Posted tagged ‘Anxiety’

Out of Darkness — Light is Shining

December 3, 2011

A poignant story recently published  in the New York Times,  describing a  man’s selfless nursing of  his wife through a season of mental illness, left hanging her piteous question, the one all such sufferers ask, that I myself asked countless times as I struggled to glean meaning from my own psychotic break, “Why would God do this to me?” Tullian Tchividjian says this about that profitless question, “The Why’s of suffering keep us shrouded in a seemingly bottomless void of abstraction where God is reduced to a finite ethical agent, a limited psychological personality, whose purposes measure on the same scale as ours.”

Since there really are no satisfying answers to these questions on this side of eternity, I soon ceased with the self-pitying, “Why?” and learned to ask the more helpful question Description unavailable“How?” for wisdom and strength for the daily battle against the depression and anxiety that remained like detritus from a storm, after my own  short season of post-partum psychosis.  And I learned to love the “Who”,  the One who dwelt with me in the suffering, with even greater devotion.

I learned to  call anxiety “My Tether to my Lord” because every time the enemy of my soul tried to batter me about with it, the struggle against it only served to wrap me around my Savior with even greater intensity.  It drove me to Him with great ferocity, because I learned if I could only run to Him quickly instead of seeking to escape the gnawing turmoil within, the scary feelings would ebb, and I would  be safe.  I learned that often I was anxious or depressed because I had believed a lie, or a relationship was broken, or I felt abandoned.  I learned to wait on the Holy Spirit to enlarge my heart — to show me the way out of these terrible feelings, and enable me to make things right — to give me the courage to humble myself before another, or the will to acknowledge what was true, and line my thoughts up with how God viewed things.

And in this simple way I was  healed: truth by truth. But because it was simple does not mean it was  easy.  I felt like I was in a kind of intense rehabilitative physical therapy for my soul– every tangled thought was painfully stretched out for examination in the light, and put back  in proper alignment with the word of God.

Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  And in answer to His prayer I applied His Word to replace every lie,  and so I was healed.  There are no other ways to repair a mind. Secular Psychology  calls this process cognitive therapy. Christianity calls it “renewing the mind.” Any other way out of soul-pain is only a  band-aid. And those therapies without God’s cure for souls  merely mask symptoms.

Like Happy Pills that take the edge off psychic pain, but can dull a keen attention most needed, and sap from our meager rations the energy most required  for active aggression against our mind’s  defections from the truth. This study indicates that the meds commonly prescribed for anxiety actually increase anxiety with long term use, and hinder Cognitive Behavior Therapies.  Psychotropic drugs can enable  a truce that should never be made with lying thoughts, and allow the  psychic wounds of ‘stinking thinking’ to fester  into a terrible spiritual gangrene.  Pain has a reason for being, as Lewis observed, rousing us from “our sins and stupidities… pain insists upon being attended to.”

I was shaken to wakefulness at last, when  in His sovereign will He allowed me to suffer a psychotic break.  I thank God for this ‘severe mercy’  –it woke me to do urgent battle against my sin instead of devising ways to escape it. The struggle to repair my broken mind made me a disciple of Jesus instead of a double-minded person looking to every wind of false doctrine and wave of a magic wand in hopes to  make all the suffering  go away quick. It made me love the Word of God with even greater passion. It made me compassionate towards others who suffer, and gave me a comfort that  gives hope to others. This  weakness became my greatest strength because I had to  constantly depend on Jesus.

One who also knows this kind of intense dependence, Joni Eareckson Tada, wouldn’t trade her wheelchair for some temporary health and peace, because the wheelchair was the means God used form her character, as she shares in  her book, “A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Pain, Suffering and God’s Sovereignty”  She says, “So here I sit, glad that I have not been healed on the outside, but glad that I have been healed on the inside, freed from my own self-centered wants and wishes.”

That is a hard thing to understand, and the hardest of all is to live this kind of suffering out daily — but our God moves in a mysterious way doesn’t he?   William Cowper, the writer of that immortal hymn, sufferer of great depressions and mental breakdowns,  spoke more wise words:  “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense/But trust Him for His grace.”

And though Cowper himself never had a ‘happily ever after’ end to his life–and how I wish he could have pressed in to his own wonderful true words!–yet it was his faith in spite of the bleakness of his life that provides the hope and comfort so absent in more happy-clappy  stories, like blogposts that list “10 Keys to Victorious Living “.

Through my struggles, I  have come to know more intimately the God who strides the storms of every life, and  though I know  none of His  Hard Sayings will be made perfectly plain on this side of the dark glass we gaze through, I thank God! I have been freed at last from a blind unbelief that ‘scanned His works in vain’.

And  unlike the author of the NY Times essay, who concludes his piece with this wistful sigh of nostalgia, as he longs for the intensity of relationship he and his wife  shared as they fought her mental illness,  “I think that is what I miss…A time when only two things mattered to us: life and love”, I do not miss any of my own bitter struggle, but I am thankful for those hard days.  They taught me what matters most: clinging desperately to Jesus  for life, and drinking deeply of His unfailing love.

Here is a lovely acoustic version of Cowper’s hymn, “Light Shining Out of Darkness” performed in English by a woman who ministers among the Germans. The phrase highlighted on the video translates to,”Behind a frowning providence/He hides a smiling face.”  Yes, what a mystery, His severe mercies can be —  His smile  is sometimes hidden, but when you resist fear, and draw near to Him in the place of suffering you will find His gracious Father-heart for you. Don’t miss it by settling for mere survival. Press into the Savior.

Upon His Palms : Spurgeon’s Spoken Word, 11/7

November 7, 2011

O unbelief, how strange a marvel you are!
We know not which most to wonder at,
the faithfulness of God

The Unbelief of Suspension

or the unbelief of His people.

He keeps His promise
a thousand times,
and yet the next trial
makes us doubt Him.

He never fails; He is never a dry well;
He is never as a setting sun,
a passing meteor, or a melting vapour;
and yet we are as continually vexed

with anxieties, molested with suspicions,
and disturbed with fears, as if our God
were the mirage of the desert. “Behold,”
is a word intended to excite admiration.

Here, indeed, we have a theme for marvelling.
Heaven and earth may well be astonished
that rebels should obtain so great
a nearness to the heart of infinite love

as to be written upon the palms of His hands.
“I have graven you.”It does not say, “Your name.”
The name is there, but that is not all:
“I have graven you.”See the fulness of this!

I have graven your person, your image,
your case, your circumstances,
your sins, your temptations,
your weaknesses, your wants, your works;

I have graven you, everything about you,
all that concerns you; I have put you
altogether there.

Will you ever say again
that your God has forsaken you
when He has graven you


upon his own palms?

Out of the Closet, At Last

July 19, 2011

door opened

This is from a dialogue on another blog with a believer named Evan who identifies himself as a “Celibate Homosexual Christian” — as does Wesley Hill, the controversial author of “Washed and Waiting.” This conversation brought clarity to my need to speak more openly about  my own battle with mental disorder. There is a great need for those who have come through to the other side to cast off shame in order to encourage others.  We must de-stigmatize this struggle. It is the anniversary for me of a great deliverance–“He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name!”–so now seems a good day to speak of it.

Evan, you wrote, “Would you ask a Christian who suffers from mental illness to stop acknowledging his mental illness? Or would you suggest that he just exercise more faith to overcome the chemical imbalances in his brain? Or would you ask him to stop identifying himself as mentally ill? of course not.”  As one who identifies herself with that community, I would like to share my experience, I hope it will encourage you.  I think we have much in common.  And much that separates, of course.  I do not seek to  minimize your burden.

When I was a young child of two,  I suffered a deeply traumatic experience.  I was abandoned outside,  in the midst of  a hurricane.  I have  memories of  a deep terror, and so a crippling anxiety  has  plagued me my entire life.  Some would label this PTSD.  I also struggled with periods of lingering depression —  probably biologically linked, as my mother was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, and was in and out of mental hospitals until the advent of Lithium.

I lived almost my entire life with a wrenching tenseness in my gut and a clenched jaw. And an inability to trust anyone–because I was left alone!   Becoming a Christian compounded the problem because I learned my  crippling disorder was now considered sinful.  I also felt defensive because my experience didn’t match other’s victorious stories of complete deliverance and I did not enjoy the feelings of love, joy and peaceful security that they did.   It was always just me, of little faith.

I have not chosen to use psychotropic drugs because my mother was denuded of her soul on Lithium, and made even worse on the experimental course of drugs that followed the  renal failure that is common to those on lithium long-term .  The articles in the New York Review of Books by Marcia Angell,  the former chief editor of the New England Journal of Medicine called The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?  and again, The Illusion of Psychiatry   bear out for me the wisdom of this choice.

God has done a tremendous work of deliverance in my life, far too complicated to go into here, but this has not freed me from the daily battle against stinking thinking  and moving towards obeying the Lord and resting in His unfailing love in my struggle against fear.   I know you understand that responsibility well, very intimately, and pray that you feel your

 suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  (Romans 5:1-5)

I do not understand why, in God’s sovereign will, my vulnerable child’s brain, still furiously in development, went through the rush of adrenaline in a fear response, and was washed in those neurochemicals that  altered its structure —  this is current theory, we’ll go with it. I do suspect a similar mechanism  may be at work in those with a homosexual orientation.  That does not mean I believe you were “born that way”, but only that we live in a fallen world and our bodies, minds  and souls suffer its deleterious effects.

When I  identify myself as one who struggles with mental illness to safe brothers and sisters in Christ,  I also testify to the glorious work He has done for me– that now I walk in a consistent  peace and rest that I never dreamed would be mine in the land of the living.

Please know I completely understand that though I share  much of your struggle in its confusion and stigma, yet I cannot share your deepest struggle, that you as yet cannot find  solace in the arms of another in intimate union.  So I can only imagine with the greatest fear, your loneliness.

I only share this  to lift some of the weight of misunderstanding you have suffered here on this thread. -I wish I could give you a warm and completely holy embrace.  Please be assured that  I am praying for you too.