Humility and mental wellness

art carving close up crown

I read the fourth chapter of The Book of Daniel this morning.

I wondered if King Nebechadenezer had immediately humbled himself before God, as Daniel suggested, if things would have  been different for him. Specifically the dream he had (a prophetic picture of him ‘going mad’ and his kingdom being taken from him) — could that prophetic dream have been avoided?

Well in the end, King N didn’t listen to Daniel and the dream came true. Quite suddenly too. One minute the King is on his palace roof gloating over all he accomplished and the next minute he is out of the palace and out of his mind eating grass and letting his fingernails grow like eagle talons.

After a long time of that King Nebuchadnezzar ‘looked to Heaven’ and ‘his reason was returned to him.’ As was the kingdom and his humility before the one true God.

I have written several times now about a book I am reading, by Patrick Carnes, called The Betrayal Bond. 

He goes into some detail about the role of hubris in forming a trauma bond. An example being a child believing she is special because daddy has ‘chosen only her’ to have a special (abusive) relationship. I could relate very much. I just shared with my therapist that as distrustful as I was of my own family I believed the world ‘out there’ was what I really couldn’t trust.

It is difficult to admit but when I look back at my childhood, no matter what happened in my home, I believed we were better than other people. I’m not sure if that was an unspoken rule thing or just my own sinful nature trying to hide from feelings of shame.

For much of my life I was like a queen, walking the rooftop my ancestors had built, surveying all that was going on and still having the hubris to declare that it was better than anything else on earth.

In light of that delusion I was under, I am actually thankful that my mind broke. There probably wouldn’t have been any other way for me to see the truth of it all.

Gods Kingdom is the only good Kingdom. The things man builds are rife with betrayal, abuse, hubris and all sorts of other madness.

 

Life is editing and rewriting. It is not NaNoWriMo.

person typing on typewriter

November has me pondering the similarities between my recovery/therapy process (aka my desire to lead a Christian life) and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Creating new content is fun. It’s also deceptive. I might hit the save button and think I’ve just done something truly genius. Then I read it a second time. Or I show it to my BHH and he asks for a ‘cone of safety’ before giving me his honest thoughts. I take another look and smack my head. It is hardly original…and why so many run-on sentences? What’s up, with, all, the, commas?

This verse from Ecclesiastes gives me comfort at that point. I’m just another grain of sand amongst millions; others have already thought of everything there is to think.

Relax. Let it go. Enjoy the process. Do it anyway. Just because you can.

I write and create fairly naturally, without thinking about it all that much–because words are trapped in my chest. If I don’t release them, like an exhaled breath, I will die.

But it is the editing and re-writing process that both intrigues, and frustrates me, the most.

Editing, like following Jesus, is examining what you really are, after the fact. When the moment of inspiration has past, the excitement fades, and our eyes adjust to the sudden bright light of reality; voila– we can see the errors. ALL. The. Errors. Similar to when prophets and apostles had direct encounters with the impossibly bright light of God. They were undone. They saw how much they fell short. They begged to be allowed to live after the encounter.

Book jackets and amazon suggestions compare writers to other writers, hoping to gain their readership by default. In life, though, Christians must make our comparison with God Himself, to whom none can compare and all fall short. After that, it is about trusting, on faith, that He has you covered through the shed blood of Jesus. 

You repent. Then try to relax in that love and enter that rest. BUT. You also chisel away at the stuff that, on a second examination, you regretted. It takes knowledge of words, characterization and grammar to write. Just like it takes knowledge and familiarity with the Bible, to rework your life into that of a sincere Christian.

Here comes the editor, and it isn’t YOU. Turning fresh work in to an editor always made me sweat. Worse than going to the doctor or the dentist. I wanted to send Moses in my place, to the mountain of impossible light (aka my editor’s email), just like the Israelites did in the wilderness when they were afraid to get too close to God. What are they going to see that is wrong with me–this time? Seeing your word document come back to you with red slashes or comments like ‘clean this up’ ‘this is a disconnect’, and ‘what are you actually trying to say here’? Is not fun. I am often undone by the bright light. Then, when I recover, the real work begins. And it is work, at that point.

In the beginning of therapy I wanted to NaNoWriMo my way through in a few weeks. I thought I could have a finished product with a month or so of work and commitment. I thought my therapist would travel to God’s mountain for me, or at the very least with me.

I can hear some of you, who have been in recovery for years, laughing right now. I am laughing as well, at how naive I was back then.

And so therapy, and more importantly:  my walk with Jesus, has taught me to be more cautious of the creation process…I am training my brain to take thoughts captive before they can start messing with my central nervous system (sending out stress hormones and physical symptoms of anxiety).

I ask myself more questions than I did prior. Do I really want to put that thought, or that gripe, or that idea into the world right now? Do I really want to say yes to what this person is asking of me? Am I really in agreement with what is being put forth here? Is this feeling something that I need to work on myself before I share it with anyone else?

Going slow, in creating the content of your own heart and mind, can lessen ugly re-reads and harsh edits.

Furthermore, a therapist is simply an editor of your content.

He or she is not God. It is tempting to give a therapist entirely too much control over your decisions about your self. There were some times in past writing pursuits where I disagreed with an editor. “But I put that there intentionally to make a point”. “This detail is part of the character I am developing in the protagonist.”

When an editor and writer don’t agree; the writer is supposed to have more sway since the writer is the creator, the one seeing the big picture.

Likewise, I have realized that I cannot let a therapist actually write, or re-write, my life for me. A therapist can polish, point out what needs work. But I know that it was God who created my story, and it was He who entrusted me to write, and re-write, it.

I walk toward that mountain, with its flashes of bright light and thundering clouds, alone.

 

 

Be Still & Be Aware

brown book page

Be Still (Psalm 46:10) is a big deal. A relative put it over a door frame, someone posted it near an interstate in Minnesota, a woman at Bible study has Psalm 46:10 for a Bible cover, and I’ve purchased ‘Be Still’ gifts for friends.  It is also a mantra for people in recovery. Indeed, my Christian therapist reminds me often: ‘Be Still’.

Which means I have researched it quite a bit. It’s just what I do. Educating myself is a major way that I cope with an anxious disposition. After all, God did declare, through the prophet Hosea, ‘my people perish for lack of knowledge.’ I like to make good and sure that I don’t resemble that observation.

But I digress. In short: I’ve known for a while that Be Still is used in New Age religions. ‘Be Still and know that I am God’ is a mantra to affirm human divinity. I found at least one spiritual guru, in a quick google search, who admits that he prefers using this Bible verse over those found in the (Hindu) Vedas; (paraphrasing him from this link). Chanting this Psalm, as if you are saying it about yourself, affirms that one actually is God*. (*if you believe that; which I do not).

Contrast that with the belief that God alone is God; which is the cornerstone of Biblical Christianity. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the stone that does not break. There are but two choices in Biblical Christianity: be willingly broken, (aka born again), take up your cross and follow Jesus, and live eternally. Or, resist being broken, only to be utterly broken against your will, and die eternally.

Meanwhile the therapized meaning of be still is compelling in our fast paced world: quiet your mind. Focus on your breath. Calm down and submit. Contain your fear and thereby retrain your neural networks to stop firing off stress hormones…the visual might look like this: (I love her sunglasses, btw)

photo of woman riding swing in front of waterfalls

But when reading Psalm 46 in context (reading at least a chapter before and after a single verse can give the context), it talks of devastation.

A visual from this psalm would look a bit like the aftermath of a hurricane or earthquake that was followed up by a world-wide civil war, which God then stepped in and stopped.

abandoned aged architecture black and whiteSome words used are: earth melting, mountains quaking and falling into the heart of the sea, as well as the failing of entire kingdoms/nations. All of that is countered with the steadfast goodness of God, and with God’s permanence on His throne.

Psalm 46:8-10 reads:

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

In other words, God is allowing the earth to natural-disaster-its-self up to the very end of the end. To those nations still clashing and resisting, He offers the following rebuke: “Be still and know that I am God… I will be exalted.”

Jesus used similar language when He told a raging sky and sea: Be Still! (it then became still). His disciples were in the boat with Him. Witnessing His power over creation likely caused them to tremble in new ways as they wondered who He was. Throughout the gospel accounts, Jesus soothed His disciples fears of Him as they become more assured of their salvation through Him alone. The source of greatest fear also became its reliever. As John Newton famously wrote in Amazing Grace, ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear; and grace my fears relieved.’ Similarly, scripture tells us that fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Knowing that I am in the boat with Jesus and that He can, by a single word, quiet the storm; it is that which quiets my earthly fears and reworks them into a proper and pure fear of God, and thereby God’s grace can allay those fears very well. Basically: self-absorbed fears are made small and inconsequential in the face of my fear and love of an awesome God. Taking that powerful fear to the very source is then the only thing which can bring true peace and trust in Him.

In summation: I do not believe the phrase Be Still is telling us that we are God. Nor is it urging us to be quiet or to check out of our reality in order that we can have fewer fears, more inner peace, or grow closer to God through silence or immobility. Oh, it is very good to carve out quiet time; Jesus did that often. I’m not saying it is not. And we are to take every thought captive to Christ; so capturing our fear-based thoughts and retraining our damaged neural networks can be a worthy pursuit as well. (I’ve been doing it for several years now).

Rather, I am pointing out that Psalm 46 is far more worshipful than a mere entreaty to take some ‘down time’ for ourselves.

It is a rebuke that God alone is God; and we are not. It is a call to TRUST Him, to worship Him, to quit being afraid of the storm which He can stop with one word. Faith put not in Christ Consciousness or inner divinity**; but in the actual, living, resurrected, ruler of the universe: God/Man = Jesus.

To me entering into worship of Creator God is much more powerful at retraining my self-absorbed brain than simply being still for a few moments so my neural networks can re-fire properly. Which is another reason why I think Psalm 46:10 isn’t actually about me, or my need for quiet time. It’s about Him. Amazing, Powerful, Worthy-of-Worship, Almighty–HIM.

So I hope ‘they’ (whoever they are) keep right on slapping Be Still on interstate signs and t-shirts. Because I like all the reminders that God is God (and I am not).

(Disclaimer: these are my personal opinions and beliefs as of this writing. I reserve the right to change my opinions based upon new information and study.)

**If you seek a deeper Christian perspective, I love the testimony and teachings of Warren B. Smith, a social worker and former New Age follower. To paraphrase him, he was once ‘dressed all in orange telling everyone he was divine’ yet somehow even in that; he became a born-again Christian.

 

 

 

Extending forgiveness to those who ran the other way when I broke.

broken green wooden pallet
Photo by Francesco Paggiaro on Pexels.com

Yesterday morning I was looking down into the watery bottom of a hotel’s oatmeal container. A man beside me, with leather loafers and tanned ankles, started telling a female hotel guest how to use the toaster oven so that it didn’t spark like that.

I turned in alarm toward the toaster oven (my sensitive nose was overwhelmed with burnt toast). I was surprised there wasn’t any visible smoke. It sure smelled like raging fire. But that’s just my overdrive-sense-of-smell (common in sexual abuse survivors). What did surprise me was the girth underneath the man’s large t-shirt and athletic shorts. His feet and legs had seemed average-sized. But I didn’t want my shock to show and thereby cause someone to feel shame. So I just laughed along with the others about the quirky toaster oven, hoping he hadn’t seen the look on my face before I forced it away.

He followed behind me as I found a seat in the breakfast room. Then he sat down across from my line of vision. His chair creaked and the cushion let out air. The wood lathes on the bottom swayed. I was very uncomfortable. I didn’t want to see that chair break. I didn’t know what to do. He moved forward and the wooden legs seemed to visibly shake. I didn’t want to be in that room if that man landed on the ground. I gulped the oatmeal and went back to my room in haste.

On the elevator God peeled another layer on the onion.  Did you see that? What you just did there? Could it be that no one really knows what to do when people break?

Is that why so many people fled from my life when I broke?

Maybe they weren’t mean. Or dumb. Or uncaring. Or ‘pedestrian in their understanding of life’. Or not good Christians. And maybe they weren’t rejecting me.

Maybe fleeing was their way of caring for me. Because they didn’t want me to feel any further shame. Or they may have been reacting as I just had. They simply didn’t know what to do and were self-preserving themselves.

Until that moment in the elevator, I hadn’t even realized how much resentment I was holding onto. Resentment at feeling stigmatized and misunderstood and unsupported by the people in my life who disappeared when I was at my worst with PTSD. I am owning it now and forgiving it. And, obviously, there is a stigma which remains toward all mental health issues. There are also abusive people who prey on people who have just fallen on their butts. It’s just that something about seeing that man nearly break that chair made me wonder how many people just don’t know what to do when we witness someone breaking– or about to break.

What would I have done had that chair broken under that man? Offered to help? Walked away pretending I hadn’t seen it happen? Asked him if he was ok? What would I want done?

There is a scripture about not breaking a bruised reed. Walking away pretending you didn’t even see the reed getting bruised can be hurtful–at least to me. I would want someone to inquire after me or offer to help me up. I would see the backs of those who were walking away in haste. That shunning would hurt me as much as the fall. But, that’s me. I don’t know what others want in such moments.

With other bruised reeds, perhaps they’d prefer you did just that–walk away pretending you didn’t see them in their broken state. My BHH is one who likes to suffer through physical maladies alone; without witnesses or offers of help. That is tough for me to honor as I’m the opposite.

As in many things, so much comes down to strong relationships and knowing the people in your life. Asking them those questions before they actually walk headfirst into a light pole. (A friend did that and got a concussion and she was further troubled when nobody who witnessed it offered to help her or even asked her if she was ok–meanwhile my BHH told her that he would have been glad that no one acted like that had just happened).

Another scripture also comes to mind: When the woman was caught in adultery. Abusive religious leaders used her to try and trap Jesus (and it seems they let the man who with her entirely off the hook.) Meanwhile, Jesus wasn’t at a loss. He stooped down and started writing on the ground. Theologians have all sorts of theories as to what He was writing. But what struck me, and others who wrote about this in some commentary or sermon where I took this insight from, was the simple fact that in bending down like that He was likely avoiding looking directly at the woman. That woman was probably naked or half dressed or hastily trying to cover herself up in some manner (since she was ‘caught in the act’).

It stands to reason that Jesus was respecting her by stooping down like that; giving her time to compose or cover herself. Yet, He wasn’t avoiding her distressed state nor at a loss over what to do or say. He was able to draw her out and drive off those who tried to bind her up with shame. He stooped but He also stood and leveled with both her accusers, and with her.

Likewise with me. When I break He gives me a moment to compose and cover myself; without judging my nakedness. And then He levels; with both my abusers and accusers and with me. People rarely do this well. They either want to exploit your shame further, stand and gape at your mess, or run away as fast as they can.

I’m accepting that. I have done it myself. It is time to forgive it.

3 Kinds of People

“Remember what I told you about the three kinds of people?” My therapist prompted during a recent session.

“Yes.” I replied, and then recited. “There are three kinds of people…

1.Those that like you

2.Those that don’t like you

3. Those that are indifferent to you.”

She chuckled. “Good job.”

I continued, “And this is true for everyone. Rich. Poor. Famous. Or unknown. Each one of us will have the same three kinds of people that we will encounter.”

In the beginning of my recovery this axiom helped me deal with overwhelming feelings of rejection that fueled many other fears.

It’s ok to be disliked; or to go unnoticed by some. You are liked by others and that’s normal and true for everyone.

At this stage of recovery, the axiom about three kinds of people is helping me gain balance as I explore my writing again. It is also helping me strengthen existing relationships; and gain the courage to explore new ones.

*It’s ok if people don’t notice me, or my work, there will always be those who are indifferent to me.

*It’s ok if some flat out don’t like me, or my work. They may like a different style than I create; or disagree with my content. Oh well.

*And when someone does find me and like me, Praise God and enjoy it. (Yet don’t put too much stock into being accepted by man when my goal is to obey and follow God above all. After all, being liked by some is also part of the usual human experience.)

Today I realized more. I am starting to ‘get’ how freeing this truth (about three kinds of people) has also been to discovering who I actually am.

I started becoming whoever I needed to be to try and make everyone around me like me, very early in childhood. The need to make others around me ‘happy’ (and thus safe) was one of the ways I tried to control the traumatic environment in which I was raised.

Sometimes that person I created was who God intended for me to be. Other times; not so much. The past few years I’ve been understanding what I truly like; and dislike. What my calling is in life. What I’m supposed to be doing with my time every day. Why I bond so easily with some people and struggle with others.

I am letting go of the need to like everyone and everything. Being around people I didn’t jell with used to be very disconcerting to me—to discover someone or something I found troubling or not to my personal taste or lifestyle choices. I tried to change them to fit something that made me feel more comfortable inside. It didn’t work so well. The only thing you can change on another human is their diaper. And it’s exhausting to try and take someone who doesn’t like you, and/or who you don’t really like back, and make them into something different. All so that you can convince yourself you do like them and thereby quiet a demon living inside of you that thinks everyone and everything should always get along like besties… or else life is too scary to live out.

I realized how much I’ve grown in this area as lately if someone’s style or personality isn’t for me, I don’t need to change them in order to feel settled inside of myself. I can be cordial in my indifference, or I can voice the fact that he or she, or this or that, just isn’t suitable to my tastes, without making it into something contentious.

As a Christian I know that I am joined with my brothers and sisters. I am learning, though, that unity doesn’t mean we have to all like, or dislike, the same things.

Such a simple thing, to discover your inherent likes and dislikes and to be able to voice them openly without any harm to anyone.

I hope many people were able to make that discovery in their toddling years.

Sadly, I learned other lessons in my toddling years. Shortly after I was learning to walk, I turned around corners and saw my teenaged brother being beaten bloody by my father. It is one of my earliest memories of life. Shortly thereafter a different older brother nearly killed my five year old sister. While my brain was still forming, I witnessed murderous intentions inflicted by the very hands that were supposed to be unconditionally loving. So I give myself an extra measure of grace for ‘playing God’ with my own inherent personality traits; for wanting to change the unique person He knit me together to be. I am fairly certain that He gives extra grace for such situations as well.

As Jesus said, the truth will set you free. And scriptures make it clear that Jesus also encountered three types of people. Some that liked Him, some that didn’t, and some that didn’t even notice that God Himself walked in their midst.

As for me, He’s still in the fire and I happen to love Him very much. (and old southern gospel music.)

Feasting in the Presence of Enemies

The 23rdPsalm has been a lifeline for me in my recovery from PTSD and anxiety disorder.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Inevitably the things which make me anxious or fearful are the very things I want to change, as if I were God and knew exactly what needed to go in my life.

I wish my family relationships were healthy; I wish this pain in my neck would go away; I wish I didn’t feel so much fear simply going into the grocery store.

Wishes are basically wants. Saying aloud: the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want prompted me to replace the thoughts above with acceptance, trust, and hope.

I accept that many of my family relationships are not able to be healthy. I have told the truth about past inter-family abuses and those responsible have not responded with truths of their own. That is not my fault, nor something I can control. I accept that I still have trauma effects, some body pain and various symptoms of elevated stress. This is how it is right now. I don’t like it. Yet, I do want to be in this present circumstance because it is what my Lord Jesus has led me to, in this moment. I shall not want it to be any different than it presently is, for I am not God and do not know all the reasons why I am where I am right now.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.

Yes, even in this present circumstance of lingering physical and emotional pain and discomfort; I have been led to green pastures, led to refreshing waters. They are there before me; and they do soothe me.

In the past few years of ongoing recovery I have recited the entire psalm often, to center myself back in Christ. It has been so helpful, for me. Yet, I confess that this was so comforting that sometimes it became more palliative than truly heartfelt. So I have recited the psalm without fully realizing what I was declaring. Particularly this portion: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

Last week it finally hit me; hard.

A long wooden table spread with so many good things. Surrounded by loved ones. Laughter. Gaiety. Openly living. Freely sharing what is in my heart. Not hiding the truth. Not being ashamed of my past; nor my present failures. Because Jesus blood has washed me clean and there I sit white robed at a public place of honor. God’s table.

God’s table.

That He prepared just for me.

That table was not hidden away in an upper room or lit by candles in a darkened cave. It was out in the open; where anyone could view it. The giftings God had poured out for me were in full access to the very people whom the enemy had used to try and destroy them all.

All of which made it ok to live life in the wide open again. To feel joy. To laugh. And to trust.

These days, I’m rarely scared to go to the grocery store. I’ve returned to doing daily living things without even thinking about the fears which once overwhelmed me. But, in other ways, I still want to hide. That revelation about feasting before my enemies changed things. Inside things. Dark crevices of the heart things. It made me want to start sharing my writing again. It made it ok to live life again. To answer the doorbell every time instead of ignoring it sometimes because I have a bit of a headache. To feel joy. To laugh.

To know that all of this is by God’s design is staggering to me. For He is the one who sets the table and overflows it; right there in the presence of our enemies. Openly. In public. Like an original ‘internet’; thousands of years before electricity. It is His pleasure–to put the feast He prepares for us on public display.

Were it by my design, I would have just set the table up right there in the cave, and carefully selected the guest list, and kept near everyone who I didn’t fully trust away from even viewing any of it, let alone being within grabbing distance.

Thankfully; although my pride and fearful need to be in total control sometimes still acts like it— I’m not God.

For more on the subject of feasting before enemies, David Wilkerson has a great essay.