On Silencing Myself


But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.  — Jeremiah 20:9

For days now I have been nursing wounds that feel as new today with each intake of breath, as they have been heavy all these years of living.  Each breath that keeps me alive hurts.  The ache and injury that I have carried for as long as I recall tell me that I am overdue for spiritual healing.   The stones in my heart both compel me and keep me humbled.  But I have allowed them to overpower me and shut me up.

And this limits my service, my usefulness to God.  I have allowed my brokenness to become a crutch.  Ironically, though I want him to I don’t think God will ever take this away completely, the very things that make me who I am. But He may, I hope and pray heal me to a point of being useful.  That is all I ask really to be useful to Him.

I have developed a small following here, a few hundred reading off and on, from time to time.  The more people that follow my words, it becomes a burden, opportunity and responsibility all intertwined.  I am so conscious of all that I have developed, a voice, emerging to be sure but still a voice.   That is one reason why I believe I need biblical studies, because I am all too aware of my own ignorance. And I am becoming aware of the fact that people listen to me.

And this is what I told my friend, and pastor, as I met with her recently.  As she spoke to me of my talents as a writer and encouraged me to take it more seriously, even work to develop my voice and audience, I felt inept, inadequate.  I know my own level of  ignorance biblical and otherwise!   Was it a coincidence that her words echoed with what another important person in my life had said to me only a few hours earlier?  The person that knows me best and in whom I trust the most is my husband.

They say I am to write. 

For a long time I have been asking God what I should do with this obvious ability to put words together in a compelling way.  Coupled with the desire he has given me to care for others, my unusual inquisitiveness and naturally challenging mind, a constantly questioning spirit, and eyes that see injustice all around me.  Compound that with the extra burden of a heart that is utterly broken by the ancient pain and silencing of women in the church.  Why does he break my heart so relentlessly over women who are stifled and smothered, yes silenced in the church? These are the things that others have been affirming in me and I have been asking God what He would possibly have me do with it?  I believe that if we are to live authentically as Christians we are to live by doing justice. (See Micah 6:8) I believe all Christians are to serve the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien which  was also one of Jesus’ more frequent and strongly worded commands (see Matthew 25:31-46 )  So how does all of this fit with how I am gifted by God?      

Before Christmas.

As I mentioned, I met briefly with a pastor from my church.  This person is also my life group leader.  We have many things in common.  We hadn’t met alone for many years and I found myself worrying about whether she met with me as a person in her flock or as a friend.  I felt confused as we talked because, as much as I longed for our friendship to be mutual, I was suffering.

(((Here is where I confess that I am a very controlling person, overly proud and always over thinking and managing my image and reputation before others.  That is why this blog is essential to my desire to be an honest person.  As a recovering alcoholic, I struggle to be truthful.  Addicts are liars, to themselves and to those they love.  And I don’t want to be a liar. )))

I did not want to tell her how badly I have been doing nor confess that I was in the pit of depression.  It felt extremely weak, even threatening to my reputation (for whatever it is worth) at my church.  If I was ever to be accepted into the cadre of leaders at my church, to admit that the state of my self-esteem was lower than it had been in years, was excruciating!  This weakness was unacceptable.  To confess the bleary, bleak thoughts I have been consumed with for months was painful.  I needed a friend, but to share with her my state of mind, my fears and self-doubts, and my anger was almost impossible

It was embarrassingly awkward to admit that I was so low, that things had become so bewildering, and that I had actually sat in church two weeks earlier believing that my life was not worth living because I had nothing to offer God.

But somehow I did tell her. As she calmly listened and said that I must have been under spiritual attack (being that the suicidal thoughts occurred in church) I felt such relief, yes a spiritual attack was very likely!  And although thankfully that fog has lifted a bit, I think that I have continued to be under attack in the weeks since, at my core, in the place where I feel the most unloved and unlovable.    Depression is isolating.  You hear lies shaking about in your head that are ludicrous and yet wholly believable in the moment.  These things, which I know are not from God, have hurt so much.  And it has taken everything to not fall prey to the misery, and the pain of rejection and to most of all not fall prey to accepting the evil thoughts as truth.

I have felt in the last two months like the evil one is trying to destroy me via my mind, and my heart, and is trying to crush my soul that I may succumb to some madness but I am clinging to what I know.   He who is within me is a greater than he who is in the world.  

So this is my confession to you, those that read my blog both friends and strangers. I am hurting.  Though I am profoundly weak, I know He is strong.  

I don’t know what the future holds.  I cannot say.  I cannot see anything clearly.  All I know for a fact is that I am inadequate.  I don’t know how I am to be used, to be useful.  I feel inadequate to be a voice for anyone.  I feel inadequate to write about much of anything.

And because of it my human impulse is to be silent, to silence myself.   I have so many good excuses for silencing myself …  That I don’t know enough.  That I don’t have the training.  That I don’t have the knowledge and experience.  That for a long time I have been at home and not actively working.  That I am no longer actively serving in ministry. That I struggle with depression and all that goes with it.  That I am broken.  That some days, just breathing hurts.

Would you pray for me?  That I would somehow know the real Truth and listen well.  And, that I would know when to speak out and when I should be silent.  And more than anything that I would become stronger in Him.  This is the irony, the tension of being broken and still being useful, about feeling unloved and yet being totally loved by God.

Pray with me that this blog, which has become a place of responsibility and opportunity, would honor God.   Would you pray with me that I would know how I am to use it this year — for good, for healing, for teaching and most of all for blessing others? And if he was going to do a work of healing in my life, now would be a good time! And as I actively pursue other writing avenues and even perhaps further education, that I would remain steadfast in Him.  

I hope your new year begins and ends in Him.

No, Not Seven.

“… forgive, from your heart.” Matthew 18:35

So often, when I think of my parents, I know that I need to forgive.

Truth be told I am afraid, even though I know that letting go of the past is the only way to move forward.  But I fear the unknown of living looking forwarda life of trusting, giving, loving, even hoping.  You see, most of the residual anger, I think, is simply a sense of disbelief that a mother and father could do that.

To say that we lived in constant fear is an unfair exaggeration.  But we were scared all the time (of my Father.)  What did Mother do, you may wonder?  What is she doing now?  My mother detached. And continues to be isolated and aloof from me eight years after my Father’s death. And though she “loved us very much” she let him rage on, and on. And he still has the power, even in death.

She let him rage on and became a passive perpetrator of his crimes.  And to a child growing up in his home, my Father was highly irrational, often cruel, hopelessly aggressive, and in a constant state of potential irritation; to the point that when I was in my early twenties and head over heals in love I found myself saying of the boy in question: “Treat me well. Or treat me poorly. I don’t care. Just be consistent.”

It is far too easy to wander from the point which is my inability to forgive. 

Perhaps it is because I cannot fully embrace the forgiveness I have received–just when I think that I do get it. Do I fully appreciate the mercy and grace in my life — there is no way that I can say I do — with lack of forgiveness in my heart.

I face my lack daily. But even amidst the doubt, questions and distrust (of God and people) I must remember that I am forgiven and because of that I want to know Jesus more. Jesus says, forgive as you have been forgiven.

In the movie Helen of Troy, Agamemnon the commander of the Greeks killed his own daughter to appease the gods.  My step-daughter who is agnostic and I were discussing sacrificing your life for another. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his child. Jesus.  Questioningly, she said, “Doesn’t it take away from what Jesus did that he knew he would end up in heaven with God?”  How revealing that statement is.

Would you give up your life for another even if you knew it would end well?  Would you forgive?  In the parable of the unmerciful servant in Mt 18, Jesus challenges this very thing that I am understanding about myself–my inability to forgive and give up my “rights,” the power of my anger toward my parents and Jesus says, “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven…” (Matthew 18)

Henri Nouwen reminds us that Jesus’ primary concern was obedience to his Father, to live constantly in his presence.  “Only then did it become clear to him what his task was in his relationships with people.” 

It is clear to me.  I need to seek to forgive.  I may not know how, but I know that I must move toward it by seeking the presence of God.

And a life of

trust, love and even hope will come.


Being Merciful with Ourselves

Snow days are good.

Slow down.

Seek some silence.

We need silence in our lives. We even desire it.  But when we enter into silence we encounter a lot of inner noises, often so disturbing that a busy and distracting life seems preferable to a time of silence. Two disturbing “noises” present themselves quickly in our silence: the noise of lust and the noise of anger. Lust reveals our many unsatisfied needs, anger or many unresolved relationships. But lust and anger are very hard to face.

What are we to do? Jesus says, “Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). Sacrifice here means “offering up,” “cutting out,” “burning away,” or “killing.” We shouldn’t do that with our lust and anger. It simply won’t work. But we can be merciful toward our own noisy selves and turn these enemies into friends.

[from Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen.]

What are the inner noises that disturb you?

We must learn the meaning of mercy and extend it to our own noisy hearts.

 

Snow from 2006

My Head and My Heart Ache

Conscience, Judas
Image via Wikipedia

I woke up “in a state.”  I cannot shake the foreboding I feel.  It conjures up thoughts of very bleak times in my life.

But I start my day just like any other by popping out of bed, drinking strong coffee, sitting and opening my heart to the day.

Days like this I cannot run from or even slip out from under out of timidity, no matter how hard I try.  The gloominess sticks to me.  That is until I figure out what’s bothering me.  I’ve learned, if I don’t slow down and pay attention to it, this mood will pitch a tent inside me, lurking there for as long as it takes.  Eventually plundering my heart and mind.  And if I’m not careful, my soul.

Shivering from the fear of it, I cede to the fact that I must not ignore it so some things won’t get done today.  I resolve not to be overcome by the anxious ideas or allow my heart to be looted by what I cannot tease out.  My thoughts like are tangled and knotted up in such a way that the only result is my head and heart ache.  Jumbled thoughts, but some along these lines …

  • Why must women work so hard for less money than their male counterparts?

  • Why is the Church the most subtly bigoted place I go to in my entire week?

  • Why are so many Christian marriages “women as modern-day maids serving ‘grown up’ boys.”

  • Why don’t more women question these things and speak up.

  • Why do I get hurt by the subtle ways of discrimination in our culture that don’t change: the old boys club that excludes women historically from the organizations, clubs, pulpits, schools, boards, Presidential jobs of institutions, rock and roll bands, television, important movie roles, and so on?

  • Why is it so hard just to be equals? And why do women accept it?  Why is this still true?

I’m not hurt for myself, but I feel a deep empathy for these women.  And for our daughters who are growing up in this world.

The suffragists managed to vocalize their concerns and in time changed things.  And yet, even as I write this things stay the same.  In doing research for his review of the movie Made in Deganham, about the women strikers against Ford UK, Roger Ebert wanted to find out when equal pay for equal work first became the law in the United States.

“I didn’t discover what I expected. Only two weeks ago, a Republican filibuster in the U. S. Senate prevented passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have added teeth to measures for equal pay…”  Here’s his full article.

Yeah, you read that right less than a month ago.

Why do I lose sleep, live with heartache, and write about this.  Because it matters, to me.

Jesus

I have read a book recently that parallels the words and work of Jesus through the Gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  His spiritual journey, guiding the three, twelve, the 70 and all the people he met.  Many many things have struck me, but here’s something stunning that’s relevant here.

There is a story that is found in all four books.  That makes it striking right off.  Simon the Leper and the Woman found in Matthew 26.6-16, Mark 14.3-10, Luke 7.36-50 and John 12.1-8.

In these stories these things are true: A woman (unnamed in three books or called a “sinner” and Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus in the book of John.) used very expensive, perfumed oil, called Spikenard, to wash Jesus’ feet.  She wept on his feet, knowing that he was to die.  She was anointing his body for burial.  The men in the room disregarded her (and her importance) saying she should have sold the oil for money and give it to the poor.  Jesus said, not only did you NOT wash my feet when I came, or honor me treating me with any sort of revere, but you also do not know who this woman is.  She will be remembered he said.  Because they were calling her “sinner” and implying bad things about her, in one account he even tells a story of the creditor with two debtors, one for 500 and one for 150.  He forgave them both equally.    And then, in all except Luke) Judas betrays Jesus.  Yeah, right then and there.

Jesus promised the woman a place in history for she has done the thing that called out to be done if one is attentive, ready and attentive.

All I can do is highlight the thing that stands out to me.

The nameless woman heard of Jesus somewhere, and believed that Jesus was the son of God and would soon die.  She came to honor him.  She wept over his upcoming death, anointed his body in an action of believing faith after which Jesus said she was forgiven.

The Disciples saw her come in and wanted to throw her out.  Pointed out what a terrible choice she made.  Scolded.

Judas rather, one of the twelve disciples who learned from the Rabbi for years, betrayed him for a few coins not believing.  Not learning — seemingly — anything.

I do wonder, if women were at the table with the twelve, oh wait she was there.  Not “welcomed” at the table with them as a guest, but … If women were in the discussion, affirmed and given similar choices and opportunities to men, how would the world be different?  How would I be different?  And you?

I believe it is women who have been most betrayed in this life.  As over and over again in our society message are sent that diminish and demean.   I believe that Jesus has a different message for women.  It’s just that men (some, not all of course) just don’t see and hear the truth of Jesus message to the Church about how men and women relate.

More to come.

————————————————————-

Reading Jesus: A Writer’s Encounter with the Gospels, Mary Gordon, Pantheon Books, NY, 2009.

I am Not Ashamed

 

 

 

At the end before I quit completely, I was a messy drunk because by then I had to drink a lot to be messed up.   More than I want to admit I had occasions of being a mess, stumbling to bed.  And many, many Sundays I sat through church with the world’s worst hangover.  My faith was shot.

I don’t really know why I was in church, except that I was still keening inside for God to help me.  I am glad I was there, in the end.  Thankful!

Those days were vile, don’t misunderstand.  But I do not feel ashamed.  I’ll tell you why in a minute.  Anyone who regularly reads my blog also knows I also suffer from major depression and that too wrecked my life.  You’re basically non-functioning when it is at its worst.

But I’m talking about why I am not ashamed of suffering from depression or of being a recovering alcoholic.

Why should I be ashamed?

I recently told a group of new friends (They are perhaps more like close acquaintances that I believe will become friends eventually) about my years of depression.  I told them quite matter-of-fact, asking for prayer for the process of slowly stepping down from the anti-depressant I take.  Afterwords, one of them came up to me and whispered out of the side of their mouth, full of embarrassment and clearly full of fear, “I struggle with depression too!”

In that moment I saw how frightening and risky it was for them to tell me.  And I realized all of a sudden that I did not feel that self-consciousness or shame.  I quite accept my lot in life.   Should I feel ashamed?  Am I supposed to be, because I’m a Christ-follower, perfect? I think too often people feel that same reticence.  They fear judgment.

This is the real deal.  Life is not perfect.  Life is what happens when you’re making other plans right?  I don’t know who said that?  But don’t get me wrong, I have not always felt this way — free and unashamed.

I have been there — Where I could not say these words in one sentence: I– am– an– alcoholic.  That four-word sentence took me five years to say out loud and two more to another human being. (Yes, I talk to myself.)  And now that I have, I am not going back to live in that shame.  So, no I don’t look at the person who shared with me in any judgmental way.  I understand the fear.

It took me almost two months to admit to anyone, including Tom for five weeks, that I was depressed.  There is an incredible bias or self-conscious reluctance (for Christians especially) to admit to the illness of depression.  I run into people all the time.  Well forget it.  I am not ashamed.

I’ve talked a lot here about alcoholism and family history.  Depression runs in families too.  Both of these things are simply my Thing.  My challenge.  My opportunity.  Other people have other Things.

As a Christian, what I hope people will hear the WOW in my storythe thing is that God is healing me! Yes, that is what I said.  That is what I believe.  There’s a psychological aspect to getting past/through/beyond these things, of course.  Doctors have played an important part.  Medication.  Finding balance.   But it came down to believing this simple statement:

You are the one Jesus loves.

My father sent me a postcard with this written on it, when I had the first episode of major depression eight years ago.  It was framed when I got it and clearly very important to him.  He had taken it right off his desk, stuck it in a padded envelope, wrote on a post-it that he loved me, and mailed it off to me.  The glass didn’t survive the journey, but the postcard did.  And over the years that statement has stayed with me.

When I read that day that “You are the one Jesus loves” I recoiled.  My stomach lurched.  Because, at that time in my life, I did not believe in the claims of Jesus I don’t think. I believed in the historical figure and in most of what the Bible said.  But, as for Jesus, the human and the son of God, who gave up life in a gruesome way FOR ME, well, I did not believe it.  I never believed I was loved growing up.  Not by God, not by my parents.  And definitely I hated myself.

So the healing that came in discovering how much Jesus actually loved me, well … as you can imagine that changed me.  Changed my life.  Changed my belief system.  Changed how I interacted with and treated others.  Changed my priorities.

I am a different person.

I not only like myself, but today I believe I am loveable.  I guess psychiatrists would say that my “self-esteem” is stronger.  Yay!  It’s true.  No wonder my mood is better.  But in all seriousness, knowing — believing — that Jesus would have given his life for me, and me alone, only me, well, that’s incredible!

[This wasn’t one of those miracles that happened quickly.  It took lot a of Bible study, times of prayer, listening to and working hard with my Shrink, giving up shit (drinking, smoking, being mean to people, compulsive spending, obsessive self-centeredness, … still working on perfectionism and a lot of other things.)

What I mean to say is this process took years. Deep times in the word of God (ie. Bible).  Time with friends in long conversations.  Opening my heart to love from others – especially Tom.]

So, no I am not ashamed of my ills, damn it! (Yeah, Tom thinks I should give up cussing for Jesus too.  It’s the last cheap drug to go aside from caffeine.)

You see, all of these thing they are a “weakness” of a sort that humble me and help me stay connected to the true source of everything.  And for that, I am oh — so — grateful!

Do you ever wonder why we are here?

The Grim Reaper
Image by Helico via Flickr

So, Tom has been experiencing some strange pains in his neck and face — odd twitches and discomforts.  It has gone on  for a long enough period of time that he jokingly calls it his tumor.  But the truth is he is afraid.  We joke about it, then we get serious and a little scared, and then we forget it about it again for a while, until something in that same region hurts and then it starts all over again.  But the truth is …

… every person has to accept that one day they will die.

Even this week Tom was having little shooting pains on the “tumor” side of his face as he was preparing to leave for a trip.  Last night he said to me that we should “up his life insurance policy.”  WTF? I do not like when he talks like that.  But it shows the extent to which he is worried.  Me being me, I said:  “If the life insurance policy isn’t high enough then let’s get that fixed!”   I tend to kick into Problem Solver when the topic is too difficult.  Of course we’ve also had the “Call the doctor if you are so worried” conversation many times.  And he has an appointment for when he gets back.

Most people, including Tom and I, live like we have another fifty years at least.  It could be tomorrow that the grim reaper comes.  We don’t know.   And that got me thinking.

What do we hope people will remember about our life?  What legacy will you leave?

I just had an interesting conversation with a 22-year-old about identity, self-esteem, and  why we are here (on the planet.)  I mostly listened to the angst.  (Sometimes it is so nice to be 44. I would not go back to my twenties, no never.)

But it was hard to restrain myself from suggesting that the  hipster clothes, beauty or good looks, fitness, higher degrees, “significant” job and especially, the idealistic ideas debated with friends late at night over cigarettes and coffee — none of that matters ultimately if you hate yourself

And, even if you are able to find a look that’s “you” and get through college and get the coolest job of your dreams, even if you accomplish it all — you will still be — you.  You cannot imagine that when you’re young.  But it is so true.  All that stuff is empty unless you are grounded in something.

I think what matters is this:

Do we love?  Do we (actually and genuinely) care about others?  I believe it is how we treat people, no matter who it is, that is the final measure of a person.  By offering back to others the dignity of love and acceptance, well in my opinion that is a life well spent.  Bertrand Russel said “To a modern mind, it is difficult to feel enthusiastic about a virtuous life if nothing is going to be achieved by it.”  I understand thinking like that but I completely disagree.

It was Gandhi, the great activist and spiritual leader who said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This makes me so sad.

This is what keeps my young friend away from faith of any kind: Religion. Religious people. Christians.

And yet, the Jesus I know said you should love God with everything in your heart, soul and mind AND you should love others as yourself.

He said others will know we’re followers of Jesus by our love.

He said if you have an enemy you should do good for them or to them — expecting nothing in return.

Sadly, this is not what my young friend sees in the lives of what she calls “religious” people. I asked her rather to look at the life of Jesus himself, his teachings in the Bible and to decide for herself.

Be well friends.