Coping With Anything
I got up early to organize and plan . . . and ended up skipping my quiet time until late because I was so very into my planning mode. The reason I spend so much time here talking about learning to live intuitively and living by clinging to Jesus rather than by following a set of rules is that my wonderful parents are such disciplined and orderly people and their plans and disciplines have given them an awful lot of what I want out of life. I would do well to do most of it just as they did and do. And so I haven't given up on any of what they do, but rather am trying to integrate what they do into a life centered around Jesus. Often that works. Sometimes it doesn't. But it is my natural way of coping: analyzing and planning and then mustering up the discipline to work that plan.
I finished my planning with some quiet time, and then a nap, and then more quiet time (I had gotten up very early, so this was all prior to my family stirring for the day), and concluded my personal time with the decision to approach this day as it comes, without even a tentative plan in mind. That's pretty radical for me . . . even scary.
I think the primary problem with my natural way of coping is that it isn't just a way to be obedient and control what God gives me to control. It has been a way of trying to control God, and of trying to control parts of my world that He is in control of, but that I am not meant to control. (People, for instance!)
There is a big difference between either being quiet before my Maker and allowing Him to teach me and direct me or my natural approach of trying to analyze my choices myself and decide what will give me the best results -- however I define "best results", even if I define it as "what will most honor God". What most honors God, and what will most satisfy, is indeed KNOWING HIM, and I get there best by listening, not by analyzing.
We have grown up in an age that deifies the rational mind, and glorifies our ability to make our own choices and take the consequences of those choices. We may not be able to "have our cake and eat it too", but as long as we're willing to deal with reality, we can do what we choose to do and enjoy the fruit of our own choices. Or so we think.
I think the two roots of our cultural and personal depressions are here: 1) we ignore the reality of how much is out of our control, even if we are perfect in our analysis of reality and choose the right things and execute our plans with discipline and talent -- and so are thrown into depression by the places that reality intrudes into our distorted world-view of self-sufficient individuality, and/or 2) we ignore that lasting contentment and satisfaction is found in our healthy relationships -- first with God and then with others -- and are thrown into depression when we begin to understand the relational cost of the choices we have made without considering the primacy of relationships over achievement or possessions or even identity.
As Evangelicals we haven't really avoided either of these sources of depression, but just spun them to fit our religious sensibilities. It is much easier to market an idea of the Kingdom that requires me to bring about God's purposes, and not me rooted in relationship to God and to others as part of the BODY that is His Church in the world, but rather me in all my glory as a 21st-century-responsible-and-energetic individual . . . and so we run smack into that depression as we come to understand that "apart from Me you can do nothing" is not just flowery religious language. And then all our efforts to be obedient and useful have been so consuming and taken so much out of us that we cannot help but be depressed as we find ourselves alone and not even knowing God well enough to understand how to access all the riches of that abundant life that we didn't live in because we were too busy trying to accomplish it.
Depression, burn-out, or that vague sense that something is wrong and there must be more . . . they are God's gifts to turn us around on the spot to face Him! While there are certainly appropriate times to address depressions with physical sources with appropriate medication, or to use appropriate medication as a band-aid to allow enough healing to make the life changes we need to make in our depression, we can't afford to let anything blind us to the fact that most depression points us to the way life just isn't what God intended it to be for us. The reason we can't afford that blindness is that the abundant life He offers is not just a figure of speech or a promise for after the grave and resurrection. We have been promised the freedom to know Him and know each other and know -- here and now -- what we have been created to know and feel and do. Much of psychology is dedicated to dumbing down that reality and teaching people to cope with something less -- something "not so idealistic".
The spiritual disciplines are dedicated to just the opposite! They are dedicated to a pursuit of Him and to a love for each other, both of which point us to the fullness of life that He promised us. They acknowledge the proper role of choice and the proper role of dependency and the proper roles of waiting and acting. They move me past my analysis and planning and make me forgetful of myself and mindful of our Triune God and of the people in my life. They convert the nice ideas about good theology into a real walk that shows His power as much as it shows my continued frailty.
Jim Birchfield translated Philippians 4:13 in context as "I can cope with anything through Him Who strengthens me", and I think that shows remarkable insight into both that passage and into that whole powerful letter. I have been reading Paul and Peter and John differently this year, finally. We are part of the same BODY, following after the same Lord -- "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on" -- and their words and examples nourish me in new ways.
I am learning to drop the pretense of having it "all together" (yes, I made that a bit easier for me to do than for most of you, didn't I?) and also shake the delusion that I can figure it out and get it "all together" somehow, and am learning the joy of letting God be God and me be a forgiven sinner that will only be tranformed by His grace, not by my effort. I am learning the daily relief of practicing the disciplines -- not to be transformed, although that will be a relief too -- but to encounter Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit in the ways that nourish the deepest parts of me and in the ways that wipe away all depression.
None of that is to say that depression and grief are not healthy parts of this life He gives us! And there are many pieces that we will carry with us to the grave, and will not be resolved until God Himself wipes away every tear. But most of our depression is truly resolved in knowing Him and in letting Him fulfill His purposes in us and through us!
May today -- the 4th of July, 2007 -- be a day of enjoying His creation and His gifts and His love -- right here, right now, in all our private moments and family and community parties! I love the image of Jesus at the wedding in Cana turning water into wine, and am quite sure that He is just as comfortable today at a pool party with wine and beer and brats as He is in our church services. May you feel His presence!