Overcoming Depression – Dine Nutritiously, Part 2

Our bodies are our gardens - Our wills are our gardeners    William ShakespeareI was talking to a friend yesterday. She was telling me about her husband. Within the last year or so he has discovered that he is gluten intolerant. She told me that once he quit eating gluten, his health improved so much that he was astonished. Her comment to me was that he had not realized how lousy he had felt until he felt better.

I am not anti-gluten. However, I am pro-health. I have the viewpoint of both a Christian and a near-death experiencer. Combined, my viewpoint is that no man-made food will ever even come close to the foods that our Creator has created for us to consume.

Too many think that if it tastes good and satisfies their hunger cravings, it is good. We need minerals, vitamins, fiber, and all kinds of nutrients and components that are naturally contained in fruits, vegetables, & whole grains. I would venture to guess that we need things in those foods that science hasn’t even discovered yet.

For those who are seeking to overcome their depression, food,in its most natural form, is a powerful friend. However, although you can expect quick improvement, don’t expect overnight miracles. If you have been eating poorly for the bulk of your life, you are not going to be bouncing with energy tomorrow after eating just one raw carrot today.

Try to eat a large variety of fruits, vegetables and natural grains. Meat is okay – just try not to make it the main component of your meals. Stick with natural sugars. Basically, the closer a food is to its harvested form, the better.

Remember that as I have been talking about overcoming depression, that I have shared that the process of overcoming depression will include many steps and essential behavior changes. Eating healthy is definitely one of them! If you are suffering from depression, I hope that you will continue to make those changes that will bring you better emotional health! You CAN do it! Be patient, it is a step by step process. Be sure to read today’s article!:

Diet and Depression: Foods and Nutrients for Recovery

Depression is a prevalent mental health illness throughout the world, causing negative thoughts and behaviors in those who experience it.

Many people with depression seek natural treatments for their symptoms, in one form or another. While there is no specific diet to treat depression, what a person consumes may play a role in managing its symptoms.

What’s the link between diet and depression?

A diet lacking in essential nutrients can increase the risk of depression. Eating a varied and healthy diet can help to treat depression.

Links between diet and depression were misunderstood until recently. Many factors contribute to depression symptoms, and there are dietary considerations for each of them.

A recent study posted to BMC Medicinedemonstrated that a group of people with moderate to severe depression improved their mood and signs of depression by eating a more healthful diet.

The study was the first to prove that diet alone could reduce depression symptoms. The dieters followed a specific program for 12 weeks that included one-on-one counseling with a dietitian. The treatment diet encouraged eating whole foods while discouraging things such as refined foods, sweets, and fried food.

Dieters showed greatly reduced symptoms when compared to other groups. In addition, more than 32 percent of participants experienced remission, so were no longer considered depressed.

Important foods and nutrients for depression

The following foods and nutrients may play a role in reducing the symptoms of depression.

Selenium

Selenium can be a part of reducing symptoms of depression in many people. Low selenium levels have been linked to poor moods.

Selenium can be found in supplement form or a variety of foods, including whole grains, Brazil nuts, and some seafood. Organ meats, such as liver, are also high in selenium.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with many mood disorders, including depression. It is important to get enough vitamin D to help in the fight against depression.

This vitamin is obtained easily through full body exposure to the sun, and there are also many high-quality supplements on the market that contain vitamin D.

Food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Nuts and seeds are sources of omega fats, which can help treat mood disorders and improve cognitive function.

In a study posted to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, researchers observed that populations that do not eat enough omega-3 fatty acids might have higher rates of depressive disorders.

Good sources of omega-3s may include:

  • cold water fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel
  • flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds
  • nuts, such as walnuts and almonds

The quality of these foods can affect the levels of omega-3s they contain.

Eating omega-3 fatty acids may increase the level of healthful fats available to the brain, preserve the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells, and keep the brain working at the highest level. In turn, this can reduce the risk of mood disorders and brain diseases occurring.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants have become popular as they fight free radicals. Free radicals are damaged molecules that can build up in different cells in the body and cause problems, such as inflammation, premature aging, and cell death.

The brain may be more prone to this type of damage than other areas of the body. As a result, it needs a good way to get rid of these free radicals and avoid problems. Foods rich in antioxidants are believed to help reduce or reverse the damage caused by free radicals.

Everyday antioxidants found in a variety of whole foods include:

  • vitamin E
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin A (beta-carotene)

These nutrients may help reduce stress-related symptoms of psychiatric disorders.

B vitamins

Some B vitamins are also key in mood disorders such as depression. Vitamin B12 and folate, or vitamin B9, have both been linked to a reduced risk of mood disorders.

Sources of B vitamins include:

  • eggs
  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • oysters
  • milk
  • whole grains

Fortified cereals may also contain vitamins B12 and folate. Other foods that have folate in them include:

  • dark leafy vegetables
  • fruit and fruit juices
  • nuts
  • beans
  • whole grains
  • dairy products
  • meat and poultry
  • seafood
  • eggs

Eating a varied diet is an easy way to ensure there is enough folate in the diet.

Zinc

Zinc helps the body perceive taste, boosts the immune system, and may also influence depression. Zinc levels may be lower in people with clinical depression, and zinc supplementation may also improve the effectiveness of antidepressants.

Zinc is found in supplements. Foods, including whole grains, oysters, beans, and nuts, are also good sources of zinc.

Protein-rich foods

High-quality proteins are the building blocks of life. Getting adequate protein is essential for everyone, but some forms of protein, in particular, may be more helpful for people with depression.

Foods such as tuna, turkey, and chickpeas have good levels of tryptophan, which is needed to form serotonin.

Serotonin deficiency was once thought to be a major cause of depression. We now know that the link between serotonin and depression is very complex, but it does seem to influence depression in many people. Including foods rich in tryptophan in a diet may help relieve symptoms.

 

Foods to avoid

Just as certain foods and nutrients may be of benefit to people with depression, there are also some that should be avoided.

Caffeine

For people with depression that is linked to anxiety, it may be important to avoid caffeine. Caffeine can make it difficult to sleep and may trigger symptoms of anxiety in many people.

Caffeine also affects the system for hours after it is consumed. It is best for people with depression to avoid caffeine if possible, or reduce consumption and stop consuming it after noon.

Alcohol

Though occasional alcohol drinking is seen as an acceptable distraction, it may make depression symptoms worse.

Excessive alcohol consumption may increase the risk of panic attacks or depressed episodes. Alcohol also alters a person’s mood and may turn into a habit, which could influence depression symptoms.

Refined foods

High-calorie foods with few nutrients in them may also influence depression symptoms. Foods high in sugar and refined carbs can promote a crash, as the energy from them is depleted. This can make a person feel mood swings or energy swings.

Nutrient-dense whole foods are a much better approach to balancing mood and energy levels.

Processed oils

Highly processed or refined oils, such as safflower and corn oil, are very high in omega-6 fatty acids. Having too many omega-6s in the diet can cause an imbalance in the body that may promote inflammation in the brain and influence depression symptoms.

Other factors that play a role in depression

Regular physical activity and spending time outdoors are proven ways to help improve the symptoms of depression.

There are other factors that link to both diet and depression and play a role in this mental healthillness.

Emerging research has shown gut bacteria to play an integral role in major mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disease. A 2016 meta-analysis reported that probiotics, in both supplement form and in fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir, resulted in significant reductions in depression.

More research is needed to identify the therapeutic value of specific strains, but so far Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium show potential.

Obese people may be more likely to be depressed, and depressed people are more likely to become obese. This may be due to hormone changes and immune system imbalances that come with depression.

Spending time outdoors and at least 150 minutes of physical activity weekly have been shown to improve mood and depressive symptoms.

Some people with depression also have substance abuse problems. Alcohol or other drugs can interfere with sleep patterns, decrease motivation, and alter a person’s mood.

Sleep may also play a role in depression. The body’s natural sleep cycle creates mood-altering chemicals to match the time of day. Altering this natural cycle may affect how well the body can use these chemicals.

Most adults respond well when they get 7 to 8 hours of sleep, though the number varies from person to person. It may also help to reduce exposure to blue light, during the hours leading up to sleep. Blue light is emitted by electronic devices and low-energy light bulbs.

 

Outlook and when to get help

Changing the diet to relieve the symptoms of depression is a promising step in treatment. It should not be seen as the only step needed, however. Working directly with a doctor before changing anything in a treatment plan should always be the priority.

There are also many support groups to help people move to a healthful diet and to keep people’s morale high, as they fight depression.

Today’s article was written by Jon Johnson and is shared from the following website: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318428.php

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Overcoming Depression – Creating an Attitude of Gratitude Part 5

You Find What You Look For

I took last Friday off to spend some much needed time with my family prior to my son’s wedding on Saturday. Thank you for understanding!

Because of that family time, I am finishing my attitude of gratitude series today.

The quote I used on today’s meme tells it all: You Find What You Look For.

What a profound statement! I remember so vividly the night that I had my near-death experience. It was proceeded by a phone call from a bill collector. My severe depression and 24/7 migraines had created chaos of our business and finances. I was not able to keep up and several large clients filing bankruptcy had had a profound effect on our bank account.

I tried to explain to the bill collector that I was suffering from severe depression and 24/7 migraines in hopes that she would be more willing to work with me. Instead, she said, in the snidest tone of voice she could find, “You are depressed and sick because you want to be depressed and sick.”

That conversation was the last straw for my depressed mind that horrible, horrible day so many years ago. Thank goodness for the Divine Intervention that followed that night!

I have learned many things since that day. I have walked a path of healing and I have searched and studied hard. I am no longer depressed and I no longer have 24/7 headaches. I now have the health of someone much younger than my actual age. Nothing about my current situation is an accident. It came as a result of learning and following God’s guidance step by step.

Though I did not consciously choose depression or my headaches, I did have to learn a different mindset to overcome my depression. I had to deliberately look for light and goodness. I had to consciously recognize and acknowledge all that I had to be grateful for. And, I had to commit to using those new found skills for the rest of my life. The result? My life and health is better than it ever has been!

Thus far, we have talked about Depending on God, Delving into the Depths of Your Soul (Getting to truly know yourself), and having an Attitude of Gratitude. Those are the first three steps for overcoming depression.

There are no quick fixes. The law of the harvest is as applicable today as it ever has been. The rest of this week, we will share how the use of exercise can help overcome depression. Be sure to stay tuned! I hope you will enjoy today’s article on using gratitude to overcome depression:

Gratitude – A Cure for Depression?

This Is No Fun

Depression is no fun… none at all, I hated it. Obsession isn’t any fun either… all that relentless going over what happened, who said what, who did what, and how unfair it all was.

After a major life crisis I spent the next year, though it felt a whole lot longer, pretty much laying around on the couch bemoaning my life and feeling hopeless, pointless, angry, depressed, bitter and also quite a bit righteous. After all, I was the victim wasn’t I?

There’s A Train in My Brain

train-timemachine_640

It felt like I had a train in my brain going around and around carrying a relentless pattern of sad, mad, thoughts. I could not turn those thoughts off, could hardly sleep, and found it hard to think about anything else. The train was full of pain and every time it went around I hurt.

When I looked into the future and imagined living with that train long term it made me feel like jumping off a tall building. Fortunately I didn’t even have the energy to climb to the top of one.

Eventually I got desperate enough to go out and look for a way to change things that did not involve tall buildings.

So That’s How My Brain Works

I happened upon a course that taught me about how my brain works, what neural pathways are, and how flexible and changeable the brain is. During the course I had a profoundly life changing epiphany:

“You find what you look for.”

Those six little words changed the way I live my life.

Backtrack

To backtrack a little: I best explain that even during the worst of my depression/obsession I had been very, very, familiar with gratitude as an concept – I loved it.

I had a gratitude journal (mostly empty) and two of my daughters, Georgia & Hailey, had popular online gratitude projects. Unbelievably, given my mental state, Hailey and I had even written a short comedy film script about gratitude. Still, my gratitude journal sat lonely by my bed while I waited, not very hopefully, for something good to happen, something worth being grateful for.

Why Gratitude Works

While the course was not really about gratitude, the science that was presented in the course opened my eyes as to why and how gratitude could work to alleviate depression and why it had not worked for me so far. I began to understand that it isn’t, as I had thought, being happy that makes us grateful; it is deciding to be grateful that makes us happy (Thanks for that wisdom Dr David!).

I began to see that the intentional practice of gratitude, even when you don’t feel like it, has the power to change entrenched negative thinking and rewire the brain.

Very tentatively, and with some difficulty at first, I began to practice gratitude. In a surprisingly short period of time that relentless train in my head was mostly derailed and my depression faded off into the distance.

There are many reasons that gratitude worked for me, here are just a few:

Other Orientation

Brain rules Dr. John Madina

Gratitude practice forced me to start thinking about other people and the way they contributed to my life. I had less time to wallow, gazing at my navel and more time to notice how many kindnesses I was regularly shown. I’d been so self focused that I just took them for granted and didn’t even notice them.

Dr John Medina, author of the NY Times Bestseller ‘Brain Rules’ spoke, during an interview film for our (still in production) documentary Goodness Gracious Me!, about how effective ‘other orientation’ is for getting out of depression.

Lots of Good Chemicals

I found gratitude practice reduced my stress levels almost immediately. There is so much science backing this up – research shows that gratitude practice reduces the stress hormone cortisol and dramatically increases the feel good hormone DHEA. There is nothing like an all natural ‘happy chemical’ cocktail to make you feel better. You might enjoy this page on the Science behind gratitude.

New Tracks

It turned out I did have a train in my brain going around and around on tracks I had laid for it: neural pathways! These little guys are the highways for information travelling through our nervous system and they are built by our own thoughts. It works, very simplistically put, like this: Thoughts create neural pathways and the more thoughts on a subject the stronger that neural pathway becomes. Our brains have to automate most of our thinking just to get through the day so the strongest neural pathways are the default thinking. My nasty, sad, self pitying and angry thoughts had created a super highway and it was no wonder I couldn’t think about much else.

As I began to deliberately think grateful, thankful, good thoughts the more my brain began to think positively and the less traction the old super highway depression pathway had. In time I found it more natural to default to a positive take on things that happened.

Different Picture

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When I said I had had an epiphany around the six little words “You find what you look for.” I meant it.

Just simply deciding each day to look for the good in my life, and express gratitude for it, has meant that my life has become filled with good. The more I look for good things in my life the more my brain becomes alert to good things, scans for good things, and finds good things.

It is hard to be depressed when there is so much good around. Previously my brain was wired to scan for bad, and it was exceptionally good at finding it.

Named My Own Game

Once I understood how my own thoughts could play a part in depression I realized that I was often making the choice to replay certain things for a variety of self-serving reasons.

Firstly I had developed a victim mentality – starring in a victim role comes easily to me and I have learned to become more aware of it, avoiding it as often as possible. Bad stuff happens to everyone and it is my choice if I let myself play the victim.

Gratitude teaches me that I am not a victim but the undeserving recipient of so much beauty and grace.

Gratitude is an instantly rewarding practice that gave me positive emotions that transitioned me to a place where I was stronger emotionally and able to be a little more self controlled.

Another game I was playing was the sympathy game – if you are depressed people treat you kindly and give you sympathy – yay! Gratitude is teaching me to give empathy to others and stop making myself the center of my own, and everyone else’s, attention. I also began to glimpse how draining on everyone my misery was – not a pretty sight.

I also secretly enjoyed knowing that I did not have to be strong and self controlled if I was rolling in my own misery. Everyone understands that when you are miserable it’s hard to be strong and so there is tolerance for much self indulgent behaviour. Gratitude is an instantly rewarding practice that gave me positive emotions that transitioned me to a place where I was stronger emotionally and able to be a little more self controlled.

My own experience tells me that gratitude is a powerful antidote to depression, many people I talk to feel the same way.

mountains joy awe

Feeling grateful brings emotions of awe, wonder, happiness and joy, to name a few, and those emotions shove depression aside.

As I have researched the subject of gratitude I have come across loads of scientific studies that back up my own experience regarding depression. I have looked a little at depression research too and more and more there is an understanding that our own thoughts have a huge role in this affliction.

Certainly the widespread acceptance that depression is just a chemical imbalance or a random disease is under review among many scientists and psychologists at the moment.

Kill Depression With Kindness

Which brings me to my other depression killing tip: Random acts of kindness – if all else fails for me, and I find myself getting a little down, I just go out and do secret acts of kindness for strangers and friends. Works every time!

This article was written by Toni Powell and is shared from the following website: http://gratefulness.org/grateful_living/gratitude-cure-depression/


smiling woman Toni Powell

Toni Powell is a recovering worrywart, author, storyteller and award-winning filmmaker. She spends most of her time teaching people about the life-changing power of gratitude through very funny workplace seminars, professional development for teachers, public How To Have a Happy Life workshops and videos like the surprising, hilarious and helpful video, The Yellow Car.

 

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The D’s of Depression – Depend on God, Part 5

Be kind to you: Don’t bring up your past when you are here to  improve your Future

It may seem like the guidance that I have shared this week has nothing to do with depression…especially overcoming depression. However, depending on God and utilizing His guidance and instruction has everything to do with overcoming depression.

There is no better authority on you and no one who loves you as much as God does.

I don’t know that I know a single person who has suffered from depression who has not been guilty of running themselves too hard or who is not guilty of “beating themselves up”. Both scenarios are best handled through God’s guidance.

God can and will guide you if you need to be forgiven of some misdeed and He can help you learn to love yourself and take care of yourself.

If you are still looking for that magic pill that will make your depression go away without any soul-searching and work on your part – your search is going to be a long, long, long one.

As I began my own soul-searching and work to overcome my depression, it felt like God was taking a humble shack and trying to turn it into a skyscraper. At times, the process hurt and very often I did not like it. However, as always, God knew best. He helped me with the painful but necessary process a step at a time. He knew I couldn’t transform myself in one giant leap. He KNEW I could do it one step at a time. So can you!

It won’t always be pleasurable and it WILL be hard. And…it will be completely WORTH IT!

Our discussion on depression is not going away. We will talk more about it next week. Until then, I hope you will read more of the article I have been sharing this week by Rev. Mark D. Roberts. Have a wonderful weekend and be sure to share some compliments with yourself!:

Spiritual Guidance: For Whose Benefit?

In my last post in this series, I told the story of a woman named Eva who tested what she believed to be the Spirit’s guidance by stepping out in faith. Through doing this, she was able to bring God’s grace to a woman who was in a difficult place in her marriage.

Eva’s example illustrates another vital truth about spiritual guidance: it often comes, not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others. Of course, as the Spirit enabled Eva to care profoundly for the woman on the phone, Eva herself felt gratitude well up in her heart. To be used by God is one of life’s greatest joys! But the guidance Eva received was not primarily for her own blessing. Rather, it was for the healing of another person who deeply needed to know God’s love in a time of personal crisis.

Without a doubt, the Holy Spirit guides us through the maze of our lives if we seek his direction. But sometimes we become so absorbed in seeking guidance for ourselves that we overlook one of the Spirit’s main reasons for speaking to us: so that we might minister to others. When we are prepared to hear God’s voice, we will often be led to care on a deep level for the people God places in our lives. Sometimes the Spirit will lead us by placing a burden on our hearts for a certain person or area of need. Sometimes we will receive even more specific guidance, as Eva did during her phone call. But no matter the precise quality of God’s direction, if we make ourselves available to him, he will lead us into his ministry and empower us for his purposes.

Notice that spiritual guidance both flourishes in the context of true fellowship among God’s people and also contributes to that fellowship. As you are led by the Spirit to care for others with compassion and insight, your relationships will become deeper and sweeter. The Lord will help you penetrate the guardedness that keeps us at a “safe” but superficial distance from each other.

Notice also something that has remained implicit throughout this conversation of spiritual guidance. Spiritual guidance comes, not only for our good and for the good of others, but ultimately for the good of God. The Spirit guides us so that we might “do the good things [God] planned for us long ago” (Eph 2:10), and these things are all part of his plan for the cosmos. As we walk in God’s will, we derive personal benefit. The people around us are blessed. But, even more significantly, God’s purposes are being fulfilled through us. As my friend Buddy says, “Guidance from God is also guidance for God.”

When you pray, “O Lord, please show me your will,” you are acknowledging that God has the right to direct your life. God is sovereign, not only over all creation, not only over all history, but over you. The King of kings and Lord of Lords has every right to govern you, and you ought to follow his guidance because of who he is.

But we seek and abide by God’s direction, not only because he is our Master and we are his servants, but also because God’s ways are the very best, both for him and for us. Even when God seems to guide us along treacherous paths, even when walking in his ways denies our thirst for instant gratification, even when obedience to his call requires sacrifice and suffering, we follow him because “we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Rom 8:28). As we discover God’s purpose for our lives and as we walk in that purpose, he works in every part of our lives for our own good.

 

This truth about God reminds me of a wonderful scene from The Sound of Music. Maria had set her heart upon becoming a nun and was in the midst of her candidacy to join a religious order. But her ability to accept the disciplines of convent life was in question. So, the leader of the abbey, who exercised complete authority over Maria’s life, sent her away to serve as the governess for the incorrigible Von Trapp children. To Maria’s surprise and horror, she unintentionally fell in love with their father, Captain Von Trapp. Fleeing back to the safety of the abbey, Maria tried to bury her love for the captain, a love which would surely compromise her commitment to becoming a nun.

When the abbess finally gets Maria to talk about what happened at the Von Trapp home, the confused girl confesses her love for Captain Von Trapp. She begs the Reverend Mother for the opportunity to make her religious vows immediately, thereby removing forever the possibility of marrying the captain. But the abbess does a most surprising thing. Rather than accepting Maria into the holy order and protecting her from a marriage that would preclude her becoming a nun, the Reverend Mother orders Maria to return to the Von Trapp home. Disregarding Maria’s urgent pleas for admission to holy orders, she insists that Maria must test her love for the captain and thereby discover God’s will for her life.

Unhappily, Maria submits to the Reverend Mother’s command because she has no other choice. As a candidate for the abbey, Maria has submitted her life to the authority of the abbess. But we can see that this wise woman exercises her authority, not only for the good for her order, but for Maria’s good as well. Her guidance, however authoritative, is supremely wise and gracious, even though Maria cannot see it at the time.

So it with God’s guidance and our response. We obey God’s directions because we should. It’s the only right thing to do. But even when we can’t see how God’s ways are the best for us, they always are. Like the Reverend Mother, the Lord deserves our complete obedience. And, like the Reverend Mother, our gracious Heavenly Father guides us into the life of greatest fulfillment. When God directs us for his own purposes, we discover that his purposes include our blessing and joy.

This illustration from The Sound of Music helps us to see how obeying God can lead, not only to God’s good, but to our good as well. What it doesn’t capture is the miraculous and peculiar way God actually worked in the real life of the real Maria von Trapp.

Like the Reverend Mother who sent Maria back to the von Trapp family, God oftens “sends” us to places that don’t seem best to us. But, in fact, they are the best.

We can see this illustrated in the fictional version of the life of Maria von Trapp. But, in fact, her real life contained some striking examples of God’s unexpected guidance. Here’s an excerpt from the family history on the von Trapp website:

The movie strongly portrays Maria as the epitome of religious devotion in and out of convent life. Most people are unaware that she was raised as a socialist and atheist and became actively cynical towards all religions. Those beliefs quickly and dramatically changed by the chance meeting of a visiting Jesuit priest to Maria’s college.

Maria had entered a crowded church assuming she was about to enjoy a concert by Bach. Instead, a well known priest, Father Kronseder had just begun preaching. Caught in the middle of a standing-room-only crowd, Maria soon found herself caught up in the words of this preacher.

In Maria’s words, “Now I had heard from my uncle that all of these Bible stories were inventions and old legends, and that there wasn’t a word of truth in them. But the way this man talked just swept me off my feet. I was completely overwhelmed by it . . . .” When he finished his sermon and came down the pulpit stairs Maria grabbed his elbow and loudly asked, “Do you believe all this?”

A meeting between the priest and Maria changed her beliefs and the course of her life.

Though Maria was intensely devoted to her convent, she was taken away from the outdoor activities she once thrived on. Her doctor was concerned her health was failing due to a lack of fresh air and exercise. This was when the decision was made to send Maria to the home of retired naval captain Georg von Trapp. Her position was not governess to all the children, as the movie portrayed, but specifically to the captain’s daughter who was bedridden with rheumatic fever. The rest is truly history. Maria never returned to the convent and married the Captain on November 26, 1927. This is the story that has been made immortalized by The Sound of Music.

The von Trapp family began singing publicly, not because it was part of their escape from Austria to Switzerland, as in the movie, but as a result of what must have seemed like terrible misfortune to the von Trapps. When the family lost its wealth in the worldwide depression of the 1930s, they considered singing as a way of making money. At first the father was reticent, but according to one of his daughters, in the end he “accepted it as God’s will that they sing for others.” The family did indeed win first place at the Salzburg Music Festival in 1936, as depicted in the movie. And their singing was part of what helped them leave Austria, though without hiking over the mountains to Switzerland.

In the story of the real Maria von Trapp, we see how God uses circumstances, even apparently negative ones, to guide and bless and use his people. First, God led her to faith through her attendance at an evangelistic event that she mistakenly thought was going to be a concert. Second, her poor health in the convent was what led to her being assigned to the von Trapp family. And that which ended up bringing her family much acclaim, namely their professional singing, was something they did out of necessity when they lost their fortune.

Maria, by the way, remained a faithful Christian all of her life. In the 1950s she, along with her own children, Johannes and Rosmarie, and her stepdaughter Maria, went to New Guinea to do mission work there. Although Maria (senior) contracted malaria and didn’t remain in New Guinea for a long time, her children stayed on for several years, with Maria (junior) doing mission work in New Guinea for thirty years.

So the story of the real Maria von Trapp reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways, and that God’s guidance often comes packaged in unexpected forms. Yet he can use even the unexpected and the apparently negative both for our good and for his purposes.

How Does God Guide Us? Some Final Thoughts

In this series I’ve tried to show some of the ways that God guides us. I’ve explained that God guides us through:

• Circumstances
• Scripture
• Community
• Reason
• Dreams and Visions
• Divine Whispering
• Spiritual Direction

I suggested that we can confirm God’s guidance in various ways, especially through taking the risk of stepping out in faith. In my last posts, I showed that God’s guidance is not only for our benefit, but also for the sake of others, and especially for the sake of God’s own kingdom and glory.

I’ll finish up this series by responding to a couple of very practical questions that often hear as a pastor:

How can I learn to be guided by the Holy Spirit?
My life is so busy, how can I find time to quiet my heart enough to hear the Spirit’s gentle whisper?

How can I learn to be guided by the Holy Spirit?

I have found that many people simply need to be aware of the different ways that the Holy Spirit can guide them. Some who have studied the Bible for years to gain theological knowledge never expected the Spirit to speak to them personally through the Scripture. Once they have this expectation, they realize that the Spirit had been whispering in their ears in the past, but they had dismissed this internal voice as nothing of significance. Now they are ready to be guided by the Spirit in a more personal way.

Let me emphasize again that spiritual guidance must be evaluated for its consistency with Scripture. Moreover, we all need to be in close fellowship with other Christians who can help us to discern God’s directions for our lives. If you want to be guided by the Spirit and not simply to claim divine status for your own inclinations, commit yourself to Bible study and to active involvement in Christian community.

Remember that spiritual guidance often comes, not primarily for our sake, but for the sake of others. As you seek God’s will, ask him to show you how to serve those around you. Make yourself available to do God’s will, to participate in his work in the world. Submission to the Lord is a crucial ingredient of your readiness to hear his voice.

Finally, the practice of spiritual disciplines helps to tune our ears to the voice of the Spirit. As you spend time reading and meditating upon the Scripture, praying, journaling, taking time to be alone with God, being silent for extended times, worshiping publicly and privately, and fasting, your heart will be prepared for hearing God’s voice. If these disciplines — or even the word “discipline” — are unfamiliar to you, let me recommend a couple of marvelous books: The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988) and A Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 3rd edition (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998).

Today’s inspiring article was written by Rev. Mark D. Roberts and is shared from the following website: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-does-god-guide-us/

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The D’s of Depression – Depend on God, Part 4

God cannot give us a  happiness and peace  apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing    C.S. LewisIf you have followed my blog for any length of time, you have seen my references to the fact that we each have a divine purpose and that our learning to exercise faith is meant to be a part of our personal growth.

Faith is an interesting commodity. We can believe but we won’t develop faith – at least the kind of faith I am talking about – unless we make a leap. That leap will require action and stepping beyond our comfort zone. Life will require us to make many leaps of faith; one is never sufficient with God.

In the path to overcoming depression, faith in God becomes a central theme. Just like Alcoholics anonymous, there really isn’t a true chance of overcoming our “demons” until we acknowledge we are powerless to do so without God’s assistance.

Learning to listen to God and recognize his voice and instruction will yield incredible help and assistance. As I continue to share the multi-part article written by Rev. Mark D. Roberts, I hope you will find lots of wonderful “lesson material” that will help you recognize and utilize God’s voice in your life. I know that He is personally aware of you and lovingly awaits your request for His assistance!:

Confirming the Spirit’s Guidance, Part 1

Sometimes we won’t know for sure if we have correctly discerned the Spirit’s voice until we step out in faith. This is surely the scariest part of spiritual guidance because it requires both trust in God and a willingness to be embarrassed. But if you ask people who have risked their pride in order to confirm what they believed to be God’s direction, they’ll tell you that the rewards greatly outweigh the risks.

Most of the time, what I’m describing here isn’t all that spectacular. For example, when I was pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, each year we sponsored a number of “mission trips” to other parts of the world. These trips might have been to Mexico, or South Africa, or China. They often involved lots of hard work on the part of those who attended, and in some cases people were expected to raise quite a bit of money to pay for their trip. Some had the means to pay their own way, while others asked friends and family for financial support. All of this, especially the financial part, could feel daunting to someone who might have been interested in a certain trip.

Nevertheless, each year I’d have people say to me something like, “I think God is calling me to go on the South Africa trip.” Then they’d explain some deep sense of calling, rather along the lines of the whispering Spirit. Often folks tried to convince God that they shouldn’t go on the trip, but had felt his strong direction. “What should I do next?” they’d ask. My answer was that we needed to confirm what they were sensing in their hearts. Had they checked with their small group? Had they talked with a mature Christian who knew them well? These were important elements of the confirmation process. But then came the scariest part. Would they step out in faith? Would they (in many cases) talk to folks about their financial need? Would God supply the needed funds?

Time and again in my ministry, I watched people step out in faith, sometimes with very small steps. When they did, God graciously confirmed the guidance they had sensed previously. Confidants were encouraging. Supporters were generous. Sometimes funding came from completely unexpected sources. When they finally went on the trip, they knew without a doubt that this is what God wanted for them, not only because of what they were able to contribute, but also because of how they grew in faith and discipleship.

Now, of course, God doesn’t always confirm what we take to be his guidance. Sometimes the opposite happens. This disconfirmation can come as people share their sense of leading with their Christian community and run into lots of loving concern. Often, however, the disconfirmation comes after folks step out in faith. I expect that God would be perfectly happy to bail us out in advance, at least much of the time, but we’re often unwilling to follow his lead. As I’ve said before, it’s terribly easy for us to project onto God what we think ought to be there.

For example, a pastor friend of mine once received a “call” (Presbyterian language for “job offer”) to become pastor of a church a couple thousand miles away. He truly believed this is what God wanted for him, even though some of his closest advisors were uncertain. So my friend went to the new church, began his ministry there, and only then realized that he had made a terrible mistake. What this church wanted differed largely from who my friend was as a pastor. So, after six months, he resigned from this pastorate and sought a new call.

When we step out in faith, sometimes we’ll get out of line. And in some of these instances God will redeem our efforts and work things out. In other cases we’ll end up taking an altogether different course. Even some of the most spiritually mature people can, at times, misconstrue God’s will. I wish this weren’t true, or at least I think I wish it weren’t true. But the fact is that sometimes we aren’t sure of God’s guidance until we test it by our actions. And in these instances there will be times when we learn the hard way that we missed something along the way.

But here’s the great news: God can and will work in and through all of these situations. If you get off course, God isn’t up in heaven wringing his hands, wondering what to do next. Rather, he’s already at work redeeming and, if necessary, redirecting. I know Christians who get stuck in indecision because they’re afraid of messing up. The bad news is that we will mess up. The good news is that God cleans up.

As a seasoned “messer-upper,” one of my favorite verses of Scripture is Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” The “all things” that God works out for God include our mistakes and miscues. That’s not to say that we don’t pay a price for our errors. Often we do. But God is still at work in and through us, transforming us to be more like Him and using us for His kingdom purposes.

Confirming the Spirit’s Guidance, Part 2

A couple of days ago, I suggested that we can confirm (or disconfirm) the Spirit’s guidance in a variety of ways, but principally through stepping out in faith. I also acknowledged that this can be scary, since it may require us to do something that is potentially awkward, difficult, or embarrassing. The following story illustrates this possibility.

A woman I’ll call Eva was a grandmother, a gentle woman, and one of the most mature Christians I had ever known. For many years she had served within her church by calling recent visitors on the telephone. Usually she’d say how much their visit was appreciated and offer to answer any questions they might have. Most phone calls were short, pleasant, and appropriately superficial.But every now and then Eva would “hear from the Lord,” as she described it. One time, she called a visitor and began her usual friendly spiel. In the middle of her script, however, she sensed the Holy Spirit “whispering” in her heart. For no apparent reason, she felt that this woman was in a great deal of pain over a difficult marriage. She heard no audible voice and had no reason to know whether this was true or not. Yet she sensed that God had revealed something to her so she could care for the woman on the phone.

Now Eva faced a challenge: to go with what she thought God was saying to her and risk offending the woman on the phone, or to avoid embarrassment by not bringing up the issue of her marriage but thereby missing the opportunity to help her. Eva chose to risk the embarrassment of following what she believed to be the Spirit’s guidance.

“Can I share something a little odd with you?” she asked the woman on the phone.

“I guess so,” was the answer.

“Well, as we have been speaking, I keep having this feeling that you’re going through a tough time in your marriage. You probably think I’m crazy, but I felt like I had to say something.”

The woman on the other end of the line was silent for several seconds. Finally she choked out, “How, how did you know? That’s really why I went to your church.”

“I think the Lord told me,” Eva answered, “so I can pray for you and help you.”

Thus, a friendly phone call turned into the beginning of a healing encounter. Eva’s sensitivity to the Spirit, her boldness combined with gentle love, opened up an opportunity for ministry that might not have otherwise presented itself.

I have just related one of the more spectacular of Eva’s stories. Things didn’t always flow so smoothly and with obvious supernatural blessing. But even when she appeared to strike out, Eva kept on trying to listen for the Spirit and to obey what she heard. When nothing unusual impressed her heart, she didn’t make it up. She simply did her job graciously, welcoming visitors and sharing a bit of Christ’s love with them. When she believed that the Spirit had given her special guidance to care for a visitor, she stepped out in faith, knowing that God would confirm that which is truly his guidance.

As I finish telling Eva’s story, I can imagine the responses of some of my friends who are skittish about supernatural guidance of the sort I just described. “This opens the door to all sorts of nonsense,” they’d complain, “even heresy. How are we going to know if somebody’s claim to divine inspiration is true?”

This is a fine question. Actually, it’s one that Jesus himself anticipated and answered. In the Gospel of Matthew He said:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)

Those who are truly inspired by God, who truly hear the whispering of the Spirit, who are truly in touch with genuine divine guidance, will bear good fruit. That fruit will be evident in their personal lives. And it will also be evident in the lives of those who have been touched by them. What sort of fruit am I talking about? We could start with the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). To this list we could add such things as: people drawn to the Lord, works of justice and mercy, the building up of the body of Christ, and so on. One who claims to be guided by God will, if the claim is true, live a life that reflects the character and ministry of Christ.

Today’s article that I have shared was written by Rev. Mark D. Roberts and is shared from the following website: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-does-god-guide-us/

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The D’s of Depression – Depend on God, Part 2

Yesterday we started our conversation about depending on God. I know of no other way to successfully combat depression. God is a complete source of truth and a complete go-to-guide on you! You may think you know all there is to know about yourself, but the truth is that you are just a newbie when it comes to knowing yourself. The tried and true source of knowledge is your Creator!

I know from my near-death experience that this thing we call life is a school of sorts. We have come here to learn and to improve. A part of that learning and growth comes through exercising faith. Our experiences and our decisions also contribute.

We need to know ourselves and learn the truth about ourselves. The problem is that we are generally our harshest critic and the person most inclined to punish our self. Therefore, what we believe about our self is most often incorrect. However, we do have a resource at our disposal – God.

Communicating with God takes effort on our part. While God is ever waiting and willing to assist us – most of the time we have to initiate those conversations. And then…we have to listen.

Sometimes the spirit commands our attention in a dramatic way but most of the time the spirit whispers. In order to be receptive to those whispers, we must create opportunities to hear and receive those whispers. Meditation, prayer, silence, pondering, and a nice walk are wonderful ways of creating those opportunities for God to speak to us.

Today, I continue to share a multi-part post by Rev. Mark Roberts from Patheos.com. I hope you will read it and think about ways that you can create better communication between yourself and God. I hope you will feel God speaking to you often!:

Developing an Ear to Hear the Holy Spirit, Part 1

Occasionally, the Holy Spirit almost shouts at us. Indeed, “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters” (Psalm 29:3). But most of the time, the Spirit deals with us as God did with Elijah, through what we might metaphorically call “whispering.” This presents a irksome problem for us: How can we hear the Spirit’s voice when our hearts are so overwhelmed by the cacophony of our busy lives and hearts?

When my children were young, I would often study in a McDonald’s Playplace. I’d read or tap away at my laptop computer while my kids would race through a maze of giant plastic tubes and slides. Invasive and syrupy Musak filled our favorite Playplace, though I could hardly hear it because of the competing racket from nearby video games. Babies were crying; toddlers were squealing; parents were shouting as they tried to get their children to come out of the play structure. It was noisy chaos.

Does your heart ever sound just like a McDonald’s Playplace? Have you ever sat down for a moment of quiet, only to notice that your mind keeps racing at breakneck speed? Do you ever try to hear the voice of God, only to be overwhelmed with dozens of other voices, including your own, and those of your parents, friends, colleagues, not to mention the culture? It’s no wonder that we find it hard to hear the Spirit’s voice, or that we mistakenly attribute some random thought to God. If we are going to be ready to hear the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, then somehow we have to quiet our hearts and learn to focus upon God. For most of us, this is much easier said than done.

Several years ago I participated in my first silent retreat. My wife and I, along with some Christian friends, planned to spend a weekend in silence at a secluded retreat center in the hills above Santa Barbara, California. When we arrived on Friday evening, our bedroom was stifling because the temperature had climbed into the 90s and the window had been shut. Cranking it open for some ventilation, we left for the start of the retreat. The leader explained the importance of keeping silent for two days, though warning us how difficult it might be when we first started. He had no idea how prophetic his words would be for me!

When Linda and I returned to our room, the temperature had dropped considerably, but in its place we found about a hundred ravenous mosquitoes. Following the rules of silence, we quietly divided our efforts at bug swatting until most of the little vampires had perished. In the process, I received a dozen little red bites. For most people this would be an inconvenience, but for me it was a nightmare because I am allergic to bug bites. Soon my body was covered with quarter-sized welts that itched worse than anything I could remember. For hours, I sat in agonizing, sleepless silence, trying not to scratch my bites, while occasionally jumping up to swat a remaining mosquito. I couldn’t remember a more miserable, night. Finally, at about five in the morning, Linda awoke and took pity on me enough to break silence.

“Are you OK,” she asked. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No,” I replied. “I’m miserable. I itch like mad. I haven’t slept one bit. And I can’t even complain about it because of this crazy silence! But there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Finally, exhaustion got the better of me and I was able to sleep a bit. By late morning I had recovered enough from my ordeal to take a walk into the woods–with plenty of insect repellent applied liberally to my body. Finding a tranquil spot by a stream, I sat down to be quiet before God. Yet, as I tried to be quiet, I still heard a hundred buzzing “mosquitoes,” not real ones this time, but those that lived inside my head: the obnoxious buzzing of the things that filled my life, the demands, needs, ideas, hopes, fears, memories, disappointments, and dreams that controlled my life. These bugs couldn’t be swatted. They began to quiet down only after many hours of solitude and prayer, during which I surrendered to God everything that buzzed within my heart. In retrospect, I think God stirred up those inner mosquitoes so I could relinquish them to him. In some small way I began to obey the command of God found in Habakkuk: “The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him” (Hab 2:20).

Although my initial attempt at disciplined silence began with such great frustration, it turned out to be an exceptionally quiet moment in my otherwise noisy life. I began to discover why so many spiritually mature Christians set aside regular times for extended silence and solitude, and resolved to do so more myself.

As you read this, you may be thinking: “Well, that sounds great. But you’re a pastor. You can make time for this sort of thing. I can’t imagine getting away for a weekend of silence, or even for a half-day. What would you suggest for somebody like me?”

I’ll respond to this question in my next post in this series.

Developing an Ear to Hear the Holy Spirit, Part 2

In my last post, I talked about how important it is to quiet our hearts if we’re to receive guidance through the Holy Spirit. I suggested that literal silence, such as what we might experience on a silent retreat, helps promote internal silence. But how is this helpful to ordinary folks, to people who can’t easily make time to get away for a silent retreat?

First, in my experience I am able to make time for that which I value. Whether it’s a favorite TV show, exercise, or hanging out with my family, I am disciplined enough in the use of my calendar to make sure I do the important things, in addition to my work. I think this is true for most people, even extraordinary busy ones. Indeed, there may be short seasons of life when it’s almost impossible for you to get alone with God for a while–like when you’re a new mom with a tiny baby–but most of us can set aside at least an hour for quiet if we truly want to. The question is: Do we truly want to do this?

Silence can be scary, especially for those of us who aren’t used to it. We can be afraid that silence will be boring. Or we may be afraid that in silence we’ll have to deal with hard things in our life that we’d rather avoid. For example, when I spend quiet time with God, I’m sometimes reminded of things I have done wrong. God brings these to mind so that I may confess them and be forgiven, and so that I may talk with him about how I can do better in the future. But the experience of remembering forgotten sins isn’t particularly pleasant. Many of us fill our lives with noise because we don’t want to face our fears, our hurts, or our disappointments, in addition to our sins.

If you find yourself resistant to the whole notion of being quiet with God, I’d encourage you to talk about this with a trusted Christian brother or sister. Perhaps your first efforts at silence can be shared with this person, who will be there to support you in prayer and other ways.

Second, I think many of us don’t take time to be alone with God because we set the bar too high at first. We might read about saints who spends days in silence and decided to imitate them. But when we try, our efforts quickly fail. Most of us need to begin more humbly and realistically, not with days of solitude and silence, but with minutes or hours.

Some years ago, I encouraged members of my congregation at Irvine Presbyterian Church to set aside one hour once a month for solitude. More was fine. But one hour once a month was a great start. I recommended that folks go to a place that fosters silence, perhaps a secluded park or beach, or maybe a quiet retreat center. Personally, I find it difficult to be quiet and alone when I’m at home or work. Others might have more discipline and focus than I do, but it seems that most people are helped when they’re in a place that fosters quiet fellowship with God.

Moreover, I’d urge you to work with your natural inclinations, not against them. For example, I know people who can pray for long periods of time when sitting or kneeling. I’m not one of these people. Yet if I’m walking, and especially if I’m walking in a place where I can pray out loud, then I can go for longer stretches. Similarly, some people are helped to pray by going to a church sanctuary. I, on the other hand, find nature to be my best “sanctuary.” The beauty of the natural world reminds my of the beauty of God, and helps me to sense God’s presence.

For most of my life, I prayed either out loud or silently. Then, about eight years ago, I began to write out my prayers in a journal. I discovered that the practice of journaling helped me to focus, both on what I wanted to say to the Lord and on what he wanted to say to me. Of course I don’t journal when I’m walking! But many of my non-ambulatory prayer sessions now involve writing. This may or may not be helpful to you. If you haven’t tried journaling before, you may want to give it a shot.

To sum up, here’s what I’m saying in this blog post:

1. If you value solitude and silence, you’ll find a way to get it into your calendar.

2. If the whole idea of silence is scary, find a partner with whom to share your hesitations and your experiences.

3. Be realistic in your expectations. Commit to spending one hour in solitude once a month. More is fine, but start with what you can manage.

4. Work with your natural inclinations, not against them.

5. Try writing out your prayers in a journal.

As with every facet of the Christian life, learning to discern the voice of the Spirit is something we should do as a committed member of Christian community. Certainly, times of solitude are essential, but not a lifetime of separation from our spiritual family. A healthy Christian community will help you listen to the whisper of the Spirit, discern which voices are really from God, and speak in a way that doesn’t trivialize spiritual guidance by turning everything into a word from the Lord.

These two segments written by Rev. Mark Roberts have been shared from the following website: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-does-god-guide-us/

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