Psalms: Finding God in Our Anxiety

“There are times in our lives when our peace is based simply on our own ignorance.  But when we are awakened to the realities of life, true inner peace is impossible unless it is received from Jesus.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (1935).

I love this quote, because I believe it captures so well the true condition we are in, while living our earthly lives.  I’ve written it down and carried it with me in working with clients since first starting out as a therapist a decade ago.

Anxiety is real and common. 

We have all experienced forms of anxiety; some more than others.  For some people it’s a nuisance, for others it causes distress, while for others it can be debilitating.

But what does the Bible have to say about anxiety?  Let’s look at the Psalms.  Psalm 94:19 (ESV):

“When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.”

In this translation, the word “cares” is used, however in other translations, the word is “anxiety” or “anxious thoughts.” The Psalmist is describing that he experiences times where he has many anxious thoughts.

Do you relate?  I believe that we all can relate to times when our cares, anxieties, worries are many.

The verse goes onto describe that God’s “consolations cheer my soul”.  What does this mean?  Consolation means comfort after a loss or disappointment and in some other translations, the word “cheer” is instead, “delight”.

I like what Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers (1897) explains: “Delight.—Literally, stroke, and so soothe. The Hebrew word is used in Isaiah 66:11 of a mother quieting her child with the breast, and in Jeremiah 16:7 of the cup of consolation given to mourners at funerals.”

What a beautiful picture this is of God’s comfort for us during times of anxiety.  God comforts and soothes us.  I wonder how many of us pray for God to comfort and soothe us when we are anxious? I’m not even sure that I had thought of needing comfort and soothing while feeling anxious – I think I’ve mostly prayed that it would just go away.  I’m sure you relate.

But maybe, God’s not going to take the anxiety away.  Maybe, our experience of anxiety, and reaching out to God for help, gives Him the opportunity to comfort and soothe us, as a good mother would her child who is upset.

God desires intimacy and closeness with us. Why wouldn’t He use the experience of anxiety to draw us close to Him?

Let’s now look at Psalm 112:7 (ESV):

“He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.”

How many of us experience anxiety as the fear of “bad news” coming our way – whether real or imagined?  The reality is, we will have both.  Bad news will come our way eventually; there will be emergency situations we weren’t necessarily expecting.  There will be loss of things, positions, health, and of important people in our lives… on this earth.

But there will also be the imaginings of bad news; things that aren’t at all real that come to our minds.  And in this verse, the “bad news” that is described here includes both the real and the imagined.

The Psalmist goes on to describe that his heart is firm – immovable – because he is trusting in the Lord and in His love and grace “which is sufficient for him even in the worst of times” (Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, 1748-63).

When we call to mind God’s love for us, it strengthens us.  So, what are our worries when compared to the love of God?

And here’s the trick or lie of anxiety – it has a big bark with no bite – the big bark is because it involves your mind and physical sensations in your body; nervousness, digestive upset, panic, and more. Because we can feel it so strongly – we think – it must be real!  But much of anxiety is not.  It’s really a lot of “what ifs.”

Think about the movie version of the Wizard of Oz. Everyone in the land of Oz feared the great and powerful wizard.  Dorothy and her friends endured so much to get to the wizard so that they could beg him to give them what they needed.

They finally arrived and fearfully approach – the loud voice, the smoke, the fire, the video of the strange looking man – he was as they imagined him to be – scary!  But then something happens, and the giant “wizard” breaks down.  Come to find out, it’s just an old man hiding behind the curtain, trying desperately to get his machine working again.  This, the scared old man, is all that much of anxiety is. Impotent, with no ability to actually help us.  All bark, no bite.

But our God on the other hand, is very real. And He is so much greater than any anxiety we could ever have.  Remembering how big our God is in comparison to how small and powerless our imagination is helps put things in their proper perspective, bringing calm to the storm.

An important note:  If your experience of anxiety feels out of control or is disrupting your ability to function in your daily life, you probably need professional help. It will be okay and we’ll walk you through it.  That’s what therapists are here for!  Feel free to reach out to me and if I can’t help you, I would be glad to help you get to someone who can.

Psalms: Unanswered Questions

How many questions did you ask Google today?  If you’re like me, you may have lost count.  It could be things as simple as the price of a brand of vitamins, and how to take a screenshot on a new phone; in other words, nothing too deep.  But it all points to the fact that we like answers; and quickly.

So this could explain why we are so uncomfortable, confused and hurt by things in our lives we may not have answers for; prayers that seemed to go unanswered.  Things that we have hoped or longed for, that we still don’t have.

Like, that relationship, that pregnancy, that home, that healing, that success, that reconciliation.  You likely know what that is for you.

Let’s talk first about owning our desire for these things.  Desire is not wrong.  The Bible actually encourages us to come to God with our desires. Here are a few verses:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”  Matthew 7:7-11

So, it’s okay to ask, beg, pray, and wrestle with God.  After all, this is what He tells us to do.

But what if we don’t get an answer?  How do we get to the place where we can accept the not knowing?  Could the answer be in seeking after the Lord, for Himself, and not for what he can give us?  Wanting God more than that person or thing?

As I write these words, I feel the sting in my own heart in accepting what I believe to be true.  Does this mean dreams have to die?  I would say maybe.

Maybe a dream has to die.  Or at least the way it is right now has to die.  In other words, it could be that the thing we’re dreaming, wishing or hoping for has become so large that we can see nothing else.  Maybe it’s become an obsession; and you have become sick (emotionally, physically and spiritually) over it and your relationships are being ruined because of it.

Although there are times when we allow a dream to die, only for God to fulfill that very dream or desire – in His way and at His time.  Has this happened to you?  You’ve finally let that thing go; you may have even forgotten about it, and God ends up blessing you with it?

I love this about our Heavenly Father.  He enjoys blessing us.  But this is not a formula or trick. We’re not playing cards with the Lord.

Why do things sometimes work out after we let them go?  As Psalm 75:8 describes:

“For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.”

God is a jealous God.  But we must understand – this is no ugly, selfish, human jealousy.  I believe this is a fierce protectiveness of our hearts, which can so easily be led astray.  God knows that when we make idols of people or things, the pursuit of those people or things will eventually kill us. Literally or figuratively.  And God doesn’t want this for us.     

But, going back to my original question – how do we get to the place where we can accept the not knowing? What could God be trying to teach us in the waiting, and wondering?  Once again, we visit the Psalms, this time Psalm 55:22:

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he shall sustain you: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”

When you dig down into the original language of this verse, you find out that the “burden” referenced in this verse speaks to “thy portion – or, the lot assigned thee – that which God has given thee to bear” (Pulpit Commentary, 1880-97).

This really struck me – this verse is not simply talking about any burden, but that which God has given you or I to bear.  So here we are faced with a choice – do we still believe God is good and are we willing to still trust him when we realize he has given us the burden we’re facing?

He’s not answering your prayer in the way and time you want it answered for a reason.  And I don’t know why.  I wish that I did; for myself and for others.  But one thing I can tell you is that in therapy, I have sat with many people who wrestle with these questions.  One thing I’ve said to clients many times is that we all carry question marks in our hearts – answers we just don’t have about why things haven’t worked out.

But I challenge my clients to ask themselves the question above:  Are they still going to believe God is good and are they willing to still trust him, when they realize he has given them the burden they are facing?  I pray the answer is yes.

Psalms: Forgiveness is Hard

One of the first and most important things I was told upon becoming a Christian was that Scripture never contradicts Scripture, rather Scripture confirms Scripture.  So, if I am reading a verse and find another verse that seems to say something different, it means that I need to study further to understand the context in which the verses were written.  

Believing the Bible to be inerrant (without error), it will become clear, and it will be revealed that there’s no contradiction, once you understand the full context, and the original language used.  I firmly believe this. 

How does this apply to a study on forgiveness in the Psalms?  Well, we’re going to visit the Psalms and another book in the Bible to illuminate this topic.  

We’ll start in Psalm 103:8-12:

8The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

David, in this Psalm, describes the character and attitude of God toward us, a sinful people.  I would argue that here we have found a description of what our attitude is to be toward those who sin against us.  And what is embedded in here is a glorious description of forgiveness.  

Let’s next visit Colossians 3:13:

13bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

In this verse, the Apostle Paul describes how we are to forgive one another, “as the Lord has forgiven you”.  So, when we put these verses from Psalms and Colossians together, a more complete picture comes together of what forgiveness looks like.  

While we know the answer when we are wronged is to forgive, how do we go about doing it?  It’s a process.  As much in this life is.   

There are some things we may easily forgive, and even forget – like a stolen parking place.  But for other things, particularly instances of abuse or other deep transgression, we may struggle to forgive.  

But as with most trials in life, I believe this is to draw us closer to the Lord.  After all, if it were easy to forgive, I wouldn’t likely be writing about it.

Particularly for deep wounds, there can be layers of forgiveness we have to go through.  We may have to talk about it, pray about it, and write about it again and again.  It may come up again in our hearts, in a different time or season, where we will need to go to the Lord again with it.  Or it may not; each situation is unique. 

But this isn’t just always with deep wounds.  Sometimes we take the “small” transgressions, like the stolen parking space I spoke about before, and we stack them up within our hearts and minds.  

We begin to keep a record of things done to us.  You see this in relationships – where husbands and wives can recount each and every hurtful word or deed that was done by their partner.  

And then one day we take that list and we use it to justify a complete blow up or melt down; which can show up in arguments or even divorce papers.  But can we consider that maybe the list of wrongs doesn’t have to become a mile long before we do something about it?  Maybe that’s the point of forgiving, and keeping a short record (or no record) of wrongs?

If we are to forgive “as the Lord has forgiven you”, then we should not treat one another “as our sins deserve.”

If you’re struggling to forgive someone, or many people, or maybe even yourself, I encourage you to pray for God’s help.  Pray to be able to forgive as Paul instructed in Colossians above.  Reach out to a trusted pastor or therapist if you find yourself stuck.  We are here to help.

Psalms: Don’t Fear Anger

As therapists, we don’t shy away from emotions. We appreciate and even encourage emotional expressions. I can tell you wholeheartedly that I enjoy watching movies with lots of displays of relationship and family dynamics, and expressions of emotion.

Displays of anger, particularly when expressed verbally, are powerful and typically give you a view into a person’s heart. After all, recall what the second part of Matthew 12:34 says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Our words give us away, particularly when we’re angry.

Have you ever tried to pretend you weren’t upset with someone to their face? How painful is this “act”? Or maybe you tend to be passive-aggressive. So, you never quite own your anger and therefore it comes out sideways, in underhanded jabs, leaving people wondering if they just got stabbed.

Maybe your anger runs very deep, and it feels quite justified. You may have had a loved one (or someone supposed to be a loved one) that wounded or betrayed you. Is it right to feel anger toward them? What do you do with it?

Let’s look more closely at Psalm 109. This Psalm was written by King David and has 31 verses. We’re just going to focus on a few of them. First verses 1 and 2:

1Be not silent, O God of my praise!
2For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues.

David cries out to God, begging him to answer his call. He describes what he is going through – people are slandering him. Being slandered, lies being told about you, is one of the most painful things to go through. Particularly when you have tried to do the right thing by the Lord and in your life. So, we can all understand, David is angry about what he’s going through.

David then begins to describe line by line all that he would like to see done to his enemies. We’ll look at a few verses here:

9May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!
10May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
11May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
12Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
nor any to pity his fatherless children!

Can you relate yet? If we’re honest, I think we all can. I believe we all have been so angry as to imagine harm coming to those who have hurt us. What’s amazing is that this intensity of anger is in the Bible – in a prayer to God. And the intensity does not end here – there are more verses following these that describe what King David is asking God to do to punish his enemies.

However, 9 verses later, something changes. David refocuses on who he is speaking to – Almighty God – declaring that his “steadfast love is good” (verse 21). And then David acknowledges his own situation, “I am poor and needy, and my heart is stricken within me” (verse 22). See the verses below:

21But you, O GOD my Lord,
deal on my behalf for your name’s sake;
because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!
22For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is stricken within me.

I believe we can find insight here. Is the answer to anger found in acknowledging our own sin and need for God’s rescuing? I believe so.

But of course, similar to our other emotions, it’s that simple, and in some ways, it’s not that simple. What do I mean? Well, the answer can be that simple but actually working through the anger isn’t always that simple.

For some of us, the hurt is so deep, and the anger so strong, that we will need to express it over and over again to finally let it go. The expression could be crying out to God, talking to someone we trust, writing therapeutic letters (a letter we write to the person we’re upset with, but don’t actually give it to the them), attending a support group, processing it in therapy, confronting the person we’re upset with, setting up healthier boundaries (what we say yes and no to for our lives), artistic ventures like painting, acting or writing, and so much more.

Anger is not a “bad” emotion.

But one thing we have to remember is that anger is not a “bad” emotion. When we label emotions as “good” or “bad” it gets in the way of dealing with them. Because our emotions tell us something. As in the case of anger – it tells us something about what’s going on inside of us.

In Psalm 4:4, King David instructs us:

4Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.

In other words, take time to reflect upon what is going on in your heart, and why the anger is there. Do not simply react (such as sending a text you can’t take back) to feeling that way.

In the book of Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 25 and 26, the Apostle Paul instructs us:

25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold.

First, he talks about speaking truthfully, which can, many times, prevent anger from getting rooted in your heart. In other words, deal with the matter at hand – say what you have to say (ideally, speaking the truth in love).

Paul then references Psalm 4:4 at the beginning of verse 26, “in your anger do not sin.” It doesn’t say, ‘if you’re angry, you’re sinning.’ Sometimes we confuse the two and convince ourselves that it’s wrong to be angry, and we live inauthentic lives, never addressing offenses or telling others or ourselves the truth. But you don’t have to live this way.

It’s impossible to cover every scenario in a blog. But know that your story is important. Please reach out if you need to talk or you need help processing how you’re feeling or figuring out what to do next. You’re not alone. I’m here to help.

Psalms: Hope in the Darkness – Depression

The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of our God shall stand forever.  – Isaiah 40:8

According to Andy Haley from stack.com (last updated September 23, 2015), did you know these things happen every day in our bodies?

You get shorter (gravity).
You gain weight.
Your hormones fluctuate.
Your heart rate changes.
You’re more or less likely to get hurt (more likely in the evening than the morning).
Your body temp peaks in the afternoon.

Our bodies are constantly changing, and so are our emotions. But to someone who is depressed, this is one of the hardest things to believe; that they won’t always feel this way. But as the verse above says, the “grass withers, the flower fades” – nothing on this earth lasts forever, except for the Word (Bible) and promises of God.

So, if we apply this principle to feeling depressed – this is actually good news. As I sincerely promise all of the clients I work with who are experiencing depression, they won’t always feel this way – and it turns out to be true.

Depression eventually lessens.

Sometimes through therapy, sometimes medication, sometimes nutritional and lifestyle changes, sometimes through circumstances changing, and sometimes through a whole combination of these things and more. Always through prayer; although not always in the timeframe we would want. But the depression does eventually lift.

Now, let me say a few things before we delve into the Psalms again. Depression is not “one size fits all”. Everyone who experiences depression experiences it in a different way.

Some people cry, and others can’t find any tears. Some people eat more, some eat less. Some sleep more, some less. Some people find it hard to function and others bury themselves in tasks and responsibilities. Some people’s depression comes and goes, others experience depression that weighs heavily for what can seem like a lifetime.

Just the same, the answers about why the depression is there are not necessarily easy either, and sometimes it takes some time to figure it all out. Relieving depression is also not simple, or formulaic. Believe me, I wish it was…

But what I do want you to know is that if you are experiencing depression, you’re not alone. I have walked with many people down what may seem like a very dark path, and I have seen as what little light there is becomes brighter and brighter until the depression is in the past rather than the present. Isn’t that what we all want?

Let’s look at Psalm 42:5 first:

5Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Here the Psalmist acknowledges the depression he is feeling, but he almost instructs himself to put his hope in God and declares that he will praise Him, reminding himself (and all of us) that God is his Savior and his God.

Part of the darkness of depression is feeling alone. Feeling like no one understands you and wondering if maybe God has even forgotten you since you aren’t experiencing relief. See here what David wrote in Psalm 13:2:

2How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

In the midst of depression, you wrestle with your thoughts; trying to figure out why you’re feeling the way you are, or you wonder why you are going through the depression in the first place. David understood. He describes here the agony and frustration of not knowing when the sorrow in his heart will end.

Just a few verses later, his tone (and his focus) changes:

5But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Now, truthfully, we don’t know that experientially his feelings changed as quickly as reading one verse to another. What he wrote may have been a summary of what he had been feeling over a time period. It may have taken time for him to actually cry out to God in his suffering and then to praise God. In fact, it takes time for most anyone going through depression to experience this change, or for some, to even be able to praise God.

We see David reflect here on God’s promises to us of his unfailing love and salvation. David, similar to the Psalmist in Psalm 42 above, then declares that he will “sing the Lord’s praise” and reminds himself of God’s faithfulness.

What can we learn from these passages?

We won’t always feel the way we feel; our emotions change.
We are not alone; God is always with us, and others have gone before us, felt similarly, and experienced God’s faithfulness, closeness, and relief.

There is something we can do in the midst of depression which will provide some relief, and that is to cry out to God – tell Him all that you are going through, and trust that He’s listening.

“Instruct” yourself to praise God because it’s likely not the first thing you’re thinking of when you feel depressed. But, praising God, singing to Him, is not only honoring to the Lord, but it’s good for us. It can provide perspective and relief.

Keep in mind, if it takes you some time to get to this place of praising God, it’s okay. It will not be helpful to put pressure on yourself or feel shame because you’re not ready to do this. Again, everyone’s experience is different.

Finally, what I’ve written here isn’t everything, but I pray it’s a start. Please reach out to a therapist or trusted pastor if this message is speaking to you, and you’re feeling stuck and alone, like the darkness is engulfing you, like there are no answers and nothing is working. We’re here to help.

God & Anxiety

“God & Anxiety”
@ The Crest Theatre Building in Downtown Delray Beach
Saturday, October 20, 2018, 7-9 pm

Anxiety seems to be a “normal” part of life. How do we practically overcome the pain that comes with this very real struggle? Can God help?

Join us as we consider these questions and more. Myself, along with Pastor Daniel Williams from Redemption Church Delray Beach, will be speaking. Appetizers and drinks will be served. This event is FREE but space is limited. RSVP here.

More information will be posted on the Hope Sessions website and social media pages leading up to the date. Hope to see you there!

Welcome to Hope-Sessions

Welcome!

The purpose of the blogs and Hope Sessions podcasts is to provide encouragement and a perspective you may not have thought about before. However, these messages cannot possibly cover every angle or detail of a topic. Each person’s experiences are unique, and as a therapist, I so appreciate this.  Therefore, if you feel like what you read covers just one angle of your experience, you are probably right.

Ultimately, I, Kristan, am a therapist, and if you feel like you need to process your story, or you feel stuck and you’re hurting – please reach out.  I would be glad to schedule an appointment with you or help you to find someone else who can best help.

What is it about the Psalms?

Is there someone you love who now hates you? You know, without a doubt, that they want to see your demise?  They want to see you torn down, destroyed or heartbroken?

You’re not alone.

I invite you to look at Psalm 3 (which was written over 3,000 years ago by the way). Regardless of their age, the Psalms are still singing to us today. Psalms, after all, are songs, Hebrew poetry, that was meant to be sung.

As a therapist, I am so encouraged by this incredible book from the Bible that gives voice to so much of the human experience.

Realizing that our God-given story is woven within His grander story of all of creation, is so much of what we work to help people realize and formulate in the therapeutic process. Talking about our feelings and our experiences is important. Your story is a valuable part of the tapestry God is weaving. And if you forget this – look at the Psalms.

I’d like to talk about a passage from just one Psalm right now, Psalm 3:1-6 ESV (listed below in italics). Let’s take a look:

1 Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”

King David, the author here, is acknowledging having enemies; and don’t miss this, because this is personal. These aren’t just any enemies – David here is speaking of his own son, Absalom, and the people in the land who Absalom had turned against David.

They were out to kill David, and they were scoffing at him for his faith in God for deliverance. Do you relate?

Let’s continue.

3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
4 I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.

David then acknowledges the power and protection of the Lord which is all around him, and the lifting up in honor, after removing our shame. We may be attacked for a time, but we will experience eventual relief, and victory, although not always the “victory” we’re looking for.

David then goes on to speak of God’s faithfulness – God does not have to answer, after all, He is holy, but he does answer.

5I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.

David then shares that he can sleep, despite the attacks; he can rest and wake up again to face another day because God is sustaining him. Again, from the perspective of a therapist, this is so good to see in the Psalms – we need rest and sleep, particularly when going through stressful times, and God will provide this to us. He will sustain us when we trust Him for it. God is practical.

What’s interesting is that David doesn’t say that his trouble has gone away, in fact, he describes his trouble as worsening, but his fear has gone away because he acknowledges who God is. This is powerful. It’s when we put things in their proper order, we are able to have peace.

In the clearest possible language – God is bigger and more powerful than our enemies or any trouble that can come upon us. Sometimes we miss this because we have our perspective wrong; things are out of order and we are seeing our enemies as bigger than God. This is not true though – He is still bigger.

Can you relate to this passage? I know that I can. How encouraging is it to read this and be reminded of people, like King David, who came before us, who felt as we sometimes do, and who have experienced the faithfulness, the protection, and the sustaining of God?

So – what is it about the Psalms? They’re beautiful, they’re real and they apply to our lives even today, and tomorrow too.

As I’ll cover in the next few months, the Psalms show us that it’s okay to feel ambivalent (aka, having mixed emotions). They are authentic in their display of trials and human emotion; nothing is ‘sugar coated’ in the Psalms. They show us we can struggle, plead, and cry out to God but then we see the Psalmists ultimately praise God; and praising God is good for us.

I hope you’ll join me in this journey. More to come next week.