Taking a Break.



Hey dear friends: I’ll be taking a break from social media for a few weeks. I’m working on several projects, as well as re-focusing on priorities in the home and in the community. My inbox will still be open if you’d like to chat.

It’s super-cliché to say this, but social media has definitely been harder to navigate with any kind of sanity and reason. It’s incredibly discouraging and disturbing to see the lack of empathy between strangers online, and I feel I’m at a breaking point with grief at both the news and the reactionary firestorms that follow. I want to be present for my family and for what’s happening in the world without the constant, divisive deluge of “my side versus your side.” It’s wearying. It’s easy to get cynical. It blinds me to those who have stepped away from their devices and are willing to do the groundwork in the dirt.

Of course, I believe we can do both. We can both speak up on social media and do the work at ground zero. We must. I admire those who can raise awareness and passionately bring up injustices with clarity and compassion, at the cost of reputation—but such voices are rare and neglected in favor of sensationalistic fear-mongering. And I’m not sure I can do both. When I begin to speak up online, I become bitter and cynical, and I lose sight of those who are hurting. So if I must choose, for now I choose to step away, to be eye to eye and side by side.

My prayer is that we can be those few voices of empathy and grace, wherever we are. My hope is we can each understand where we are coming from without accusing and presuming why. My hope is to see each other, really. And maybe some of you will join me.

Lastly: Please, please, please don’t fully trust in me or any blogger, pundit, expert, politician, pastor, or “expert” who claims to know the way. I will inevitably let you down. We must think for ourselves. I am just a temporary mound of flesh housing a squishy three lb. brain, and I get it wrong all the time. I trust in God. I trust in Jesus. I trust His work in me. He’s still working on the parts that don’t work. I want to hear Him first.
J.S.

https://jsparkblog.com/2015/09/28/dont-trust-me-because-i-will-let-you-down/

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Journeying Together Through Depression


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.
J.S.

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is/dp/0692910360

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is-ebook/dp/B073TX15LB

Why Is the Bible So Harsh? And Why Can’t We Be as Harsh as the Bible?

lovelyishe asked a question:

Some find it hard to explain their answers to these questions for other Christians so I would like to know how you would answer: What’s the difference between ”not overlooking sin” and being judgmental? If there are words in the bible that refer to people as adulterers, liars, fornicators or fool etc why can’t Christians call people those names/make reference to them by those names while talking to someone else if it were ACTUALLY TRUE about them?

Hey there dear friend, I’ve wondered about this too, and I think it’s important to offer some context between accountability and mean-spirited judging.


1) The written word doesn’t necessarily show the tone of what’s being said. My guess is that the tone was deep grief and compassion. In Philippians 3:18, Apostle Paul says he writes these things “with tears.” In 2 Corinthians 10, he says, “I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters.” Many of Paul’s listeners felt a contrast between his speaking (meek and even unpolished) with his writing (forceful and straightforward), and I think it’s because Paul was so gentle in person as he said some hard things, while his letters without context appeared to be pushy.

The Old Testament might appear really rough, but again, the people saying and writing these things were deeply compassionate. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. David is pretty much weeping every other page. Nehemiah wept for his city as he stood up to traitors. There is an easy-to-miss mix of both boldness and humility throughout the Bible. 

Continue reading “Why Is the Bible So Harsh? And Why Can’t We Be as Harsh as the Bible?”

Do the Abused Need to Forgive Their Abuser? About Boundaries for the Traumatized


Everyone loves the idea of love and forgiveness—but do the abused need to “love and forgive” their abuser?

Here’s my quick take on boundaries and self-care for the abused and traumatized.

A romanticized culture of hyper-compassion easily leads to fatigue, disillusionment, and secondhand trauma, especially when we attempt to love those beyond our limits. I also share on trying to help those with mental illness, and the ugly reality that many of us are in over our heads and need to refer to professional help.

My post on love, abuse, and trauma is here.

My book on fighting depression and empathizing with those who have depression:

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is/dp/0692910360/
Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is-ebook/dp/B073TX15LB/

Subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jsparkblog

Love y’all, friends!
— J.S.

We’re in This Together


Thank you to Nick, Maddie, Priscilla, and Emily for picking up my books.

What the Church Won’t Talk About: Real Questions From Real People About Raw, Gritty, Everyday Faith

Grace Be With You: Stirring Truth and Abundant Joy for Fellow Travelers

Mad About God: No Silver Livings, No Christian Clichés, No Easy Answers for Pain and Suffering

All my books are available here!  — J.S.

Texas, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone


Texas, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sierra Leone have all been affected by disasters in the last week. Not all of them are being equally reported; thousands have died in Asia and Africa. This isn’t a rant but a request. You can still help. Please consider donating to The Salvation Army for their teams in Texas or Save the Children for their emergency fund around the world, which will provide food and water to those in need globally. Please share and pray.

– How to help: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/south-asia-flooding-how-you-help-victims-india-bangladesh-mumbai-millions-a7920641.html

– Save the Children Emergency Fund: http://www.savethechildren.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=8rKLIXMGIpI4E&b=9506655&ct=15003327&notoc=1

– Salvation Army: http://helpsalvationarmy.org

Officially Finished Chaplain Residency


Officially graduated from my year long chaplain residency. Pics of our ceremony service. Thank you and love you friends, for your prayers and encouragement. Thank you to the incredible doctors, nurses, surgeons, unit coordinators, PCTs, environmental services, and every other unsung hero of the hospital. On to more chaplaincy and the next chapter!
J.S.

Thanks for Goodbye: To the End of This Adventure.

Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

No one seems prepared to get old, to become doddering and delicate and decrepit, to embrace the inexorable breakdown of our bodies.

The uninitiated are overwhelmed by aging. There’s a drawn-out feud to stay independent even as your body starts acting on its own, and even the healthiest of the elderly can be disgusted at themselves.

When I visit the elderly, some of them are blindsided by the loss of their youth. The middle-aged are, too. They really can’t stomach it. Some are all too sheepish: “You should’ve seen my figure” or “Back in the day I was something” or “I could fight you full strength right now.” I’m certain I’ll be saying the same things, resisting my withering body as it fails me, hissing at every reflection as I banish myself to mashed potatoes and Mylanta.

Some of this is because we’ve tied too much worth and value to youth and attractiveness. I guess I could blame social media, which permanently imprints our youthful selves on a public scale. But really, no one told us how to cope with death.

Even if I told you what I know, I’m not sure that would make it any better.

Your body becomes gross. Your orifices start popping open like loose cargo pants and you start streaming fluids from everywhere. You’ll stink constantly. About one out of six of you will need a colostomy bag. About one out of five you will need dentures. You’ll have permanent aches and pains. You’ll lose time and names and history. You’ll fall, a lot. Your belly won’t leave, but your sex-life might. Your slang will lose style. You’ll lose relevance. You might not enjoy retirement with all your medical bills looming. You’ll be helplessly stuck in a bed for days; you’ll have rows of medicine to keep you pumping; you’ll find a hard surprise in every mirror. And if you retire wealthy, you might be too sick or too depressed to enjoy it, or—well, cancer. And there are all the funerals.

Continue reading “Thanks for Goodbye: To the End of This Adventure.”

Everyone’s Got Advice About Your Depression


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

You Don’t Have to Be Right: Just Be Right Here



I always wonder about people who keep picking a fight.

It seems they’re not interested in discussion, but only saying the contrarian opposite thing just to stir up a heated moment. That’s a one-way monologue, never a two-way street. It’s usually disguised as, “You can’t handle my truth” or “I keep it real.” They begin with the assumption that everyone else needs to be taught and they’re the teacher. “Wisdom perishes with me” and all that. There’s backpedaling and deflecting and doubling down and twisting words to appear like they were always right even when they’re proven wrong.

I don’t know why. Compulsion, maybe, or an addiction to drama, or the desperate urge to protect a fragile ego. Or maybe they never learned how to disagree with compromise, but everyone only catered to them and they always got their way. And despite trying to correct everyone all the time, they can’t stand to be corrected. They physically act out and justify and defend themselves to death, clawing at every straw to win. Win what? I wish I knew. In the end it only loses all of us.

I’m that guy sometimes, too. But I want to be teachable. I want to assume I’m never the smartest guy in the room. That’s okay. I always want to learn, to be able to say, “I’m wrong, and I’m sorry, and I need your help.” To be teachable is freeing. It means we can actually have a conversation. It matters less that we agree, but more that we build a bridge between you and me, that we can see how we got to where we are and how we can keep going. I hope we stay connected—because I cannot see with my own eyes alone.
J.S.


Photo by Mariyan Dimitrov, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Isn’t Everyone’s View of the Bible Just Their Own Opinion? Whose Interpretation Is Right?

iscribblesometimes asked a question:

The last post you made is really good, I think that sort of attitude is really important in Christianity. But how do I keep that attitude, and understand that the bible has been interpreted in many ways, while not becoming doubtful of the bible and it’s truth? How do I keep an open mind and still remember that God is unchanging? (I’m not sure if you take asks so don’t feel pressured to answer, just thought I would say what I’ve been thinking for a while that your post reminded me of.)

Hey dear friend, I believe you’re referring to this post.

For reference, I wrote this:

“Because the Bible says so.” Okay, but whose interpretation? Yours? Mine? From the era of the Crusades? When they were burning people at the stake? When it was used to support slavery? What if we have different conclusions? What if we’re both wrong? 

So first off: I got quite a lot of backlash on that post, and I had to take a break from my inbox and from looking at comments and reblogs. I don’t say that out of self-pity (there’s a lot more important stuff happening across the world), but rather to point out that I must’ve hit a nerve. Someone commented something like, “I thought you were one of the good guys.” I mean, I laughed, but I was also a little bummed out by all the judgmental assumptions. Like, can we not ask these questions at all?

I wrote the post originally because a few people confronted me saying things like, “I unfollowed you because I don’t agree with you theologically” (which is fine, everyone has a right to unfollow) or “Your interpretation is off” or “You’re becoming a liberal” (as if liberal is a bad word).

So I asked the questions out of sincere curiosity. How do we get out of this conundrum of your interpretation versus my interpretation? If you say my view is wrong, isn’t that just your opinion of my opinion? Aren’t we all sort of flying blind? And how exactly do we meet in a place where we can intellectually discuss our disagreements if one party already presumes the higher ground? Really, when someone says “I disagree with your theology,” what they’re saying is, I disagree with your interpretation of theology based on my interpretation of theology. So where did that interpretation come from? Trace it back and it’s always from someone else. A person. With a tiny brain like yours and mine. Augustine or Calvin or Nietzsche or Osteen. Some church leader a thousand years ago, or some book written last year, or some preacher guessing at the Bible the best he or she knows how.

Of course, I don’t mean to say the whole thing is unfathomable. Much of the Bible is very plainly spoken and can be taken prima facie, at face value. I also remember in seminary learning that the best way to interpret the Bible is by using the Bible. That sounds like self-defeating circular logic, but it does make sense: for any kind of text in history, whether a play or novel or comic book or mythology, it require an internal consistency with a baseline, on its own terms. The Bible does have these rules, called hermeneutics, and each book within it follows the rules of its own genre, whether poetry, eyewitness account, journal entry, or practical wisdom. So the Bible can be understood, as long as the authorial intent, the time period, and the genre are taken into context.

Yet—even on its own terms, even within context, even knowing all the rules, the content of the Bible can become difficult to comprehend. The Apostle Peter himself writes of Paul’s letters, [Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). If Peter says this of Paul, we shouldn’t be surprised at all that Scripture can get murky and muddled.

And it’s that second thing that Peter writes, about people distorting the Bible, that always gets me. I’m not always sure how to discover which interpretation is the right one, and some of that is because of my bias that is staining the lens with which I read Scripture. Each of us have so much self-interest that we can use the Bible (and other stuff) to justify any position we want, even under the guise of “the common good” or “your benefit.”

On top of that, multiple competing viewpoints appear to have sound logic backing them. There are a ton of different ways to interpret the Bible, and each interpretation can look as good as the last one. Who’s to say who’s right? Is Moby Dick really about revenge? Did F. Scott Fitzgerald really mean all the symbolism? Is The Planet of the Apes about racism, class warfare, the folly of playing God, all of them, or none of them? How can I trust my senses? Or yours?

So I have two starting points that might help.

Continue reading “Isn’t Everyone’s View of the Bible Just Their Own Opinion? Whose Interpretation Is Right?”

Dancing with Shoelaces in Knots.


Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

“A chaplain? What do you even do?” someone asks.

Usually I answer with the checklist stuff, because it sounds purposeful.

“Death and bereavement. Viewings. Living wills. Next-of-kin search. Find a surrogate. Bless babies. End-of-life support. Comfort families in the waiting room. Respond to a Code Blue. Pray.”

And then I say, “Mostly, I talk with sick people.”

To be truthful, the to-do list stuff is easier because it has tangible goals. It has an official air, with a definitive landing. But the talking part is weird and sloppy. It’s like slow dancing with a stranger.

Dialogue has no rules about it, which sounds romantic, but imagine two people trying to dance for the first time with their shoelaces jammed up in knots, and the patient expects me to a be a professional when half the time I’m learning on the fly as I adjust to the patient’s feet. It sounds cute but it’s clumsy.

Imagine trying to start a conversation when:

Case 1 — A young man drives off a bridge. The paramedics find a gunshot wound in his side. It’s possible he had been running from a drug bust gone bad. His entire family is notified; the man dies; the family is screaming at the top of their lungs in the waiting room.

Case 2 — A woman’s husband has just died. She’s handling it well. She even makes a few jokes next to her husband’s body; she’s had time to process his dying. But she’s more upset that her husband’s family is trying to grab at his will, his wealth, his house. The woman asks me what I can do.

Case 3 — An ex-convict has a body cast from head to toe. He believes that God might be punishing him. He confesses that he’s killed a few people; he wants to kill someone when he’s out of the hospital, but his sickness is changing his mind.

Case 4 — A boy under ten years old has been struck by a car. The boy is injured but recovering. His parents are taking shifts at his bedside; I walk in the room to find his mom. She’s relieved it wasn’t worse, but she’s scared.

Case 5 — An elderly woman is dying. She has no home, her family is out of state, and she thinks she’ll die alone. She asks me how to do a funeral, how to get right with God, how to reconcile with her husband.

Case 6 — A dying elderly man asks if it’s morally right to prolong his own life on an artificial machine.

Case 7 — A woman has had five heart attacks, but she’s not slowing down. Her two daughter are in the room, one who works at a hospital, and they’re both concerned for their mother’s health. She promises she wants to take care of herself, but her daughters are doubtful. They look to me for answers.

Do I tip-toe around their concerns? Or do I offer my opinion? Do I leave it open-ended? Or do I help them work it through?

Continue reading “Dancing with Shoelaces in Knots.”

Condemning Hate Is Not Enough


Condemning hate isn’t enough. That’s the bare minimum. We also need solidarity. Compassion. Calling out. Standing with. Fighting for. Ground level work. Sleeves up. In the dirt. There’s the difficult brutal unpopular risk of getting on the right side of history. In the home. Out there. Over fences, across oceans. Side by side when it isn’t pretty, when no one’s looking, when everyone is, when the wounded lean heavily on our shoulders, when no one cares. That’s the stuff that changes where we’re going.
J.S.

The Gritty, Raw Dance of Marriage


Marriage is hard. Pretty pictures and bite-sized highlights might give you a false impression that it only takes sparks and looks: but the gritty reality is work, tears, and sacrifice. It’s a dance, everyday, to compromise and serve. In the depth of this tough humility, there can be great beauty. Real joy requires a fight from our very best.
J.S.


Photo by The Ganeys

The Difficult Messy Work of Accountability, Humility, and Confronting Pride

rattlemymilkbonez asked a question:

How does one deal with pride and self-loathing? I’d say my mood is pretty healthy most of the time, but when someone else points out when I do the wrong thing, I start hurting and feeling angry with myself because I hate making mistakes more than anything. Which seems silly, I guess, since we all fall short of the glory of God.

Hey dear friend, I really wrestle with this, too. I’ve learned over and over that no one naturally does well with accountability and self-confrontation. It’s our natural instinct to preserve an idea about ourselves, to scratch for every justification to believe we are right and good. The only other direction besides pride is, as you said, self-loathing, or self-condemnation and despair, and we seem to fluctuate between these two extremes: pride or despair.

In my hospital chaplaincy education, we actually have an assigned group of five people, and we get together several times a week to talk about how we’re doing and to work on “growing edges.” These are very, very tough conversations. We call each other out. We hold each other accountable. We might say, “So last week I noticed you did this thing that really bothered me. Can you say more about that?”

We have a policy to be curious and not judgmental—but there are always at least one or two people in the group that absolutely cannot handle this process. They flip out or melt down, or in one case, give everyone the middle finger and quit. Even the “well-adjusted” chaplains squirm in their seats and try to deflect and rationalize instead of self-examine.

It’s really, really difficult to confront the truth about yourself because we all have some ugliness inside, and it’s unbearably painful to see the selfishness and emptiness which we so desperately cover. It’s hard to give so much trust to another person who can dig into your heart with a scalpel and reveal that there are real problems inside.

But we also need this. We do need to give our trust to at least one or two people to say, “Please tell me graciously and patiently what I need to work on sometimes.” We need to give permission for people to call us out, or we will never grow, and instead isolate ourselves in an ivory tower of self-reflexive lies.

(And no, that doesn’t mean some random online blogger gets to self-elect to do this to you. I believe that God has placed specific people around you, near you, that are trustworthy and have the right blend of tenderness and tough precision. I can almost guarantee that he or she won’t be some troll or gate-keeper or shrill doctrinal parole officer.)

You see, everyone wants this for everyone else but themselves. That’s why when you listen to a sermon or a TED Talk, you think, “If only my mom could hear this” or “I wish my boyfriend was here.” We’re always thinking of the specks in other peoples’ eyes instead of the plank in our own. We lack so much self-awareness that we also lack the awareness of our own lack of self-awareness.

Continue reading “The Difficult Messy Work of Accountability, Humility, and Confronting Pride”

The Thinnest Thread Across a Chasm: I Survived.

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I did this photo shoot a few years ago with a ton of smiles and silly faces—but this picture was a bit closer to how I was really feeling. It was during one of the most miserable seasons of life, when depression had hit full force and I was contemplating The End every waking moment. I had gained over twenty lbs from binging and I randomly fell asleep in my office and I kept letting go of the steering wheel, daring myself to crash. No one knew what was happening; I tried to tell someone but he laughed it off: “Look at you, how could you be so stressed when you’re so blessed?” So I kept up the smiles and silliness, all while my insides were wax dipped in acid, melted to the thinnest thread, stretched between bones across a chasm. I was Zeno’s paradox, motionless in motion. I was begging God to kill me.

I wanted to give up: but no. God said no. He was stubborn, and so I was, too. I hustled. I fought the dark with everything, both fists swinging, screaming and laughing at the same time, crawling by my bare fingernails to the lip of the well I had been cast down. Slowly, painfully, somehow, I made it through, mostly because I kept waking up and I was astounded to find myself still breathing, and because I gained ground by inches. Colors returned; the fog lifted over time; I found people I could tell; I got a dog and I lost the weight and I survived. It’s not as romantic as it sounds, and I don’t know if the next one will win. But that time, at least, I did. He did. God didn’t answer my prayer then, and it was the best “no” that I’ve ever gotten. I’m here, just barely. So is He, completely.
J.S. Park

Can Shaming Really Motivate? 4 Thoughts About Shame, Guilt, and Change

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.

In the short term, some studies show that shame can make change. However, other studies show that shame is destructive and does permanent long-term damage.

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.

Continue reading “Can Shaming Really Motivate? 4 Thoughts About Shame, Guilt, and Change”

Depression: The Sneak Attack Phantom


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

From Atheism to Faith: Discovering the Hidden Story of Humanity


About my journey from atheism to faith, and how our historical impulse for religion points to the hidden story of humanity. I also engage with Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and his take on religious metafictions.

For my seminar and Q&A “Jesus for Atheists,” click here.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jsparkblog

Love y’all, friends!
— J.S.

How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression


Hello lovely friends! After a year and a half of painstaking work, my book on fighting depression is here. It’s called: How How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression.

The book covers:
• The science behind depression
• The helpful (and unhelpful) dialogue around mental illness
• The debate between seeing it as a choice or disease
• Stories of survivors
• A secret culture of suicide worship
• An interview with a depressed doctor
• The problem with finding a “cure”
• My own attempt at suicide
• A myriad of voices from nearly two-hundred surveys conducted over a year

The paperback is here. The ebook is here.

For my video on depression, check here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xggg6xFObIE

Be blessed and love y’all, friends. A reminder that if you’re in a dark place, I hope you’ll reach out. You are truly more loved than you know. 
— J.S.