First read this, It's Not What You Think
Then, read this...
Depression and anxiety have been a part of my life as long as I have had memory. I have seen posts saying that this would not have happened if only Jesus. As long as I have had memory, I have had Jesus. My faith is so interwoven into the fabric of what makes me, me, that I literally cannot separate. Yes, Jesus saves. For sure! But, there are times when we are left to battle our afflictions and still cling tightly to our faith in the One who saves. There are also times when the battle is lost; even crying out to our Savior, the battle is lost. We live in a broken world. Things don't always make sense. And, we can't just sit back and watch and cluck, "If only Jesus." If only Jesus, then you would be the hands that held, the legs that walked in another's shoes, the ears that listened, and the eyes that saw. And, even then, sometimes, they slip through the grasp. And, then, you mourn. And, you reach out. Let's make this about a revival of community. Let's make mental illness something that can be openly discussed. Let's smash the stigma and actively pursue the extinction of suicide...at least as best we can.
As I watched the weight of my pain being consumed by fire, the smoke burned my eyes and caused tears for the last time. This burden has been taken from me; you, Father God, have reached out and lifted it off my hunched shoulders. You have straightened my posture and allowed me to re-affix my gaze. You have given me beauty for these ashes. You are giving me strength for my fears. You do not take without giving; it is in your character. The weight of my pain burned before me and ascended as smoke into the heavens. Carried on the backs of angels, you received my pain. You held it in your hands, cradled it close to your heart. You released it; it became transformed into a beautiful creature. That beautiful creature is me.
The Serenity Prayer is famous for being a prayer for addicts. It is a cornerstone prayer for many programs that aid people in their recovery. The Serenity Prayer is a life prayer. More and more I am finding that in my life, these words resonant deeply with me when I am stressed or overwhelmed by life circumstances.
The other night I was feeling frustrated. That day I had been asked several questions regarding things that I had no control over. I understood that those who were asking were only trying to connect with me and take an interest in my life. It bothered me that I was so upset by it.
When others ask about things that I have no control over, I feel my stress levels rise, and I begin to feel hopeless. I find myself looking frantically outside of my path to find an easy way out. I wonder if I am hearing God correctly, or if I am completely delusional, and this is not what he meant when he asked me to trust him. I doubt and lose focus. These feelings and subsequent actions are not what he wants for me. He said to trust in him with all of my heart and lean NOT on my own understanding! Does that sound like he wants to me to be frantic, lose focus, and jump ship?
I am allowing myself to become worked up over something I cannot change.
I am allowing myself to lose my courage over something I cannot change.
I am allowing myself to lose wisdom over something I cannot change.
Times of disequilibrium is when prayer, even a pre-written prayer, becomes the time of refocusing. We allow ourselves to fall into his arms and rest while our Father reminds us that he has this all under control.
It is not in my control.
It is in the Father's control.
And, who knows better?
Yeah. I would much rather give control over to the Creator of the Universe; the One Abraham called the Most High God, the One who sits above the circle of the Earth, the One who holds life in the palm of his hand. I think that makes much more sense than to attempt to control something that is truly beyond my control.
Questions will come, and I will not have the answers to all of them. Having perfect answers is not required of me. As God brought this subject to my attention, he also reminded me of a song that has been a source of comfort to me in the past. The chorus of this song says, "All I ever have to be is what you made me. Any more or less would be a step out of your plan. As you daily recreate me, help me always keep in mind that I only have to do what I can find. All I ever have to be; all I have to be; all I ever have to be is what you made me."
As a child, I battled anxiety. I did not know it was anxiety. All I knew was that I had moments of intense fear that lead to physical symptoms. I did not know how to handle this huge, overwhelming feelings. I did not have a name for them. It was incredibly difficult to leave with something so powerful and nameless. It was as if I was fighting an invisible dragon.
As an adult, I sought a diagnosis. It helped. Not all diagnoses help but this one did. The doctor told me I was struggling with a generalized anxiety disorder. My symptoms, he said, were textbook. Understanding that I was normal for my diagnosis brought me freedom. I learned how to keep myself from having a panic attack. I learned that if I did have a panic attack it was ok to tell people, "Hey, I'm having a panic attack!" In other words, I learned to have no shame in my fight. After all, I am in good company. Heck, I'm in amazing company!
The more I learned about anxiety, the more I became comfortable with it and it no longer controlled me. It still continues to be a learning process, though. There are times when I notice that I need a tune-up in the way I approach it. There are times I need to ask for help. Supplements help and my sweet friends remind me to take them when they notice I am revving up. Sometimes I need to step away from life in order to regroup. And, it's ok. It is ok for me to need help, or to take time. It is totally ok.
My middle daughter was born with similar anxiety issues. I feel incredibly thankful that I have gone through what I am gone through so that I can help her to be successful in fighting her fight. There are times when I need to push her and there are times that I need to respect her fight enough to give her time. The most interesting thing I have found is that the gift of time has been the what has offered her the most in terms of healing. It has given her a firm foundation in which to plant her feet. She has gone from needing me on a near constant basis to venturing out on her own terms to pursue new opportunities.
Taking time to listen to a person's experience has two purposes: taking in information and bearing witness to what their journey. My doctor took in my information and validated me by offering a diagnoses (and a plan). In turn, I have been able to listen to my daughter and respect her journey. Listening opened up the doors to healing.
If a loved one is trying to tell you their journey, listen. Do not tell them what their journey is, just listen. You may have an opinion, or an idea, or a story to tell...don't...just...listen. They may be fighting invisible dragons that you no nothing about.
Too often we find ourselves caught up in begging God for a breakthrough, for a miracle, for some grand gesture. In the natural, life feels so hard and confusing that we petition God over and over to make it all right. This is where I have found myself for a few years now. "God make things right! Restore to me what has been stolen! Bless me abundantly so that I may have the honor of blessing others! Father, are you hearing me? I need a grand gesture!"
Sometimes, when I pray out of desperation, I feel disrespectful. I feel shallow and somewhat ridiculous. Then I remember that my God is two things: he is the Most High God and therefore able to handle anything I can throw at him; and, he is my loving Father whose desire is for his children. He can handle it and he wants to handle it.
OK, so that's out of the way. Now, on to what God just (gently) hit me over the head with...
I am so busy looking for my breakthrough, for my miracle, for my grand gesture that I am completely missing the intimate, loving exchanges that happen in the most unlikely moments. To put it another way, I am missing the trees for the forest! I am so focused on the bigger picture that I am utterly failing to see the details of how he cares for me minute by minute.
He comes to me when I am balled up on my bed weeping into my pillow. He wraps his arms around me and allows me to sink into his peace.
He comes to me with an encouraging word from a friend, a co-worker, or even a grocery store clerk. He meets me in unlikely places.
He comes to me when I sleep and whispers sweet songs. He dances around me, covering me as I rest under his protection.
He comes to me with provision when it feels like there is no way. He takes care of my needs and even springs for some wants every so often.
He comes to me because I am his child and he delights in me. Each moment is like a beautiful tree, strong, mighty, and life-giving. Each tree builds the bigger picture. The bigger picture is in his hands. I do not need to concern myself with the bigger picture. I walk from tree to tree, from glory to glory, and I trust that he is the canopy above my head.
My breakthrough will come. My miracle is life lived for his purpose. Each tree is a grand gesture from my Father. The trees sustain me. These moments when he comes to me in the still of the night, or while experiencing the anguish of loss, or during the confusion of the journey...each of these moments will propel me into the person he created me to be.
I am no stranger to grief. My life has been consumed with the grief cycle and helping my children through the grief cycle for the past few years. Last week, however, I was introduced to a different sort of grief when I received a text message telling me that my brother had passed away. It was sudden and very unexpected. He had been sick, he had diabetes, and his body said "Enough!".
This grief was not numb. It was immediately painful. It brought up memories, joy-filled ones along with hurt-filled ones. I found myself struggling with insecurity regarding our relationship. Anger rose within me and spilled out as hot tears streamed down my face. It was not fair that he was taken so quickly. It was not fair that I didn't get a chance to have another conversation with him (even a Facebook chat would've helped!). It was not fair that I didn't get the chance to make darn sure that he knew just how much I love(d) him.
It was not fair.
"They" say there are five stages to grief. I disagree. In reality, there are five portions of grief and several hundred grey areas in between that can sometimes be experienced separately within a span of an hour, and sometimes they can all fall on top of you all at once like a giant heap of emotions. To say that grief is linear is not only wrong but it is harmful. Linear means that acceptance is the end goal and that once you reach that end you will no longer deal with the other four portions. This just isn't true for a majority of those who find themselves in the midst of grief.
Grief is so not linear. It is messy. It is a jumble of emotions that sometimes attack us at really weird times. You could be standing there discussing a t-shirt and suddenly find yourself weeping. Grief is sneaky. It is sneaky and it is messy. No one wants to deal with grief. But, oddly enough, grief can also be beautiful.
Memories will come. They will flood your mind and your heart and completely inopportune moments. Let them come. Let the emotions that are attached to those memories come as well. These memories are honoring a life. A precious, beautiful life. Even the messy, messy emotions. They are honoring just as much as the beautiful, fun memories. Maybe even more so. Anger over the lose of someone you love makes sense. Denial, bargaining, depression...they make sense! Those messy, messy portions of grief give you a chance to really honor your loved one.
The one thing to hold on to, though, is that there is no real end goal. The goal is to be able to not be consumed with grief after a period of time but there should not be a goal to no longer feel when remembering your loved one. Portions of grief will continue long after the all-consuming grief subsides. And, that is ok. It is testimony to the love that still remains.
"Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, let us have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love." Romans 5:1-5
Ephesians 11-16 NRSV
"The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love."
Just as a child is born and grows into a full-grown adult, a new believer must be allowed to go through the stages of growth. They cannot go from birth to adult without going through the stages of growth necessary to reach maturity. Many times we look at these verses and fixate on the first part, you know, the fun part. We wonder if we are an apostle, or an evangelist. We dream of being a dynamic pastor or teacher. We imagine ourselves to be vital to the equipping of the saints. In all this we tend to miss that we are to be at the mature stage of our growth. A new believer will not go from born again to apostle in a week. Yes, some will become zealous to share their new-found faith and will uncover their ministry gifting very quickly. There is no doubt about that! But, it is so important for believers to realize the process to maturity so that they can be spiritual parents to those who have just been birthed into the faith.
1 Peter 2:2 NRSV
"Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation - "
As babies, we seek nourishment and comfort from our mother. We cannot simply get up and get ourselves a snack, we rely on our parents to provide for this need. Being held close is not only a desire, but it is a necessity for proper growth. Studies upon studies show the importance of holding your baby. A little one crying to be held is not a manipulation tactic, it is a survival need that must be met. And most parents are more than willing to meet this need as they wrap their arms around their wee one, draw them close, and allow them to know that you are near.
This is a physical relationship that mimics a spiritual relationship between a believer and their Father. God is always standing near to reach his strong arms out and wrap them firmly around you. If a person has not had this modeled for them in their youth, then it is up to the church family to provide those loving, comforting arms. It is not enough to simply celebrate a new believer. We must bring them constant nourishment and tender comfort as they step into their brand new world.
As a child grows, they begin to become more and more mature. We can give more freedoms and more responsibilities. They become weened from milk and need meat. Spiritually, they move from needed near constant care to being able to search for and provide their own care. They become more independent, but never should become completely independent. Even the most mature in faith need to realize their need for the community of believers.
There are times when mature believers find themselves in need of spiritual milk again. They find themselves going through tough times and feel too weak to chew meat. It is beneficial for them to return to a state of spiritual infancy so that they can be nourished and gain strength. From my own experience, unless a body of believers is committed to walking closely with their fellow church members, people will slip through the cracks. This weakness is not a negative thing. It is natural in the course of life to experience highs and lows. A church that is committed to their members and their growth, who understands that sometimes growth is not a straight line, and who shows an abundance of love and mercy will find themselves with members who are strong, confident, and willing and able to take on the many gifts of ministry.
The mandate to no longer be like children is not a negative charge. It is simply encouraging us to be forward movers. It is telling us that in order for us to experience the fullness of our faith, we must continue toward maturity. In those times when mature believers need to spend some time back in the spiritual infancy stage, it is good to remember that it is only a pit stop. It is time to refuel, stretch your legs, check the map, and then be on our way again. It is not a place to stay long-term and if someone is in this stage too long, then they may need to rethink their spiritual community.
In conclusion, I want to mention that at the end of the Ephesians passage we read the words "in love". The spiritual body finds growth through the nourishing power of love, God's love. The church should be the tangible expression of his love. Love is action. The body of believers should be acting out the love of the Father. That is were growth happens, where maturity is achieved, in his love. Look around you. Do you see anyone who appears to be blown about by the wind? Then step in, wrap your arms around them, and help them to step into their maturity. This is equipping the saints. This is building up the body of Christ.
This morning at church we sang a song called "No Longer Slaves" by Bethel. It hit me perfectly as I walk the path away from fear. The chorus is simple, "I'm no longer a slave to fear; I am a child of God!" A perfect mantra for those moments when fear tries to take hold once again.
"I'm so sorry fear, but you do not live here anymore! While I am not new to being a child of God, I have decided to actually live out what I always knew to be true. So fear, you'll understand when I say that you may not stay here."
Today is the Jewish New Year, Rosh ha'Shanah. It is a time to remember that God's words are sweet. Psalm 119:103 says, "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth". As I reflect on this verse, I realize there can absolutely be no room in my heart for fear. God's promises are all I need to reside in my heart. They are a soothing balm for my soul. So, as I say L'Shanah Tova, I will allow the sweet to permeate as I evict the fear from my life.
"...The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath..." (Mark 2:27 NRSV)
The Sabbath, just like the rest of the holy days, was given to us as a beautiful gift. Some have come to view these moments with dread and heaviness. This is not from God! It was never His intention to punish us or restrain us with these appointed times. If you really think about it, if someone gave you a day off and said, "Stop, rest, reset!" would you really consider it a burden? It may feel strange to purposefully stop work, especially in our work-driven society, but once you have entered into that time of rest, you find the blessings that come with slowing down.
The Sabbath marks the end of a long week. It is the period on your sentence. It is a time to wind down, release the stress of the week, and focus on family and faith. Being purposeful in setting this time aside to worship and reset is a wonderful way to go into the upcoming week. Attending services on Saturday or Sunday is not the focus here. Taking time out in your home to enjoy a meal with friends and family, worship and share Scripture, this is the focus. You can very easily spend the Sabbath at home, then attend your worship services on Sunday. Please don't become hung up on this detail.
God, our Creator, also rested on the seventh day. "So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that He had done in creation" (Genesis 2:3 NRSV). It was important enough for God to rest after He created. It should be important for us to rest after a week of work. It is honors God for us to celebrate the Sabbath, and it honors His gift to us.
I have found that the biggest hindrance to my life is fear, and usually that fear is unfounded. Tonight, I was spending some time in worship. The kids are in bed, I should be in bed, but I needed some time. This whole idea of living unafraid because your trust in is your King is definitely easier said than done. I am pretty sure I've been saying the same thing for years, but never had the guts to actually follow through. It was easier to speak it than to live it.
This morning I realized that I needed to accept being very patient and open with my expectations. As a creative person, I often find myself telling God how He can meet my needs. Honestly, I have some great ideas! This morning, however, I realized that I needed to shift my imagination into prayer and meditation. Instead of telling Him how He can meet me, I need to be quiet and pay attention. I'm talking too much! How can I possibly see the ways He meets me if I am too busy telling Him how it "should" be!?! Thing is, you can't...well, I can't. I can't see those ways He meets me when I am blathering on about these things. So, I am learning to be quiet and to be patient. Not easy. But, worth it.
Another thing that hit me tonight is that if I am going to live this life being holy unafraid, I need to trust that He is not going to put me in a position that will make me fail. He may ask me to do things that make me uncomfortable (public speaking) or even cause me to feel some fear (public speaking), but if He is going to ask this of me, isn't for His glory? Our failure only comes when we do not rise to His challenge! He does not desire for us to look foolish. We are His children and He desires only the best for us.
2 Timothy 1:7 (NLV) says, "For God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us a spirit of power, and of love, and of a good [sound] mind." Fear is not good and it is not sound. Fear is not love. And fear is not true power. My job over the next few months is to continue to push aside the fear that rises up in me and replace it with His promises. It is harder than it seems. Sometimes I really want to hold on to fear because it is familiar and strangely comforting. It gives me a false sense of protection. But, fear is a lie. And in order to live a life unafraid, I must do the work to let go of that "security". It will be neat to see how God fills that space where fear has resided for so long.
In Hebrew, this means "our dance". It is through our dance that healing in found. Come before the throne and dance for your King!