Originally written August 29, 2013 and shared today hoping it will bless someone.
“I’m must show myself; things are not going well, to be honest. I’m becoming more and more fragmented. And I can’t seem to hold it together. Essentially, I mentally can’t keep it centered on the things I know are right and appropriate. My mind is in a muddle, and my heart is not far behind.
I can’t go on like this. I have to confess that I’m spinning out of control. There are too many issues that hammer me, without any resolution or finality. I need a “booster shot” of grace. (Perhaps, maybe an I.V. would be better.)
All I want is to escape, and to shake off these ‘parasites’ that sap me of any strength I might generate. Far too many things are draining me of any vitality and hope. Despair and despondency have suddenly shown up at my door, but I treat them as unwelcomed visitors, and hope they will leave me alone. All they want to do is take me apart, and dismantle me, and I seldom advance beyond this. I haven’t invited them.
This simple blog has kept me going. The posts that I write are sincere, and I know for a fact they touch many hearts. I’m astonishingly grateful for this. But they can’t minimize my own issues. I am constantly on the edge, a step one way or another could push into a desperate fall. (Funny, I’m starting to scare myself.)
I have a deep confidence in Jesus. I believe that he loves me in the most intense way possible. I trust in his deliberate and careful love. Resting in his arms is the very best thing I could do. He is the only one who can lead me through my mental illness. Or to give me the grace to move above it.
I do not want to offend or alienate anyone. That simply is not what I am about. But I simply can not try to take Brokenbelievers much further in this ‘frame of mind.’ I will try to post as often as I can– but both my therapist and psychiatrist want me to go into a hospital. I have already been there several times and I do not want to be admitted any time soon.
The next several days should be interesting. I’m definitely committed to avoiding hospitalization. The “professionals” I trust are trying to commit me, but I do intend to make a scrap of it. “I will not go lightly.”
Please try to be patient with me. I want to post, it runs through my veins. But I simply don’ t have the resources that extend into transparency and clarity. Please forgive me. There’s is no way I can make this work without avoiding a “shutdown.” We will see.
“Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”
—Ambrose of Milan (340-397)
Our theology makes all the difference in fighting depression, writes Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Author of “Darkness, Is My Only Companion” and Episcopal priest. Here is an excerpt where she introduces the depression of Christians.
In his Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that suffering is uniquely difficult for the Christian, for the one who believes in a good God. If there were no good God to factor into the equation, suffering would still be painful, but ultimately meaningless, because random.
For the Christian, who believes in the crucified and risen Messiah, suffering is always meaningful. It is meaningful because of the one in whose suffering we participate, Jesus. This is neither to say, of course, that suffering will be pleasant, nor that it should be sought. Rather, in the personal suffering of the Christian, one finds a correlate in Christ’s suffering, which gathers up our tears and calms our sorrows and points us toward his resurrection.
In the midst of a major mental illness, we are often unable to sense the presence of God at all. Sometimes all we can feel is the complete absence of God, utter abandonment by God, the sheer ridiculousness of the very notion of a loving and merciful God. This cuts to the very heart of the Christian and challenges everything we believe about the world and ourselves.
I have a chronic mental illness, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression, but now is less offensively called bipolar disorder. I have sought help from psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals; one is a Christian, but most of my helpers are not. I have been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over many years, and have been prescribed many psychiatric medications, most of which brought quite unpleasant side effects, and only a few of which relieved my symptoms. I have been hospitalized during the worst times and given electroconvulsive therapy treatments.
All of this has helped, I must say, despite my disinclination toward medicine and hospitals. They have helped me to rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer I believe God wants me to be.
During these bouts of illness, I would often ask myself: How could I, as a faithful Christian, be undergoing such torture of the soul? And how could I say that such torture has nothing to do with God? This is, of course, the assumption of the psychiatric guild in general, where faith in God is often viewed at best as a crutch, and at worst as a symptom of disease.
How could I, as a Christian, indeed as a theologian of the church, understand anything in my life as though it were separate from God? This is clearly impossible. And yet how could I confess my faith in that God who was “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1) when I felt entirely abandoned by that God? And if this torture did have something to do with God, was it punishment, wrath, or chastisement? Was I, to use a phrase of Jonathan Edwards’s, simply a “sinner in the hands of an angry God”?
I started my journey into the world of mental illness with a postpartum depression after the birth of our second child. News outlets are rife with stories of women who destroy their own children soon after giving birth. It is absolutely tragic. Usually every instinct in the mother pushes toward preserving the life of the infant. Most mothers would give their own lives to protect their babies. But in postpartum depression, reality is so bent that that instinct is blocked. Women who would otherwise be loving mothers have their confidence shaken by painful thoughts and feelings.
Depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It’s walking barefoot on broken glass; the weight of one’s body grinds the glass in further with every movement. So, the weight of my very existence grinds the shards of grief deeper into my soul. When I am depressed, every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts.
And often the opposite is the case when I am hypomanic: I am scintillating both to myself, and, in my imagination, to the whole world. But mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. Sometimes, when it tips into full-blown psychosis, it can be terrifying. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it: there is no pulling oneself “up by the bootstraps.”
And yet the Christian faith has a word of real hope, especially for those who suffer mentally. Hope is found in the risen Christ. Suffering is not eliminated by his resurrection, but transformed by it. Christ’s resurrection kills even the power of death, and promises that God will wipe away every tear on that final day.
But we still have tears in the present. We still die. In God’s future, however, death itself will die. The tree from which Adam and Eve took the fruit of their sin and death becomes the cross that gives us life.
The hope of the Resurrection is not just optimism, but keeps the Christian facing ever toward the future, not merely dwelling in the present. But the Christian hope is not only for the individual Christian, nor for the church itself, but for all of Creation, bound in decay by that first sin: “Cursed is the ground because of you … It will produce thorns and thistles for you …” (Gen. 3:17-18).
This curse of the very ground and its increase will be turned around at the Resurrection. All Creation will be redeemed from pain and woe. In my bouts with mental illness, this understanding of Christian hope gives comfort and encouragement, even if no relief from symptoms. Sorrowing and sighing will be no more. Tears will be wiped away. Even fractious [unruly, irritable] brains will be restored.
“Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of your glory and dominion, world without end.”
Imagine climbing up to the top of a very tall tree. You work your way up to the highest point– you can go no further. The view is completely glorious, it’s more than you hoped for. You want to post it on Facebook, so you dig into your pocket to get your camera-phone. You suddenly slip, and because your arms are occupied getting your camera, you fall. And you fall fast.
As you plummet, you realize that you’re hitting every branch on the way down. The smaller ones break, and the bigger ones, well– you just bounce off. The trip down is very fast, and perhaps even a bit illuminating.
First, you think of death.
Then you think about the pain each branch causes, and wonder about your imminent arrival on terra firma.
Perhaps you consider how stupid you are, and how you are going to explain it.
Lastly, I suppose, you wonder if you have clean underwear on, like your mother always told you to wear.
This is how my life has gone, the last 20 years. This metaphor is a good way for me to process things, and to find some understanding. I now believe that some of us go through life sideways, or horizontal. We careen off of every branch on the way down, and it seems we are hitting branches that we didn’t even know were there. Tree limbs are snapping, as we are dropping.
Others who are wiser (or maybe more experienced,) try to fall more vertically. As they fall, they use their hands to try to slow their descent. (This does work!) They will take their fair share of jolts, no doubt. But their journey to the forest floor is way less traumatic. They may end up in the hospital– but not in emergency surgery like the first guy.
It sometimes seems like every trouble I have faced I have gone into it sideways. I have broken a lot of branches on my way down. I suppose I’ve entertained some who have watched me plummet, and seen me careen and spiral my way to the bottom. These have been some painful times, I have inflicted considerable amount of bruises on myself.
People who go through life sideways will invariably suffer. They seem to hit every obstacle and trial that could be in their flight path. The existence of pain in this life cannot be disputed.
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33, NLT
Jesus understands. Especially if you are one of those people who are “trial magnets” going through life horizontal. (You just seem to collect them.) My hope for you that as you break your branches on the way down (for maybe the 100th time). You will try to plummet vertically. Not that it is any easier, life will hurt. But perhaps it won’t be as agonizing. And I suppose that would be a good thing.
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,”
“And don’t build an altar that requires steps; you might expose yourself when you climb up”.
“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8
While I lived in the SOS Ministry house in the Mission District of San Francisco a dear brother taught me this principle. Living in Christian community is a really wonderful thing. But it also could be a challenge at times. What Michael shared, allowed my understanding to grow to meet the need of the moment.
The principle is this:
We are called to cover up our brother’s nakedness.
Throughout the scripture “being naked, or nakedness” is always a shame. It comes welded to the concept of being vulnerable or exposed to the sight of everyone else. It also carries the idea of sin; it is sin that everyone can see; it is very obvious.
For those of us who often sin, we evolve the idea of keeping a lid on it, and being secretive with it. There will be people who will never know. Often sex sin, drug and alcohol sin, both are kept hidden from view of family and friends, and the Church.
Noah and His Nakedness, Genesis 9
“Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard. When he drank wine made from his grapes, he became drunk and lay naked in his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, looked at his naked father and told his brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth got a coat and, carrying it on both their shoulders, they walked backwards into the tent and covered their father. They turned their faces away so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.”
It’s hard to process this patriarch’s gross sin. But in all fairness Noah had lost everything in the flood, so perhaps we should be gentle with him. On the other hand, people who cover up the nakedness of others seem to be gentle and humble. They would never, ever dream of making a scandal. They are trustworthy and understand to a great degree the things that make a man or woman of God.
Leviticus 18 is the “magnum opus” of nakedness. We are pretty much told over and over in this chapter, not to ever uncover another. Actually is pretty emphatic and somewhat redundant. But I think the Lord wanted it repeated this way.
Our vulnerabilities are there for all to see. But there are also men and women who go out of their way to protect and shield. They are safe people, in the classic sense of the word. They cover-up, but never in negative or criminal way, but in love and blessing. (If it is a serious crime, the police should be involved.)
Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others.
Quite often we are exposed, open to attack on our weaknesses. Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others. They will refuse to judge or point out sins. But they will stand in the gap, shielding and protecting.
God’s final word on nakedness is in Revelation 3:18, and this is a good place to conclude this post,
“So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.”
“He comforts us every time we have trouble, so when others have trouble, we can comfort them with the same comfort God gives us.”
-2 Cor. 1:4, NCV
“The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: “Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”
Isaiah 33:14, ESV
There has to be some sort of confusion here. Some discrepancy, some incongruity, something overlooked. But things are never what they seem, and that is accentuated when we are in real pain. We think that whatever trouble we get enmeshed in, can’t have any real redeeming value. Or does it?
After a period of time walking with God, whose presence is true fire, we should process this prominent thought. Suffering is part of God’s idea. He has plans that hinge on our pain. It has been deliberately placed into our lives.
A competent pharmacist will be extremely aware of the drug he is filling for a patient. Never too much, nor too little. God is even more meticulous and acutely alert when it comes to suffering and pain. He has an intense love for you through it all. He drops in the proper amount needed for that moment. It is confined and designed to heal, grow, and strengthen. Never to harm or destroy. He is not punishing you.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Keller understood. She was both deaf and blind, since infancy. From this dark and complete isolation, she broke through. Helen Keller became a potent and significant woman. She would graduate from college and became a famed public speaker of international renown.
“God never allows pain without a purpose in the lives of His children. He never allows Satan, nor circumstances, nor any ill-intending person to afflict us unless He uses that affliction for our good. God never wastes pain. He always causes it to work together for our ultimate good, the good of conforming us more to the likeness of His Son” (see Romans 8:28-29).
Gold fears no fire.
We must believe pain has purposes. Life teaches us how to love. Some seem to go through life “charmed”, they are really not hurt in any substantial way. If that is the case, reach out and help someone else, for there’s certainly enough pain and evil to go around. (We should find ourselves actively sharing in the trials of others.)
I think that when a believer finally arrives in heaven, they will be ushered in limping, wounded, leaning on an angel for support. They will bring it all to Jesus, their scars remembered, and their sins forgiven. And we will be transformed, fit for heaven.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4who redeems your life from the pit.”
Psalm 103:2-4, ESV
You can’t help but respond to His deliverance of your soul. Stop and think.
You have been lifted to a place of safety. He has poured on you extraordinary blessings. Complete forgiveness, total healing, and a secure redemption–you’ve been purchased off “the slave block.” So much has happened to you since you met Jesus. Plus he loves you, present-tense. He has gifted you with the premium salvation package!
Our deliverance wasn’t just “once upon a time,” way back then. I suggest that it is for now, in this present moment. Do you remember when you first understood Jesus’ sacrifice for you? Can you recall the joy and peace when he “broke you out” of your miserable cell?
Dear one, a pit was dug to trap you. If you’ve fallen into it, you won’t be able to escape on your own. It will do its work, grimly and completely. Falling into it should not be part of your plan, it is a dark place. But there are many living who reside in this pit. It most evil and desperate place, and fully destructive to the souls of men.
In the light of this “atrocity of the pit,” deliverance is monumental. When we are lifted out of the darkness, we start for the first time living a life of worth and meaning. This alone should generate an overflowing heart. If you will only start to walk in understanding, you will start to find victory!
Forgiveness, healing and redemption: This triumvirate bores into our heart. These three words create salvation deep inside us. Each concept shapes us into ways that could never happen unless the Father wanted it. And He delights in delivering people from their darkness.
He lifts us out of that wicked trap. Look! He is coming to free us!
Our simple response must only be to worship. For many of us, it will take time and practice. Worship needs to be learned, we simply don’t do it naturally. But, thats ok. Simply put, we just need to start, and not forget all that He has done. Please, don’t forget. But remember all that He has done for you! Psalm 103 will teach you, and bring you to a special place.
Whom should we love, if not Him who loved us, and gave himself for us?
“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”
“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”
Romans 7:18-20, NLT
I hesitate to tell you this, but I have not found any secrets to becoming a holy person.
To be sure, I wish I figured this out. I would very much like to come to you with the secret formula. Sometimes I want to just make things up, just to alleviate your trials and strivings. I would easily latch on this idea of a “magic wand.” I think it would be good.
But the authentic Christian life is hardly formulaic. It seems to defy any attempt to explain, and then guide anyone else into that special place of true obedience or holiness. I’m supposing that you are just like me. I truly want to be right. I would love to be holy. But it ain’t happening. I always seem to end up back in the place I started from. Always, defeat and simple failure. Rats!
I’ve always been mystified by the conundrum of Romans 7. I really want 8, but I’ll settle for 6. Romans 7 has been in limbo for a very long time. I don’t really know what to do with it. (I honestly avoid it, after all chapter 8 is so good!) But way deep down, I have a real strong sense I’m missing something very important.
I suppose it might be compared to making a really good ‘discipleship smoothie.’ Of course we must add to our blender Rom. 8. And many would add Rom. 6. However, a lot of us would hesitate to include Rom. 7, we’re not really sure why. Quite a few commentaries also hesitate. Many good teachers and preachers regard chapter 7 as parenthetical. They suggest that Paul is describing his life before coming to Christ, and certainly not in a ‘present-tense’ discipleship.
When I look at the Gospels, I see, across the board that those– the healed, forgiven, cleansed and made whole were always the desperate. They have nothing, they bring nothing– they meet no requirement, but pure poverty. They are the “zeroes.” (Maybe– even the negative numbers?)
I don’t believe, at this point anyway, that there is a singular principle of sanctification. Perhaps we can truly do nothing in precise alignment. There is no such thing as a “microwavable discipleship,” and no real instant breakfasts. We truly come with a desperate faith– and we will end up with just a desperate faith. This should be incredibly humbling to us all.
“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am!”
Romans 7:21-24, NLT
Please (someone?– anyone?!) challenge me on this. I tell you, chapter 7 chafes, and then “disrupts” me. Will I always be so misaligned and “out-of-step?” Or am I just a lousy excuse for a Christian disciple? If I’m out of line and screwed up; please let me know. But whatever dear one, don’t give up– “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:68.)
“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.” Mike Yaconelli