Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

The Siren Song of Self-Harm

These past few weeks have been hard, especially Tuesday. Tuesday was a hellish day because it marked 4 years of dealing with the Beast that is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You would think that after some time, especially with the introduction and implementation of coping mechanisms and breathing techniques, the Beast would get bored and go away. Nope! That ugly thing is still with me. I hate it. I hate what it does to me, my relationships, my worldview, and hell, even my writing, but that’s not why I’m penning this. This is not a complaining post. Here, I wanna show you something: Grace still exists for those who need Him most. (I know you probably thought grace was a thing. Grace, like love, is a person. For those of you wondering “What are you talking about?” just keep reading, I’ll explain as we go on).

Hearing the Siren Song

For the past few days, I have heard what I call the “siren song” of my scissors. A siren, according to Greek mythology, was a dangerous half-fish, half-human creature who lured sailors to their doom with their beautiful, enchanting voices and music. (Think mermaid, but evil). As legend has it, the only way for a sailor to resist the siren was to either put beeswax in his ears, so he couldn’t hear the disastrous song, or have his crewmen tie him to the mast of the ship so he could not jump off of it and into the water when the siren’s song was heard.

Wanting to Jump Ship

So, what does Greek mythology have to do with grace and/or self-harm? I’m glad you asked. As previously noted, these past few days have been hard, not just because of PTSD but life in general. I am seemingly a constant ball of stress, depression, and anxiety. I’ll be honest, some of that is because of sin which makes things interesting. In my previous post, The Great Divorce, I said the following concerning my heart towards God:

“I don’t actually believe God loves me… I am deeply and keenly aware of the fact that I don’t deserve His grace and I wish I did. I wish I could somehow, some way, prove myself worthy of His love.”

I feel most often, concerning this particular reason, that punishment is needed. Even though Romans 8:1 says that there’s “no condemnation for those who are in Christ” this is a hard battle to fight. My thought process: The condemnation and guilt I feel, even after confession and repentance, isn’t enough of a reprimand so I’ll take matters into my own hand. After all, how could I possibly claim the title of “Christian” if I struggle to believe God about a fundamental truth like unconditional love?

And yet, God extends His grace.

Putting Beeswax in My Ears

Remember how I said earlier that grace is a person, and still exists for those who need Him most? This is where that’s relevant. God is the embodiment of every good thing on Earth. Love, grace, mercy, kindness, gentleness, etc. Yes, God gives grace but it is my opinion that He also is grace. God cannot give of Himself what He is not. And He has given me grace bountifully these past few weeks, by gently reminding me that His thoughts and ways are better than my thoughts and plans of self-harm.

I’m a creature of habit, I admit. When I self-harmed in the past, I always did it before I showered so I could make sure my cuts were cleaned and prevent them from getting infected. In a twisted way, it was a form of self-care, as I was forced to be gentle with myself to prevent future harm. And that was my intention, my dilemma, several times during the last two weeks, and especially Tuesday; and if I’m truly honest, even now as I write this.

Like a siren enticing a sailor to shipwreck with songs of sensual seduction, I hear my scissors calling me when I least expect it, on nights when the trauma memories and PTSD symptoms are more constant than lunar phases, and the reminders of past sin make me ashamed to look in the mirror.

When the siren’s song was luring me earlier, it was almost always at an inconvenient time. My parents would come home and I’d be afraid of getting caught, or I’d forget the scissors in my room, or something else would distract me. Maybe I’m thinking too much into this, but I feel like those instances were God’s way of tying me to the mast so to speak. I still heard the siren song, but I couldn’t jump ship. Even now, I hear my scissors calling me, but I also have worship music blaring out of my headphones. To remove the proverbial beeswax from my ears now would be deadly and have dire consequences.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Reblog: 7 Things NOT to Say to a Depressed Christian

Dear Lovelies,

I recently read a blog by Michael Patton over at Parchment and Pen (part of CredoHouse Ministries) and, with his permission, I’m reblogging because his words ring true and need to be heard not just by me but others as well.


Handling a Depressed Christian

As many of you know, I’ve been through the ringer of depression (more like a black hole). I had a major breakdown in March of 2010. It came out of nowhere and has been a periodic uninvited guest in my home ever since.

I sometimes joke with people that I can never be sure which “me” is going to wake up tomorrow. Will it be joyful me? (who I love). He’s the one who sees life positively and has no time for worry? Or will it be broken me (who I hate)? He can’t dwell on anything but the bad and sees no hope in life (and doesn’t even act like there’s a God)? I have stabilized a lot over the years and wake up six days a week as the joyful me.

This is one of those six days so I thought I would write some things about depression. I’ve accumulated a list of seven things depressed people (Christian’s especially) are told. They’re meant to help them out of their depression. I’ve had these things said to me. I’ve (unfortunately) said most (if not all) of them to others who were depressed. I often said the first one to my depressed sister who took her life. But these things are wrong.

Please Note: None of these things necessarily come from evil intentions. These come from people who sincerely want others to recover. However, they do come from the evil flesh that dwells in all of us: judgmentalism. I hope this becomes clear as you read.

1. “Just Snap Out of It”

I don’t know how many times I said this to my depressed sister before she took her life. “Just snap out of it, Angie.” From my perspective, I thought you could. I thought that being depressed or happy was an act of the will. If you just make the right decision, you can think your way out of it. But more often than not, depression is not an act of the will. It is an interplay between the mind and the brain that you can’t snap out of. Don’t you think that people who are depressed would “Just snap out of it” if it were that easy? Remember, they don’t want to be depressed. It is the worst torture that one can possibly imagine.

2. “Think Positively”

Again, this might seem right. Please realize that most of the time a depressed person can’t think positively. That’s why they’re depressed. If I were to tell you there’s a giant elephant in your room, would you believe me? What if I said that all you have to do is close your eyes and trust it to be true? You’d probably say, “I can’t!” Telling someone who’s depressed to “think positively” completely misses the problem. They can’t think positively any more than you can believe there’s an elephant in the room. They don’t want to think negatively. They just can’t stop.

3. “Confess Your Sins”

Trying to find a sin trigger in the life of the depressed is a hard proposition. There may be some evident sin in their lives that they need to deal with, but consider this:

1) Everyone Sins But Not Everyone’s Depressed

There is evil in everyone. According to Martin Luther, we’re all simul justus et peccator which is Latin for “at the same time just and sinners.” Additionally, according to the Gospel of John, we have to admit to sin in our lives:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8 (ESV)

All too often a lengthy (and often judgmental) assessment of every sin the depressed person has takes place. Once they’re identified, they’ll try to get rid of them one by one. This is both impossible and can cause deeper depression. The depressed may believe you and think getting rid of all these sins is the answer. When they realize that this cannot happen this side of heaven, the depression deepens.

2) They Can’t Change the Past

Sometimes the sins that led to depression are from a years of lifestyle choices. They build up over the years. However, bringing these up does little good. They can’t back up and change their choices. If they could, they would.

3) They Already Know They’re Sinners

The depressed person likely knows if it’s sin that’s causing their depression. If it’s alcohol, drugs, sexuality struggles, etc. bringing this up may only harden the person. It can make them defensive. If sin is causing the depression (and that’s a big “if”) tact and prudence should be used in abundance. This will allow them to recognize their sin without becoming defensive.

4. “Get On Some Meds Immediately!”

I am no Tom Cruise. I believe that psychiatric medications are often the answer and are a gift of God. I believe that there are many out there who are not taking these drugs due to a taboo or stigma attached to them that shouldn’t be. However, the use of mind altering drugs also needs to be considered very deeply. I also think that they are prescribed too easily without a plan of attack.

As hard as it is to say, I believe that some people need to go through the darkness without an immediate way out. Many of the Psalms might not have been written had these drugs been available to David. His ups and downs would have been leveled by a script from the doctor. But we needed David to go through his mental bipolar disorder (if that is what it was). The same might be said of Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation. He definitely needed to be on something! However, God used his mental anxiety for great things.

For some people—as difficult as it is to hear—God wants you to go through this darkness. But this is not for everyone. These drugs are a blessing of God when used properly. For some, they can get you over the “hill” of darkness and are only needed for a short time. For others, they are needed permanently for the stability of the mind.

All I am doing is asking you to consider that the depressed person may be a David or a Luther to the church. Don’t immediately demand that they get on these drugs.

5. “I’ve Been Through Worse”

I had a relative say this to me with absolute resolve and conviction in her voice. She said, “Michael, whatever you have gone through, I have been though worse! So don’t try to give me your sob story.” She meant well, but this is not something to say to a depressed person. It may be true that you have been through worse and been able to get out of it. What you may not know is that this is meaningless to the depressed for two reasons:

  1. Once you’re in the black hole of depression, the hole itself is the worst thing you’ve gone through. The tragic events that might have brought you there often pale in comparison.
  2. Suffering is relative. There are always going to be people who have it worse than you. This isn’t the issue. It’s how you perceive and internalize your suffering relative to who you were before. For some, the loss of a job can make them suicidal. For others (who live in harsher climates of society) even the loss of a child is expected and absorbed with less depression.

So depression is a very relative thing. Letting people know that you’ve been through worse—while it might be objectively true—can be both unwise and irresponsible. It will only harden the person in their depression.


6. “God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”

This is in my top ten things of what the Bible does not say that Christians often quote as Scripture. There is nowhere in the Bible that says God will not give us more than we can handle. It does say that he will in temptation provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). But never does it say that God will not give us more pain and suffering than we can take.

Many Christians have suffered to the point of death at the hands of executors. Many suffer to the point of death at their own hands. All we can say is that, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18). This may not solve our depression, but it does give us perspective. Even if our depression has caused us enormous doubt this can be helpful.

7. “Depression Is a Sin. You Should Have Joy In Your Life”

This always comes from the person who has never experienced real depression. Once you have, you would never say something like this again. Unfortunately, this often is preached to us by those who feel that it’s their job to deliver us from this evil. But is depression a sin? I don’t think so.

Matthew 5:4 says “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This mourning should not be thought of as some temporary bout with suffering. It’s not purely circumstantial (like mourning for the death of a loved one). The Greek word for mourn (pentheo) is a present active participle. It is actually the best word to use for “sadness” or “depression.” Christ is saying that those that are always (present, active) sad and down, will be comforted. The comfort, in the context, does not come in this life, but in the life to come. So far from being a sin, depression is often going to be the progressive state of the “blessed.”

How You Bear the Burdens of the Depressed

So, if these are the things you don’t do, what do you do? If you have a loved one who’s depressed, it is hard to handle. It can cause depression in you if you are not careful. You feel so helpless. All you want to do is solve it. Please understand, it’s not your job to solve the depression. You may be able to be a great influence in getting the depressed to feel better, but God has not given you the responsibility to deliver a loved one from depression. Let yourself off the hook. Don’t make yourself responsible for something you cannot do. Though you maybe used by Him to bring the depressed to wholeness, you are not the Holy Spirit.

Most of what you “say” will only cause more depression, as shown above. This was the mistake of Job’s friends. They stayed silent for seven days (Job 2:13). They should have stayed silent for good. After seven days they couldn’t take it any more and made all the mistakes we’ve looked at.

Silence, with your arm around the depressed is the best advice. There may be a time for verbal inquiry, but this needs to come naturally and without judgement. You’re not given a podium to give a sermon to the depressed; you’re given arms to hold them. Even if this doesn’t “work” your goal should not be to bring them out of their depression. Your goal should be to be there for them their entire life if necessary. It is a terrible burden to bear when this is a loved one, I know. But this is how we bear the burdens of the depressed.

“Silences make the real conversations between friends. Not the saying but the never needing to say is what counts.” – Margaret Runbeck

When someone is there for you without all the answers and requiring you to follow their advice “or else…”, you have a true friend. And, unfortunately, these friends have been rare from the beginning of time.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

If You Were a REAL Christian, You Wouldn’t Doubt (Part 2): Is There a Reason to Doubt God, Ever?

On a Facebook thread I’m currently following concerning the need for good apologetics, as nonexistent apologetics and intellectual doubts are contributing to many leaving the Christian faith, someone made this comment:

No one leaves the faith for intellectual reasons. Those who left were never of us 1 John 2:19.

I am upset, but more so deeply heartbroken by this person’s statement, as it demonstrates both his ignorance and a lack of grace.

Review of the Past Year

I feel like I can speak on these things with some authority, as I’ve been there before.

This time last year, I had renounced the Christian faith and identified as a deconvert who attended church only because of familial obligations and fear of repercussions. I had both emotional and intellectual reasons for leaving the faith. I spoke honestly with more Christians during that time than I had my entire life as a believer.

I had people respond to my stance as the gentleman above did, including one brute who told me that because of my doubt, I never knew God and needed to repent. I had good Christian friends who, once they learned of my disbelief, decided they’d rather throw away our friendship than be associated with an unbeliever. Yet, I had other Christian friends who patiently, and with much grace, loved me right where I was and answered any and every question I could think of. (Shout out to Pastor Doug for his patience, wit, and kindness! And to Paul C, Michael P, and Timothy M also, for answering both my intellectual and emotional doubts!) They loved me back to the Gospel and I am grateful for their presence in my life.

Addressing the Naysayers

Let me get this out of the way first: I am not encouraging senseless doubt of God simply for the sake of doubting. There is a difference between that kind of doubt and doubting with a purpose.

Contrary to popular belief, there are intellectual reasons for doubting the nature, character, and motive of God (e.g. The Problem of Evil). Granted, none of those reasons are ultimately good or sustainable for continued disbelief in and of God, but they do exist.

1 Peter 3:15 instructs us to “honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (HCSB).” Note that the Scripture doesn’t specify “reason.” Not a “only if I think this is a legitimate, valid concern” reason or a “this has to line up with my interpretation and view of Scripture before I answer” reason. No, you and I are to give a defense if asked for any reason for our hope in Christ.

A Final Word of Advice

Do not push away or give easy, Christianese pet answers to the kid in your church wondering why he should believe the Bible as opposed to the Qur’an or Book or Mormon. Do not scoff at the college sophomore and tell her she just “needs to have more faith” that God will “work everything out for her good” when she wonders where God is after life throat-punches her repeatedly. Give them a reason for your hope without invalidating their questions and experiences, without being an intellectual snob, and do so in and with the love of Christ.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

The Hope of the Messiah in the Midst of Pharisees

When I was washing my cup out late last week, I washed the outside first and then the inside. I usually don’t do that. I usually wash it the other way around. I didn’t think anything of it until Holy Spirit reminded me of this verse:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may be clean also.” (Matthew 23:25-26)

The phrase “the hope of the Messiah” kept echoing in my head because of a comment I made on Steven Colborne’s page, in which I encouraged him to “spread the hope of the Messiah.” (Steven is an awesome Christian writer, go check him out!) I keep thinking about “the hope of the Messiah” in relation to the dirty cup analogy and wonder if the two could ever coincide. When I started to look at Scripture, particularly at Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees, for the probably the first time in my life, I felt something other than disdain for them: pity. And I can’t help but wonder: Can the hope of the Messiah reach a Pharisee?

No doubt, the Pharisees (and Sadducees) were deserving of the judgement of Jesus, as they are described in the Scriptures as “vipers and snakes” and, if this were fiction, they’d be the obvious antagonists in our hero’s story. They piled on endless laws in addition to the law of Moses, which kept people from experiencing God the way He was meant to be experienced—wholeheartedly. They said one thing but did another. Do you know anyone like that? Are you like that?

***

Let me bring this a little closer to home: Do you or someone you know tithe in the church but refuse to give mercy to those who need it? Do you gossip about others and then get upset when you hear, through the grapevine, that someone has said untrue things about you? Do you lead in ministry and then come home and try to play God’s role as ultimate authority with your spouse and/or children? Do you pray for forgiveness for your own sins, while withholding forgiveness yourself? Do you pray long, elegant, and loud prayers that make people remark in either awe or envy of your “high spiritual standing/closeness to God” while you condemn those who sin differently than you? Have you ever thought, “I know I sin but at least I’m not as bad that person. He’s way more sinful!”? Do you look down on those who are less intelligent than you are regarding Biblical and spiritual things? Does any of this sound familiar?

I’m not trying to condemn or harp on you, I promise. I can’t do that because I’m guilty of at least two of those things. I just want you to look in the mirror. We all are like the unwashed, dirty cups Jesus accused the Pharisees of being. We all have things we would rather not bring to the surface, so we hide them and judge others in a vain attempt at appearing holy or saving face in front of people.

And yet, there may be hope.

Though many of the Pharisees despised Jesus and sought to kill him, there were some who believed in secret, yet did not confess their belief because they were afraid of the Jews and losing their standing with them and other religious leaders. We know from the Scriptures that Nicodemus, a Pharisee and teacher of the law, came to Jesus at night, according to John 3:1-2 which states:

There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him” (HCSB).

Nicodemus recognized, even just for a second, that there was something different about this outlandish Jew from Nazareth.

And then there’s the greatest Pharisee of all: Paul.

You know Paul, right? Formerly Saul of Tarsus, the unforgettable poster boy for the Sanhedrin, and—oh, yeah!—killer of Christians. God blind sighted him on his way to Damascus and his life was forever changed (after regaining his sight three days after). God used Paul, who could easily be called the greatest assassin of the Biblical era, to not only give the Gospel to the Gentiles and write almost half of the New Testament, but to also teach the other Pharisees and religious leaders that there is no need for 600 additional man-made rules to complement the Gospel of the Messiah. So, take heed. There is hope yet for the Pharisee if they truly encounter Jesus and take His words to heart.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Tackling Creative Nonfiction: An Adventure in Self-Discovery

Dear Lovelies,

I have recently started a new journey: writing a book. But not just any book, no. This book is excruciatingly personal, which automatically makes it a different kind of painful than my fiction novel I’ve left on the shelf. This book is unlike anything I ever thought I’d write because it’s not dealing with fictional elements; it’s creative nonfiction. I can’t hide here.

The reason I chose creative nonfiction, as opposed to fiction, is because I was reading some essays I wrote from when I took a Creative Nonfiction class in college. While reading, I fell in love with the language, the words all over again.

Writing those essays were somewhat challenging because prior to that class, I had only ever written fiction. I was comfortable there, but with this new endeavor, I’d not only been moved out of my comfort zone, I had expanded it. I want to do that again. I want to be real with myself and others. No more fictional lies. Just gritty, hair-raising, mouth-gaping honesty and authenticity.

The intended book is, and will be, a collection of poems and essays, including work I’ve written on this blog and new, unforeseen works centered around three essential topics: Life, Christianity, and Mental Issues. Pretty broad, I know, but it’ll make sense when it’s all done.

More than a journey of self-discovery, I’m writing this book because I know I’m not alone in my struggles. Someone needs my book. That’s not being vain, I’m just being real. I know I’m not the only Christian in the world who’s been traumatized and is living with the aftermath of those experiences. I’m not the only one questioning whether or not God is who He says he is and struggles with the shame and guilty feelings that come as a result of that wrestling match. I’m not the only one who knows how hard it is to get out of bed in the morning. I feel honored to write this book, regardless if anyone reads it or not.

~

To my followers, whether you’ve been here from the beginning or just five minutes ago, I want to thank you for your continued support and readership. Love you guys!