Crushing Depression

I fell into what turned out to be an extended bout with depression that lasted the better part of three solid years of my life and it seemed like an eternity. One winter morning, after another long night of binge drinking to try and ease the constant pain and numb the brutal memories that were haunting me like an eerie phantom, my dad came to wake me up.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.”

If we live long enough all of us come to a point now and again, becoming mistakenly convinced that our time has passed us by. We get suckered into believing we no longer matter. If we ever did. We’re left reeling in a sense, feeling as though the deck is stacked against us or we’ve gotten outwitted and lost in the shuffle—we’re nothing more than a token joker to be discarded in some cosmic game of Poker (all this, of course, assuming you aren’t Donald Trump, in which case you’d always turn up the winner).

peasant postFight it as we may, we struggle to believe our lives count for much. At the end of the proverbial day, we reason, we’re merely a speck of sand blown around by vast ocean winds across a sprawling island beach. Pawns in a game of chess. Disposable diapers meant to handle the crap life dumps on us. It becomes a prison we can’t escape.

And yes, this happens to Christians, particularly when our walk with Christ spans a fair amount of space over the canvas of our brief lifetimes. Those who suggest otherwise—those who perpetuate a fairy-tale brand of faith—not only have they bought a lie, they peddle a poisonous potion of untruth.

Deny it if you wish but just because we have faith in the Son of God who loves us (and that’s nothing short of a miracle), faith doesn’t grant us immunity to the myriad of struggles life is going to present. A sense of hopelessness can overwhelm us, unexpectedly and uninvited. Without asking for it we are thrown into the ring, bouts filled with prolonged introspection—even questioning what difference would it have made had we never been born? We reason to ourselves and conclude that the old business adage “everyone is replaceable” must be true when it comes to our existence as well.

There are a myriad of life events that can trigger and sustain these crushing bouts of depression (or, if you don’t like admitting you deal with depression, call it what you will). The punches are real, and battling it can seem like swinging in the dark at a moving target.

This sense of insignificance, nothingness—and at other times or altogether at once, horrific intervals of shame thrust upon us—doesn’t happen to us in a vacuum. Life’s cruel and unwelcome traumatic events, the weighty realization that the increasingly faded dreams we’ve held on to for as long as we can remember aren’t about to become reality—or maybe the most debilitating foe of all, an incredibly profound sense of personal failure. This is the stuff of life we’d rather ignore than look at in the face.

It hurts.

It could come in the form of losing a career we invested our very heart and skin into. The sudden death of a beloved child. The loss of something less arbitrary such as a drivers license. Something so taken for granted as the comfort of sleeping in our own bed each night being stripped away. Possibly it’ll be the erosion of our good health much sooner than we’d planned or expected. Something so heroic as enduring the loss of a limb in combat serving your country and defending freedom around the globe. Maybe something more sinister, you’ve been violated and hurt by someone in unspeakable terms and the aftermath is you were innocently robbed of something very valuable.

Back to that morning near the height of my crippling depression. I must have reeked to high heaven of pale ale and hard whiskey, my poor dad, he’d invested so much time and emotional capitol to help see me through it. I’ll never forget waking up to see him standing at the side of my twin bed, being so ashamed of myself and thinking what will he possibly say at this point, besides “Get up you worthless excuse for a son”? Pouring a bucket of cold ice water over my head would have been going light on me.

I’d managed to embarrass him and my mother, my children, my entire family and closest friends. I’d fallen head first into a pit and we both knew I couldn’t see the sun for the life of me. It was killing me. I wouldn’t climb out of the condemnation filled thoughts had I been offered a million dollars to do so. And for all the scorn I’d heaped on myself despite the forgiveness Christ had secured for me, the insatiable jaws of defeat threatening to swallow me whole, the circling religious claim adjusters and pious oddsmakers who insisted I be written off as a total loss, my rebellious choice for drunken stupors over sane sobriety staring him smack dab in the eyeballs—all he could muster was, “Ken, you’re a good man. I love you. And I’m proud of you.”

Laying there motionless and hungover the tears wouldn’t be denied, unable to figure out how my imperfect father (wonderful as he is) could possibly love me at such a moment. It still stuns me on yet another winter morning, a decade later.

Spiritual ragamuffin, the late Brennan Manning, liked to tell a story about an Irish priest taking a walking tour of his parish. On the road ahead he sees an old peasant kneeling beside the road praying. The priest is moved by this display of piety and says to the man, “You must be very close to God.” The peasant looks up at the priest, reflects for a moment and says, “Yes, he is very fond of me.”

I know I’m not alone now, I’ve talked with and listened to so many who have experienced their own version of a hellish nightmare—crushing depression. So, as a fellow peasant in the faith, let me remind you too.

God is very fond of you.

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oozing with grace

Had an encouraging exchange with Kandace Rather a couple weeks ago on Twitter. This is an incredible testimony oozing with grace and I’ve been thinking about since seeing it back in November (HT: Tullian Tchividjian). Powerful, moving and what grace looks like in living color. Many talk a good game when it comes to grace, but this is grace. Plain and simple. Although grace may not look pretty at first glance, look closer, it’s beautiful.


around the horn — 1/27/14

Ten posts that might interest you.

…    

The Kurt Cobain In Me

kurt cobainI’m so happy ’cause today
I’ve found my friends …
They’re in my head
I’m so ugly, but that’s okay, ’cause so are you …
We’ve broken our mirrors
Sunday morning is everyday for all I care …
And I’m not scared
Light my candles, in a daze
‘Cause I’ve found god

Ever since I preached 20 years ago to a crowded hall of teenagers in Aberdeen, Washington (just months after Cobain’s suicide), I’ve always had a sort of interest about Kurt’s life—but never bothered to delve into it. He was an incredible talent, a remarkably gifted artist and musician.

Watched an interesting and insightful mini-documentary into the wee hours last night. I couldn’t help, after having had laid my head on my pillow several hours after I normally check out for the evening—wonder how much different Kurt’s life might have been had he been apprehended by grace at some point in his life?

Sadly, I don’t think Kurt had any concrete idea about what grace looked like and it’s painfully apparent to me that he never quite experienced it’s sweetness firsthand—although I’m certain he longed for it.

(The account of him making a “decision” for Jesus and being baptized aside. I’m not among those who promote the notion that water baptism justifies sinners like me, any more than I would argue that an hour in the bathtub could save my soul).

Cobain was what you might call a paradox, you wouldn’t have to interview very many people to hear he could be a royal egotistical jerk (a pain in the ass). Besides that, he was a self-admitted heroin addict and had flirted with death (and suicide) more than once before that fateful day in April, 1994.

Then there was the “nice” Kurt so many who knew him reference. It’s pretty obvious he got carried away by his success and yet never seemed to forget who he was and where he came from (and who he was not, which by all accounts haunted him).

“I was tired of pretending that I was someone else just to get along with people, just for the sake of having friendships.”

While his life met an unnecessary and tragic ending, the journey that led Cobain to his demise provides a chilling and sobering look into the soul for all of us who struggle with a thousand different demons. If we’re honest, there’s a little bit of Kurt Cobain in every one of us.

And for me, there was quite a bit more than I might like to face.


Going Fishing

fishingI don’t know if it’s because I’m a firstborn or just a strange cat but I rarely if ever allow myself to feel like my work is done, and the fact I have so little time for getting after all I want to write only exacerbates things.

Whatever the reason is, this story comes to mind quite often.

Philip Melancthon once said to his friend Martin Luther, “Today, Martin, you and I will discuss God’s governance of the universe,” to which Luther replied, “No, Philip. Today you and I are going fishing, and we’ll leave the governance of the universe to God.”

With that, I’m off to bed while a lonely pad of paper on my desk keeps calling my name.


A New Year’s Prayer

ss-131231-new-years-london-tease-905p.photoblog600God Almighty — not some trivial unknown mystical superficial god of our own making but the Divine we find cover to cover throughout the scriptures, the One who has created the heavens and earth, hung the stars and eventually will make his enemies a footstool when he finally welcomes with no regret or hesitation his very own into his eternal Kingdom;

This coming year somehow develop in us a hunger we’ve yet to experience in seeking you rather than your gifts, a thirst for the righteousness which can only be quenched in your Son Jesus, and a deeper understanding of and fresh appreciation for your scandalous grace upon our lives—infused by the gift of faith you’ve so absolutely undeservedly and generously given us.

Take far-far away from us Father our heart’s default position as stingy-miserable accountants turning a blind eye and holding out an empty hand when it comes to our stubborn propensity to decide for you who you’d prefer to bless and who you’d like to curse. As for your elaborate love (not the “I love my football team” kind of love—but real love—boundary-less, no-strings-attached, doesn’t-matter-who-gives-their-approval kind of love), set our hearts on fire anew empowering us as reckless-hilarious sharers instead, keenly aware of the fact that we’ve already been given “in Christ” all the love we could ever fathom, desire or contain.

Give us a grace we can at least do something in return for, but spare us the embarrassment of offering us something we can’t pay a red cent for. We complain to you about “other” Christians who don’t take their faith nearly seriously enough (like we do) and we’re incredibly irritated by the “cheap grace” they have the nerve to assume they possess. But truth be told, what we find even more troubling is your economy of grace, you don’t operate like a businessman. Notice our righteous indignation and how terribly bothered we get (especially those of us who consider ourselves the “intellectuals”) at the thought of you lavishing free grace on those of us who’ve made a mess of our lives (yes, even when it means ourselves).

To add insult to injury then you go and bless these sorry excuses for Christians with something us model Christians have been patiently waiting on you for since we decided to give up the high life and get our act together, for you of course—you surely must understand why we demand “balance’ when it comes to talk of grace.

If we’re honest, we’d rather appear righteous than embrace forgiveness. Whatever means you deem necessary, help us begin to grasp the radical forgiveness which is ours. Give us eyes to see that our past, present and future sins—be they identified and confessed, or not, have been drowned in the vast sea you’ve named Forgotten. Speaking of our unspoken sins, it’s pardon we need just as much or more so for these transgressions.

It’s not popular in some circles to talk about you Jesus, crucified and blood spilling, assuming the place that was rightly ours, “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood; sealed my pardon with his blood… Guilty, vile, and helpless we; spotless lamb of God was he; full atonement can it be?” By taking our punishment upon yourself you’ve removed the condemnation we had coming and all prospects of judgment we’d ever face.

In other words, there’s not a single thing we can “do”—or an earthly priest can “do” for that matter—to erase the mountain of our guilt. You’ve done all there is to do. And it was enough (it was you who announced on that tree, “It is finished!”). Teach us to walk in the freedom of that realization. “The death he died, he died to sin once for all” and “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Create in us a genuine concern for others in desperate need of your holy gospel while removing from us those silly and hideous masks we wear disguising our despicable need to appear acceptable to others. After all, you haven’t called us to be unholy show ponies. Break of us our addiction to shamelessly and pitifully parading our good works around as if we have something, anything, to show for ourselves—may we be content to hang our hats made of straw on you, and everything you have accomplished on behalf of us all who believe in you (John 6:28-29), and you alone.

Grant us a humility that disowns what we’d consider our highlight reel worthy good works as any kind of ticket to gaining your unmerited favor. Enable us to readily own the sad state of our bankrupt spiritual account—we’d be wearing nothing but shame were we not clothed in the promise of your mercy.

Wreck our foolish plans and every last numbskulled idea we think up this coming year that isn’t soaked with sights set on your glory, not our own.

And rid us of the countless idols and imitations we settle for in your stead.

Make it so Lord. Without you we are without hope, this coming year, and every year.

Amen.


Bono on Karma

The following is taken from a 2005 interview Christianity Today did with U2’s iconic frontman, Bono, arguably the world’s most famous rock star.

It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma…

You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

…I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep shit. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

…But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled… . It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.