By: Matt Rennels
My wife and I have a stack of cards with topical questions, good for dinner table conversation. The other day we pulled one out that asked “Who did you idolize as a teenager?”
My wife, first up, thought for a minute. She couldn’t think of anyone. She thought some more. Still, nothing.
Now, this is a heavy one for us evangelical Christians. There is the commandment in Exodus 2: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship…” And later in the chapter, under the Idols and Alters heading, God told Moses: “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.”
But though I went to church every Sunday, I hardly recall this lesson about idols coming up. Perhaps it was since the literal instruction applies solely to statues made of valuable metals, which I did not create as a teenager, nor was I tempted.
And though I think we can sometimes make unfounded biblical connections, I would have benefitted from applying this commandment as a teenager when I wanted anyone else’s life rather than my own. There was little about me or my world I was pleased with, and I can see now that this surely saddened my Creator.
So when it came my turn to answer this question, the dinner table became a confessional, starting with my idolization of Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong, basketball great and clothing influencer Michael Jordan, any Cubs players, and anyone else I hung a poster of. There were also movie stars, comedians, and even schoolmates I wanted to be.
And me being bent on being brutally honest, my answer moved beyond the teenage years to young adulthood, to professionals and church leaders, to authors and scholars, and people of noble character and accomplishments. I even traced it to my most recent years.
And though some bad habits may simply fade over time, most don’t. So though I have (mostly) evolved from wanting the glamour and mojo of rock stars or athletes, today I can still toil with jealousy over others’ wisdom and intellect. So what can I do about this yearning?
When I came to faith back in the mid-2000s, the theme of “less of me, more of you, Lord,” was prominent in worship songs and sermons.
This has biblical basis. For instance, John 3:30 says “He must increase; I must decrease.” But notice the order of this is switched from that of the worship songs. I’d been gung ho “less of me, more of you” mission, and promptly pounded down my fleshly inadequacies. But after beating myself into submission I may have been too defeated to set my gaze upon Jesus.
This order issue may solve the problem altogether. I try to start every morning with bible reading and prayer, and then I place my faith on Him to guide me to where I need to go. Even on a relentless journey to sharpen my character.
So I don’t allow myself to envy others’ skills or attributes. Even Paul, perhaps the most influential human of the New Testament, told his followers not to set their gaze on him, but only Jesus (1 Cor. 3).
And please note that decreasing ourselves shouldn’t be mistaken for shaming. When any of the following enter my mind, I shut them immediately:
* Disappointment in myself for inadequacies
* Envy of others’ skills and attributes
* Comparisons to other people’s skills or accomplishments
* Shame about my past
And when these thoughts enter my mind, I remind myself of a skill that is close to my shortcoming. If I think I said the wrong thing, I appreciate that at least I was trying to help. If I take the wrong turn while I’m driving, at least getting out and trying. And though I can’t fix a radiator problem in a car, at least I am accountable, kind, a good cook, and a good kisser (ask my wife!).
By: Matt Rennels
This is my first blog since 2016. Surprising, since prior to 2016 I was typing out and publishing all of my thoughts.
Embarrassing, since in March 2016 I held a course called “How to Start a Blog and Keep It Going.” I’d done it consistently for four whole years, which is like 47 in blog years.
However, after I stood before that class and told them how to stand out ahead of the pack and be that rare blogger that actually keeps blogging, I stopped. I published maybe one more post. Why? I was going through a divorce. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I guess I needed to step away and catch my breath, grieve, and come to terms with everything.
When the divorce first struck I’d just moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In order for God’s love to overpower my misery, I filled my calendar with church activities and other volunteer efforts, one of which was to be a mentor for youth. Our orientation leader prepped us: “These kids love their mentors. You guys will be like rock stars. They will stop you to hug your leg when they see you in the school hallway, and your kid will beam with pride when he is next to you.”
The orientation leader also said the children we would serve were typically the ones who sat alone at lunch, and those in need of a friend.
My kid defied the expectations that were set. He was not quiet or disadvantaged, at least not in the services I was providing. When we walked through the hallways no one other kids hugged my legs, probably because they were all giving my kid high fives. He took me out to the playground and promptly ran away to go play kickball, soccer, Wiffle ball, leaving me to aimlessly mill around.
He was the most athletic kid on the playground, and also the most popular. It turned out he had poor grades so the school wanted me to spend time with him in the library. Coaxing didn’t work so then I essentially dragged him there. I tried asking about his life, and we flipped through a couple of books, or I did while he pouted and asked when we would go back outside. He just sunk his shoulders and dropped his head, and it felt like I was pointing at his plate, nudging him towards his broccoli while all he wanted was the brownie.
It wasn’t long before he explained to the program director that he didn’t think he wanted a mentor after all. He said some nice things about me, though. “It’s not you, it’s me.”
It seemed to be a dead end when I desperately needed a path to take. But in all reality, God was only making it clear that the timing wasn’t right. And He told me the same about the blog. I needed to grieve, not give, not then. I needed to give it a break. And I couldn’t be happier about my choice.
Here we are four years later. My wounds have healed, and I am happily remarried.
My friend George Wood has asked me to join him on his mission to get out a message of hope for the Sober Truth Project, and that’s why I am dipping my toe back into this water. Am I ready? Maybe not entirely, but I think so. And that’s why the timing is probably perfect, since I am at least a little bit conflicted. This is when spirit wrestles with flesh, and wisdom intercedes with desire.
My break also gave me perspective and helped cleared my vision. I have now pinpointed the friendly emotions and the classroom bully. I’ve learned to better discern which tugs at my heart will only cost me and have no real payoff. I had needed time away to understand this, and possibly wouldn’t have been able to if it weren’t for my predicament.
And now the course looks different. Blogging has changed. The Internet keeps evolving. But the thing that remains is that I have an important message to share, one of hope amidst an understanding of grief. I want to share this message with you. Please click Subscribe. Come back often. Let’s discuss mental health, God, and humanity.
By: George Wood
I spoke recently about belief systems and the power they have in our lives. How I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus is also our death and resurrection which gives us the ability to choose a new belief system, one that leads to a life we could never have experienced otherwise and I am saying that from experience.
Today I am seeing the world change and the reality that more and more people will be in danger of addiction, mental health issues and even suicide.
Due to this coming need I am choosing to write a part of my story that is incredibly personal and I am being very vulnerable as I share something that I have never written before, in hopes that it can help others.
I do this because life is worth living, you are worth it, there is always hope, and no matter what a person believes, they are worthy to be loved.
I was in 10th grade I had just broken up with my girlfriend, because of things that I had done. I didn’t know how to handle the loss that I felt inside of my soul. In a moment of complete inner turmoil and pain to feel anything I decided to write a suicide note, just to see if it let some of what I was feeling out. When it didn’t seem to work I decided to go through what ever medication we had in the house to try to actually go through taking my life.
I will never forget this moment. I put on an album from the band Pink Floyd, Animals, because it reminded me of my brother Mark who had died tragically in a construction accident when I was in 1st grade, and took the pills.
My mother returned from her night out she found me, I remember her screaming “what did you do”, and in that moment, I was still conscious thinking, “Damn what did I do”. I was rushed to the hospital and they were able to counter the drugs I had taken with medication, I was going to be fine, just embarrassed.
In those days they did not have baker acts, or did they lock a person up for observation, they just sent you on your way with a good talking too. The thing I remember most about that the Doctor told me was “attempting suicide is a crime, and that he could press charges”. Which even at the time did not seem like a great deterrent because I could only imagine that most people attempting suicide expect to complete it and then what with the charges?
I wish I could look back on that situation and say that I learned a lot and that it never happened again, but that would not be the case. I would go on to attempt suicide in multiple ways over the years, at times coming remarkably close. By my count I attempted suicide 6 times from when I was 16–35, baker acted on many of those occasions. I was someone that had what you would call, “persistent suicidal ideation”.
In a way for me it became a coping mechanism to extremely painful, shameful situations. Typically in ideations they do not graduate to actual attempts to take ones life, however with my history of alcohol and drug abuse that often played into the decisions being escalated.
The ideations were not as strong when life was going good, they would still be floating around in my head, but more like on the outskirts of my thought process. Whenever life would become challenging the ideations would come closer and closer in the realm of possible options.
I honestly never thought I would get rid of these thoughts, I had actually become resigned to thinking I was going to die by suicide, that was just how my story was going to play out. It goes without saying that as the drinking and drugs became worse so did the ideations and as I found sobriety and Jesus they went farther and farther from my mind. Its all of the events that transpired in between the addiction and Jesus that make up the heart of the story.
The more I learn about myself, mental health, addiction, and life in general I am not as sure as I once was about what came first, the addiction or the mental health issues? I had already began to binge drink by the time of my first suicide attempt.
I realize because of the general acceptance of addiction on a social level its easier to talk more about addiction as my primary issue than it is mental health. That needs to change for society as a whole, you don’t need to be a counselor, psychiatrist, or doctor to realize that in order for treatment to be successful you need to be treating the primary not the secondary condition.
In following Jesus, we often say and believe that when we see a person go through something incredibly challenging that God will give that person authority in those types of situations while helping others. I don’t know if I necessarily have authority in the trauma surrounding suicide, or mental health, I do however have a lot of experience around it.
I have enough personal experience that I would want to start a whole organization, Sober Truth Project, that will have a specific focus in trying to make a difference around mental health, suicide prevention and trauma.
10 years ago, I lost both my brother and sister to drug overdose in a 7-month span. Because neither left a suicide note they were ruled death by accidental overdose. In at least my brothers’ case he had told me weeks before that he was going to do something like this because he had lost all reason to live.
I know that many of us that have battled addiction, while in our addiction have tried during a binge to not wake up the following day. Then when the following day comes to be actually disappointed that we woke up. To me means a lot of the death by overdose that we see when ruled accidental, may not be the case.
Over the past few years alone I have had the misfortune of walking with many close friends and leaders as they lost family members to suicide. Last year alone I lost someone who was like a son to me, and his parents being some of mine and Julies closest friends, the same week I lost another friend of mine, her sister and brother in law being close friends as well.
Both the same week, at one-point Julie and I had to leave one group of grieving friends to attend a memorial with another group of grieving friends.
All I can say is during that time Julie and I just kept saying, this feels surreal, it cannot be happening, unfortunately, it was. I could go on and on with far, far to many stories of suicide to tell along with the impact that they have had in the lives around me.
Suicide has been on the rise for years, and because of the nature of it, being very individualized, each person has their own story, it is hard to get a grip on what can be done. Granted there are markers in many suicides that can give somewhat of an indication that suicide could be a very real possibility in other situations. Unfortunately, the majority of actual suicides end with the families and the closest friends saying they had no idea, they did not see this coming.
So what can we do, what are even the options to help when the outcome is often “I had no idea”?
As in all things we are trying to understand, I believe we become better informed, we open our minds to the fact that this CAN happen to you, and then do whatever is in our power to make a difference!
As in an approaching hurricane you are better to be prepared than to keep saying, do not worry that storm will go around us, to one day have it wipe you out.
I am not in any way trying to say that I am an expert in this area, but I do have a lot of personal experiences to pull from and I want to share some of what I have learned. At the same time, a disclaimer that in no way do I believe in this short article I am covering all of the possible reasons connected to suicide and mental health issues.
Recently a friend of mine had to baker act a young boy due to possible suicidal intentions. As we sat and talked it through afterwards we landed on the conclusion that he probably is not actually suicidal and that it may just be for attention. However, I pointed out a lot of people, young and old may only be looking for attention, it does not mean that they don’t accidentally take it too far and kill themselves.
As look back at my first suicide attempt, I can see a really disturbed teenager who was looking for attention yes, but was also really confused about what healthy attention even was. As the years progressed and my life went unchecked developing into more and more unhealthy patterns of getting attention, the suicide attempts became more and more real no longer driven by attention.
My observations both personally and through others experiences is that the majority of suicides do not come from those that have a clinical reasoning behind it. Do not get me wrong mental illness plays a part but maybe not in the way most think of the stereo typical mental illness.
Unfortunately, a big part of the problem with why people don’t get the help that they need is because of what they THINK mental illness looks like.
Mental illness (definition approved by Steven Gans, MD)refers to mental health conditions that have a negative effect on the way an individual think, feels, and behaves. Just like the phrase “physical illness” might describe a vast array of physical health conditions, mental illness encompasses many different types of mental health problems. Just like any illness in many cases we get better. I once read that 95% of people will experience mental illness at some point in their life. This statistic is important, I am going to come back to it.
What on the surface of my original suicide attempt looked like an act of getting attention, was actually something far more complicated? Fast forward 20 years it became apparent that was lost, I had no idea who I was, and after unsuccessfully attempting everything I could think of to try to find these answers I had begun to hate myself. This hatred then began to manifest itself in all sorts of addictions and self-abuse to the point where suicide actually seemed like the more compassionate answer than living.
As people we are built on a foundation of beliefs, about ourselves, the world around us, and the way we believe the world sees us, our role in this world if you will.
It goes without saying that this foundation is responsible for the way our life plays out. This foundation is built early on in our childhood, but it does not stop there, the experiences that we have add to it along the way.
Unfortunately, this thing called confirmation bias begins to play a huge part. Basically, what we believe, we see, and what we see, we believe. Everything contrary to what we believe gets harder and harder to see, its as if our confirmation bias begins to pick up speed. Plug bad experiences or beliefs into the beginning of this journey and then the corresponding confirmation bias and you can probably imagine how it plays out.
This whole process typically stops when the brain gets to a point where it believes that your map is complete. Most people falsely believe that each day is new, and we experience each day as its own entry into our life’s journal, but that is not exactly the case.
A map is the way you will experience seeing the world as you go forward based on the experiences of your past, and without considerable work that map will continue to determine your life. Basically, you no longer need confirmation in experiences, you have already predetermined the outcome.
Need proof this is true? We have all had that friend that no matter what happened during a vacation, movie, dinner, party, etc they are going to have an issue, something to complain about. Occasionally we have the opposite, the person that is Mr or Mrs Sunshine, that annoying person that always sees the positive in every situation, confirmation bias does work both ways! Unfortunately due to the caveman days we are far more likely to see the negative than the positive, that’s how we survived the days of saber toothed tigers and the Banking Savings and Loans fiasco of the eighties.
Here is where it gets interesting, some people have had great childhoods others not so much, but all are affected by mental illness, suicide, and addiction why?
Foundational belief systems are exactly that, “foundational”. Any crack to a foundation and the whole house is in danger of coming down. Obviously, the belief system built on good and bad experiences alone does not determine a person’s outcome in life. mainly because as human beings we are able to adapt, to cling to the parts of our life that lead us to somewhat of the life we desire.
Life being life often throws curve balls and tends to pull the proverbial rug out from underneath our carefully constructed life that we have built. In doing so, exposes the cracks that may exist in our foundation.
Yes, often it’s the big life experiences that hit us and expose our cracks, unexpected death, job loss, divorce, etc. Those curve balls hit everyone, and we already know those hits will be hard and cause some cracks. Those cracks, albeit are very real, are still only surface level cracks that all people get and most recover from.
At the core of our foundation is this very important piece called our identity!
When these superficial cracks from life’s curve balls are somehow in an unhealthy manner attached to the core of our identity, those cracks when exposed, begin to make the entire foundation weak and put the whole house in danger.
When this happens we can begin to see a person begin to suffer to the point of what would be considered becoming mentally ill (remember the 95% statistic I pointed out above).
During this time of being ill, reality begins to be challenged in a way that cannot be handled by any of the coping mechanism the individual has been able to use up until this point. However relief is needed so badly that the once unthinkable has become thinkable.
A huge key in being able to survive difficult traumatizing situations is to know who you are at your core, take that away and all bets are off.
My brother was an Attorney, at one point making a million dollars a year for a very successful Law firm here in Tampa. After the addiction took over, he was facing certain termination from the Florida Legal Bar association, he would no longer have been an Attorney. A few weeks before he died told me that he could not go on living, because he did not want to live if he was not an Attorney anymore that’s what his identity had become and life would not be worth living otherwise.
That may not make any sense to you or I but it did to him. As individuals we are all different and we must remember that what we see on a persons outside may not be in fact what they are on the inside. Take the most confident and secure person, if they are that way because of circumstances and will not be the same person once those circumstances are taken away, are they actually a confident or secure person?
We are all mirrors, and when we are whole we reflect all that the world can see about us. All mirrors do the same thing no matter what shape or size the mirror itself might be. Shatter those mirrors and each one of them becomes a million different shapes and sizes, none of them exactly the same, fundamentally that mirror has been changed, but each one of those pieces was inside that mirror all along.
One of the most beautiful things about human beings is just how different each one of us can be, but the same thing that is beautiful can make things complicated and even confusing. How each one of us handles the events of our lives is so different we can’t really predict from afar during any event what is happening within a person.
A parent can do an amazing job of raising their children telling them they love them everyday of their lives and that same child can experience some form of rejection from a single classmate and that moment of rejection rather than the daily love of the parent becomes the shaping moment of that child’s life. The child go on to live a life fearing rejection, abandonment and struggling with self-confidence. All the while the parents wonder what they could have done different.
Another child can be raised in abject poverty, and not just the poverty of finances but the poverty of love and acceptance from a parent. They can suffer horrible unspeakable abuse of all sorts almost daily. That same child can have one Coach who says they are worthy, they are more than their circumstances, and they can do anything they put their mind to! That child can take that one Coaches input, take his or her statements and build a life around it as they go on to do great things.
This can all seem very disheartening and almost make us give in to feeling helplessness, but we can’t! Not now, especially at a time like now! The world has changed and in the immediate future there is no going back. People everywhere are about to have their mirrors shattered, and lives broken into a million different pieces. The temptation to give up is going to become more real to people than ever.
I do believe is that we are about to see a major influx of people with mental health issues, addiction and the depths of depression hitting people everywhere.
I believe first and foremost acknowledge that this is a very real possibility for anyone. Begin to look at what is happening around us, in our lives, and in the lives of those we know from a more sensitive perspective to what others are going through on any given day.
Often, we want to look at the people closest to us and just believe they can handle what ever comes their way. What you might not realize is, you may feel that way because it is easier than having difficult, uncomfortable conversations with your peers.
These difficult conversations need to begin now before it’s to late, don’t wake up one day regretting what you didn’t say.
Don’t believe your impervious to the very thing we are looking for in others. Look at your life, what are you fearing, what is making you anxious, why? Dig deep before the fear or anxiety become so tangible in your life that it takes you out. Why do you not believe you can survive what ever it is that is troubling you? What are other possible outcomes to the ones you have been focusing on? If you begin to struggle talk to someone, reach out for help to a professional.
In recovery from addiction we always tell people if you think your about to use reach out to a sponsor or someone you can talk to. Unfortunately, a large amount of people who relapse don’t reach out to anyone, and then say something along the lines of I didn’t want to let that person down. Do not be that way with your mental health, it takes a much bigger person to ask for help than it does to hold it in and destroy yourself from the inside out.
I have been to the edge of the end and made it back, I know for me that has been through Jesus, his Holy Spirit which dwells in me and knowing that the Father has created me for so much more. I now know that the only identity that will keep me in times like this is the identity that my father has given me before the foundations of the world.
That same thing is true for everyone, unfortunately that message, the one everyone needs to hear often gets lost in religion. Don’t let the message people need to hear get lost in your politics, or your stances on things of this world, what people need is the reckless grace of the Father and the unconventional faith and love of the son which will lead to the radical freedom that we all need.
Also it’s important to note that as much as I believe in confirmation bias, and maps determining outcomes in our lives, I also believe that the radical freedom that we find is also freedom from any predetermined map!
If you have ever surfed or even just sat and watched the waves you can see the waves begin to form from far off. The best surfers can tell from the moment those waves begin to form which ones are going to be worth paddling out to try to catch.
Like a surfer who has spotted a worthwhile wave I am telling you the wave is forming more people are going to be in need than ever, and we all need to go after it!
The philosophical question of “who are you” has never been as important to be able to answer as it is now. Don’t let the inability to answer those 3 words be what defines your future for you.
We need to educate ourselves on mental health, suicide prevention, ways to stay mentally healthy, resources that exist right now for us all, and how to walk with those that are struggling. In this day and age of social media and the internet there are definitely a lot of negatives, but there are also some really great positives! Positives such as the ability to access all that you need to become educated on the very things we are trying to make a difference in!
Here are some resources that you may need but remember you might actually be the resource that people need the most!
When people are having thoughts of harming themselves, suicide prevention hotlines can make all the difference. Crisis hotlines help millions of people every year and offer the option to speak with trained volunteers and counselors, either via phone or text message.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of more than 150 local crisis centers. It offers free and confidential emotional support around the clock to those experiencing a suicidal crisis.
The Crisis Text Line is a free text messaging resource offering 24/7 support to anyone in crisis. Since August 2013, more than 79 million text messages have been exchanged.
The Trevor Project offers crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGBTQ youth through its hotline, chat feature, text feature, and online support center.
The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource staffed by qualified responders from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Anyone can call, chat, or text — even those not registered or enrolled with the VA.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national helpline offers confidential treatment referrals in both English and Spanish to people struggling with mental health conditions, substance use disorders, or both. In the first quarter of 2018, the helpline received more than 68,000 calls every month.