Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Honoring Recovery

National Recovery Month

September is National Recovery Month.  Recovery is about exercising one’s determination to improve from a physical, mental or emotional condition, often referred to as the disease of addiction/alcoholism.  Since the DSM-V lists these diseases as forms of mental illness, I would argue it is safe to say we can recover from mental illnesses this month too.

Can this happen without God consciousness?  Some would argue, “Yes.” 

I disagree.

Around the 1300s, the word “recover” meant to “regain consciousness.”  Back in the early 15th century, the word recovery had a different meaning too.  It meant “a gaining possession of something by legal action.”  That is the Latin meaning of the term “recovery” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.  Even more interesting is what the dictionary says next – “the act of righting oneself after a mishap, blunder, etc.”

A successful, peace-filled existence is certainly dependent on a person’s relationship to God.  Nowadays we call it, “God consciousness.”  And for those who profess knowing Christ, it is through His power we can right ourselves after making poor decisions or surviving childhood trauma.
Author: Andy Dean Photography


What if, as a society, we embraced the idea that we are spiritual beings intended to live our lives conscious of God’s presence?  What if this idea were taught in schools today?  Or, if it were a mandatory lesson in each home? 

Maybe there would be less adverse childhood events for people to recover from because their daily existence would be rooted in the awareness that God is ever present and seeking our daily communion.

An awareness of God operating in one’s life and on my behalf can be a comforting thought.  Some people, however, blame God for all their troubles, so forming a relationship with the Divine Source can be troublesome.

Often, it is the message of hope from other people that draws us into a solid relationship with God.  Hearing God through other people happens when people share in meetings or testify in church that their lives improved because they surrendered and formed a relationship with God.  It is here, in these safe spaces listening to the transparency of another’s soul that recovery is accomplished.  Finding God, many times, is sustained in a group context, such as 12-step programs, faith communities and other safe spaces. 

In these places, a broken soul can begin the journey to regain what was lost:  peace, stability, sanity and a sense of wholeness.

Our identities are often damaged during childhood, not strengthened.  The field of psychology refers to “adverse childhood events” as the cause of brokenness and poor identity formation.  For those of us who have suffered damaged self-identities due to adverse childhood events, reclaiming possession of our thoughts from negative influences is a huge step in the right direction.  Beginning to create a self-identity that is in harmony with one’s personal values and morals is a joyous and arduous process.  It is labeled as recovery.

The same can be said when we stop harmful acts towards self in order to move into a place of wellness.  Group counseling sessions, medication, bible study, prayer and meditation are great tools to sustain a person’s recovery.  But, often it is the one-on-one relationship with God that lays the foundation and secures emotional stability.   Wrestling with his will, understanding God’s ways and allowing God to guide us into right behavior are certainly examples of God consciousness.

It is important to note that anytime we individually pursue our recovery, we are saying to ourselves, “I have the legal and spiritual right to be happy and live at peace with myself.”  We are in essence telling the disease of addiction and our naysayers that “even in my brokenness, I am worthy of being loved and demonstrating I care for myself.” 

I support National Recovery Month as it seeks to honor those who are recovering from any mental disorder and disease of addiction/alcoholism.  Recovery can be a lifelong process filled with many lessons, let downs and stories.  But when our local and foreign communities support us, they are in essence saying, “I see you growing and it looks good on you.”

Are you doing anything to support anyone in recovery?  If so, please share what you are doing in the comments section below.

Be blessed, 

M

Thursday, August 27, 2015

After Thoughts: Christ as Alpha and Omega

Christians believe Christ is The Alpha and Omega.  This means Christ is the beginning and the end.  (Revelation 21:6)  So, when I read about the man at the pool of Bethesda in the fifth chapter of St. John, I am challenged more by Christ’s concluding words to this healed man than I am by the actual healing.

            Christ spoke to the man in the beginning.  Jesus questioned him to about whether or not this man wanted to be healed.  But, after Jesus healed him, the man went on his way.  They ran into each other again and Jesus issued a warning.  Jesus spoke some concluding words to him that were a guide for his conduct in the days ahead.

Context

            Often it is preached that this man had a physical illness preventing him from entering the water and being healed.  If you read the text, the unnamed man is surrounded by other disabled persons and has a reason why he couldn’t get into the stirred water to receive his healing.  But, I heard one preacher say this man had a mental illness that hindered his pursuit towards wellness. 

Yet, what Jesus said to the man after he healed him spark my curiosity.  He told the man, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”  (John 5:14)  What was this man’s sin? 

As I study this passage and pondering the effects of mental illness, I am challenged to satisfy my own curiosity.  I have questions about the text, about the man’s “sin,” psychology and theology.  “Hello, Jesus, I need some answers.”  But, I have to admit—this is where I let you down.

            The purpose of this post is not to share my questions or reveal a few answers.  My motive for writing is to clarify a growing belief of mine.  That belief is this:  “We really do know in part.”

Evidence

            Every time the Bible is read, a different lesson and revelation comes forth from its text.  For example, the story of Job brings forth a new understanding each time I read it.  Remember Job is the man who lost his family, possessions and health in a short span of time – let’s say one day.  It is safe to assume he quickly fell into a deep depression and sense of despair after the shock of these losses.  Yet, every time we hear that story and assess it against the backdrop of our own lives, we learn something new about God, Job and ourselves.

            The same can be said for King David.  A man after God’s own heart who committed adultery (at best) with another man’s wife, but also wrote some of the most profound parts of our sacred text known as the Bible.  Every time we examine his life, we discover a new truth, a new way to identify with David’s humanity and a new understanding of the depths of God’s love for us.
Jesus the Teacher
by http://www.kozzi.com/portfolio/index/contributor/2522

            So, why is it that as Christian leaders we think we know all there is to know about the Bible’s stance on mental health matters?  I say, we don’t.

Disease

            In fact, if ever there was an area that needed the combined intelligence of medicine, science, theology and biology, it is when we begin to look at disease.

            As I continue to research, probe and discover what God’s Word says to believers about faith and mental health, I stand in awe of the findings.  On one hand, my heart is saddened by the way we as Christian leaders have overlooked the help offered within the pages of the Bible.  Our closed mind, lazy and lax assumptions about the disease of the mind has been careless and callous.  On the other hand, humanity is known to fear what it doesn’t understand and to vilify what it can’t comprehend.

            Yet, we have reached a place as a society where mental illness cannot be ignored.  Researchers, psychiatrists, psychologists and other professionals are looking at these diseases in all age groups.  Children, teens, young adults and the elderly have been impacted by psychological and biological emotional dysfunction.  What is the church saying to those consumers?  What does the Bible say to the depressed and those filled with despair?

            My research has revealed the Bible has a lot to say.  Although I am encouraged, I am also deeply enlightened, saddened and amazed by both the questions and answers probing my own humanity, mental health, psychological and theological awareness.  These rabbit trail searches are done with an open heart and humble spirit.  They usual end with a deep sense of conviction.

Facts

            What I have learned in the last three years about consumers, like me, that suffer with a mental illness is this:  many of us don’t think we can get better.  Many people have admitted, online, in the comment sections of various blogs and websites that they have been plagued by their conditions for 20, 30 and 40 decades.  When I became aware of the number of people who feel trapped in their despair/condition, I quit reading the comments.  They were too depressing.  I never left believing their was hope for me.

            Christians embrace Jesus Christ as their hope.  But, if we as Christian leaders and ministers of the Gospel are going to help other people, we have to know this one fact:  the diseases known as addiction and mental health tell the consumer they are not sick

At the same time, anyone who watches their loved one battle one or both of these diseases is shocked at the patient’s denial.  The family and employers can see the illnesses and experience their consequences.  But the consumer – no light is on inside their brain.  Their brain has been taken hostage, in a sense, by a band of bandits determined to rob the patient of a future.

Concluding thoughts

            How can I take care of myself if I won’t admit I am sick?  I can’t.  Neither can your loved ones.   So, as I use the rigorous honesty 12-step programs say I need to conquer my demons, I must, at the same time, develop a lasting relationship with God.  In this way, and only this way, can I conquer my demons and find my own sense of balance.  Graciously, the Spirit of God that moves within me and my innate curiosity keep me searching for the answers.  But the answers I seek are not just for me.  They are for the families and church leaders that deal with mental health consumers like me.

I ask that you exercise an extra measure of patience towards your loved ones in the same predicament. 

            We, as church leaders and Christians, know in part.  The Bible is full of clues on how to minister to the sick.  If we exercise patience, while continuing to pray, we can minister to needs yet to be revealed.  We can strategically address debilitating thoughts previously unknown.  We can pull down strongholds, demolish illegal spiritual assignments and carry our loved ones, spiritually and physically, into their individual places of healing.

            Trust me, I know many believers don’t understand those who say, “I have a mental illness.”  But our admission is the first step in our healing.  Please refrain from shaming us for our honesty.  Please think twice about silencing us for admitting our particular form of struggle.  And, please, keep supporting us.  We need you in ways you have yet to understand.  Only Jesus knows the beginning and end of our stories.

            Blessings to you and your family.  In Jesus’ name,


M

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sadness and its Purpose

http://www.kozzi.com/portfolio/index/contributor/1

Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us.
Eccl 7:3 (NLT)

Sadness and sorrow have an assignment.  They can produce a glad heart.  Seems like an oxymoron, but it is true.

Although sadness is debilitating, lonely and, often, inconsolable—it produces. 

“How is that possible,” you might ask.   What kind of a “wise man” could proclaim in the Bible that sadness/sorrow is better than laughter?  Surely you jest!

(No pun intended.)

This same book in the Bible says laughter is silly, meaningless and reserved for feasts.  You are free to disagree if you wish.

What is more interesting to note is what is said about sorrow.  It says it is better than laughter.  The main point here is sorrow teaches us, laughter pleases us.

What brings about sorrow?  Sickness, wayward children, adverse circumstances related to love, money and relationships – many life situations bring about sorrow and sadness.

But this condition also forces us to ponder life, the decisions we have made, the people we are connected to, the past, the present and the future. 

Remember the story of Hannah in the Bible found in the first book and chapter of Samuel?  She could not have children and was teased because of it.  The teasing and her barren womb produced a sorrow in her heart.  Her face was sad.  She was so sad, that when she went to the temple to pray, the temple priest noticed her sadness.  But Hannah was also proud and arrogant—which, as we know, are unattractive qualities.  (Hannah admits it in the second chapter of 1 Samuel.)

Already sadness is producing.  It prompted Hannah to pray which means it produced humility.  It also produced a willingness in Hannah to communicate with God.

This scripture says that sadness makes the heart glad.  Sadness does something that changes the heart’s condition from one place to another.  Since we normally understand the heart to be the inner essence of a person’s existence, where decision making, wisdom and understanding reside, it is of equal importance to note how we make better decisions after a season of sorrow.  We have an appreciation for the gifts in life that wasn’t there before.

For example, a decision to judge someone is, naturally, wrong.  But, if we find ourselves in the same condition as someone we judged, our face will become sad.  That sad face often produces a sense of isolation which leads to thinking about our actions.  Often, we make a decision not to make the same bad mistake again, because we don’t like the consequences.

It is the same way with an ex-offender.  Stealing often leads to being arrested.  Being arrested means being incarcerated physically.  But psychologically, an offender may also sit in bondage questioning the logic of their actions.  Thus, a new decision is made to pay for future purchases and the heart is now filled with wisdom and understanding.

To make something means to bring it into existence.  What does sadness bring (or make) real?

Sadness produced wisdom.  (I better think about this act before I do it.)

Sadness produces a willingness to do what is right.  (If paying my bills means I will not be in debt, then I will pay my bills.)

Sadness produces a cheerful heart, a joyfulness in the mind.  1 Samuel 2 reveals that God heard and answered Hannah’s prayerful request for a child.  She is now filled with joy and rejoicing in the Lord.

That is not to say that if God doesn’t give us what we want, we can’t rejoice in or after sorrow.  Instead, it means that sometimes God uses adverse situations and difficult people to groom us and refine us.  God needs to take what is useless in our hearts and replace it with something better.

Sadness has produced in me an appreciation for life.  Sorrow has prompted me to examine the health of many past relationships thus producing an awareness of appropriate behavior and boundaries for future relationships.  Thank God for sorrow.

What “better” things has sadness produced in your heart?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Follow...

Follow me AS I follow Christ


If we seek Christ
The worst about us becomes the best in us

Christ uses our weakest, most vile psychological and emotional conditions
As firecracker fuel
To push us and prompt us to seek His face
His comfort and
His peace.

In the seeking, we find
Answers.
We find ourselves.

And then, others find Christ too.

They imitate us.
Author: Iliana Mihaleva

Never mind they avoided us in our worst moments.
Talked about us
Heads shaking and minds
Filled with shameful, hopeless thoughts.

Now, they look at us with skepticism but amazement.
            Wondering why we acted irrationally in the first place
            Unsure if we will really stand the test of the next time…
They imitate us

They silently follow us on Facebook
            In the shadows
            Reading and watching

            Curious

            Maybe unwilling to vouch for the amazing work God is doing
Or boldly supporting the like-minded journey we have lived.

Doesn’t matter.  What matter is…

            The Christ IN us.

Those same folks will

publicly imitate the Christ in us.

Reposting our words
Meditating on our thoughts
Admiring our courage
Borrowing our head wraps, they see…they know.

Just remember…
They are imitating the Christ in us.

That’s why …
We don’t need/demand their public praise or acknowledgments
Accolades or rewards

Because we know it is not of us that we now
Exist
Clothed in our right mind.

It is the Christ in us

So, go ahead…

Follow me AS I follow Christ.

It is only through a humble surrender and submission to God’s unchanging hand, that our lives are a message of hope, freedom, courage and determination.

Be blessed,

M

Friday, July 31, 2015

Finding Wellness in Acceptance

After all the sorrow one can feel inside and all the blame thrown at God, the psalmist surrenders.

This surrender is also a humble, quiet reality check where he admits, “This is my anguish. This is my lot in life.”

I’ve been dealing with this particular situation (this anguish, adversity, and affliction) for quite some time now and I’m tired.  I surrender. 

His soul refused to be comforted maybe because he had an illness or form of trouble that would not be altered.  Long-term disability is a modern-day term.  Thorn in the flesh is a theological descriptor.  “Pain in the butt situation” in another way to say it too.

The chances of relief – complete deliverance, assurance of salvation -- seem to not exist.

Truth:  As Christians, we want to believe that God will rescue us and fix every situation.  The truth is, God does not!  It is the truth and you know it.  There are some situations we just have to accept.

This Bible passage proves it.  Psalm 77:10-15.  The psalmist surrenders and says, this is my lot, my place of suffering in life.  Yet, he also says, “But in spite of this truth, God has been good…”

Yes he does want to be well, (comforted is the Hebrew word) but he admits it is not going to happen – at least not today, if at all.    So instead, he finds comfort is God’s past acts.  He finds comfort in the memories of God’s past acts.  He says, “I will focus on the years gone by when God has been good in other areas of life, even if I don’t see his hand in this area…I want to be comforted, but in case I don’t get comfort…it is okay.”

This is my anguish – this is what I have to deal with.  Emotionally and intellectually, even theologically, the writer wrestles with God.  Then, he finds comfort in remembering.  I remember all the mighty, wonderful, powerful things God has done over the years. 

He remembers and talks about God’s painful deeds, God’s wonders (extraordinary, hard to be understood dealings with your people) and God’s actions.

The psalmist says, “I remember your works.”  How you delivered me from trouble, fed me, comforted my emotions (you name it).  In fact, I will meditate (thoughtfully consider each incident) of past works.  They are so wonderful, complicated and extraordinary, I have no choice but to talk of your deeds.  “I gotta tell others what you have done because you have done some great, great acts.”

Your way is the best way (v. 13 – your way is in the sanctuary).  Is there anyone so great as you?  No.  You are the great God.

You do wonders man can’t comprehend.  I can’t comprehend. 
You declare you strength whenever you act in ways of wonder.
Everyone can see your strength, if they acknowledge the wonders they see as you performing miracles.

You, and only you, redeem people. 
Alcoholics stop drinking.  Gamblers managing their money.  People who watch porn regaining right relationship with people in society.  These are your wonderful acts of redemption.

Summation

Do you want to be well?  Are you willing to find comfort in God?  It is possible after being self-absorbed and stuck in a pity party if we are willing to come out of the funk to remember and acknowledge God’s past acts and, in doing that, we reaffirm our faith and our own sense of powerlessness under the Mighty Hand of God.  

Friday, July 17, 2015

Part 2: Do You Want to be Well?

Wellness: Remaining in the Psychological/Spiritual Process

Let us continue to examine the psalmist’s attitude in Psalm 77:4-9.

The last post determined he, the psalmist, is in trouble and seeking comfort.  He is also trapped in his feelings and focused on himself.

By way of context, my question for this troubled soul, which may be in anguish, discouraged or filled with despair, is why seek God?  Do you really want to be well?

Last week, verses 1-3 revealed a self-focused person caught up in how they felt.  This is also evidence of someone living in constant fear:  “What about me?” 

Now, in verses 4-9, we see some progression in his thoughts.  He is moving from fear to an examination of his own faith. 
Author: kasiastock


First, though, he blames God by saying:  I can’t sleep because of you.  “You hold my eyelids open.”  Yet, his accusation goes a bit farther by stating, “I’m so troubled, I cannot speak.”  Some versions say he cannot pray.

Why can’t he pray?  Again, self-focused and now, a victim.  “Because you did this to me, I can’t…”

This could be interpreted as 1) blaming God for not being able to sleep, rest, take his mind off his trouble; or 2) blaming God for not being able to pray.  “You are not giving me what I want (sleep, relief from trouble), so I cannot pray.  I cannot talk to you.

Temper tantrum? 

Possible.

Examining One’s own Faith

Now the psalmist moves.  He moves from fear-based thinking to faith-based reflection.

Remembering

Our memories are powerful resources of comfort or trauma.  In this instance, the psalmist begins to remember.  These are good memories of God’s acts.  The praises the writer lifted up to God in the past are included in his present moment.  He ponders.  I call it, reflection.  It is like a cow chewing on the same piece of grass for hours and getting every nutrient possible.

The psalmist meditates within his heart (chews) and begins to search for God through a series of questions based on memory.  (Remember, God rewards those who diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6))

I like the questions because they allow us to peek into the human mind’s thoughts about God.  Do they stand for or against God’s solid promises of protection, peace and provision?  It is difficult, if not impossible, to admit that God is not what our feelings say, but who God says God is.

Questioning

The psalmist asks:

Will God leave me on my own forever?

This pain has lasted so long, this trouble seems to be never ending.  Will God ever show me favor again?

Another natural concern arises when the psalmist says, has God’s promises failed ME?  Are God’s promises for other people only?

Has God forgotten to be gracious and kind to me?  Does God even know what I am going through?  How much longer before I experience God’s kindness?

Has God closed the door and refused to be merciful to me anymore?

Powerful questions.  Honest, human questions.

Wellness, sometimes, is doubted because we know we need God’s help to achieve the greatest and healthiest acts towards ourselves.  If wellness is thinking good thoughts about ourselves and our situations, we need help sometimes.  If wellness is balance in the mind, body and soul, we still need help sometimes.

Our old habits don’t die easily, our flesh cries out to be constantly served and our external living troubles never cease.  So, we question God while trying to remember God’s kindness of the past and promises found in the Word for the provision of our present.

We can achieve wellness if we keep pushing.  Seeking God though our feelings, thoughts and His promises is often the way we find God.

Next time

This is not the end of the psalmist’s interactions with God.  But it is where this post ends.

It is a good ending place because it prompts reflection.  When have you questioned God in the face of trouble?  Did you move past this point in a positive or negative direction?  Has God’s history proven enough to groom your faith to the next level?  Has God’s proven Himself in your life?  What promises has God fulfilled in your life? 

Leave a comment about how God has proven Himself in your life.

Until next time…


M