From a Mental Hospital Ward, [Crushed]

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.”

Psalm 143:3

Some time ago,  I was hospitalized for my mental illness. (Actually seven times.) And though each time was bitter, but the Lord carried me.  They would take from me my shoelaces, and belts, and fingernail clippers.  Basically, I was stripped of everything, anything that I might use to harm myself. But I was creative, I took a clock off the wall and rolled it in a blanket,  I smashed it and used the shards of glass to cut my wrists.The nurses were exceptionally observant, and within moments they intervened.

I had already been stripped, searched, and then brought into a ward full of very sick people.  Much of all of this is a terrible glazed blur.  There was a real awareness of unreality.  I was quite confused, and it would take several weeks before I could reconnect.  Things were no longer ‘reasonable’ and I could discern nothing.  But I didn’t know I was so confused (but I did suspect it). The staff were quite aware and accommodating.  They let me be, so time could take care of the rest. I needed to unravel things  

Besides, Jesus knew exactly where I was if I didn’t.

Days rolled by, quite slowly.  The tedium of a mental hospital is the worst— much more difficult than jail or prison.  You walk in a very limited corridor, back and forth.  You wait for your shrink, and wait, and wait.  You pace, and pace. You pray, stupidly.  The other patients were equally disturbed.  There was a great variety among them.  One guy would urinate in any corner. Once he jumped up on the nurses station, and took a “whizz.” It was hysterical.  He almost shorted out their computer.

In all of this, there was a very bleak and strange awareness, of being incredibly ‘detached,’ and only remotely aware that something was not right with me.  I tried to get well, but I was mentally lost.  I paced, and I remained confused.  I was most definitely in an ugly place.  Desperate and increasingly bewildered, I knew I had no place to go.  A fine place for someone who used to pastor, and teach at a Bible college.

If you have been in this place, you will recognize the ‘lostness’ of being on a ward of a mental hospital. It is confusion mixed with despair,  and without a part of very strong drugs, and there is nothing you can do to be released.  And really until you come to this fact, they will never let you go.  They wait for you to snap out of your confusion, unfortunately that takes time. Sometimes many weeks and whole months. Sometimes never.

It’s worse when you have a family.  In my case it was my wife, and two small children.  This at times, would twist my heart.  I would get a very short phone call, once a week.  But this was quite difficult.  I gained very little from those calls, and I found myself quite disturbed after each call.  Being on this ward tinged me completely. It was like being dipped into darkness.  I was very much affected.  Now on the outside, I admit I was quite disturbed, but at the time I honestly did not understand a way out.

Dear friend, having a mental illness is cruel and disturbing.  And being committed to a mental hospital is a desperate thing.  Having passed through its locked doors is something you will never forget.  The way I figure these seven hospitalizations have stolen over six months of my life. Its work is irrevocable, its fingerprints will be on your life, for as long as you live.  But God will bring good out of this. This I know.

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:8

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All in Your Head? [Depression]

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Depression is a Mental Disorder, not a Disease

There are plausible arguments for the non-existence of mental illness. But there are still people who declare themselves to have a mental illness. After all, being sick mentally has no physical symptoms; it’s not like a kidney stone or an inflamed appendix. One can only hope it was this simple.

Yet depression is a progressive and debilitating disorder. It is like having a ‘bruised brain’ that refuses to heal. There is an substantial list of psychological disorders. Technically depression is a mood disorder that has a series of symptoms. These symptoms are the evidence that something is definitely wrong.

  • Depressed mood (such as feelings of sadness or emptiness).
  • Reduced interest in activities that used to be enjoyed.
  • Change in appetite or weight increase/decrease.
  • Sleep disturbances (either not being able to sleep well or sleeping too much).
  • Feeling agitated or slowed down.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy.
  • Feeling worthless or excessive guilt.
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or troubles making decisions.
  • Suicidal thoughts or intentions.
http://www.nami.org/

The above list is a summary of something called the DSM-IV which doctors use to diagnose the mental disorder of depression. Having five or six of these may indicate a problem. Spinning off this, you will discover some other disorders, like:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Depersonalization/derealization
  • OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)
  • Psychosis and paranoia
  • PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome)
  • Specific Phobias (fears of something)
  • SAD (social anxiety disorder)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders (bulimia, anorexia)

Even though mental illness is widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion-about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 Americans-who live with a serious mental illness. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in four adults–approximately 57.7 million Americans–experience a mental health disorder in a given year.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of misunderstanding and stigma for those who have these disorders. I suppose it is akin to having VD (venereal disease) or AIDS. It seems that our culture is pretty quick at labeling people as deviant or undesirable.

I hope this post helps. I can see a 100 holes in it, and alas, it is a meager attempt. But perhaps it will be of some value. Both NAMI.org, Psychcentral.com, and WebMD.com all have excellent info on Mental Illness. aabryscript

Drowning in Despair

 

despair (2)“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.”

   2 Corinthians 1:8

“…we should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others’, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties.”

John Piper

It is my ‘deliberateness’, and not my impulsiveness that gives me the most concern.   I know ‘despair’.  I know what it is like to be ‘backed into a corner’ and then feel the empty desperation of being lost.  But you must understand, there can be a weird seductiveness to ‘being lost’, a ‘strange sort of nobility’, a twisted honor, when it comes to despair.

Piper talks about the ‘dark certainties’ of knowing you are lost.  Now this really seems rather bizarre, that people could do this intentionally, without duress.  But I’m afraid to tell you that it happens all the time.  Despair is chosen over the option of life. This is the ‘lostness’ of the race of Adam.

Pop culture has given us words, albeit in a simplistic form.  I just happened to think right now of an old AC/DC  song, ‘Highway to Hell‘.  The lyrics are pretty basic, very simple, but the lead singer seems to really have a chronically, decided dedication to being one of the irretrievably lost.  He formats a ‘certain glory’ to being part of the damned.  This is a simplistic approach to the next stop– a more advanced case of stark-white despair, suicide. (We can call this ‘spiritual hubris,’ or even, “drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll.”)

In examining the striated world of despair, we must come to the interesting place when our foolishness combined with our arrogance produces a decision to be lost.  Of course, our fear of God must be extracted from the situation.  But for the eager candidate for despair, this is not an insurmountable problem.

Escaping this ‘drowning despair’ we must first dethrone our right to personal sovereignty.  And secondly, we need to grab the concept that God’s grace has an ultimate power that supersedes our notions of a ‘deserved’ love.  (It is completely undeserved).  We must believe that somehow, someway God chooses us out of a pile, a pile of the worst and ugliest.  And somehow, He delights in doing this, and He is Lord.

We are meant to be the people of redemptive hope. 

Because of our problems, our addictions, we must clearly renounce our evil folly of despair.  These are the issues that make us vulnerable.  There is a seductiveness to ‘giving up’ and taking up the sin of despair.  There can be a ‘weird romance’ that lures those who ‘walk out lostness’.  We are pulled into a vortex of an exotic melancholy with a dash of fatalism, which makes it reasonable and weirdly heroic. But is it not even more heroic to live in hope?

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.”

Psalm 42:5-6

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Killing My Sin, Before It Kills Me

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We are for the most part anyway, eager to please God. We are Jesus’ people with the occasional brush with sin. But hey, who doesn’t? But that attitude must be questioned.

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.”

1 John 2:1

John hopes that his readers would make a choice— not to commit sin. After all, what soldier goes into battle with the intent of getting just a little wounded? Often we will sin just because it seems so inevitable, and we feel we can’t help ourselves. (But the reality is that we can.)

But the Holy Spirit now lives inside. Cooperation with Him is needed. Often we will work ourselves into a ‘no win scenario’ where we believe that sin rules. We can’t beat it, so we stop trying. That is common, and sad.

‘Passivity’ is defined as not participating readily or actively; inactive. When we are passive spiritually, we disengage ourselves from any effort of living holy and pure lives. Not being ‘hot’, but content to be lukewarm. At this point sin becomes, reluctantly, tolerated. “After all, I’m a sinner, what else can I do?”

Mentally ill people are often passive. We are told that we have an uncontrolled illness which dictates that we act ‘irresponsible.’ Our depression often escalates and we feel victimized by it. My experience has taught me that there are three kinds of depression:

  • organic depression, or the ‘biochemistry’ of the disease,
  • guilty depression, the kind that feels bad because of what we’ve done (or didn’t do),
  • reactionary depression, the type we feel when experiencing a loss, a loved one, or a job

Depression will almost always fall in these three categories. And passivity plays a part in all three. We  frequently feel victimized and ‘acted upon.’ When it comes to our discipleship we don’t act, we react. We are utterly convinced of the Bible— God’s truth, but we are so sporadic we can’t seem to get it to work for any length of time.

Yes, we are believers. And yes, we have issues. We’re waiting for a miracle, and hope we get a breakthrough soon.

At the base point of our lives, quite often, there is a passive attitude. Passivity aggravates our depression or mental illness. It deepens, spreading through our lives like a contagious illness. Our discipleship sputters and stalls. We no longer act on God’s Word, but we find ourselves fabricating a faith that makes allowances for our situation.

But we must ‘act the miracle.’ Everything God gives… everything… must be received by a convinced faith. We must be persuaded to give up our flawed ideas, and believe God for the real thing. I opened up this with 1 John 2:1. But there’s much more to this verse:

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.  And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

I don’t want you to sin. Avoid sin. But even if you do— we have someone who will plead our case before God. He stands and argues our plight. He loves us that much.

 

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Praying Authentically

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Prayer often can be just a nice religious duty, that makes us feel warm and fuzzy. But such prayer the does not suit a disciple who is tired of religion, and is seeking authenticity. There are few models who can be our guides. That is why we need elders in our fellowships; they have been through so much, they can anchor us to all that is real.

We often will theologically play on the periphery, and cleverly deceive others and ourselves.  My own heart gets pretty creative as I display a self-righteousness. (I should win an Academy Award as ‘best actor.’) But Jesus insists on us becoming real. You might say that real is the prayer that touches his heart.  When you talk with Jesus, do you really talk to Him? Do you have a real awareness that you are really talking with Him?

Is it the real you that fellowships with the ‘real’ God?

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The following is an excerpt from A Diary of Private Prayer, by the Scottish theologian, John Baillie, 1886-1960:

Eternal Father of my soul, let my first thought today be of You, let my first impulse be to worship You, let my first speech be Your name, let my first action be to kneel before You in prayer.

For Your perfect wisdom and perfect goodness:

For the love with which You love mankind:

For the love with which You love me:

For the great and mysterious opportunity of my life:

For the indwelling of your Spirit in my heart:

For the sevenfold gifts of your Spirit:

I praise and worship You, O Lord.

Yet let me not, when this morning prayer is said, think my worship ended and spend the day in forgetfulness of You. Rather from these moments of quietness let light go forth, and joy, and power, that will remain with me through all the hours of the day;

Keeping me chaste in thought:

Keeping me temperate and truthful in speech:

Keeping me faithful and diligent in my work:

Keeping me humble in my estimation of myself:

Keeping me honorable and generous in my dealings with others:

Keeping me loyal to every hallowed memory of the past:

Keeping me mindful of my eternal destiny as a child of Yours.

Through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.

(Taken from Richard Foster’s Devotional Classics, pp. 126-127.)

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Bone Tired Weariness

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8 Then Jesus said, Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30, New Living Translation

Weariness and burdens are our common plight. We all have them. They are shared as sort of common identity, like eye color or hair color. We all have them, and wish we didn’t. Sometimes we feel like shutting down.

Weariness, that bone-tiredness that sleep doesn’t seem to help. We seem to be chronically fatigued by life and what it brings us. We have heavy burdens, we carry a load that only gets heavier (and never lighter.)

Money problems, bills that are past due, marriages, straying children, cars that need fixing, family problems, job hassles, health problems… the list goes on ad nauseam. There are far too many issues, too many problems. I believe boredom and tedium are added to the list as they only intensify the hopelessness. (Its own special kind of suffering.)

Some will choose to ‘self medicate’ with alcohol or drugs. They want something more, and find they only create more burdens (not less.) Some will become hopelessly addicted, never finding relief from their burdens, but only increasing them. Suicide very often is seen as the only way out.

But Jesus will never condemn (leave that to the Pharisees) but instead offers a sort of amnesty to the burnt-out and the burdened. Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus did not say, “Get away from me, I am holy and you are not.” Rather, He makes himself to be the solution to all those who life has overwhelmed. He wants our burdens and takes on our weariness. He wants us. He wants to give us peace and rest.

He invites us to exchange whatever burdens us for the yoke of discipleship.

An easy trade, especially since we are so desperate. Some have evaluated Jesus’ offer and made the transaction–piling up our burdens at His feet. We might be a little hesitant about the “my yoke” part, but will quickly find that discipleship can’t be compared to the weight we once carried for so long.

The non-demands of biblical disciplehip are easyFor my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Following Jesus becomes the best way to live.

29 He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31

 

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More Current, Please!

angel1I have always had a crazy connection with electricity. As a young boy of six or seven I started to push nails into the wall outlets of our home. My mom would come in to find me in a heap, with the nail still in the outlet. It would blow me backwards, and I remember “smelling the ozone” from each experience. I did this fairly often. Mom grew very concerned about me.

Then I discovered the shocking world of electric fences. Most were “pulse” currents, which meant they were alternately energized– and then off. If you grabbed it at the right time, you could beat the fencer and not be shocked. Of course, complicating things would be standing on wet grass. But bringing your little brother meant you could grab his hand, touch the wire, and he would get the full voltage. This was always fun.

Coming into the presence of a holy and loving God should be a powerful jolt. But it needs to be real– never theatrical or showy. Whether it is prayer or worship, we reach into a real world. While electrical shock is detrimental, the Holy Spirit is always strengthening and affirming. My prayer the last few months has been this: “May it be the real me who connects with the real You.”

In a nuclear power plant the workers clearly understand the nature of fission. They can’t see it, or feel it. They must take precautions, because what they handle is really dangerous. In 1 Samuel 6, we read of the time when the Philistines controlled the Ark of the Covenant. But the power they received was not anything they could handle or manage. They finally sent it back. “But the Lord killed seventy men from Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the Lord. And the people mourned greatly because of what the Lord had done. “Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” they cried out. “Where can we send the Ark from here?”

God is dangerous, “my Bible tells me so.” My thinking often would regard Him as docile and tame, but I challenge you to understand differently. I submit to you that our faith should put us into a perilous place– one in which we are asked to do outrageous things. Like building an ark, or going from a slave to a prime minister, or getting out of our boat and walking on the sea. Furthermore, the Book of Revelation is John’s account of being in God’s power and majesty (Rev. 15).

“We worship a dangerous God and He is coming to threaten every area of your life.  God is a loving God, do not be mistaken about that.  His love, however, is unlike any human love; its chief concern is not to make you comfortable, but to make you free and to be free is dangerous and the act of making us free is dangerous.” Joe Spann (and below)

electric-shockPlease don’t try to domesticate God.

He is wild and pretty much unpredictable– and we will not ever tame or teach Him. You can’t manage Him, or train Him to use a box. (He will defy this.) If we are truly going to draw close it will be like stepping into a spiritual reactor, or sticking a figurative nail into a metaphorical wall outlet.

“He is about to become dangerous to your everyday trappings, dangerous to your comfort, dangerous to your retirement plan, dangerous to your schedule, dangerous to your social standing, dangerous to your secrets, and dangerous to your religion. The good news is, He is also dangerous to your limits, dangerous to your fear, dangerous to your addictions, dangerous to your sickness, dangerous to your unforgiveness, dangerous to the chains that bind you chains that you have become way too comfortable with.”

The end result of this is that He wants to make you dangerous again; dangerous to your neighbors bondage, dangerous to the pain in the people around you, dangerous to the generations of abuse and pain in your family and the families you know, dangerous to the culture you are in every single day. And He wants to make us dangerous again. Dangerous to our neighborhoods, dangerous to our friends, dangerous to our culture, dangerous to the kingdom of darkness.”

I would like to make a toast, “May you see God as He is truly, and may you stick your nail into direct contact with Him. May you never settle for less, or want for anything more.” Amen.

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