Welcoming the dark

[TW: suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety]

I’m haunted by the spectre of depression. I feel it breathing down my neck, reaching out to draw me close. I’m resisting, trying to press into my self-care, trying to pump fresh light into a collapsing tomb. I don’t know if my resistance is helping or making things worse.

I brace myself when news of yet another suicide ripples through the internet. I brace myself as I turn to my work on self-harm, holding myself taut as I read people telling of their own experiences, squashing down my own memories.

It all feels too close today. And I’m suffocating. Desperate to catch a breath, but the dust clings to my throat, coats my tongue. Am I too far gone to avoid it now? Maybe it would be easier to stop the fight and rest a while in this familiar darkness.

This feels too heavy to share, too burdensome to release out into the wilds of the internet. I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to help me. But I don’t want anyone feeling like they are alone in this. I have supports around me, I have routines and patterns which will draw me back into the light. But I don’t want to leave anyone alone in the darkness.

Anxiety has my emotions raw and riding too close under the surface. If I just bump into something, they will all spill out, vomiting on everything and everyone around me. It feels as though they are deliberately interfering when I try to focus, to write, to nap in the sun. I have to remind myself to welcome them, to let them be without fighting their existence. These, too, are part of God’s creation, part of what was said to be “very good”.

As I relax into them, the tendrils of depression loosen, the claws of anxiety lose their hold. Their shadow is still there, right behind me, but I can turn, greet it, welcome it as a familiar friend. Like the thoughts of suicide and self-harm, this too is my brain offering ways to cope, ways to get through, to survive.

But hunkering down in the dark is no longer a satisfactory life for me. Just lasting another day without wanting to plan my suicide is not good enough anymore. I want to claim the freedom Christ opens for us. I want to release the chains that bind me, with which I bind myself.

I’m keeping my focus on the slow, steady heartbeat of the Living God, ignoring the fast patter of my own. I demand of myself a life worth living.

So, yes, I will resist the darkness, but not by fighting. I will resist by welcoming it in, by accepting its desires for me. I will subvert it to the greater picture which is God’s view of humanity’s existence.

Photo: I will resist the darkness, but not by fighting. I will resist by welcoming it in, I will subvert it to God's greater plan.

Original photo by Ryoji Hayasaka.

Hello, old friend. There is room for you here.

Sit a while and tell me what you are longing for, and we can work on it together. Maybe I already am, but not in ways you can see. I’m seeking the long-arc, the future-fruit, the things I can barely imagine now, but am trusting will come.

Come, Sorrow and Darkness. There is room for you here, because you are part of what gives me life and purpose. In you, too, I can see the hand of God.

 


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Hunkering in the dark is no longer a satisfactory life for me. I demand of myself a life worth living. (Click to tweet)

I will resist the darkness, but not by fighting. I will resist through welcoming it in. (Click to tweet)

Come, Sorrow and Darkness. There is room for you here, because you are part of what gives me life. (Click to tweet)

Choosing to belong

We hadn’t been going to any church regularly for a couple of years, yet we felt the yearning to belong to a local part of the body, to be connected. We had a few friends at a church who had invited us along, so we made a decision: we would go for an entire school term and then assess if we wanted to stay. It has been more than two years now, since we started going to our church.

The first Sunday service shook my world. Not because it was amazingly awesome, or because we felt God moving, or because we made incredible connections with people. No, it wasn’t a good shaking.

I could barely look at the front wall, where in proud red letters it said, “Jesus Christ is Lord”. I didn’t know where I stood with Jesus anymore. My faith was so confused and deconstructed. Luckily, I had a two-year-old who needed lots of attention and a six-year-old who wanted regular reassurance. It was months until I made peace with those words, until I chose to stand in the mystery of how God could be human. Every Sunday I looked at those words and they never changed. Every Sunday the service centered around Jesus, this God-man who confounded me. So, I had to find a way to change myself; I had to find a way to meet God in this place.

Other parts of the church I still haven’t made peace with: we were told that women weren’t allowed to preach or lead at this church. I nearly didn’t go back. In fact, I was tempted to walk out before that first service even really got started.

But my husband and I had agreed to go for a whole school term. We felt like God was asking us to just bear with it and try this church out.

So, we went back and kept going back.

Unity doesn't mean sameness, it means togetherness. I belong here because I choose to, not because I fit.

Original photo by Nirzar Pangarkar.

I’m over at The Mudroom today, sharing my story of choosing to belong at my local church, even when it seemed like I didn’t fit. Won’t you come join me?

Living a life poured out

I’m having trouble remembering, in this body which cries death, which shouts destruction. I’m having trouble remembering that there is work to do, that there is life to breathe. I get lost in this echo chamber of pain I inhabit, lost to all sense of purpose and direction. What is there for me here? What is there for me to share? Some days I feel like all I can do is spew forth pain and despair. What hope is there in me? What hope is there for me?

Outside the window, some waxeyes have found the kōwhai bush. They feast on its nectar, hungry, as the angry wind tries to throw them off. They know what the Good Father has provided for them (Matthew 6:26). Surely, I can see the same for me.

And I can. I can. But through a haze. I know that ground is there, but it is not my focus. But why not focus on the sure and simple, when everything else feels lost and distant?

I have bread, fresh out of the oven, filling my house with its scent. And isn’t that how the prayer goes: give us today our daily bread? That our bellies might be full of sustenance, our nostrils with hope and security?

But this bread didn’t appear on our doorstep this morning, we had to work for it, we had a hand (or four) in its making. And yes, our salvation is a gift, but the Bible also tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). This new gospel we live, fueled by the Spirit, is not simply a gift for us to step into, it is an invitation to get our hands dirty, kneading alongside our God. It is a task which will take up the whole of our remaining life if we let it. It will colour everything we do, no matter how innocuous it might seem.

I’ve been reading Paul’s letters lately, and I am continually amazed at his willingness to pour out his life for Christ. We don’t know a lot of detail about how he lived, what his day-to-day looked like, but he was willing to work for his keep, to use the skills of his hands so that he might preach Christ (Acts 18:3-4, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:8). We have this image of him from his letters as a sure and powerful preacher, but he quotes others as saying his speaking is uncompelling, his presence weak, especially when compared to his strongly worded letters (2 Corinthians 10:10). Yet even knowing this, he felt compelled to keep doing it (1 Corinthians 9:16). He could have set himself up somewhere comfortable (and safe) and had a ministry through his letters, letting others, more polished in their speech, take the risks of travel. But he knew the work God asked of him. And he poured himself out to do it. Paul returned to Jerusalem, knowing he would almost surely be arrested (Acts 20:22-23), and look how God used that as an opportunity: spreading the gospel through the guards set to hold him prisoner (Philippians 1:13). In spirit, he knew himself to be free and about God’s work.

So, am I really trapped and bound in this body of pain? Or can I be free in Christ within it? Can I continue to go about God’s work inside it? Will I? Will I work how I must to “earn my keep” in this body, that I might be free to pour out my life for others?

I never did catch a photo of the wax-eyes, but even their food isn’t handed to them without their effort, their small bellies aren’t magically filled. They fight against the wind to dig deep into the kōwhai flowers for what they need, knowing it is there for them to take hold of. And they’re willing to do the work.

Pic: The birds fight against the wind to dig deep into the kowhai flowers for what they need, knowing it is there for them to take hold of. And they're willing to do the work.

Original photo by Pelly Benassi.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is really. I’m not sure how this might be useful or applicable to anyone else’s life. I am trying to work out if taking painkillers now, so I can free myself from pain enough to do God’s work, but risk liver damage later, is worth it, or if I should keep my liver safe, but remain bound in my pain and risk not doing what I can for God.

It sounds worth it to me – a little possible liver damage for a well-spent life. Like Paul, willing to work to support himself so he would be free to pour himself out in God’s work, I think my painkillers are much the same.

I guess it comes down to a simple question: Am I willing to do whatever it takes to follow the Spirit’s leading, to do as She compels me?

Are you?

 


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This new gospel we live isn’t simply a gift for us to step into, it’s an invitation to get our hands dirty. (click to tweet)

Even the birds’ food isn’t handed to them without their effort, they’re willing to do the work. (click to tweet)

Am I willing to do whatever it takes to follow the Spirit’s leading? (click to tweet)

A new ordinary in Christ

The liturgical season we are in is called “ordinary time”. A rather non-descript name for the time which follows Pentecost. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost completely changed how Jesus’ disciples went about their days, there was suddenly nothing “ordinary” about it.

As Christians, we are trying to carve out a new “ordinary”. Living with and by the Holy Spirit is not just occasional moments or in “spiritual” situations, it is a constant, on-going, continuous living.

The Holy Spirit dwells in us, not visits occasionally. God came as Jesus, to pitch his tent among ours, to bring the holy tabernacle to the people in their secular and mundane worlds. Life with God is not reserved for Sunday, but is an integral part of even being alive.

If we are claiming to have died with Christ and now live by God’s resurrection power, then it can’t be separate, it is life.

Pic: If we are claiming to have died with Christ and now live by God's resurrection power, then the Spirit can't be separate, it *is* life.

Original photo by Aaron Burden.

But that doesn’t mean changing our patterns of being, our habits, our thoughts, the very way we make decisions or form understanding, is done in a flash. It’s not an instant transformation. Yes, God can break bondage, setting us free, but we still need to choose to live in that freedom, to change how we live and not return.

Neuroscience continues to amaze us with how re-conformable, rewritable our brains are, but unless we go in with a knife, it is a slow and often tedious process. That’s one of the reasons I write daily affirmations, to reinforce new brain pathways, to remind myself how I want to think, to re-orient my mind again and again until it becomes part of its physical being.

We need to make this new life we live by the Spirit our new ordinary. This faith cannot be a shallow thing. It must enter into the depths of our being, the marrow of our bones, transforming the ways our brains and minds function.

To become Christian, to become a “little-Christ”, is to have our sight transformed until we see with God’s eyes, to have our minds and understanding transformed until we think in God’s ways and make sense of the world through Christ, and it is to have our hands and feet transformed until we are doing God’s work.

It is not a thin veneer put over the top of our lives, like a layer of polish. It is a deep reforming of our being. Moment by moment, day by day, until we are transformed into Christ’s likeness.

 


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We need to make this new life we live by the Spirit our new ordinary. (click to tweet)

This faith cannot be a shallow thing, it must enter into the depths of our being. (click to tweet)

Christianity is a deep reforming of our being, moment by moment, day by day. (click to tweet)