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.

‘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.

Works Righteousness and Mental Health

This morning I came across this post, and it helps explain how I went crazy. I’m talking literally crazy–mental-health-facility crazy–and this helps explain how God got me out of that mindset.

But first, the music: Soul Sloshing by Venus Hum off the album Best Remodeled, just because it’s catchy and happy.

Here’s the quote–and I apologize for the length, but all of it is good:

Dualistic and/or binary thinking seeks to comprehend things in a linear, formulaic pattern. This mindset typically results in a ‘if/therefore’ or ‘either/or’ perspective that really doesn’t fit well or function properly when it comes to attempting to comprehend and understand grace.

For example, this mindset says, “If I repeat the formulaic incantation of the sinners prayer, I am therefore saved.”

We witness this time and time again in our churches. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “Now, with every head bowed and every eye closed, repeat this prayer after me.”

Followed by, “If you just said that prayer and meant it, we believe you’ve been saved.”

The biggest problem with all this is that this mindset doesn’t truly direct anyone towards Jesus; it directs us toward ourselves. Salvation then becomes a matter of what WE do; Jesus may be the means, but man is ultimately the end by which salvation is finally decided.

This is works-righteousness, a fools errand, and is essentially anti-Gospel. If salvation depends on me reciting some magic words that changes God’s mind about me, then I’m totally screwed, and the finished work of the cross is rendered useless.

The beauty of Grace; the real-deal Gospel undiluted, is that it shatters these modes of thinking and restores Union; Oneness, even in our thinking and perceptions.

We realize we were home right from the start. We realize that Jesus is God’s overwhelming, resounding ‘YES’ to mankind. We awaken to the fact that salvation is a finished work, achieved on our behalf by, in, and through Jesus, and that He was never depending on us to finish what He started (and completed). It is in these moments where we encounter grace that we are equipped to rest and trust in Jesus; not ourselves, not our works, not our words.

It is in these moments of encounter that we are gifted with faith, and we begin partaking, participating, and enjoying this divine Union; where all illusions of separation and division are shattered; where we begin to understand that it is HIS faithfulness that moves us and draws us and engages us with salvation, not our own. –Pete Nichols

From the time I prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ at 12 years old, up until around 2010, I was obsessed with righteousness-by-works and didn’t know it.

Works righteousness says, ‘I am OK with God based on what I do.’ The problem with that is, it’s impossible to be made right with God, for him to be happy with us, based on anything we do.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10, ESV)

Your salvation is not a reward for good behavior! It was a grace thing from start to finish; you had no hand in it. Even the gift to believe simply reflects his faith! If this could be accomplished through any action of yours then there would be ground for boasting. We are engineered by his design; he molded and manufactured us in Christ. We are his workmanship, his poetry. We are fully fit to do good, equipped to give attractive evidence of his likeness in us in everything we do.  (Eph. 2:8-10, The Mirror)

Works righteousness led me down so many wrong paths. I mentioned when I wanted to be Jewish? I wanted to be Jewish because I thought I had be, to be righteous and keep God happy. I had ministry prophesied over me as a teenager, so I tried so many times to start ministering and form a ministry, to make it happen, a goal which nearly tore my family apart. I wanted to go to Japan and was hell-bent on learning the language and trying to convince my wife that we needed to move there. Guess what? None of this worked. I’m not Jewish, there is no Stephen Shores Ministries, and I still haven’t gone to Japan.

It’s actually good that this stuff didn’t work out, because eventually it revealed that I had this secret, hidden idea: ‘I have to do all this stuff to keep God happy.’

Keeping God happy is not the primary goal of the Christian life. It is not a sign of maturity, it is a sign of immaturity.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zeph. 3:17 ESV)

God is already happy with you.

If I don’t have to keep God happy any more, then what does God want?

Love.

The end goal of the Christian life–and every step of the journey–is love: pure love, for God, for self, and for everyone, everywhere.

I could predict the future in detail and have a word of knowledge for everyone. I could possess amazing faith, and prove it by moving mountains! It doesn’t make me any more important than anyone else. Love is who you are! You are not defined by your gift or deeds. (Love gives context to faith. Moving mountains is not the point, love is.)

Love is not about defending a point of view; even if I am prepared to give away everything I have and die a martyr’s death; love does not have to prove itself by acts of supreme devotion or self sacrifice!

Love is large in being passionate about life and relentlessly patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others with kindness. Love is completely content and strives for nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2-4b)

Love doesn’t strive. Love rests in what God did on the Cross. Love is at peace in the ‘righteousness that comes by faith’–simple trust that comes by believing God.

I wish I could tell you that this mentality goes away easily, but I spent a couple of decades under the thumb of works righteousness, thinking I had to do stuff to keep God happy. I did a lot of stuff!–but it accomplished next to nothing. When I learned to live life ‘by grace through faith’, my marriage became better, my relationship with my kids became better, and I became a better employee at work.

Note that this wasn’t the entire key–I still needed treatment for mental health issues (anxiety and depression), and you might need the same! But living by grace is the best place to start, something you can learn to live by right now. It will lead to inner peace, something that is sadly lacking in the modern world. That inner peace will manifest on the outside, and eventually you’ll have people asking you, ‘Why are you so peaceful? The world is falling apart!’ and you’ll be able to give a good answer.

I bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. May you see as God sees: that pleasing Him is something that he does through you. Amen.

Depression and Cognitive Dissonance

(Note: I am not a doctor. I cannot cure depression. I can only tell you what has helped me. If this makes sense, good, but please, please get help if you are having thoughts of suicide.)

I’m coming off of a period of intense depression that lasted for a good two days, so severe I wanted to die. Later this week I got a bit of a revelation on it–something ‘clicked’, in other words, something that might help you or your loved ones in the fight against depression.

But first, the music: Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, the extended version off The SMiLE Sessions…because it makes me smile, and maybe it will do the same to you.

Cognitive dissonance is defined as:

the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. [1]

The human mind is not capable of believing two very different things at once. I cannot believe I am both good and bad, saint and sinner, at the same time (the teaching of most Christian churches). I cannot believe that I am sick and healed at the same time (Charismatic nonsense). And I cannot believe that God is supposed to have me somewhere else while God is making it impossible for me to be anywhere else but here.

In my life, my mind has ‘broken’ more times than I can count, based on life circumstances.

For instance, I believed I was called as a missionary to Japan. Yet my parents weren’t interested in sending their son to Japan. A crack appeared in my brain.

I later believed that if I studied Japanese, that God would send me to Japan. The money never came (in fact, things got worse). Family members were against the idea. Again and again I beat my head against the wall–I was learning Japanese, yet the doors remained shut. More cracks appeared in my psyche.

I went to Alabama for a conference featuring a very charismatic minister who introduced me to the grace message–how I am already sanctified, free from sin, and that I am already righteous and complete in Christ. I am a new creation. Between Matt Ford and the teachings of John Crowder and Benjamin Dunn, my mind began to renew. Things got better…and worse.

I believed that since Alabama was a wonderful place–at least Gadsden, Alabama, is–that we were supposed to move there. This fell apart. I wasn’t going anywhere. Larger cracks appeared in my psyche.

I went to Indiana, despite family objections, to a wonderful community of saints in Fort Wayne. I thought that this had to be the place where we had to live-the presence of God was so concentrated, so tangible there, and the genuine love everyone had for each other was something I hadn’t experienced in my life. I thought we were supposed to move there. I was wrong. The cracks widened.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was headed for a nervous breakdown. I was convinced by satan, or whatever lies were in my head, to run away, first to that community in Indiana (I didn’t make it–I developed symptoms of a heart attack and got held up in Indianapolis). My family graciously rescued me. Stress drove me to run away the next week, this time to a remote national park in God-knows-where, something-Carolina. I parked my car when I ran out of gas and went on a ‘faith walk’ where, influenced by demons or whatever crap was in my head, that I was going to leave and go off-grid. Hours went by in the freezing cold and I couldn’t stand it. My family once against rescued me, and put me in a mental hospital. While in that very prison-like facility, I first received treatment with mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety medication.

Once I got out of the mental hospital, things did improve a little–the anti-anxiety drugs made life much easier at work, where anxiety had been a constant hindrance to my performance. Yet I still wanted to go back to Indiana. Some of the cracks remained, and no healing came. I had friends all over the United States and the world, via Facebook and social media, but it seemed like I would never see them face-to-face again.

I’m not 100% certain–and to be honest, I am still, off and on, angry at God about this–I’m not certain that I ever will meet those friends again. Finding real-life friends has been close to impossible. I have been stuck in Atlanta, Georgia, unable to go anywhere for years, and at times that pisses me off beyond belief.

Edit: I apologize to the people I unfriended on Facebook–at one point I unfriended everyone except family, because I thought I was being influenced badly. I needed that time to heal from my nervous breakdown. I’m sorry that I unfriended you, and I pray you’ll forgive me.

Back on topic: I began to recover from my broken mind. Yet depression would rear its ugly head, most often during bouts of intense cognitive dissonance. Japan got leveled by a tsunami, I thought it would be good to learn Japanese and go to help, but nothing happened with that and my mind broke again. I told my employer that I couldn’t stand life and more, and left work to go kill myself. I realized I couldn’t, so I called my pastor at the time and he talked me down.

This past few months my mind has broken over and over again, as I lost my job and had to take another with an extremely painful pay cut, leaving us unable to pay bills and do much more than survive. I don’t know, day-by-day, how we’re going to make it. Food is on the table, but credit card companies call every hour on the hour, debts mount, and we can’t pay. My mind has been breaking over and over again.

Paradox: I am a good person, this shouldn’t happen, but it is happening.

Paradox 2: My family needs provision and God is good, but he is doing a hella bad job of providing.

Paradox 3: I need a new job, I should have one, but I like my job, but I can’t afford to stay at my job, but God hasn’t opened any doors. You get the idea.

These paradoxes have been breaking my mind, forcing me to the point where, once again, I was at a place where I wanted to end it all. I couldn’t, though. The first day my prayer was, ‘Lord, I want to live.’

The second day was, ‘Lord, I don’t want to live, but I need to live, for the sake of my family.’

I made it through those two rough days and got this revelation: that the worst of my mental breaks, the worst of my bouts of depression, are caused by cognitive dissonance: believing things are supposed to be one way and comparing them with reality, which says the opposite. I can’t believe things are supposed to be good and bad at the same time, yet they are, so how do I deal with that? Something has to give, and I thank God I’m on medicine that helps take the edge off, and that I don’t own a gun.

There have been lies in my head, probably still are plenty of those–that God is not love, that this will not work out, that things will not get better. Part of this is cognitive dissonance, part of it is hopelessness–the two play a tag-team in your brain, and you’re always the loser.

How do you overcome cognitive dissonance? Hell if I know. What has helped is meditating on the word of God–just three concepts. One: my oneness with Him. Two: there is only one power, and that is God. All other names that can be named are under him. Three: divine provision. I need revelation in all of these.

Another thing that has helped is joining a community on Facebook where I can just be myself–where I can express the darkest problems of my soul without being judged and tossed away like yesterday’s garbage. That has been a tremendous help.

Family has been a help. My wife is a ‘prayer warrior’, and even though she may not understand how I feel, she knows when I am hurting, and is always faithful to pray for me.

Cognitive dissonance really sucks. The good thing is, that your brain can slowly become more flexible. You can learn to deal with life when God seemingly answers ‘no’–I need more money, it doesn’t come. I want more friends, I can’t make any. And so it goes.

Things do get better. Through God’s help, you can learn to put things on a mental shelf labeled, ‘things I do not understand’. You can learn that though situations don’t agree, God still loves you. And you can experience the manifest presence of God as a comfort, even when lies are beating in your brain like a sledgehammer and you just want to die.

It’s happened to me. And maybe it’s happening to you. But I promise you, God can get you through, and God will get you through. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” He’s not done with you yet, and he won’t give up on you. Ever.

Edit: Cognitive dissonance is not the only problem associated with depression. The other is hopelessness, which I will write on in the future as I get a little more revelation on it. 

I bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May you see yourself as He sees. Amen.