Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Lord of Anxiety?

As a young man, I read the following passage in a much different light than I do today.


Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; [2] before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, [3] in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, [4] and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low—[5] they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets—[6] before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, [7] and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. [8] Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity. “(Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 ESV)


In my youth spring of optimism- I saw it as a story of those who DON”T walk with God at an early age. Forget God, and your life becomes a twisted, empty, and miserable maze of melancholy.


As I grow older, I NOW see that this passage describes periods of time in which all humans share- whether in the Lord or without. No one escapes. The one most surprised by it was me.


There are hindrances to blog writing… this topic in particular needs more than a book to dissect and deliberate…. And many who I work with find the struggle to be in decades and not days. But I will delve into this just a little as a testimony that there is victory in Christ in this area- and winning sometimes is as simple as breathing.


Though modern Christianity tends to shy away from these topics… the Bible and the history of Christianity is a hard core, blunt testimony to believers who walk in periods of darkness and despair.


If you doubt this - read David’s laments as he cries through lonely nights, Naomi who called out to those around her to change her name. She said “Don’t call me Naomi (pleasant), Call me Mara (Bitter)”. Jeremiah was known as the ‘weeping prophet”.

There is an ENTIRE book called “Lamentations”- I guarantee we don’t read that book a lot.

Martin Luther was famous for fits of what he termed a malady of melancholy.The great nineteenth century preacher Charles Spurgeon suffered from acute depression. Often he was bedridden and unable to preach, sometimes as much as twice a month.


Now, again, it is so important here to not put all of these experiences in a simple basket called 'the blues'.


The more we learn about these conditions from acute to chronic, from chemical and genetic disorders, from weather related conditions, from trauma in early life, from tragedy in life, from fear and anxiousness, to identity crisis… even spiritual crisis… this is never going to be simple and the cure will often appear out of the reach of reality… but God is never absent and we are never without hope.


I also wanted to make reference and distinguish to something similar, but not the same. Early church fathers spent much time on a season they referred to as , “The Dark Night of the Soul”.
The phrase comes from an 8 stanza poem by St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), a Spanish monk and mystic.Gerald May, in his book  Care of Mind/Care of Spirit, says that these dark night places are doing a work that is deeper than our experiences of emotion, thought or action. In some ways, it might be more helpful to call the “dark night” a non-experience or a process of ‘unknowing’ .


The word ‘distinction’ is so important in ciphering through these experiences….

“It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness. A Christian can have joy in his heart while there is still spiritual depression in his head. The joy that we have sustains us through these dark nights and is not quenched by spiritual depression. The joy of the Christian is one that survives all downturns in life.” R.C. Sproul



SURPRISED BY DEPTHS OF LONGING AND DEPRESSION

I may be wrong, but I NEVER remember being ‘depressed’ for any length of time throughout my teens, 20’s, and early 30’s. Sure, I got ‘disappointed’ and I suffered loss. I went through seasons of unrequited desires.

But not only do I not remember fighting depression or negativity, I actually had little patience with anyone who did. I disliked anyone who spoke in defeatist terms.. and the ‘blues’? My shallow and unfeeling reply was ‘get over it, you loser’.


BUT LIFE (and God) made sure I experienced what Ecclesiastes was promising.

Sure I was still a man of faith, I was loved, I was blessed- I was a peaceful man more with joy than regret..


but I also found myself dealing with a strange new friends… fears, doubts, loneliness, and emptiness. And they were tangible.. I could taste them. They made my eyes tired, they kept me up at night, and I couldn’t even introduce them to my wife.


It wasn’t dramatic enough to be labeled a ‘mid-life crisis’- I wasn’t thinking of convertibles and Corona’s…..But I was pulled by a strong gravity inward to wrestle with deep desires and questions that I had hidden with youthful exuberance and a smile.


Now, here is the weird thing….looking back over 20 years of meeting these friends in sneak attacks and seasons of grief or pain….. It was wonderful!


Because I did find the one person who met me there, in the dark, under the accusing crooked fingers of my demons.


Jesus was and is there, though many times I did not see Him. He didn’t say much.. but I knew He cared. You know the old Marine saying? “You can pretend to care, but you cannot pretend to be there.” One of the greatest growth moments of faith is to look into the darkness and know you are not alone... HE WAS THERE!

How was He there? I found that God’s Word powerfully attached to all of those dispositions. I particularly found healing in Psalms and in the gospels.


“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:7­-10).


The apostle Paul in writing to the Philippians gives me the admonition to be anxious for nothing,” telling me that the cure for anxiety is found on my knees, that it is the peace of God that calms my spirit and dissipates anxiety. Again, I can be anxious and nervous and worried without finally submitting to ultimate despair.


IDENTITY CRISIS AND EMPTY SLOGANS OF LIFE


Before you give me a wreath of victory… the struggle remains. And for some people, it is a lifelong battle that requires consistent medication, evaluation, and professional support. At this time, I haven’t had to go there, but it is no lack of faith and no reason for shame if I did.


I was also helped by Os Guinness in a book titled, “The Call”

For me,  Os Guinness began to articulate about finding authentic love and truth in the dark.


He writes: The notion of calling is VITAL to each of us because it touches on the modern search for a basis for individual identity and an understanding of humanness itself.


He outlines stages of human identity that is connected to our own sense of purpose. All human worldviews and philosophies speak to aspects of these ‘labels’ of identity


One is “I AM CONSTRAINED TO BE”– this simply is where we are right now by following the path that led here. It is the lot we find ourselves, and can present itself like a prison of our own circumstances. Sometimes these constraints look insurmountable… and some are.


The next one is “COURAGE TO BE”- this is the one that I held to as that optimistic 20 year old. I bought into all the snappy slogans that turned into self-help best sellers. “Be all you can be”- “Shoot for the Stars”. Now, to he honest- these are great challenges and they do ‘birth’ dreams that are helpful in the process of pulling against our restraints.


The third one is “CONSTITUTED TO BE”- this one is where most secular philosophies stop and ‘mission accomplished’ is celebrated. We have broken out of our constraints and now revel in a life. We have FOUND our identity in context of experience, passion, and skill. The power is within ourselves and can be described as a kind of 'intestinal fortitude' or 'guts'.


But the Bible does not stop there… it wants me to take one more step… a step of faith..and it is a huge deal…


‘CALLED TO BE’– this is the relationship of love that moves us with purpose and not a product of chance and whim. By being called to a person… especially the Creator and Lover of our souls, we have a place to go when our soul is wounded and crushed or flooded with anxiety. Who can we depend on when our 'guts' run out?


R.C. Sproul said it like this:


The presence of faith gives no guarantee of the absence of spiritual depression; however, the dark night of the soul always gives way to the brightness of the noonday light in the presence of God.


My relationship with a FATHER… THE FATHER.. the lover of my soul… gives me a NAME that matters.

My despair... anxiety... loneliness.. depression... grief... was good- because it drove me to the One who was seeking me all along.

C.S. Lewis says it is in our stories…. a ‘desire for a far off country’  the scent of a flower we have not found… the echo of a tune we have not heard..news from a country we have yet to visit”

And when we find Him in the depths.. we still don’t know a lot… but we know Him. And our question becomes “What do you desire me to do?”


Remember Naomi… the one who wanted to be called “Bitter”?


Naomi knew darkness. She and her husband had to sojourn in famine conditions in Moab. She had 2 sons who married Moabite women. Life was tough, but grew desperate as Naomi had to experience the death of her husband and, 10 years later, she went through the pain of losing her two sons!


And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”  (Ruth 1:19-21 ESV)

But, OVER TIME, Naomi experienced the love of God through Ruth and God stepped in and provided a Kinsman Redeemer and lifted this family up!
I hope you know the story about how Boaz, a kind and devout man, met Ruth and sacrificially worked to gain Ruth as his bride. And when Ruth gave Naomi a grandson… the blessing was complete.


Naomi’s identity was miraculously changed:


“Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! [15] He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” [16] Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse.” (Ruth 4:14-16 ESV)


The depression/anxiety that we struggle with may be profound, but it is not permanent, nor is it fatal.


And sometimes, all we can do… all we need to do is just keep breathing… our hearts need to keep pumping… and listen for the word of Your Father… He is THERE and He does CARE.


Don’t run from God in the midst of chaos and tragedy of life..cling to the One who loves and restores.


One day we will all see Him face to face...He will wipe away our tears… and we will truly know a freedom from human misery, death, and deceit.


"The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and He saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18

Can you dare to believe this?

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