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My Loneliness Drew Me Closer to Christ

Written By River T, Malaysia

I’ve been mediocre my entire life. Coming from a family of high achievers, my achievements have always paled in comparison. And as an introverted middle child in a rather huge family, I have always struggled to voice out my feelings or opinions. Being invisible is what best describes me.

After graduating from secondary school, I came to Christ when my eldest sister brought me to church. However, the church that I attended was not able to provide me with the support I needed to grow as a new believer.

However, things changed when I went to Brisbane to study. Over there, I found a supportive community of leaders and fellow believers who helped me grow deeper in my walk with God. Their passion and commitment to the Lord and for the lost was so evident in their actions that it really inspired me to pursue God more.

While I may have been neglected or even forgotten by my community back home, the people I met in Brisbane cared for and loved me. Under their mentorship, I gradually learned to open up to and love the people around me. That was when I experienced the joy of belonging to a community of believers.

My time in Brisbane was so impactful that when I returned to Malaysia after graduation, it was difficult to adjust back to the life I had left behind. For one, I struggled to reconnect with my old friends upon returning home. While I was in Brisbane, I seldom contacted my friends back home. Furthermore, we share different interests and religious beliefs. As a result, we had drifted apart and I found it difficult to connect and share with them my struggles, especially those related to my spiritual walk.

I also felt out of place in my home church in Malaysia as I was now used to a different kind of church community and worship style—one that was warm, supportive, and passionate about discipleship. As a result, I retreated further into my shell and began to feel even lonelier.

Life back home became even more difficult when I started my first job. During my first rotation, the team that I was assigned to work in was extremely stressful. My superior was a perfectionist and had very high expectations of me. Whenever I failed to meet them, she would chastise me harshly in the presence of many. My self-confidence plummeted and I often felt incompetent at work. I would also have nightmares about my work when I realized that I had made mistakes.

I became very unhappy with my life, and my anxieties and frustrations paved the way to depression. I would experience breathing difficulties and had to frequent the toilet many times to calm myself down. Each day was agonizing and I began developing suicidal thoughts.

I couldn’t share my condition with my family because I have not been close to them since young. Neither could I seek help from my friends, colleagues, or church leaders. I resented that I had to leave behind the supportive community I had in Brisbane and yet not been able to find such support back home.

Being adrift from any form of community and support meant I had no choice but to turn to God. So I poured out my heart to God every night, spending more time with Him in prayer and in His Word. As it says in Psalm 119:92, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”

While my circumstances did not turn around immediately, I experienced God’s comfort through His Word in my distress. His Word gave me the courage and strength to live on when I wanted to end my life—and I learned to rely only on Him.

When no one was there for me, God held me close. He was my source of strength and comfort during the most difficult and painful season of my life.

I recall having lunch alone one day and I was swarmed with endless self-deprecating thoughts.

Why did I not excel in my studies or make a name for myself in society as my family members have? As an overseas graduate, I should be excelling at my workplace but why am I failing to perform at work? Why is it so difficult for me to make friends?

I felt utterly useless and worthless but in that moment, God spoke to me through Romans 8:38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I had nothing to be proud of at that time. But God assured me that I am still loved by Him, and nothing can separate me from His love.

After some time, God turned things around when I was assigned to a different team at work.

My new superior is nurturing and patient, and I have benefited greatly under her leadership. My self-confidence grew and I began to love my work rather than feeling fearful of being reprimanded as I had been under my previous supervisor. I am also closer to my new colleagues and they have been a great help to me when I meet with challenges in my work.

However, I still struggle with depression today, and I still do not have many close friends—whether at church or within my social circle. While I hope that I can one day experience the vibrant community life I had in Brisbane again, for now I’m thankful that I’m still alive and I have God’s Word to guide my life. He knows me full well and will be with me as I go through the high mountains and low valleys in my life. He is sufficient for me.

Letter to A Depressed Christian

Written By Carol Lerh, Singapore

Dear Depressed Christian,

I know about the scars on your wrists. I know you spend your sleepless nights crying. I know about the days that pass meaninglessly by as everything important you’re supposed to do remains undone.

I know you think nobody loves you, that you can’t do anything right, that you’re the laziest, most self-centered, incompetent, cowardly, ineffective speck of dust God has ever created.

I also know that you’re only alive because you’re still figuring out if you’ll go to heaven if you commit suicide now, and that you feel ashamed for being afraid to die.

You feel overwhelmed.

Just like Moses. The people of Israel started lamenting to God about only having manna to eat when they had fish, cucumbers and leeks back in Egypt. God was angry with them and Moses felt burdened with having to care for all these ungrateful people. In Numbers 11:15, he told God, “Please go ahead and kill me.”

You feel alone.

Just like Jesus. His disciples fled. The crowds screamed ‘Crucify!’ And in Matthew 27:46, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

You feel like it’s all your fault—or at least that’s what some others tell you.

Just like Job. He lost his property. His children died and he was stricken with illness. He didn’t do anything wrong, yet his friends said to him in Job 4:7, “Who, being innocent, has ever perished?”

People tell you, “Everything is going to be okay,” but you can’t believe them. You’re in a dark cave with no torchlight and everywhere you walk is the wrong direction, because you have no idea where you are going. It’s hard to believe, but Psalm 40:1–2 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock.”

People tell you, “You can do it,” but you can’t believe them. You’re lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and you have no energy or willpower to do anything. And everything you do will be wrong anyway. It’s hard to believe, but Psalm 37:24 says, “Though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.”

People tell you, “God loves you,” but you can’t believe them. You’re in agony, alone and tired in a crowded room full of people with high expectations of you and hidden agendas, saying things they don’t mean. It’s hard to believe, but He promises in Psalm 34:18, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Our Comforter is not silent. Through His Word, He speaks to you and me.

It takes a mountain of effort to do anything. It’s going to be like this for a while. But don’t stop trying. Slowly, one thing at a time, start doing things like bathing, eating, and praying. Make it a routine. Then read the Bible, eat a meal with someone, or go grocery shopping.

Learn to find beauty in small things. Eating something warm. Hugging a soft toy. Reading a Psalm. It’s not easy because your world is colored grey, but it helps you to keep going. Thank God for something every day. It may not make you more grateful; but it is therapeutic.

Even if it feels like you are just going through the motions, keep at it; meaning is something you find by living.

Think of the people you can tell about your depression.

The people you just thought of are people who love you. You are loved. Tell them what you’re going through. They may not understand but you’ll feel better. Tell them what you think might make you happy, something funny you noticed, or comment on their new hairstyle. Ask them to pray for you.

Include God in that list.

Because God really loves you, above and beyond what any human is capable of. Romans 8:38–39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Is Anxiety A Sin?

Written By Carol Lerh, Singapore

Your hands turn sweaty when you think about going to school.

Your heart pounds like a drum when you’re almost at the counter but still can’t decide what to eat for lunch.

You cry because your friend hasn’t replied to your text message like they normally do.

You can’t help these feelings any more than one can control the butterflies in their stomach before a presentation, or their breathlessness before an interview.

Then you read Matthew 6:25, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” And on top of all your anxieties about the day, you start to feel guilty for worrying when you should have trusted the Lord.

Does this mean you don’t trust God at all? You start to wonder, is anxiety a sin?

I know how it feels. I’ve been there before.

Since sin is disobedience to God’s Word, surely I have sinned. By not following what God has told me to do—place my trust in Him, not to be anxious about my life, bring my requests to God by prayer and petition (Philippians 4:6)—I must be sinning against Him.

In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), the seed sown among thorns are those who hear the Word of God but get choked by the worries of this life and deceitfulness of wealth. In this parable, the concerns we have about life is what thwarts spiritual growth and widens the gap between us and God. Anxiety makes us focus on our problems and forget about God. We lose faith in God when we worry, just like Peter lost faith when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the raging waters around him (Matthew 14).

It looks like this: I believe in a powerful God who created the heavens and the earth, defeated death and Satan and gave me everlasting life, but I don’t think He’ll get me through the next 24 hours.

On the other hand, the bible does not explicitly state that anxiety, in and of itself, is a sin. In 1 Corinthians 7:32 (ESV), Paul says that an unmarried man is “anxious” about pleasing the Lord, while a married man is “anxious” about pleasing his wife. Here, Paul describes anxiety as a deep, valid concern we feel towards different things, and can even be directed towards the right source—God!

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus visited Mary and Martha in Bethany, and Martha kept bustling around, concerned about many things. Yet Jesus did not point out her anxiety as a sin or tell her to go and sin no more. He said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are necessary—or indeed, only one” (Luke 10:40, emphasis added).

Instead, it’s our response that matters. When we get anxious, we have two choices: Go to God, or indulge in our worries

Going to God is the way the psalmists do it, and this leads them to remember that they have a God in whom they can seek refuge (Psalm 16:1), find help (Psalm 18:35) and deliverance from their fears (Psalm 34:4). Indulging in our worries, however, will lead us down the path of the seed sown in thorns, forgetting about God, and eventually ending with unbelief which is a sin.

I know the textbook answer and I chose it. I cried out to God, but I didn’t wait for Him to answer. I worried even harder, searching for freedom from these worries in the depths of the worries themselves. I thought that if I worried until I resolved the things that made me anxious, I would be okay. If I double-checked my essay another 30 times or prepared for all the possible reactions my friends might have to the text message I just sent, I could help God fulfil his promise of peace to me. I was scared and doubtful, even though I knew I should stand before Goliath with courage, confidence and peace.

But those things swallowed me up. I curled up on my bed, sobbing and too terrified to move. I lost control and ended up in the hospital.

What would you do?

There is no secret to overcoming anxiety. 1 Peter 5:7 says to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” The key is to keep doing it even when it may feel like God’s not listening. I gave up the first time, but if I had kept going, cried out to Him like the author of Psalm 13, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” I would have remembered His faithfulness in the past, and would eventually be able to say, “But I have trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He spends 10 verses talking about “do not be anxious,” and then gave an alternative to worrying. Matthew 6:33 says in the midst of it all, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Instead of focusing on myself, I wish I had focused on God instead, searched for Him intently, dwelt in His Word, thought about His will and remembered His promises.

I struggle with anxiety, even today. But now I choose to commit every problem to God and live one hour at a time.

I will still be tempted to worry over and over and over again. The panic attacks will still come and the voices that mock me in my head will still laugh. But may God help me remember to run to Him, because Isaiah 41:13 says “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.”

Coming Clean On My Dirty Little Secret

Written By Deborah Fox, Australia

I stood there with a razor in my hand. It was the first time I’d ever seriously contemplated ending my life.

I had been in the shower for almost an hour, and I could hear the voices of my mother and sister pleading with me to get out. Although I knew they loved me, I felt like I was too great a burden on my family. That feeling of never being “good enough” plagued me every waking moment of my life. I was acutely aware of my shortcomings and failures at all times. I wondered if the world would be better off without me.

Thankfully, God intervened.

But my battle continued on.

Depression, anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have been a struggle for me since I was 11. I felt that people generally understood my pain when I was suffering from a physical illness, but when it came to my OCD, I was either made fun of or my thoughts were dismissed as childish. Let me clarify something: this condition is not something that can be mocked as simply a “desire to be neat”. It’s not something you can switch on and off. It’s your own personal prison sentence of unwanted thoughts and behaviors.

I started showing symptoms of OCD after I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease as a child. The fear of germs and contamination became a little too real for me, and a psychiatrist diagnosed me with OCD. This is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “a disorder in which a person feels compelled to perform certain stereotyped actions repeatedly to alleviate persistent fears or intrusive thoughts, typically resulting in severe disruption of daily life.” The compulsions can manifest in a variety of ways, but I had some of the most common traits: a fear of germs and the compulsion to repeat behaviors.

I thought that if I could somehow control my own environment, maybe I would not get sick as often, or make others sick. I watched what I ate, had an exercise routine and cleaning rituals I had to perform a precise number of times each day. I avoided situations that might make me dirty at all costs. If I needed to use a bathroom while I was out, I would hold on until I got home. If I could just be super clean, super fit, super healthy, I would be “okay.”

But it was never enough. No matter how hard I tried, my anxious thoughts would not go away, even after I had washed my hands to the point where they were bleeding. I knew my thought patterns were irrational. I knew “most people” would not focus so intently on the same things I did. But the thoughts were relentless. I was a prisoner in my own mind. It would take hours to get ready and I would often make my family late for school or important events. The guilt and shame that resulted from my constant rituals and need for assurance fed the OCD even more.

Although I hated going to therapy, I’m so thankful that my mother persisted with me. I’m thankful that I was able to take medication and get professional help. Yet it wasn’t until I attended a Christian camp while at university that I began to understand that it was not my battle to fight alone—Jesus had already done that for me. I didn’t have to be perfect—I already knew that I had failed that test. I would never measure up to human standards, let alone God’s standards. After hearing a simple presentation of the gospel, it all became so clear. My Heavenly Father accepted me just as I was—broken, ashamed, afraid, timid and heartbroken. My focus had been on my failings—not on the victory Jesus had already won on my behalf. My condition appeared to improve—but only temporarily.

As much as I would love to say that my battle with OCD and anxiety is a thing of the past, the truth is that it is still a daily struggle. Writing my story was something I didn’t want to do. A massive part of me wanted to pull the plug on this article entirely. It was a little too personal. But that’s what mental disorders like OCD do—the guilt and shame they produce often force you to hide. You try to put on a mask and keep up the charade of “keeping it together” to the outside world. The compulsions feel like a dirty little secret that should never see the light of day. Yet, like sin, the only way for the light to shine through is for those secret battles to be brought forward and acknowledged.

I often catch myself thinking, “You were supposed to be cured of this. Why is it something you’re struggling with again?” I try to remind myself that I shouldn’t worry or be anxious about anything “but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present [my] requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

But the worries often come flooding back with a vengeance. I feel like I’ve failed again when I make myself late for work after driving back to the house to check for the 10th time that I’d actually locked the door. I feel like I’ve failed when I have to cancel brunch plans on a friend because I’ve been stuck in the shower for too long and then had a panic attack because I was worried about the idea of making them wait.

I worry that I will never be able to serve God effectively because of my irrational fears. But then I remember that God doesn’t need us to be perfect in order to use us. The Apostle Paul was used in mighty ways for the Lord, even though he speaks of a “thorn in [his] side” he so desperately prayed God would take away (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

When that doesn’t happen, Paul reminds us that God is still in control. His plans still succeed, even when we serve Him in our brokenness. We will never be good enough to stand before the throne of God’s grace. But the good news is that we don’t need to be! “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

What dirty little secret has been keeping you back? Bring it to God. Be real with Him. He knows us better than we know ourselves and He walks with us even when we don’t feel like we can lift our eyes from the ground. Trust that God’s grace is sufficient for you, even in your weakness.