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Melancholy in Amber

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Edgar Degas, Melancholy/ c. 1874, oil on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

The sadness flows from this painting. Degas caught the dark despondency of his model. Her inertia becomes something we can gaze on carefully and at leisure.

This is one of my favorite paintings. For me, it captures an essence of what depression “looks” like. The anguish and the whole sense of being is seen in the expression of her face. She is frozen in her despair.

Depression immobilizes and then lays waste all that it touches. It is a vicious blight on the human soul.

amberI remember as a boy seeing a prehistoric bug caught in amber. It struck me as a bit macabre. This poor insect frozen for all to see.

Little did I realize that this was going to happen to me.

For almost 20 years I’ve tangled with clinical depression. It was initiated by a brain tumor in 2002 and has been evident since then.

Depression to me is like being frozen in a deep sadness that clings to my soul. It shows me no mercy when it is active, but I can go several weeks at a time without it being an issue.

There is a dual aspect to this. My experience is like a complete suppression of the good and optimistic, combined with an increase of despair and despondency. I despair of any future good that might occur. Everything becomes bleak and black.

My life becomes a meltdown; a cascading effect of worsening feelings.

A few points that have helped me:

  • A main point for me is to doubt the “certainties of despair.” I believe that God’s promises to me contain a “future and a hope.” This is vital. At times I feel too far gone, and completely irredeemable. I must doubt the lies of the enemy.
  • Freedom come through a real faith in God’s grace. I believe that His Holy Spirit empowers the weak. He holds my hand as I stumble in the path. My confidence is in His promises to this “weak lamb.”
  • Scripture tells me that Jesus’ present ministry is one of intercession for my soul.Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34.)
  • Jesus has the power to keep His flock. He also gives me a few select companions. I meet with some of “my fellow sheep” at my local church. These know me, and their friendship encourages me. They don’t condemn.

I hope that some of this helps, if anything I hope you have a window into my convoluted faith. I don’t want pretend to have all the answers. I’m not a guru. I’m a “work in progress,” and some ways far behind you, the reader.

“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

Hebrews 7:25

ybic, Bryan

 

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Forget Yourself

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Self absorption is one of the traps that we can become ensnared. Many sociologists and psychiatrists are united at this point. Mental health is improved by thinking about others, instead of yourself. We are healthiest when we put others first.

My biggest issues are a result of my preoccupation with myself.

The times when I focus on the Lord, and on others are a blast of cool relief to my overheated soul. Healthy thinking can be evidence of what our gaze is set upon.

Healthy periods of self-examination are necessary, to a point. But prolonged focus can only be injurious. 

My own flirtations with suicide have caused me to reflect on how I arrived at such a point. Suicide is the inability to construct a future and feel loved. I get ensnared by all of my ponderous issues and can see no light and have no hope. I become hopeless; despair is all I can see and feel.

But we must never trust the seemingly “certainties of despair”. The promises of God and the steady witness of the Holy Spirit are to be our very life. Especially in this matter. Miring yourself in your problems will only damage your heart and mind. You may have a mental illness, but we can reduce the tension that life is giving us.

I have both bipolar disorder and epilepsy. I have experienced the “mega-ton” kind of depression. I know that I stay healthy when my attention is not on me, but on my family, my church, and my community; and my God. I gain nothing when my soul is mesmerized by my issues. (This isn’t humility– it’s the opposite.)

For the disciple of Jesus Christ what is called for is self-denial. A committed self-forgetfulness that energizes the “basin-and-towel” service to all those around us. Healing comes when we give ourselves completely (Isaiah 58). Our mental illness doesn’t nullify our discipleship. If anything at all, it enhances it.

I realized there is a fine line here. But I believe that my despair is “anti-God.” When I feel like giving up that should become my finest hour. God is closest to those who need Him most.

For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
“I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite.”

Isaiah 57:15, NASB

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Preaching (and Listening) to Yourself

By Terry Powell,

Have you ever “preached to yourself?” I’m referring to the act of fighting negative and unbiblical thought patterns with the Word of God. It’s also called “biblical self-talk,” reminding yourself of truth that counteracts Satan’s lies. In Future Grace, John Piper illustrates how the Psalmist battled despondency by preaching to himself:

In Psalm 73:26 the psalmist says, “My flesh and my heart may fail.” Literally the verb is simply “My flesh and my heart fail!” I am despondent! I am discouraged! But then immediately he fires a broadside against his despondency: “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The psalmist does not yield. He battles unbelief with counterattack.

The poem that follows is a type of sermon delivered to myself. The stanzas are painfully realistic about the hopelessness that accompanies my depression. Yet the poem ends on a more positive note, citing another verse from the Psalms in which the author talks back to despair and exalts God as the object of hope. What makes preaching to myself effective is reminding myself of God: Who He is, what He has done and what He had pledged Himself to do.

Hopeless?

Fleeting, it’s like a bird in flight,

Or like a shooting star at night,

Or lightning that spans the sky—

Gone in the blink of an eye.

Elusive, like the fog that lifts

When morning sun sends its gifts;

Or the zigzagging butterfly

That you can’t catch. No use to try.

That’s my relationship to hope:

It’s like a wet bar of soap

That keeps giving me the slip.

Can’t keep it within my grip.

Hope that a blinding beam of light

Will penetrate my soul’s dark night.

Hope that it won’t seem so strange

That habits of the heart can change.

Can God plant hope within a heart

For peace of mind and a fresh start?

Though right now I am without it,

God shouts “Yes!” Should I doubt it?

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance, and my God.”

Psalm 42:11

When inward or outward trials come, what are some Bible truths or text that you “preach to yourself”?

ybic,

Terry

 

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

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Depression Detectives [Diagnosis]

depression

There are three types of depression to consider: What type do you have? Sometimes there will be a toxic mix of them.

  1. Guilty depression- when our behavior hasn’t been what it should be (sin), this is the source of condemnation.
  2. Organic depression- when it’s built into our DNA and part of our very being; it is fundamental in your personality. You can compare it to  someone who has diabeties or MS.
  3. Reactionary depression when we react to some bad news or an injury, a car crash, or working too much with no time off

Typically your depression will originate from one of the three kinds. Each will have different methods, but identifying them could help you move through them more gracefully. There can be an overlap, however. Reactionary depression is the most common, and Guilty depression can be the most hurtful to the Christian.

Satan is involved in the intenification of each, he condemns and strangles all hope. Worship and the Word “punches his lights out.”

Knowing the type of depression will give you understanding and help you defuse the situation. These things have helped me personally.

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Learning to Lean [Intimacy]

 

jesus-with-a-disciple“One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved [whom He esteemed and delighted in], was reclining [next to Him] on Jesus’ bosom.”  

John 13:23, Amplified

 

“One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder.”  

John 13:23, The Message

(Two translations of the same verse.)

 Good posture is one of those intangibles that parents are always trying to influence.  “Sit up straight” or the classic, “stop slouching”.  I’m convinced that this is purely genetics at work.  The apostle, traditionally John, is found sitting at the table with the rest of the disciples.  It is an intimate and relaxing affair as they eat and talk and rest in a cool, quiet room.

John sits next to Jesus, an informal place of honor.  The scripture says that he just rests his head on Jesus’ shoulder.  And Jesus did nothing to stifle such behavior.  Often, with men it would be very uncomfortable and distracting.  I remember in Mexico watching men holding hands, as good friends.  I have heard that this is true in other cultures as well.

The intimacy between Jesus and John strikes us as a little weird.  But for Jesus it was encouraging.  He felt John’s love and perhaps confidence.  There certainly was no impropriety or anything suggestive.  It was an immensely precious moment, especially for the apostle John.  Artists always paint John with a sincere and peaceful countenance.  This moment most likely contributed to his serenity.

It was getting dark.  Jesus had just hours before the nightmare would begin. When the black rolls in, and it begins to get scary, resting your head on Jesus’ shoulder is a wonderful place to be.  We may not look at it like this, but I believe Jesus is comforted.  He is encouraged by our affection.

We can make Him happy and content by our simple tokens of affection.

The ‘arm of the Lord’ is spoken of repeatedly by the prophets.  They had a prophetic insight into the strength of God.  We call it, ‘omnipotence’, and our understanding is that He has all strength, and all power– all of the time.  I think that John was leaning on that omnipotence.  But it still was motivated by his affection and love for Jesus.  Our Savior is strong enough to carry our immense burdens and all of our loads.

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Martyrdom

“The highest honor that God can confer upon his children is the blood-red crown of martyrdom. The jewels of a Christian are his afflictions. The regalia of the kings that God has made, are their troubles, their sorrows, and their griefs. Griefs exalt us, and troubles lift us.”

–Charles Spurgeon

“These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were redeemed from humanity as the firstfruits for God and the Lamb.”

Revelation 14:4, CSV

 

 

 

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Furnace Saints

“The furnace of affliction is a good place for you, Christian; it benefits you; it helps you to become more like Christ, and it is fitting you for heaven.”

–Charles Spurgeon

 

“You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

1 Peter 1:6-7

“Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil, and let us see what we are made of.”

“Most of the grand truths of God have to be learned by trouble; they must be burned into us with the hot iron of affliction, otherwise we shall not truly receive them.”

–Charles Spurgeon