Joy vs. Happiness

joyJoy has always been an issue that I’ve wrestled with. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

I’ve been a born again Christian for more than 10 years and the one thing I can’t seem to get a handle on is joy. I’ve had many people advise me that one of the hallmarks of being a Christian is being joyful. Galatians 5:22 lists the fruit of the Spirit; joy being secondary in the list next to love.

Thelma Wells The November/December 2008 issue of Today’s Christian Woman (TCW) published a special section that focused specifically on the topic of joy. TCW editor Ginger Kolbaba interviewed Thelma Wells, a popular Christian speaker and author who struggled with cancer. If anyone would know about the highs and lows of joy, it’d be a woman who was placed on life support with the grim prognosis of impending death.

The entire interview is worth reading but Ginger asks Thelma key questions that elicit winning answers—one of them being that people don’t lose joy but rather, it goes “underground.” I’ve highlighted a few of Thelma’s answers that I really identified with.

TCW: What gets in the way of us truly experiencing joy?

THELMA: Trying to be somebody we’re not. God made us wonderfully in his image. But we look at life from the eyes of our culture: where I should live, what I should drive, where my kids should go to school, what I should have in my house. We compete for status, for recognition, for all these things that mean little or nothing in the end. And when we do that, we become confused about who we serve and why we serve.

If we aren’t careful, we can become so depressed and confused and overwhelmed that our joy goes underground. [emphasis mine]

Here I can identify the source of my lack of joy: discontentment. I’m not discontent with my family or my friends or most of my circumstances, however, I am continuously discontent with myself. I am always trying to be—or wishing to be—someone I’m not. I am never satisfied with the person God made me. I try to be a social chameleon but never quite succeed (in my own mind anyway). Discontentment with myself breeds depression in my life.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Song of the Week: Pretty Amazing Grace by Neil Diamond

I don’t think Neil Diamond is a Christian — as far as I know, he’s still Jewish — but he wrote a song called “Pretty Amazing Grace,” which blows my mind because it has some strong Christian concepts behind it. Maybe he’s resolved things between him and God? Who knows?

I’m currently reading a book called Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. The book focuses on reminding Christians that God draws people to him based on his grace and mercy and not based on our merits or works. The Bible teaches there is nothing people can do to get to heaven. (Ephesians 2:8-9) I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior and became a Baptist 16 years after being a Roman Catholic. Coming from a Roman Catholic background, I’d view my standing with God based on a “points” system. For example, let’s start at zero. If I was nice to or complimented someone, I’d give myself a +1. But later on, if I told a white lie to my parents, I’d give myself a -1 putting me right back where I started. So I’d go back and forth on this points system trying not to reach a deficit. The new church I joined taught that there was no points system, people couldn’t earn their way to heaven, and that one had to rely solely on God’s grace — the gift he gives the people who believe in Jesus Christ.

not good enoughAfter a few years though, being a Christian became burdensome — not because of God — but because of the rules the church I attended would begin to impose in my life:

  • you’re in sin if you don’t wear a skirt past your knees
  • if you don’t go knocking on doors and proselytizing to people, you’re in sin
  • if you’re not in church every time the doors are open, you’re in sin
  • working on Sundays is a sin unless you’re a doctor or a nurse (it’s OK to heal people on the Sabbath)

The church taught one thing but did another. I began to feel as though I was never doing enough for God no matter how hard I tried. I was back on the points system.

Transforming Grace is a book intended to blow legalism out of the water. It takes legalistic concepts and casts them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) or puts them as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). It reminds Christians that any blessings they receive or any favor they find in God’s sight is not based on what they do, how good they are, or how many “points” they’ve racked up. After years of bashing myself as a bad Christian, this book reminds me that in and of myself, I’m a pretty bad person. (Romans 3:10-12) But with a belief in Christ, God doesn’t see me as bad; he sees Christ’s righteousness. So there’s no more points to earn. There’s nothing I can do to make God love me any less or any more.

And this is where Neil Diamond’s song “Pretty Amazing Grace” steps in. I don’t know what Neil Diamond’s spiritual belief is but somehow, he’s grasped the concept of God’s grace quite well. As a result, I’ve chosen “Pretty Amazing Grace” for the song of the week as I continue my studies in learning more about Transforming Grace. You can listen to the full song here, and the lyrics are behind the cut.
Read the rest of this entry »

This Girl's Biblical View

A little late in posting this but better late than never.


“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:25-34
(NKJV)

Personal interpretation
This passage piggybacks off of last week’s verse (Philippians 4:6-7) about not being anxious. Here, Jesus says not to be concerned about God providing for our needs because He takes care of all the little details such as feeding birds to allowing flowers to grow and bloom. Plus, he adds, worrying doesn’t solve anything. (Know anyone who’s been able to fix an issue while experiencing a panic attack?) His listeners are told to first seek God’s will for their lives. Jesus also admonishes them to focus on getting through that day and not worrying about the next day because there are enough issues to deal with at that present moment.

Personal meaning
In this economy, it is so easy to worry about losing a job or if that happens, what would happen to paying the rent or putting food on the table. God says He’ll provide for our needs. Not our wants but our needs. Something to keep in mind is our finite human minds cannot comprehend what an infinite God deems as our needs.

Jesus also tells the listening crowd to seek after “the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The primary need Jesus emphasizes here is God. Everything else that we consider our needs (food, water, shelter, clothing, etc.) is considered extemporaneous, hence, why they are “added to” us. Our needs are first spiritual then physical. (And spiritual often ties into the emotional.)

Personal application
worryWorry. Anxiety. How can I apply this so it’ll affect my life?

The answer is simple: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

A personal application of this verse would be to do everything with God in mind and emulate His characteristics: holiness, truth, justice, love, care, compassion, and forgiveness among others. I am encouraged to “seek” those things — look for them, strive for them — they are goals to shoot for.

Recently, I’ve been learning the Westminster Catechisms. A catechism is a statement of doctrinal belief often made in a series of questions and answers. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

My chief end in life is to glorify God. Seeking after that could prevent so much worry because I’d know that God would take care of me no matter what happens.

For example, if my husband has shown evidence of his faithfulness to me, I won’t live in fear that he’s banging another woman every time he works late.

God has been in my life a heckuva lot longer than my husband has. He has proven Himself faithful to me time and time again. I’ve seen evidence of his goodness to me: how He brought me and my husband together, how He’s saved me from killing myself, and how He’s blessed me monetarily (we’re not poor). God, like my husband, has never given me any reason to worry about whether He’ll look after me.

My counselor suggested that I write a list of all the things God has done for me in my life so whenever I wonder about His passivity, I can look at it and see how active He really is. Something akin to a list of things I’m grateful for. Otherwise, I tend to have a short memory. The future scares me because I don’t know what to expect. It causes me anxiety and worry. Often it’s because I’m not seeking after Him.

Although I said the answer was simple, I never said putting it into action was easy.

Mood rating: 6

Song of the Week: It's Going To Be Alright by Sara Groves

Another regular feature that I’ll try to do is post songs each week that really mean something to me and apply to my life during this week. One of my favorite artists is Sara Groves who writes so many songs that have helped me through different periods in my life.

This past week, I suffered from severe social anxiety on Tuesday and ended up having a panic attack. (I thought I was going to die; I couldn’t breathe!) My husband and I were on our way to counseling that night and Sara’s song “It’s Going To Be Alright” came on. I sang along with the song, fighting back tears the entire time. Finally my husband asks, “What does that song mean to you?” Immediately I burst into tears and told him I was fighting back tears, especially toward the end of the song where she urges the listener to “cast your cares.” That specific line is based on I Peter 5:7 where Peter writes, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” I’ve been really struggling with trusting God in the midst of all this, freaking out about what my coworkers think of me. I’ve been going through a “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” phase. Where is God in the midst of my social anxiety? Where is he when I’m feeling alone and abandoned because my coworkers go out to lunch and don’t invite me? Where is God when I’m on the outskirts of forming close bonds with my coworkers just like they’ve formed close bonds with each other? Why am I the weirdo and the freak? What makes me so socially repulsive?

Then I hear Sara sing to me (it felt like it anyway), “I believe you’ll outlive this pain in you heart, and you’ll gain such a strength from what is tearing you apart” and those lyrics just GOT to me. It was as if God was speaking to me through the song and said, “Hey, it’ll be okay. I’m here for you and you’ll only get stronger from this situation. Marissa, you’ll be fine. It’ll be alright. Just talk to me. Tell me what you’re feeling. Tell me all about your pain. I’m here to listen and give you strength each day.” After feeling like God’s been like my dad for the past few years—not alive but up in the heavens somewhere, it’s like the silence was broken and He finally just communicated to me to turn to Him instead of running straight to my husband first. Talking to God is easier (and cheaper!) than talking to my husband.

Enough of the backstory. But now you know why I’ve chosen this particular song for Song of the Week. It seems like a good way to end the week on a good note. You can listen to the full song here. The lyrics are included below the cut.

Read the rest of this entry »

Christian counseling: Nouthetic vs. Biblical

Last night, I spent some time on the phone with my husband’s friend’s sister (aka my former pastor’s sister). We’ll call her Natalie.

Natalie was very sweet and kind, really encouraging and strengthening me by sharing her testimony of faith in God. She suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, which has led her to take Paxil (on and off) for the past 7 years. She says the drug has helped her tremendously and who am I to knock the drug (knowing what I know about Paxil/Seroxat) when she has seen the wonders that it has worked in her life?

I briefly explained my story of depression, history of suicide, and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although she couldn’t fully relate, she was very sympathetic and understanding. In fact, our conversation was so fruitful, I ended up taking notes!

Jay AdamsWe briefly touched on the issue of Nouthetic counseling (NC). She has undergone the course and simply needs to be certified. The counselor I currently see is associated with the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF), which has roots in NC and was founded by the man—Jay Adams—who developed the method. However, CCEF is now known for what is called biblical counseling. The organization has since moved away from pure Nouthetic methods and become more a bit more varied, taking bits and pieces of psychology (and perhaps psychiatry) that line up with the Bible. Adams, disagreeing with the organization’s approach, founded the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and uses the Bible as the sole counseling textbook. According to the wiki entry on Nouthetic counseling, Adams developed the word Nouthetic based on the “New Testament Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be variously translated as ‘admonish,’ ‘warn,’ ‘correct,’ ‘exhort,’ or ‘instruct.'”

NC was developed back in the ’70s as a response to the popularity of psychology/psychiatry. Many Christians reject some of the teachings of such popular psychologists as Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, etc. Adams’ highly successful book, Competent to Counsel, criticizes the psychology industry and counters its teaching with a Nouthetic approach.

But NC has its Christian critics.

Read the rest of this entry »

"Being bipolar"

Here’s a comment that stuck out to me recently that I wanted to highlight:

I think a lot of us feel like our disorder defines us and who we are. Often times, I feel this way. When I meet new people (which is a difficult thing in itself), I can always tell a difference in how they treat me once they learn that I’m bipolar. It only serves to solidify the notion that being bipolar defines me.

When I began this blog, my subtitle for my blog, depression introspection, was “a born-again Christian female ponders whether she is her diagnosis or whether her diagnosis is part of her.” I wrote back in February 2007 about how people are not their diagnoses. I no longer subscribe to the idea that I am bipolar but that I, rather, suffer from bipolar disorder. I beg to differ that we are not our diagnoses and I will do everything I can to remind myself that Marissa does not equal bipolar disorder. I am so much more than my diagnosis. As I said on my “Who I Am” page in the More About Me section:

This blog has helped me to recognize many of the things that I am.
That
I truly am more than my diagnosis and that my diagnosis does not define
me. I am not just a person with manic and depressive episodes. I am a
person with a personality….
This is my journey to learn more about myself, my diagnosis, my medical
treatment, and anything relating to my personal life and general mental
health.

Not only that, but as a Bible-believing Christian, I’m learning that my identity needs to be grounded more in God and what He thinks of me rather than what I think of myself.

Failure and Success

God has really been hammering me on the issue of fear in a slightly different way than I’d imagined. He keeps showing me stories and verses related to failure and success. Here’s a devotional that I found in my inbox this morning:

Thoughts for Today
What words come to mind when asked to describe yourself? Sometimes we might define ourselves by listing our failures and our negative traits. But God has a different perspective! If we are followers of Christ, this is how God sees us …

We say: I’m a failure. I can’t do anything right.
God says: You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Philippians 4:13

We say: I still feel guilty about things I’ve done in the past, even though I’ve confessed it all as sin and don’t do those things anymore.
God says: I blot out your sins and remember them no more. Isaiah 43:25

We say: Sometimes I feel so unlovable. How can God possibly keep on loving me?
God says: God says nothing can separate us from his love. Romans 8:38-39

We say: I tend to be such a fearful person.
God says: The righteous are as bold as a lion. Proverbs 28:1

God sees us as righteous, wise and forgiven. He sees us as his treasures, his children.

Prayer
Lord, thank you for clothing me in the righteousness of Christ. Help me not to think too lowlyor too highlyof myself, but to see myself as you do. In Jesus’ name …

And then I read an article on Olympic diver Laura Wilkinson in Today’s Christian Woman (TCW) and she addressed the issue of failure and success. If God doesn’t get to me through this, I don’t know what will! I’ve posted excerpts of the TCW interview that spoke to me (occasionally interspersed with my commentary) under the cut.

Read the rest of this entry »

Taking on pretentious Christianity: You don't always have to be happy just because you call yourself a Christian

Nancie at More Than Conquerors has a great post up including a devotional that reflects on Jeremiah 17:17: "Do not be a terror to me; You are my hope in the day of doom." It really contradicts the notion that Christians are supposed to be bright, happy, sunshine, and flowers. Christians always seem to act like because they have "joy" in Christ, they are supposed to be happy-go-lucky and everything just works out for them.

How absolutely and utterly wrong.

The path of the Christian is not always bright with sunshine; he has his seasons of darkness and of storm.

Because I’m essentially faceless on this blog, I can be me–like it or not. I’m not your typical born-again Christian. I don’t act pretentious. If crap is going wrong in my life, I say it is and I won’t act like things are butterflies and sunshine. I cuss (sorry to those it offends!) at times when I’m angry or frustrated. This is me; I am a human with faith in Christ.

So I’m out to blast this notion of Christians always have the "joy of the Lord," meaning "I am so happy because Jesus saved me from my sins that I have to go around and smile all day." NO. "Joy of the Lord," I think, means quiet confidence in him. Knowing who he is and what he’s done for you and through all the trials of life, never letting go of that faith because you’re secure in his love for you.

No Christian has enjoyed perpetual prosperity; no believer can always keep his harp from the willows. Perhaps the Lord allotted you at first a smooth and unclouded path, because you were weak and timid. He tempered the wind to the shorn lamb, but now that you are stronger in the spiritual life, you must enter upon the riper and rougher experience of God’s full-grown children.

We need winds and tempests to exercise our faith, to tear off the rotten bough of self-dependence, and to root us more firmly in Christ.

The day of evil reveals to us the value of our glorious hope.

Boy, do I feel like winds and tempests are exercising my faith. And I’m not going to act like they’re not. Jesus showed the weak side of his humanity. I’m not sure why some Christians think they need to be "stronger" than Jesus.

/end ex-fundamentalist rant/

Current Mood Rating: 5.5

God and mental illness

Thanks to Gianna for sending me a link to an ABC News article about the relationship between religious faith and depression. The article analyzes whether faith can help or exacerbate a mental illness. The exacerbation, as referred to in the article, mostly comes from the stigma of mental illness within the religious community.

“You might be shocked to find out there are some denominations that do harm to people,” said Patricia Murphy, chaplain and assistant professor of psychiatry at Rush University. “Some congregations teach that depression is a sin … that’s the reaction they get when they turn to their pastor.”

Being punished by your religious leader for an unavoidable disorder sounds bad enough — yet it’s often compounded with tacit warnings against leaving the condemning sect.

“Studies have shown that faith leaders are least supportive [with mental health problems],” said Gregg-Schroeder. “There’s this attitude that if you pray harder, you’ll be able to pull yourself out of it. I’ve gone to funerals of people who were told to just pray to Jesus and stop taking your meds.”

praying dogI’ve been told that I suffer from depression because I didn’t pray enough or I wasn’t “right with God.” When I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after my high school graduation, I found my pastor and church noticeably absent even though they were aware of the situation. When I was depressed, I’d get verses like Proverbs 15:13, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Great. That’s helpful. Especially when I don’t have a “merry heart.”

When I was forced to leave a fundie conservative Christian college midyear because of my depression, my pastor at the time was clearly disappointed with my decision not to return the following year. I decided that attending a college close to home as a commuter student would be better for my mental health. There was no need to scare more roommates with my occasional mixed episodes. I felt like I’d failed my pastor, my church, and my God. God more so than anyone else. I convinced myself that He must be upset with me – disappointed in me. It’s not easy to recover from depression when you feel like the One who dangles your life from His fingers is pretty pissed at you.

(Image from AP via Yahoo! News)

Read the rest of this entry »

For the Christians with bipolar disorder

If you haven’t found it already, I’ve stumbled upon My Life with Bipolar Disorder written by Nancie Koo in Singapore. She’s a born again Christian who writes about her struggles but remains steadfast in her faith. I started my blog nearly two years ago in the hopes that I could provide encouragement and information to other Christians suffering from mental illness. It’s good to see that many blogs have come along since then to fill the void.

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Conclusion

"The basic rule of suicide intervention is this: if the level of suffering can be reduced a little, the individual might choose to live." – Jeffrey S. Black

The quote above is the entire point of this post and the preceding posts on this subject. Suicide’s a difficult and divisive topic. People never seem to run out of opinions on the matter.  Jeffrey Black’s booklet was directed to an audience that wanted to know how to help a suicidal individual. I added a couple of things that I thought were relevant, but for the most part, Black is on target. I stopped harping on this through my posts, but I remained dismayed at the straightforward approach and lack of empathy in the book. While a person struggling with suicidal thoughts shouldn’t be "babied," he should be treated with compassion and care. Tough love works on some people, but its potential for backfire is great. Many people who consider suicide are extremely fragile and the slightest criticism could further convince them that they need to kill themselves. (FYI – I am one of these.) If you’ve known the person for a long time, assess his normal-tempered personality. From there, decide whether he is capable of accepting a bit of a heavy-handed push. A general rule: Avoid tough love if the suicidal person normally wouldn’t consider you "a loved one."

So this post concludes my longest-running series on suicide. This series has been in the works since October, when I entered the hospital, but I never had any time to really devote to it. The semi-meticulous person I am, I went through my posts and tried to edit them as much as possible. (OK, with the exception of this one.) A few mistakes might slip through, but for the most part, they should be relatively readable.

The point of this series wasn’t to bang non-Christians over the head with a Bible. (Uh, so to speak.) The booklet I dissected came from a Christian point of view, but I think there was a lot of helpful information, not just for Christians, but for anyone who wants to help a suicidal person. It’s not foolproof and it certainly isn’t the "be-all and end-all." It’s a guideline and a good start. Purchase the book at Amazon, if you’re interested.

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part VI, Hopelessness

“If a Christian is without hope and sees himself as helpless, it underscores that his thinking is out of alignment with God’s.” – Jeffrey S. Black

A hopeless Christian is a paradox considering that Christians should have reason to hope. But when faced with trials of life, “keeping hope alive” proves difficult.

Black defines hopelessness in three ways:

  1. A failure to recognize God’s wisdom.
  2. A failure to desire what God desires.
  3. An unwillingness to view time the way God does.

Important questions for a hopeless Christian to ask himself:

  • Are my hopes in the situation getting better or in Christ?
  • Are my hopes in me or in Christ?
  • Are my hopes in other people or Christ?

A quote from Psalm 73:21-22:

“When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant.”

When a Christian’s focus isn’t on Christ, everything is hopeless. I struggle with answers how to get a Christian from a point of hopelessness to hopeful ness.

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part III

A “situational crisis” may lead a person to have “intense psychological pain.” As a result of this psychological pain, a person can begin to experience “distorted thinking” and/or may “abuse medication.”

1. Situational crises

These include financial problems, illness, bereavement, relational conflict, or public humiliation. Black notes that situational crises tend to act as a “catalyst to suicide,” driving the person to believe he or she has no other solutions to solve his or her problem(s).

2. Severe psychological pain
Black gets to the heart of suicide attempts:

“The goal of suicide is often simply to end that pain: ‘I just want the pain to go away.’ … ‘I just want to die’ most often means, ‘I want to stop feeling bad.’”

This, above all things, is the biggest reason behind a suicide attempt. If people felt like they had other options to their problems apart from suicide, most would take the alternate routes. In a suicidal moment – whether planned or not – the suicidal person is thinking about ending the “pain.” Death itself is not the goal; it’s an end to emotional pain. Death seems to serve as a means to that end.

3. Distorted Thoughts
Distorted thinking is a characteristic of suicides. Black writes:

“Problems may seems catastrophic when they are not. Predictions about the future can become arbitrary and unrealistic.

While problems get unbearable and circumstances may seems bleak, instead of looking for assistance, those who are suicidal convince themselves that only death or loss of consciousness can release them from emotional pain.

4. Abuse of medication
A person who attempts to overdose on medication seeks one of two things: death or loss of consciousness. Abuse of medication that requires hospitalization provides a legitimate reason to “escape” the problems of life. Abusing medication is a person’s way of saying that he needs, as Black puts it, “an emotional vacation.” The person feels overwhelmed by the stressors of life and temporarily need to block out all distractions. At this point, it is safe to say a person is mentally ill. The need for escape from problems is the mind’s way of saying that it needs time to recover and become mentally healthy again. Abusing medication is the desperate way of doing this.

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part I

Black’s Common Features of Suicidal Thinking

  1. Bitterness
  2. Anger
  3. An unwillingness to forgive
  4. The “last word” in argument
  5. A way to punish someone

“Romans 1 suggests that a person – believer or unbeliever – who contemplates suicide must actively suppress the Spirit’s testimony that he is a creature made in the image of God, living in dependence on him.”

“Actively suppress” is a strong statement. If it means a person is aware of this suppression, then I’d disagree. Some people may be aware of this but that isn’t always the case. Black emphasizes suicidal believers are made in the image of God and insinuates that suicidal attempts are willful acts of disobedience:

“We want to demolish the idea that someone who takes his life is a sad, wounded, and weakened victim, and that suicide is a noble expression of his fragility and God’s failure to rescue him.”

While suicide is not a noble expression of fragility, suicide shows a suicidal person and those around him how weak he is. This is not “weak” that describes someone with a character flaw; those referred to as weak are those who need emotional help. Those who are emotionally stronger are able to encourage someone who is emotionally weak. A man who takes his life may have been sad, may have been wounded, and may have been weak – but God’s grace was not beyond him and what is perceived as God’s “failure” to rescue him was still within God’s control. (I won’t get into the fine details of why He allows some people to live and some to die in this post.)

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Outline

While the book had me put off, I did glean a couple of things from it, mainly things that pertain to Christians who struggle with suicidal ideation.

“The paradox is brought into full focus when a suicidal Christian wants to know if she will lose her salvation if she kills herself. The contradiction in her thinking – that the same God who has the power to condemn her eternally doesn’t have the power to help her now – seems lost on her.”

The key here for Christians is to focus on “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This is especially difficult to do when a person doesn’t know the next path to take, what to believe, or desperately wants die. The Biblical view of Christianity holds that a person who has trusted in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and commits suicide is not condemned to hell. However, the booklet deals with issues leading up to this point and does not focus on suicide per se.

While suicide is viewed as a psychological act born out of a depressive state, the author correctly states it is “the act of a sinful heart.” All Christians must come to terms that many mental illnesses are a result of a sinful, fallen condition. Christianity rejects the teaching that “all people are inherently good.” From a Biblical standpoint, that’s a fallacy. Psalm 53:3 reminds readers, “There is none who does good, not even one.” Those who believe in God must accept that they are fallen, sinful creatures incapable of consistently doing good in and of themselves. Depressive and suicidal tendencies stem from this sinful nature.

Black quotes G.C. Berkouwer:

“One cannot find sense in the senseless and meaning in the meaningless.”

Life as a non-Christian can be senseless and meaningless because there seems to be nothing to live for other than the self. A belief in Jesus Christ as Savior gives life a brand new sense of meaning. But even a Christian can lose track of that. Again, the inability to remain focused on God stems from a sin nature.

Black uses the apostle Paul as an example of someone who overcame trials, hardships, and suffering. In II Corinthians 4:17, Paul refers to his suffering as a “light affliction, which is but for a moment.” Black outlines how Paul is able to regard trials as light, momentary afflictions:

  1. Paul lives his entire life with purpose. He endures the suffering because of the good he knows will come out of it.
  2. His life is lived for the future, for a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (II Cor. 4:17)
  3. Paul is “strengthened” to face the challenges that God has given him through the Holy Spirit.

While Black explains how Paul overcame his difficult trials with courageous faith, his application flies over the head of any depressed believer. The above may be encouraging to a believer who is disappointed by trials, but it is an application out of the grasp of someone who is suicidal. A more appropriate application would be King David in the Psalms, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 43:5) or rather Elijah, who after a great spiritual victory, prays to God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” (I Kings 19:4) Perhaps even a suicidal person can relate to Job, “"Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not.” (Job 3:20-21) Black overlooks believers with applicable moments of despair and opts to use the apostle Paul as example for hope. Here, the cliché is applicable: a person must go through the darkest part of the tunnel before he can see the light.

Not only did I feel as though Black throw Paul’s example in for a “See? This is how a true believer should act,” he immediately delves into how “suicide is a sinful act.” Pitting depressed people against a great apostle like Paul is just an awful reminder that they just don't “stack” up. Contrasting a suicidal person with a spiritual giant is yet another reminder as to why he needs to die, not to live. As I mentioned before, using Elijah, David, or Job would have been a more empathetic approach.

An underlying base of suicide is selfishness. Black capitalizes on this thought:

“My goal is not simply to get the person to repent over a specific act of lawbreaking (suicide), but to undermine his pattern of sinfully self-centered rationalization.”

He adds that suicide is an “expression of self-centeredness contrary to our position as creatures responsible to a Creator.” Suicidal thoughts remove God from being the primary focus of life and make people gods in their lives. Suicide seems like a noble way of dying (a form of narcissism) while it is essentially a slap in the face to God. Suicide says to God, “I don’t trust that you can help me through life so I’m taking matters into my own hands,” whether the individual is aware of God or not.

Suicide: Understanding and Intervening Series

Beginning next week, I’ll be unveiling a series on a booklet that I read called, "Suicide: Understanding and Intervening," by Jeffrey S. Black. According to the booklet, Mr. Black pastors Calvary Chapel in Philadelphia and is an adjunct faculty member for the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation’s School of Biblical Counseling. (Since the booklet was written in 1998, I don’t know if the previous sentence still holds true.)

The book is directed at readers who want to know how to help a suicidal person. I quote much of the book and offer some comments, but I also try to add some important pieces that I think Mr. Black overlooked. The booklet relies on the Bible to support many of its points so it is heavily Christian-themed. However, there are other interesting tips that anyone – Christian or non-Christian – can use to help those who are suicidal.

I’ll be honest: I read the book myself, and as a person who struggles with suicidal thoughts, I found it to be disappointing. This probably stems from the fact that suicidal people are not the target audience. Those who care about suicidal people are. Regardless, reading the book allowed me to gain some insight into my thought processes when I become suicidal. These thoughts aren’t evident to me when I am suicidal, but they do occur. Perhaps the coming book analysis can be a helpful tool for readers of this blog, not only for those who want to help suicidal people, but also for those who have attempted suicide and are looking for a way to thwart the process.

Revisited: Twisted Christian Viewpoint on Mental Illness

Many thanks to Gianna for reminding me about this post. It sunk into the recesses of my blog and I’d forgotten about it, I reread it recently and found it incredibly relevant and uplifting. Go ahead and read it for yourself.

Suicide From a Christian Point of View

I was excited to stumble upon a Christian blog that dealt with the topic of suicide. However, despite the fact that I think the author makes many good points, her ending left me a little more than sour: "Deciding to commit suicide whether because of financial, emotional, spiritual, or physical circumstances is a sin that separates one from God for eternity (1 John 5:17)."

I John 5:17 (NASB) says, "All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death."  The sin that leads not unto death is pardoned sin, sin that a Christian has asked forgiveness for.

The author of this blog makes the statement of saying that a person who commits suicide spends eternity apart from God. A person who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and commits suicide does not spend eternity apart from God because even though the sin is committed in death, Jesus’s atonement on the cross pardons that sin. (I John 1:7-9) If the author is making a statement that a born-again Christian who commits suicide is plunged into eternal condemnation, the author is in grave error.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Bush Concedes Iraq War More Difficult Than He Expected – No kidding? Well, then, it's "mission accomplished."

Liz Spikol linked to this article in which Angelina Jolie bounced out of depression by "dreaming of playing a sexy comic book character in the upcoming Sin City sequel." – Wow, that's a way to cure the blues… But not "depression."

I have more to post on but I'll do so later in the day after I've done some work. (I'm running low on sleep and not functioning at optimal level.) I've also found a Christian blog that I'd like to post some thoughts on because we see things quite differently when it comes to suicide, but I need to do some serious Biblical research before posting so nothing until after the New Year. (Whoo-hoo! Former journalist doing research again! How fun.)

Today's Mood: 6.5

Twisted Christian Viewpoint on Mental Illness

Despite the fact that Liz Spikol is messhuggeneh, she linked to an amazing blog with a Christian perspective on depression. (I’m ashamed I didn’t find it before!) I’m pleased and excited that a Christian in the blogosphere finally has the correct approach to mental illness.


CLIFFS NOTES VERSION: Christians have a very limited understanding of depression, suicide, and other various forms of mental illness even though there are SPECIFIC examples in the Bible. Christians need to learn how to take care of those with mental illness or they may very well isolate the people they are called to love.


(The rest is a half-finished personal background. You can stop reading here if you choose to.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Transforming Grace

Originally written on October 16, 2006

orphansIn Rose Marie Miller’s introduction for from fear to freedom, she outlines the orphan mindset of a person who has accepted Christ as his/her Savior through grace but does not recognize his/her son/daughtership:

“- Life consciously or unconsciously is centered on personal autonomy and moral willpower, with grade understood as God’s maintaining your own strength — not as his transforming power.
– Faith is defined as trying harder to do and be better, with a view to establishing a good record leading to self-justification
– Obedience is related to external, visible duties with attitudes and deeper motivation virtually ignored
– ‘What people think’ is represented as the real moral standard, based upon visible success and failure
– An I-am-a-victim attitude is supported by coping strategies, wall building, blame shifting, gossiping, and defending
– All this is accompanied by intense feelings of aloneness, believing that no one understands and that one is trapped by circumstances.”

I identify with all of the above. But it doesn’t stop there. Miller says:

“Here then is my theme: the only hope of liberation for a helpless, resisting caterpillar in a ring of fire is deliverance from above. Someone must reach down into the ring and take us out. This rescue is what brings us from the orphan state into that of the son or daughter. This is not mere supporting grace, but transforming grace.”

So my only hope of help is total deliverance. Meds aren’t a “cure-all” — never have been, never will be. In the meantime, I need to find Someone to pull me out of my “ring of fire.” I can only look to God.

Today’s Mood: 4

Faith vs. Presumption

Originally written on October 16, 2006

"Presumptive self-confidence may look like faith, but it has a very difference spiritual root. (Jeremiah 17:5-10). Faith and presumption look alive because both qualities are characterized by confidence, but faith begins in the recognition and acceptance of our total human weakness. It relies solely on God and his gracious willingness to empower us.

Presumption, on the other hand, is a reliance on human moral abilities and religious accomplishments, on visible securities. It ultimately relies on human will power to serve God and people… a mix of presumption and faith produces a personal instability that surfaces in crises and major life transitions." — Rose Marie Miller, from fear to freedom

Christian viewpoint

CrossI’ve been doing some thinking about this particular blog and I think I’m going to focus on a Christian perspective on depression. While I know this may alienate potential readers in the future, the blog’s primary purpose is to aid me in my recovery of (and discovery of overcoming) depression. Its secondary purpose to aid those who can learn from my struggle and experiences. In reading, Richard O’Connor’s Undoing Depression, I appreciated his practical approach theories and arguments but hated the philosophies (i.e. Freud, Jung). While Freud and Jung both put forward interesting suppositions, I disagreed with most of their thinking.

As a Christian, my first and foremost textbook on depression is the Bible. That’s the way it should have been from the beginning and that’s the way it will begin to be.

I won’t stop reading purely secular books but at the same time, my thinking will take on a more Biblical approach. This means:
– Bible verses and quotes interspersed in text
– Analyzing and discussing secular books, thoughts and theory from a Christian/Biblical viewpoint
– Analysis of examples of depression in the Bible

I understand that there will be people who may stumble upon this site and vehemently disagree with my thoughts and point of view. I welcome discussion on certain propositions but my faith is not up for debate; I will not change my mind. Improper commenters will have their IPs banned. Banning is subject to my discretion.

Barren wasteland

I receive daily Christian devotionals in my e-mail from Elisabeth Elliot. Some are good and some just don’t really affect me much. I wanted to share this one piece that really spoke to me. Non-Christians won’t get much out of it but I really could have used something like this when I was suicidal and working in Kentucky.

Wastelands: Exodus 13:17-18

There are dry, fruitless, lonely places in each of our lives, where we seem to travel alone, sometimes feeling as though we must surely have lost the way. What am I doing here? How did this happen? Lord, get me out of this!

He does not get us out. Not when we ask for it, at any rate, because it was He all along who brought us to this place. He has been here before–it is no wilderness to Him, and He walks with us. There are things to be seen and learned in these apparent wastelands which cannot be seen and learned in the "city"–in places of comfort, convenience, and company.

God does not intend to make it no wasteland. He intends rather to keep us–to hold us with his strength, to sustain us with his sure words–in a place where there is nothing else we can count on.

"God did not guide them by the road towards the Philistines, although that was the shortest…God made them go round by way of the wilderness towards the Red Sea" (Ex 13:17,18 NEB).

Imagine what Israel and all of us who worship Israel’s God would have missed if they had gone by the short route–the thrilling story of the deliverance from Egypt’s chariots when the sea was rolled back. Let’s not ask for shortcuts. Let’s keep alert for the wonders our Guide will show us in the wilderness.

Christianity

I began taking antidepressants at 22 years old. My parents were reluctant to put me on medication as a growing teenager. In July 1998, I found something I thought would offer me a better chance at being happy: I became a born-again Christian by accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Some people find different ways of happiness and staying alive. Thinking that a big, divine God had kept me alive this long for a reason kept me going.
Jesus Christ became my raison d’être: for eating, sleeping, breathing. I lived to worship God day and night and felt He had truly transformed me and saved me out of my depression. While He may infuse a life-changing transformation for some Christians on Earth, for me, my victory over depression would be short-lived. It soon became the “thorn in my side.”
Close friends and family said that Christianity didn’t work for me. But through my faith, I found a need to continue living. I felt needed and had a reason to live for other than myself. Thinking that God has me here for a higher purpose keeps me going: I’m curious to find out what’s at the end. Faith in God can bring some needed relief for depression sufferers.