Tag Archives: Honesty

Survival strategy

I wrote this in my diary the night I missed Jon Foreman’s aftershow/solo show at the BCDO festival; it’s a survival strategy for getting through a depressive episode, so I have it to look back on the next time the ‘wolf‘ starts beating me around the head with painful thoughts. It’s the process I went through that night, and over the following couple of days, firstly to withstand the immediate assault, and then to calm myself down from it, and then to find God, and light, and hope, through it all, and eventually to recover.

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The little note at the bottom I added in the morning. It felt like sometimes you have to lose the occasional battle even when you’re winning the war, and that it’s ok that sometimes ‘chaos wins’. With no apologies for quoting a lyric, because it was one of the lyrics that shifted my perspective that night, this episode was the shadow that proved the sunshine; suddenly facing a (temporary) deep and scary darkness turned up the contrast on my life, and giving the tears to God as a desperate prayer I really did see hope, and joy, and every good thing, in a breathtaking light.

Hope is strongest set against despair.

The Light shines the brightest in the dark.*

 

*John 1:5, The Bible

Resurrecting me

Like so many of Jon Foreman’s songs, Resurrect Me has played a huge part in my story.
I stayed up till 3:30am last night watching (amongst other things in the beautiful, honest, hope-filled evening that was TWLOHA’s Heavy and Light concert) Jon singing this song. In a whole evening dedicated to being real, opening up about when life hurts, and affirming that hope is real, it struck me again that this song was what first inspired me to seek help for my own pain about a year ago.
I’d been back and forth between ‘ok’ and ‘not ok’ for some time, and keeping an eye on myself, aware I needed to take my mental health seriously but not sure at what point to reach out.
And then one day last spring I found myself listening to this song. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, but that day one line jumped out at me: ‘I tried to drown the pain with a friend of mine, it didn’t seem to help, ah she’s got a pretty face with her wedding lace but I’m still waking up with myself
Suddenly it was obvious; if I’m not ok now, without a job, what makes me think I will be ok when I get one? Isn’t the problem right here, in me? A line in a book I was reading that same week confirmed it: Wherever we go, ‘We take ourselves with us’. I had to find a way to be ok with that!
Here is the truth. I was ‘ok’, but I was carrying pain that previous jobs had not fixed. Neither had my marriage, my relocation or my home. Maybe it was ok for that ‘ok’ to not be enough, and to seek help.
I can testify that it was absolutely worth it! There is help and support out there, none of us are alone in our pain, and as TWLOHA will tell you, hope is real, help is real and recovery is possible. I’m now on that road; I hope that I am learning to ‘take myself with me’ now, to be able to keep my eyes on the honest reality of the state of my soul and listen to both my ‘light’ and my ‘heavy’.
I don’t know where you are at. But if you find yourself waiting for something to complete you, I’d love to encourage you to find help to discover that you can be whole already, without that thing yet in place. If you’re not ok with yourself now, you will not be ok when that job, relationship, family, move, marriage, money, or home arrives. That pain is there, in you. And that’s ok. And you can be helped to find yourself whole, now.
Resurrection is real.

You can watch the whole of Heavy and Light here, I recommend the whole thing, a really affirming and honest event.

Singing dangerous prayers against the darkness

God’s taken me and my church on an amazing worship journey these past few weeks. We’ve been studying the first letter of John, and singing all the dangerous prayers. It’s all felt extremely timely.

I’ve found it very difficult to write recently; the political situation we’re in is unlike anything I’ve seen before and evolving rapidly. I wonder what I can say into the face of it that won’t be an irrelevance a week later, or what I have to add to the clamour of voices already speaking loudly, especially when I don’t think any of us have navigated anything like this before and none of us entirely know the way. If I’m honest, I’m fumbling along in the dark trying to find what love looks like just as much as anyone else!

 

But then, into our chaos, God speaks.

 

The teaching in church over the last few weeks has looked at 1 John, which was written to a church suffering from the effects of false claims, which were causing division in the church. Truth itself was under attack, and the Christian community was finding itself fractured. So John writes to assure the church that there is a real truth we can be sure of, in Jesus, and then sets out how we can know it better.

If we want to know where to walk, we need light to be able to see the path. Walking in the light as he calls it is not about whether or not we are ‘saved’, but about how well we know God. We must press into God to see clearly. Honesty and accountability are the path to better relationships with one another and with God, and when we are able to live in total honest openness like this, the truth can be seen and known and division healed. Before we leapt to making judgements of others, we must look honestly at ourselves and see the roots of the same problems in us. And all can be forgiven!

Jesus is our standard against which we must measure truth and love. The more we know Him, the more we can discern these things. And His love, real love, is a love that sacrifices itself, its own interests, and its very life for others and for the benefit of the wider community.

We live in dark times, as truth is under attack and we are being divided against one another. But we can face down and overcome the darkness by striving for closeness with God, personal purity coupled with a transparency and humility that keeps us on the right track and helps build connection with others, and sacrificial love.

 

And then the worship! I don’t know how intentional this has been (I like to think it has been), but most of the songs we have been singing these past few weeks have been the surrender songs*. Big, dangerous prayers, reminding us that we follow a God who became a perfect example of surrendered sacrifice and who is worth everything, and committing ourselves to laying down our lives for God’s work in the world. I say dangerous, because if we really take what we sing seriously and are prepared to let God take us up on our words, we could find ourselves called into painfully sacrificial love for the benefit of God’s people and plans. Laying down our lives is going to hurt! But here we are singing these words, over and over, and I believe truly desiring God’s will be done in and through us, whatever the cost.

And it’s not just been music; on one week we looked back at the bold prayers we’d been encouraged to pray a few months earlier, and to be encouraged by the answers we’d seen to keep up the bold prayers. One week as part of our worship we spent a while praying over our involvement in the world and in politics, that we as a church can bring light into the world.

And a holy silence has descended between these powerful songs as we have sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit working in us. We can be a very reserved church at times, but it’s seemed the Spirit has been at work, breaking down our reservedness, and I’ve never heard this congregation sing so passionately or keep such profound silences.

 

It’s made me wonder about the implications for me personally; here I am, laying aside my claims to a career (which still eludes me) and an easy, comfortable life, and pledging myself to Christ in the battle for truth and love…. I just don’t know how my life and the world situations I find myself in will pan out. I’m aware it could get very difficult and unpleasant, but also that God is worth it all; though I wonder, am I brave enough, should it come to real sacrifice..?

But bigger than my own life, it has felt as if we are being commissioned as a community to face up to the darkness we face in this troubled world, and lay ourselves down in God’s service to work to bring light, and love, and truth, and restoration. Will we take up the call?

 

At the end of one of our worship sessions, an image came to me as we sang; I saw the church standing together, facing a great crowd of terrible dark monsters, but singing out against the darkness these songs of surrender. And the darkness cowered in fear as we sang!

 

* I mean, just look at these songs and lyrics! –
Jesus, be the centre (be my hope, be my song, be my path, be my guide, be the reason that I live…)
Jesus, all for Jesus (all I am and have and ever hope to be, all of my amvitions, hopes and plans, I surrender these into Your hands, for it’s only in Your will that I am free…)
Receive our adoration (we choose to leave it all behind and turn our eyes towards the prize, the upward call of God in Christ, You have our hearts, Lord, take our lives, receive our adoration Jesus, Lamb (sacrifice) of God, how wonderful You are…)
Amazing grace
Blessed be Your name (You give and take away, my heart will choose to say blessed be Your name…)
I surrender all I am to the Saviour who surrendered all for me
Take my life and let it be…
Mighty to save (take me as You find me, all my fears and failures, fill my life again, I give my life to follow everything I believe in, now I surrender…)
This is my desire (I give You my heart, I give You my soul, I live for You alone, every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake, Lord have Your way in me…)
All to Jesus I surrender…
Jesus, lover of my soul (it’s not about me, as if You should do things my way, You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways…)

Living an obsession well

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone to hear that I have an obsession, namely with the work of Jon Foreman and particularly his band Switchfoot. I’m not alone – I’m friends with a whole community of fellow megafans who can all testify to the importance of this band to so many areas of their lives. But I’ve had conversations with many of these wonderful friends recently in which the difficult subject of idolatry has arisen. Whilst we love this band and know they do us good, so many of us at the same time worry we place them before God at times. It’s an important question to consider, however difficult; no human is worth our worship and devotion the way God is, at all. We need to get things the right way up; but how?

I wrote this a couple of years ago after a particularly obsessive spell got me seriously asking this question myself, and resulted in me fasting completely from both social media and all things Jon Foreman for the whole of Advent. These are some of the lessons I learnt from the experience. I’m sharing it here because it was eye-opening for me, and very helpful in how I treat my obsession. I’m hoping it helps for you too.

First – God is the source of every good thing, love comes from God and love in itself is always good. But we must hold every good thing lightly, enjoy them fully but be prepared to eventually surrender all things back to their Maker. Fasting is a good way of practising this, kicking down anything that could become a false god and breaking our hold on the things we enjoy by removing them from our lives from time to time.

I found it was unambiguously good spending a little time away from social media, though I missed my facebook-only friends! But fasting Switchfoot for that amount of time – less so. It was good for my sense of perspective for sure, showing up how God is enough for me and so, so much more than any mere band could be, that God is always good and can always be followed, whereas I don’t always agree with these guys on everything and sometimes will have to go a different way to them; to recognise that all the good I see in them comes from God and that it’s God who is at work in my life there, and also that God has power over every addiction.

However, it also showed up how God is using Jon to shape me and make me more the person I was made to be. As a result, I found that fasting for so long was slightly harmful – I found I was fighting myself after a while and trying to be someone I’m actually not by supressing that part of me that has been inspired by (God through) Jon. Without his influence I found I was less myself, less who I was made to be, and less creative!

So since then I’ve embraced the fandom, as far as I feel God at work in me through it, and have seen the most incredible positive changes in me as a result. I needed that perspective from fasting to tease apart the healthy good influence and God at work, from the unhealthy overreliance on the guys themselves. I’ve begun to look on Jon as my saint – which is actually a lot healthier than it sounds – not someone in any way perfect (as maybe I had been at risk of thinking) but a fellow Christian a little further along the journey in most respects than I am, and therefore someone whose example I can look up to and follow. But that has to be in the context of a good relationship with Jesus so I can see where they sometimes diverge, or where maybe I am further along than he is so he doesn’t bring me down. I have to follow Jesus first – but sometimes Jon is a good guide to my efforts. And of course, we’d hope to not just follow but surpass a saint eventually and leave them behind for Christ.

And then this, which has been a lesson learnt since: opening myself up to fandom has mostly improved me, but my obsession has also grown. It’s a weakness and character flaw for sure, and I have to be honest about that. But, surrendered to God, God can use a weakness and turn it to His strength. It keeps us small and humbly dependent on God’s grace if we are constantly seeking God’s help with it, and it opens us up to God working in us, He can use it to shape us.

So: I’ve realised that fasting regularly for short times is a very good practice, but for long periods isn’t healthy (probably the case for many good things). Fighting against ourselves is bad. Embracing fan-love and going for it wholeheartedly but humbly and reverently before God has (for me) opened me up to being more the person God wants to make me, and He’s done incredible things in and through me. And I’ve learnt to always look beyond Switchfoot to see God at work behind them, to acknowledge that’s where the good comes from, be thankful and keep my eyes on Him.

Let’s keep encouraging one another to ask the difficult questions of where our priorities are, who has our heart and how tightly are we clinging on to created things.

Speaking our minds

I’ve been blessed with great mental health for over 15 years (bar a bit of stress), but recently I’ve found I’m not feeling quite 100 percent. I’m ok, in general, but I’m finding I need to give myself some TLC and make more of an effort to take care of myself. I’m aware I’m saying that I’m ill, and that I’m ok at the same time, but this is an attempt to tell it like it is, and that’s the honest truth at present.

‘Mental illness’ can sound very dramatic (and of course it can be the biggest thing we ever have to face), but it isn’t always. Saying I’m ill, but ok, isn’t in this instance a veiled cry for help; it’s an acknowledgment that I feel a bit ‘off’, and that sometimes mental health can be like that. I don’t want to over-dramatise where I’m at, as I know so many people who are facing real health battles. That isn’t me. I’m feeling pretty positive about myself and my life at the moment, in general; other than my lack of paid work, my life is wonderful, and I really like myself. But at the same time I’ve been struggling more and more with self-doubt these last few years. To an extent, that’s a normal thing to struggle with, and as I was musing here last year, can even be healthy. But it’s got to a point where it is causing me to feel sort of paralysed at times, like I can’t make myself do anything. If that happens frequently or persistently it is a symptom of ill health, and it has been happening to me more and more often. In addition, small things have been triggering big mood crashes, leaving me feeling like all the options before me are equally pointless, and again making it hard to stir myself to do anything as a result, until I or someone else manages to shake me out of it. Not healthy. So, it’s time to talk about it.

I believe in talking openly about mental health, as there’s still so much stigma and misunderstanding surrounding it that it helps us all when we’re open about it, whether we are feeling great, or terrible, or a bit under the weather. We need to talk to allow others permission to talk, to feel comfortable discussing things when they’re not feeling right, to know how to spot the signs when something’s up, and to be able to get appropriate help. Right now, that’s what I’m trying to do. I spend a lot of time encouraging and affirming others who are sharing their struggles, knowing how valuable it is that they are being open, and now it’s time I took my own advice.

Maybe the act of talking about it will help me too, to let others know to keep an eye on me, pray for me, and encourage me to seek help. It’s already focussing my mind more on putting into practise good wellbeing advice (see below), to take care of myself and help myself overcome unhealthy thought cycles. The good news is, I know that this stuff does actually work even though it sounds a bit naff when you write it out, and can (though obviously doesn’t always) effectively treat mental illness, lead to full recovery and stop it becoming serious. I hope and pray it works for me; having been through hell in the past and not wanting to go back there, I’m taking this seriously.

Just as with ‘physical’ illness, these things can affect any of us at any time. At least a quarter of us will be battling mental ill health at any one time. It doesn’t matter how ‘strong’ or otherwise we are; a person with a strong immune system could still get cancer, a strong person can still get depression. We rightly fear cancer, so we find out how to spot the signs, and know to go to a doctor if we find a lump or have suspect symptoms. Just as there are ways to treat a physical illness, so there are ways to treat mental illness; there are therapies and medicines available that work, and we should make use of them when we need them the same as we would if we were ill or injured in any other way. And we know how important it is to share our struggles with others and not try to go it alone when we’re physically ill. Likewise, we need to be open, and we need one another. Let’s treat mind cancers the same as body cancers; they are just as serious.

Finally, a bit about faith: Christians get sick sometimes. That’s a fact of life. It’s ok. It doesn’t mean God has abandoned us, or that we have abandoned God. It’s merely the result of living in a broken world, where things are not as yet as they should be. I have no answers to the ‘why’, nor does anyone else. Let’s just do our best to respond to ourselves and one another with love and grace, and reach out to the God who goes ahead of us just as He has always been behind us, and who walks with us even whilst we walk the darkest paths of life. I have to admit, I’m a little scared, but I’m hanging on to these truths. And I know that being ill now does not negate my previous healing; God is still good. God is with us, and we are loved.

I hope this encourages you to be open, and keep being open, about your own health, to get to know yourself and learn how to spot the signs of something being wrong, and to look after yourself. Be blessed :)


 

 

Stuff that helps*

  • Eating, drinking and sleeping healthily
  • Hanging out with friends
  • Keeping active and exercise
  • Keeping a good daily routine
  • Trying new things
  • Being outdoors – sunshine and nature
  • Speaking kindly to and of yourself
  • Taking care of yourself – caring for your appearance and doing things you enjoy for example
  • Counting your blessings
  • Being present in the ‘now’, being mindful of who, how and where you are and what is in your control now, rather than dwelling on the past or future
  • Finding creative ways to express yourself
  • Spending time focussing on Jesus

 

* (This stuff is good advice, but please be aware that when someone is really sick it just isn’t always possible to follow it – just as when you have a stomach bug, and know you need to drink plenty of fluids, but struggle to keep anything down, even water – so please don’t over-advise struggling friends, they may just need you to be there for them)

There’s plenty of help out there if you’re struggling yourself – speak to a doctor, and find online resources such as this.