Tag: Judaism

On Depression

Every time I post something on this blog, I think, This is it. This is the farthest you can go. You’re showing too much of your heart in this one.  You can’t do this again on the next post. Stop right here.

But the problem with censoring myself is it makes it hard to find something else worth writing about. I putter around for a few months trying to find a neater version of myself to share. I never seem to come up with anything.

So here I am, friends, showing you the rawest parts of my heart because honestly, I don’t have the words for anything else.

I’ve had a rough few months. Or perhaps, more accurately, a rough year. Maybe a rough couple years.

And I’ve been sad. So sad. Even when I am happy, there is an undercurrent of sadness and there are moments when I fear it will swallow me whole. There are moments when I wish it would.

Mental health is a strange thing, isn’t it? We seem to be talking about it more in our world as we consider gun violence and terrorism and free will and sickness but I don’t know if we’ve ever really gotten to the root of it. What I do know is that I’ve struggled with mine for a very long time.

The Church, from what I have seen, does a poor job addressing mental health. We dismiss people’s pain as a direct result of their sin. We claim that there is no need for professional help or medication if only we pray hard enough.

I don’t discount the power of prayer. Far from it. One of my favorite gospel stories is the one of Jesus healing the demon-possessed boy who was deaf and mute. He commands the spirit out of the boy and when His disciples see him healed, they ask Jesus why they were not able to do the same. Jesus responds, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29, NASB).

I’ve held on to that verse through many dark times. It has reassured me that with prayer, healing is possible.

But, Jesus? I’ve been praying a long time now. And I’m still sad.

Depression makes me doubt everything about myself. Admittedly, I am in a difficult season of life, regardless the state of my mental health, but depression takes this string of upsets and tells me, You have not succeeded at anything you have tried to achieve. Your best days will never come. 

It infects all of the relationships in my life by placing in me a crippling fear that I am not good enough and thus, entirely replaceable.These people who I call mine deserve better and surely, they could find better in another woman. It is an awful thing to feel as though you are a disappointment of a daughter and a failure as a friend.

But the worst part of depression is the way it attacks the foundations of my faith. It calls into question the very nature of God so I no longer know what is true.

When you lose track of the Truth, there is only room for lies.

He isn’t listening. He isn’t here. If He loved you, He wouldn’t let you feel such pain. 

There is no purpose in this suffering.

This is not for your good.

He is not good.

Depression, you dark and terrible beast. How long will you have your grip on me? Why must you possess me like a demon?

They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him…”

Mark 9: 20-22 (NASB)

Like the demon-possessed boy, depression leaves me incapable of hearing or speaking Truth. It pulls me into its flames where it consumes and destroys.

Will you continue to rage inside of me until there is nothing left but ashes and dust?

Ashes and dust.

Oh, Great God. Can it be?

When I was getting my minor in Jewish studies, my professor taught us of the Old Testament commandments to keep the fire on the temple altar continually burning. The flames would burn low throughout the night and a priest would rekindle the fire every morning, sifting through the ashes to reignite it.

Rabbi Viñas had an uncanny ability to know when the stories of old could be reminders for today.

The priests didn’t have to light a new flame every morning. If they dug deep enough in the ashes, they would find an ember. A glowing remnant of what once was.

From these ashes, you can build a fire still.

Somewhere in the ashes of my ravaged heart lies a lone ember. A stubborn trace of something called faith.

But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

Mark 9: 22-24 (NASB)

Depression fills me with doubt that God is who He says He is. But even in the throes my darkest times, I wonder if there is a small voice that cries out, “I believe. Help my unbelief.”

When I long to be around people and have conversations, but have no energy to seek them.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

When I lay in bed late at night, unable to fall asleep as the clock strikes 2, 3, 4, because my mind is racing and my fears are stacking.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

When I mourn a soul lost by his own hands and know what he must have felt in those final moments.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

When I weep over a desperate prayer, asking God to come find me in my brokenness because I cannot reach Him on my own.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

There is hope in this paradox. A hope that being weak of faith does not mean I am forever lost. A hope that admitting my weakness allows Jesus to come and save.

It is a misconception in the Church that those who struggle in their faith never genuinely believed in the first place. I am too aware of my own sin to make claims of how “good” of a Christian I am but my instincts tell me that is not how faith works. I think God has long since accepted that His children teeter between moments of conviction and seasons of despair.

David, master musician, wrote psalms of thanksgiving to celebrate the faithfulness of God. He invited nations (Psalm 67:4) and generations (Psalm 145: 4) to join with him in worshiping the Creator.

But he also knew what it felt like to cry for so long you can’t see straight anymore (Psalm 69: 3). He knew fear and horror (Psalm 55:5) and weariness (Psalm 6:6). He asked God how long He would forget him (Psalm 13:1).

David shows us that it is possible to write both songs of praise and songs of lament. It is possible to believe God is able yet doubt if He will.

Depression threatens to rob me of my faith but somewhere in my soul I still say, I believe. Help my unbelief.

I might battle depression for the rest of my life. I wish I wouldn’t and I pray for healing but I know that this may be my version of a thorn in the flesh. And if He could do it for Paul, maybe God will use mental illness to teach me about grace sufficient.

Depression, although it continues to hold me tight, will not ruin me. There is a light in the ashes.

I believe.

A Rabbi Walked Into a Classroom…

One of the most profound seasons of growth I have experienced as a Christian was when I was being taught by a Rabbi.

I was a couple years into undergrad when I found myself with a few gaps in my schedule and extra time to add some electives. I was indecisive and classes were filling up fast so I kind of chose one at random. The first day of the semester, I sat down at my seat and watched as a middle-aged Cuban man wearing a yamaka walked into the classroom and wrote “Rabbi Viñas” on the chalkboard. I had no idea what I was in for.

Thus started one of the most interesting semesters I’ve ever had. The sheer irony of it, you know? A devoted Christian taking notes on the spiritual teachings of an equally devoted Jew. And it only took Rabbi Viñas about three minutes to figure out I was Christian because I pulled out my Bible to follow along when he started lecturing from Genesis.


To his credit, Rabbi Viñas had no complaints about my Bible.

He also had no complaints about my faith. Or my questions about his.

You see, friends, there is a strange phenomenon that happens in the early days of undergrad. You go in feeling pretty cocky, having freshly conquered high school and sometimes having graduated among the top of your class. And then you have your first university lecture by a professor who is the leading expert in his field and you start to wonder whether you’re as smart as you think you are. You have your first university exam and your fears are confirmed.

So somewhere along that first semester of college, you swallow down some pride and start wearing some humility. But I got lost in the process, you guys, and instead of humility, I got acquainted with passivity. And complacency. And a not-so-healthy dose of self-doubt. I stopped thinking for myself and began to blindly accept whatever my professors taught.

But put a Jesus-lover in a class about Judaism and rusted wheels start turning again. She starts to wonder if the words she hears really agree with the words written on her heart. The Sunday School lessons of her childhood return to her memory. New Testament covenants spill from her tongue.

She starts to question.

It’s been a few years since I graduated with a minor in Jewish Studies. I have a Torah with English translation running alongside the original Hebrew. Unfortunately, I can’t read any Hebrew. Or write it or speak it. Still, I have a deep appreciation for the history of the Jewish people. I embrace it as part of my own heritage because I am an adopted daughter of the King and a co-heir with Christ.

And in the most unexpected turn of events, I learned more than just Torah as a Jewish Studies student. I learned the Gospel.

You see, Christians sometimes get a bad rap for being less intellectual than non-Christians. And you guys, part of me believes there is truth to that. Perhaps we’ve put on this cloak of spiritual complacency and become content with letting the apologetics and the great theologians and the world-famous speakers study the Bible while we just sit back and listen.

I know I’m guilty of it. I spent a long time reading books and listening to sermons as I tried to figure out what I personally believed about Christianity. There’s nothing inherently wrong in doing so.

The problem arises when we start relying on everyone and everything else to tell us what our faith should be and start neglecting the Word of God. We’ve been given this invaluable resource that reveals to us the nature of God and what He desires for us. When we’re presented with different theologies and conflicting ideas, it is only this Bible that harbors the irrefutable truths of God. And the best way for me to know them is to read them for myself.

Let’s be honest, though. Studying the Bible is hard, y’all. It can come off as repetitive on one page and contradictory on another. Some of those Old Testament laws seem outdated and I wonder if they really describe the God I know today, the God who is supposed to be unchanging. Then there are times when I read a portion and know there’s something I need to learn here, something that is relevant to my circumstance, but the essence of it evades me. There are parts of the Bible that have surprised me. And there are parts of the Bible that have broken my heart.

Yet of this I am sure: The truths I proclaim having wrestled with God are so much sweeter than the ones I have been spoon fed.

So maybe we need to start examining the words we hear. Maybe we need to stop accepting them as truth just because they come from someone with a fancier title than us. Maybe we need to stop believing people just because they’re New York Times best sellers. Maybe we need to stop trusting speakers just because they lead super trendy, super hipster mega-churches.

I know, I know. Shots fired. But you know what? The Jesus I read of in the Bible called the Pharisees a brood of vipers and warned against wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Maybe part of being sure of what you believe is having the courage to call people out on their crap.

Jesus, the one they called Rabbi, used Judaism to teach me that.

Rabbi Viñas once gave us a reading on the Jewish traditions of sacrifice and told us to write a response paper for him. I was having a hard time with it so I sat with him after class and tried to talk it out. He listened to me for a few minutes and then asked, “What do you think of when you hear ‘sacrifice’?”

I paused for a moment and remembered a Gospel truth. “I think of a Lamb who was sacrificed for me. But more than that, I think of a veil torn in two. Jesus’ sacrifice means nothing separates me from God.”

Rabbi Viñas smiled and said, “Go. Write about this Jesus you know.”