My Fight for Mental Health

overcoming-2127669_1920I’ve always been a much more melancholy person. Introspective, introverted, deep thinking – even overthinking. However, for most of my life I was also a very positive person. I always remember having the attitude that things would work out in the end.

This changed in the last few years. A darkness I had never known appeared, and wouldn’t go away. I had long seasons of sadness, but also bleak tiredness. The things I normally loved gave me no joy or satisfaction. It was like a thirst that was unquenchable, and nothing would satisfy. Sure enough, I was diagnosed with “moderately severe” depression.

For a time I had no idea what was going on. How could I? People in our world are only just learning about what depression is and why some struggle with crippling anxiety.

Like I do whenever I am faced with something I don’t understand or troubles me, I researched. I began devouring information and wisdom from those more experienced than me when it came to mental and emotional health. Books, counselors, psychologists, older friends, whatever or whoever it took. I was dead set on figuring this stuff out and conquering it.


Psychologist Henry Cloud’s book “Changes That Heal” had many life-changing insights for me, including the fact that often our depression or anxiety is tied to loneliness, and that feelings like loneliness are meant to move us to connect with others.

It was a huge insight: I was disconnected. It made perfect sense – I had made two significant moves far away from family, friends, and familiarity in as many years. As a selectively sociable introvert who struggles to develop and connect with others, moving away from my safe people took a big toll on me, and it was going to require some work to get healthy.

Combine that with some not-so-good relational choices, like trying to connect romantically to someone before I was part of a solid social support network, and that was bad news for my psyche. Actually, trying to get close to someone romantically heightened my anxiety and depressive symptoms. I found out later that it was because the relationship highlighted my loneliness instead of fixing it. One person is not meant to fill the void of a network of people.

Meaningful Challenge

Besides connection, there was a need for meaningful challenge in my life. I needed relational challenge – going through the friction of new connections for the sake of social fulfillment. But I also needed to take baby steps in ensuring I was putting my hands to work and doing meaningful things at work and in life.

For example, while my anxiety and loneliness made me want to stay inside on days when I had some challenging work days ahead, that would have hurt me more than helped me. This doesn’t mean a day off was always a bad idea, but when you’re so isolated and sluggish, propagating that isolation and sluggishness is probably a bad idea. Sometimes the scary or hard things are just what you need to overcome your fear or whatever is holding you down. I think this is the case for a lot of people with crippling anxiety or depression. You need to get out there, socialize, and do meaningful and challenging things.

Yes, it was hard – but that’s part of the point. Stress is not a bad thing, not when it is in moderate levels. In fact, the same research that says too much stress is bad for you shows us that not enough stress has similar effects. Just like muscles that atrophy when not used, our ability to withstand even mundane pressures in our lives decreases when we are not experiencing regular healthy stress to keep us strong. That was an important part of my recovery and an important part of staying healthy and mentally strong.

Paradigm Shifts

Finally, I actively worked on my thought patterns. I had grown into a pattern of worry that spiraled out into despair. I was regularly worrying about how life might end up and that it really wasn’t going the way I wanted it to. I had to learn to fight that negativity and hopelessness and start to get excited about how life “could be”.

Our thoughts can naturally build on each other. Anxiety easily escalates. I needed to learn how to manage my thinking or even stop it before I could deal with deeper issues and causes. Positivity can work the same way, fortunately. I learned to build new, positive thought patterns to keep out of needless and fruitless valleys of depressive thinking.

For me, part of the “get excited” thinking had to be about building meaningful relationships. So I thought about how fun they could be, and meaningful, and how even tough conflict could yield beautiful trust and connection. I took baby steps that would apply stress on my life as I stepped out to be vulnerable with people. It was scary – and beautiful, and healing, all in one.

There was a season that medication was incredibly helpful. I had gotten to such a low point that it was just unrealistic that my body and mind would heal on their own, especially since I was barely sleeping. I needed some stability, something to get me at normal levels so that I could function enough to 1) survive and 2) deal with the underlying things that were leading to being depressed and anxious.

So while I’m always a fan of keeping on the natural side of things when makes sense, I would say there are definitely seasons where medication is a very helpful option when dealing with near-crippling mental health issues. I am also very open to the fact that some of us may just have simple brain chemistry issues (or others) that could lead to us always requiring medication. I would say do your best to avoid it, but don’t be afraid to use it if you think it wise and necessary after talking with wise people including your doctor.

Thus, connection to others, challenging myself in important areas of life, and taking good care of my mind and body (with brief aid of medication) helped me out of my mental health issues.

A Lense and an Anchor

Some of you from Christian backgrounds might now be asking: what role did your faith play? Why is it not on this important list?

Well, my faith did play a significant role in my recovery. But it was a more indirect or passive one.

Simply, my faith was both an anchor in my times of despair and a lense through which to see hope in my suffering. It was incredibly helpful to know that my suffering had purpose, and that all was never lost, even when it felt like it.

It was also so meaningful to know that even Christ suffered purposefully, and that the Bible has always promised difficulty and suffering in this world. Thus there was purpose, and I knew that God, who had suffered as the man Jesus Christ, knew something of my pain and empathized with me. I still had to hold on tight and be honest even in my bitterness towards God.

I suppose my faith has also given a helpful retrospect to my suffering and prepared me for more in the future. I know now that there is a way through, and that hope always awaits me on the other side, along with increasing closeness with God. And, reminded that he is with me and giving meaning to every step, I move forward, ready to face the challenges my Maker has for me. I will embrace the scars and the difficulty, knowing I will only become stronger and more powerful even as I am humbled in all of it.

I pray the same will be for you.


Book Review: Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson


It’s probably my life’s greatest irony that I’m generally not good at sleeping (see my last name). I’m a light sleeper, sensitive to light and sound more than most people. I’m not unhappy that that’s the case (I’ll be the first to wake up in a fire or other threat), but it does suck when you’re trying to get a full night’s rest.

There’s also the question of sleep quality (not just quantity). Ever feel like even with 8+ hours you just can’t be refreshed?

Intro Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. Sleep quantity and quality are essential for a healthy body and mind. In fact, as he points out, lack those things and tiredness will be the least of your worries.

Shawn himself is walking evidence. His health was so bad in college that doctors were left confused at his chronic poor health and yet convinced that he would live the rest of his life in pain and overall bad health. Genetics, or something, they thought.

Fast forward a few years later, with improved diet and sleep, and everyone’s just as confused. This time, though, it was at the insane 180 that his body took. Everything was not just better, but fixed. Herniated disks even healed – definitely not a normal occurrence.

He proceeds to explain why poor sleep contributes to poor joint and bone health, chronic tiredness, poor academic and other performance, and even inability to handle stress. Healthy sleep, on the other hand, allows the body to heal and maintain itself properly.

If nothing else, Sleep Smarter will enlighten you to the power of sleep in your life and help you understand sleep itself. That is incredibly valuable. You spend about 1/3 of your life sleeping, after all.

Sleep Smarter’s chapters are concise and to the point. They’re also practical, with “Power Tip” sections at the end of each. The 14-Day sleep smarter plan and online bonus guide are helpful and practical resources for those who really want to do a sleep makeover. I recommend following the journal yourself, or maybe slowing things down further and walking through a chapter or two a week while you employ the strategies he gives. By slowly building the habits and Power Tips into your life, you can make healthy sleep choices a growing norm that sticks.

I haven’t employed every last tip from Shawn, but I have made significant steps and improved my sleep quality noticeably. In particular, Shawn “woke me up” to the importance of getting your body going in the morning and getting sunlight during the day. These things help your body know that daytime is awake time – and night time is not. This means the right hormones will be released at the right times and you’ll be kept on rhythm, optimized for healthy sleep when you need it each night.

My only critique is that a couple chapters feel short and somewhat lacking, particularly the one on mattresses and sleeping positions. It’s still satisfying and helpful for an introduction, but something so essential could have used some more robust treatment.

Finally, I will say that some of Stevenson’s claims and cited research is a little more “indy”. It’s newer and hasn’t yet stood the test of time. This doesn’t invalidate the research by any means, but it’s worth noting.

He also bases his general approach on what would have been historically natural for humans, but it might not be guaranteed that such things are actually what’s best for us or our sleep. That said, most of the book argues very soundly and has at least preliminary research backing it. Stevenson is also slow to put you on supplements and is often going for low-risk, quite natural solutions that are reasonable in logic as well as cost.

So, whether you agree with every conclusion or assumption made by Sleep Smarter, you will indeed be a smarter sleeper walking away from it. If you take your health seriously, make the read. You won’t be disappointed.

Does having many Bible translations mean the Bible is untrustworthy?

You may have heard it before:

The Bible wasn’t really written by God. Besides, why are there so many translations if there should only be one “word of God”? Clearly, it was just written by men, and what we have now is just a translation of a translation of a translation…

But Christians have never claimed that God actually came down and penned the Bible. From a theological standpoint, Christians believe that the Bible was “inspired” by God – that is, he was behind it but used authors and their personalities and circumstances to reveal truths.

Sometimes these were the words of God himself, like in the narrative books that record history where God speaks, or the books of the Prophets who actually record what God spoke to them. Other times, this just means that men were communicating truths that God worked in them to communicate in some form or another.

So, Christians believe God was behind and speaks through the entire Bible, but not that he physically “wrote” the book.

We don’t translate translations…

As for Bible translations, this is another simple misunderstanding.

The books of the Bible were written originally in either Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, depending largely on the time of writing. Since the beginning of Christianity, however, because people from all different kinds of backgrounds have become Christians, understandably there have been translations of the Bible from its original languages.

However, translations are just that – translations of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek manuscripts that have preserved the original content. The translations themselves have not been the primary conservers of the information. We have old, good manuscripts of the original languages from which translations are made.

So, the Bible we have today is not “a translation of a translation of a translation…” We take the wealth of old manuscripts which have survived the test of time and make the best translation possible.

There is simply no reason to think that a wealth of translations of the Bible means that it is any less trustworthy. In fact, I think there being translations just shows the cross-cultural power and relevance of the Bible, as well as the intentionality of Christians to actually bother to translate it into so many different dialects across the world. The labours of Christians to do so is very commendable and speaks to their belief that Jesus’ story and teaching are to be given to all people. It also shows that the Christian God meets people where they are at, and doesn’t require his Truth to be communicated in only one language or through some special “exclusive” means, which could lead easily to power abuse on behalf of privileged parties (which it has).

The simplicity of these explanations goes to show that with just a little brain work or inquiry, the surface level objections can be shown to be pretty weak. What other truth claims or ideas have you shrugged off because of a surface level, simplistic objection that might have been baseless?

Keep thinking,


Words Can Cut. And They Should.

plum-1690579_1920I’m generally a pretty tactful, harmonious person. I don’t like conflict. I’d often rather avoid issues than letting them out into the open.

To a degree, this is helpful. Agreeableness is a positive quality, and no one wants to be friends with the person who is always stirring the pot.

On the other hand, in our culture today we are perhaps swaying too far to the “agreeable” side of things. Whether it’s political correctness to a fault or just the inability to face our problems and deal with them (and verbalize them), we are suffering by stifling ourselves and others. We’re afraid of cutting with our words (even if we are nice about it), and we are afraid of ourselves being cut by someone else’s words. And it’s a problem, one that affects our relationships and our mental and emotional health.

Here’s what I mean.

What makes a real relationship? Intimacy, right? You feel close, you can tell them anything, they can tell you anything. To varying degrees with different people, we are more or less intimate. This intimacy is important to our psychological health and security. If we don’t have intimacy, we won’t have security. Without security, depression, anxiety, and other mental issues are right around the corner.

When we are walking on eggshells to be politically correct or to avoid conflict, we can’t really be ourselves. We can’t let ourselves be seen for fear of the rejection or resentment or turmoil or whatever. We can’t really have intimacy with one another. Hopefully, we have those people we are close to such that we don’t have to worry about offense or the like. And I’m not saying we should be totally open and without filter in front of everyone (that would be the opposite extreme perhaps). But what happens when this widespread hiddenness makes it hard to have deep relationships altogether? What if it finds its way into our personal lives?

Even if it doesn’t, we are still at times missing out in our day to day or public interactions. We can’t speak our minds. We are too afraid to offend, even if our ideas might actually be the right ideas. Therefore, we can’t contribute freely to the idea pool, have our ideas critiqued, or critique the ideas that do get shared (the ideas which are often just in line with what is already “mainstream” or agreed upon). Then, society becomes an echo chamber devoid of real, challenging and fruitful discussion. We, the society members, become phony, or at least narrow-minded.

Why have we come to this? Perhaps a variety of reasons. Internet culture has allowed us to hide behind screens and miss out on real intimacy, even when we are sharing deep or profound or important ideas. It has made nuance difficult in some ways and has allowed for easy and powerful misunderstanding, especially as the information-givers often frame the given information in ways that are meant to play on emotions without deeper consideration of truth and meaning.

As our technological culture has advanced, relationships have suffered, and we have been perhaps less emotionally secure as a result. We have relationships online – ones that give us a false sense of connection, but don’t give the real security that true face to face relationships do. Thus we can become “triggered” quite easily, and so avoid the things that trigger us. We then, keeping ourselves “safe”, become weaker and weaker. We hate offense more and more – we hate the idea of being cut by someone else’s opinions, and become less and less open to them altogether. Thus, we are weak both mentally and emotionally and become more so over time.

But words must be allowed to cut us. Suffering in life is meant to make us stronger, much like a workout of the muscles, though tearing them at first, allows them to heal and grow. The same is with our minds and our hearts. If we can’t interact with ideas (good or bad, true or not true), and we can’t interact with those that we may not agree with, how can we ever grow stronger? How can we ever be truly “safe” from becoming an echo chamber of lies? How can we truly get along with each other even when we disagree? How can we learn to be nuanced and thorough, gracious yet bold, if we never even practice dialoguing?

While these ideas come in reflection on the recent political landscape, it is a much deeper problem in our society today – particularly Western and Canadian society. So my encouragement is that we become OK with speaking up, making ourselves heard, and allowing ourselves to be disagreed with and even offended. This doesn’t mean we disrespect each other – that is different than disagreeing. But if my words never cut, or if I never allow myself to be cut by words, how can I be myself or be experienced as my true self? How can I heal and grow strong?

Don’t be afraid to be bold. Don’t be afraid to get into a conversation that might scare you. John Eldridge encourages men in his book, Wild at Heart: “Let people feel the weight of who you are, then let them deal with it.” I think we would do well to let our weight out a bit more.

Get strong, friends.


Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

– Jesus Christ (emphasis mine)

Difficulty Creates Depth

asphalt-1852964_1920.jpgI’ve gone through some pretty difficult times lately. For those of you who don’t know (I haven’t gone too out of my way to tell everyone yet), I broke off an engagement a short while ago. Though the decision was a hard one, it has felt in many ways like the right one, even though I can’t always fully explain it yet.

But going through such a strange, confusing time of loss and grief has led me to some interesting places. Though there have been times of deep sadness and temptation to despair or think the worst of my life, ultimately I think I’m coming to a place of deep clarity and orientation. A place of peace and strong grounding.

Such a peace can be hard to describe, and many might not ever experience such emotions like I do (I know we’re all different and experience things in different ways). I liken it to the kind of feelings you get when you listen to music that strikes you so deep that you just need to be still, let go of everything, and just experience the moving sound. The only thing you want to feel is this surreal zen. It’s not edgy or exciting, really, but just quiet. A deep sense of ultimate, grounding peace. It’s also not constant, but something that comes perhaps consciously, with intentional reminders of truth and grace to the self.

Some soundtrack music can take me there sometimes, or music like that of Enya. In a way there is a sadness with such a feeling, though it’s not true sadness. It’s a certain weight and gravity that you feel, a seriousness that is strengthening instead of overwhelming or crushing. It comes with a deep sense that everything is fine – or at least will be, in the end. It is nostalgia with a hopeful look to the future.

So what of it? Well, I think this weighty peace, this grounding gravity, is something we should all shoot for and aim for. It is a positive emotion (or combination of emotions) that shows you have your head on straight. You’re glad of your difficult past and excited to grow beyond it. Your arms are open to the rest of life. And in spite of all the past difficulties, failures or evils experienced, you are thankful. This is truly an amazing thing! Don’t we all long to be there?

Such a place to be in has shown me that difficulty creates depth inside of a person. Depth then allows for this kind of serious and hopeful sense of peace. It is a part of maturity, I think, to be able to heal from difficulty and come to accept and understand the serious and heavier parts of life. Often we avoid this process by partying, drinking, drugs, sex, or other distractions. I think we hurt ourselves if we avoid it, and instead of creating depth the process creates bitterness and hardness of heart, an unwillingness to accept life as it is, good and bad alike.

Of course, this process is hard. You actually have to go through the difficulty and actively pursue healing to get there. You have to change, accept parts of you or others that you don’t want to accept, and that hurts. Furthermore, it takes time – sometimes a lot of it.

But the maturation, sweet like wine as it ages, is well worth it.

Perhaps also necessary for this weighty peace is a sense of the supernatural or divine. After all, if we have no ultimate reality beyond this mere physical world, how can we have such a transcending hope? I don’t think we can. And experientially, existentially, this peace for me involves a deep trust in God and his work in my life through difficulty. He has created this depth and filled it with his divine peace, causing it to overflow with divine hope. For that, I am ever grateful, and excited for the adventure that goes ever on.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

From J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings


The Moral Superiority of Jesus


I honestly think Jesus was simply the man. Makes sense that I’m a Christian then, right?

My thinking this is not arrogance. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we all believe our religious founder is superior (or that they are all overrated if we have none). But what reasons do we have for that belief, and in what ways do we claim one is better than the other? 

Here, I want to take a quick look at why Jesus is morally superior to Buddha and Mohammed. 

Jesus’ Moral Revolution

Whether you look at the New Testament or the other extra-biblical sources that mention Jesus (there are numerous), they really don’t have any kind of evidence that he was an immoral man. The Rabbis didn’t like him because he did miracles and yet didn’t agree with them. The Romans saw him as an insurgent, but give us no reason to suspect he did anything violent. And his followers themselves were known for how counter-cultural they were in how they lived – communally, respectfully, lovingly… and never violently.

Further evidence of the morality of Jesus comes from the Biblical traditions and cultural changes that spawned from him. The Christian movement truly was a moral revolution, and most of us today hold to some distinctly Christian values, whether we think we do or not. In fact, the word “humility” which has the same root as “humiliation” was not something that people valued until after Jesus, whose humility was found in his willingness to be humiliated for the sake of others.

To preface my criticisms that follow, I say this: I want to be careful and yet critical. That is, I don’t with to be unfair in what I say, nor do I wish to say it impolitely. But I do want to be direct and to the point, and to not shy away from what I believe to be honest criticisms. I also welcome yours! 

Mohammed’s Conquests & Romances

Contrast the morality of Jesus with that of Mohammed. While Muslims praise him as the final and greatest prophet of God, I think that even Islamic tradition itself betrays Mohammed’s questionable character.

First, his whole campaign was not a peaceful one like Jesus’ was. The early Muslim regime was a militant one. Granted, they sought first a peaceful conquering of land and peoples (but still a conquering, and one which included institutionalized discrimination for those who did not convert), but if there was any resistance, violence was the 2nd resort. Whereas Christians crusaded in the 11th century over a thousand years after their beginnings, Muslims were crusading right away and have been doing so in larger or smaller groups ever since. And I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Mohammed set that tone.

Secondly, Mohammed had a questionable romantic life. Besides being polygamous and marrying 9-year-old Aisha, he justified the normally unlawful divorce (even by previously revealed Qu’ran law) of his adopted son Zayd’s wife so that he could marry her. Making things worse, he did it through a convenient and arguably self-serving “revelation” from God.

Buddha’s Negligence 

I find it funny how many Westerners adopt Buddhism as a convenient, new age kind of spirituality. I can definitely see the appeal in some ways, but I find the supposedly “enlightened” Buddha, in the end, morally lacking.

Being dissatisfied with his native Hinduism, Buddha left his family (wife and children too if I remember correctly) for a life of extreme asceticism, which is essentially a giving up of indulgences. People nowadays think that Buddha is noble for leaving behind excessive lifestyle choices, but how is leaving behind one’s wife and children and other societal responsibilities noble? Morality, after all, is more about our relationships to others than about ourselves.

Jesus lived a relatively poor, underprivileged lifestyle, devoid of any real excess. Yet he worked and was a faithful contributor to society for 30 years until his more significant religious work began. Even then, while he called for radical commitment to his teachings, his ethics centred around loving one’s neighbour, not leaving them to find personal fulfillment (which was indeed Buddha’s goal, though it wore the veneer of sacrifice).

Jesus’ sacrifice, on the other hand, was one of service to others. After his death, unlike the deaths of other Messianic would-be-nots of Jesus’ time, caused a total revolution and changed the moral landscape of the world. This is simply not the case for Mohammed or Buddha, who arguably may have caused more moral damage than good.

What do you think of my criticisms? I’d be interested to hear, so feel free to hit me up in the comments below or via Twitter @rexCo27.

Keep thinking!


Four Ways to Get Good Stress

The principle of getting good stress is true, I think, in all the different arenas of life. If you understand these key areas you can at least get started in pursuing healthy degrees of challenge in your life to keep you sharp and strong.

Physical Exercise

This is something right at your fingertips. Even if it’s just doing daily push-ups when you wake up or in the evening. Ideally, it’s more than that. Some regular, sweat-inducing cardio, a fun sports game a couple times a week, a challenging resistance training routine. I’m hoping to learn some kind of fighting soon, which might take out an evening or weekend afternoon every week.

The number one excuse for not exercising is time. But again, even something small like a 20-minute run can give huge physical benefits! Kinesiology was my field of study in University, and a major take-away from several classes looking at physical activity research was that exercise is essentially a miracle drug. It fights depression, stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, and has innumerable other benefits.

So do yourself a favour and commit to getting some exercise.

Mental Exercise

Whether it’s reading a book, watching educational videos, writing, or even browsing Wikipedia articles that you find interesting, you need to find ways to sharpen your mind. Learning – and being challenged in what you think you already know – should be a norm for everyone, since the brain is much like any muscle and will atrophy if it is not challenged with healthy, regular use.

I encourage you to interact with content that you disagree with. Try and understand it, pick it apart, and explain to yourself verbally or in written form why you disagree. I find listening to both sides of any argument quite invigorating – even purpose-giving. It keeps you on your toes and you’re less likely to get stuck in your own ways and ideas, if you’re doing it right.

I’ll never forget when I once wrestled with the theology of the Protestant Reformers (Martin Luther and John Calvin, among others). Some of it I hated so much that I found myself questioning whether I even wanted to continue being a Christian! But after 8 months thinking and hearing different perspectives I embraced the doctrines I was once so scared of. That journey changed how I see the world, and I’m immensely thankful for it. Such intellectual journeys are not only fun but life-enriching, and we all owe it to ourselves to keep learning and seeking truth.

Relational Exercise

The internet age has given us artificial relationships while making us think we have real ones. We think we’re more connected than ever, but we’re not. Any wonder so many of us feel isolated and deal with resulting anxiety or depression? It’s time to put our skin in the game, take some risks, and build authentic relationships.

If you’re in a stage of anxiety or other mental illness right now, this kind of exercise will be especially hard. But like any “good stress”, the risk is necessary for the reward. And for some, the reward is finally coming to a place of security and mental health.

Start with friends or co-workers you have around. Think of a few questions you could ask them; make some conversation. Try to develop a curious mind, and questions will eventually just start to come (Dale Carnegie insists that a genuine interest is one of the chief ways of making real friends!).

Like any good stress, expect difficulties and even setbacks. Disagreements or conflicts in general are normal in any real relationships, so learn how to deal with them honestly and humbly. Try and see them as an opportunity for growth and greater connection rather than something negative.

Emotional Exercise

Most people in our western culture grow up not learning how to process emotions properly. As a result, when we get older, we just don’t know how to deal with them. We suppress, avoid, or just get frustrated because we don’t know what to do with our feelings.

I say this as a man who grew up in a home where you didn’t talk about emotions, and in a culture that doesn’t allow men that freedom. In an unfortunate twist of irony, my emotions often end up getting the best of me and leading to a deep seeded anger.

It’s a real challenge (a good stress), but we need to build emotional connections with people, learn to express and process our emotions appropriately, and accept them as they ebb and flow. As we do, we actually come to a point of greater emotional stability – that is, our emotions become helpful rather than controlling or crippling.

Bonus Round: Practicing Thankfulness

In our privileged culture, the #firstworldproblems thing is no joke. We are so entitled that we are incredibly ungrateful even when we have amazing lives.

Time to fight this indwelling evil. Fight it with the only true antidote: thankfulness. Think of things you have every reason to be thankful for. And be honest – if you’re not satisfied completely with something, ask yourself why? Consider that perhaps the problem is not the thing itself but you and your perspective. I find that when I really think about it, usually my biggest complaints in life aren’t that warranted. And when I stop with the complaining attitude, the relationship or work-related thing often improves as my attitude changes.

We’ll explore these areas some more soon. For now, be challenged and (appropriately) stressed!


The Good Stress of Purpose

runner-555074_1920I’ve talked before about the importance of struggle and healthy stress in our lives. It grows our character, strengthens our minds and bodies, and humbles us.

But something was lacking: what sort of things give us healthy stress in our lives? Here, I want to briefly explore why purpose is one good example of a healthy stress-inducer.

Pressure and Purpose

You might not first think of it this way, but purpose naturally puts pressure on us. It directs and guides us. It moves or draws us towards its ends, requires results, and motivates us with rewards (among other things). It keeps us from things that are undesired, destructive, or just a waste of time. It is a healthy stress if it is a good and correct purpose and one that drives us forward in important areas of life: overall health, good relationships, moral goodness, societal contribution, etc.

Think of school work. Perhaps your purpose is to learn and get good grades (though you may have a different one). That purpose motivates you to actually do your homework and work relatively hard at it. It stops you from wasting time on too much video games (hopefully) and is probably going to keep you from abusing drugs or alcohol which would get in the way of success.

I think of the people who did not adopt such a healthy stress in high school. They wasted time out in the forest smoking and playing hooky. Many of them didn’t really go anywhere. I know there are complicated reasons that someone might choose that lifestyle, and I’m not trying to be inconsiderate. I also think that any life can be turned around! That said, when people shirk healthy purpose, they leave behind overall health and success with it. The good stress of purpose will stop you from going down such roads.

Perspectives and Purpose

Coming from a Christian perspective has helped me in many ways. One of those has been by giving me an all-informing and all-encompassing sense of purpose. I know that my life is to be lived for the good of others and the glory of God. I live to tell others about the purpose that Jesus taught and the understanding that he gave. He takes care of my failures so that they don’t weigh me down or guilt me like most religion does. He promised a hope for a new earth in a future life, but also one that continues from this one. Thus, “what we do in this life echoes into eternity” as Maximus says in Gladiator. This completely changes how one lives.

I know not all of you reading this will come from or even be interested in a Christian perspective. That’s fine, although I do think that theists have an advantage here since I can’t see a good reason for having purpose that you just make up or that comes from something from this world only.

That said, I do think anyone can (and must) take advantage of the idea of purpose and the healthy stress that it puts on you. Consider thinking of purposes or “mission statements” for the different areas of your life. For example, you may have this mission statement for your family responsibilities: “I will prioritize my family relationships above all others, doing my best to help each member flourish, putting their needs above my own.” When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, this kind of statement will be a stressful one to carry out! But it’s a great one, and if you really believe it it will push you towards healthy living, and in one of the most important social institutions at that.

So wherever you’re coming from, and whatever place of “health” you’re at in your life, consider the benefits of purpose and the stress that comes from it. Remember that even though stress might seem particularly hard at first, you’ll need to build up strength to do it – but you’ll be better off for it.

Finally, be challenged: do you have purpose in your life? Are you giving yourself to meaningless or secondary things? Perhaps you need to do some soul-searching.

I hope you find strength in it all,


P.S. A Book That Talks About Purpose:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The Good Stress


bodybuilder-646482_1920Mental health issues have been on the rise for some time. And isn’t it strange that they come even as “stress” in our over-civilized lives has supposedly decreased? I’ve also noticed as an outspoken Christian and politics-observer that there’s an interesting insecurity not just in individuals but in entire cultural ways of thinking (notice all the protests and lack of reasonable conversations which I talked about in my last post). Coincidences? Maybe.

Maybe not.

The Art of Manliness has recently been discussing something they are calling “the strenuous life”. They note the steady decline of stress in day to day life with culture’s over-civilisation, both stress of the physical nature as well as of the mental. Life is, with technology and industry and the like, becoming easier and easier. And yet, we see on the rise an increasing count of apparent “stress” in the form of anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. Also on the rise is unexplainable and undiagnosable pain in the body. Paradoxically, even with less stress, our bodies and minds seem bent on stressing themselves out.

Brett Mckay and his wife (who author most of The Art of Manliness’ stuff) make a call for “a New Strenuous Age”. And I think they’re on to something.

The Strengthening of Good Stress

Recently, I had a fascinating conversation with someone. Among many topics, the importance of good stress kept coming up.

My friend is learning Muay Thai, and recalled his need to learn how to take a good punch so that when he got hit in the future he could take it in stride. As we talked about politics and how hyper-sensitive so many people in our culture are today (in particular those who are on the Left side of things politically and socially) we related that sensitivity to the same principle as the bodily (and mental) stress that my friend needed to undergo for growth and development.

We both seemed to reach the same idea together as we talked: what if our lack of willingness to have the hard conversations and disagree with each other was leading (at least in part) to all this hyper-sensitivity? What if our lack of conversation was actually making it harder and harder to have a conversation at all, and thus leading to the difficulty of even living with and tolerating one another? Like a marriage that never quite fixes itself after a bad problem: somebody avoids conflict for the sake of so-called “peace” only to leave an issue to fester and rot the relationship from the inside out with bitterness and problems unsolved.

That is where we are. We have defeated ourselves by seeking comfort. We have become too soft to even function properly as a society.

I remember a friend’s story of conflict. While on assignment in Asia, he was working closely with a team of about 6 people (seeing/working with each other every day, living with one of them as a roommate… in general, very close proximity). When a regional leader came to the team a few months in, he was shocked to find each team member reporting no conflict. The leader called an emergency meeting. To him, this lack of conflict was actually a bad thing. Why? Because friction between people is inevitable. And when we learn to work with and deal with that friction, we actually get closer to each other through that difficulty. But if we don’t deal, we run the risk of bitterness festering and becoming something nearly impossible to work through.

It’s Easy to Be Soft Behind Screens

Consider also the internet and social media in particular. With being able to so easily take things out of context and with being limited to a certain amount of characters or words in any piece that I tweet or post, how can I really express myself in satisfactory nuance and be more understood? How can I have real relationships and a good support system (something key for emotional security) if I’m not having these kinds of conversations with real people and am content with discussions online? Perhaps social media is indeed largely responsible for a lot of the propagating of this bad disease of insecurity as relationships are electronic now more than they are real.

I heard Connor McGregor (a UFC fighter) say something like this regarding his training: the more uncomfortable you are willing to make yourself, the more comfortable you’ll actually become.

How paradoxically true! Not only for the body, but also for the mind.

We are so soft that we can’t tolerate even small stresses in our lives. Mere words trigger us, and we overreact. When we are hurt, we aren’t willing to have the conversation where we explain ourselves or just “agree to disagree”. Why? We’re soft. Insecure. Too proud to experience conflict and take the risk that should be part of any true and meaningful relationship and which is actually necessary for true intimacy leading to true security. All for selfish, supposed “comfort”.

We need to stop this. We need to harden. We need a new, strenuous age where we challenge ourselves in body, mind and spirit. We need to experience working with our hands and having rigorous dialogue with our neighbours, family and friends. We need to spend less time in our virtual, simulated world online and more time in the real world with real people looking at and touching real things. We need to challenge ourselves in our work, take on new tasks that scare us, and be willing to “fail forward”.

Only when we make ourselves uncomfortable can we find an increasing, true and malleable comfort.

Think for yourself about new ways you can do just that.



Trump, Free Speech and a Conversation


Bigot! Nazi! White supremacist!

… Really?

They are becoming baseless (and now, unfortunately, trivialized) terms thrown around in recent times in wake of the election of Donald Trump and his latest actions in office (mind you they’re often not about him, and even were said about Canadian PM Justin Trudeau by Black Lives Matter Canada’s founder). No conversation – not even general niceness included. And, seemingly more and more often, violent protests come with them! Is there any room for real conversation with how things are going? Is there a way to move forward?

Opportunities in the Wake

Perhaps contrary to the opinions of some, I think there is great opportunity in these times. The controversial election win is surprising, and many think that it is going to hurt diversity and freedom in America. I think the worries aren’t unreasonable – but don’t think it has to end up that way. I think there is opportunity for conversation with the Republican win – a conversation that has not been happening much in our far Western culture. The liberal/Leftwing extremism and intolerance that has become even more obvious in recent times (as well and humbly confessed to by liberal Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times) has gone too far, in my opinion, and a Trump victory might mean that such extremism is not allowed to gain too strong a foothold. Or at the least, we will all be forced to have the conversations we have been avoiding. Let me explain.

First, what is this liberal extremism and intolerance? Kristof gives us examples when he explains several Facebook comments that illustrate a liberal arrogance that discriminates against conservative perspectives, writing them off without discussion. He states that while many people who follow him on Facebook care about social issues from human trafficking to abused chickens they don’t seem to care that academia is discriminating against conservatives in general and Christians in particular. To such liberals, there is nothing conservatives can add to the conversation.

Extremism might still sound like a strong word, but let me continue. Often with these liberal perspectives’ strong (and often admirable) push for social justice, they preach the idea of “tolerance”. Tolerance sounds nice, but the kind of tolerance we see from many of these folks is not tolerance at all. Instead of agreeing to disagree and pursuing dialogue and truth, this new tolerance says that if you don’t agree with my ideas or convictions, you must be a bigot and a hater. Even if your views are based in what you believe to be fact, and even if they are based on evidence. Lately, there have even been violent riots to protest speeches of conservative speakers.

The Jordan Peterson Example

Take for example the recent news coverage and debates with Dr. Jordan Peterson at the University of Toronto. Dr. Peterson, though appealing to things like biology, political sciences and history, and even recent social patterns in other countries, is dismissed as a bigot and someone who should essentially be ridiculed and punished by the University of Toronto because of his views on Bill-16 and the gender pronoun legislation. There is no attempt to truly understand him, no desire to hear out his heart (which, by the way, is to keep us from actually becoming a Marxist nation, something many of us would believe to be evil), and, well… definitely no attempt at tolerance. This is a ruining of free speech, and it comes in the guise of the new tolerance. A perspective that is based on science and thoughtful examination of the facts is suddenly now hate speech, and many a far leftist is crying for supposed justice.

Now I don’t necessarily agree with Peterson and all of his views or how he is expressing them. It’s not wrong to disagree with the guy, or even call into question his tact in discussing such issues (though I’ve never heard the man talk in person). But to not even discuss with him? To not care enough about the truth to reason with him, logically and coherently? To throw accusatory words around blindly? Are we mere children? If this weren’t enough, some have even insisted on legal action against the man! Do we not see the ridiculousness?

We only need to browse YouTube and even mainstream news in general these days to see yet more of the same liberal extremism happening. They throw around baseless terms, protest anything pro-conservative (even violently) and forget the tolerance that they all preach. It is more and more a very real problem, and it betrays deep cultural issues.

Honest Conversation, Honest Criticism

Let’s be straight here. If your worldview or perspective on any given issue is not logically arguable (or you yourself are incapable of making a good case) and you lower yourself to ad hominem (personal) attacks, then you are acting like a child and should instead be rethinking your perspective. You need to be open to the idea that you might be wrong, as any honest person (especially an academic!) should be. We as a society need to grow up, try to be nuanced in our thinking and argumentation, and always be open to correction if we hope to truly make progress.

And this brings me full circle. Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election in the United States of America. He’s doing a lot of the things many didn’t agree with but that he promised – and that got him voted in in part. Instead of throwing words like “racism”, “misogyny” or “xenophobia” around and condemning those who disagree with us, let’s consider that there are some real issues that need to be talked about, people that need to be understood (before you make yourself so), and ways that you are wrong and need to be corrected (whatever your views are).

And while we’re at it, let’s try to practice some optimism.

Keep thinking, even with all this stuff appealing to your emotions going around!