When the Cut Runs Quick and Deep

By perseverance the snail reached the

Gentle Reader,

I became best friends with Charles Spurgeon this week. Not in a literal sense, of course, since he’s been dead for over a century. But after listening to a documentary while at work, I have come to deeply love this ancestor in the faith. At one point I nearly laughed aloud; the documentary quoted him as saying that preaching before large crowds made him so nervous that, on more than one “Sabbath morning, my breakfast was vomited.” (Or something close to that. I can’t remember the exact words). As one who tends to experience the reappearance of breakfast regularly, I appreciate anyone who’s been there.

More importantly, and most especially on days like today when my heart just aches for no logical reason, I appreciate Charles Spurgeon’s very real struggle with the anxiety and depression that caused him to vomit:

Some years ago, I was the subject of fearful depression of spirit. Various troublous events had happened to me; I was also unwell, and my heart sank within me. Out of the depths I was forced to cry unto the Lord. Just before I went to Mentone for rest, I suffered greatly in body, but far more in soul, for my spirit was overwhelmed. Under this pressure, I preached a sermon from the words, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ I was as much qualified to preach from that text as ever I expect to be; indeed I hope that few of my brethren could have entered so deeply into those heartbreaking words. I felt to the full of my measure the horror of a soul forsaken of God. Now that was not a desirable experience. I tremble at the bare idea of passing again through that eclipse of soul; I pray that I may never suffer in that fashion again… – Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Soul Winner

If you have not experienced what Winston Churchill called “the black dog,” then Spurgeon’s words may not make much sense to you. How can faith and agonizing sorrow exist in the same sphere? I cannot explain it, but they can, and they do.

Today…today I am sorely tempted to pursue numbness. I am weary of the pain that so often arises from clinging to hope and searching for joy. I would rather feel nothing at all. I am tempted to believe that God has forsaken me. That His promises are meant for and fulfilled in others, but that I am somehow cast out. Not by some capriciousness on His part, but because of my own stupidity. I have made my bed, and must sleep in it.

But Spurgeon goes on in his story.

…unless the same result should hang upon it.

That night, after the service, there came into my vestry a man who was as nearly insane as he could be to be out of an asylum. His eyes seemed ready to start from his head, and he said that he should utterly have despaired if he had not heard that discourse, which had made him feel that there was one man alive who understood his feelings, and could describe his experience. I talked with him, and tried to encourage him, and asked him to come again on Monday night, when I should have a little more time to speak with him. I saw the brother again, and I told him that I thought he was a hopeful patient, and I was glad that the word had been so suited to his case. Apparently he put aside the comfort which I had presented for his acceptance, and yet I had the consciousness upon me that the precious truth which he had heard was at work upon his mind, and that the storm of his soul would soon subside into a deep calm.

Now hear the sequel. Last night, of all the times in the year, when, strange to say, I was preaching from the words, ‘The Almighty hath vexed my soul,’ after the service, in walked this selfsame brother who had called on me five years before. This time, he looked as different as noonday from midnight, or as life from death. I said to him, ‘I am glad to see you, for I have often thought about you and wondered whether you were brought into perfect peace.’ To my inquiries, this brother replied, ‘Yes, you said I was a hopeful patient, and I am sure you will be glad to know that I have walked in the sunlight from that day till now. Everything is changed and altered with me.’ Dear friends, as soon as I saw my poor despairing patient the first time, I blessed God that my fearful I experience had prepared me to sympathize with him and guide him; but last night, when I saw him perfectly restored, my heart overflowed with gratitude to God for my former sorrowful feelings. I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit: it is good for me to have been afflicted that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary. – Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Soul Winner

And I am reminded. Why the effect of the Genesis Curse is manifest in my life as a tendency toward fear and sorrow, I don’t know. Why I am relentlessly pursued by the screams of cynicism spewed from the mouths of demons, I don’t know. Why I choose to be a moron so often and live in the doldrums, I really don’t know. I genuinely can’t make sense of it. I don’t understand how the things I can’t control and the things I can control come together to create such a storm.

But I do know this: I must choose God. Even when it hurts, even when it doesn’t add up, even when everything within me and around me calls for giving up. I must choose God. I must allow Him to do that mysterious work of shining in and through the darkness, cutting it to ribbons. I must allow Him space and room to work, that this pain might be redeemed and morphed into something beautiful.

If you read this today and despair yourself, know that you are not alone. You simply aren’t. There are others who cry so deeply that their breath is stolen. Others who are a second away from being convinced that there is no point. Others who want so desperately for the fog to lift. I do not know why this is your reality. I don’t know what you’ve been through or why your brain chemicals are wonky.

I do know this: God is real. He sees the cut in your soul, the gash in your heart, the wound in your mind. He knows how deep it runs and why it runs. When friends and family are gone, He is there. When the medication doesn’t work, He is there. When the exercise doesn’t provide the necessary endorphin boost, He is there. When you can’t get out of bed, He is there. When you think you have no more tears left to cry and yet they still come, He is there. When you feel too much to feel anything, when you are utterly numb, He is there.

You may feel forsaken, but you are not in fact forsaken.

God is there. And He holds you close.

Persevere, little one.

My journey to faith. (15)

Five Minute Friday: Tell

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Gentle Reader,

Partying with the Five Minute Friday crowd tonight. The gracious Kate invites us to: tell.

Go.

“Sharper Edge”

My heart with sharper edge does beat

Soothed no longer with medicine’s treat;

I bleed these aches onto the page,

Hoping for the end of –

Something.

Undefined and ever-present longing.

Joy and despair, despair and joy,

Treating my mind as plaything, toy.

Stretching, burning, turning,

Depths and heights and all between.

Needing help for every step.

My Lord, my God, be by my side,

Catch each tear – shed and uncried

I don’t often share my poetry. For some reason, I find it a more vulnerable form of writing. Rawer, somehow. But given all the discussion about mental illness this week, this is what I have to tell. Brightness and darkness exist in the same day – in the same person. It hurts. It’s confusing. It feels like walking through thick molasses.

Yet God is there. He gives me exactly what I need, often before I even know I need it. He collects my tears (Psalm 56:8). He teaches me how to live (John 10:10). He is the steady, sure and unchanging One.

That is enough.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Speaking with Compassion

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Gentle Reader,

Along with unnumbered scores of others, I was saddened by yesterday’s news of Robin Williams suicide. Every suicide is a tragedy, but this particular death has people talking. It is shocking to think that someone who brought us so much laughter experienced the kind of despair that leads to such a decision. Such a thing drives home the point that mental illness does not discriminate. Men, women, children, old, young, rich, poor. Anyone can find themselves in the midst of deep pain and confusion.

In this Internet age, anyone can post any opinion with the brush of a few keys, and I think that’s perfectly fine. Every one of us has the right to our own thoughts. I believe in free speech. But I also believe in compassion. Too many articles touching on this subject lack it, whether from the ignorance of “he’s free now,” something that belittles the entire topic of suicide and all those who have been impacted by it, to those who hone in only on the personal responsibility of Mr. Williams, to still others who speak of “just choos[ing] joy.” Mental illness is far too complex an issue to be reduced in such a way.

Honestly, I wish that the discussion of these things could be limited to those who have walked through the shadows and those who are trained to walk with them. But, again, anyone can say anything. So let me simply request this of you: Speak with compassion. Try to imagine the deep, tortuous pain and agonizing sorrow that would move someone to take his own life. Try to understand that this is not “just” a spiritual issue, nor is it “just” a physical issue. Mental illness takes over the totality of a person. The vision is clouded over – the vision of the eyes and the vision of the soul.

You would not speak to a cancer patient and tell her to “just get over it.” You would not tell an man with a broken leg to walk normally. No. You would come alongside and do what you could to help. This is exactly what the mentally ill need. We need your encouragement, your prayers, your friendship and your attempt at understanding. We need your grace and your hugs.

We do not need your condemnation, your attempts at neat classification or your ill-informed and lofty opinions spouted as fact.

Think about Jesus. Think about how He would speak to someone in despair.

Go and do likewise.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Detox Diaries: Tears for Fears

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Gentle Reader,

I’m back.

I would like to tell you that I feel less upset than I did when I began the two-week blogging break, but that would be a lie. More than once this fortnight I was hit with that awful pain, the one that sits somewhere between your heart and your stomach (or maybe it takes up the whole space), the one that heralds a sudden crash into sadness. Yes, there is a very real, very physical ache that comes with deep emotional distress.

It hit me again last night as I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep after watching a documentary about the rise and fall of the Russian Empire. (Don’t judge me). Rest was pushed away by tears, tears that came unbidden and unwanted. I wasn’t crying because I had just turned 30. I wasn’t crying for any specific reason. I just…cried.

As a testimony to the illogical and irrational nature of emotions, I crashed mid silent-wail sometime after 1:30 this morning. Nothing was resolved. I had no sense of enlightenment. My body simply clicked the “off” button and wasn’t particularly happy about being aroused a few hours later. I smacked the “dismiss” button on my alarm and dozed, telling myself that I could go in to the doctor’s office and get the blood work done at any time. I didn’t have to get up early. That was true, but it was also true that I had to be fasting for the labs.

The longing for breakfast won out over the longing for more sleep.

I wanted the blood work to be a get in and get out kind of deal, though I knew I’d have some wait time. “Some” stretched into 45 minutes. The information on my account was completely screwed up; they had me marked as a single, full time student seeing a totally different primary physician. After that got fixed, a nurse called me back and said she had no idea why I was even there. I told her that, at my last visit, my doctor had told me to come back in three months and repeat the tests. She sent me back out to the waiting room and I tried to read a dated Time magazine, all the while musing over how thrilling incompetence is.

Insert sarcasm here.

At least the taking of the blood was quick and very nearly painless. Maybe this time I won’t develop an epic bruise.

Nothing about this morning improved my mood any, so I knew I had to take a walk. I am learning to see the paths and sidewalks around my neighborhood as my antidepressant/antianxiety/anticrabby medication, my running shoes the delivery system. Moving even a little really does get the juices flowing, and that really does help.

Partway through my walk, I heard this song:

Once again I was reminded of the truth of the prophet’s words:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it? – Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV)

Emotions aren’t evil. They are not to be repressed. But they are also not the basis for how I live my life. They can’t be. I don’t understand why I feel the way I do. Yes, chemicals and all that, but really, at the root of it, I am baffled by how my feelings so often do not come into alignment with reality. What I feel can easily cause me to believe that something is wrong when everything is fine.

Feelings are a poor foundation. The verses I’ve been working on memorizing (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) speak of this fact. I must destroy speculations, and much of my anxiety and sorrow is fueled by just that. I must rip down anything that stands in defiance of God and His truth. I have to take every thought, and I would also say every feeling, to Jesus and ask, “Should I keep this?” If He says no, based on what He has revealed in Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in my soul, then I have to get rid of it.

It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

Dearest friend, I want so much to tell you that I am further along on this journey than I really am. I want to tell you that I have found victory in all areas of my life. But really I’m just as weary and battle-scarred as you are. Every day is a struggle. To get out of bed. To go to work. To speak. To do house work. To be around friends and family. I am pushing through a constant, thick haze, one so heavy that it blocks my view of anything other than my feet.

But in looking down at those feet, I see also His nail-scarred hand holding mine. His is strong and certain where mine is weak and limp. In His other hand He holds a lantern, one that lights the way just enough for one more step.

So I go on.

My journey to faith. (15)

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.