person with a story but a case with a number.
As the case unfolded, it became clear that there was one thing everyone was looking for—evidence. If terrorizing drew blood, if manipulation left marks, if bullying left bruises—then, the evidence would be undeniable. But abusers know better. They know how to twist the truth, making even their victims believe their lies. The book of Ecclesiastes says it well when it states, “…I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter (Ecclesiastes 4:1).”
Pressed into the standard protocol of the court and in the hands of an overwhelmed and unprepared district attorney, she was simply a name on a form in a large stack of disheveled papers. A name filling a timeslot on a docket. A name mispronounced, a name repeatedly gotten wrong, a name mistakenly called. If they didn’t even know her name, how could they ever know her story? She was a case, a number, a file declared to have “lacked the evidence” to bring a conviction.
Justice for all? Though this court did not deliver, the words retained their power. Not because of a pledge, but because of a promise. The promise is not found in the words of a prosecutor or an advocate or even a supportive friend. Rather, the promise of “justice for all” is found in the God’s Word. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed (Psalm 103: 6). The Bible is full of promises related to God’s just judgement. He has promised to defend the abused and punish the abuser.[i]
Justice for all? Where the pledge fails, the promise stands firm. She is not a case, a number, a file. She is a person with a voice. An important voice. A valued voice. A voice of truth heard by God and his promise of justice is sure.
I witnessed incredible courage from this woman in that courtroom. She was honest. She was clear. She was brave. Abuse is wrong and must be exposed. As she continues to wait for justice, her testimony was not in vain. She stood for truth and she stood for the many other victims whose voices are still unheard and I am so proud of her. She knows God heard her voice she can agree with the Psalmist in saying, “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live (Psalm 116: 1-2).”
[i] See Psalm 72:4, Psalm 146:7-9, Proverbs 17:5, Proverbs 22:22-23, Isaiah 10:1-3, Jeremiah 50:33-34, Micah 2:1-3 for just a sampling of how the Lord views abuse.
Here we are again. We have been here before and Lord willing we will be here again. A new year. Why do people make such a big deal about the turn of a calendar day?
There’s something exciting about things that are new. Various seasons of life are marked by the description of new. When people get married, they are called newlyweds depicting the reality of their new venture in life together. New parents are those who, for the first time in their life, are embarking on the journey of raising up another human being. There are other times when new is the best way to describe a change in life. For example, think about a new job, a new home, a new car, or even a new puppy. When something is new it carries with it an expectation of potential and an excitement for what lies ahead. This is also felt in simple pleasures like new restaurant or a new episode of a favorite show. The new year is similar, as people look ahead with expectation and excitement.
So as the hype of Christmas settles into the rearview and you begin to regain some routine after the holidays, I want to encourage you to consider why it can be good to reflect on the value of treating the new year with fresh expectation and intention.
The start of a new year is a great time to engage in personal reflection and consider modifications you might want to make in life. But it is not just an exercise in self-improvement. I want to offer four reasons why this can actually be a means of stewarding your life for the glory of God. At the risk of being misunderstood, I don’t want to communicate that setting “New Year’s resolutions” is a kind of spiritual mandate or act of piety. I will say that whether it is at the start of a new year or any other time of the year, making intentional adjustments or participating in thoughtful planning can be a helpful exercise in a Christian’s life. In light of this, I offer four considerations to encourage you in making the the most of this New Year.
1. Reflection allows for re-evaluation. In our first years of life, we visit the doctor regularly for what are called well-baby checks. The reason is not because anything is wrong, but it is to make sure things are right. Taking time to reflect at the start of a new year can be viewed as a wellness check. It is an opportunity to take a look at your life the way a doctor examines a young patient and evaluates how things are going. A careful examination of our life helps us to make any needed adjustments.
It is a sign of spiritual health to take time to examine ourselves. Lamentation 3:40 says, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord.” Don’t wait for things to be wrong in your life. Let the New Year be a time of self-examination and prayerfully consider what changes may be needed.
2. A stagnant life is an unhealthy life. Continuing with the metaphor of the well-baby exams, the doctor is concerned if a child’s progress stops or slows. When a child fails to thrive or misses key benchmarks it raises alarm. When personal growth stops in our lives it is also a concerning sign. But change does not need to be a grand event. Slight improvements overtime bring significant change. Big goals or changes can be helpful but small changes eventually create major shifts in the long run. If change is daunting or discouraging, think small. This is often the way the Lord works on us.
Reflect on the year ahead. What small shifts do you need to make? Maybe it is in your spiritual life? Maybe it is with a relationship? Whatever it is, use this New Year as a time to commit to that change no matter how small. God brings change slowly — one degree at a time. Allow 2 Corinthians 3:18 to remind you that, “we all…are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
3. Planning is a part of the Imago Dei. As created beings we bear the image of God (Imago Dei). Every single human being has the likenesses of the God who made them stamped on them. When we create we reflect our creator God. When we manage or lead we do so in part because the image of a sovereign God is on us. When we plan we imitate a strategic God who calculated where to put the stars and at what place the ocean should end. Before the foundations of the world, He was planning.
As we look ahead to a new year with more specific intention we must take all of our plans and lay them before the One who holds our future. We plan but the Lord establishes our path (Proverbs 16:9).
4. New is a gift from God. Some of the best things in Scripture are described as new. In Christ we have new life (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are given a new name that only God knows (Revelation 2:17). We will live in a new world where all things are as they should be. In fact, the final promise of the Bible related to the Lord’s returning is that He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).
Celebrating new is a small picture of what we will one day know in full. New is a gift that should be stewarded well. It is a treasure not to be taken for granted.
As you enter a new year consider how you might engage it with intention and purpose. One helpful resource is Donald Whitney’s Ten Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year. Use the questions to pause and reflect regarding the direction of your life.