Should we even date?

Promise not to judge me?

I used to have pretty strict views on dating.

But give me a break: I was in leadership of a Christian student ministry and felt like I had to play the big bro. I wanted to protect the girls and make sure the guys were acting honourably. Good things, right?

Add to that one case of a dude wheeling a few girls who eventually got hurt, and you can understand why I took a skeptical and conservative approach to the whole dating thing.

Suffice it to say, those views changed after I got hurt by them.

Basically, I used to think that you had to be super serious before you made any kind of move. You better know your intentions and be clear about them. And in the Christian subculture where romance is inevitably tied to impending nuptials, this can lead to either hasty confusion or paralysis. Things happen too quickly or not at all.

This uptightness doesn’t work, however. Relationships are messy, after all. Am I really going to know what I want early on?

Combine that with the fact that the non-Christian world takes dating so flippantly. Casual sex, Netflix & chill… these are par for the course, and really not options for the Christian who is in search of a monogamous long term partnership. Hearts are not to be played with, nor should dating be treated with frivolity.

So… Should we?

So I understood when a friend asked me recently, amidst my dating blog posts: Should people (perhaps Christians in particular) even date at all? Is it the best way of doing things?

Perhaps we can’t know if it’s the best way or not. But I think we can assess whether the concept is helpful or unhelpful.

Christian psychologists and psychotherapists Henry Cloud and John Townsend point out in their book “Boundaries in Dating” that it is not the general concept of dating that is flawed, but rather our poor use of the concept. Being human, we take what could be a helpful process of discernment and screw it up royally.

Here are some things they like about dating: 

Dating lets someone learn what he or she likes in the opposite sex.
For me, this is perhaps the biggest benefit. In looking for a spouse, I’m not just looking for a good person who shares my deepest values (though those are top of the list). I’m looking for a friend who I just plain enjoy.

But it actually took a healthy (or at least improving) dating process for me to even realize how important that kind of friendship was to me. Without having gone through a thoughtful process here, I think I’d be missing out on some important information regarding mate selection.   

Dating gives people a context to meet and spend time with a wide variety of people. They can find out what they like, what they need, and what is good for them.
This is one of the tougher parts for some Christians (like the old me) to accept. “Dating multiple people??? Gross!!” some will say. But hold up – when we say “dating” we need to define our terms since the word can be used in different ways.

Here, we mean a casual “getting to know people” kind of dating. Taking someone out for a coffee, no strings attached. Going for a walk. You’re not yet in a more committed or intentional phase that you would label “in a relationship”. Here, commitment is low and discernment is high, and you can learn about yourself and what you want in a partner.

This variety of experience has a few benefits. For one, it helps you keep from committing all at once to one person. I’ve found it can keep me from becoming infatuated too much with one person when I am intentionally taking it slow and exploring my options.

Second, as Cloud & Townsend say, it helps you find out what you like, need, and what is good for you. Some people get lucky with the first person they are in a relationship with. But it can often happen that that first person is not a great fit at all, so it is best to move on.

Dating gives a context to learn sexual self-control and other delays of gratification.
You might find this one interesting. Some Christians argue against dating because they think it will lead to premature sexual intimacy. But two mature people who share the value of chastity (or other physical boundaries) can still get to know one another without succumbing to temptation. In fact, Cloud & Townsend argue, this context provides the opportunity for growth in self-control.

Does the risk mean we take away the method? Only if there’s a better way, since risk is inherent to any method, and no method means we never accomplish our goal. In this case: no dating may mean no marriage.

Sometimes in the church people are told to stay far away from temptation, and that is a good, biblical thing. Yet, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, some people make rules that miss the point and do more harm than good.

We could throw the baby out with the bathwater and say “don’t date at all”. Don’t ask someone out to coffee, because you could lead them on and hurt them. Don’t spend any time 1 on 1 because that could lead to early physical intimacy.

But these rules assume two people can’t take responsibility for themselves or their actions, or that they can’t practice any self-control. It also assumes that they can’t employ precautions, like spending 1 on 1 time in public places. Sure, it’s wise at times to put up healthy boundaries, even in some cases extreme ones. But building the walls too close means you’re going to get paralyzed.

Instead, perhaps two mature people can practice delaying gratification as they go through the hard work of getting to know each other and discerning. With the help of family and friends and mentors, they can go through a healthy process that gives context to practicing self-control and helps inform them thoroughly regarding one of the most important decisions they’ll ever make.

Keep calm and date on

So what about the original case that had led me to my old views? Once more, I think it is how we date that is the issue. Take it seriously. Learn to know when a relationship has run its course. If you aren’t feeling it, end it. Don’t let things run on. Hold back on promises and commitments until you know you want to move forward – and then do so deliberately.

So I say go ahead and date, wherever you’re coming from. But be intentional and keep a close watch on yourself. Hearts are not to be played with. And while you’re at it, have some friends and others who can be giving you some input in the process. Sometimes it’s your own heart that can play with you.




3 Hard but Helpful Questions to Ask About Your Relationship

So you’re dating. Great. All those feels, am I right?

Seriously though. Those feels. They make you crazy. Like actually: neurochemistry goes wack for a while when you’re with a new person. For over a year sometimes.

There are probably a million questions you should ask (if you’re a perfectionist) to really get to know someone and figure out if they’re for you. If you’re wise, at least some of those should be hard questions about the quality of the relationship.

Here are 3 to ask yourself. They might sound simple at first, but try and let them sink in, and be very honest with the answers.

1) Do you like your significant other?

I’m sure you feel like you love them, but do you like them? I mean, do you genuinely enjoy them like a friend and like someone you just plain like to have around? Do they make everything in life better, or would you kinda rather they stay home sometimes?

Someone shared recently that they were dating someone who was great on paper, but after a little while they realized that they never wanted to be around this person alone. In fact, they dreaded it.

Is that you? Are you eager for a date to finish? Are you sometimes wishing you could have some other company with you so that things would be more “fun”?

Consider that a lot of marriage will be just the two of you. How much would marriage suck if you didn’t really enjoy the plain old company of your partner?

2) Do you find yourself embarrassed by them?

Are you proud to show them off to your friends (I’m not talking physically)? Do you genuinely like the idea of being seen by their side? Or do you cringe when they open their mouths when you’re with company?

This is going to be a lot of your life. People will see you with this person. It will be awkward for you, not to mention mentally and emotionally stressful, if you generally don’t feel happy that people think of them when they think of you.

Furthermore, consider that “birds of a similar feather fly together”. If your friends don’t get along with them or seem out of place, or vice-versa with their friends, that may be a clue that the two of you will want to hang out with different people. That’s no fun. You may end up with entirely different friend groups and will find yourselves apart during times when best friends should be together. Food for thought.

3) Do you make the 5:1 ratio?

Researcher John Gottman has shown that a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions is a minimum requirement for a successful marriage. If you’re lower than that, you’re in trouble.

Some of this ratio is likely within your control, but you might also think back to question #1. If you don’t like and respect your partner, it’s going to be a lot harder for the two of you to have the positive interactions you’ll need for emotional and relational health.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for such marriages – I’m a firm believer there is (see the Gottman Institute article for some help). But if you’re dating, it may be unwise to knowingly jump (or slip!) into a marriage with a bad outlook. Even if your current partner is the one for you, it would be better to start off on the right foot.

Gary Thomas writes that “…people marry people they don’t like all the time” (The Sacred Search, emphasis mine). Why might this be? Perhaps some are insecure about breaking up. Others might not want to make a scene. This is especially true the more attached you are or the further along you are in the relationship.

Don’t let that be you, friends. Take heart, get help, and act; you’ll be fine. In fact, you (and they) will be better off going through a tough break up now than a divorce (or contemptuous marriage) down the line.

I’ve been there. It took me way too long to end a relationship that should have finished much earlier. I’m thankful I made the call I did, for both my sake and hers. And I’ll end there: consider that your partner may even have the harder time being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t like or respect them for who they are. Ending things may be as much a favour to them as it is the right choice for yourself.

Keep thinking friends. Even if you’re completely crazy for someone!

2 Marriage Truths That Don’t Apply to Dating

Marriage. Some love it, some hate it. I’m convinced it’s incredibly underrated, and I think statistics would agree with me.

But all the best things can go awfully wrong. Shawn Smith understands this, and I’ve reviewed his book which tries to help men date well to marry well.

Some well-intended folks have tried to do the same. However, some things are helpful to know for marriage that don’t exactly apply in the dating phase.

I’m assuming that others have faced similar confusion, perhaps without knowing it. It might be our own fault for applying these truths to dating when they were meant for marriage. Give these two truths thought, but remember not to apply them directly to your dating situation:

1) Marriage is about commitment.

Amen! But the point of dating is to figure out *if* you’re going to commit to someone. I know there’s a phase before engagement where you have a certain degree of exclusivity. But this commitment is not the same as marital commitment.

So if you’re dating and things aren’t going so well, take heart. You’re not committed yet, and you are totally free to feel like this relationship isn’t for you. In fact, if you feel that way, I wouldn’t hesitate. Pray, think, get wisdom, and act. You may save yourself and your boyfriend/girlfriend considerable heartbreak.

2) Marriage is for your holiness, not your happiness.

If you’re not a Christian, you could replace “holiness” with some kind of personal growth and maturity, though admittedly that’s underplaying how significant holiness is to the Christian. But nonetheless, it’s a beautiful fact that marriage matures and enhances us as human beings.

However, to the dating individual, this phrase can be misleading. A good marriage should lead to happiness if there is quality intimacy and commitment. But, sure, when two people are married and the going gets tough, they need to hear that relationships are hard and that it’s not all about them and how they feel. Every marriage will prove difficult, and the difficult times should bring you closer.

But when you’re dating and things are constantly hard, the dating person should stop and think: “why is this so hard? Should it be? What might this be suggesting?” It’s possible that the difficulty you are facing is totally normal or at least nothing unusual. But it’s also possible that such a difficulty might mean you need to rethink the relationship. Again, this is the time to have your eyes wide open and ask the hard questions about a relationship that could lead to marriage… but perhaps shouldn’t.


I say these things because of the very unique stage that dating is. You’re usually infatuated, at least for the first 12-18 months, which means your neurochemistry is completely whack and you’re blind to flaws of your significant other and your relationship with them. That’s why the above truths that are so helpful to marriage aren’t always helpful when you’re trying to figure out if the two of you are marriage material.

So time to rethink. Yes, marriage is about commitment. Yes, my marriage will not always be a happy one. But what do these hard times mean? Is there something I’m missing? Who can help me keep things clear?

Keep thinking. Scary though it might be!

Believe the Birthday Cards You Get

Mom and Dad birthday cardThey’re easy to pass over. Even the ones we buy for others – do we really put all that much thought into them?

Perhaps we should. Either way, I think it’s safe to assume that the people who buy you your birthday cards actually believe the encouraging words found within them, cheesy as they may be. They probably believe them – and mean them – even if they don’t (or can’t) say them to your face directly.

It’s an unfortunate reality in our culture that we have trouble expressing our deepest appreciations of people, but that doesn’t mean we should think that underlying realities aren’t true. And with all the mental health issues and sadness going around, why not take what we can get?

And if you don’t get sweet birthday cards or other words of affection… my heart is with you. Maybe you don’t have people – and you need to find them. Maybe you have the wrong people, and you need to change your support system.

Or maybe you aren’t so deserving of any such words and need to change and grow. We all have ugly, and some of us don’t own it. Be real with yourself, own your failures, and work on your character.

Actually, I would recommend this approach for all of us. Spiritually, this is the humble approach: to assume that I am at least part of the problem. Being a Christian, this has to be my first instinct. Psychologically, we know that humble people who contribute to society are happier and achieve higher status because of their meaningful contributions. So if you want to receive, you first need to give.

This doesn’t mean we find our ultimate value in earning the affections of others. That’s a dangerous trap.

You are loved and valuable, quite simply, because you are created. God doesn’t make mistakes, either in making you or in how he’s made you. And he has uniquely gifted you with power to contribute and bless the lives of others. You are valuable – and uniquely so – in and of yourself.

That’s my view, at least, and I don’t think you should be ashamed at reminding yourself of this. And don’t just tell yourself these things. Go out and live like it’s true. Contribute, like you matter. Because you do.

So next time you get some cheesy birthday cards, don’t think of them as cheesy. Read them, dwell on them, and appreciate them for the beautiful words they are. Then live like they’re true.

You are loved.


Mom and Dad birthday card 2

4 Weapons in the 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.

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.



Responding to Adam4d on Anxiety

A few things got me worried (ironically) as I read Adam4d’s guest post at recently. As someone who has had clinical anxiety in different forms (and depression also), I felt the need to address some concerns that the article brought up. This is not meant to be an attack but a thoughtful assessment of his conclusions based on experience and all that I’ve learned in my process of experiencing anxiety.

First, I love the overall positive tone that Adam takes. He acknowledges the truth, and sincerely wants people to understand more about those who are struggling with anxiety, even as Christians. I also love that Adam does give the disorder its fair shake of the sauce. Anxiety is a powerful thing as a disorder and can indeed bring doom with it for no apparent reason. And it’s often not the fault of the individual! We all would do well to acknowledge this and realize that there can be issues we really just don’t understand.

But as someone who has gone through crazy periods of anxiety and depression and come out the other side with a lot of healing (emotionally, physically, spiritually and so on) I think there are some things going on that Adam is ignorant to, and so he may mislead us in some ways. It also appears that he has not achieved much healing or learned a lot in this area except for coming to a point of embracing his reality (which is important, properly understood). I sincerely believe that although brains can malfunction and patterns can be hard to break out of, we have the abilities to heal (most of the time), change our brain patterns, and that there are often life issues or patterns that we might not even be recognizing that can lead us into even physiological anxiety. I also want to note that a lot of what I am sharing I have learned not simply by experience but through good Christian counseling and psychological education (with names like Dr. Henry Cloud). Finally, I will always leave room for the cases that are indeed something we cannot fix and may even always need medication or the like for. We don’t know it all, and though I think the majority of strong anxiety cases are treatable (holistically), I can’t say that all of them are. I encourage all of you to at least believe that it can be treated and worked through, however! There is no point in hanging up the towel and being satisfied with where you are.

I was thankful to the “Letters to the editor” that Challies posted, and agree with some of the statements said there. Maybe check them out for some balance.

I will start how Adam ends, because I believe he exposes a root of the problem while enabling it further, and this is a great danger.


We know you’re not blowing us off… But it doesn’t matter

He says, “When we’re struggling… Tell us “it is finished.” Tell us what He accomplished on our behalf. But please, don’t call—a text or email will do just fine. :)” Do you see it? It is a fear of true interaction leading to avoidance of that interaction that surely leads to further alienation and isolation… And at the root of almost any depression or anxiety, as I’ve been learning from Dr. Henry Cloud, are those very things. Adam, you would do well to not only take real phone calls but make them. You would do well to fight through the pain of real interaction and relationship in order to overcome your paralysis. Trust me! You need friends. You need interaction. You need laughter. And you won’t get those things, really, without relationships that don’t just consist of text messages. 

Those invites you declined? The plans canceled? I don’t think you should have done so! I know you can’t do it all at once, and there are times you might need alone. Baby steps. But even if you’re actually an introvert, you still need people and strong relationships and true intimacy. Period. We are all human, introvert or not, and we are prone to insecurity if we are without intimacy. Anxious Christians are biblically mandated, also, to love people and also be loved… If you do not have genuine and deep relationships, are you really obeying that command? And so I advise any of you struggling with even slight anxiety – go and do relationship. Real relationship. Not social media, not texting… Real relationship. Start with baby steps if you have to, and maybe start on those relationships you already have that could be quite easily strengthened. Spend time with friends, people you enjoy. Go to parties, or out for a drink or video games with friends. Big groups, small groups, individuals – it doesn’t matter (though you should get all three eventually). You need people.


It might be more of a Matthew 6/Philippians 4 issue than you think.

As I said above, isolation could be your biggest problem (and often is at the root of anxiety and depression). But along with relational and emotional problems, it is very likely in anxiousness one may have thought patterns that are enabling or propagating the anxiety. I’m not saying it’s the main issue, but one might do well to learn some cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to help the mind slow down and stop going down certain paths. Like any neural pathways, they can be learned and unlearned. Biblically, we are responsible for seeking renewed minds, and we help ourselves if we do so! Basically, I want to tell any of you stuck in an anxiety rut that you might have more control than you think, and you are still responsible for your thoughts and thought patterns, even if you have dispositions that you can’t escape from on your own.

Coming from my own experience, I found such practices invaluable. I found that I was feeding my own anxiousness every time a trigger came my way. I learned that anxiety in its nature is illogical, and that if I really wanted to deal with a problem, I needed to hit the stop button whenever a trigger came (sometimes literally telling myself “STOP” in my mind or out loud) and refusing to think about whatever issue it was for the time being. Then, when my generalized anxiety was lowered or when I wasn’t in freak out mode because of the trigger, I could more helpfully assess whatever issue was at hand.


My own Journey

For me, panic attacks and constant freak out mode plagued me for months. Depression right there with it. I had suicidal thoughts, kept fearing that my girlfriend would break up with me, felt like I was completely alone, and had major insomnia which prevented healing. Even little things took me to extreme thoughts thanks to the patterns I was in. Eventually, I saw my doctor, saw a naturopath, got counselling, and read some really amazing books from experts on these issues. I decided to take medication for a season and try some simple supplements to help my body heal and recover.

Very soon after taking the supplements and medication, I started to feel more normal again. I was able to actually sleep so that my body could recover and I had the brain capacity I needed. It was time to address the issues at hand, and a counsellor helped me work through some major areas that were affecting me at both deeper and more surface levels. I learned how to control my thought life more effectively, and I learned how to understand anxiety and how to deal with it. The seemingly unstoppable monster that was anxiety had been dealt a crippling blow, and it was now more at my mercy than I at its.

Thanks to Dr. Henry Cloud’s book “Changes that Heal” and some reflection on my recent seasons of life, I realized that my relationships and social life were struggling. I didn’t really have friends close to me that I was interacting with regularly or relying on for help, and had let my stronger relationships from University weaken. In a way, the anxiety was a red flag or alert that these things were issues, but I didn’t know it. Now that I did, it was time to work on my social life and support system. Simply put, I needed friends and I needed fun. I had to learn to actually enter in to relationships and allow myself to be vulnerable again, even though the gut reaction was to respond as Adam4d appears to be – further isolation. This is normal, as in the moment it feels like the right thing to do. The temporary relief, the lack of social obligation or fear of what people might think, or of being vulnerable. But we must remember that strength comes through training – periods of being weakened because of a healthy stress followed by healing. In this case, the vulnerability of relationships was to lead to greater strength. I don’t think I’m completely where I should be yet, but the point is I’m not isolating myself at all. I am building my support system, growing in intimacy with good friends new and old, fighting anxiety and isolation with real relationships with God and others.

And that is my biggest issue with Adam’s post. He appears to excuse the anxiety more than is necessary, and excuse the further isolation which worsens the problem. And he speaks nowhere of healing, perhaps because he is not there yet. Adam, I pray you get there and find health again! And I pray that any of you reading this see the hope that there is and take some practical steps towards greater emotional and spiritual and physical health. It is available. Do whatever you can.