I’m not sure how you experience life. One way I experience life is as a battle. Since empathy and connecting with others are my wiring and because I’ve been pastoring for a while now and even writing this blog long enough, I know that some people relate with my experiences. Not everyone finds life a battle, but some do.
My battle is mostly internal. I don’t struggle every day to be able to eat. I’ve never gone hungry except when I’ve chosen to. I don’t deal with drug or alcohol addiction, though I’m acutely aware that there, but for the grace of God, go I. I don’t live with someone addicted who beats me and spends our money to feed the addictions. There are many people whose lives are a battle and if you don’t see it, I might suggest you look a little more closely.
Lent is a time when we face our darkness. We not only acknowledge but seek to confront the sin that remains deeply rooted in our hearts. I firmly believe only God can free us from sin in our life and I firmly believe we always have a part in the process. Every part of our lives is a dance with God, a dance with grace. Sitting out doesn’t mean the dance goes away, it simply means we miss the good parts. Often, God seems more present to me in our darkness than in our light, perhaps because that’s when I’m truly paying attention.
Life isn’t solely a battle for me. Life is also joy and sometimes (though not often enough lately) heartfelt laughter. Life is a musical.* Music plays constantly in my life, if not on my devices then in my head. I wake up with a song playing in my head nearly every morning; the song selection often gives me some indication of my mental state and/or my dreams. I’m an extrovert and I really love people, so even when I’m suffering with them or walking through anguish alongside them, I experience a deep satisfaction–God made me for this purpose. Life is a journey. I’m here to walk this journey with others, to do what I can to help a few find the real purpose of their journey.
The battle rages and falls back. Sometimes, for hours at a time, I can forget I’m in a battle. Other times, it’s all I can manage. Fighting my battle gives me credibility to speak into the lives of others who are fighting theirs. I see that as one redemption of what I face.
All of us who recognize and try to resist sin in our lives fight a battle against sin. (People who don’t won’t see any reason they would need to repent.) Scripture describes this as a battle. I’m not really talking about that battle, though it intermingles with the the specific one I face. In fact, being able to differentiate between the two kinds of battles is a crucial aspect of not getting ambushed and destroyed.
I’ve written about depression on here before. That post is currently my 7th most read, out of nearing 150 by now, so other people live this same struggle. When I get depressed and feel like I am failing spiritually, that in itself is not sin. How I might act on those feelings–or trying to numb them–can lead me into some bad places, but it’s life and death for me that I not believe the voice of my depression is God’s voice speaking into my life. After thirty-plus years of hanging out with God, I can now tell fairly consistently when I’m hearing the voice of condemnation and self-destruction and when I’m hearing God speak to me. You might think they would be quite distinct, but that is failing to take into account that a)Satan is a liar, and b)I am capable of falling into the same trap repeatedly and am very slow to catch on that it is, as my friend Tim says, “Second verse, same as the first.”
But it wouldn’t be accurate to describe my battle simply as “depression,” either. Depression is that state I fall into when the battle goes badly. I spend a lot of energy trying to keep in balance so I don’t get there. When it hits, I can feel my chest grow heavier; it literally becomes harder to breathe, as if breathing has become a voluntary activity I must work to keep going. There’s a tipping point, too, before which I can still fight back and do the things that are good for me, that will help: rest, eat well, exercise, connect with the right people. Play music.
Oh yeah, and pray.
Praying becomes really hard when I’m depressed. Harder than breathing. I still do it because I know I need to, but rarely does God snap me out of my depression instantly when I pray. Rarely.
When I’m down, when the battle is going against me, I’m often more able to ask for prayer than to pray myself. I’m profoundly grateful that I have people I can ask who pray for me, faithfully, every time (you know who you are). When I get too far down, I stop caring about whether I’m doing anything to help myself. By then, I’m looking either to numb the pain in any way possible or I just don’t give a damn anymore. Neither of those go so well.
I need to say right here that people who criticize depressed people for lack of faith or spiritual maturity–or those who struggle with severe anxiety, OCD, bi-polar condition, any of these fun states–might as well be attacking people with cancer or lupus for not having enough faith. Come to think of it, some people do. That’s bad. Grace is Greater seeks not to be a critical or judgmental blog, but I’m going for it: That is bad. Don’t do that.
The reason I decided to have “my battle” be a topic in this Lenten series is that I was starting to slip. Discouragement is one of the attacks I dread most because I have such a hard time warding it off. When I start fixating on what I haven’t done or haven’t done well or have just really messed up, these thoughts feel like objective truth. I can produce evidence. Then I get discouraged and start to feel hopeless and forget that God doesn’t speak conviction that leaves us hopeless or with no available faithful response.
The Bible says “…godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.” Kind of an important difference. With worldy grief, sinking into the discouragement I’m describing, there’s nowhere to go with it. You’re just stuck. With godly grief, there is always an available action, a means of repentance, a way to turn back from the wrong and be free. Discouragement isn’t freedom, it’s quicksand.
It’s crazy hard to hear encouragement when I’m sinking. That just feels bass ackward, I know, but there it is. When i’m down, any words of encouragement feel false, even though they might be spoken with the utmost sincerity and are exactly what I need.
I don’t know if it works this way with you. I can’t hear the voices in your head, just my own. But I’ve talked with enough people about their voices to know there are strong similarities.
I was encouraged, though, that the weight lifted quicker this time. I think it’s because I’m being much more conscious in my pursuit of God this Lent. That doesn’t mean I fixed my problem, it means I’m staying closer to the one who can help.
It means I’m dancing.
Here are the things I know:
Not everyone’s life feels like a battle. Some people experience this for a brief time while going through grief or trauma. Others live with it–and sometimes it’s quite severe–their entire lives.
Feeling sorry for myself doesn’t help. Mom spent a lot of time driving this lesson home. I don’t think she knew what I’d face, but she was right and I’m glad she made that point so often. It sometimes feels unfair, especially when I’m dealing with people who don’t seem challenged in the same way and who lack empathy, most especially when I’m failing to meet their expectations. Then I feel like screaming and breaking things. But that doesn’t really help, either.
Maybe life isn’t fair (I always believe in the long haul God will bring justice, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair right now), but living here in Nicaragua I’m very clear that it’s much “fairer” to me than to most, even with all that goes on in my head.
The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” finds one of it’s truest applications in my personal battle. Some days it might be worth a ton. I have a certain amount of leeway in dealing with my stuff. Problem is, I can never quite tell how much leeway I have, so that’s dangerous. Better just to stay on my path, keep to my good habits, and let people roll their eyes if they must. They don’t have to walk in these boots. Or dance in them.
It never, ever helps to pull away from God when I’m struggling. Why that seems like a good idea at the time is perhaps the same reason it feels like a good idea to a drowning person to seek also to drown the person coming to help. In other words, not a rational decision I’m making while taking in all the available info and variables involved.
If praying always made me feel better instantly and lifted me out of the pit, this would all be much easier and more clear-cut. Sometimes I pray, I really push hard to read Scripture and journal and throw myself before God, and I feel exactly as bad afterward. But God’s answer to prayer is not always immediate nor what I can see. It’s still real. It still “works,” in the sense that God does something in me that helps move me in the right direction. I can’t always detect or describe this, but like I say, when I do the opposite and pull away from God, I can always see myself getting worse.
Finally, beating myself up for struggling only makes me worse, and worse quicker. Neither self-pity nor self-condemnation wins my battle. I have to give myself grace. God has grace for me and I must have grace for myself. I won’t make it if I don’t.
“My grace is sufficient for you,’ God once told Paul, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.” “So,” Paul concludes, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
That is my hope in this battle.
*But not one of those hokey ones in which characters burst into song for no reason. More like Once. Though sometimes it feels like Shine, without the prodigy aspect.