Here are my Top Twelve Posts of 2018, including topics like the benefit of grief, dealing with depression in marriage, misogyny in the Bible, people-pleasing, and my brush with suicide this year.
Given that depression can be a fragile and, at times, controversial topic, what made you decide to write a book about it?
Depression can feel like a solo sport. There’s no team backing you up. It’s like swimming or gymnastics; once you get going, it’s up to you to make it to the other end of the pool or the mat. (I was told this is why writers get depressed, because writing isn’t really a team effort).
Most of the resources I found on depression began with the “solo” premise: It’s up to you, go get help, here’s this method, try this and this. But that sort of individualized isolation was very vacuum-ish to me. Life doesn’t work in such a frictionless shrinkwrap; we affect others in a causational web and we need their help, too.
So I started with the premise: How do we collectively get through depression? How do we manage the stress and cause-and-effect and even the global consequences of depression? I wrote the book for both those who struggle with depression and those who don’t. I wanted to bring in every person involved, because depression affects families, cultures, marriages, churches, all of it.
I always knew that the topic of depression itself was a game of telephone — “I’m depressed” sounds like “I’m antisocial” to most people — but when I got to the research and surveys, it was even worse than I had thought. There was this nearly impermeable membrane around the discussion of depression. And then this phrase kept popping up in my head: If you could just know how hard it really is …
And as cheesy as that might be, it became the title of the book. My whole goal was to peel back that weird membrane around depression so, if anything, there would be more empathy on every side of the discussion.
Clinical depression will often do whatever it wants with you. It has no rules or code or fairness or dignity.
I have every reason to be fine, but depression is a dirty sneak attack that leaves me completely naked and debilitated. It’s a liar that sells truth: a false reality that says how-I-feel is who-I-really-am. And when a grafted lie overruns the truth, it doesn’t matter that I have “every reason” to be fine: the lie has switched every goalpost and sunk the baseline.
Depression is the worst kind of lie, in that it not only attacks your self-worth and value, but steals the meaning out of words like “self-worth” and “value.” It is cold inertia, slowing down worlds in orbit. It leaves you carved open, constantly bleeding out, unable to retain the vital stuff that makes life. There is spiritual discombobulation; every emotion is a phantom limb, and no amount of affirmation about “life-gets-better” can reach me there.
The thing is, when I’m hit with depression, I already know what to do. I know I have to fight for air. I know I have to crawl for every inch of territory that’s stolen. I know I cannot make decisions unless I talk with someone first. I must reach for my phone. I must reach for every scrap of surface to escape this tunnel. I must remind myself that there’s so much worse in the world, and that the war inside cannot compare.
I know. None of this makes the fog any easier.
By the tiniest shred of sight, I must crawl.
— J.S. Park | How Hard It Really Is
Photo by Brandon Woller
Thank you to Nissi, Andy, Sandra, Crupa, and Amber for picking up my book on fighting depression, How Hard It Really Is. Grateful to Sandra for picking up five copies to give away. Praying the book blesses each of you.
You’re going to find very quickly that when you’re depressed, nearly everyone’s got advice for you. Everyone thinks they know what’s best and what you ought to do.
It’s well-intentioned, and it’s not all bad—but in that very moment, when you’re in the colorless fog, those motivational one-liners are often tacky, tone-deaf, and untenable.
If depression robs you of your ability to logically comprehend and make sense of life, then any advice or solution is not going to reach into the heart of depression.
Both the church culture and pop culture endorse a sort of “powering through” because it really translates to, “I don’t have time to get involved with your struggle.” What’s really being said is: “Pray more and be positive so I don’t have to deal with you.”
Theology and wisdom have their place, but I suspect that we spout them to rush the hurting past their hurt, because it hurts too much to sit in their furnace. It’s a kind of reverse projecting: I can’t bear to look into my own uncertainty when I see yours.
My urge to offer advice has good intentions, but it’s also a way to offload the hard work of navigating the wound with the wounded. I offer a reason of certainty because it’s easier than traveling with the hurting in the uncertainty. It’s a way to protect myself from answering the unanswerable. I don’t like the silence because it makes me uncomfortable. I have to offer something or else it makes me feel helpless.
It’s the same reflex that happens when some of us see someone cry. “Don’t cry,” we might say, even though very often, crying is the only way to heal through the river of all we have held inside. I’ve found that when I say, “Don’t cry,” that’s about protecting me from discomfort rather than leaning into your hurt and healing.
So all my advice makes your pain, your tragedy, and your depression, about insulating me, instead of moving towards you.
You can do one from the rooftops, but the other means diving into the smells and groans of their misery.
It’s dirty. It’s work. And no one naturally wants to pay the high cost of navigating someone’s pain.
— J.S. Park | How Hard It Really Is
Photo by Chris Wright
waylandheat asked a question:
Hi J.S. Park! I’ve been reading your book What the Church Won’t Talk About because I am currently struggling a lot with stuff and on top of that feeling a very dry season with God. I honestly love reading through your thoughts and stories on Tumblr, and reading through this book has brought me a renewed perspective on things- so thank you J.S. Park for being a light in so many lives! I don’t know if you have written anywhere on it before- but have you ever shared your thoughts on shame?
Hey dear friend, thank you so much for your encouragement and your kind words. I really needed them today. Also the book you’re referring to is here for anyone interested.
Here are a few thoughts about shame:
1) Shame is a very poor motivation for long-term change.
Shame is that sick physical feeling of being washed through with a debilitating shiver; emotionally it can be an internal bomb of embarrassment, grief, anger, or regret; psychologically it feels like losing self-worth and value. We try to escape this feeling as much as we can—it’s an awful, nauseating, dizzying flush that your entire body recognizes on impact.
Shame is socially weaponized to coerce others into “doing the right thing.” Other times, it’s just to make someone feel like a terrible person, like they could never do any good. In the best case scenario, “shaming” would create the desire to reflect and change your ways for the better. It provokes a sort of social conformity in which you must fall in line for the common benefit of everyone else.
You can see shame tactics being weaponized everywhere. Think of every “public shaming” blog, made famous first by Tumblr, that calls out your fave celebrities for being problematic or mocks the guy who uses the entire four-chair table at Starbucks. Think of books like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother or movies like Whiplash. Think of the model who was recently charged for “fat-shaming” (the actual charge was invasion of privacy, and rightly so). Think of this recent method to help quit smoking, in which if you relapse, you donate the amount of money you’ve saved off cigarettes to a campaign that you hate (this combines shame with aversion). Think of a typical evangelical preacher, who uses fear, shame, and fire-and-brimstone to manipulate you into “getting right with God.” Think of terms like “slut-shaming, virgin-shaming, gay-shaming”—and the list goes on.
I believe that shame doesn’t really work as a motivation for long-term change. All it does is modify behavior to look like it’s conforming, without actually getting to the root of the issue.
For a great talk about shame and vulnerability, watch Brene Brown’s TED Talk, the most watched TED Talk of all time. Her research is the absolute seminal work on this topic.
2) Shame and guilt are two entirely different things.
You’ve probably heard this by now, but guilt is saying, “I did something bad,” while shame is saying, “I am bad.”
It sounds like splitting hairs, but our approach to both can have entirely different outcomes.
If we can adapt to guilt—”I did something bad”—then we can focus on the how and why of the behavior and even internally change our motivations.
If we adapt to shame—”I am bad”—then there’s no room to look at how and why we do things, and instead can only use punishment and external deprivation to make change. This in turn only makes us craftier and more likely to suppress our true motivations without changing them.
We’ve all seen this before. You can have two people who attend church sit side-by-side who look exactly the same: they show up on time, they donate to charity, they bring coffee and donuts, they read their Bible everyday, they mow your lawn for free. But one is motivated by the anxiety of possible punishment and always compensating for a terrible gap inside them, as if they’ll always be found out. The other is motivated by doing good purely for the good in itself.
Of course, our motives are very messy and never this clear-cut. We could be a blend of both. But the next time you mess up, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Do you feel guilt or remorse or even anger about the thing you did? That’s more or less normal. Or do you disproportionately beat yourself up and wish you could disappear for a week? There’s probably buried shame that’s been carved into you by condemning voices over a lifetime—and really that’s no fault of your own. Many of us have been indoctrinated since birth to only respond to shame, and so we’ve become maladaptive.
This is the Preface to my book How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression.
Depression is a rumor, until it is reality, and then it’s as if nothing else was ever real. Still, no one will believe you. I find it hard to believe it myself. I wrote this book for those who believe, and for those who want to.
Depression is, when you’re in it, absolutely ridiculous, because it seems to be the most important thing in the world when it’s happening. At the same time, it robs the world of any importance, as if nothing could ever happen again. It is a nightmare of infinity wrapped in cellophane.
Whenever I describe it happening, it sounds absurd. And it is.
At the grocery store I’m thinking about how to grill this salmon, and my chest folds inward, a curled up canvas of wax paper in a cruel, gnarled fist. It’s the familiar feeling of drowning, of disappearing in frothing acid. I fight back both tears and laughter, and I tell myself, Everything’s fine, everything’s fine, a cognitive trick to pull myself out of the falling, but nothing is fine, nothing is fine. There’s nothing I can do. My basket full of trinkets is weightless and a wrecking ball. I see people rushing to somewhere, but the illusion of significance slips away in a long, defeated sigh. I hate this part. My shoulders crumple because I’ve stopped holding them up. I can barely look at the cashier and I don’t remember paying when he hands me the receipt. I can’t turn on music in the car; it’s unbearable to turn the wheel. I’m someone else’s ghost in someone else’s body.
I wish I could say it gets easier each time, but I never know how long it’s going to be.
I never know when the colors will come back.
I never know if this will be the one that wins.
The bad news is that I don’t have a magic formula, a six-step cure, or a silver bullet. I wish I did. But I don’t believe there’s a right combination of words that will unlock depression.
The best thing we can offer each other is each other, our set of experiences, our voices, our ears, so that the tunnel is less intimidating and the light is not as distant as it was.
I wish I had more than this. I wish I could cover every angle. Maybe, though, I can cover a few.
At the very least, I can tell you what I’ve been through, and what’s worked for me. And maybe some of that will work for you, too.
— J.S. Park | How Hard It Really Is
Here’s an article I wrote that’s been published on X3Church, called:
Here’s an excerpt:
Not every porn addict uses porn because of trauma or frustration or personal demons.
Sometimes, we’re just bored. There’s nothing else to do. And hours are wasted on late-night binging and mindless clicking through the internet abyss.
We crave story, adventure, and purpose: we are meaning-making creatures. Without a story, we fill the void with something else. And the only way to extinguish a “lesser desire” is to expulse it with a greater one, a bigger picture, a higher calling, or the “expulsive power of a new affection.“
**Edit – June 17th**
Dear friends: The draft of my upcoming book on depression has been sent to your email. Test reading has begun! If you’d still like to join, please email me. Love y’all friends, and thank you again for making this possible. — J.S.
Hey friends, I’m giving away a draft of my book on depression before it’s released. All I ask for in return are feedback and a review on Amazon.
If you want to be a test reader, please send me your email to
and I’ll send it as soon as it’s ready. The final book will be out this summer. Love y’all, friends. — J.S.
Hey dear friends: I’ll be taking an extended break from social media, for at least a couple weeks. I’ve been so extremely fatigued and sometimes unbearably cranky. I kindly and somewhat selfishly ask for your prayers, amidst all that’s happening in the world.
I’m still working on my book on depression. I’m hoping to have it ready by the summer. If you’d like a free digital draft when it’s finished, please email me your email address and I’ll send it to you. The only thing I ask in return is you’d write a review on Amazon when the book is out.
Be blessed and love you, dear friends. God and grace be with you.
Here’s why I believe in Jesus.
Because at some point in human history, God became one of us and reversed the human condition. Just one place, at one time, in the dirtiest sand-swept stain of a city, He healed our entropy: and He invites us into that better story.
In the cross and resurrection: Jesus absorbed the cycle of human violence. He showed there was a better way than self-centered tyranny and retaliation. He paid the cost of sin on our behalf. He reversed the ultimate consequence of death from the first Garden by turning death backwards in a new Garden. He bestowed that same death-defeating power into those who believed his story. He identified with us by taking on all the harm of sin, though he never sinned himself. He promised us a union with Him by uniting us to the Spirit of God. He inaugurated a new kind of kingdom where the weak can win, the poor can succeed, and all our survival values are flipped into sacrifice.
Jesus redefined what it meant to be human by creating an upside-down kingdom where the humble will be elevated and the prideful would be melted by love.
He walked into the fragments and re-created the pieces. He doesn’t answer why bad things happen, but he gives us a love stronger than all that does.
The way of propositional politics in the hands of fallen men always crushes the people it was meant to restore. It weaponizes an idea into picket signs, angry rants, loud bloggers, hapless trolls, and mob mentality.
Our minds are so Pavlovian-conditioned to lock people into categories that we forget: no one ever fits the one-dimensional cartoon-caricature that we wish them to be. This sort of prejudice makes it easier to bash others by dehumanizing them, until all we’re left with is an unrecognizable political tapeworm that feeds itself and helps no one else.
Jesus knew that we could not affect change by categorical conflict, because it would be like fighting for a territory that becomes a scorched wasteland after the fight is over.
So Jesus stopped the human cycle of binary wars by calling us all equally loved, equally dignified, and equally heard. Jesus saw each individual as a holistic, multi-dimensional, complex, conflicted person and met them in their own condition, wherever they were — because this is what grace does.
Without the same compassion of Christ for the people he loves, all our bravado and chest-beating is absolutely pointless. We will be buried with our picket signs without having known a single human life. We will have succeeded at minor skirmishes and stomped on human stories. We will win at social reform but still be spiritually deformed. We will legislate laws on disagreeable issues but lose the human heart — on both sides.
I hope we’re not just clamoring for faceless disembodied ideology, but that our sleeves are rolled up in the mess of hurt people.
The only credibility left is compassion.
I pray our voices be burdened with the weight of such conviction.
My friend: I know you might have had a picture of how you wanted your life to be, but some uncontrollable tragedy swept it away. We all have a certain picture of how we want our lives to be, and sometimes it gets ripped from our grip and smashed to pieces. Our dreams can get crushed in an instant, in the most horrible ways, with irreversible results.
We might be living in a life right now that doesn’t feel like it’s ours, you and I. We might be in a different place than we had hoped for. Today could be different than you had imagined and planned a year ago. Your heart will pull for another chance, another door, another world.
We wake up in a daze, wondering how things changed so fast.
We wait, hoping it’ll go back to the way it was.
The three hardest words to live with are often: In the meantime.
Yet — in the meantime is the whole thing.
If you’re waiting for your “real life” to start, after graduation or when you’re married or when you get to the big city, you’ll stay in a holding pattern. The time will pass anyway. The tide doesn’t wait.
So I hope you’ll consider starting in the meanwhile.
When a dream dies, it dies. We can mourn. We can pound our chest. We can bleed. And at some point, we must let go and not linger. You can open your hands to another dream. I hope you find this new dream. I hope you don’t try to revive something that’s dead.
You can get over what’s over, because you’re not over yet.
When the ten count is over: you can count to eleven.
What comes next will not be what you had envisioned. It might be better or it might be worse. I hope you will keep dreaming anyway. I hope you will consider God can do a new thing.
You are free to pursue something new.
This is the Preface for my book Grace Be With You. The Preface is about the gravitational power of story that connects us. The book is a compilation of my stories, encouraging quotes and poems, and everyday encounters from the road to the hospital to cafes and gas stations. Be blessed, dear friends.
There’s an old Star Trek episode where a particular alien species, the Tamarians, can only communicate in images and allegories. As the helpful android, Lt. Commander Data, puts it:
“Their ability to abstract is highly unusual. They seem to communicate through narrative imagery, a reference to the individuals and places which appear in their mytho-historical accounts.”
This strange constraint plays out to amusing fashion throughout the episode, as each party is frustrated by their miscommunication, and the tension nearly boils over into a knife-fight and all-out war (maybe your idea of amusement is different than mine). By the end, one of the Tamarians sacrifices himself in order to create a heroic narrative that both his people and the Federation can understand. It succeeds; this act of nobility becomes the bridge towards peace. The great Captain Picard realizes, “The Tamarian was willing to risk all of us, just for the hope of communication—connection.”
We’re not much different than the Tamarians. We risk the friction of our jagged edges to connect, not merely by formulas or flowcharts, but by a sloppy crawl through our shared, lived-in journey. We crave a common vocabulary beyond the heavy anvils of prose, crafted from imagination and our unified experiences.
Stories contain power because they seem to unveil secrets that have long been muddled, as if we’re unearthing lost royal treasure. But more than that, stories are a connective tissue, bringing us together by the longing and landing of a resolution.
Since a narrative thrust is essentially driven by an unresolved tension, with unassailable obstacles besetting a goal on every side, we discover in them the depth of our courage and cowardice, and we find out how to be. We find what we’re meant to look like.
We find, perhaps unwillingly, that we are not always the heroes, but in need of rescue: because we’re so often the cause of our own tension. And this is what puts us in the same boat, the same battle. The best stories require first an examination of our limitations, and then a cooperation as equals, through a slow-burning realization that we are not opposed to one another, but can reach the same goals with a little spunk and ingenuity. From Star Wars to The Karate Kid to The Lord of the Rings to Up, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Odyssey to a genie in a bottle, these are tales told side-by-side. We find we are fellow travelers, not so different, really, with a universal desire for shalom, a harmony—and we can’t get there alone. Heroes cannot fly solo, and villains are not beyond change.
Stories and symbols have a way of disarming us, too, getting to the inside of the matter with gentle precision. Propositions are a bit like bricks and beams: necessary for the foundation, but soon rigid and inflexible. Narratives and metaphors have a dynamic of growth to them, like seeds pushing through the dirt into the sun, and they give breath. Or maybe, as one theologian said, they are windows that light up the house and give it air. It’s why Nathan the prophet did not approach David with lectures and bullet points—”Three reasons that adultery and murder are bad!”—but instead with the innocent story of a poor man and his ewe lamb, ending on a twist that David could not negotiate. It forced David to rise from the dirt, into light.
Jesus himself spoke in parables with great aplomb, from mustard seeds and millstones to swords and sparrows to wedding feasts and rebel-runaways. Jesus’s disciples often had trouble deciphering his parables, which Jesus seemed to deliberately obscure at times—but ultimately, the parables were pointing to a future work on a cross and in a tomb. His stories pointed to his heart, and his heart sculpted the greatest story of them all: a final sacrifice to bring us peace with God and one another. He spoke of rescuing us, because we could not do that on our own. We were never meant to.
Only Jesus could become our bridge of peace, our shalom. And this kind of love is not merely the royal treasure, but the very purest stone from which all treasures are made.
The following pages are much like rotating the facets of such a jewel, pointing to the pulse of the galaxy-sculptor. These stories and poems and thoughts are chiseled by joy, sorrow, failure—and the great love that has cast a shadow on them all.
My hope is that we meet somewhere between the words, to connect, because I believe this is the truest stuff of life. Stories help us to mesh in this tapestry, that in our overlap, we’d find strength hand in hand. I’m excited. I’ll see you there.
— J.S. Park // Grace Be With You
Photo at top by sonlight972, used with permission.
The patient really believed her cancer was somehow “God’s amazing plan for my life.” She went on to say the things I always hear: “He won’t give me more than I can handle. Thank God we caught it early. God is going to use this for my good.”
I get why we say these things, because we’re such creatures of story that we rush for coherence. But even when such theology is true, I want to tell her that it’s okay to say this whole ordeal is terrible and that it really hurts and that we live in a disordered, chaotic, fractured, fallen world where the current of sin devours everything, that bad things happen to model citizens, that nothing is as it’s meant to be, and the people who don’t catch the cancer early aren’t well enough to thank God for anything, and that not every pain is meant to be a spiritualized, connect-the-dots lesson as if God is some cruel teacher waiting for us to “get it.”
Pain doesn’t always have to be dressed up as a blessing in disguise. God hears our frustration about injustice and illness: for He is just as mad at suffering as we are. He doesn’t rush our grief. He bled with us, too, in absolute solidarity, and broke what breaks us in a tomb. He is the friend who meets us in our pain, yet strong enough to lead us through. I can only hope, in some small measure, to do the same.
The book is a collection of short stories, poems, and thoughts, many of which you’ve seen here on this blog.
It’s available now in paperback and ebook!
Hey dear friends! This is my newest book, Grace Be With You: Stirring Truth and Abundant Joy for Fellow Travelers. It’s a collection of stories, quotes, and poems, most of which have gone “viral” on this blog, with all new content. The Foreword is also by my wonderful friend T.B. LaBerge.
The book has four chapters, each a unique theme: to encourage, convict, engage, and transcend. Contained are quick quotes, humbling plot twists, and everyday encounters on the road, at the hospital, at cafes and gas stations and funerals and churches.
Be immensely rocked by His grace!
Why doesn’t Nathan simply rebuke David on the spot? Why the long story and the strategic side-tackle?
It’s because before confronting ourselves, we need to undo our self-righteousness.
We each have a nearly impenetrable fortress of resistance when we’re called out on our wrongs. It keeps us blind to our blindness.
The way that God punches through David’s self-deception is one of the most lauded turns of literary brilliance in written history. Nathan doesn’t simply accuse David. Nathan peels back David’s self-righteousness by turning his rules against him. David is knocked over by the weight of his own standards. The very mechanism by which David has condemned the guilty to cover his guilt is turned on himself. His excuses have become his own liability, like a sword with a blade on both ends. It’s what Jesus meant when he said, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
David required a brutally honest confrontation, but it would take more than a lesson in theology or a list of sins. No one changes that way.
God rebukes David by first removing any possibility of an excuse or objection.
God revokes David’s self-righteous capacity to absolve his own sin.
David needed to confront himself, before the sight of God, without the slimmest avenue of escape or deflection.
If you want any hope of change, freedom, progress, recovery, and growth: you’ll need to confront yourself, too. It’ll be the most painful thing you’ve ever done, because we’re so used to protecting our fragile, brittle egos. But it’s more painful to stay stuck in the lie.
If you’ve ever tried to confront your friend about their thing, you were amazed at their automatic defenses and sudden snarling. I’m sometimes surprised by my own excuses, too. When I’m guilty, I attack. It’s the perfect way to get out of accountability. When someone does something wrong, it’s all their fault, but when I do something wrong, it’s my environment or my family or my stress. When we get caught red-handed, we go into a monologue of rehearsed responses that we almost really believe, because it took so many steps of rationalizations to get there.
When you want to escape by saying, “Well-what-about-them?” — God will twist you around to say, “Well-what-about-me?” The only thing that will destroy hypocrisy is humility. Part of humility is to quit holding up a mirror at others and to use it on myself first.
For the first time in a long time, David is being honest with himself before God. He lets the truth undress him. There’s no place for him to run. His own judgment has betrayed him, and this is how God will work on us, too. He will dislocate your blame, one excuse at a time, until you really take a look at yourself and see you as you really are.
— J.S. Park | The Life of King David
Here’s an article I wrote that’s been published on X3Church, called:
It’s about the uncomfortable, brutally surgical confrontation of accountability and its necessary benefits for growth and life.
Here’s an excerpt:
You’re ready to quit your addiction.
You’re ready to be teachable, to be under leadership and mentoring.
You’re ready to own your problem and get the help you need.
You’re ready for accountability.
All this sounds romantic, but accountability is a deliberate confrontation with yourself through another person—and confrontation is hard. It’s even harder when you begin to see the depth of your own issues and all the ugliness inside, the things you were happy to ignore before you decided to recover. We’re so much more entrenched in our habits than we think, so accustomed to “the way things were” that our bodies will desperately claw back to our old destructive ways.
Recovery is a street-fight, and our darker side will never fight fair.
An interview about my faith and denomination, from sjpark11 for his class.
1. What is your understanding and experience of spirituality?
– There exists a divine pulse to the universe, a breath of creation by a Creator. To experience spirituality is to be in touch with this pulse, to be “aligned” with creation in all its potential and possibility.
As a Christian, I also believe this divine pulse, God, revealed Himself on the earth at one point in time as one of us, to reverse the human condition of entropy and invite us into that story of healing.
2. What are some images or metaphors that support your understanding and/or your experience of spirituality?
– I like C.S. Lewis’s metaphor about the door. Currently, we are on one side. We get glimpses of a “reality” beyond us, something so grand and beautiful that we can hardly take it in. It’s evoked sometimes in our natural experience, whether by sunset or ice cream or romance or song, though these things in themselves come quickly and go. One day we will get to the other side of the door.
Faith is about the journey of looking through the keyhole, getting a glance of infinite beauty, until we permanently partake in the radiance of all that we hoped for.