Arming Yourself Against Depression: Knowing Yourself

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It’s depressing trying to be someone or something you aren’t. It’s even more depressing to feel that others, perhaps even God, are displeased with the person your gut tells you you are. Are you the introvert who’s being told that Christians should always be bustling about serving (as Martha tried to tell Mary)? The artist who’s being nagged to pursue a “sensible” career? Or the budding accountant whose family is disappointed because “real believers go to seminary”?

Most depressing of all is being the person who doesn’t even know who she was made to be–she’s too busy trying to fulfill everyone else’s dreams, plans, and expectations. Sometimes, financial needs, responsibility to others, and even cultural norms do mean you have to take a full-time job that isn’t your own first choice. But if you know what else calls to your soul, you at least can pursue your primary calling during non-work hours, as Paul did in his tentmaker/preacher lifestyle. Those who’ve never bothered to think about what they were made for can be trapped for years in soul-numbing situations, without even realizing why they feel perpetually miserable.

So if you know what God made you to be and are still channeling all your energy elsewhere, do something about it. If you don’t know what God made you to be, start finding out today. More than twenty years after it was first published, Rick Warren’s SHAPE acronym from The Purpose-Driven Life remains among a Christian’s best self-evaluation tools.

  • Spiritual gifts. Look up a “gifts” list or quiz based on the “spiritual gifts” sections of the New Testament. God may have given you a special ability for teaching, empathy, insight, or leadership.
  • Heart, or passion. What do you really enjoy doing? It’s a myth that all pleasure is sinful self-indulgence. If anything, having fun at our work makes us more effective by improving our attitudes–and others respond better to projects they sense are “labors of love.”
  • Abilities. What are you particularly talented at? What do you have a natural knack for? God is not wasteful. If He gives you an ability, He wants you to use it.
  • Personality. As with spiritual gifts, there are a variety of quiz-tests you can take to analyze your personality; Meyers-Briggs is the best known. If you’re a highly emotional type, don’t take a job that requires regular split-second decisions. If you love spontaneity, you’ll probably be a poor fit where everything is super-organized and “by the book.”
  • Experiences. When in your life were you the happiest? The most satisfied? The most proud of what you’d accomplished? Your best future will likely be built around similar situations.

In summary: while you shouldn’t expect life to always be arranged to your liking, you’ll be a happier person and a more effective member of any community if you concentrate on what you enjoy most and what you’re best at. If you can’t do it full-time, do it part-time. If you can’t manage your dream immediately, start working toward it. And definitely don’t give your whole life to a job that’s the opposite of your true self, just because your parents or some well-meaning friend said you “should.”

And if you still aren’t sure what you were made for, or don’t see how you’ll ever get close to it under your current circumstances? Follow James’s advice from the New Testament: ask God to show you what to do, and have faith that He will. Who’s better able to help you be the person you were created to be, than the One Who did the creating?

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Finding Your Purpose

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Since Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life was first published in 2002, “purpose” has become an everyday word in the Christian community. So far as it keeps us motivated to seek God’s will, that’s a good thing. But it has its dangers, especially for Christians who tend toward perfectionism and legalism.

Who’s in the Driver’s Seat, Anyway?

I admit I don’t care for the phrase “purpose driven.” Drivenness in general is responsible for much frustration in my life: too much hurry, too little rest, too much fear of failure, too many “urgent” short-term activities at the expense of forward-thinking action that fits real purpose better. While it’s good to have a larger sense of purpose guiding daily activities, the only One with the right to drive our lives is the Lord of the easy yoke and light burden.

It’s not really a purposeful life if you’re wearing yourself out trying to steer it personally.

Rest Stops

One classic time-management tip, called “Lakein’s Question” after author Alan Lakein, is to ask oneself regularly: What is the best use of my time right now? Anyone intending to make frequent use of that question, though, had better first run a check on tendencies to equate “useful” with “obviously productive.” There are always a few more things that need someone to do them, but just because no one else is doing them right now doesn’t mean you have to–especially if you’re already frustrated, burnt out, and sleep-deprived.

Just about everyone needs one full day off each week; seven or more hours of sleep every night; regular breaks in the course of a day’s work; and a few week-or-more vacations each year. If you’re getting less than that (or if you’re going through the motions but still thinking about “what else I could be getting done”), chances are you’re sabotaging your own ability to discern and fulfill your life’s purpose.

As anyone who’s ever memorized the Ten Commandments knows, “time off” is an entirely Biblical concept. God may be more displeased with nonstop motion (often used in attempts to usurp His authority) than with outright laziness.

Enjoy Life, It’s Good for You

Perhaps unfairly, the “Protestant” or “Puritan” “work ethic” is frequently construed as containing an Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not enjoy thyself.” This world has its share of sinful pleasures, but choosing a career or volunteer activity that appeals to your personal passions isn’t among them.

More often than not, your natural skills and passions are clues to God’s purpose for your life–and while not everyone can turn a love of painting into a full-time career, we all can find opportunities to glorify God, bless others, and cultivate our favorite talents through volunteer projects or leisure activities. Nothing is idolatrous or self-indulgent if it enhances your ability to love God and neighbor.

The Greatest Purpose

We individualism-minded Westerners tend to forget that the Bible was created in societies where the average person had little direct say in what career he would pursue or whom she would marry. While that worldview is hardly without disadvantages, its forming the backdrop for Scripture is evidence we needn’t fret too hard about the one exact career/spouse/education/hometown that coincides with God’s will for us. Stay in touch with God, cultivate your natural passions, consider big decisions against the question, “Will this help me seek God and serve my neighbor?”–and then act in confidence that our Lord will work all things out for good.

Centuries before The Purpose Driven Life, the Westminster Shorter Catechism summed up purpose in the simple statement: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” That’s applicable to any believer in any life situation.

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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