In thinking about this final installment about how God can bring much good out of our protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or a problem, it dawned on me how important it is to see the Big Picture. In some ways this post reiterates truths in part 2 of this series, but also adds important new dimensions to those truths and explores new territory.
When a soldier goes through boot camp, it’s crucial for him or her to see the overall purpose of his training–the Big Picture. He or she is being pushed and tested in different ways to the extreme so that they will be prepared for any situation on the battlefield, won’t crack under pressure, and will be a team player.
In the conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, the nation of Israel experienced many victories over different hostile nations. However, Judges 3:1–4 says that God did not allow the Israelites to completely triumph but left certain enemies in the land (e.g., the Philistines) so that his chosen people would learn warfare.
When we became Christians, God could have put us in a cocoon of protective grace where we would be insulated from our three primary enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil–but he didn’t so that we would also learn warfare.
If he would’ve sheltered us from the battle, we would end up like many “trust fund babies,” who, because of their vast inherited wealth, never have to work a day in their lives. They’re protected from the toil and struggle of life and never have to worry about paying the rent or the electric bill.
Often there is something profoundly missing in their lives: many are spoiled, shallow, and have not been battle–tested. Perhaps God designed an existence where we battled the world, the flesh, and the devil so that we would not end up becoming spiritual trust fund babies.
Macarius was a great monk who composed the Macarian Homilies in the 4th century. He was convinced that, if after becoming Christians, we were protected in a cocoon of grace from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, many of us would soon become conceited and fall as Satan fell. Instead of a three steps forward, two steps back grind that life often is, we would have a series of unbroken successes and become lifted up in pride and fall like Lucifer did.
In seeing the big picture, nothing is more important than understanding that God the Father through the Holy Spirit has been preparing a Bride for his Son in a Marriage that will span eternity. He wants you to be a part of that Bride. The Father wants the Bride to fervently love the Groom.
There is no love without free choice. If we would’ve been protected from the enemies of our soul, and choosing the Groom was exquisitely easy or even automatic, where’s the love that has been tested in the furnace of affliction? Like any spouse, Christ wants to be chosen. If we were automatons or even semi–automatons, where’s the love in that?
When we are in a long struggle with sin or weakness, it is because we have become over–attached to some created thing. Addiction is over–attachment in the extreme (e.g., overeating, alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, power, work, shopping, etc.)
Christ the Uncreated One wants to be chosen over all the created things. Christ the Groom wants to stand in the midst of all his competitors–i.e. created things–and have the Bride choose him. One of the blessings then of a long battle is this: it’s the vehicle whereby we choose Christ as our Groom, as our only lover.
Does that love somehow go away if you’re a Christian who is up to your eyeballs in sin, addiction, and weakness? If anything God loves you more after you fall, because where sin abounds, grace abounds more. And as the old religious cliché tells us, he loves us in our sin and loves us too much to leave us there.
Today I realized that I was sick and very tired of myself. It’s really not disgust, or even loathing. It’s more like a weariness, an exhaustion. I’ve never felt this way. In a strange way it intrigues me. Could this definite disenchantment mean something spiritual? Does it have value, or am I just feeling self-absorbed or conceited?
There is a real rigidity to evil. As I have seen it– sin hardens all who touch it, plain and simple. My growing immobility disturbs me, as I know I’m developing a “hardness of heart.” Atherosclerosis is a condition of a sick heart where arteries become blocked. It’s also known as “hardening of the heart, or arteries.” It is a patient killer, slowly and surely making hard deposits that block the flow of blood.
The Bible speaks about having a hard heart. It also uses the metaphor of fallow ground that must be plowed up. Jesus used the same image in His “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13.
“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain.”
There are only four real options.
The first is seed that never arrives.
The second lands on hard stones.
The third possibility is landing on thorns and thistles.
Only the fourth flourishes.
The question I have is this, can the hard soil become soft, and can the good soil become overgrown with thistles? Is this a static, set experience? Or could it be far more fluid? I seem to move from one soil condition to another.
I have found that my own heart drifts. Manic Depression is a mental illness where emotions fluctuate constantly. They gallivant around, floating here and than there. I maybe depressed and suicidal in the morning, and then I can be euphoric in the evening. It’s having the identity of a “wandering star.”
I want my heart to soften. I want to sit with Jesus and hear His words. I need Him to share what He is thinking about. Any sin I entertain has a hardening effect in my spiritual heart. This really scares me. *
I am very clumsy. I have no claims on gracefulness to speak of. I seem to bungle and bump my way through life (to the amazed hilarity of my guardian angel), I walk into walls and stub my toes regularly.
Things others do elegantly I do bumbling. I have no rhythm and no grace, bumping into things and lurching myself through life’s obstacle course.
A lazy fly just flew by. He’s headed for the window for the hundredth time. His unskilled attempts to fly through it are thwarted by the screen. I finally have pity, and open it up. He earned it.
Christians are probably the clumsiest people on the planet. It seems we’ve one foot in the kingdom of God, and the other in this world. This isn’t an easy place to be. We don’t do either very well. We stub our toes a lot.
Even in the Church grace can be a foreign concept to many of us. God’s grace especially. I sometimes wonder, do we really grasp the wonder of this we so blithely profess to know?
Like that fly we try so hard and see no real results. Grace seems to elude us as we make another stab at being obedient. Why does it have to be so hard? Why can’t I make it work?
I’m so awkward. I barely understand the kingdom of God. And I still can’t fly through “screens.”
And still God’s grace meets us.
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
NAMI’s Interviews With Danielle Steel & Kay Jamison
Last year, Steel published His Bright Light, a memoir of her son, Nick Traina, who committed suicide at age 19 after a life-long battle with bipolar disorder (manic depression). More recently, Jamison has published Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, combining research, clinical expertise and personal experience to explore one of the world’s leading causes of death.On February 8, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Resources, Education & Related Agencies will hold a hearing on suicide prevention that will include testimony from best-selling author Danielle Steel and Professor Kay Redfield Jamison, author of several academic and popular books on mental illness.
Interviews with Steel and Jamison have appeared in “Spotlight,” a special supplement to The Advocate, the quarterly publication of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Conducted by NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn, they offer a possible preview of Steel and Jamison’s testimony on Tuesday. Excerpts follow below.
NAMI’s Interview with Kay Jamison
Spotlight (Winter 1999/2000)
NAMI: What do we know about the linkage between suicide and mental illness?
Jamison: The most important thing to know is that 90 to 95 percent of suicides are associated with one of several major psychiatric illnesses: depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol abuse, and personality disorders. These are obviously treatable illnesses. Another thing people don’t think about enough or emphasize enough is that because cancer and heart disease hit older people, they are seen as lethal illnesses. Because the age of onset for mental illnesses is very, very young, people don’t tend to think of mental illnesses as the potentially lethal illnesses they are. It’s important for people to understand that they have an illness to begin with and then that they get good treatment for it.
NAMI: You have spoken specifically of suicide and college students.
Jamison: Yes. Suicide is the second major killer of college aged kids. It’s the second leading killer of young people generally.
NAMI: You also have pointed out that, worldwide, suicide is the second leading killer of women between ages 15 and 45. These statistics are staggering, yet most people don’t seem to be aware of it.
Jamison: Absolutely. Across the world. There are almost two million suicides a year worldwide. I think people just don’t have any sense of the enormity of it. Suicide unfortunately has been so individualized and, because of the early suicide movement in this country, so separated from mental illness. People working in the field of suicide concentrated on existential factors and vague sorts of things, when in fact the underlying science is very clear that they’re associated with a few mental illnesses.
NAMI: Knowing what we do about illness and its treatability allows us to be able to discuss preventing suicide.
Jamison: Right. [U.S. Surgeon General] Dr. David Satcher’s emphasis has been very strong on three fronts. One is public awareness. Secondly, intervention and all that’s involved in making doctors and others more able to ask the kinds of questions needed to uncover mental illness. And then, thirdly, to support the science that’s necessary to study suicide.
NAMI: What else can policy makers and public officials do?
Jamison: I think we have to have public officials talking about it. When you have someone like Jesse Ventura out there saying these outrageous things-I think it’s really beyond the pale-we’ve got to have the president of the United States saying look we’ve got a real epidemic here, and there’s something we can do about it. People are dying from not gaining access to treatment-or from having three days in the hospital, and then going out and dying.
NAMI’s Interview with Danielle Steel
Spotlight (Winter 1999)
NAMI: “His Bright Light” is a very personal story about a very painful subject, the mental illness and death of a child. What did you hope people would learn by sharing your story?
Steel: I hoped first of all that people would come to know my son, and learn what an extraordinary person he was. I wrote the book to honor him, and to share with people what a remarkable person he was, in spite of his illness. I also wrote it to share with people the challenges we faced, so that they feel less alone and less isolated with their pain, in similar situations. I wrote it to give people hope and strength as they follow a similar path to ours.
NAMI: What did you learn from this painful tragedy?
Steel: I’m not sure yet what I learned from the tragedy, except that one can and must survive. But from his life, I learned a great deal about courage and perseverance, and love.
NAMI: Lots of people in America might be facing signs of a mental illness in one of their children. What about Nick’s behavior made you realize that it was more severe than just the normal growing pains of a child?
Steel: Nick was different. Always. His moods were more extreme. I sensed from early on, that despite his many wonderful qualities, there was something very wrong. I knew it in my gut, as I think many parents do.
NAMI: How long did it take for Nick to be diagnosed as manic-depressive and receive treatment for that condition?
Steel: Nick was not clearly diagnosed as manic depressive until he was 16, a good 12 years after we began the pursuit of the causes for his ‘differences’. He received no medication until he was 15, and did not receive the most effective medications until he was 16. A long and very painful wait for all concerned!
NAMI: Prior to knowing of Nick’s manic depression, what did mental illness mean to you? Did you associate stigma with mental illness?
Steel: I don’t think I realized, before Nick, that one could still be functional, or seemingly functional, if mentally ill. I thought of it as something totally incapacitating, and of people who were shut away. I don’t think I realized how intelligent and capable mentally ill people can still be. I’m not sure I did associate a stigma with mental illness. It just seemed like a sickness, and not necessarily a shameful one. I just thought of Nick as sick, whatever it was called, and wanted him to be cured.
NAMI: How did Nick deal with the knowledge that he had a mental illness?
Steel: For a long time, Nick himself was in denial about his illness. And eventually, he accepted it. In the last year, he told people he was manic-depressive. Before that, when he felt ‘normal’ on medications, he believed he was cured. He had a hard time accepting at first that he would be manic-depressive all his life.
NAMI: Are schools able to cope with the mental illness of a child?
Steel: In most cases, I don’t believe they are. It is a huge challenge for all to meet, and certainly hard on the other kids to have one child acting out. We were very lucky, in Nick’s high school years we finally found a wonderful school that understood the problem, accepted him as he was, and was willing to work with him in a framework he could cope with. They were remarkably flexible and creative. But for most schools, it’s asking a lot to expect them to adapt to a mentally ill child.
NAMI: If you could tell a family member who is caring for someone who is mentally ill one thing, what would that be?
Steel: Never give up. Get the best help you can. Keep trying, keep loving, keep giving, keep looking for the right answers, and love, love, love, love. Don’t listen to the words, just listen to your heart.
NAMI: What do you think support groups like NAMI can do for families coping with the mental illness of a loved one?
Steel: I think groups like NAMI can provide support, both emotional and practical—the knowledge that you are not alone. And resources, where to go, who to talk to, what works. You need all the information you can get, and it is just about impossible to do it alone.
NAMI: Stereotyping the mentally ill as violent and dangerous is pervasive in America. How do we change this perception?
Danielle: Information. Obviously there must be some mentally ill people who are violent and/or dangerous. But I suspect that most are not. Nick certainly wasn’t either of those, he was gentle, loving, smart, funny, compassionate, extremely perceptive about people, and very wise. I cannot conceive of Nick as ‘dangerous,’ although ultimately he was a danger to himself. But for the most part, I think the turmoils of the mentally ill are directed within and not without.
NAMI: What do you think the average American should know about mental illness?
Steel: I think most people should know how common it is…I also think people should know how serious it is when it goes untreated. And how potentially lethal it can be. It is vitally important to get good treatment, the right medication, and good support. If you let a bad cold turn into bronchitis and then pneumonia, without medication, it can kill you. If you do not treat serious diabetes, it can kill you. If mental illness goes untreated, it can kill you.
NAMI: We know that having “hope” is important to battling any disease. What hope do you see for people with mental illness?
Steel: I see a huge amount of hope. The medications today can give people whole, happy, productive lives. There are lots and lots of people with mental illness holding down good jobs, even with important careers, happy family lives, and doing great things. It is possible to lead a good and happy life if you are mentally ill. If those who are doing just that would speak up, it would give great hope to all those who are still groping their way along in the dark.
NAMI: What is Nick’s legacy?
Steel: Nick’s legacy is the love we had and have for him, the word we have spread of what a terrific person he was. In his lifetime, he touched countless lives, with his warmth, with his mind, with his music, with his words. Through his experiences, others have and will learn. Through the Nick Traina Foundation, hopefully we can bring help to others, in his name.
“But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.
2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”
Isaiah 43:1-2, NLT
“YARNELL, Ariz. (AP) — July 1, an Arizona forest fire into an out-of-control inferno that trapped and killed 19 firefighters, nearly all of them members of an elite crew of “hotshots,” authorities said Monday. It was the nation’s biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years.”
“This is as dark a day as I can remember,” Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement. Firefighters have a dangerous job. They put their lives on the line.
The promises here in Isaiah 43 meant to prepare us, and promise us. Fires burn and consume. Floods keep growing and multiplying. Yet in this world full of fires and floods, we have these promises of His presence in the middle of it all. He intends to be right there when things are going very, very wrong.
And dear broken believer, trials and tribulations are a fact of life for us. Life is often full of badness, but my God, we learn. (Oh, how we learn.) You may be struggling now, but we are being made into something wonderful.
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.” –1 Peter 4:12
No surprises– burning trials– something strange? Hardly, it’s just the life of a saint, as he travels home to heaven. And isn’t heaven is worth just a little temporary pain? (I walk with a cane, so I’ll be behind you a bit.)
The reality is this, the Isaiah verses declare that there will be floods, and rivers to cross, and fires and flames. These are going to happen. But, the Lord does promise that He will walk with you, as your Companion, and Protector.
“It is quite useless knocking at the door of heaven for earthly comfort. It’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.” –C.S. Lewis
We are looking to be given comfortable things, naturally easy things. Like lots of money in our bank accounts, bills paid off. A redesigned kitchen would be nice. And one of those huge refrigerators (big enough to hang a cow in.) A new VW Jetta, maybe. But this is not the comfort that God is supplying us.
You may have to shift things in your thinking. But maybe you have already learned this, and might just need a tiny reminder. There is a definite upside to this– the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is standing at your side, and you will know his true comfort and assistance. It is a promise. And it is yours. (But not the VW, most likely).
This evening I got tired of the TV. Or maybe tired of the control it emits over me. I picked up one of the many Bibles I have in my loft. I do think it is ‘funny/sinister’ of the real pressure it takes to open its pages. I have no doubt it is the darkness of my flesh and the wickedness of demons. Melodramatic? I think not.
But this is what I read and thought.
“Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. 2 Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man,“Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”
Matthew 9:1-2, NLT
Jesus is mobile. He moves and goes where His Father goes. At this moment He is needed in Capernaum. He is to meet a small crowd– and a paralyzed man on a mat. Jesus travels, but this man can only be carried. So Jesus Christ the Son of God, comes to him.
The Lord’s eyes alertly move over these people. People are the reason He came. This crippled man has been waiting. Jesus looks, and all He sees is “faith.” And He knows that the Father has led Him here.
The Word says that He could see their faith. Funny. What does faith look like? It seems like that is the first thing He saw, and noted. I’m not sure about the man on the mat. Did he have faith? Or had it been ‘burned out of him’ by too many doctors, and too many ‘treatments’? It is good to surround yourself with others who will believe when you can’t.
Jesus finally spoke, and its worth noting His first utterance was to proclaim forgiveness. Not healing. Forgiveness! What did this man’s friends think? I see them feel tenative, and maybe a bit shocked about this. What evil did their friend commit? What had he hidden from them, the way we try to hide things from each other?
The healing is going to come. This man will stand. He will carry his mat and go home. (V. 6). But perhaps the paralysis wasn’t the main reason he was there.
Maybe, his biggest need was to be forgiven?
Man has two basic needs.
One, to be forgiven of awful sin. Washed and cleansed. Forgivemess.
Two, to become a good person. Kind and humble. Healing.
There will always be those looking on who will condemn and challenge what is taking place. For them, it has nothing at all to do with the hearts of people. That means nothing to them. Rather for these, it has to do with a rigid and lifeless religion– with its 613 laws, and tithing of dill and mint.
What do you really need? Forgiveness? Or something else? Psalm 103:3-4, are verses for the redeemed.
“He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. 4 He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.”
“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.”
“It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
As a broken believer this happens. I breakdown, my faith is questioned, and I feel all alone. Issues like a simple hot shower and eating something seem impossible. I’m embarrassed to say I once went 34 days with a shower. I laid in bed unable to function. That is the insidious truth about chronic depression, I know it well. God seems far, far away from me. Life doesn’t matter anymore.
There is much I can do before it gets to this point. And although life seems insurmountable. Clinical depression kills people. It slowly devours “a sound mind.” It cripples before it takes away your life. There is nothing quite like it; people tell you it will pass, and that you’ll see the sun again. But at the time that seems to be the worst advice ever given.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7
Meds help a lot. I take Zoloft and that is a godsend. I never miss a dose. I know I’m not bulletproof. I’ve taken it for several years now. (It’s like insulin for a diabetic).
Afflicted souls are special to God. And that truly comforts me. Sometimes it seems like there is an invisible tether that holds from completely dropping off the edge. When I do pray, it is desperate and brief. More like a quiet scream for help. There are no frills and no eloquence, but I know I’m being heard by Him who guards my soul.
People for the most part, are of little help. I admit that my attitude can be less than stellar. “Unless you have been lost in this section of hell yourself, it’s best if you just shut up.” (I don’t really say this, but I’m tempted to.)
But there are a few that can speak. Almost always these are the ones who have been through some affliction themselves. They have been hurt and they ‘walk with a limp.’ I’m convinced that they can speak in direct proportion to the pain they themselves have suffered. I once woke up to another pastor praying prostrate on my bedroom floor. He didn’t have to do or say anything else. He left without saying some ‘pious’ word to me, what he did was wonderfully done.
“I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain.”
John Henry Newman
Take care of yourself. If this isn’t your first major depression, prepare in advance spiritually for the next. Identify those ‘dear-hearts’ who can help you in advance. Keep taking your meds, even if you think your o.k. And speak often with the Lord, and learn to listen to His voice. That “sound mind” is a promise for those who truly need it.