Sunday, November 10, 2013

Using My Lessons on Pain

Tonight I find myself pondering the lessons I’ve learned about pain. I’ve worked as a preschool teacher for about a year now, and it daily reminds me of one of the things I’ve always loved most about being with kids:  they constantly exhibit many truths of what it is like being a child of God and of what I am like living in a fallen world. I often find myself frustrated with the way a child is acting, only to catch my breath and realize that in God’s eyes that’s me! I’m a child of God, who very often acts like a child!

The children I work with come from very differing backgrounds. Some of them come from very loving, stable homes that remind me of the one in which I grew up. A few have come through sad, unspeakable things, and more than a few live in homes where for many reasons they are just not given all the things a child should be given to grow up healthy and well-adjusted. In spite of all the differences, I’ve seen all of the kids in my care cry at one time or another.

The most useless thing to say to a crying child is, “Stop crying,” or “You don’t have a good reason to cry.” You see, in the moment, through that child’s eyes, their pain is very real. Few very young children cry to manipulate. Instead, they hurt. They hurt because they want something and can’t get it. They hurt because they miss their mommies. They hurt because they’re hungry, or tired, or they just got bit or hit by another child. I’ve learned it doesn’t do any good to compare their pain, except to point out that pain hurts others just as it does us. Why do we think it is so different for adults?

One of the critical lessons I’ve learned about pain is that you can’t compare your pain to that of others. In my kids, some have more tender senses, some are hurt more violently, some have acquired more incidences or intensity of injury which have compounded over time, making them more sensitive to successive ones. Even in adults these things are true. So I don’t compare my pain to others’, nor do I let others dismiss their pain in comparison to mine or minimize mine in comparison to theirs.

Another thing I’ve learned about pain is that God is sovereign over all of it. This means that He who has designed my frame – my strengths and weaknesses, my sensitivity, my circumstances, etc. – also allows into my life those things that cause me pain (as in Luke 22:31-32 or in the book of Job). Indeed sometimes He intentionally brings painful circumstances into my life to bring about repentance, humble me, build character, or make me more useful in my work for His kingdom, and to remind me once more how much I need Him (for example the captivity of Israel and Judah in 2 Kings, the misfortunes of Joseph in Genesis, or the refusal to remove Paul’s thorn in 2 Corinthians 12. See also Deut. 32:39.). However He never, never causes or allows pain because He enjoys seeing me hurt (Ez. 33:10-11. John 11, and Luke 13;34). My control over my kids’ lives is minimal compared to God’s control over mine, however there have been times that I have let my kids fall, even though I could have stopped it, because I knew they would only learn a very important lesson from the fall. Telling them the lesson wasn’t enough. They had to experience it. I never enjoyed seeing them hurt, and I was close enough to be available to help them figure out what had happened, how to recover, and how to not let it happen again. Similarly, God uses both the pain He inflicts and the pain He allows to mold our character, to teach us, and to benefit us in ways we often don’t see at the time.

Yet another lesson I’ve learned about pain is that it isn’t always visible. Physical pain can cause a limp or it can cause extreme digestive suffering. One you see and one you only notice if you watch the suffering person closely or if they tell you. Just because one is observed doesn’t mean it causes a greater degree of pain. People have different thresholds to pain as well, so something that barely affects me might debilitate my friend. And of course, pain comes in all kinds of forms. One of my children was born under life threatening circumstances that resulted in an unexpected C-section. The physical and emotional recovery was lengthy and painful, but it didn’t disable me the way anxiety and depression did after my dad died, leaving me a single mom with no local family, no job, and the trauma of finding her daddy dead.

I have also learned that I don’t often get to choose my pain. I once heard a speaker say very plainly that we don’t get to choose our pain or our platform, only our response to it. While I may not have a choice in how life and circumstances hurt me, I can choose what I will do in response. Will I thank God for all the ways I see Him take care of me, or grumble and complain? Will I lay my confusion over what is missing in my life before Him, or hold on to it, allowing it to become a seed of bitterness? Will I use my struggle to help someone else through theirs, or will I cling to it and nurse the hurt, becoming angry, bitter, and sadder?

While all of these lessons apply to physical pain, they apply to emotional and spiritual pain as well. Depression affects not only the mind (emotions and thoughts), but the spirit and body as well. I have found that remembering these things helps me in being tender to someone whose depression is not visible to me, but who suffers greatly when they are alone and persecuted by the voices in their head which perpetuate their emotional battle. These lessons have been hard-learned as I’ve wrestled with lots of questions and struggles myself, but they also have made me more tender to those around me who want someone who will just listen and understand what they deal with constantly.

How Depression Affects the Overlap of Body, Soul, and Mind

"We are made up of body and soul. However, there is a third dimension that links or overlaps these two elements, which we can also view as our thoughts and feelings. When our body is sick, even with a common cold, our spiritual life and our thinking and feeling processes are affected as well. When our spiritual life is in poor condition, our thoughts and feelings are affected, and sometimes our bodily health and functions also. It is, therefore, no surprise that when our mental and emotional health is poor and when our thinking and feeling processes go awry, there are detrimental physical and spiritual consequences. The depressed believer cannot concentrate to read or pray. As she doesn't want to meet people, she may avoid church and fellowship. She often feels God has abandoned her."  [emphasis mine]

David Murray
Christians Get Depressed Too

Video Link: Set That Woman Free

A friend of mine sent me this video. I am passing it along, because it is full of truth, and every Christian struggling with depression should be reminded of who they are! For those who are not believers in Christ, He came to give you hope and peace. I can honestly say, He is the reason I make it through my lowest points. He is the reason I have stayed alive. He is the reason I manage to get up day after day, even when the days ahead look bleak. He is my hope, and He longs to be yours as well.

Now watch "Set That Woman Free."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why It's Hard to Explain to People How Depression Doesn't Just Mean I'm Sad This Week

I read through the checklist. It's been a while since I've done so.

Feelings of sadness ... "I think I can check that one off." I think as I wipe my tears on my pillow. Loss of interest in normal activities. Maybe that's why I dread church, getting out of the house, doing much of anything other than escaping into a TV show? Fatigue, decreased energy, marked changes in sleep habits ... Do I count this one when lately I can't fall asleep until well after midnight, even on a weekday? ... Probably so. Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, making decisions ... that's pretty much my life.

I read item after item on the list, mentally checking them off as I recognize myself in this clinical description of "depression." But even as I get the the end of "the list," I wonder if anyone in whom I confided would really understand how crippling this fight has become for me .... It's just so much more than a checklist of symptoms.
  • It's an overwhelming feeling that I'm failing at all the things in life that I most wanted to do well.
  • It is the consuming desire to have someone ... anyone ... love me enough to pursue me ... yet again and again feeling forgotten and alone.
  • It is being afraid to enter new relationships, because you feel like all you have to offer is neediness, and you have nothing of value left to contribute.
  • It's knowing that my life is safer, better, healthier, and more secure than probably 90% of the people in the world, but still feeling like it is all about to collapse beneath me.
  • It is being afraid to even entertain dreaming about the future, because your life looks nothing like the dreams you indulged when you were younger, and you wonder if dreaming and planning are just a waste of time, and you're just too tired to do it anymore.
  • It's feeling like there are always people looking over my shoulder, watching, criticizing me ... waiting for the one mistake they can use to call the homeowners' association, or DCF, or even just someone else to tell.
  • It's hating holidays and significant dates ... every ... single ... one of them.
  • It's not knowing where to go or who to call for help, because if they knew how bad you are, they'd never stick around, or because they would promise help, but then forget about you.
  • It is feeling like none of this is ever going to end ... like the rest of my life I will be struggling with bill collectors and the pain of a broken heart and being alone.
  • It is a hopelessness that goes beyond description, because the lies and the fears are stamped deep within, and nothing really offers anything more than a temporary escape from them.
  • And yes, it's even that nagging thought that everyone you love would be better off without you messing up their lives as well, even though you are fighting to remind yourself that the impact of suicide would break their hearts and leave them with permanent scars.
Depression is a monster, eating you from the inside out. It's shadow seems to go on and on, far beyond the reach of an escape. Even when treated medically, prescriptions only seem to mask the pain, and all it takes is running out of happy pills a week before you can afford to refill them and you see those specters hiding again in the shadows again.

As if clawing against the depression itself wasn't enough, being a believer saved by faith in Christ through God's grace makes it harder. All those questions: Why can't I hear God - is it because of my own sin? If God is the Healer why am I still so broken? What is wrong with my faith, that I can't just trust God and get past all of this? Where is there someone in the church ... anyone ... who can live up to Christ's call to love me ... or am I just too much for them? The enemy of my soul plays on my internal struggle, assaulting me with even scripture to drag me farther down into the quicksand of depression.

Depression is so much more than medical. It is a "brain thing," and a "thought process thing," and so medicine and counseling can help. But it's also a social thing - that sense that I am alone and there is no one who really wants to come alongside me because they are all busy too, and am I really worth the trouble? It is a spiritual thing, because there is a very real war going on for my purpose, and a very real enemy who can't snatch me from the hand of God, but who can make me ineffective for His kingdom by hurling all of hell against me, knowing that every sphere of my being is being taxed to its limit.
Because depression is such a nebulous experience - a black hole sucking all of my life away - and because it is such an effective weapon in the enemy's hands, it requires a coordinated, ongoing plan of attack to provide relief from it.

"Humans are intricately complex creatures. When things go wrong in us, they do so in myriad and nuanced ways. If churches want to effectively minister to the whole of fallen humanity, they must reckon with this complexity.... Those who bear the marks of despair on their bodies need a community that bears the world's only sure hope in its body. They need communities that rehearse this hope again and again and delight in their shared foretaste of God's promised world to come. They need to see that this great promise, secured by Christ's resurrection, compels us to work amidst the wreckage in hope. In so doing, the church provides her depressed members with a plausible hope and a tangible reminder of the message they most need to hear: This sin-riddled reality does not have the last word. Christ as embodied in his church is the last word."       Dan G. Blazer

I am convinced that the church community is the place where people suffering from depression could find various solutions to relieve some of the burden of their battle, but I have yet to see how it should be worked out. Hopefully as I share my thoughts, comments, observations and so on here on this blog, I will find some answers and offer some of the hope that comes by trusting in Christ and continuing to put one foot on the floor followed by the other each morning. I believe that even the darkness of depression is a place where Jesus can be glorified and a broken place that God can heal. Hopefully that will be seen as I share my journey through depression here.