Friday, January 2, 2015

January 2nd


I know lately and for quite a long time now I have been writing here in an indirect kind of way as I share things already written, but this time I wanted to post directly, for a couple of reasons.

First, as I was thinking back to the last few sections of my journal that I shared here, I worried that I might have communicated something unintentionally, and that something would be the idea that emotional or psychological suffering, such as anxiety or depression, needs a spiritual cure requiring only faith, while physical suffering, such as a broken leg, requires only a doctor.

I have run into this kind of thinking myself on several occasions. It's not usually spoken out loud, it's more like an unspoken assumption.

For example, when I was eighteen years old, I returned from a summer in England where I had become quite deeply depressed. I was supposed to be enjoying myself over there while living with a cousin of mine and his family- he was a pilot in the air force and was stationed there- but I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into depression.

This was because considering my future was overwhelming and fear inducing. At the time, I did not have my driver's license and simply using the telephone was such an anxiety-laded ordeal that I had to write out a script on a piece of paper in order to prepare myself for the coming conversation.

In light of this, considering collage, even a state or technical college, seemed as far out of reach for me as the moon. I had been raised for seventeen years in a sheltered, exclusive, legalistic church with a focus on apocalyptic doctrines, and so I had prepared myself only for a future that included attending the Bible collage that was an institution of that particular church, and then getting married immediately upon graduation, and then raising children and being a godly mother and wife.

Anything other than that seemed so terrifying that I could hardly consider it, let alone pursue it. I was a failure in the eyes of all my friends and a great deal of my family and all my mentors, because most of them were in the church I had left. But I was also a failure in the eyes of the society in general, because everyone else my age was going to college with bright hopes and dreams, and I was floundering and could not even drive.

On top of this, of course I was carrying around the buried memories and wounds of abuse that had yet to be addressed. So I was deeply depressed that summer. At the time, our new church was a Charismatic/Pentecostal church.

The people at this church were loving and caring people with good intentions, just as had been the people in the church I had grown up in. But they were operating out of a certain set of beliefs, and this determined their behavior and approach- as they had for me, when I had been a member of that church. In fact, I had been very successful at behaving in all the right ways, and I had treated those that left in the same way that I was now experiencing in person, from the other side.

In the charismatic church we were attending, one of the beliefs they held was that depression was not the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, produced as a result of trauma or grief, but instead was an evil spirit attacking a person.

So when I returned from England, the church gathered around me, put their hands on me, and began to rebuke the evil spirit of depression that they felt was opposing and attacking me. If this did not work, I knew it was my fault- I either lacked faith or was harboring a secret sin and should search my heart to find it, confess it and hopefully be healed. Otherwise, I believed this evil spirit would be following me around indefinitely.

I am certain that depression, like everything else in life, has a spiritual component, and I appreciated being cared for and prayed over. But the result of that experience was not healing. Depression has a spiritual component, but it is also like pain- it is a way that the body tells us we have been hurt, and need help.

For example, when we are hiking or jogging and fall and sprain an ankle, even the most devout generally do not rebuke the spirit of pain and then get up and try and continue to jog on the sprain, and then label themselves a spiritual failure because the injury and the pain remain.

Instead, we know we have an injury because of the pain, are forced by the pain to stop and exam the injury, and then go and find care. In this way, pain is a gift. If we didn't feel it, we wouldn't know anything was wrong, and would continue on and the injury would become compounded. When we finally got healing, it would be a longer and more complicated process, and if we never got care for the injury, we would probably end up with a permanent limp, and may not be able to jog again.

I say all this because if you, like me, have struggled or are struggling with depression or anxiety, I do not want to leave you with the erroneous impression that I am attempting to heal or address this solely through spiritual measures.

Of course I expect and have experienced Jesus' profound and spiritual healing work in my life, and that is precious to me. But I have also been to therapy and have been on depression medication, and am going to therapy still, about once a month, and to me, this is another and powerful way that Jesus is working to heal me.

There has been, and there still lingers, a burden of shame associated with emotional and psychological injuries and conditions. This exists in society in general, but also in a specific way within the Christian community. I do not want to add to this shame, even inadvertently. I want to do the opposite.

I feel that my testimony of the way Jesus moves in my life puts me in a unique position to help remove some of the shame. Because look! Look at how He is with me, and yet see how I struggle also with these things that in some circles or in an unspoken way, are considered failures or shameful or a bad testimony.

If you are struggling with these things, please do not be ashamed. You are not a failure, or less than, or falling short. Your body, and most certainly your mind, is a marvel and depression and anxiety is telling you something helpful for you to know. Lean into Jesus, pray as He directs you to pray and lean into your community, but do not feel ashamed of needing therapy, attending therapy, or of taking medication. No one is ashamed of taking an aspirin when they get a fever.

Fortunately for me, my parents had the courage to attend therapy and to begin healing, and this gave me the support needed for me to begin at a fairly early age- when I was twenty six. It was much harder for my parents, because they had several decades of pain to work through.

But at the right time, Jesus led me to the perfect therapist and through her training and compassion, I began to be free of the horrible beliefs that I had formed about myself and the world as a result of the abuse. It took three years, the first time.

I had to go back to therapy the same year that I was diagnosed with infertility, as the shame around infertility compounded the shame of abuse, and I couldn't work through all that on my own. At that time also, I found a wonderful, experienced and compassionate therapist who helped me untangle the damaging beliefs.

Going to therapy the first time was absolutely the hardest thing that I have ever done, and many times during those three years I thought I had reached the limit of what I could take, but Jesus was most certainly present and helping and guiding me along.

In fact, it was in one of those sessions, as I was trying to face a certain memory of abuse, that I suddenly saw that Jesus had always been with me and that I had never been alone in the terrible, shameful and painful dark. Never once had I been abandoned. In fact, Jesus had taken on my suffering as His own. I cannot express how deeply this makes me love Him- Jesus did not have to do that, He could have remained aloof. He did not. This is love beyond description.

No one knows the courage it takes to begin therapy of that kind unless they have been through it- to face the thing which is so terrible and so unthinkable that for years massive amounts of energy have been dedicated to denying it ever happened.

There is a certain idea that healing should take only this amount of time and then be done with, but anyone who has suffered abuse or trauma can tell you that this belief is not true and not helpful. Healing is a life long process, but one that is not without hope or success or sudden moments of wonderful freedom and clarity. 

God does sometimes demonstrate His glory by a sudden transformation in people's lives and those testimonies are powerful and beautiful. But many other times, He demonstrates His glory by leading us to healing one slow step at a time, teaching us patience, courage, mercy and compassion along the way.

This is the way Jesus has healed me, so it is what I can talk about, even if in an anecdotal way, and what I have learned by this slow process of healing is so beautiful and precious and personal, and has revealed the heart of Jesus to me in such intimate ways that to be honest, I would not want Him to work in any other way with me. To know Jesus in His suffering is a gift.

This does not mean that I try to prolong the suffering or that I want to glorify the suffering, or that I do not get help, or that I feel ashamed of needing help. It just means that I get to know His heart as I walk along beside Him, growing up into Him through the healing process, which has been a long road for me, and continues still.

That's one thing I wanted to say. The other thing I want to say is that the next few sections of my journal that I will be sharing are going to be more intense than the previous ones. They are what is sometimes called "strong meat."

I just wanted to give my readers a bit of a head's up. I'm in the process of preparing them before posting them, and I don't know how long the process will take. The last few blogs that I have posted have been like stepping stones, though they are valuable in their own way.

I am committed, by the grace of God, to being as transparent and honest in sharing these experiences as I possibly can, so that I do not attempt to make them more or less than what they were, but to simply let my words frame them as best I can, as a witness to something beautiful and holy, something that illustrates, in a limited way of course, the love, grace and glory of God.

I cannot do this on my own, but I am trusting Jesus to guide me in this process. In the end, I must hand myself and my words over to Him with an open and transparent heart. He has never failed to guide me by inner and outer confirmations, in the most generous, specific and comforting way and if He were not doing that, I simply would not be able to share these things- even the things that I have already shared.

So I am trusting Him with this also. What I will be sharing is as much a mystery to me as they will be to others, so I am simply offering them freely, with faith, hope and love, first to Jesus, who gave them to me, and then to anyone else who comes along and reads them.


Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]—

To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen (so be it).

Ephesians 3:20-21, Amplified