“Darkness is My Only Companion”

“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)

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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.

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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, and  ultimately meaningless.

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.

bad-times-333-300x250How 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.

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“Darkness: My Only Companion”

Kathryn Greene-McCreight is assistant priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Haven, Connecticut, and author of Darkness Is My Only Copanion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness (Brazos Press, 2006).

On the web:  http://www.hopeandhealing.org/contentPage.aspx?resource_id=311

 

 

 

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Christ and Cancer

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by John Piper

Before I entered college I hardly gave a thought to cancer and terminal illness. But ever since those college days death by disease has walked beside me all the way. Two of my college acquaintances died of leukemia and cancer of the lymph glands before they were 22. At seminary I watched Jim Morgan, my teacher of systematic theology, shrivel up and die in less than a year of intestinal cancer. He was 36. In my graduate program in Germany my own “doctor-father,” Professor Goppelt, died suddenly just before I was finished. He was 62—a massive coronary. Then I came to Bethel, the house of God! And I taught for six years and watched students, teachers, and administrators die of cancer: Sue Port, Paul Greely, Bob Bergerud, Ruth Ludeman, Graydon Held, Chet Lindsay, Mary Ellen Carlson—all Christians, all dead before their three score and ten were up. And now I’ve come to Bethlehem and Harvey Ring is gone. And you could multiply the list ten-fold.

What shall we say to these things? Something must be said because sickness and death are threats to faith in the love and power of God. And I regard it as my primary responsibility as a pastor to nourish and strengthen faith in the love and power of God. There is no weapon like the Word of God for warding off threats to faith. And so I want us to listen carefully today to the teaching of Scripture regarding Christ and cancer, the power and love of God over against the sickness of our bodies.

I regard this message today as a crucial pastoral message, because you need to know where your pastor stands on the issues of sickness, healing, and death. If you thought it was my conception that every sickness is a divine judgment on some particular sin, or that the failure to be healed after a few days of prayer was a clear sign of inauthentic faith, or that Satan is really the ruler in this world and God can only stand helplessly by while his enemy wreaks havoc with his children—if you thought any of those were my notions, you would relate to me very differently in sickness than you would if you knew what I really think. Therefore, I want to tell you what I really think and try to show you from Scripture that these thoughts are not just mine but also, I trust, God’s thoughts.

Six Affirmations Toward a Theology of Suffering

So I would like everyone who has a Bible to turn with me to Romans 8:18–28. There are six affirmations which sum up my theology of sickness, and at least the seed for each of these affirmations is here. Let’s read the text:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (RSV)

1. All Creation Has Been Subjected to Futility

My first affirmation is this: the age in which we live, which extends from the fall of man into sin until the second coming of Christ, is an age in which the creation, including our bodies, has been “subjected to futility” and “enslaved to corruption.” Verse 20: “The creation was subjected to futility.” Verse 21: “The creation will be freed from slavery to corruption.” And the reason we know this includes our bodies is given in verse 23: not only the wider creation but “we ourselves (i.e., Christians) groan in ourselves awaiting sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Our bodies are part of creation and participate in all the futility and corruption to which creation has been subjected.

Who is this in verse 20 that subjected creation to futility and enslaved it to corruption? It is God. The only other possible candidates to consider would be Satan or man himself. Perhaps Paul meant that Satan, in bringing man into sin, or man, in choosing to disobey God—perhaps one of them is referred to as the one who subjected creation to futility. But neither Satan nor man can be meant because of the words “in hope” at the end of verse 20. This little phrase, subjected “in hope,” gives the design or purpose of the one who subjected creation to futility. But it was neither man’s nor Satan’s intention to bring corruption upon the world in order that the hope of redemption might be kindled in men’s hearts and that someday the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” might shine more brightly. Only one person could subject the creation to futility with that design and purpose, namely, the just and loving creator.

Therefore, I conclude that this world stands under the judicial sentence of God upon a rebellious and sinful mankind—a sentence of universal futility and corruption. And no one is excluded, not even the precious children of God.

Probably the futility and corruption Paul speaks of refers to both spiritual and physical ruination. On the one hand man in his fallen state is enslaved to flawed perception, misconceived goals, foolish blunders, and spiritual numbness. On the other hand, there are floods, famines, volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, plagues, snake bites, car accidents, plane crashes, asthma, allergies, and the common cold, and cancer, all rending and wracking the human body with pain and bringing men—all men—to the dust.

As long as we are in the body we are slaves to corruption. Paul said this same thing in another place. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 he said, “We do not lose heart, but though our outer man (i.e., the body) is decaying (i.e., being corrupted) yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” The word Paul uses for decay or corrupt here is the same one used in Luke 12:33 where Jesus said, Make sure your treasure is in heaven “where thief does not come near and moth does not corrupt.” Just like a coat in a warm, dark closet will get moth eaten and ruined, so our bodies in this fallen world are going to be ruined one way or the other. For all creation has been subjected to futility and enslaved to corruption while this age lasts. That is my first affirmation.

2. An Age of Deliverance and Redemption Is Coming

My second affirmation is this: there is an age coming when all the children of God, who have endured to the end in faith, will be delivered from all futility and corruption, spiritually and physically. According to verse 21, the hope in which God subjected creation was that some day “The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” And verse 23 says that “We ourselves groan within ourselves waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” It has not happened yet. We wait. But it will happen. “Our citizenship is in heaven from which we await a Savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our lowliness to be like the body of his glory” (Philippians 3:20, 21). “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52). “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no longer any death; and there shall be no longer any mourning or crying or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

There is coming a day when every crutch will be carved up, and every wheelchair melted down into medallions of redemption. And Merlin and Reuben and Jim and Hazel and Ruth and all the others among us will do cartwheels through the Kingdom of Heaven. But not yet. Not yet. We groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. But the day is coming and that is my second affirmation.

3. Christ Purchased, Demonstrated, and Gave a Foretaste of It

Third, Jesus Christ came and died to purchase our redemption, to demonstrate the character of that redemption as both spiritual and physical, and to give us a foretaste of it. He purchased our redemption, demonstrated its character, and gave us a foretaste of it. Please listen carefully, for this is a truth badly distorted by many healers of our day.

The prophet Isaiah foretold the work of Christ like this in 53:5–6 (a text which Peter applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:24):

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (RSV)

The blessing of forgiveness and the blessing of physical healing were purchased by Christ when he died for us on the cross. And all those who give their lives to him shall have both of these benefits. But when? That is the question of today. When will we be healed? When will our bodies no longer be enslaved to corruption?

Continue reading “Christ and Cancer”

One Strange Trip, [Honesty]

Pastor Bryan Lowe

I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6, CEB

I was ‘saved’ in my early twenties.  With that salvation came a sense of what really was true.  And perhaps a real hope of what life could become.  I’m  now 55, I can only shake my head.  It certainly has not been as rosy as I first thought.  I blame myself, and go on to understand that maybe this is the way it was supposed to turn out.

But my walk with Jesus has been real.  I haven’t given up on my pitiful faith and I haven’t apostatized.  And yet I am aware of a confusion, and  a disconnectedness that is a bit odd.  I sort of realize that my soul has been hunted, and that I’m vulnerable.

But I can’t let go of Him who I call Savior.  It certainly has not been easy.  Sometimes it seems that I am perhaps the most troubled of all His followers. I’m sure some of you might understand.

You see, I have a disease called “loving Jesus” from which know I will never recover.

The promises that have been given to me can’t be diminished or revoked.  He has dedicated Himself to reaching me.  I’ve been told that He not only plucks me out of my darkness, but His intention is to heal and balance me.  My confusion is not enough to sidetrack His will.

I don’t know what my future holds.  But to be honest, I don’t anticipate anything magical,  or some fantastically creative spirituality.  I do not think things will suddenly get bright all of a sudden.  But I can tell you this much, that I will never turn from His grace or goodness.  I hang on them as a shipwrecked man clings to a log, out in the middle of the ocean.

I am most unorthodox, I know.  I do not fit the mold of the average believer.  I am too blunt, direct and disconnected. I have considerable issues, compounded by my mental illness. But I do know Jesus.  He has come to save the broken-hearted, and come as a physician to a very sick soul.  I trust Him to fix me. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes us:

 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

It seems we stand on the threshold of a real and authentic life.  For some, we must work especially hard to understand  this walk of authentic discipleship.   Unquestionably, we must trust in His love.  But being stable and established will not save us. (Although, it would be nice). Salvation has always been by grace through faith.

My dysfunctional life doesn’t incur His rejection, the opposite is true.  He loves losers, and looks especially on losers who know they are very lost.

I especially want to encourage my brothers and sisters who struggle with a mental illness.  You’ve been dealt a severe blow.  Others will never understand your “limp.”  But Jesus does. You have a gift to bring to the table.  He can pour much more grace into you.  Don’t be discouraged by the resistance coming out of your thinking.  You are especially His.  He holds you with a transforming love.

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When Life is Dark and Heaven is Quiet

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God’s people have always had to wrestle with the things from the dark.  As believers, the Bible tells us that we are in a permanent state of war.  There has never been an armistice or treaty signed to my knowledge.  Each of us are in the front lines.  The devil has been practicing with a deadly form of “spiritual terrorism.”  And he terrorizes many with his posturing and manipulation.

Life can get quite oh so dark, and desperately bleak.  Many of us who struggle with a mental illness have been made very much aware of this situation.  No one needs to educate us about the dark nightmare that is come.  We know what has happened, in the ‘here and now.’

Over a couple of millennia, God’s covenant people have been harmed and harassed.  Enemies are constantly manipulating and twisting–in a very serious way, mind you.

“And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.”

John 3:19, NLT

God has not been silent.  And He certainly has not been passive.  As we read our Bibles (and let our Bibles read us) our faith becomes a bit like teflon.  Nothing can stick to us; even though so much is thrown at us.  When life is really dark, and terribly bleak, we can protect ourselves and others and avoid an ugly spiritual injury.

There are times when we can sense nothing. Sometimes heaven is silent. But I believe, it is never, ever disinterested.  We can read in our Bibles, Hebrews 12:1, (ESV.)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”

I believe each of us has an audience.  Some say that this can’t be so.  And I do admit that there is a bit of a challenge here.  But if we look at the other parts of this verse, we simply can’t nullify the first part.  We must take the whole verse at “face value.”  We are not theologians, we are simple disciples.  He knows this.  He simplifies things in order to help us understand.  He has little reason to complicate things for us.

I believe that we are “surrounded” by saints from all ages.  They see in us a faith that justifies us.  And I must admit, that helps me.  I am part of a continuum.  I now know that my simple faith, must always pass the test of discouragement.

But now the torch is passed, and now I must run with it faithfully and honestly.  And when all is so dark, and things seem far too quiet, I still intend to hold up that torch and carry it all the way to my Father’s house.

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“There was a castle called Doubting Castle, the owner whereof was Giant Despair.”

John Bunyan, “Pilgrims Progress”

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Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

 

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These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing.”

2 Cor. 4:17, CEV

“Before God could bring me to this place He has broken me a thousand times.”                                   

Smith Wigglesworth

 

As we move toward maturity, over time and through circumstance, we will start to develop exciting new ways of thinking.  We engage the Word and combined with our relationships with people we start the work of God.  We soon learn that the Kingdom of God flows through relationships, almost exclusively.

Pain and sorrow are some of the more intense ways the Lord reaches down and into our lives.

Rick Warren has written, “God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others.” 

 

I think that as we dwell on this we will start to see the hand of God, moving things around in our complicated lives.  As we attend class in this school of the Spirit, we learn things that will change our life and ministry.

But we must consider that we can waste our pain and sorrows by not engaging the issues properly.  Will I submit, or will I grow sullen and cynical? Will I worship through my tears?  Surrendering to Christ is not a once-in-a-lifetime event.  It is a daily, and even hourly process.  I regard any kind of cynicism though, as a hungry predator who is hunting me.  Very dangerous, and I am highly suspectable.

Pain is the way the Father reaches me, he isn’t too concerned about our comfort (it isn’t the real issue, after all.)  When I hurt, I invaribly look for Jesus.  And that cannot be all bad.  Through the trials and pain I begin to reconnect with my Father.  Without the trials, I doubt we would ever call out for His help.

“Don’t waste your sorrows.”  It is easily said but seldom done.  We start to stagger by the weight of our personal issues.  Overwhelmed by the pain we start to panic and grab things, and throw them overboard, to lighten the load.  We can be confused, and will do whatever we must do to stay afloat.  But unless we take these sorrows well, we are just short-circuiting God’s intentions.

C.S. Lewis once commented on our issues,

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn—my God do you learn.”

The darkness intends to absorb us.  Satan uses our own bitterness and frustration to do this.  Our discipleship is no longer valid if we commence doing our own will and desires.  Even though we get “flaky” the Father will always love us. But we dare not waste our pain, it comes at too big of a price.

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How Close Can I Get?

“Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” 

Psalm 34:5

Thirty-three years ago I became a believer in Jesus.  There were a number of things that connected with me.  One of those most influential of those was believers who radiated a presence of our Lord Jesus.  This was as meaningful to me as any dazzling apologetics or astute Bible study.

These Christians seemed to “glow in the dark.”  They “shined” with Him, and were ‘exhibit A’ of the reality of Christ in the real life of the believer.  I couldn’t shake their peace and their transparency.  Witnessing their countenances, I knew that Jesus was real and that He could transform us in a profound way.

In Psalm 34, there is an indication that believers should be radiant.  We cheapen the Gospel when we turn our “dimmer switch” down.  I live in Alaska, and the winters here are gray in the most incredible ways.  I once tried to count the different hues of gray.  I counted at least 20, but I’m sure that there was more.  Walking later I came across a child’s sled, it was florescent orange, and it was incredibly bright and very obvious.

We are called to be ‘fluorescent.’  We are to shine like stars in the night sky.  We stand out to all who are honest enough to observe.  I think of Moses when he descended Mt. Sinai.  He had been in God’s presence, and his face glowed.  Moses attempted to hide this phenomenon by wearing a ski mask on his face.

Those who move close to Him will be altered. Touching Him will forever change you.

Christians who draw close to the Lord today, become ‘fluorescent believers.’  God’s glory descends on them.  They receive this touch, without seeking it directly.  The fellowship they have with “the Light” impacts them, and they are changed on a fundamental level.

“Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.” 

Daniel 12:3, NLT

We really shouldn’t be surprised when this process takes place.  (Perhaps we should be more amazed when it doesn’t happen.)  It’s critical for us to note this–being a Christian is a supernatural activity.  It’s not just changing your mind about certain facts or presuppositions.  It just so happens that my favorite activity as a 6 year old boy was sticking nails into wall outlets.  I loved the jolt. The resulting shock would hurl me across the room (as you can imagine.)  I guess I loved smelling the ozone. (God preserved me even after several experiences.)

Contacting the Holy Spirit is a profound thing.  His voltage  just lights us up.  We are changed as we connect with Him.  Supernaturally.

“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 

2 Cor. 3:18

 We really should make the decision to seek the Lord more intentionally.  As we do that, we are given a key that will open up Jesus’ presence to us, in ways we only have begun to really understand.  Reflecting His glory is our real purpose.

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The Two-Minute Bible School

Found this recently and felt it might bless you.  It is almost a Bible survey course, and as about as brief as you can go without losing any kind of comprehension at all.  I so hope  you like this, if just for the novelty of it. I wish I could attribute it to someone. I have no idea.

 

 

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