“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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Living Psalm 23, [He is a True Shepherd]

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The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Psalm 23, KJV

The Lord wants to escort you to someplace wonderful, it’s where there is a rich rest and a sweet intimacy– in spite, of conflict.  It is revealed in Psalm 23; it is more than poetry. It is a way of life.

There is a preciousness just beyond our ‘status quo.’  It is an abundant life for eternity.  When you have apprehended it, you will understand what I am talking about, and wonder why you’ve missed it for so long. Eternal life has already begun even though many of us don’t walk as if it did. We have eternal life, here end now!

There is a place which we can enter into where Jesus is all there is.  His dear presence pervades everything, and there is no doubt about His lordship.  He rules completely, and He is “all-in-all.”

There is real evidence when you have appropriated this deeper life. There will be a surrender of all you have, and you will fully understand what it truly means to be His follower.  There will be a complete renunciation of all rights to yourself.  You will give it all up, with an insurmountable joy, just to walk with Him.

Live on earth as if you’ve already died, and are now living in heaven with Him.

There must be a definite place where you turn your rights over to Him. Perhaps His love has already pressed you into this.  Often there will be a disillusionment and cynicism with this planet and its ugly ways.  You want to escape all its dullness and jadedness.  You will step into ‘life-effervescent.’  He intends to walk you through many issues, but if He is close I will suggest you trust Him fully.

If you struggle with a mental illness: clinical depression, bipolar, anxiety issues, or schizophrenia, I want to reassure you, you are not a “lesser” Christian.  And my comments include you.  You are not on the ‘scrap heap’ of the Spirit.  In so many ways, you can enter in while normal people will struggle.  And you do need to step into this, and discover a life worth living.

A “Psalm 23 life” is yours for the asking. Take it up, humbly and true. It’s your birthright to be with your Shepherd forever.

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Ministering to Yourself, [Self-Encouragement]

Why are you cast down?

The Psalms are a classical example of self encouragement. The writer sometimes fell in to some moments of depression and he would write encouraging words to uplift his spirit. Today these have become encouragement verses or scriptures for us to emulate. Read Psalm 42. It is somewhat an unusual portion of scripture, in as the writer addresses his/her own soul.  That alone makes it unique. And if we think it out, we become aware of an awesome truth.

“I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self . . . Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.’ Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have had but little experience . . . We must stand up as this man did and say: ‘Why are you cast down? Why are you disquieted within me?’ . . . instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you. For that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control.”

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), pp. 20,21.

When I allow myself to indulge in anger, impatience, worry, pride, or spite, I provide an entrance for Satan to enter my life and run rampant through my mind. He doesn’t have to scheme, plan or deceive me. He can walk right in and begin chasing my self-centered emotions all over the place.

Notice the flow– My impatience breeds irritation; irritation– anger. Anger chases bitterness, and bitterness– unkindness. Satan just keeps bringing more and more situations and circumstances in my life that wreak havoc with fruit of the spirit. In my weakened state, my heart is left vulnerable to more and more assaults.

“He who has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.”

–Proverbs 25:28

The Bible teaches us that we are responsible for our behavior. As believers we simply do not have the option to allow depressive self-talk to go on unedited and unchallenged.  If we think about it, as we are depressives and the mentally ill, we must take a stand! This idea can help us through much anguish of soul. The concept of ‘kindling’ a depressive bout can lead us to ‘flare up,’ and get out-of-control. Remember, depression is both physical, emotional, and spiritual issue.

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When Does Depression Become Sin?

The Bible is plumb full of commentary on depression. King David experienced intermittent times of intense depression.  He was a man who had to work through a great deal of it, and we can see that he succeeded in breaking through into freedom.

Would David today be treated with antidepressants?  Could he have been treated at a mental hospital? (I honestly think the answer is “yes” to these questions.  He was definitely devastated by depression at certain times.)

There is no question he experienced both spiritual and physical depression.  But I believe that David teaches us that depression has a spiritual component in our fallenness.  It has to be treated holistically, covering both the physical and the spiritual.  It’s like having two hands injured but only treating just one of them.

We need to discern the difference between:

  • depression caused by guilt (sin)
  • depression caused by a medical issue (organic)
  • depression as a reaction to a trauma or loss (reaction)

This is key. These all can be working at the same time (and very often do).  But there will only be a partial release if there is only a partial solution. The three can overlap each other. Any of the three can be the predominant kind of depression.

The points below deal primarily with “guilt” or “sin depression.” (I’m not qualified to speak out on the othe1) Confession of sin may free us from certain issues of depression.r two.)

 13″If you don’t confess your sins, you will be a failure.  But God will be merciful if you confess your sins and give them up.” Proverbs 28:13   (CEV)

 2)  The story of Cain and Abel reveals the issue of “angry depression” taking over a person’s actions.

“6The LORD said to Cain:

 What’s wrong with you? Why do you have such an angry look on your face? 7If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling.  But you did the wrong thing, and now sin is waiting to attack you like a lion. Sin wants to destroy you, but don’t let it!”  

Genesis 4:6-7  

3)  David was depressed until he confessed his sin of adultery with Bathsheba.

3“When I refused to confess my sin,
      my body wasted away,
      and I groaned all day long.
 4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
      My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.” Psalm 32:3-4 (NLT)

4)  The way out of depression caused by guilt is confession and seeking God’s forgiveness. 

 5 “Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
      and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
   I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
      And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

  1 Oh, what joy for those
      whose disobedience is forgiven,
      whose sin is put out of sight!
 2 Yes, what joy for those
      whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
      whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” 

Psalm 32:5 , 1-2

5) If you are a Christian and are experiencing “moderate-to-heavy” depression, I would encourage you to seek out medical help.  Medication may be helpful to get through this rough time, and talk therapy can be a life-saver.  If your depression is caused from guilt, it will NOT get better, until you deal with it in the presence of God.

RedcrossNow I’m not a physician, nor is this post medical advice. If you are experiencing thoughts of depression and suicide seek out help immediately. Call 911 right now.

Your regular doctor can guide you to a good psychiatrist which may help.

 

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When Eagles Go Bad

5 eagles, (pic, Homer News)

“I am coming soon. Continue strong in your faith so no one will take away your crown.”

Rev. 3:11, NCV

Some of you know I have lived in Alaska for almost 30 years.  It is always so beautiful, even in places you don’t expect. Admittedly it does have an “edge” as well. It can get very cold, and we can have snow piled up waist high in just a few hours. The winter nights can be excruciating long and dark. (Bad news for depressives like me.)

But my freezer is full of salmon, halibut, caribou and of course, moose meat. We pick berries in the summer, with a wary eye for bear.  We kayak, ski and snow machine for fun. My son snowboards. We get chased by moose.

I have always had a connection with eagles. You can find them throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. About half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska.  And that is a lot.  You can see them everyday here if you want. (And you never let your small dog out, he can become dinner for the eagle. Seriously.)

I’ve been thinking about eagles. When I went to the dump recently I saw several of them working the trash heaps.  I don’t know, but it really bothered me.  They had the form of an eagle; the wing span and the aloofness, but they were pathetic.  Their feathers were matted down, and they looked completely disheveled.  They were scrounging for scraps, competing with the crows. The dump here is like a “crack house” for eagles.

A hard day’s night

And perhaps the saddest thing was they were losing their distinctive white heads. They had given it up for dump food.  This is a big problem in many towns here in Alaska.  Their heads turn in color to a dark grey.  You have to look a little closer to see that they are still bald eagles.

In the Bible, God is identified with being an eagle. But so are Christians. There is something quite unsettling and tragic to encounter a believer addicted and controlled by their appetites. Soon they will change, as they grow more pathetic and disheveled.  They give up soaring and become wretched souls, without joy or purpose.

Those of us who struggle can’t live out of a landfill.  We don’t belong, and it isn’t who we are. You see, we were meant to soar, strong and free.  No matter who you are– addictions, compulsions, or mental illness. We can still become eagle Christians.

But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again.
    They will rise up as an eagle in the sky; 
       they will run and not need rest; 
       they will walk and not become tired.

Isaiah 40:21, NCV

I often struggle with debilitating depression and and nasty paranoia.  But I never want to surrender to it.  I resist living out of the dumps.  It is a heavy struggle at times, but we were re-created to soar.  Please, never forget that.

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Bringing Down Goliath

David giving Goliath a forehead massage with his foot

Many things seem to have risen up to block us. What we have to face is scary.  It shakes us right down to our sandals.  We see the ultimate intention of the enemies work.  If we pass on Goliath, he will remain, and the Father’s plan becomes vulnerable. Sooner or later, he must be faced.

Then Goliath, a Philistine champion from Gath, came out of the Philistine ranks to face the forces of Israel. He was over nine feet tall! He wore a bronze helmet, and his bronze coat of mail weighed 125 pounds. He also wore bronze leg armor, and he carried a bronze javelin on his shoulder. The shaft of his spear was as heavy and thick as a weaver’s beam, tipped with an iron spearhead that weighed 15 pounds. His armor bearer walked ahead of him carrying a shield.”

“Goliath stood and shouted a taunt across to the Israelites. “Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul. Choose one man to come down here and fight me! If he kills me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves! I defy the armies of Israel today! Send me a man who will fight me!”  When Saul and the Israelites heard this, they were terrified and deeply shaken.”

1 Samuel 17:4-11, NLT

Things are such in Israel, that an active faith has no real significance.  Men are going to die, many very quickly.  Then up steps David, he is untried in battle, but within him is an eager commitment to a faith in Jehovah.  Fear has consumed hearts and minds, which are now full of ‘scary goliath fears’ and confusion.  They’re pretty much inconpacitated at this point.  The Scripture says “they were terrified and deeply shaken.” This is an irrational fear.

David (the shepherd boy) steps out and into the confusion.  He is resistant to the fear that attacks his brothers.  He identifies the giant before him as evil, and stands in the way of the Father’s will.  David advances without fear.

The space once occupied by fear has been filled up by faith.

This story, is much more than a story.  It may entertain schoolchildren, but it is so much more for us as believers.  Most definitely you will be called upon to face a Goliath of your own.  He is waiting for you, and you must step forward in faith. If you want to negotiate this away. Don’t! You are already dead.

So much points to Goliath’s superiority.  He is a man-of-war; a dedicated and trained source of death.  Goliath equips himself to stand quite forcefully over you.  He presses forward, confident that he will destroy you.  But David steps out of the line.  He is trusting in God alone.  He steps forward with no armor (Saul’s didn’t fit).

Something is about to happen, something children will sing about, and people will always esteem. Some theologians call this a “power encounter” which is about to tumble down.

David is about to kill Goliath, with just a stone from his sling.  He swings, throws and embeds a rock into the giants forehead– right between his eyes!  The giant collapses, and David moves forward,  and he cuts off the giants head.  He uses Goliath’s own sword to do this. Brutal and bloody?  Terribly so.

But things around us are not much different.  Each of us face a tall evil.  Something that is monstrous and destructive.  We cannot reason with it.  We can only face it with the weapons the Father provides for us.  When we advance to that source, we must do so with a faith that is real and undefeated.

Some reading this are pounded with depression and mental illness.  I truly understand.

But you’re called to advance on any personal darkness.

We must stand and take an aggressive posture against it.  As mentally ill people, the battle (and the stigma) is more intense, but it is overwhelmingly defeated by our simple faith in God’s Son.

Simplicity is our key, and we will not advance with anything less.  At times, we think that we can strategize our way to victory.  We hope to rationalize our enemy away by thinking positively about him.  We think we can move against him by being clever.  That will not work.  Our simple hearts must be laced with faith.  We need to step in to this, and then we will dance in the enemies jaws!

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Why the Church? [Fellowship of the Saints]

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It is easy to become cynical and hard about the Church. We easily see failure and defeat permeating our local churches. That is a serious problem, if we look too close, or for too long. The sins of the Church are evident and massive. It’s popular to diss the Church.

Satan has a personal  vendetta against the Church. He clearly strategizes and makes tactical moves to stultify it. It is his grim effort to make the Church a non-factor in the lives of many. This is Satan’ will. The black lord desires to destroy the saints. The question begs to be asked, “Why the Church?”

Fellowship, or in Koine Greek is “Koinonia.” It implies a common sharing of things or experiences. It is to share with others what you have. At it’s best, believers share all that is good and right with each other. However, bad things can also be shared. Yes, we have seen this!

However, to be a Christian is to be:

  • A branch of the vine– John 15:9
  • A limb of the body– 1 Corinthians 12
  • A reborn child of the Father– John 1:12-13

There is a real dependence in all of these, an attachment to something that provides nourishment to the individual and protection of the person. God has designed it so we come to Him corporately (this is “koinonia”). We are family, and that is how we must access the Father.

I don’t necessarily think the job of the church is to make people happy. I think it’s to make them holy. And it can be the most dedicated place on this planet to accomplish this.

Why the Church? Because it is the source of life and community for believers. It is the way we should love each other. The Church exists for the Lord’s glory. But it’s not perfect, at least not yet.

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