The fog of depression

In the area where I grew up winter brings freezing fogs so thick that someone across the street appears as just a blurry shape and everything becomes coated in frost. These fogs and associated hoar frost can last for six weeks. Six long weeks of below-freezing temperatures and not seeing the sun or blue sky. Yet if you get out from under the inversion layer and up above the fog, there are beautiful calm sunny days completely removed from the misery down below the cloud.

Depression is like this fog. It oppresses me and cuts me off from joy. Life becomes a struggle, things that are usually easy and enjoyable to me (such as being alone) can become as treacherous as driving on ice. My world shrinks dramatically and I am numbed, insulated and isolated from society. Just as the hoar frost’s cold seeps in and chills my body, so depression seeps into my soul and chills my heart, a smothering fog which descends upon me and isolates me from my emotions and from other people.

Like the fog, depression is real. It is also deceptive. It feels like I am cut off from the world when in fact there is something smothering me, blanketing my heart with a gloom not its own. At such times hope is elusive, joy is a fading memory and not only is there no visible way out but it also seems impossible to know what direction to start searching in for it.

The way ‘out’ of depression is different for each person, but at least I do know what direction to begin seeking for it – up. Even in darkness and fog I can figure out which way is up. Even in deep depression I can call out to Jesus. Often all I can manage is, “Jesus help me!” That is enough.  No matter how distant I may feel from God, He is still there, still knows me better than I know myself, is still all-powerful. Something has shrouded me and cut me off from consistently seeking or knowing Him. Peter, James and John were standing right beside Jesus but were still afraid as they entered the cloud (Luke 9:34). Yet even if all I am grasping is the conviction that God is good, I can at least cry out to Him for help.

listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
(Psalm 61:1-2 ESV)

I do literally live at the ends of the earth with respect to the geographic region where this psalm was written, and when my heart is faint is when I am most desperate for God to hear my cry because I don’t have the strength to offer sophisticated long prayers. Then sometimes I just keep on crying out to God for help because I am so desperate. I consider this to be a better situation for my soul, though it never feels ‘better’ at the time:

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
(Psalm 69:1-3 ESV)

The odd/infuriating/depressing/ironic thing about the Central Otago fogs that cause hoar frosts is that they form in clear, sunny calm weather (i.e., cold but beautiful weather), and depression can be like this too – life can be going really well yet the fog descends and I feel depressed when there is no obvious cause to feel that way. There are no easy answers, each time it happens I respond slightly differently. Maybe I’m learning better coping mechanisms, maybe I’m just running out of options, maybe I am actually growing in Christian maturity? Certainly I do not consider it an option to give in to depression and crawl into a hole, despite very much wanting to at times.

Update (25 February 2011) I just found this post called Limited Visibility from Glitzen Girl about this same topic.

Tragedy

I don’t know what to say, all I know is that we should be praying for the families affected by this tragic news and ask God to shine light and hope in our nation.

‘Darkest hour’: 29 miners dead at Pike River

I am amazed at the integrity and compassion of Pike River Coal CEO Peter Whittall, he clearly cares deeply for the men who have lost their lives and it took a courageous man to deliver the news he gave this afternoon to families anticipating news of hope.

Fear

I occasionally experience panic attacks. Basically this is when the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in without any external stimulus. Symptoms of a panic attack include dizziness, a sense of ‘depersonalization’ and intense fear of dying. This was a bit problematic when I recently had a panic attack while walking home beside State Highway 88 as 40 tonne trucks rumbled past less than a metre from my left elbow.

As turbulence from each truck whipped at my face and chains from logging trucks swung clanging past me, I felt myself teetering while the thundering menaces swept toward me. If I staggered into the path of one of those behemoths I’d be killed, so I walked with my right hand running along the fence ready to restrain my errant feet and tremulous knees. Was I suicidal? Was I going mad? Was Satan attempting to throw me to my death using my own legs to do so? Would I make it home?

Fear overwhelmed me. Regardless of why I felt like this, the thousand or so steps it would take me to get home were becoming an increasingly intimidating task. My thoughts were not coherent enough to remember God’s promises or even pray properly. All I could manage was to recite over and over again: “He will never leave you or forsake you” and, “nothing can snatch you out of His hand.” Were these even in the Bible, or was I just making it up? At least I did know that neither death nor life can separate me from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39). Whether I had remembered chapter and verse or had it word perfect was irrelevant for that long 30 minutes, I had to keep walking, the trucks would keep coming and I needed to know that I was not about to stumble in front of one of them. I was clinging to God, placing my hope of getting home even in Him, not in my tenuous ability to remember Bible verses (though I have resolved to put more effort into that discipline!).

In the face of an uncertain future it was trusting Christ that got me through – I needed Him to steady my body and strengthen my heart to get me through that experience. Now as I look back a week later it almost seems as though my description above is rather melodramatic but honestly, that really is how it felt at the time and though I suspected even then that it was a panic attack, it was certainly not logic and a correct diagnosis that got me home, it was trusting in Christ. If I had not been able to know with absolute certainty that Jesus was holding me firmly I do wonder if I may have lost the plot completely?

“It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
(Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV)

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
(John 10:27-30 ESV)

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
(Isaiah 30:15 ESV)

Life is more than…

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25 ESV)

I’m guessing that Jesus would look quizzically at me as though I’m a bit dense and somewhat simple for asking the following question, but here it is anyway: If life is more than food, and the body more than clothing, then what is the ‘more’ that is so important?

Maybe to people living in first century Palestine it was obvious, but to us living in cultures obsessed with materialistic consumerism we are in fact cultivated to consider having stuff and comfort as the full meaning of life. We define ourselves by the clothes we wear, the stuff we own, what we fill our supermarket trolleys with, our waistlines and our earning ability. In our culture the idyllic life is portrayed as being healthy, having endless money to spend while not needing to work and having a beautiful house with a fancy car in a gorgeous location. There are certainly variations on the theme, but overall if you take away food and clothing – and by extension all the other stuff too if I’m that deprived – what is there to live for?

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
(Matthew 6:25 ESV)

Put me in a situation where I have only the absolute minimum, most bland food required to sustain life and only rags to cover myself – what is worth living for? I think this is the most important question we could ask. At the core, what is the point of being alive?

Jesus talks about something more valuable than life even – your soul (Matthew 16:26). It is horrific to consider, but there is a possibility of losing your soul (Matthew 10:28). That is the absolutely worst thing that could happen to anyone, so Jesus tells us how to safeguard against losing your soul:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
(Matthew 16:25 ESV)

Could He put a higher price on it? Your life? In fact there is a higher price and He paid it – His life! If you embrace this then you can say with Paul:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:21 ESV)

It is good for me to have a stark reminder of what is important and what isn’t. There are many things that I elevate too highly in importance at various times, I need to remember that life is more than…

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Wife
  • Children
  • Money
  • Job satisfaction
  • Sex
  • A house
  • A car
  • Computers
  • My blog

What do you elevate too highly and endanger your soul for?

Be thankful to be strong

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17 ESV)

It would be difficult not to spot the command to be thankful in these verses:

  • Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.
  • Be thankful.
  • Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
  • with thankfulness
  • Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
  • giving thanks

There is a very close association in Colossians between being strong in Christ and giving thanks (Colossians 1:11–12,  Colossians 2:6–7,  Colossians 4:2). It seems that Paul is assuming that giving thanks is verification of God’s working in a person. Certainly he is expecting these Christians to be giving thanks for their sharing in the kingdom of Christ, being established in faith in Christ, the peace of Christ, the word of Christ and everything they say, do and pray.

If you think about it, this is to be expected due to the nature of our salvation. We are saved by faith in Christ – He did everything, all we do is receive, thankfully. It has to be receiving with thanks because to understand what it is we are being given is to be thankful. The soul who considers their own salvation and has a cold heart devoid of thankfulness to God should be gravely concerned.

As I write down the gifts God is giving me, my first thought is often the inexpressible gift of salvation. I don’t write this on my list every day, but it really does belong there because His mercies truly are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22–23).

Gifts I have noticed this week (121 – 130):

121) A glorious calm spring morning.
122) Children giggling in their Mum’s bed.
123) Grace keeping me from getting angry about being caught in a downpour.
124) Lying on my back watching clouds.
125) 22-month-old dancing to Slice of Heaven by Dave Dobbyn and Herbs.
126) 2 hours of fun from a cardboard box.
127) An evening walk.
128) That in Christ greatness is attainable by all (Matthew 23:11–12).
129) Little trees growing on a burnt-over, windswept hill.
130) Free pine cones.

Blog success in an upside-down kingdom

I am making a few course-corrections for the blog. After one year of blogging, now is a good time to review how things have gone and where I am aiming for the next year.

Since mid-November 2009 I have published 192 blog posts, learned loads about blogging and WordPress, done a smidge of CSS tweaking, and managed to break the blog once by messing with the php code. Most importantly, I have encountered God in the process of writing these 192 posts and in doing so attained one of my main objectives in writing a blog. My other key objective has been to write content that contributes to others being able to encounter Christ also. Obviously this is impossible for me to assess, all I can do is write what I think would be helpful to me and respond graciously to any feedback from others.

There are certainly ways of measuring statistics regarding numbers of visitors to a website, how long they stay, what search engines or websites they came from, and lots of other interesting stuff. Until a few days ago I used Google Analytics to track such statistics for Words of Eternal Life – it reassured me at least that I am not quite the only person in the world to visit this blog! However, herein lies a dangerous trap for someone trying to honour Christ – the danger of seeking validation and praise from my works rather than from Jesus. It is good to be encouraged but I need to be careful to give praise to God for enabling me to do whatever it is I am being encouraged about, and to seek validation from God, not a blog. In this I have learned the truth of what John Piper says:

John Piper says:
Tell them that it takes relentless intentionality to keep a Christ-exalting blog from become a clever blog. The temptation to entertain is almost irresistible.

I have also been greatly inspired by what Ann Voskamp said recently at the Relevant Conference about blogging in the ‘Upside-Down Kingdom’. Ann talked about serving Christ by going lower, by exposing our thrashing about, our searching in the darkness, and telling our ‘messy stories’ of knowing Jesus as fallen, forgiven sinners. Our stories engage others with theology, culture, circumstance and struggle all lived out in a real life of faith in Jesus Christ.

The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. She needs her again and again when she becomes uncertain – and this is the power of blogging in the upside down kingdom. This is the holy work of a blog, so don’t ever feel shy or ashamed or embarrassed that you blog. Because the body of Christ needs to speak to itself and it needs to speak to the world and this is the beauty of a blog. I get discouraged and I become uncertain and I fall down and His Word through your words is the connective tissue in the body of Christ and we need each other. Please. Keep. Writing. (Ann Voskamp)

So, out of all this I have made a few changes to this blog and set some goals for the year ahead:
  • Rather than concerning myself with numbers of visitors to this blog or increasing traffic, I want to keep in mind my main purpose in writing:
    for me blogging is not primarily about how many visits I get or how well this website ranks on search engines. The purpose of my blogging is to write about walking with Christ in ordinary life.
  • I am modifying the layout to focus more on the ongoing story of faith, with minimal distractions.
  • I will do my best to keep the content of this blog Christ-honouring and faith-building.
  • I will try to honestly tell my own messy faith stories in the hope they may help you as you read them.

John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.
(John 3:27-30 ESV)

17 November 2010
Ann
Voskamp has posted an excellent follow up article about what ‘success’ should mean as a Christian blogger on the incourage blog. The post is titled: Six Things Every Christian Blogger Needs to Know. If you found this post interesting, I highly recommend reading Ann’s post.

Comfort my people

The comfort offered to Israel is that God Himself will come to them, and God Himself comes to each of us in the Person of Jesus Christ.

comfort-my-people

Comfort, comfort my people says your God.(Isaiah 40:1 ESV)

God directs tender words to be spoken to His people, words of hope and pardon. There is a message of preparation, “Get ready for God’s visitation.” There is a message of enduring hope, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” And there is the message of God’s arrival, “Behold your God!”

Could anything be more glorious? “Behold, God is at the gates!” He has forgiven, He comes to gently lead and to justly rule. The all-surpassing joy of such a proclamation! As someone who is not descended from Israel, I read  Isaiah 40:1–9 rejoicing for them and yearning to be part of the celebration of God’s coming to His people. God is coming to abide with His people and how I long to be part of that people with whom God dwells!

Paul reckons there is a chance for me:

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
(Romans 9:25 ESV)

God is going to name people who were not His people as His people, even His beloved!

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in [Jesus Christ] will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
(Romans 10:11-13 ESV)

So I can rejoice with Israel that God is coming to His people – has already come and will come again. The comfort offered to Israel is that God Himself will come to them, and God Himself comes to each of us in the Person of Jesus Christ. He came, to purchase our redemption with His life. He comes, calling each of us to follow Him. He is coming, to receive His beloved at the end of all things.

My comfort comes in beholding my God; His majesty, His mercy, and His meekness.

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
(Matthew 21:5 ESV)