Here’s the Truth: Hear the Truth.


If you want any hope of change, freedom, progress, recovery, and growth: you’ll need to confront yourself, too.

The quickest way to not grow is to surround yourself with yes-men, run from rebuke, only read self-affirming bias, and unfollow all disagreement.

I don’t mean we listen to every opinion. Especially not online. I don’t mean we call each other out over the smallest infraction. I mean getting with the one friend who has tears in their eyes, voice shaking, who knows that friendship isn’t all giggles and games, who can say, “You’re better than this.” I still run from it all the time. Hearing the hard stuff is excruciating. But as hard as it is, to admit “I was wrong, I’m sorry, I’m learning, please forgive me and show me” is not the end of the world. It hurts, but not more than the pain of staying ignorant in our ego.

I hope too that we can make space for those who admit they’re wrong and apologize and ask to be further schooled. I hope we can start and finish with grace. Trust and honesty and confession only happens in spaces where we won’t be met with cringing, but embrace.

— J.S.

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September: Suicide Prevention Awareness Month


September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. For the rest of the month, I’ll be giving away a digital version of my book on fighting depression, How Hard It Really Is, to anyone who asks.

The book took a year and a half of painstaking research, interviews, and surveys with nearly two-hundred people. I talk about my own suicide attempt and survival through a lifelong battle with depression. If you want the book, please email me at:

pastorjspark@gmailcom

If you’d still like to purchase the book, here’s the Kindle version and here’s the paperback. If you already bought it, I’ll give you another one of my books of your choice. My books are available here.

Be blessed and much love to you, friends. I am with you and for you. — J.S.

Strength to Fight.


“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

“May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

“And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

“Amen.”

— A Franciscan blessing

Good Advice, Bad Advice.


After leaving my church, I was truly encouraged by a ton of kind words, prayers, and solidarity. I asked for wisdom and I got plenty of thoughtful dialogue. I’m thankful for so many who shared their stories and grieved with me.

But I also got a lot of bad advice. It probably doesn’t sound bad up front. “You should’ve prayed about it. You should’ve tried harder. You should’ve told someone.” Or even, “Think about how I feel! This is so bad for the church!” And sure, I can agree with all of that.

The problem is, so much of that “you should have” stuff puts the burden and impetus right back on the grieved person. It doesn’t address anything that was actually said. It shows zero engagement. Zero listening, zero humility, zero introspection. As if nothing I said mattered. Or maybe it was too scary to look at the things that were said. Or maybe it was easier to deflect and make it “my fault” somehow, as if I need a little “there there, kid, you’ll come back around.”

To my own shame, I know I have condescended the same way before. I wish I had listened and learned, instead.

The stuff I said wasn’t easy. It also didn’t come out of nowhere. For me, it emerged from serious reflection and self-confrontation. A ton of inner-conflict. Messy conversations with many people. It was challenging. And I’m inviting you to be challenged by it, too. To question the status quo. To take a hard look at the current problems inside our church culture. If you immediately feel the need to lecture with, “You should have”—won’t you take a second to empathize with the heavy grief I’m in? To not make it about your moral imperative so quickly? To even take a look at yourself first?

I have spent the last few years in doubt. I’m asking for you take a few moments to lean into them.

I plead with you: Before lectures and finger-wagging and moralizing, I need your grace. I’m trying, too. By God, I really am.

— J.S.

Love Doesn’t Enable, But Empowers.


I fell for the romanticized, destructive idea in both church culture and pop culture that we must constantly “love and forgive and give away,” a sort of martyr-hero syndrome that guilts us into perpetual generosity.

I spent too many years consumed by the “sacrificial radical love” model of Christianity, which required that I pour out more than I had—but it only scooped out my guts and left me bitter and resentful and exhausted.

To love must include truth, wisdom, and boundaries. Sometimes it means distance. It means knowing when to rest and recharge and to embrace our limits. It always means to have grace for yourself, too.

And to love is not enabling, pampering, coddling, or letting someone off the hook—or it wouldn’t really be love at all. There’s a way to help others that really hurts them because it only feeds into their harmful patterns.

For those who have been abused or traumatized: Forgiveness doesn’t mean friendship. No one should ever be rushed into forgiveness, not for the sake of “getting right with God.” Not for trying to look like the “bigger person” or “because it’s the right thing to do.” We need to recognize patterns of unrepentant abuse and gaslighting and manipulative language that will only guilt-trip back into a vicious cycle. We can never mindlessly open the door again on an abusive relationship. You have the right to say “no.”

God does redeem the evil, yes, but God is for the victims, for the abused, for the survivors, too. God is for the exile, the foreigner, the despised, the despondent who crossed the Red Sea. God is for you.

— J.S.

Done with the Church.

So, after three years, I’m leaving my evangelical church. It’s a painful decision that my wife and I made with tons of grief. We knew many wonderful people who did good things, but I can’t support some of the things I’ve seen and heard any longer. I am lost, sad, and tired.

I grew up an atheist and became a Christian “late” in life. I went to the evangelical church an outsider, both spiritually and racially. I was excited by grace, by community. But reading the Bible and seeing the church were worlds apart. Two years ago, the dissonance became unbearable.

I’m not done with the evangelical church (yet). But I have no idea where to go. My wife and I haven’t gone to church in a few months. I don’t know of any church nearby who both loves Jesus and is socially generous, who sees me fully, both a child of Christ and a son to immigrants.

One of the reasons I left is that I am pained by the way the evangelical church has blindly compromised on political, social, and racial justice. Your vote is your vote: but to completely follow party lines without asking questions and holding accountability is painful to watch.

I felt complicit in my silence. There were random moments in the pulpit and in small groups where issues and people were blasted, a kind of coded insider’s language that “we evangelicals are a dying breed and true wisdom perishes with us.” It was gross.

The last straw for me was the evangelical take on the child immigrant crisis. The silence, the apathy, the lack of compassion, the downright cruelty … I’m from a family of immigrants. My country has been torn apart for generations. My stomach was sick on Sundays.

I know for some, this is all obvious and I wish I had spoken up sooner. I felt like I wasted three years with evangelicals. But I did try and I did love them. I’m in a lot of pain about all of it: the church, our nation, my people. I am in limbo. If you have wisdom, please help.

— J.S.

Squishy Small Brain.


Note to future self:
When you don’t get it right —
Apologize quickly and let go.
Don’t beat yourself up or defend yourself too long.
Humans are squishy with small brains. We don’t get it right every time. And that’s okay. Being wrong is not the end of the world.
— J.S.

No, You’re Not Persecuted.


There is a particular Christianese language that demonizes “the enemy” and “the infidel,” in which “God is on my side” and “They’re holding me back.”

This triumphalistic self-affirming theology, wrapped up in warfare terms and royalty cliches, cannot stand criticism.

It assumes all disagreement is trolling.

It attempts to say “I have the truth” as if truth must be weaponized to hold over someone’s head.

It breeds yes-men and an insider’s club.

It moralizes its own values based on “who we are not.”

It is an anti-theology that covers deep insecurity with little fleeting boosts of ego.

It attacks the most minor offenses in “secular worldly” culture in order to play victim—when sadly, Christians and truly persecuted groups are killed daily overseas.

I’m guilty of abusing the persecution complex, too. It’s incredibly easy to fall into a dichotomous division between in-groups and out-groups, between my church and your church, my dogma versus yours, to feel important, as if by lots of motion I am really moving. It’s easy for me to write a post like this and presume that I’m above all of it somehow, as if by mere awareness I have it figured out. It’s easier to look certain in our convictions rather than say, “I don’t know, I’m still figuring it out,” or, “Can you help me understand?”

In the end, Jesus told us to love our enemies. Yes, them. To them, it’s us. Every person in this discussion needs grace and a generous space. The people who “don’t get it yet” are also you and me. The people who cry “I’m persecuted” need as much grace as you and I do. I pray for me. I pray for you.

— J.S.

Mental Illness Vs. Religion: 4 Thoughts About the Church Against Depression

Anonymous asked a question:

What are your thoughts on mental illness and religion? I’ve seen some Christians state that you can pray mental illness away and once you’re saved you won’t be depressed or have suicidal thoughts anymore. As someone in the mental health field, it kind of annoys me to hear people say this. Mental illness is so complex and multifactorial but obviously there is a biological component to it. These people need medications and counseling to get better, not JUST God.

Hey dear friend, I once did an interview about this subject here:

– An Interview About Mental Health, Minority Stigma, and the Church Vs. Depression

I agree with you 100%. The way the church has approached mental illness has been misinformed at best and atrocious at worst. It’s the same with the westernized brand of bright-sided “positivism” and attempting to tell someone, “Cheer up, snap out of it, don’t cry, it’ll be okay, you have to be strong.”

Here are some thoughts to consider about the church and mental illness:

Continue reading “Mental Illness Vs. Religion: 4 Thoughts About the Church Against Depression”

Stay Passionate.


Don’t settle for less.

Don’t sell yourself short.

Don’t be rushed into a feeling, a decision, an opinion.

Don’t let anyone talk you down.

Drop the mic often.

Prioritize, for our time on earth is short.

Think for yourself.

Find your vision. Listen.

Do not hide tears; they’re yours.

Trust God. Take heart. Keep passion.

Fight the good fight, fellow traveler.

Fight.

— J.S.

They Say “Don’t Cry” — But So We Must.



It’s a crazy incredible thing to be in a place where people slow down and listen, where they hear your whole story and let you paint your full heart in the air.

I was telling one of my fellow hospital chaplains about life lately, about my health problems and secret panics and suddenly about a billion other things, every humiliating and painful and neurotic moment that had been twitching over for the longest time, and I didn’t realize how much I had bottled up in my neatly wrapped fortress. My chaplain friend never judged, only nodded, never flinched, stayed engaged. She then prayed for me, a really beautiful prayer, like cool water for bruised purple hands. And I wept. A lot. Quietly, but inside, loudly. It was a little embarrassing. But something shifted and settled and became still for a moment, like the leaves of a tree coming together after a strong wind, a momentary painting. I left lighter.

Later I visited a patient who had nearly died from a brain bleed, and when I offered prayer, the nurse grabbed me and said, “Me, too.” I took her to the side, and she whispered, “Cancer. I might have breast cancer, and I’m afraid, chaplain. I’m so damn afraid.” She clenched her teeth and tried not to weep, but I put a quick hand on her shoulder and she wept anyway. She talked. I listened. There was nothing for me to say but to be there. And maybe nothing had changed—except we were made light somehow, and together drew something bigger than us. We drew colors into the gray.

There are still places, I believe, even in a busy and unhearing time, where we can draw free. I hope to meet you there, where we are not okay, but less gray than yesterday. I hope to pray for you, that we become bigger.

— J.S.


We Say Goodbye, One More Time

When they wheeled him in, the doctors said it was already too late. They put him on an iron lung, and the only thing left to do was let his mother decide on his organs.

He was young, good-looking, tall and strapping, face beat up from meth. His mother had given him countless chances and a free bed, but he had relapsed every time, back to the muse and to back alley corners and then crawling home again. His mom finally kicked him out. Shortly after, he found one of those hideouts to do his meth in peace. He fell down a flight of stairs. Traumatic brain injury. A brawl, possibly. Someone had called an ambulance and left him there.

The only thing the hospital could do was stuff him full of tubes to keep him breathing. There was no brain activity. His head was held by a neck brace the size of an oven and his bed was a mess of angry plastic tentacles, sprouting and twisting in veiny stubborn circles. I could still tell that underneath all the life support, he was a handsome kid.

In the waiting room, his mom kept blaming herself.

Continue reading “We Say Goodbye, One More Time”

Late Night Regret Twitch.


I often pass myself off as more put-together than I really am, but most nights I sit down after a long social gathering and I beat myself up for all the dumb cheesy things I said, and things I wish I had said differently or didn’t say at all, and how off-balance and weird and twitchy I must look, and how I’m not really making progress on becoming this whole acceptable well-adjusted cool approachable guy that everyone else seems to be already without even trying.

I end up thinking I’ve failed something, or lost at life somehow. I replay that joke I told which completely bombed and derailed the banter. I sometimes think everyone else has this secret ingredient to being blended in so smoothly to the inner-circle, like there’s this key or password that no one has told me about, and maybe one day I’ll achieve that code and I can go home in peace without this stomach full of remorseful anxiety over my lack of tact and style, and it’ll be as easy as those wrinkle-free people in fast-talking movies.

Does this happen to you too? The late night regret twitch? Social hangover? The crazy replay loop?

— J.S.

The Call That No One Wants.

“Are you Angela, the wife of Tyrone Simmons?” I ask her.

“Yes,” she said, voice rising, searing the phone in my ear. “Yes, chaplain, why?”

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but your husband Tyrone is here at the hospital.”

I hate this part. I’ve made this call so many times. “Are you able to be here? Will you be with anyone? I’m not sure yet, the doctor can tell you. The doctor can answer that. The doctor will update you. Please drive safely. The doctor will know.”

Angela’s husband Tyrone had been driving to work and he was hit by a truck. Most likely died instantly. He probably never knew.

Continue reading “The Call That No One Wants.”

Some Days It Feels Like a Crazy Lie.


There are days or weeks or even months when I read the Bible and there are no grand epiphanies.

There are whole seasons of Sundays when I sing praise and feel nothing.

There are times of prayer where the silence kills me.

There are great Christian books and podcasts that I eat up which don’t budge my spiritual life.

There are too many times when I doubt the very existence of God and the sending of His Son.

It can all feel like a crazy lie.

It’s in those times that I ask myself, “Am I out of love with God somehow? Am I losing my faith here? How do I get back to where I used to be?”

But I keep reading my Bible. I keep singing on Sundays. I keep praying. I soak in books and sermons. I serve. I enjoy the company of mature Christians. I enjoy the fellowship of the broken.

And you know, sometimes the clouds part and God comes through and His love squeezes my heart and I fall to my knees remembering how good He is.

Then I read Scripture and can’t stop weeping and I turn on Christian songs in my car full blast and sing loud enough to scare the traffic. I serve with shaking hands and get convicted by those sermons and soak in God’s goodness all over again.

So I’ve learned over time: I wasn’t really out of love with God. I’m just a fragile human being who changes as much as the weather. I was setting a ridiculous standard for myself that can’t be defined by self-pressuring parameters. I was tricked by the enemy into judging my flesh. How I feel is important, but it’s not the whole basis of my faith. It’s wholly, solely, defiantly by His grace—and in that, I think I can finally relax.

— J.S.

You can do the thing. It starts with another thing.


You can really do the thing. You can really achieve the dream and pursue your goal and find recovery.

But it has to start with one thing. It has to start with letting go of a lot of other things.

Maybe that means your current group of people. Or one person. Or some late night habits. Or the thing you keep throwing money at. Or an ideal version of yourself that’s just impossible.

None of that is easy, I know. I have this habit of starting new stuff and then I quit halfway through. It’s because I look sideways, seeing what everyone else is doing. It’s discouraging. “I could never be that good,” the little voice says. Everyone else seems better. More witty or charming or articulate. I’m missing “it,” you know, the elusive charm they were born with. So I stop doing all the things. “They’re already giving the world what I can barely do myself,” is the voice that keeps me down.

I have to let go of comparison.

I have to let go of some romanticized self.

I have to let go of the fear that I won’t be well received, the fear of silent response, the fear of crickets and tumbleweed.

You can do the thing. It starts with letting go of fears, habits, harmful people, bad advice, even beliefs we once held dear.

You can really, really do the thing. The stuff that hinders can be shed.

Are you there, too? Is there anything you need to let go of? Anything you did let go of which changed it all for you?

— J.S.

“You will never be ___.”




A little typewriter therapy:

I’ve heard this too many times.

“You will never be enough. You will never be okay. You will never be successful. You will never be happy. You will never be picked. You will never be loved. You will never be forgiven. You will never be trusted. You will never be friends again. You will never be at peace again. You will never be at home again. You will never be better.”

I know it’s a lie most of the time. But in the moment, in the worst of every downward spiral, there comes the voice that says “never.” It’s an irretrievable vacuum, like the lights are shutting off behind me and I’m getting chased by darkness. Getting nevered is to be exiled.

I had a math tutor in fourth grade who used to shout at me. “You will never be smart enough for this.” He made me write the Pythagorean theorem hundreds of times, until my hand was swollen, though I wasn’t sure how it was helping. For months, this tutor kept yelling how stupid I was. My parents never found out. I still think about this all the time.

I have had to grieve when “never” became true. Sometimes “never” does happen. Loss happens. All change involves loss. All loss is change. I have had to welcome “never” with a bitter embrace. I don’t like it. I still don’t.

I think there are times I must refuse to believe “never.” I have to know when to pick those battles. I have to fight that voice.

Are you dealing with this, too? What does it look like? Sound like? How do you get free? How do you fight this voice?
— J.S.

I Called the Suicide Lifeline

A couple weeks ago, I called the National Suicide Lifeline.

I was in a really bad place. I was ready to go, permanently. After two rings, I hung up the phone. I was too scared to talk with someone. I had heard sometimes they call the police on you, and really, I was afraid of what my neighbors would think if I was carted away by red and blue lights. But the very act of calling got me off the floor. It was enough to get my feet moving.

I know I’m not supposed to talk about this. I’m the guy who helps people. How can anyone trust me again? Will I be fired? What will they really say about me? What sort of hate mail will I get?

I worked at a church once where I told the lead pastor that I was suicidal; I was laughed off. Maybe everyone is tired of hearing the word “stigma,” but it still exists. Everyone says they care, but anyone can act like they care online. Up close, mental illness is an ugly thing that is hard for everyone involved.

Here’s how it happened: Someone had said something to me in anger, and of course, the person apologized. I felt in some ways I had deserved it. I was fine for a few days. And maybe for somebody who is “normal,” or maybe on any other day, it should’ve all been fine. But the words caught fire in my brain, got louder, loomed over me, and dug hooks in my stomach. I took ten Advil. I wanted to take the rest of the bottle. So I called the lifeline.

I have to make clear that none of this is the other person’s fault. I would never put that on someone. That’s too much responsibility for words said in a heated moment. I am, in the end, responsible for how I choose to react. I cannot rely on good or bad words to determine my health. And I realize my mental health has been a lifelong issue and will continue to plague me. No one should feel obligated to walk on thin ice around me. I have learned, not always willingly, to be resilient in a cruel world.

At the same time, words are powerful. They have the power to heal and destroy. Words are meaningful to me. They should not be used lightly. And I’m not impervious. I’m not some tough guy who gets tougher with every punch. There’s always that one exhausted, fragile morning when I can fall apart fast. I can’t be alone in that.

Whenever I think my battle with depression is getting easier, I’m reminded that progress doesn’t go on an upward track. It’s a real one-step-forward and two-steps-back situation. More like a thousand steps down. My progress on a graph would look like a fiscal nightmare. I’m not sure it’s healthy to look at progress on a graph this way. I can only see the one step in front of me. That’s about all I can stand to take right now.

I kindly and graciously ask that you pray for me. I know the world around us is blowing up. There is a lot to pray about. My problems are small. I am lucky to be alive. I am lucky to laugh and cry and eat today. May you still send a two second prayer? And I hope you may be kind to someone today. The only words that are worse than the harsh ones are the kind ones left unspoken.
— J.S.

“This Is The Ugly Truth About Jealousy And Friendships”



Hey friends, I was published on Thought Catalog! It’s a post called “This Is The Ugly Truth About Jealousy And Friendships”. It’s based on my post here.

Here’s an excerpt:

Jealousy can cut short the empowering work of friendship and all the joy and vision it brings forth. I have two choices: I’m either your cheerleader or the loop of condemnation in your head. And I know which one I prefer to be around.

Read the rest here. Be blessed, friends!

J.S.