Archives For Family

Work, Identity and Suicide

It’s been a tough week. The world lost two famous faces to suicide – fashion designer Kate Spade and culture and travel television host Anthony Bourdin. Coincidentally, the CDC just released new statistics showing suicide rates have increased 30% in half the states in America over the past two decades placing it in the top 10 causes of death today.

Sobering.

This issue hit even closer to home last Tuesday as a classmate of my 8th grade son lost her father to suicide. It’s so much easier to process statistics, but when it’s real people, people you bump into at school plays and wave to in the after-school pickup line, it’s harder to compute.

I’m not here to discuss the theology of suicide or its multilayered causes, but I will say that depression is real and should be treated by Christians with the same compassion and empathy as any other disease. Depression has impacted my own family. It torments beyond logic or circumstance and you can’t “just snap out of it.” We live in a sinful world that breeds cancer, and Alzheimer’s, and heart disease, why should we be surprised that this same brokenness impacts mental health, too?

That said, our work (or lack of it) can be a driving cause of depression and suicide. Our identities get wrapped up in our work. When we have a job we’re proud of and that provides a comfortable salary, we feel pretty good about ourselves. If we get laid off or fired, we lose way more than just income. We can even lose sight of who we are.

I’ve faced this in my own life. During a season as a church-planter, I took a 40% pay cut that destabilized our family both financially and relationally. There were things I couldn’t afford to let our kids do, bills I didn’t know how I was going to pay, and people I had to depend on for things that really took a toll on my pride. Some of this “idol-shattering” was really healthy, but let’s be honest, my work (as much as I loved and believed in it) was impacting my mental health, my role as provider, and my very identity itself.

My wife faced this battle a few years ago as our kids started to get older. She had given her whole life to our three children for 15 years, but as they continued to grow more self-sufficient, her lack of a meaningful income-producing work led her into a season of depression. She applied for numerous jobs, some low-wage entry-level positions, only to be told she wasn’t qualified after so many years out of the workforce. She felt worthless, like she had nothing to offer, and it was destroying her very identity itself.

Our work, our mental health, and our identity are all intertwined.

My son got a text from his classmate two days after her father passed. She said her dad recently quit his job and felt really guilty that he wasn’t being a good provider for the family. I wish I would have known him better, that I could’ve had just a few minutes to share some of the fears and heartache of my own journey, and some truths about the real source of our identity as human beings.

But it’s not just low-income jobs or unemployment that assault our identity. Most would say Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdin had dream jobs – wealth, fame, influence. But anxiety and depression still found them there. Our everyday work, it’s level of financial stability, it’s social status, was never meant to carry the weight of our identity. It’s way too heavy. Only Jesus can do that.

Your identity isn’t brain surgeon or janitor. Your identity isn’t CEO or unemployed. Your identity isn’t entrepreneur or factory worker. Those things may be what you do – a way you honor God, love your neighbor, and provide for your family – but they’re not who you are.

Your identity is son or daughter. Your identity is image-bearer of God Almighty.

Your true identity will never be found in your work, by what you do or don’t do. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. You are who Jesus says you are. And He calls you His beloved, whether you occupy the corner office or sweep floors at the local Taco Bell. You matter because Jesus says you matter. He died to prove it.

If you ground your essence completely in Him, your identity can withstand life’s inevitable ups and downs because it’s finally rooted in something immovable – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you’re facing work-related depression, the first thing I encourage you to do is get some help. Talk to someone. Pick up the phone. Now. The Christian community hasn’t always engaged depression and anxiety with understanding and grace, but there is no shame in struggling with depression. You’re not the only one facing it right now and there isn’t something unusually wrong with you. I promise.

We are all sinful people living in a fallen world, and we shouldn’t be surprised when our bodies and minds don’t work as they were originally designed. Go see someone – a counselor, a doctor, a pastor. Don’t let embarrassment or shame isolate you from the help you need.

But for all of us today – whether we’re wrestling with depression or not – let’s root our identity in something eternal. Whether we love our work or hate it, find it deeply meaningful or completely purposeless, what we do for a living isn’t who we are. The Gospel says that while we are far more broken than we realize, we are more loved than we can imagine. We are sons and daughters of God in Jesus Christ. That’s an identity worth holding onto.


This article was originally posted at The Stone Table, a resourcing community for faith, work, and missions.

My oldest daughter wrapped up her basketball career with a gut-wrenching last minute loss in the high school state semifinals this past weekend. We knew this day was coming, we’d even talked about it openly, but for some reason no amount of mental preparation was ample enough. I’ve had to (not-so-subtly) excuse myself from more than one room the last few days, not quite sure where all the different layers of emotion were coming from.

We’re sad.

We’re joyful.

We’re grieving.

We’re thankful.

Yes. Thankful.

When we walked into the first meeting before freshman tryouts four years ago, we just hoped Emma could somehow make the team. We weren’t AAU parents. She never played on travel teams or spent time in the offseason at skills camps or with special trainers. We weren’t looking for college scholarships, we just wanted our shy kid to find a place to fit in, to make some friends, and enjoy her high school years.

As I look back, I think that accidental perspective is actually what made the experience so rich. Unlike other areas of our lives, we didn’t see our family as being owed anything. Every moment, from her first cleanup minutes off the bench as a freshman member of the JV squad, to watching her take the court as a varsity starter in the State finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – none of it was expected. All of it was a gift. A glorious surprise we never saw coming.

I believe one of the key reasons Emma’s basketball career was so deeply fulfilling is because we experienced it with such unforeseen thankfulness.

Entitlement shrinks my world. It makes me selfish and grouchy when my expectations aren’t fulfilled. It creates a barrier between me and others.

Thankfulness opens the floodgates! It deepens my relationships and fills my heart with joy, even when things aren’t unfolding the way I planned.

What if I approached more things in life this way? 

Owed nothing.

Grateful for everything.

I want to experience more seasons of life that are so rich and full that I can’t help but weep when they’re over. What if thankfulness is the secret sauce that just might make that possible?

A few months ago I typed the following words into my MacBook’s screen saver:

“Be thankful today, even for the littlest of things.”

I want to do better. I don’t want to take anything for granted. What my daughter has experienced, the forever friendships she’s made, the incredible young woman she’s become – all of it has been such an unexpected gift.

Thank you Covenant Christian. Thank you Coach Smith and Angie, Coaches Howell, Fish, and O. Thank you to all the parents who have become dear friends, and are still willing to sit next to me in the stands even when I’m yelling irrationally at the referees. Thank you to all the beautiful girls who have loved my daughter so well and given us so much joy.

We’re thankful for it all. Every. Single. Bit. This isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning. Let’s embrace it all with thankfulness. It’s not just the best way to play basketball, it’s the richest way to live.

muslimgirl

She surrendered her life to Isa (Jesus) and it cost her everything. Her father wasn’t content with simply rejecting her, he turned her into the police and they didn’t speak again for 6 years. Ostracized from her entire community, she found refuge in the tiny underground church in this North African city where Christianity was illegal and congregations were counted on your fingers (if you could find them at all).

Yet there she was, full of hope and life and boldness and passion. It was contagious.

Every dinner table hosted a similar guest of honor, as each member of our team was inundated with broken-English stories of dreams and visions, supernatural encounters, and the power of the Gospel at work in a truly dark and lonely place. I was humbled and overwhelmed, completely riveted by her unfolding narrative of God’s grace and redemption in her life. Then, without warning, she turned and asked me:

“Do you have any daughters?”

“Two,” I said. “And one son.”

She put her hand on my arm and hit me with the haymaker.

“Don’t over-promise to your daughters. Teach them to depend on Jesus.”

Her comments caught me off guard. When did we start talking about me? Tell me some more stories about covert church gatherings and the spread of the Gospel in these Muslim strongholds.

But God was using this persecuted Christian girl to remind me of something vital. As a father, I am my kids’ protector, a provider and covering, an imperfect reflection of God placed there by God.

But not to replace Him.

The greatest gift I can give my children is to “teach them to depend on Jesus.”

I don’t ever want my girls to be forced to walk the road this young, persecuted Christian girl has been forced to travel. But I sure want them to be able to. If I remove every hardship, resolve every problem, allow them to side-step every suffering, in whom will they place their trust? In me or in Jesus?

It’s such a delicate balance and discernment, isn’t it? To be their protector and lead them to The Protector. To be their covering and lead them to The Covering. To be their hero yet lead them to The Savior.

Let’s take the challenge of this beautiful, young, persecuted believer.

Teach them to depend on Jesus.

Nothing

Sometimes things don’t work the way we planned.

After nearly 40 hours, an overnight airport delay, and two itinerary reroutes, I found myself cuing in a mass of disgruntled travelers in the Addis Ababa airport waiting for our now twice-delayed Ethiopian airline flight to board for Nairobi. Our original team of twenty had been split up twice already, and my wife and three kids were the only 4 left with me. We were trying to count that blessing as my children, travel novices at best, were questioning why we ever left our quaint Midwestern suburb for dad’s claim of a life-changing missions adventure. In all my travels, I had never experienced anything quite like this. We were exhausted, we were hungry, and we were stuck in one of the least desirable airport terminals in the world. And to top it off, I was powerless. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

So we pulled a few snacks from our carry-on bags and tried to keep each other in good spirits as many of our irate East African co-passengers argued with the gate-check agents in unknown tongues about the unexplained delays and lack of communication. The intensifying scene was already beginning to make me a little uncomfortable when I glanced down at my 11 year old son. He had been complaining of an upset stomach since we arrived in Addis, but now his face had grown a bit pale, too.

What happened next unfolded in slow motion. His knees stiffened, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his body tumbled backward like he was doing the Nestea plunge. Had it not been for his oversized backpack, his head would’ve certainly cracked hard on the concrete floor. His sister’s scream silenced all other activity and conversation in the buzzing terminal, and we found ourselves on our knees tending to our unconscious son surrounded by a circle of curious and concerned Ethiopian onlookers.

This was not the beautiful journey I had promised my kids for the last 6 months.

Thankfully, he had just passed out, the result of extreme fatigue, lack of food, and airplane dehydration. After convincing the airport officials he was not suffering from some horrific communicable disease and in need of quarantine, we were finally allowed to board the plane to reunite with the rest of our companions (although I can’t say as much for our luggage).

This was not the trip I had planned. It was nothing like the picture I had painted in my head. But there are unexpected blessings to encountering moments of complete powerlessness.

Many of you know my son’s personality. He’s a strong-willed negotiator, never content with an answer he doesn’t like. On many occasions I’ve told my wife, “I wish he would just listen to his dad sometimes. I wish he could find rest in my decisions, that I know what’s best, that I can be trusted.”

This terrifying moment deeply impacted him. In this new unknown environment, he’s humbly asked a lot more questions, he’s paid attention to my instructions, he’s literally clung to me physically as our days have unfolded here in Kenya. He falls asleep grasping my arm. As a dad, there’s nothing you long for more, even though the circumstances that got you here could not be desired less. He’s sought refuge in his father, and together we’ve both found refuge in The Father.

Powerlessness can be a gift. It can connect us to God in unmatched ways, draw us into His covering and protection, and tap into a strength so much greater than our own. We were made to find our rest in the Father, but to get there we usually have to walk the uncomfortable road that leads us to the end of ourselves.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
–Matthew 5:3 (MSG)

So here’s to powerlessness. It just might be more powerful than you think.

EnvyBlog

I opened the newspaper Sunday morning to a full weekend spread on the housing market in Indianapolis. It’s booming. And the full-color photo collages were there to prove it. One in particular caught my eye. It was a wide-angle shot off a beautiful custom kitchen, complete with high end, hand-made cabinets, stainless steel appliances, marble countertops, and stunning hard wood floors.

“We need a house like that,” I thought to myself.

“And, you know, our bathroom could sure use a makeover, too. Our shower is too small, and the space isn’t segmented properly.”

“You know, I wonder if we could swing a bigger mortgage? Maybe get into a nicer part of town?”

“I tell ya, some people are just luckier than we are. I wonder what kind of work they do to be able to support a home like that.”

If we didn’t have to think about getting three kids through college, I bet we could afford something like that. It just doesn’t seem fair sometimes.”

It’s amazing where the sinful mind instinctively takes you. We have a beautiful house with a huge finished basement, some custom features, and a mortgage payment I am fortunate enough to be able to make every month. And I’m lucky enough to have three incredible kids I get to try and help make it through college.

Here’s some irony: it’s often hardest to see what you actually have. It’s much easier to see what you don’t.

And when I really begin to feel what I don’t have by meditating on what others do have, I can even begin to despise them for their “good fortune.” Catch me in a really fleshly moment, and the road to bitterness will lead to an even darker place. It’s called envy.

We talk a lot about greed in Western contexts, and rightfully so. We are the wealthiest culture in the history of the earth. We roll around in abundance like no generation before. Add Christian faith to the mix, and we are admonished by Christ to care for the poor and to serve the least of these among us. We need to be challenged not to hoard, to live with an open hand. It’s biblical.

But while greed causes us to say “I deserve to keep all that is mine!” envy drives us to scream “I deserve to have what is yours!” For some reason, we don’t seem to challenge envy quite as much. Perhaps it’s our love for the underdog. Perhaps it’s something darker.

When you dig right down to the bottom of it, both greed and envy are symptoms of the same root cause – sinful desires.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”
–James 4:2-3

It’s interesting to me, especially in a hotly contested political season like we find ourselves in today, to watch how different candidates have learned how to tap into our visceral, sinful natures.

“Build a wall!”

“It’s not fair!”

“You should keep what you have!”

“You should have what they’re trying to keep!”

Greed.

Envy.

They’re two sides of the same broken coin. We need to confront the scourge of both in our lives.

What about a Gospel solution? A third way? A free people willfully generous with all that they have, while simultaneously content with all that they have. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Come, Lord Jesus.