Tidings of Comfort and Joy

We are now almost one week away from Christmas–one of the most emotionally-stirring holidays in our culture. And it should be! The miracle of the incarnate God in the form of a baby should never cease to amaze us. But the emotional nature of this holiday can become exponentially difficult for those battling mental illness. It’s hard to sing about tidings of comfort and joy when you’re not experiencing either. It’s hard being greeted by “Merry Christmas,” instead of “How are you?” I know because I’ve been there, and by the grace of God, I am not facing depression this holiday season. But because I have experienced depression in the past, I want to explain some aspects for those who have not struggled with it. And for anyone reading this, I want to explain the difference Jesus makes in battling mental illness.

I want to start off by saying that I’m not writing this because I want pity. I am actually one of the lucky ones: I know the exact cause of my depression (chronic pain), have not struggled with anxiety, and have had seasons of relief, which I am currently in. Additionally, not everyone with depression has these symptoms. I am simply writing from my own experience with the hope that anyone reading this will be able to empathize more with those facing mental illness.

1.) Feelings of hopelessness

The mind fighting off mental illness is constantly lying to itself; the “sick brain” (as my psychology teacher called it) thinks that the problems it faces today will never go away. As a result, the hope of getting better sometimes gets overshadowed by the problems directly in front of us. When we feel like we’ll suffer forever, we should remember that the exact opposite is true: “So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Lie: The problems of today are eternal.

Truth: Our hope in Jesus is eternal.

2.) Loss of control

Nothing scares me more than having my own mind turn against me. In the past, when my mind was filled with thoughts that were uncharacteristic of me, I felt like I had no control. I think that a universal desire for individuals is to feel some amount of control in their own lives. Even as spirit-filled believers, we are called to self-control, meaning we maintain control over our sinful desires. But ultimately, God does not expect us to have all circumstances of our lives under our own control; instead, He wants the whole of our lives to be under His control. When I’m trying to fight the battles within my own mind, I have to remember that “the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:47).

Lie: You’re too weak to have control of your mind.

Truth: God is stronger, more experienced, and more trustworthy.

3.) Loss of interest

I’m not an expert on mental illness, but I think that loss of interest is unique to depression. For me, this was the most frustrating part. It was more than just apathy; I couldn’t remember what I enjoyed about life. I couldn’t fully enjoy spending time with people because–as harsh as it sounds–I wasn’t interested in celebrating with them or hearing about their own problems. I couldn’t turn to music, because I forgot what it was like to enjoy music. I felt dissociated from everything that I thought defined me. But I was more focused on losses than gains. Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Lie: Everything you thought you loved doesn’t matter.

Truth: The life that Jesus has to offer you matters.

4.) Sense of guilt

Living in guilt is different than acting on conviction; living in guilt means feeling like a burden for talking about your problems, which then results in shutting people out of your life. Isolation then forces you to listen to your own mind, which tells you that you should feel guilty. It’s an endless cycle, further enforced by my guilt-prone personality. Sometimes we can make the mistake of thinking that our difficult circumstances are punishment for our sins. As sinners saved by grace, we might face consequences of our sins, but Jesus took all the necessary punishment for our sins. To think we are experiencing punishment for our sins is to doubt grace. “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus…For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 8:1, 38-39).

Lie: You don’t deserve to be happy.

Truth: You don’t deserve grace, but take it anyways. It’s already paid for.

So what about Christmas?

“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6

Jesus came as the antidote to the symptoms of mental illness. As our Wonderful Counselor, He reminds us that we are not without hope. As our Mighty God, He fights our battles and brings our lives under His control. As our Eternal Father, He gives us a new identity–not based on our interests, but based on our relationship as His children. And as our Prince of Peace, He removes our guilt and replaces it with the peace of being forgiven. Also, as our Immanuel, He stepped down from the glories of Heaven to be “with us” in our suffering.

This Christmas, let’s remember to pray for and care for those battling mental illness, whether that’s lending a helping hand or simply a compassionate ear. Let’s also remember that only through Jesus are we able to experience joy, peace, and hope.

 

 

Pain, Loss, and a Loss to Explain the Pain

Summer 2015 is definitely a summer to be remembered. It has been unlike any other summer, in that I’ve never experienced more pain, confusion, and uncertainty. Yet through it all, the goodness of God has been evident.

Pain:

Hosea 11:3- “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them in My arms, but they never knew that I healed them.”

The first month of this summer, I spent relearning how to walk: I had a procedure known as PRP therapy on both feet, with the second occurring two weeks after the first. I had this procedure on just my left foot last summer, so I mostly understood what I was getting into. But it ended up being more difficult than I expected.

The night after I had my left foot done, following my right foot, I sat on my couch, unable to laugh, unable to talk, unable to blink. The pain was so great that the only movement I could make was wiping away the tears that involuntarily flowed from my eyes. Using the pain scale of 1 to 10, I was trying my hardest to believe I was not at a 10; I had never experienced deeper pain in my 4 1/2 year of pain.

The next few days were insanely difficult. Since I was relearning how to use both feet, what once took me 10 seconds to walk across my house took me 10 minutes. I had to hold on to walls with every step. And each step felt more exhausting than the last. Every day felt like a nightmare.

But here’s the fascinating part: I was so wrapped up in the fact that I was in pain that I didn’t realize my pain had decreased every single day. A week after the procedure on my left foot, I realized that I didn’t need my boot anymore. And a week after that, I didn’t need to hold on to walls anymore. And a week after that, I was driving without pain! All of these realizations were sudden, and I saw how God had gotten me one step closer to recovery. In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis states that pain is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Goodness of God: If it wasn’t for my pain, and then lack thereof, I wouldn’t have seen how God has been there literally every step of the way.

Loss:

Colossians 4:5- “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”

This summer I lost a sweet friend, Kelsey. Kelsey and I went to elementary school together, became friends through a science project in 7th grade, and stayed friends through all of high school. This was my first friend my age to pass away- long before anyone expected.

The funeral home was packed for her funeral. I don’t think Kelsey ever realized just how many lives she impacted. The room was filled with sadness- sadness at the realization that we can only rely on memory to experience the happiness she always spread. Yet another emotion filled the room- regret. We regretted the loss of the opportunity to be there for her. Most of our friends said the same thing: “I wish we would have kept in touch.”

Through this tragedy, God provided an opportunity for me to learn how to improve the way I relate to others. First, I learned to promptly take advantage of the chance to share God’s love, because no one is guaranteed tomorrow. Delayed obedience is disobedience; the Spirit prompts us to obey in His perfect timing. Therefore, I don’t want to procrastinate loving others any longer.

Secondly, I learned that, although life is hard, the absence of life is harder; other people are struggling as much as–and more than–me. In recent months, I’ve been so overwhelmed by my own pain that I’ve forgotten that others are hurting too. Leading up to the funeral, as her loved ones expressed to me their hurt, I realized what brokenness sounds like. I don’t want to be deaf to this sound any longer. Philippians 2:4 tells us that “everyone should look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others.”

Goodness of God: Even with death, God can still use the hurt to motivate others to live like Him.

Loss to Explain the Pain:

Galatians 2:20- “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

After two additional rounds of PRP therapy, I thought, “This is going to be it. It’s going to work this time.” And I think it did: Weeks 7 and 8 (or 5 and 6, for my left foot) were great! I was walking barefoot on tile without pain. But by Week 9, I developed additional pain–and severe, at that. It was at that point that my right Achilles tendon (on the outside and back of the heel) became inflamed. This tendon was not touched during PRP, since I hadn’t had problems with it before. In the next few weeks, I developed problems with my wrist, which had been present a few months before but never received a diagnosis. At my most recent appointment, I was diagnosed with tendonitis on the outsides of my wrists. (I had previously been diagnosed with tendonitis on the thumb side of my right wrist.) One year ago today, I might have been experiencing (at most) some back discomfort. In the past year alone, I have redeveloped plantar fasciitis, but in both feet, and I’ve developed tendonitis in both sides of both wrists and both feet. None of this has made sense to me.

Christian metaphor time! Since I’m writing this at the beach, I’ll use a beach metaphor.

Today when I went out in the water, the waves were frequent and strong. At first I approached the waves by trying to stand my ground and not fall. It was difficult because wave after wave crashed into me, while all I did was face and brace myself for the next. Later on, I got on a float and rode on top of the waves. I felt proud that the waves could no longer get to me. I enjoyed floating up and down at the passage of each new wave. But the problem with riding on top of the waves was that I was moving backwards instead of forwards. However, I found another response to the waves: remaining on my knees, with my back to the incoming waves, as I let the impact carry me forward. I didn’t know when the next wave would arrive. I didn’t know what the magnitude of the next wave would be. And, surprisingly, it was liberating. Since I had no idea what to expect next, there was nothing I could do to prepare or prevent it. I was free to relax and let it move me. Similarly, I’m not strong enough to simply face my pain, and I don’t want to conquer my pain only to move backwards. The only way to move forward without getting beaten by my circumstances is to stay on my knees in prayer.

Right now, I have more questions than answers. I really don’t know where to go from here. I am at a loss to explain my pain. I have no control in preventing my pain. But here’s the reward: The One who is in control of my circumstances is the One who “brings out the starry host by number” and “calls all of them by name. Because of His great power and strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26).

Goodness of God: When my situation is out of my control, it is in God’s control.

I know that in all things, my God is good. I’m sincerely grateful for the difficulties of this summer; without them, I would feel entitled to a good life and neglect a good God.

King Saul

I don’t usually write on the Old Testament, but so much of it still applies to today, to this nation, to my generation. The story of Israel’s relationship to God is often similar to our current response to God. The Israelites got bored and thought that God wasn’t enough. They turned away. God proved why they shouldn’t have. They returned to the merciful arms of God. This cycle is repeated multiple times throughout the Old Testament and provides hope for our modern-day return to God in His mercy.

  • 1 Samuel 8:5
    • 5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not follow your example. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.”
    • The people wanted equality with others who did not hold the same values.
  • 1 Samuel 8:19-20
    • 19 The people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We must have a king over us. 20 Then we’ll be like all the other nations: our king will judge us, go out before us, and fight our battles.”
    • The people placed God’s role in the hands of man. Their cravings were met in God, yet they wanted more.
  • 1 Samuel 8:21-22
    • 21 Samuel listened to all the people’s words and then repeated them to the Lord.[a] 22 “Listen to them,” the Lord told Samuel. “Appoint a king for them.” Then Samuel told the men of Israel, “Each of you, go back to your city.”
    • God gave the people what they wanted. He wasn’t powerless. He demonstrated His sovereignty in His discipline–letting His people discover the consequences to their actions.
  • 1 Samuel 9:16
    • 16 “At this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over My people Israel. He will save them from the hand of the Philistines because I have seen the affliction of My people, for their cry has come to Me.”
    • Even in their disobedience, God cared about their hurt and wanted to stop it. He is a good God who doesn’t abandon.
  • 1 Samuel 9:21
    • 21 Saul responded, “Am I not a Benjaminite from the smallest of Israel’s tribes and isn’t my clan the least important of all the clans of the Benjaminite tribe? So why have you said something like this to me?”
    • The Lord has a plan for even “the least important.” He loves those whom society has cast aside, and He has a better plan for their lives than they can imagine.
  • 1 Samuel 10:9-10
    • When Saul turned around[a] to leave Samuel, God changed his heart,[b] and all the signs came about that day. 10 When Saul and his attendant arrived at Gibeah, a group of prophets met him. Then the Spirit of God took control of him, and he prophesied along with them.
    • Just because people act in opposition to God’s plan doesn’t mean that the Spirit can’t move in the situation.
  • 1 Samuel 12:16-18
    • 16 “Now, therefore, present yourselves and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. 17 Isn’t the wheat harvest today? I will call on the Lord and He will send thunder and rain, so that you will know and see what a great evil you committed in the Lord’s sight by requesting a king for yourselves.” 18 Samuel called on the Lord, and on that day the Lord sent thunder and rain. As a result, all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.
    • The people were punished for thinking they didn’t need God, but their punishment resulted in reverence of God.
  • 1 Samuel 12:20
    • 20 Samuel replied, “Don’t be afraid. Even though you have committed all this evil, don’t turn away from following the Lord.Instead, worship the Lord with all your heart.
    • Though the nation had turned from God, they were not too far gone.
  • 1 Samuel 13:11-14
    • 11 and Samuel asked, “What have you done?” Saul answered, “When I saw that the troops were deserting me and you didn’t come within the appointed days and the Philistines were gathering at Michmash, 12 I thought: The Philistines will now descend on me at Gilgal, and I haven’t sought theLord’s favor. So I forced myself to offer the burnt offering.” 13 Samuel said to Saul, “You have been foolish. You have not kept the command which the Lord your God gave you. It was at this time that the Lord would have permanently established your reign over Israel, 14 but now your reign will not endure. The Lord has found a man loyal to Him,[a] and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not done what the Lord commanded.”
    • We can seek the Lord’s favor all we want, but we won’t succeed without obeying His commands exactly.
  • Acts 13:21-23
    • 21 Then they asked for a king, so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for 40 years. 22 After removing him, He raised up David as their king and testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man loyal to Me,[a] who will carry out all My will.’ 23 “From this man’s descendants, according to the promise, God brought the Savior, Jesus,[b] to Israel.
    • After the nation was led astray by human leadership, God raised up a man after His own heart. I have the hope that the next generation will rise up as a generation after God’s own heart.
    • God is able to save, despite human failure. Jesus saves, no matter what mistakes we’ve made.

Thanksgiving is About You

“Everything” is an all-encompassing word: “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Easier said than done, right?

Perhaps the least difficult time to thank God is when life is less difficult. Thanksgiving flows most naturally from the heart when life is good. Slightly more challenging is the decision to thank God for painful circumstances. But, with an eternal sense of purpose, believers can be grateful for the way God moves in their lives. Personally, I struggle the most with gratitude for things I don’t like about myself.

Probably the most obvious form of insecurity is body image. The comparison game between different-looking people points out what exactly we don’t like about our appearances. I myself can name several things I would like to change about my appearance. But is appearance really what defines our worth? According to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, certainly not!

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

19 Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.

Our worth is not our own; our worth was bought at the price of Jesus’ life. As believers, our bodies are the places that the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell (2 Corinthians 6:16). The beauty of God permeates into our own lives when God Himself chooses to live in temporary human bodies.

Another common insecurity is evident in self-doubt. When people lose faith in their God-given abilities,–and forget that they are given by God–they become engulfed by feelings of incompetence. Again, the comparison game also becomes dangerous when we try to out-do others’ talents, positions, or even ministries. A dislike towards one’s incapabilities leaves a sense of emptiness in purpose, which only God can determine.

2 Corinthians 3:4-5

We have this kind of confidence toward God through Christ. It is not that we are competent in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our competence is from God.

Measuring ourselves to man-made standards will cause us to fall short each time. But living according to God’s will and with God’s competence always brings success that surpasses worldly definitions.

Because this blog is written to explain the lessons God has taught me through physical pain, I’ll close by trying to be thankful for my imperfect health. I don’t like the fact that I need to sit down more than others do. I don’t like the fact that I sometimes walk with a limp. I don’t like the fact that sharp pain often interrupts my thought process. But I should learn to thank God for carefully creating me exactly as I am.

Psalm 139:13-15

13 For it was You who created my inward parts;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You
because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful,
and I know this very well.
15 My bones were not hidden from You
when I was made in secret,
when I was formed in the depths of the earth.

God, You knew exactly what You were doing when You made me. Nothing about the way I was created was an accident; You see all that You have made and call it good. Help me to see Your divine creativity in creating my imperfect body.

Thanksgiving is a season of gratefulness to God, but thanksgiving is dependent on us. We determine how we view our lives. Our attitude towards ourselves is sometimes the only thing that can be changed, since God’s goodness in our lives never fails. Thanksgiving is about our perspective towards the good, the bad, and the ugly in our lives.

As Thanksgiving approaches and we admit our gratitude for people we love, let us not forget to thank God for that which we see as repulsive in our lives. Let us remember how we are treasured in His eyes.