Monday, December 30, 2013

A Conversation I'd Probably Have

Imaginary Minister: “In order to disciple, you have to leverage the natural rhythms of your relationships.”

Me: “What if I don’t have much in the way of relationships?”

Imaginary Minister: “Well, you just have to figure that one out for yourself.”

Me: “Seriously? How would I do that?”

Imaginary Minister: “Uh, Well. Have you tried asking someone to help you?”

Me: “Yes, but no one will help. What about you?”

Imaginary Minister: “Uh, sure? Well, maybe. I don’t know if I can be much help.”

Me: “I thought as much.”

Imaginary Minister: “Okay, let me try: You are a great guy and you can do anything you put your mind to.”

Me: “I’ll take your word for it. How does that help me?”

Imaginary Minister: “Or, let me see… You just have to put yourself out there.”

Me: “What does that even mean?

Imaginary Minister: “Just speak up and be yourself.”

Me: “The course of action you propose has an epistemological flaw in its presuppositions.”

Imaginary Minister: “[…silence…] Could you translate that into English?”

Me: “So I can’t be myself.”

Imaginary Minister: “Sure you can. Just… uh. I mean people can’t relate to you when you talk over their heads.”

Me: “So basically I have to filter what I say.”

Imaginary Minister: “Just say what you mean.”

Me: “I did that and you couldn’t relate to me.”

Imaginary Minister: “So, uh… Well, I have to go. I have people coming over to the house for a Bible study.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What It's Like to Not Be Depressed

I’ve been blissfully up lately. Let me tell you what that means for the way I perceive the world.

There are two basic cognitive issues that plague me when I’m down. The first is a perception of worthlessness. The second is the perception of friendlessness. Tangential to both of these is a sense of hopelessness that neither of these will be rectified and an inability to keep from obsessing over them. That means that I have difficulty concentrating on other things. I’ve learned to use prayer to help me focus on other things.

There is one obvious physical manifestation of being down. That’s sleeplessness. That’s a clear sign that this is a physical problem and not merely a psychological one. I have trouble going to sleep and when I do get to sleep, I have trouble staying asleep. My body is not only failing to produce the neurotransmitters and hormones that affect mood, but the hormones that regulate sleep.

But inasmuch as mood alters perception, there is some truth behind what is being perceived. I know that I have gifts that are being underutilized. Therefore, I have a limited value in my usefulness. It’s also true that I don’t have particularly close friends. I went to a restaurant alone last night. Several other people in my church were there already. They said hello but no one joined me. Some others from my church came in last night.

The difference between being up or down is that when I’m up, it doesn’t matter as much. I can pick up a piece of trash from the floor and feel like I did something worthwhile. I feel freer to say things that seem to me to be off-the-wall to other people because I don’t care that they think I’m strange for saying them. I can walk away feeling like I matter at least a little bit to someone because I was able to same something.

When I’m down, I perceive the futility in everything I do. Even if I do something worthwhile, it seems as though it didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. I tend not to talk to people unless they talk to me without much effort to making the words come out. So I don’t say anything unless I can justify the energy. People come up to me and act like they care because several people know that I suffer from bouts of depression. To me it seems like they only care because they feel that they have to, not because they want to. It’s not like if I sat down alone at a restaurant that they would walk in and joyfully join me. They would join other people, but not me. And I know this because when I’m up I see the evidence of it. It matters more to me that I have trouble forming deep friendships with people when I’m depressed.

So, for the time being, I’m up. I’m happy enough in my own skin. The dread that the distant storm will approach hangs over me like the sword of Damocles. I’ll enjoy the calm weather while I can.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Being Satisfied

So I’ve been “up” the past week or so. I like feeling good about myself in general. As I mentioned, I try to find good experiences with people during these times so that I have something to go on when a depressive episode hits. Unfortunately, I don’t have anyone outside the family to hang with really. Nor am I worth much to anyone ministerially.

This depressing fact was emphasized in church yesterday. The sermon landed on the Biblical metaphor of Jesus being the water of life and those that are thirsty finding satisfaction in him. The pastor listed examples of things we thirst for. Included in these are two things that I really thirst for: relationship and significance. The answer is that I can find those things satisfied in Christ.

Now, it’s not that I don’t know that. Of course I do. The question I have is how that works. What does he mean that I should just trust Christ for those things? Does he mean that I should just go hide somewhere and not engage other people so as to fellowship with them or minister to them? I don’t think he meant that, but I do think he meant to answer the idea that people like me don’t seem satisfied with being worthless or friendless in that we shouldn’t be restless or unsatisfied about it.

Is there anything that we should be unsatisfied about? Yes. Sin. Ok, we shouldn’t be so unsatisfied that we neglect the grace of God. But if we have the Holy Spirit we will be convicted about our sin. That means that we will not be satisfied with committing sin and want to change. Will we still sin or learn of things that are sins that we have been committing that should want to change? Yes. It’s called sanctification. We should desire ever-increasing piety, never satisfied to simply stagnate in our walk with Christ.

But Paul taught about the Body of Christ where we minster in and among each other in the name of Christ. When I was in Bible College, we learned about networking for the sake of having more fruitful ministries. I knew then that such would not be my strong point. Nevertheless, I strove to network. I still suck at it. Consequently, I’m still relatively worthless in any kind of ministry.

It seems we should not be satisfied with the state of affairs in our ministries. Good Christian leaders have a vision to accomplish something that is not accomplished yet. They aren’t satisfied. So they push to be satisfied in accomplishing their vision, and all in the name of Christ.

When I receive some general counsel that I should be satisfied only with Christ and not unsatisfied with being friendless and worthless, I don’t see how that marries with any doctrine regarding the Body of Christ. Surely my pastor isn’t saying that I should quit coming to church and quit trying to minister to someone. Perhaps he just wants me to sit down and shut up; to just show up on Sundays and Wednesdays, be quiet and pay my tithes. Surely not. I think he knows that that would be a nominal Christian. So once again my question:

How does one reconcile only being satisfied in Christ with participating meaningfully in the Body of Christ?


Monday, July 01, 2013

A Social Conundrum

Conundrums occur when you are depressed that don’t exist (so much) when you are not depressed. This has led to some thoughts that explain theological tension in a sinful world, but I’ll leave that for my non-anonymous blog.

For me, when I’m feeling better about life, I know to look for good experiences to shore up to serve as evidence to use against faulty reasoning when I’m depressed. One area I tend to obsess over when I am depressed is the lack of deep friendship in my life. Because of this, I look for examples of deep friendship when I am not depressed.

The problem is that I don’t have deep friendship even when I’m not depressed. Generally, I can get along with just mild interaction with people. However, when I do get depressed I don’t have the evidence of having friends.

What’s worse, is that I don’t have deep friendship I can rely on. But I do have mild friendship I can rely on. But what’s depressing is that if I tell people I’m feeling depressed then word will get around and people will treat me nicely or walk on eggshells. So I get extra “friend-like” attention although the friendship is not genuine. If the friendship were genuine, then they would treat me that way when I wasn’t depressed even though I need it just as badly. They each have their real friends they hang out with. Me? Nada.

Nobody truly cares. That’s depressing.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Finding True Happiness

I just listened to today's Focus on the Family broadcast entitled Finding the Path to True Happiness. It's worth a listen. It's a testimony to how much I don't have that Dr. Henry Cloud says we need in order to be happy. I am aware that I fall into the category that much of this may not apply to in suffering from clinical depression. However, given that clinical depression can be assuaged somewhat by conditioning the amygdala (a la Pavlov's dogs) to respond in a healthy way in the production of neurotransmitters to social stimuli, a little help from my associates in the friend and value categories would be welcome.

I'm not holding my breath, though.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Good Conversations

I wrote about how rare good conversations are. Well, I had a good conversation a couple of days ago. I ran sound for a wedding yesterday and was there for the rehearsal the night before. Although I’m uncomfortable at such events where I generally don’t know many people, I show up and try to socialize even though I’m not good at it.

The father of the bride goes to my church and he didn’t look like he was keen on being there either, so we started talking and spent the evening keeping each other company. He really seemed like he was grateful for the company.

So I’m grateful to God for the interaction of a brother in Christ. I know it may sound creepy to some people, but I get it rarely enough that I treasure such times. Some people are blessed with friendship with others such that they have no idea what it’s like to be without it.

The sad part is that although I had a good conversation with someone, two facts temper my excitement: First, it will likely not lead to a deep friendship since one like that hasn’t happened yet. Second, it will be a while before another good conversation comes along. So good conversations are certainly welcome, but ultimately depressing.

Perhaps the benefit is that they go a long way to helping me not become bitter or hardened. I know that I’m not the most comfortable person to hang around with because I’m awkward. I know that I hold little promise of someone being proud of knowing that they have anything to do with me. While that is not a good reason to deny Christian fellowship to someone, no one is perfect, including Christians. I can’t blame people for not wanting to hang out with me in their spare time, so I’ll take it when it happens unintentionally and be grateful for it although it’s still depressing.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Individualitis; Stop Paying Attention to Yourself!

Mobilise 2013 - Main Meeting 5 - Andrew Wilson from Mobilise on Vimeo.

First, Andrew Wilson makes a great point about individualitis. The suffix, -itis, indicates the inflammation of something. Hence, tendinitis is an inflammation of a tendon or appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix. Individualitis is the figurative inflammation, or undue attention given to, the individual over and against a corporate body.

Andrew Wilson is right that we tend to focus too heavily on ourselves. Children are naturally like this. Maturity is the growth away from thinking the world revolves around us to understanding how we can be useful to a group of people. Our culture is filled with immature people. With that observation, I’m going to be perfectly immature and talk about his message as though it were all about me.

First, he lists a group of people and says that Nehemiah isn’t mentioned. Nehemiah isn’t any more important than anyone else in the list. The problem I see with this is that Nehemiah’s name is still the name of the book. It’s wonderful, on the other hand that people can be involved with each other to create something beyond any of them. Wilson mentions the builder of the Dung Gate as the least one of these. My issue with this is I wish I had something as significant as a Dung Gate to build. Some of us aren’t even as important as the guy that built the Dung Gate.

Second, when you live in a society filled with individualists and you are trying to be a corporatist – I say “corporatist” because there are so few of them that there really isn’t a word for it – you will be marginalized. Individualists compete against one another to achieve the places of great importance. If you don’t compete, but really try to work with other people, you will be used by them to advance their importance. So the only way to be useful to God is to compete for the position to be useful. Now some of you might balk at what I’m saying so far. If so, you are being idealistic rather than realistic.

I keep bringing up Desiring God because some of their recent articles fit with what I’m saying. I love Desiring God ministries and appreciate all they do. Nevertheless, here’s an article talking about Self-Preoccupation. The message fits with Andrew Wilson’s teaching above. This is often what I think people would accuse me of. Jon Bloom has three very practical things to do in the process of not being self-preoccupied.

1.  “Deny yourself by getting your eyes off yourself.”

This presupposes that I’m paying attention to my own eyes. There must be a point at which we remain self-aware. I understand the concept, but Paul also instructs Timothy to keep a watch on himself and promote himself 1 Tim 4:11-16. Where is the line to be drawn? If you are having trouble bringing Paul’s admonition to Timothy to bear because of undue competition in the world, then the admonition to follow Matthew 16:24-25 is inappropriate.

2.  “Look to Jesus and all that God promises to do for you through him.”
God is all in all. In a desire for God, we must desire to serve him in all things. While God gives us gifts by virtue of the Holy Spirit who is in all believers, he doesn’t promise to use every last one of us. Paul indicates that it is the general ideal in passages such as 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 (most people miss the fact that 1 Corinthians 13 is in the middle of the larger discourse regarding using gifts in the Body of Christ, but that’s another issue altogether). So we can look at what Jesus has done for us, but we cannot expect that he will absolutely use every last one of us for his glory. How many people have been martyred for their faith without so much as a testimony? I assure you that they are out there and that most of us haven’t heard anything about them. How were they used? I know that’s an extreme example, but there is a difference between what is ideally prescribed and what is practically ordained.

Which leads to the last point:

3.  Serve others.

Except as I have already stated, there is no promise that we will be able to do this despite our desire to do it. I know of many ministers who are grateful for the ministries that they are able to do and all the people that they are able to minister to. But I know of many individuals who have no hope for ministry because of some physical or mental condition, for example. Speaking for myself, I know of no one who can say that I ministered to them. But if God doesn’t want me to minister, then I’ll just have to live with the frustration of having wanted to.