on saying hello

This is not a researched piece, and I realise that there is generalisations as there are those within the faith community who are fully engaging in these areas but I suspect that for many of us who are by all appearances functioning just fine regardless of the mad kicking of legs under the water to stay afloat are not aware of those organisations. Maybe because like myself there is a sense of not wanting to have to ask for help because we know how thin any support/resources are already stretched and we tell ourselves we can manage if we just worked a bit harder on sorting out our lives ourselves in one area or another. But in my heart of hearts what I read in my Bible and allow God to whisper is something that I so seldom see within churches and I know others are asking the same question of disparity.

I have been genuinely challenged by the number of friends who have shared since I my previous post addressing anxiety. More rather than less have said that I have echoed their own struggles and thoughts. And just tonight the first news headline I heard was that young women are the highest risk for mental health problems. While I don’t fit that age category and my friends are spread across the age spectrum, the reality on the ground is that women in all walks of life and ages are wrestling significantly. I am not a researcher, what I share here is by way of anecdotes, of simply being a friend and sharing conversations. I cannot back everything up with facts and figures and to be honest I don’t want to, though I am sure I could do so if I took the time.

What has struck me though in sharing is that while being vulnerable can be hard and unsettling I have actually felt a deep sense of calm and no anxiety in sharing that post which was the very opposite of what I had anticipated I would feel. I did not feel vulnerable afterwards. I felt a weight lifted off me that I no longer had to pretend to be someone else.

And because of my faith my biggest questions come back to what is the church doing in light of such headlines that young women are at the highest risk of mental health? Is the church engaging with mental health practitioners? Is the church a safe place? Mental health is not just an issue for women, anyone can wrestle with it. And the reality is too many times over the church is not a safe place for many different reasons but this seems such a juxtaposition. If we truly believe that the gospel is good news, that Jesus who at the well with the Samaritan woman, offered her living water and at others times speaks of rest and a yoke that is light then why is the church not a safe place and why are we not engaging in the care of those wrestling with mental health issues and why are we seeing so many, including those who have faith, battle?

What are we doing to engage with the culture around us that is pushing us all to the point of breaking our mental health? As I heard recently the answer to the question ‘how are you?’ is no longer the ambivalant ‘fine’ but ‘busy’. We all need to be seen to be busy, to be stretched to the hilt. Everything needs to be done to the edge of breaking point. And it is no different inside the church it seems to me these days. When someone has time someone else can quickly fill it. Just this past week one mum said that as she grieved that season in life when none of her children were home full time as the youngest had started school she already had people wanting to know if she could fill that time now from 9-3 with extra activities and work. There is no space to breath, to stop, to reflect. We simply have to be busy and doing. Yes there are many good things to do within the life of the church but that does not mean God is calling us to do every one of them.

The church needs to not be afraid of mental health, of emotions, of mess, of medication, of therapy, of the gospel, of the power of the Holy Spirit. The church needs to get back to preaching the gospel of life giving water and extending it in overflowing jugs to those who come parched and weary and broken. With no time limits, no limit on the number of jugs a person can drink from. With no expectations of getting a new volunteer for the Sunday school or tea rota in return.  We need simply to hand out jugs of living water and sit awhile with our friends and invite others to join us.

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Saying hello to myself

A year ago a pediatrician wrote me off as an over-anxious mum and that any issue my child had was most likely down to me. This hurt. Deep down though I feared that for the first time someone saw inside the mess I was hiding and dared name it. He may well not have done it in the best way or given me any helping hand to step forward but he had named that which I feared about myself. I was not the competent adult I so desperately wanted to be and feel I had to be on so many fronts. Our son did have symptoms that were not my doing and that was later recognised by another pediatrician but the first one did speak a kernel of truth.

Inwardly for the past year I have wrestled with God and myself with this truth. I could not ignore it even when others told me not to listen to the pediatrician. This morning a friend shared a link to high functioning anxiety and I sat there reading it as though I was reading a description of myself for the first time. https://themighty.com/2016/06/living-with-high-functioning-and-hidden-anxiety/

Various friends have mentioned their struggles with it over the year and I have cheered them from the sidelines for having the courage I wanted but lacked to say ‘that’s me too’. I have watched from the sidelines as friends have taken action to handle their anxiety, stress, anger and felt another part of me break inside as I watched them step out from chains which I knew were holding me tight. What I am coming to realise is that this is far more normal than the being together that we all try and present to the world around us. This needs a far wider conversation and the church needs to look at how we respond and teach on such passages that speak of life and worry in ways that do not imprison people but allow them to come to the well and receive living water.

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A friend and I went to a Care for the Family event, it was a last-minute decision to go, something I do not normally do but went and God whispered to my soul all evening. Afterwards in a moment of courage I did make contact with a counsellor but for various reasons it is has not worked out to meet up. So part of me says it will be fine I have done it once I can do it again, part of me says see you cannot even sort yourself out, how can you even think of going into ministry? Then my head spins because ministry is the very thing my heart longs to be doing, seeing people living life as Jesus calls us to, but my spinning head sees me as failing utterly to do so myself, therefore being ruled out of such a role.  The timing of all this sucks from where I am sitting because we are one of 2 candidates being considered for a post that we would love.

I have put it down to tiredness, 7 1/2 years into this parenting life and sleep has not been something that we have been blessed with for various significant and typical reasons. I have put it down to perimenapausal reasons. I have put it down to not having roots somewhere and a lack of sense of belonging as we have journeyed down the road of graduate studies and wondered where all this is leading if anywhere as God has not shown any open doors. I have put it down to not enough exercise, not a healthy enough diet. And I have tried to fix all of those parts of my life thinking that once those circumstances are sorted it I will come through and find myself calm and steady and doing just fine and able to prove the doctor that he was wrong.  I have prayed, I have journalled, I have tried to take hold of what the Bible has said literally and felt utterly rubbish on this journey of faith. I was 9 or 10 when I read the words about not worrying and realising I did the very opposite and so I must be rubbish and the lie has stayed with me ever since. Not a great way of living for someone who is longing to believe that the Bible is actually life-giving and inside of me I felt anything but life. I came to faith in a church that had little faith and no one to come along side me so I did what I could and took the Bible in its black and white print and saw only failing and yet a voice kept whispering ‘there is so much more to it than this’ so I have kept putting one foot awkwardly in front of the other doing what I thought I should be doing if I was to fulfil the role so many often called me into – a leader, outgoing, confident. I threw myself into outdoor bound weekends dying inside with fear as I went over cliff edges, as I scrambled up rock faces, capsized in the harbour and canoed.  I stepped up and led and helped and sought to please and do the right thing. And inside I dreaded every step I took, every word I uttered because I was going to fail. And on the rare occasion I dared to step out and take a risk it went horribly wrong in my eyes that it only confounded the sense of fear even more and I shut myself away and lived the life I thought people thought I should be living.

I might well be a leader, I might have actually enjoyed abseling and climbing if I had let myself name the fear and take it on, instead I shut down and gritted my teeth and did what  I talked myself into believing I should do and had convinced others I enjoyed to hide the fear.

I long to go out without calculating every step, every moment. I long to just enjoy life. I don’t want to work out where the escape routes are, the toilets are, the time when we can legitimately leave an event without seeming rude or antisocial. Driving would be useful, and I had lots of ethical/exercise reasons I can name not to drive but the truth is I fear that I will have an accident and destroy someone else’s life so it is better not to drive. I don’t want to look back and say to those who encouraged me that I need to drive ‘told you so’ when I end up in prison for dangerous driving and hurting someone else.

I long to parent without panicking over every response, action, symptom, mood swing I am presented with in myself in our children. I want to breathe so my children can breathe too. Parenting in this place is hard when you are also parenting children who have high sensitivity reactions to various stimuli and I have to be proactive at times to be one or two steps ahead of situations to ensure they can get through events, the next hour and so on. And when one child in particular feeds off your anxiety and the two of you go spinning round and round in circles. While parenting can often bring out parts of our character we have not considered or had to give much heed to before hand I really wish I had said to my younger self for both the sake of my husband, our marriage and our children, “go and get come counselling not because there is a crisis happening but to get myself to a healthy place for what lies ahead.”

Religion does not hold the answers for me, the Bible in black and white print does not hold the answer for me. Faith in Christ does though give me the courage to seek help, His word does speak truths that I cannot speak myself yet. He came for the sick, He came to redeem us in fullness and wholeness. Faith in Christ gives me a relationship which while I often don’t get, frustrates me when His response was not the one I had planned, takes me on paths I would rather not walk but gives me life in a way I cannot give myself. And it is that life I want to live. One that is genuine inside and out, that gives life to those around me. One that can say ‘it is well with my soul’.

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God’s disorientating ways…

I’ve just started reading Ezekiel, and so I thought I’d put a great quote from Chris Wright’s excellent BST (Bible Speaks Today) up about God’s disorientating ways.  I love the way in which in the introduction to the commentary Chris Wright uses imagination rooted in the text to help us picture Ezekiel’s situation.  If you want to go a bit deeper in your own study of the Bible, but aren’t sure where to start then the BST series by IVP is a good place to start, and Chris Wright’s volume on Ezekiel is a great help to getting a handle on where such a large book is going and what it is saying.

In his introduction he points out that as the son of a priest Ezekiel would most likely have expected to be a priest in turn when he reached 30.  Instead Ezekiel is in exile, with the first group of exiles, in Babylon, hundreds of miles away from the temple he should be serving in.  Chris Wright goes on to explain why it would not necessarily have been much consolation for Ezekiel to become a prophet.

As a priest Ezekiel would have a high view of the temple as the central place of interaction between God and people, the place where God lived and where people could have access to God’s eternal home.  It was a place of order, ritual and sacrifice, through which the regularity of God’s relationship with his people and world could be known and seen.   Prophets like Jeremiah called all that into question.  Looking back with the privilege of seeing the whole story we can see how Jeremiah’s message fitted into all that was going on – but at the time it would have been deeply shocking (indeed priests were among those who tried to have him killed) to the establishment.  So Chris Wright writes:

So while we can value all the positive contributions that Ezekiel’s education and training as a priest brought to his prophetic ministry, we must also appreciate the immense personal, professional and theological shock it must have been to him when, in his thirtieth year, the year he ought to have entered on his ordained priestly career, God broke into his life, wrecked all such career prospects, and constrained him into a role he may himself have viewed with considerable suspicion – the lonely, friendless, unpopular role of being a prophet, the mouthpiece of Yahweh.  No wonder the anger and bitter rage to which he honestly confessed disorientated and overwhelmed him for a full week (3:14-15).  God would use all that he had built into Ezekiel’s life during his years of preparation, but he would use it in radically different ways from anything Ezekiel had ever imagined.  Such is sometimes the way of God with those whom he calls to his service.

Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace

That is the title of a book by James Torrance.  I’ve heard the name Torrance a lot, and seen the various different Torrance’s quoted a fair number of times – but never actually read anything directly by them.  So I picked up the above book, and I think I’m going to enjoy it.  Something I used to do a fair bit was to write down quotes that impressed me from my reading, and in the absence of any time to write down my own thoughts (its harder to write them while ‘ignoring’ a restless child who really should be asleep by now), I thought this would be a good place to put the quote that impressed me early in the book regarding the work that Jesus came to do:

“Does God leave all nature to be subject to vanity and futility – to be ruthlessly exploited and abused – and forget he has made using his image for a life of communion and shared stewardship.

The good news is that God comes to us in Jesus to stand in for us, and bring to fulfilment his purposes of worship and communion.  Jesus comes to be the priest of creation to do for us, men and women, what we failed to do, to offer the Father the worship and the praise we failed to offer, to glorify God by a life of perfect love and obedience, to be the one true servant of the Lord.  In him and through him we are renewed by the Spirit in the image of God and in the worship of God in a life of shared communion.

Jesus comes as our brother to be our great high priest, to carry on his loving heart the joys, the sorrows, the prayers, the conflicts of all he creatures, to reconcile all things to God and to intercede for all nations as our eternal mediator and advocate.  He comes to stand in for us in the presence of the Father, when in our failure and bewilderment we do not know how to pray as we ought to, or forget to pray all together.  By his Spirit he helps us in our infirmities.” (James Torrance – Worship Community and the Triune God of grace)