I Hate My Life and Myself and I Want to Die: What Do I Do?

Anonymous asked a question:

I find myself begging God for death almost every day. On the days I don’t, I’m numb & I’m just going through the day hating my life. It’s hard not to compare myself to the rest of my peers who are doing great things & I’m just here painfully existing. My 1st degree didn’t get me any jobs in my state, so I’m stuck working a job that doesn’t pay much to help me afford a secondary degree. I know I’m not the only person suffering from the effects of a rigged economy, but how am I to remain positive?

Hey dear friend, I’m very sorry for all that’s happening. I want to tell you that you’re not alone, and that I got a ton of love for you, and I’m certain that everyone here does, too. I’m praying for you right now, even as I write this.

I have to say this too: If you feel like you’re in danger of hurting yourself at all, please go talk with a trusted friend and talk these things out. Please consider getting with a qualified, certified person who can help. I hope and pray that you won’t make any big rash decisions during a downward spiral, and that you’d first talk it over with someone, face-to-face, even if that means forcing yourself to get there and giving your decision-making power to someone else, however long it takes. Just talking about it can be enough sometimes to take another step.

I want to share that I’ve wrestled with depression for as long as I can remember, and I did attempt suicide over ten years ago (half a bottle of pills, I lost 13 lbs. in three days, and was Baker Act’ed into an institution). I get into self-loathing loops of hopelessness all the time, like someone has just yanked my guts through my chest in one fell swoop and I’m crumpled over with completely cold apathy, not caring about a thing. Several years ago, I had a complete breakdown at my workplace from the work environment (in which the boss laughed it off), and a year later, I was fired from that very same job. Co-workers got way ahead of me, which was absolutely fine, but many of the people that I called “friends” deserted me. Life is unfair. It can be cruel. Things don’t always work out.

The reality is, our dreams get crushed, and people will leave or cheat or abuse us, and our perseverance doesn’t always pay off. Prayers can go unanswered for a lifetime. I sit with some hospital patients who don’t want to leave because their life outside is so desperately miserable. Even a perfectly crafted life can come crashing down in a second, when external forces suddenly strip us of all we have built. Most of us are not prepared for how harsh and brutal that life can be, because no one gives the hard talk about what it’s really like.

Continue reading “I Hate My Life and Myself and I Want to Die: What Do I Do?”

How Do You Keep Believing This Jesus Bulls__t?

Anonymous asked a question:

How do you believe when, pardon my french, you’ve been taught that everything about Jesus is bulls__t? I’d love to believe it, I really want to, it’s just hard to when you’ve been taught the opposite. Do I have to unlearn the foundation of my education?

Hey dear friend, to be truthful: you’re in the best place possible, with the single biggest advantage over someone who’s been raised in the church.

You get to be in a place where you’re starting with a hugely skeptical eye towards Christianity, which means that if God starts to lean in on you, you will have already encountered your biggest questions about faith. If only every Christian honestly encountered every doubt and argument and problem with Christian theology, with complete openness and abandon, then we might see how deep Christianity can really go.

Please do not think you have to unlearn anything you’ve learned. I suggest the opposite. Use your education to fairly weigh every piece of evidence you encounter. Keep digging into Christianity down to the bottom, to see that it’s both true and fulfilling, that it’s both intellectually coherent and existentially satisfying.

Continue reading “How Do You Keep Believing This Jesus Bulls__t?”

The Flexibility of Pursuing a New Dream

Anonymous asked a question:

Do you think that it’s okay for me to latch onto my dream of becoming an artist and do everything in my power to reach my goal? I’m worried that that’s not God’s plan for me, but it’s what I love and I really really don’t know what it is that God wants from me. honestly, I’m just a keyboard slamming gremlin that somehow managed to grab hold of a pencil. (also I really love your blog and it’s helped me so much for the past year! thank you for your hard work!)

Hey dear friend, yes (and thank you for your kind words!). I do believe that’s an incredibly wonderful thing, to have a dream and to do all you can to get there.

Here’s the other thing. Sometimes a dream will not look the way you expected it to when you start to get there. Sometimes dreams will change. You may go in a particular direction, but another door opens that’s the perfect fit for you, if only you’d try. Do you have that flexibility? Because when a dream becomes an idol, it creates all kinds of unnecessary pain when we cannot see bigger than an imprisoning “vision” of success.

Continue reading “The Flexibility of Pursuing a New Dream”

Who to Vote for If I Don’t Like Either Candidate?

Anonymous asked a question:

I have no idea what to do about the upcoming presidential election. I want to vote because I can, but I don’t see either of the options as fitting for the role. Any advice?

Hey dear friend, at the risk of alienating others: I also don’t want to vote for either candidate. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate option, all the way up to the voting booth.

Here’s the thing. An American President only has so much actual deciding power, as there are checks and balances to limit what one official can do (though of course, their policies are certainly a factor in how you vote). But my main concern is that the elected officials in any government are part of a greater social influence that describes and decides who we are as a country and a people.

I think the question that I ask is: How will my vote affect the story and direction of our country?

Continue reading “Who to Vote for If I Don’t Like Either Candidate?”

10 Quick Ways We Can Validate, Listen, and Learn from Others’ Experiences

horizontescuriosos asked a question:

Hi, I just had one question about your post referencing how people assume their experience is the only valid experience. Do you have any idea why people do this? It seems pretty obvious to me that not everyone would have the same experiences, but apparently people don’t always think with that logic.

Hey dear friend, I believe you’re referring to this post, which says:

“It doesn’t happen to me, therefore it never happens” is possibly the most insane, myopic, deranged fallacy that’s impeding our progress.

One of my favorite things about my Psychology major was learning all the ways that the brain can deceive itself. Things like FAE, TMT, intrinsic justification, hindsight bias, Asch conformity, the Stanley Milgram experiments, suppression rebound, and cognitive dissonance are all the loopy tricky ways that we can easily be fooled without knowing we’re fooled.

So at least a dozen times a week, I’ll see some online comment that says, “That’s never happened to me!” — which follows that it somehow never happens at all. I suppose the closest psychological phenomenon to that would be anecdotal evidence, in which a person’s own life experience tends to (wrongly) inform the totality of all human experience. It lacks empathy and imagination, because of course, we’re all wired to take the quickest shortcut by way of heuristics in order to form a schema — which means, we take the path of least resistance to form an opinion.

Our brains always want to use the least amount of cognitive faculties to assess what’s around us, which means: yes, we’re lazy, and without intentionality, we drift towards complacency and black-and-white conclusions.

Not to sound like an alarmist, but I’m afraid that our internet culture and quick-click social media has contributed to such knee-jerk judgments. No one takes time to process all the nuances of a situation anymore. Just think: these days, within five minutes of most major tragedies, there are already think-pieces posted on Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter but no time to naturally process our grief.

We are not an emotionally healthy world anymore. I say this as a person who loves social media and all the good it can bring, but when it comes to thoughtfulness and reflection, we’ve mostly gone backwards. The only way back to empathy, it would seem, is for us to exercise radio silence and to listen with total intent.

Here’s what I’d advise. I would set up some ground rules when it comes to expressing opinions online or face-to-face. Feel free to dismiss or modify any of these.

Continue reading “10 Quick Ways We Can Validate, Listen, and Learn from Others’ Experiences”

She Stole My Shoes: What Being the “Other Guy” with a Cheater Taught Me About Loneliness and Lasting Love.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how people tend to sabotage themselves in wild, ruinous decisions, and what the root cause of these melt-downs really are — and if we should really be more mad about it or sad about the whole thing. When someone goes crazy, I’m wondering how we can dig to the bottom and change the ugliness inside.

I was thinking about this girl I used to know back in college who tried to cheat on her boyfriend with me. The girl had gotten into a huge fight with her boyfriend and they weren’t sure if they were staying together, and she called me for “comfort.” I went over to her place, alone, which was already a bad idea, and simple-minded me had no clue that I was the “other guy.”

It started kind of slow; she opened up her fold-out couch, we put on a movie, and she kept edging closer. The movie was actually good. I got genuinely interested in the plot and cinematography and I started thinking about popcorn and I looked over at the girl to ask for some, and she batted her eyes really big and leaned in to kiss me. At that second, I understood everything, like one of those epiphany plot-twists that re-arrange the entire story, and I almost kissed back — except her breath smelled really, really bad. Like shrimp skins and a refrigerator after a power outage. I probably would’ve kissed her even though I knew it wasn’t right, but her breath sobered me up and I pushed her away.

She suddenly threw me off the couch and cussed me out and just about drop-kicked me in embarrassment. I was so confused and bewildered. I apologized and left; I didn’t have time to collect my shoes, and she probably still has them. Driving home, barefoot, my stomach felt sick and I was kind of mad at her, but mostly mad at myself. I got home and I looked at my cat trying to jump out a closed window and I suddenly fell over with laughter. Whooping, cringing laughter. I didn’t know why, but it was better than being mad.

Later I found out that the girl went back to her boyfriend and she told him everything, and apparently I was the realization she needed that she only wanted to be with him. I saw them somewhere at some church event (of all places), and they both glared at me, the other guy, and I ran to the restroom and left out the back door. I felt that same sort of confused anger, the laughing and cringing, the twisted knot in my guts that I had done something terrible and stupid but was also violated somehow. Driving home, I felt flustered, and just as barefoot as the day she took my shoes.

Continue reading “She Stole My Shoes: What Being the “Other Guy” with a Cheater Taught Me About Loneliness and Lasting Love.”

Primer for a New Christian: 8 Suggestions to Start Your Faith

creative-reblogging asked a question:

Hello! I was technically raised in the Christian faith, but my parents were never great about really consistently taking me to church as a child. I want to figure out where I stand in terms of my faith, so that I can carry it with me as I go into adulthood. I’m trying to view it as if I’m new to Christianity altogether. Would you have any suggestions as to where to start? Just reading the Bible is confusing to me, and I feel like I don’t get anything from it. How do I get to know God?

Hey dear friend, I want to commend you and applaud you on your newfound adventure of faith. Wherever it takes you, you have my prayers and a super big double high-five and internet fist-bump (and a hug too, why not?). I’m genuinely excited for you.

I’m honestly a bit new to Christianity myself (I was an atheist longer than I’ve been a Christian and it was a slow journey to faith throughout my seven years of college), so the memories of starting new are still quite fresh. I also understand that faith can feel intimidating, partially because the church can make it difficult, but faith itself can seem like an amorphous unfathomable maze. These are only my suggestions, as everyone’s road has different curves and obstacles, so please feel free to add or subtract or modify as you will.

– Find a church. If you have any friends who are currently attending a church, ask them about their Sunday service or any recommendations for you (you can also try websites and check out their statements of faith and their group pictures). The thing with church though is that it can feel overwhelming when you walk in: most people are uncomfortable in new situations with new people and unfamiliar surroundings. Even as a pastor and a chaplain, aka a “professional Christian,” I still feel all kinds of anxiety when I walk into a new church to visit. So it’s a really good idea to go with a friend. It’s also a good idea to try the Friday or Wednesday service, when the numbers are scaled down and it’s a more intimate setting.

A sidenote: Finding a church is incredibly hard and requires more than once. Just think, you’re looking for a second family, a second home! That’s no small feat to approach lightly. Last year, my wife and I desperately looked for a new church-home when we got married, and we tried about a dozen different churches before landing on one (and the one we landed on, we had to go about three times before we both felt called to stay). We gave many of those churches a second or third chance, so altogether, it took us over seven months to find a place where we felt we could serve and be led.

– Download some sermon podcasts. I’m a self-professed sermon junkie; I probably listen to about ten hours of sermons per week. While podcasts shouldn’t be the “main diet,” they’re sort of like supplements, or protein shakes, for a growing faith. I often listen to them on headphones at the gym or on car rides to work (I live about an hour from my workplace). Some preachers I listen to are: Timothy Keller, Andy Stanley, Francis Chan, Louie Giglio, Ravi Zacharias, and Matt Chandler. I also really love Brené Brown.

A sidenote: Please consider heavy discernment when listening to podcasts. In other words, you don’t have to believe every single opinion or statement, and sometimes a preacher’s theology might be a little fuzzy in some areas. Not every preacher or author is perfect, and public speaking has a way of blurting out certain things that are not always carefully worded. So listen with both a critical ear and a soft heart, or as Jesus says, “be as wise as snakes and as pure as doves.”

– Get with mature Christians and elders. We all, and I mean all, need some kind of leadership and mentoring and authority, speaking into our lives, in every season. We need both encouragers and challengers in our lives: people who can speak a grand vision over us while stretching our views and habits and beliefs. That means, get with your pastor and married couples and elderly Christians and successful business leaders and anyone who will spare a lunch — yes, your parents too! — and consistently ask annoying questions to grab their wisdom. Every person is a fountain of experience who is waiting to pour out to love on someone else. Ask about how their faith has gotten them through hard times; ask about how their faith informs their marriage, career, raising kids, and keeping focus. You’ll grow by leaps and bounds.

A sidenote: Soon enough, or perhaps already, you’ll be in a position where you can pour out to others. This entire cycle of pouring out is called discipleship in the Christian language. It’s a deep life-on-life pouring out of who you are for another; it’s the best of you for the best of them. We’re each called to disciple others just as we’re called to be discipled. This is the number one way I’ve found that Christians grow and one of the highest honors to give and receive.

Continue reading “Primer for a New Christian: 8 Suggestions to Start Your Faith”

Making Room for Our Neighbor’s Grief and Loss.

Like many of us, I’ve been reading on many of the horrible events this week and all the media circus which it entails. In a sea of crowded voices, both reasonable and ugly, that has said nearly all there is to say, I want to risk one more voice to the busy ocean of opinion.

I work as a hospital chaplain and I’ve sat with many, many patients and their families as the patients lay dying. I have watched quite a few slip away. It’s always a terrible situation; death is our common enemy. Everyone grieves differently, but everyone does grieve. My job as a “professional griever” is to approach each person with grace, sensitivity, and comfort, the best of me for the best of them, as much as I know how.

It’s not my place or my role to evaluate this person in their pain. And I’m not sure if that’s anyone’s place or role, ever.

I’m trying to imagine saying some of the comments I’ve read online to these patients and their family. And I can’t. I would not. Even if this patient may have been a criminal or had brought this situation upon themselves (which has been true some of the time), it’s still a terrible tragedy that they’re in this room. My patients and their families have the same hopes, fears, dreams, passions, uncertainties, and regrets as you and I have. They deserve the same dignity as you and I would want. Some of them were never accorded such dignity in their lifetime, and for some, it was this exact reason that they ended up here.

Somehow, we have socially distanced ourselves from loss by multiple levels of removal from the actual horror of loss itself. We undignify the dead by a jester’s court of judgment, by a carnival of commentary, by a platform of preprogrammed snark. We wait to see what our “side” of the discussion wants us to think, so that we neither think nor feel for ourselves.

You only have to read or hear a few callous comments to know what I mean: each proceeding comment moves further and further away from the actual people, until verbal semantics has smothered the very real loss of life into a wordplay competition. You might win: but what do you win? It seems we’d rather deconstruct or reduce these events into “legal” and “moral” terms, or punchlines and memes, or cautionary tales — and the result is abstract heartlessness.  Many of us have forgotten what it means to sit with loss and to feel the depth of its irreversibility. To simply weep.

Continue reading “Making Room for Our Neighbor’s Grief and Loss.”

Condemning All Violence.


“Dallas sniper attack: 5 officers killed, suspect identified”

http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/08/us/philando-castile-alton-sterling-protests/index.html


Absolutely horrified by the events in Dallas. Any and all violence must be condemned. Praying for both protestors and the police.

Police Chief David Brown: “He wanted to kill officers, and he expressed killing white people, he expressed killing white officers, he expressed anger for Black Lives Matter. None of that makes sense.” The sniper had pure hate for every side of the discussion.

Saying “eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” or “don’t fight fire with fire” assumes protesters did this. They didn’t. The sniper expressed hate for both whites and blacks. Don’t buy into it.

J.S.

I’m Sorry and I Was Wrong.


God help me, I’ve been a coward long enough, carefully curating my words not to make enemies, not to alienate, playing the passive agreeable token minority.

So let’s call it what it is. Racism. Systemic, culturalized, indoctrinated, institutionalized racism.

You say it doesn’t exist, but I’ll show you my scars. You say it isn’t real, but I see my brothers and sisters slain by a lawless authority that lacks sufficient accountability, feeding itself by Orwellian double-talk and distancing rationalizations, covering for each other’s inner-circle by playing the ambiguity-card with Walter-White-monologues, jumping to words like “healing” and “calm down” without acknowledging the injury. No, I have met and trained (yes, trained) and I continue to work with many good upholders of the law: but they remain the best of them because of their submission to the very sanctity of which they uphold.

It’s unsettling to confront the possibility of prejudice in our hearts, but it’s there, and we have to talk about it, uproot it, from the top of every system on down.

I’m reading dozens of thoughtless, cruel, heartless comments that neglect the actual human life that is gone, that invalidate such an atrocity to validate the comfortable status quo. If you find yourself justifying a horrible death without recognizing its grief and horror, then you make yourself and that person less human. I cannot fathom such a startling deficit of compassion and empathy.

God forgive me, I get scared of hate-mail and “unfollows” when the streets are covered in blood. God forgive us, we try to win our little “political points” but neglect the tragedy of what is happening right now, to real families who deserved better.

I’m sorry, I was wrong, and I want to help.
J.S.

Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Shawshank Redemption

andyred

Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Columbia Pictures

Summary:
Andy Dufresne is sent to prison for the murder of his wife and her extramarital lover. He is soon indoctrinated in a savage world of bargaining, machismo, corruption, and despair. But Andy is a silent unassailable force who through intellect and his child-like innocence gains favor with both the guards and the prisoners. He befriends Red, a longtime inmate, who berates hope but believes in Andy, and together they forge a bond that survives the decades.

Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Gil Bellows. Directed by Frank Darabont.

Questionable Content:
Graphic violence, quick visuals of a sex scene, language, implied prison rape, a vivid murder, and several suicides.

Why You Should See It:

Adapted from a short story by Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption is one of the best American films ever made. It did poorly at the box office and wasn’t well received, but picked up steam on VHS and is now a beloved, timeless classic. Only three years ago, it managed to fill 151 hours of basic cable television in a year, tying with Scarface and second to Mrs. Doubtfire, and still paying residuals to its principal actors and crew.

The movie works because we like Andy Dufresne. He’s perfectly imperfect. Some movies manipulate the audience into rooting for the main character by throwing all sorts of contrivances at him (see The Pursuit of Happiness or Patch Adams), but Andy must do his sincere best in a broken system that does not allow for hopeful men like him.

Continue reading “Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Shawshank Redemption”

Is Christianity Just an “Imperialist White Man’s Tool”?

Anonymous asked a question:

How should I respond to people seeing Christianity as a eurocentric tool for imperialism?? I’m sometimes embarrassed that I’m still holding onto Christianity when it seems like it’s only the “popular religion” that it is today because of its adoption by white westerners and the imperialistic conquests, genocides, physical and cultural displacement, etc. caused by efforts to spread it. I don’t know what to think of this haha. Thanks (for a lot of things i don’t have room to explain here haha)!

Hey dear friend, thank you so much for this question — I believe it’s absolutely important to get this one straightened out, quickly and completely.

First please know: I’m responding as an Asian-American Easterner born and raised in the West, who is fully aware and infuriated by the danger of Western imperialism and the cultural gentrification of “manifest destiny.” In other words, I have every reason to be disgusted by Christian/western/imperialist attitudes. My own country’s history (South Korea) also has a terrible past of being oppressed by particular people-groups that have nearly stamped out my heritage.

There’s no doubt that Christianity has been associated with some awfully terrible injustices. The Crusades, witch hunts, slavery, child abuse, and the early church’s indulgences and cycles of corrupted power are just a few of the detestable atrocities that, whether directly or indirectly, were fueled by religious fervor. We must be held accountable for every single infraction.

When a Christian asks me, “How do I defend Christianity’s history?” — I can only say, “Don’t.” Christianity ought to be the most self-critical life philosophy, always asking the simple question: Is this making us better or worse? We must own up to our past, not avoid it, and if anyone challenges us on how Christianity has been harmful, we must give ground to these righteous accusations. Many people are mad (including me), and understandably so, at how Christianity has danced around its mistreatment of others.

Having said that: I believe the idea of the Christian Imperialist, while obviously holding some credence in very specific instances, is largely a tired, exaggerated myth if we look at the whole picture of Christian contribution.

Continue reading “Is Christianity Just an “Imperialist White Man’s Tool”?”

Is It Really a Sin to Worry?

Photo and art by Jodi Sparber

Anonymous asked a question:

My pastor has given two lessons on why worry is a sin and how to stop it. Is it really a sin if worry is somewhat out of your control? I have OCD and anxiety, and worry is at the root of both. Am I simply not trusting God enough? Am I a bad Christian?

Hey dear friend, I got a ton of love you. We’re fellow worriers! That doesn’t make you a bad Christian, just an honest one.

First things first: The Bible is very clear that we don’t need to be afraid or to worry. Every time an angel shows up in Scripture, the angel is always like, “Don’t be afraid!” Which is hilarious, because if an angel tore my roof off and yelled something in Hebrew at me, I would need to steam clean my floors. Twice.

So yes, your pastor is right, in that worry is a sin that will hurt you, especially when it gets carried away and exaggerates your fears into unrealistic over-phobias. It certainly doesn’t “help to worry.” It tries to conform reality to our expectations, but the more we try to bend the results, the more that we ourselves will break.

Yet on the other hand, God knows we’re going to worry. Some of us will worry more than others. Especially in your case, in which you deal with anxiety, and in my case, in which I deal with depression, we’re going to have an uphill battle. God doesn’t work in “ideals” all the time, but works in the actual gray-space of who-we-are. So while it would be very ideal if we never worried and always trusted Him, and that “not worrying” would be the healthiest things for us, it’s just not going to happen.

Continue reading “Is It Really a Sin to Worry?”