“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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Without a Wound? [True Ministry]

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The subject of “the pool at Bethesda” alludes to the following excerpt from the Thorton Wilder play, “The Angel that Troubled the Waters”.The play is based on the biblical verses of John 5:1-4, but it changes the end of the parable. I first encountered this excerpt within the book “Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging“, by Brennan Manning.

The play tells of a physician who comes periodically to the pool of Bethesda, hoping to be the first in the water and healed of his melancholy when the angel appears and troubles the water. Everybody at the pool also hopes to be the first in the water and thereby healed of his malady.

An angel appears and blocks the physician at the moment he is ready to step into the pool and be healed.

Angel: “Draw back, physician, this moment is not for you.”angel1

Physician: “Angelic visitor, I pray thee, listen to my prayer.

Angel: “This healing is not for you.”

Physician: “Surely, surely, the angels are wise. Surely, O Prince, you are not deceived by my apparent wholeness. Your eyes can see the nets in which my wings are caught; the sin into which all my endeavors sink half-performed cannot be concealed from you.”

Angel: “I know.”

……………Interlude………………

Physician: “Oh, in such an hour was I born, and doubly fearful to me is the flaw in my heart. Must I drag my shame, Prince and Singer, all my days more bowed than my neighbor?”

Angel: Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve. Draw back.”

Later, the person who enters the pool first and was healed rejoices in his good fortune then turns to the physician before leaving and said:

“But come with me first, an hour only, to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I — I do not understand him, and only you have ever lifted his mood. Only an hour . . . my daughter, since her child has died, sits in the shadow. She will not listen to us but she will listen to you.”

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For me, this story has made an incredible difference and, because the message of this excerpt—“Without your wound where would your power be?“—carries so much meaning for me. As this has taught me that its through my weakness I can see others like Jesus does.  I believe, for me, it is slowly becoming my whole foundation for ministry.

&

ybic, Bryan

 

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Make Yourselves Holy

Then Joshua told the people, “Make yourselves holy, because tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

Joshua 3:5, NCV

There must be people today standing in the place of Joshua.  They holler 0ut to us and motivate us to holiness.  I encourage you to recognize them.  They want you to come to the Father.  Pastors and elders should be like Joshua, speaking out loud to the Church again and again.

There is effort that is involved, “Make yourselves holy.”  We must decide if this is going to happen.  But holiness isn’t like the “common cold,”  you just don’t simply catch it.  Rather it is an intense decision to be something more than you are right now.  We make that effort to be his, set apart to be very different from everything around us.  Clearly, we must make it– or we will fake it!

Joshua declares the things the Father intends to do in the lives of his people.  It requires a commitment that gets out and sweats.  It gets down to work.  Jesus told the people, “to prepare the way of the Lord.”  We prepare, and he comes.  I started to think of Elijah, on Mt. Carmel.  He worked to build an altar for the Lord.  He cleared a spot, and then moved rock to create an altar.  But his effort, was not to make a monument, but to create an altar–which was expendable.

The Father comes to Carmel , blasting and blazing.  Everything comes however, by his people making a way.  We must “set-it-up.”  And that takes a forethought.  We must prepare a way for him to come, and we’ll not be disappointed.

“Tomorrow” takes us to a forward place.  We are to anticipate his coming to us, and tomorrow means we start expecting.  It’s not quite here yet, but we expect him to show, to make us and change us.  But, it is “tomorrow.”  Today we must work.  We must bring things into a definite order, to create the environment that brings him close.  We must prepare for him. Altars need to be built.

The last part of this verse, is perhaps the best.  “The Lord will do amazing things among you.”  Essentially, we can anticipate things that intervene into our tedious and mundane lives.  Something special is coming.  We can expect events that amaze us.  We can deeply appreciate his dramatic presence that changes everything.

We intend to make him supremely comfortable, in our hearts.

But are you “preparing the way of the Lord?”  You must step in the wind of the Spirit and set in place, like Elijah, the altar in which he will come.  Evil will resist you.  The darkness becomes an issue.  You have to ignore it, and press in to building that altar.  The future holds his plans, and we understand (for the most part) his supreme effort in the hearts of men.  He will change us, and we will be someone else.

ybic, Bryan

 

 

When It is Far Too Dark

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Practical Thinking: When the Darkness Overwhelms

Depression has been called the “common cold” of mental disorders, and one source estimates that it disrupts the lives of 30 to 40 million Americans. For many, a “cold” isn’t even close to describing their depression; it is very challenging and destructive.

Here are several things that you can do right now:

  • Avoid being alone.  Force yourself to be with people. (I know “force” is a strong word, but if that is what it takes!)
  • Seek help from others. This will require some humility.  Reach out to someone who will understand.
  • Sing. Music can uplift your spirit as it did for King Saul (1 Samuel 16:14-23). Get an iPod and fill it with good music. It is worth it.
  • Praise and give thanks.  This can really push back the darkness.  “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
  • Lean heavily on the power of God’s Word. Write out verses; listen to the teachers on Christian radio.
  • Rest confidently in the presence of God’s Spirit. “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance” Psalm 42:5.  Remember that God is not against you, He is on your side.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Romans 8:31-32

“God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won’t stop before it is complete on the day that Christ Jesus returns”

Philippians 1:6

Keep coming back to Brokenbelievers.  On this site you will find a lot of good teaching which can help you sort things out.  And if you “comment” on any post I will receive it, usually within a few hours at the most.  I’m not a medical professional, however I’m an evangelical pastor, with my own history of mental illness and major medical problems.  I will get right back to you.  And I can pray.

 

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See the book Healing for Damaged Emotions for more details, David A. Seamands, Healing for Damaged Emotions (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Chariot Victor Books, 1991) (ISBN: 0896939383). )

This Thing Is From Me

My child, I have a message for you today; let Me whisper it in your ear, that it may gild with glory any storm clouds that may arise, and smooth the rough places upon which you may have to tread. It is short, only five words, but let them sink into your inmost soul; use them as a pillow upon which to rest your weary head:

“This thing is from me (1 Kings 12:24).

Have you ever thought of it, that all that concerns you concerns Me too? For, “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of mine eye” (Zech. 2:8). “You are very precious in my sight.” (Isa. 43:4). Therefore, it is My special delight to educate you.

I would have you learn when temptations assail you, and the “enemy comes in like a flood,” that this thing is from Me, that your weakness needs My might, and your safety lies in letting Me fight for you.

Are you in difficult circumstances, surrounded by people who do not understand you, who never consult your taste, who put you in the background? This thing is from Me. I am the God of circumstances. Thou camest not to thy place by accident, it is the very place God meant for thee.

Have you not asked to be made humble? See then, I have placed you in the very school where the lesson is taught; your surroundings and companions are only working out My will.

Are you in money difficulties? Is it hard to make both ends meet? This thing is from Me, for I am your purse-bearer and would have you draw from and depend upon Me. My supplies are limitless (Phil. 4:19). I would have you prove My promises. Let it not be said of you, “In this thing you did not believe the Lord your God” (Deut. 1:32).

Are you passing through a night of sorrow? This thing is from Me. I am the “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” I have let earthly comforters fail you, that by turning to Me you may obtain everlasting consolation (2 Thess. 2:16-17).

Have you longed to do some great work for Me and instead been laid aside on a bed of pain and weakness? This thing is from Me. I could not get your attention in your busy days and I want to teach you some of My deepest lessons.  “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Some of My greatest workers are those shut out from active service, that they may learn to wield the weapon of all prayer.

This day I place in your hand this pot of holy oil. Make use of it freely, my child. Let every circumstance that arises, every word that pains you, every interruption that would make you impatient, every revelation of your weakness be anointed with it. The sting will go as you learn to see Me in all things.

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Laura A. Barter Snow has beautifully amplified this truth in her comments on 1 Kings 12:24, in this tract “This Thing Is From Me.”

 

 

Our View From the Tree

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

 5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

 7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ “

Luke 19:1-7

This particular story is one of my personal favorites.  Zacchaeus faced with the chance of missing Jesus shows his resourcefulness by running ahead.  He positions himself up in a tree that grew by a busy road.  Climbing up he placed himself where he could see Jesus.

I can see Jesus stopping under Zacchaeus’ tree, looks up and calls him to come down. “I must stay at your house today”, Jesus declares.  Now there is some serious protocol issues here.  A guest never invited himself to dinner, that just didn’t happen.  Also Jesus, as an esteemed religious teacher/prophet/messiah was supposed to set an example and not to associate with “sinners”. Rules are being broken.

There are many lessons here for the modern disciple.  We would do well to meditate on the many issues imbedded in the text.  The graciousness of Jesus is profound.  He is kind and yet assertive at the same time.

Imagine if this account was all  the New Testament we had, what would our mindset be like?  I think we’d all have to make some adjustments. To put it simply, Jesus is not normal.  He touches peoples hearts in unorthodox ways.

I think what blesses me the most is Zacchaeus’ decision to climb that tree.  He is a man who is “vertically challenged.” But basically he overcomes his liabilities when he commits to climb up into the branches.  He positions himself to see Jesus, and you can’t say a thing against that. Zacchaeus’ adventure is just now begun.

But isn’t that is what we do as Christians?  We put ourselves in a place where we can be close to him.  Think about the ‘disciplines’ of the Christian.  Disciplines like prayer, fasting, Bible study, tithing, baptism, serving and worship.  All of these are like branches on the Sycamore tree.  Ascending we put ourselves in place where Jesus is coming.  It is a way of seeing Jesus. But, that is surely enough.

When I pray, I do so in order to see Him more clearly.  

I can get it all confused and see it as an end in itself.  This is a common flaw in our thinking.  We forget that all these disciplines do is to help us see Jesus. Nothing more– just to see Jesus, and to be seen by Him.

Zacchaeus did not stay in the tree, you might say the tree accomplished its purpose when Jesus drew close.  Zacchaeus did not say, “Jesus, I have this wonderful spot, and it took ‘effort’ to get here. I think I will stay right here.” No, he didn’t just want to climb– he wanted to see Jesus.

“Sir, we want to see Jesus.”  John 12:21

 

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Overcoming Fear of Death [GotQuestions.org]

Question: “How can I overcome the fear of death? How can I stop being scared of dying?”

Answer: Even the most secure, devout believer can have occasions when they fear death. It is hard-wired into our systems to avoid death. And death was not an original part of God’s plan for His creation. We were made to be whole and holy, living in paradise in communion with Him. The introduction of death was a necessary response to the admittance of sin into the world. It is a grace that we die. If we didn’t, we would have to live in a sinful world for all eternity.

Knowing that in your head doesn’t necessarily counteract the visceral reaction to the thought of your own mortality. The fragility of our physical bodies and the sudden cessation of life are violent reminders of our lack of control in a large, dangerous world. We do have a great hope, that He Who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). And He did go to prepare a place for us so that we can join Him (John 14:2). But it might help to consider the more immediate, practical considerations we’re faced with.

Beginning with, what is the actual fear? There are several aspects of death that can potentially cause fear. Fortunately, God has an answer for each of them.

Fear of the unknown
What exactly does it feel like to die? What can you see as your life leaves your physical body? How will it come about? Is it anything like people have reported—a bright light? A group of relatives?

No one knows for certain what it feels like, but the Bible does describe what happens. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 and Philippians 1:23 say that when we leave our body, we are at home with the Lord. What a reassuring thought! We will stay in this state until Christ comes and resurrects the believers (1 Corinthians 15:20-226:14) when we will be given a new, glorified body.

Fear of loss of control
By the time humans reach adulthood, they have a pretty good idea how to interact with the world around them. They know how to find what they need, get to where they want to be, and interact with others in a way that fulfills their intent.

Many though, even those who profess a trust in God, are so fearful of not getting what they need that they feel they have no choice but to manipulate their surroundings and the people around them to their benefit. We have all met men and women who abuse and grasp out of fear. They don’t trust God to provide for their needs, so they take care of things themselves. They don’t trust others to give them consideration, so they demand what they think they need.

How much more they must fear the loss of control upon their deaths. As Jesus said to Peter, describing how he would die, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18). Before Peter got this warning, he denied Jesus out of fear. Directly after, he reacted by demanding to know how John was going to die. But after Jesus returned to heaven, Peter took the gift of the Holy Spirit and became a new person—one whose passion for Christ’s message far out-stripped his need to control his surroundings (Acts 5:17-42). The Holy Spirit alone gave him the strength to face whatever challenges he might face.

Fear for those left behind
The Christian view of death is “separation.” Ultimate death is separation from God. With physical death, we will be separated from our loved ones on Earth for a time. If they are also Christians, we know that the separation will be a short blink of an eye compared to the eternity we’ll spend with them in heaven. If they are not Christians, that will not be the case. Our commission, then, becomes to use this time together to talk to them about where they will go when they die. Ultimately, however, the decision rests with them. Just as God gives them the room to choose, we must also.

Fear of the act of dying. Few of us know how we will die. Quick and painless, in our sleep, a long drawn out illness—the mystery of it, the inability to prepare, can be frightening. If we do know, if we’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, it can still be scary.

But it is only a moment. A moment nearly everyone has gone through or will go through. And, when that moment is over, we can claim Philippians 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Often, being informed and actively participating can help assuage fear. You can take steps to prepare yourself and those around you.

Overcoming the fear of death – Practical steps
Many people believe they shouldn’t die because they have too much to live for. Often, this means they have responsibilities and unfinished business that wouldn’t be taken care of if they were gone. But having people and things you are responsible for won’t keep you from dying if it’s your time. Doing what you can to make sure they’re seen to can alleviate fear.

If you have a business or children or other dependents, consider their care. Decide who will take over your role and work with that person to come up with a plan. Look into a will or a trust. Make sure all of your necessary paperwork is organized and easy to find. Reconcile broken relationships before you’re unable to. But don’t live for dying. There’s a difference between taking reasonable steps and obsessing.

Overcoming the fear of death – Physical steps
If you have strong feelings about what you want to happen to you should you become incapacitated, express them now. It’s entirely possible that during the course of an illness or injury, you’ll lose control over the situation and be unable to make your wishes known. Get a living will. Let those closest to you know what you want—or at least tell them where it’s written down. Choose someone you trust to be authorized to make decisions for you should you become unable.

Overcoming the fear of death – Spiritual steps
These are all steps to keep up responsibilities or maintain a measure of control in the worldly realm, but they don’t get to the meat of the matter. The most important thing to remember regarding death is the truth about life. You love your family and care for them, but God loves them more. You may worry about your Earthly legacy, but God’s more concerned with a kingdom perspective. All the paperwork in the world won’t bring the peace of mind of once simple action: abide.

In the middle of living this life, with these people, in this world, it’s difficult to keep in mind that this is just a temporary condition, and not a very good one at that. 1 John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” How we remember this is by abiding (1 John 2:24). Staying in the truth of His Word, believing what He says about us and the world around us, will give us the proper perspective regarding this life and the one we will receive.

When we are able to keep that kingdom perspective, we’ll be able to fulfill 1 John 3:1-3: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are, for this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” It will be so evident that we do not belong in this world that others will see it, too. We will so take ownership of our position as children of God that we will actively seek the day we can be like Christ and see Him as He is.

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Recommended Resource: One Minute After You Die, Updated Edition by Erwin W. Lutzer.

This is derived from a wonderful site– gotquestions.org. I rarely share something this bold or lengthy but this sort of connected and so I simply pass on what I’ve received. No editing, crimping or adjusting.

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