Life Didn’t End Back Then (A New Creation)

Yesterday afternoon, I was catching up with some YouTube sermons of a preacher I used to follow, when a scripture he was teaching out of really caught me, 2 Corinthians 5:17:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

The Mirror has it thusly:

In the light of your co-inclusion in his death and resurrection, whoever you thought you were before, in Christ you are a brand new person! The old ways of seeing yourself and everyone else are over. Acquaint yourself with the new!

I reckoned at that moment that my thinking had been wrong: I had been thinking that my life had ended five years ago, when I had a mental breakdown, and that I would never get past that–something along those lines. The shame of having broken inside was something from which I could never recover.

But I am a New Creation. It remains to be seen what I really am–but I know what I’m not.

I’m not crazy. I’m not a mental case. I’m not a hopeless wreck on the side of the road, doomed to rot. I’ve been born again. My life isn’t over–it’s just getting started. I’m new inside–a kainos creation (new in quality and kind).

Therefore I can move on. And since you are part of the new creation too, so can you.

You’re Not A Mess (Even When You Are)

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

One of the biggest problems that people with mental health issues have is their perception of themselves. The Church hasn’t been of much help in this, focusing on sin and depravity more than focusing on how God actually thinks about us. We think many thoughts daily that are unworthy of our grand position in Christ–and this goes for both believers and non-believers, for ‘God is no respecter of persons’. His opinion of us stands, no matter what.

I’ve collected a few quotes here that may help with this.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you. (Psalm 139)

I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of. For to have been thought about—born in God’s thoughts—and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest, most precious thing in all thinking. – George MacDonald

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. – C.S. Lewis

Continue reading “You’re Not A Mess (Even When You Are)”

The Tyranny of Memories: An Unsolved Puzzle

Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

Edit: I may have a partial solution to this problem, which I’ll write about soon.

I hope in the last post that you didn’t think that I have it all together now, because I don’t. Today I’m going to share with you something that I don’t have a solution for, just a partial answer. I post what I’ve found here in the hopes that perhaps we can find an answer together.

One of my chief difficulties lately has been dealing with the memories of past events–embarrassing things I have done and said from my childhood up until now. The embarrassment is just as acute as when I first did or said whatever it was. I can’t get it to go away easily. I kick myself around for a while. In Charismatic fashion, I’ve tried ‘binding’ the thought and ‘casting it down’, which doesn’t work.

Something that has helped me this week is this little phrase. I don’t know where it came from, because I can’t find an attribution:

I have sensations, but I am not those sensations.

I have feelings, but I am not those feelings.

I have thoughts, but I am not thoughts.

This has helped me let go of the thoughts a little easier: I have thoughts, but I am an observer of those thoughts, and those thoughts do not dictate who I am or how I live. They’re just noise, and I can be an impartial observer and just let those thoughts go, because they are not me.

This has helped me a little. I think that ultimately I am going to have to come to peace with myself and my past, and I don’t know how that will go. I am slowly learning to look inward and accept myself, but in the meantime, I press on and do whatever helps me get through the day. Sometimes getting through the day is the best you can do, and there’s no shame in that.

A Good Day

Photo by Samantha Lynch on Unsplash

A while back I explained how I was using this phrase, or mantra, or confession:

Today’s going to be a good day, whether it is or not.

Over the past few weeks I’ve shortened that to:

Today is a good day.

Maybe it’s the former Charismatic in me talking, but I think that what I’m saying is working.

Let me clarify what I mean by ‘a good day’:

  1. One in which I didn’t have a panic attack or other mental health breakdown, or if I did, it wasn’t too bad.
  2. One in where I was able to ‘get in the flow’ and stay there for at least part of the day.

Neither of these are exciting things that make me gush with happiness, but that’s the point: to set the bar low, and anything above that low bar means I had a good day.

Maybe I’m being overoptimistic here, but it seems like this has helped me have more ‘good days’ than not. Give it a shot yourself for a few weeks and let me know if it helps you.

‘Forbidden’ Music and ‘God-Absent Holes’

My teens and twenties were dominated by an obsession with music. At one point I owned over 1,000 compact discs. I would carry the huge binders in my car, ready to punch up on the stereo system in my old Buick (where the stereo system cost more than the car was worth).

Then I hit a religious point of zeal and get rid of all my ‘secular’ CDs. Anything by non-Christian musicians was out. I destroyed most of my music collection, believing that God wasn’t in the music and that he was unhappy with me.

They say that every man has a ‘God-shaped hole’. My problem was that I had some very large ‘God-absent’ holes in my life, areas where I was convinced that God would not go. I was afraid that if I listened to ‘secular’ music, that I would drive away the presence of God, so in order to please him, I needed to listen to Christian music only. This eventually narrowed to ‘worship music only’, so Jars of Clay was out and Hillsong was in. This made my world narrow and unpleasant! But God was happy with me in my misery, or so I thought.

The problem I constantly experienced was that I still loved the music that I had thrown away. Artists like Yes and Peter Gabriel and Genesis and Gentle Giant were ‘bad’, but I still missed their music terribly. I wasn’t supposed to miss it–after all, I had given it up ‘for God’, but I still did miss it. This caught me in a trap: this music is ‘evil’, I love the music, therefore some part of me must be ‘evil’.

When I finally got the revelation of grace and started emerging from legalism in 2010, I slowly discovered–very slowly discovered–that God was not absent from any place in my life. John Crowder talks about this bipolar idea in a post from today:

There are no unbaptized parts of our lives that are out of His range. Drop the double-minded polarity. It never occurred in the mind of God that creation would be something separate from Him. As soon as we wall God off from certain areas, we jump to a place of insanity – a religious schizophrenia. Delusional separation anxiety. He does not exist in this area of addiction, my finances, my health, my dysfunctional family relationships. Before you know it, we are locked into this false pagan mindset that is based entirely on a lie. We start forming personality disorders founded only upon smoke and mirrors.

God was always here – and is shining right now in the midst of the darkness. Even the darkness is as light to Him. Plato and Aristotle could see a dualistic split between light and darkness. Good and evil. Right and wrong. But the apostle John throws us a brain scrambler in the first chapter of his Gospel when he tells us that the light is shining in the darkness! (John 1:5). There is nowhere you can hide from the inescapable love of God.

John Crowder

I like that ‘there are no unbaptized parts of my life’, because that leaves me free to enjoy listening to Yes or the Beach Boys and enjoy that music as much (or more) than that of Hillsong United or Jesus Culture. Whenever I get in my car, I’m free to whatever I want: I can cue up a sermon or a podcast if I’m curious about something, or just toss in a CD by whatever artist and enjoy it.

That freedom took years for God to work into my life. But the good news is, the freedom is there, and always available.

Allow God to set you free. Allow yourself to love the music. There is no secular-sacred divide any more. No part of your life scares God away. If you’re in sin, stop! But you’re not in sin when you’re just living your life.

Centering Prayer

Since my earlier post on meditation, I have been looking for a way of organizing my prayer/meditation life so it’s not just sitting there with no clear objective.

In searching for Christian meditation techniques from the esoteric to the more-conventional, I came across a an interesting one: Centering Prayer. This method is both easy and difficult. Easy, because you can start in minutes without extensive training. Difficult, because of the busy mind.

A simple introduction to Centering Prayer is found in this brochure (PDF) and on Contemplative Outreach.

In centering prayer, you follow four guidelines:

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
3. When engaged with your thoughts,* return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

*thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections

Pretty simple, eh? The only problem is that it’s hard to sit still for twenty minutes, and letting go of thoughts (a process called kenosis) can be sometimes difficult. But I’ve found that it’s worth it.

Through this practice I’ve found some more inner peace and the ability to let go of disturbing or sinful thoughts. Instead of battling against the unsettling thought by declaring “That’s not who I am in Christ!” or somesuch, I find myself able to gently let the thought go and proceed in life as if nothing happened at all. I’ve heard it said that thoughts are like birds – one may land on your head, but you don’t have to let it build a nest. The practice of letting go of thoughts and embracing quiet is valuable because quiet is where the deepest presence of God dwells.

One of the great things about centering prayer is that you can’t really fail at it. The only failure is in not doing the practice. It’s relatively easy to chop out twenty, or even ten, minutes of my day, to do this simple practice. It’s not always easy to let go of overwhelming thoughts, but God always helps me through it. Highly recommended.

For more on the practical aspects of centering prayer, see this post.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

‘Lord, Help!’

It has long been my belief that the most holy, most sanctified, and possibly the most important prayer one can pray is also one of the simplest:

“Lord, help!”

Often I find my emotions going one way and life circumstances going a different way and I am stuck in the middle, feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. It is at those times, which are frequent, that I pray this one prayer.

“Help me, Lord.”

There is also a personal adaptation of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ that I sometimes sing to myself on these occasions:

Jesus help me, this I ask
I’m insufficient for this task
I need you to light my way
Every night and every day

Oh, Jesus, help me
Yes, Jesus, help me
Yes, Jesus, help me
I need you every day

Sometimes I feel ashamed that I am in constant need of divine help just to make it through some days. But who else would I ask for help from? I already take my medication. I ask for prayer from my wife. But the quickest way to fix the situation is to go straight to the Source. And when I pray, I find my emotions calming down, my perspective shifting a little, and a bit of peace coming in where there was unrest.

“Jesus, help me.”

Perhaps much of my prayer seems self-centered. But how else should I pray? I cannot help others if the spark of joy, creativity, contentment, and peace are not active within me. Without that stability that comes from God, I can do nothing. I can’t write, I can’t sing, I can’t do much of anything. But what I can do is hunker down and ask God to help me.

“Lord, help.”

‘He is the vine, I am a branch; without him, I can do nothing.’ Thankfully, with him we can do everything that’s necessary. All we have to do is ask for help.