C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite Christian authors. It can take some thought to get the point he is making in some of his writings, but the effort is well worth the understanding that I gain. Some time ago I bought a journal that consisted of various C.S. Lewis quotes followed by about a page and a half to write my own thoughts about the quote. This blog entry is a quote and journal entry from that journal.
I come back to St. John: “if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.” And equally,”if our heart flatter us, God is greater than our heart.” I sometimes pray not for self-knowledge in general but for just so much self-knowledge at the moment as I can bear and use at the moment; the little daily dose.
Have we any reason to suppose that total self-knowlege, if it were given us, would be for our good? Children and fools, we are told, should never look at half-done work; and we are not yet, I trust, even half-done. You and I wouldn’t, at all stages, think it wise to tell a pupil exactly what we thought of his quality. It is much more important that he should know what to do next.
I like Lewis’ prayer, for just so much knowledge of my own failings and successes as God deems to be appropriate for my spiritual growth today. If I was aware of all that God must do to complete the good work that He has begun in me, then I would be overwhelmed and feel completely hopeless at the enormity of my need. On the other hand, if I were in one single moment to be aware of all the good that He has accomplished in me, then I might become vain and think myself better than others whose canvas is still bare.
I am like an unfinished painting, more than just the bare canvas, but not a finished work fit for hanging in God’s art gallery. I feel as though my underlying sketch has been completed with Christ as its foundation, and some of the paint has been applied, but all the colors and the detail are not there.
What I need and hope is for God to help me see myself as He deems appropriate, not as He sees me (for He sees all that was, is, and is yet to be in me). If I saw myself as God sees me, that would be too much for me to bear. But I am thankful He knows what is best for me, and allows me to see just what I need.
You, dear broken believer, are also an unfinished painting – a masterpiece in the making. I pray He shows you just so much of your failures and successes, your weaknesses and strengths, as is beneficial to you this day so that the next brush strokes may be perfectly applied by the Master Painter.
“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)
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.
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, but ultimately meaningless, because random.
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.
How 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.
“Religious people love to hide behind religion. They love the rules of religion more than they love Jesus. With practice, theCondemners let rules become more important than the spiritual life. “
— Michael Yaconelli
Mentally ill people are rarely seen in our Churches.We are pushed into hiding our true identity; we can come out into the open, but only if we agree to play according to the rules–their rules. We are expected to censor ourselves, and say proper things at the right time. Pharisees [who are alive and well] insist on a level of purity that all must maintain. [Hey, I am not picking on anyone, it’s just a generality.]
If I say that I am depressed, paranoid, manic or desperate, I will upset the apple cart and muddle up everything. “Truth? You can’t handle the truth?”, [from the movie, “A Few Good Men”.]
But– if we use our shortcomings as credentials– we have the ability to speak about grace, love and of self-acceptance, with real authority.
Christians with mental illnesses, have been given a gift that we are to share with the Church. The Holy Spirit has sprinkled us into each fellowship of believers. He places us who are presently afflicted and suffering into strategic places.
We are “sprinkled” throughout the Body. Our “gifts” are to speak to the Body, spiritually about a lot of things, but especially grace. We are bearers of grace. We’re the audio/visual department of the church.
If our fellowships become religious, it might be because we in our weaknesses, have allowed ourselves to be silenced into submission by the “interpreters” of scripture. If we don’t like the rules, we are told to go elsewhere. We are not welcome, they say with a thin smile.
But don’t you see, that is our moment to shine! Our “unsightly” presence shouts out to the “wonderful” people, proclaiming grace in weakness. Those who receive us, in a way, receive Him. Those who turn from us, muffling us, are doing that to Jesus. Frightening, isn’t it?
I would strongly suggest that we take our illnesses into the open.
That we become transparent before others. As we do this, we can ‘oh-so-gently’ guide our fellowships into true grace and love. They look at me and they see Jesus. And that is our ministry as mentally ill people to the Church. Our weaknesses are really our strengths.
9″ But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.”
10 “So because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT
[This is a re-blog of one of our core teachings, originally posted 11/20/2009. I felt it was time to bring out of our musty old closet and set it before you again. I hope that it resounds deep within, and that it encourages those who must mix their discipleship with disability.]
“This Gospel anticipates a world far different from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia,where it is “always winter, and never Christmas.”But the promise of the Gospel is that it is always Christmas.To be “in Christ” is to enjoy each morning as a Christmas morning with the family of God, celebrating the gift of God around the tree of life.”
–Kevin Van Hoozer
Christmas can be a torment and tribulation for so many. I have no doubt it brings grief. Family, friends, finances– mixed liberally with heavy doses of materialism and manipulation will always bring us issues. The music and decorations are mostly mere Novocaine (which doesn’t always work). Stress builds up. And we want none of that.
Being mentally or physically ill often accentuates these issues. I’m not sure why exactly, but suicide increases during this season. Perhaps the challenges Christmas brings just overwhelm a person who is struggling hard just to make it.
“Christmas is for children. But it is for grown-ups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and a nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chilled hidebound hearts.”
–Lenora Mattingly Weber
As I think about Christmas, it is helpful for me to see it as a “mirror.” It is my reflection back to me. What we see, is who we are. If we have issues in our own life, the Season will just magnify them. But this doesn’t mean its bad, far from it. There is always conflict, but this spiritual combat can bring us success. Some things must be fought for.
I’m convinced that in all of this, there is opportunity. The chance to connect to “Christmas”. The very idea is quite strange. But Christmas can be an exquisite treat. It is made by mixing love and truth in generous portions. As we look hard for it, there is something that moves us to a place far beyond us. Grace makes us to stand and look, perhaps for the first time.
When we truly process this, we’ll find “Christmas”. And honestly, it is more than a holiday. For the Christian, it is special time. And yes, there will be times when it is trying, but in my own thinking, Christmas has become a time of great joy and anticipation.
It won’t take much, maybe a little imagination on your part. But those things you do may ignite and become a blaze that will direct them through their lives. Be kinder then you need to.
“The universal joy of Christmas is certainly wonderful. We ring the bells when princes are born, or toll a mournful dirge when great men pass away. Nations have their red-letter days, their carnivals and festivals, but once in the year and only once, the whole world stands still to celebrate the advent of a life. Only Jesus of Nazareth claims this world-wide, undying remembrance. You cannot cut Christmas out of the Calendar, nor out of the heart of the world.”
The Gospel of John describes a wonderful image of the vineyard— branches and vine. This illustrates our relationship with Jesus. We must abide and remain in him to be fruitful. He is the vine, and we, we are merely the branches. He is the sole source of everything.
Notice the clear implications of John 15.(Come to Me, remain in Me, stay connected to Me.) He didn’t advise or suggest we attend a seminar, go to Bible school, or attend a prayer meeting.
He said, “Come to ME.” He, and He alone is the one we are to center on. He insists that He is to be our total focus. There is no other (Matthew 11:28.)
This is either an egotistical religious fanatic intoxicated with His power and self-importance, or He really is reality.C.S. Lewis comments,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.
He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Jesus insists that we worship Him. That much is clear. “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. I am the only way to the Father.” And of course, “He who believes in Me has eternal life, and he who doesn’t is condemned”(John 14:6.) We just breeze through these verses and never truly grasp the ramifications. A mere man could not say these things (at least not with straight face) and be considered sane.
He either was what He said He was, or a liar or lunatic. And we must decide who He really is.
As believers we need to realize Jesus’ His rightful position. The One who sits on the throne is the center. All things derive their life, meaning and essence from Him. We must not forget that He is the Risen Lord. We need to realize that He has asked us to worship Him. Point blank.
Many of our struggles come when we try to reduce Jesus to something less than what is real. If He really is the only way to the Father, we had better pay attention.
“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have.”
[This was when Aslan visits and sets free the stone statues from a evil spell]
The storyline is simple yet intriguing; a stone statue suddenly comes to life. I had the chance to visit the Westminster Abbey in London, UK. I was astonished at statues where the detail is such that their veins can be seen under the stone skin. The folds of their robes are carved with such skill that they are almost translucent. A sculptor takes a large block of marble rock and transforms it into a beautiful and delicate work of art. It brought me to tears, as I stood staring with wonder.
I think that Lewis’ children’s story is pretty much of what you can expect if an entire museum of statues all of a sudden turn into real ‘flesh-and-blood.’ Can you imagine seeing a stone lion suddenly lifting its paws to inspect them? He roars for the very first time, testing his vocal cords. He suddenly pounces and chases his tail. His massive body stretches and he quivers with joy. He is alive! In the same way, the spiritual steps we take transform us, turning us from mere physical beings into spiritual.
As a person who must process clinical depression almost everyday, it’s good when now and then to think of the craziness, the chaos, and wonderfulness that suddenly surrounded me when God filled me with his Holy Spirit. The transformation from stone to flesh is just like the change from mere flesh into spirit.
We are new men and new women, coming to life, suddenly cavorting around, jumping about, a brand new creation! Gratitude swells the heart, tears stream down your face. After centuries of standing stock-still, with pigeons perched on your head. You would be able to move, and jump and leap. The power found in such a miracle, has changes you. Not unlike fallen flesh when it becomes spiritually alive.
I find when I’m depressed I experience temporary amnesia, I forget what tremendous things I’ve experienced the moment I first believed. When I come into God’s presence, I should try to acknowledge what exactly has taken place to me. It ‘s as radical as being turned from rock into flesh. The statue has become alive. A miracle has happened! The introduction of joy into my depression is exactly what I need. As a Christian I have been made alive!
“And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”
Question. Is the real you, touching the “real Jesus?”
For some time now, I am asking myself this simple question. I’ve had some convicting moments as I swirled this question around in my heart. There is no condemnation in this; believe me– it’s just a question (But I think it has pretenses of being more.)
First, I truly believe that God does not hide Himself the way we might think He does. As new covenant people; those purchased through Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is no room for doubt about this. We now truly have access into the very throne room. We are free to come and go, according to our desire.
Second, I’m starting to realize that I want to approach Him, but I draw back in fear, guilt and doubt. I hide in the bushes when I hear Him approaching (sound familiar?) And although I have assurance that Jesus wants me, I’m not fully convinced that He likes being with me– deep down.
And I’m not sure I always like Him. So, all too often, I creep up (in my creepy kind of way) and try to get enough of His Holy Spirit, without getting pulled into anything too authentic. I’m of the (false) opinion that He will demand something for me I won’t like.
In the C.S. Lewis book, “The Silver Chair”we are introduced to Jill. She is thirsty, she looks for water and finds it in a nearby stream. But, there is a difficult problem. You see the lion Aslan is very close, and to drink would make her vulnerable. The Lion speaks. He invites her to come and drink all the water she wants. She stalls. He waits. The thirst quickly intensifies until she can think of nothing else.
I have a ‘Jill-heart.’ God is present, and quite eager for me to come satisfy my thirst. But it terrifies me to become open and vulnerable. It is hard. It seems I still have to work through this issue.
Sometimes, I find I construct a modified Jesus to allow me to cope with this problem. He is not the real Jesus, and somehow I know this. But encountering the real is a bit too much. So I have a Jesus that is really kind, and never corrects me. He lets me get away with a lot of things. And I don’t have to have contact with the homeless or tithe. I admit I’m fairly comfortable with Him. (He is like me, but more “god-like.”)
OK, new thought. Many centuries ago, a monk by the name of Lawrence wrote the classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God. In it he directs the seeker to be in habitual awareness of God. And I’m thinking about this. I know it’s really not a fluid or unending experience, but throughout my day I take a moment and invite Jesus to come closer. And, it’s best if you don’t turn “the means into the end.” After all, its the presence of God we seek– and not the mechanics of seeking. Big difference.
I have gotten very dissatisfied with my fake Jesus. He’s not a bad guy, but he is only a “knock-off,” an imitation– an imaginary Jesus.
I’m coming to this place where I want the real Jesus– in contact with the real me, as often as I can. For years I have dodged Him, ducking in alleys and in dark places. I have propped up a Jesus that I found easier. Those days are done, I hope.
Question. Is the real you touching the “real” Jesus?