Monday, August 18, 2014

Mental Tribulation


Mental Tribulation

NOTE: I am not a Doctor! Nothing in this article should take the place of the advice of a licensed physician. Please, see your Doctor before taking any advice from the internet!

Well, after a long set back in my health I am once again tapping away on my laptop about Faith and the world around us. Since my health has been the reason for a number of dry spells in my writing and has also been the source of a number of questions and concern from folks, today’s topic will be about my least favorite subject to write about: ME. Well, more or less anyway.

For those who don’t know, I have a debilitating Neurological condition which causes me to experience weakness, muscle spasms, stiffness, pain and a plethora of other challenges too numerous to mention. I am weak, sore and tired and spend a great deal of time in bed, my recliner or my wheelchair.  The silver lining is that, Praise God for His limitless mercy – I still have some use of my legs and though limited, I can ambulate enough to move around my room, use the restroom and so on. That is a simple, though immeasurably important blessing and it cannot be emphasized enough as to how it sustains my quality of life. I am also blessed with a Godly, loving and supportive wife of over 25 years as well as wonderful family and friends who bless me with their support and love.

All that said, I often get asked if, due to my disabilities, I am uncomfortable, or worried about what is happening in the world these days and especially in our own country. Sincerely concerned, they wonder what I would do if, for instance, our grid goes down and our society breaks down with it – what will I do? I wish I could tell them, ‘I don’t worry about those things. My faith is rock solid and I am never anxious or worried about anything.’ But, unfortunately, I can’t. That’s because I do worry and I do wonder how a total breakdown of our way of life will affect not just myself and my loved ones, but anyone who must, for whatever reason, rely heavily on the “system” to sustain their lives. It is likely that in a WORL (Without the Rule of Law) level event those of us who are compromised will be the first to go. The strong live. The weak… Anyway, if it comes down to it and we are completely out of options, I for one will not have those I love, or anyone for that matter, putting their lives in jeopardy to save me when my poor health makes me a liability anyway. I am NOT being noble I am just being practical. I will gladly trust in my God and in His will. “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” Phi 1:21
As for worrying about such things, I am blessed with a wonderful, deep relationship with our lord Jesus Christ. I can feel the presence of His Holy Spirit and have experienced many wonderful miracles from great to small. Despite that, I must be honest: There are times when I agonize over the future. Despite the gloomy outlook for our country, the issues that often cause me the most anxiety tend to be the more mundane things such as our finances or the progression of my disease, or things happening in our children’s lives and what their futures might be. I worry about the toll my health takes on my family – things like that. When the cares of living day to day merge with the ever present threat of the collapse of our way of life I can’t help it if, at times, I find myself torn by anxiety despite my faith. This is why I believe it is so important for myself and all Christians to remain rooted in the word of God, consistent in Prayer and to have fellowship with Godly people. We are all human. We all experience weakness, doubts, fear. Even the apostle Paul felt fear, despair and anxiety2Cor1:8. Indeed, his health was afflicted by an unknown scourge that challenged him for the rest of his life2Cor12:7. Timothy suffered from a nervous stomach among other things1Tim5:23. If those great men of God were susceptible to such things, who am I or anyone else to think that we are above things such as worry, anxiety or depression.

It is how we deal with these issues that matters and it can make all the difference!

It is common in those new to the Christian Faith to have doubts, to experience anxiety. They have entered an entirely new world as a brand new being. Young Christians need mentoring - discipleship. They need to be shown how to open up to God in prayer about their cares and concerns, learn to cast them upon the Lord1Pet5:7. They need to know they are not alone in feeling these things and it does not make them any less a Christian because they experience occasional feelings of worry and doubt. Even mature Christians who have faced many trials need the support of others in facing what life can throw at us. In fact, it is when one neglects taking their cares to the Lord that problems occur. Satan is just waiting to pounce on anyone who is vulnerable and if you do not have the divine power of the Lord supporting you during your trials the devil can lead you to places where your faith will be sorely tested and, God forbid, you may be dangerously set back in your walk with Christ or worse.1Pet5:8

If you have been a Believer for some time then it is likely you will have faced at least one major challenge to your faith. I can describe such a time from my own personal experience: Some time ago I was going through a particularly nasty exacerbation of my illness. At the same time a critical family issue was coming to a head and was weighing very heavily on my heart. I was depressed and anxious, not sleeping and very vulnerable. Illness, anxiety and fatigue compounded to disrupt the time I would customarily spend with the Lord. Then our family experienced a horrible tragedy.  With my eyes already off of Christ I dispensed with prayer and forged ahead without His counsel or seeking His support. I foolishly tried to deal with increasing attacks of anxiety, worry and insomnia alone. I became strangely embarrassed to bring up these attacks before my peers, people who I normally would not hesitate to share anything with. I told myself that I didn’t want to burden my family or friends. Working spiritually alone I became vulnerable to Satan’s manipulations, his accusations; that I was unfit to call myself a follower of Christ, that I was a burden and a failure as a husband and a father as the head of the household. As a result I began to question my faith, my beliefs, even whether I was truly saved? It was surprising how quickly, once I had taken my eyes off Jesus, things began to spiral out of control. The increasing stress was accelerating the exacerbation of my illness. Anxiety and worry led to nightmares and insomnia. I was falling apart and had no idea. Despite all this I was determined to continue looking to my own devices to deal with matters. Bad, bad choice.

Satan is just waiting for just those moments of weakness and perceived abandonment to separate us from the Lord. (He cannot truly separate a believer from Christ but he can manipulate us into thinking God has abandoned us or he can lead us down a path that takes us away from God rather than back to Him. If one goes too far they will wind up wallowing in sin, far from God, their testimony stifled, lives ruined.)

Fortunately Jesus has promised never to leave or forsake those who love HimHeb13:5. We are also assured that ALL things work to good for those who Love GodRom8:28. No matter how bad things might seem God is always in control. He is SovereignDan4:17. Satan, though he would like us to think he is all powerful, can only do so much as God will allowJob1:10-12. The Lord allowed my crisis to go on for a sufficient time for me to be completely at my wit’s end – and then, realizing that I was totally unable to do anything without my Heavenly Father, I just surrendered to Him completely. I quit trying to figure things out. I quit striving for things I thought needed to be done, I quit telling God what I thought I needed and I just followed my Savior’s example and asked God that His will, not mine, not anyone else’s - but HIS will be done Mat26:39.

As if that was what He was waiting for, the Lord intervened in an awesome way, showing me that the crisis I was going through had nothing to do with a lack of faith or belief on my part. It had nothing to do with me at all. Surprise! Not everything is about me. We were all going through this terrible time together. We were all struggling. MY ‘crisis’ was the result of a number of things. First, thinking it was all somehow about me and allowing myself to think that God was mad at me or had for some reason abandoned me. Second, I allowed that thinking to turn a trial into a spiritual crisis and Third, I allowed myself to be manipulated into going it alone. The truth is the spiritual crisis I went through was entirely based on overlooking the basic fact that sets Christianity apart from all other world religions: I could never be separated from God’s loveRom8:38-39 because I certainly didn’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. In fact, there was nothing I could ever do to earn God’s love. Every act, every good work, every sacrifice – outside of Jesus Christ, they were all just filthy ragsIsa64:6. God loved me just because He chose to.

JESUS was the answer to my crisis. JESUS did what I could never do. And through my faith, love, devotion and submission to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior I need never worry about whether God loved me, whether I was saved or anything elseJoh3:16. Somewhere along the way that simple message had become muddled and somehow I had lost sight of that simple but essential truth. I had begun to think I needed works, to do things, to be right with God. He corrected that errant thought when He spoke quite clearly, quite distinctly to my heart that night as I agonized over my complete inadequacy as a Christian, as a father, as a husband. “Only Jesus.” Two words was all He said. But the meaning of those two words was crystal clear! My heart jumped for joy as the Spirit-borne understanding flooded my mind, filled my heart and set me to tingling from head to toe as I embraced that simple, life changing truth: That it is through our simple Faith in Jesus Christ that we are extended the free gift of God’s great and all-encompassing grace. It is not through works. It is not through ritual or ceremony. It is a gift of love requiring no more than believing and askingRom10:9. In joy and relief and gladness and thanksgiving I tearfully praised the name of the Lord until I finally fell asleep exhausted and slept better than I had slept in a long, long time.

Sometimes we need these trials so that we can have life changing, faith building experiences like that. It seems ridiculous that I could lose sight of such an essential part of our faith, yet that goes to show that when, for whatever reason, we lose our focus on Jesus, neglect our Bible time and Prayer time and forego Fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, how easy it is for Satan to lead us into all kinds of bad places. I am sure it was to Satan’s chagrin that my faith was made even stronger by going through that period of anxiety and self-doubt. To this day, when I am having a low day or things are not going well in some area of my life I reflect on that particular intervention into my life by my beloved Lord and Savior and it always lifts my heart and strengthens my spirit. It has been forged into the Shield of FaithEph6:13-17 I carry.

So, when I am asked about whether I worry I say, “Sure, I do.” “But,” I tell them, “I know that it is at those times I have to be extra diligent about the time I spend with the Lord and to be sure to cast all my cares onto the Lord.”

Despite all this I can’t help it if I feel bad about how much I do worry because I know The Lord doesn’t want us to worry about anything. It is an area in my walk with the Lord that I may always have to work on. I try to keep the words of Jesus in mind as He admonishes us that no one gains a thing by worrying and I believe we should be diligent in trying to follow our Lord’s words on the matter:

Mat 6:31-34  "So don't ever worry by saying, 'What are we going to eat?' or 'What are we going to drink?' or 'What are we going to wear? 'because it is the gentiles who are eager for all those things. Surely your heavenly Father knows that you need all of them!

But first be concerned about God's kingdom and his righteousness, and all of these things will be provided for you as well. So never worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Even in the midst of a Hurricane, there is peace and calm in the eye – God is the eye in the Hurricane of life and it is in Him that we can find peace no matter what our situation.

That said, there is one last issue I think needs addressing. That issue is folks with Chronic or Clinical Anxiety and/or depression. These are real medical issues that have nothing to do with weakness of character nor do they result from a lack of faith. Those who suffer from Clinical Depression and/or Anxiety truly suffer from a curse. It is an affliction that has nothing to do with their mental or emotional strength. In these cases it is the Chemistry of the brain that is the cause, not a lack of faith, drama or hysterics. Just as I cannot control my muscles when they twitch, stiffen or cramp those who suffer from Chronic Anxiety/Depression cannot control their body’s response to aberrant chemistry in their brain. This is an important point because I have heard Pastors who I truly love and respect speak very harshly about those who resort to taking medications for depression/anxiety as if it was a sign their faith was somehow insufficient, even insinuating that their belief in God was lacking.

Let me say this: I have been a born again, Christ loving believer for thirty years. I have been through trials and testing, stormy seas and tribulations. I have faced illness and disability and all that follows such calamities. I have seen depression. I have experienced the terror of anxiety attacks. I have spent nights praying, begging for relief. The Lord led me, through my physician, to medications which greatly eased my suffering. By relieving my symptoms I was able to think clearly. During the course of treatment I clung to God’s word and prayer and was greatly comforted. This had not been possible before in part due to the flood of chemicals in my brain making it extremely difficult to think coherently. It was a terrible and terrifying period for me. Thanks to The Lord’s immense Grace, and to my great relief, I have not had another anxiety attack but I certainly have an appreciation for the medications used to treat anxiety and depression.

We know that there were many medications used during Biblical times. Isaiah was told by the Lord to have a poultice applied to King Hezekiah’s boilIsa38:21 giving him another fifteen years of life. Paul advised Timothy to take a little wine for his nervous stomach and other ailments1Tim5:23. To think that somehow we have a different standard than those who have gone before us is at best just wrong, at its worst, its plain arrogant.

I know that Pastors who stand against the use of these medications do so out of love and concern for their flock. They see the trend in our culture to throw pills at every problem. And this has indeed led to a critical problem for our society today as a large number of regular people, even young children, are addicted to legally prescribed and obtained medications. I agree with those in the Christian community who urge caution in turning to anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. There are side effects that must be monitored and, if taken for long periods or if abused, these medications can become a curse instead of a cure as many of them are highly addictive. So, while I support the use of these medications in the case of those who need them I do so with this caveat: Do so only under the care of a qualified physician, one who has a solid knowledge of these illnesses and the medications used to treat them and who, God willing, is a Christian. I would suggest starting at your church. If you are uncomfortable seeing a Doctor from church then there are internet sites that specialize in providing patients with information on the physicians in their area though I strongly suggest avoiding sites that “rate” physicians. You may just try the yellow pages. In my mid-sized town there are several physicians who note they are Christians. Once you find a physician, share your concerns and your desire that the course of treatment last no longer than necessary. Be aware that it is common for the treatment of these illnesses to take several months depending on your body and your brain chemistry.

Once your symptoms are managed and your thoughts are clear I would encourage you to focus on prayer, bible study and fellowship. Many churches have small group studies for those with chronic illnesses. These can be very helpful. With your illness managed you should find you have a brand new outlook on life. Share that with the Lord and don’t forget to thank Him for the doctors and medication that He, in His infinite wisdom, has provided for us and be sure to share your testimony with your friends, family and those you fellowship with. They may know someone going through the same thing or they may be doing so themselves. You never know who God will use you and your “affliction” to touch.

Lastly, God is with us no matter what kind of storm we are in. Often our flesh, the world and the enemy conspire to convince us this isn’t true – but it most definitely is true! When the chemistry in your own mind, for whatever reason, is abnormal it can get in the way of that connection with Jesus that you have had since receiving Him as your Savior and Lord. You may begin to feel lost and alone – even in a crowd of friends and family. If you are experiencing these feelings seek the support of those you love and even if you’re not feeling the closeness of the Lord KNOW that HE is there no matter what and stay in prayer and read your Bible and please do not be afraid to seek medical help. It does not mean you are any less in the eyes of your loving God.

If you know someone going through something like this give them your love and support. Help them to seek medical help as well as spiritual help. These are very dangerous illnesses and those suffering from them need love and support not judgmental hyperbole.

May God be with you all my brothers and sisters.

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:
The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

Numbers 6:24-26

Mark

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