Mental Illness, Possessed Baby Dolls, and the Church

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I’m going to tell you an embarrassing story. When I was a teenager, in the middle of religious cultic craziness, I thought I’d been given the gift of spiritual discernment. I truly believed that I could discern whether or not people’s toys, specifically baby dolls, were possessed. Parents in my church brought me their children’s dolls so that I could stare into their eyes and tell them if there was a demon inside or not. Yes, I now recognize that this is absolutely nuts. Yikes!! But at the time, it seemed very real.

We had all heard anecdotal stories of people’s experiences with possessed toys. We had heard stories about demons coming out of synthesizers and electronic keyboards.(Because rock music, you know, was from the devil.) The amount of fear involved was ridiculous. No one wanted demons in their houses. People do strange things when they are afraid.

Mental illness often gets put in the same Christianese category as possessed toys. While not on the same level, it’s something that we fear, don’t understand, and want to control. Christians feel like there should be a formula to change it. It feels safer to tell people that it’s the result of sin. It feels more comfortable to categorize it as “spiritual warfare.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t such a thing as spiritual warfare. I just don’t think it usually looks like we think it does.

I think we give way more credit to fear, anecdotal stories, and just brokenness in the world, and not enough credit to the subtle lies the enemy whispers to us about ourselves, other people, and God. Satan isn’t necessarily behind the cold you caught, the fact that your car broke down, or even your anxiety. But, he definitely loves that you feel hopeless and doubt God’s love for you.

As humans, we are naturally afraid of things we don’t understand.  But when you combine fear with religion, the idea that I have to do something to get results, brokenness and destruction happens.

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Do you know how many people are silently struggling with things like depression and anxiety within our churches but are afraid to say anything? Do you know how many people are told that their mental illness is a result of a “lack of faith” or “bitterness” or some other problem on their part? They aren’t doing enough and that’s why they are broken. People are afraid to speak up and ashamed to seek help or admit they need medication. That’s not okay. No one should have to struggle in secret. No one should be isolated in their pain and afraid of the body of Christ. It’s wrong that the church has made them feel this way.

How did we get here? I believe three things have played a huge part.

  • Religious Christianity

“Religion is the business of appeasing gods.” This sentence from Mike Cosper’s book Recapturing the Wonder has been challenging my thinking for almost a year now. We do that within Christianity. We put our ideas about God in a tiny box. Then we work our hardest to appease our god-in-a-box because we want his approval and blessings. That’s religious Christianity. Formulaic thinking abounds within religious Christianity. We search for a magical guarantee to make our god do what we want.

We can be conservative, religious Christians, or we can be liberal, religious Christians. It’s all about the box. We might have different ideas about God in our box, but if we are focused on doing things to make our god-in-a-box happy, then we are religious.

The real Jesus doesn’t fit in a box. He will always be bigger than our understanding. He will never make sense. And He doesn’t need to be appeased, because He already appeased Himself on the cross. 🙂

  • Lack of Education

The church has been suspicious of psychology for far too long. There is nothing wrong with learning how the human brain tends to work. Just because some of the scientists that made breakthroughs in psychology weren’t Christians doesn’t make their work invalid. Psychology is a beautiful thing. It’s exciting and freeing to understand potential whys behind thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Somehow, Christians often separate the spiritual part of people from the rest of them. I just don’t think that’s an accurate way of doing things. We are complex beings. And our spirituality, that is our ability to connect with God, is interwoven deeply with our story, our beliefs about our self, the way we interact with people, etc.

The church that we currently attend loves psychology. And honestly, the more I have come to understand myself, the healthier I have become spiritually.

  • Fear

Ironically fear is often the motivator behind our religious Christianity and our lack of education. We are afraid of the god we have imagined, so we create a list of religious behaviors to follow. We are afraid of a lack of control, so we try to earn God’s blessings by our actions. People are afraid of psychology, so they don’t get better educated. We are afraid of God and people’s condemnation, so we keep our depression and anxiety to ourselves.

Fear is not from the real Jesus, friends! Do you know what the most repeated command in the Bible is? “Do not be afraid.”  Wow! While fear is a legitimate emotion, it does not need to control us. Fear is not a helpful motivator. And the real Jesus is bigger than our fears.

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Let me just close with some thoughts.

  • Spirituality is very abstract. Sometimes we need concrete help before we can deal with abstract spiritual things. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. If I’m in the middle of a panic attack, frantically praying or trying to quote the Bible is not nearly as helpful as taking deep breaths, using some grounding techniques, and speaking truth to myself. Once I’m in a better place, I can take a look at what triggered me and go from there.
  • Because we are complicated, spiritual beings, many parts of us are intertwined and affected by other parts. Are there lies that we are believing about ourselves, God, and others that might be adding to our depression or anxiety? It’s very possible. However, we need to help our brains get to a place where we can logically deal with those lies.
  • If you are struggling with a mental illness, it’s not your fault. We live in a world broken by sin, and one of the things that is affected is our brains. They are complex organs, and sometimes they get sick. The best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out and look for help. You are not less spiritual because you go to therapy or are on medication. It’s okay! Those are good things. God is not disappointed and He doesn’t condemn you.

I know that the church’s attitude towards mental illness has often been more hurtful than helpful. But the church is made up of individuals. The church culture towards mental illness can change as more and more of us develop a healthy attitude and understanding. I have hope! 🙂

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The Dangers of Chocolate or Vanilla

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It’s the middle of the afternoon on a warm, sunny day and you are feeling hungry. Across the street, you see an old-fashioned ice cream shop that advertises thirty-six flavors of homemade ice cream. You begin to dream of fresh waffle cones and your mouth starts watering. Quickly crossing the street, you open the door to the sweet tinkle of a bell. There, in all their homemade glory, thirty-six beautiful containers of ice cream rest in a case behind a glass window.

The shop is quiet. You don’t really notice the tables of silent people hunched over their bowls of ice cream because your eyes are focused on the menu. How in the world are you going to choose? Maybe they will let you have more than one kind on your cone.

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You approach the case and stare dreamily at the swirls of fudge, raspberry, and peanut butter. You pause to gaze at the creamy green circle of mint chip. Then you hear a voice.

“Would you like chocolate or vanilla?”

You look up from the ice cream case to see the attendant staring at you. Puzzled, you wonder if you heard them right. “Excuse me?”

soda-jerk-713089_1920“Do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream?” They ask again.

You are confused. There are thirty-six different flavors of ice cream. Why do they want you to chose between chocolate and vanilla?

The attendant is still staring at you. “You should pick chocolate. We all eat chocolate ice cream here. In fact, only bad people choose vanilla.”

Now you are really confused. “But, I was hoping for mint chocolate chip.” you stammer.

“Mint chip is basically vanilla. And you can’t have vanilla. Only stupid people eat vanilla. How about chocolate?”

You don’t really like chocolate ice cream, but you are starting to feel intimidated.

“Mackinaw Island Fudge?” You ask slowly. “It’s got chocolate in it.”

“That’s VANILLA ice cream!” The attendant shrieks. “Vanilla ice cream is BAD! Only terrible people eat vanilla ice cream. What’s wrong with you?”

“Butter pecan?” you whisper.

The attendant glares at you. In a cold voice, they slowly say, “If it’s not chocolate, then it’s vanilla. Vanilla is evil.”

Ice cream has lost it’s appeal and you turn to leave.

“Where are you going? You can’t leave without eating some chocolate ice cream.” The attendant has moved from behind the counter and is blocking your path to the door. The tables of customers stare silently at you, hunched over their bowls of chocolate ice cream.

With a yell, you push past the attendant and make a run for the door. Safely outside, you turn to look back. Your appetite for ice cream has been ruined and it’s doubtful you’ll be heading into any ice cream shop in the near future.

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Believing that there are only two acceptable options or opinions is called Black and White Thinking. In reality, situations, people, and beliefs are rarely black and white. Most of the world is actually a misty gray. Black and white thinking is common within religion. This mindset is also evident in the recent, extreme political divide in our country.

Having grown up in an ultra religious sub-culture of Christianity where black and white was just the way we thought, I’d like to share some reasons why I believe this mindset is dangerous.

Black and White Thinking isolates us. We always think our perspective it correct; its OUR perspective after all! But in reality, our perspective is warped because of our biases, experiences, personalities, etc. By only surrounding ourselves with other people who think like us, our biased perspective is confirmed. We are right and they are wrong.

Honestly, if we are going to have a more accurate understanding of life, we need to get to know and listen to people who are different from us. We need to hear the heart of who they are, the experiences they have had, and the reasons they think and feel the way they do. Reality is found within a combination of different perspectives.

Black and White Thinking creates enemies. If there are only two options, then life quickly becomes us versus them. Supposed truth and safety is found within the comfort of our camp. Anyone who doesn’t think like us is viewed with suspicion. We do not see the complexities of others’ humanity and we ignore their stories and experiences. We are quick to bestow motives on them based on our own opinions and not on their actual intentions. In reality, there are very few truly evil people in the world. Most people have legitimate reasons for their perspectives, whether or not we agree with them.

Black and White Thinking is often based in fear. We are naturally afraid of things we do not understand. This fear can easily be exploited by people who are trying to control us. Most differences are not bad, they are just different. When we are controlled by black and white thinking, our fear keeps us from exploring or pursuing people who have differences. That fear traps us within our own narrow perspective. Fear is not from God! We need to evaluate our fear and discover if it is truly rational or not. Is our enemy Satan, a spiritual leader, or even the media exploiting our fear in an effort to control us? This leads me to my next point.

Black and White Thinking only benefits those in power. This is true in a religious setting, in a political one, and anywhere in between. People in power love to promote black and white thinking because minions who think like this are easier to control. If we went back to the ice cream illustration I started with, who is benefiting in that scenario? The makers of chocolate ice cream! Who benefits in a religious system? The guy in charge of the church, cult, or organization. Who benefits in politics? The media and the people in political power. Black and white thinking is not helpful for the minions. We would be much better off connecting with all sorts of people with various backgrounds and beliefs. Our own opinions might be strengthened or changed as they are challenged, but we will be free to hear from one another.

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And so, I would challenge all of us to take a good look at our own hearts and minds. Do we really think there are only two options? Do we have to be right? Is it possible to live in the tension of misty gray?  Are we willing to see other human beings as valuable whether or not we agree? Can we choose to listen carefully and ask questions as others share their opinions and beliefs? Will we challenge the powers who are encouraging this dangerous mindset?

I’ve experienced the damage that black and white thinking produces first hand. It’s not worth it! The best thing that ever happened to me was learning to listen to people that I didn’t agree with… We don’t all have to be on the same page in order to get along.

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Thoughts About Obscurity

It started with one word.

Number eight on a list of Ten Traits of a Servant. Obscure.

Google’s dictionary defines obscure as “not discovered or known about.” It’s ironic.

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Every writers’ conference I’ve ever attended holds entire sessions on how to build your platform…how to become known…how to be found. If you want a chance at writing a book, you’d better have a couple thousand followers on at least one social media platform. Put yourself out there. Schedule posts that will keep popping up through out the day. Build your tribe! Find your people!!

Be a servant…be willing to be obscure…not discovered…unknown.

I don’t know if I can be both.

I’ve been wrestling with this for months. The pressure to build a platform has always irked me. But obscurity? How does that work? I want to write a book. Isn’t being an author and being obscure two opposite things? Yet, I resonate with obscurity. I hate the rat race of trying to collect followers.

Two weeks ago, I read this really long but incredibly deep blog post by Timothy Willard called “Have We Lost Our Minds?”

It was like Tim took the disjointed thoughts of my heart and put them into words. He talked about the lost art of thinking and the value that it brings to our lives. He reminded me about how much of our modern lives are made up of reacting, blurting, and doing.

“But the more I surveyed social media, where everyone including (especially?) Christians seems hell-bent on screaming their own point of view towards people, the more I concluded: we don’t care what anyone else thinks or says.

We only care for ourselves.

When we fail to look past our own ideas of how things should be, we cease to be people of vision, we cease to really think.” – Timothy Willard

Tim shared five examples of how the Christian community is failing because of “non-thinking.” One of these examples had to do with the Christian publishing industry. In his opinion, the industry is encouraging shoddy theology because so many of the new authors get published based solely on their online popularity and not because they actually have anything to say. Wow!

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My mind was exploding and I had no idea how to express it. It was time to think. 🙂

My thoughts led me back to “Recapturing the Wonder” by Mike Cosper. Seriously, you all need to read that book!

In a disenchanted universe, where God is absent or distant, building a platform makes sense. No one is going to make anything happen for you except you. Fame is the goal…along with getting your ideas out to the public. Therefore, you do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

But, I want to believe that we live in an enchanted Cosmos, with a Creator who is actively present. I want to believe in a mysterious Spirit who is intentionally working out His will. And if His will for me is obscurity, excellent! If His will is a published book that makes the best seller list, great. And if it’s somewhere in between, then fine!

I’m beginning to recognize gifts that God has given me…gifts that don’t always look like gifts. (You have them too!) My story is a gift, even the broken parts. My personality, as much trouble as it gets me in, is a gift…my ability to see truth and communicate it, my boldness, passion, and intensity. All of that is marred by sin and can absolutely be used wrongly…but it’s also still a gift.

I don’t want to treat myself as a commodity to be sold…spending my time worrying about who likes me, and how many followers I have, and if I can get published. I want to recognize the gifts God has given, and out of gratitude to Jesus, share them with you.

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More than anything, I want this blog and my social media posts to be about Jesus regardless of where that gets me in the publishing industry. I’m willing to serve in obscurity.

So what does that mean? 

I don’t really know. Maybe I will write less…but maybe I will write more. I want to write without the pressure of needing to share something once a week or once a day, but instead because I have something to share. I want to focus less on my social media presence and more on my real life.

It’s still winter in Michigan, the yucky part where Christmas is long past, but spring is a distant dream. We took the kiddos away for 24 crazy hours at Great Wolf Lodge enjoying 84 degrees and bathing suits.

I’ve been working as a Shipt shopper, buying groceries and delivering them while the kids are in school. It’s a fun and fast paced job, but not very Instagram worthy unless you like pictures of shopping cars and sales receipts. Haha!

We are settling into our new church family…learning to be “normal” Christians instead of being in ministry…learning how to have a relationship with God that has nothing to do with taking care of anyone else. We are slowly healing and growing, and it’s good.

That’s a glimpse of my real life. I want to value and enjoy it. I want to follow the Spirit wherever He leads. And I want to share my questions, frustrations, and God ponderings with you. Because you are also valued and loved. Thanks for being here. 🙂

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To Be “Like Jesus”

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Staff training week is almost over at camp. I’m not there full time yet, but I’ve been working on the health clinic and getting it ready for summer almost every day.

Summer camp is like a bubble and an incubator at the same time. Everything is stronger and more vibrant, both the good and the bad. You live with this giant family all summer. People’s flaws, and idiosyncrasies, and annoying habits are in your face constantly, and they drive you crazy. You learn to give grace, forgive, and let things go. But, your flaws, idiosyncrasies, and annoying habits are also in other people’s faces constantly, so you learn humility, how to apologize, and that maybe you aren’t always right.

It’s too hard to do by yourself, so you learn to lean on each other and ask for prayer and help. You learn what it means to rely on the Holy Spirit for power and wisdom, and God becomes real as He fills you in unexplainable ways. You get to watch God use you and it feels absolutely amazing!

I recently wrote in my journal, “I’m taking a break from doing church stuff all the time (my husband is an associate pastor), to go and be the church this summer.” Working with other Christians for a common purpose, growing together, building relationships, serving, pouring yourself out…that’s summer camp! What if that was also normal life as a Christian?

I was sitting on my porch early Saturday morning with my Bible, journal, and a cup of coffee, thinking about this last week…about how amazing it felt to pour into others and watch God work through me. It’s exhausting, and sometimes incredibly frustrating, but ultimately it’s awesome! I got to thinking about Jesus and what His life on Earth looked like. And then it hit me…what if this is what the Bible means when it talks about “being like Jesus”?

Usually when I hear about how we need to “be like Jesus” a list of do’s and don’t’s follows. But what if it’s actually totally different? What if it’s not about attaining perfection (something we already have in Christ) or performing correctly…what if it’s about loving Jesus and loving people…what if it’s about pouring our life out for others…building relationships…serving…loving? Thinking about this made me cry! Then I remembered the verse in 1 Corinthians where Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” I looked it up.

It’s in 1 Corinthians 11, the first verse. So, I backed up into chapter 10 to see what Paul was talking about. Guess what?? It’s about doing everything to glorify God and reach others with the gospel! Look at these beautiful words:

“So whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to the Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1

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I’m sure that you could make this legalistic if you wanted to…turn it into a list of things you have to DO. But that’s not what it’s supposed to be about! It’s about doing everything with the purpose of loving God and bringing Him glory, and then loving others so that they can find true salvation and a relationship with Jesus! And THAT, I believe, is where we start to find joy, peace, and life that is really LIFE.

I don’t know about you, but when I stop focusing on making myself happy, and I ask God to give me His eyes and heart for others…when I surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to flow through me…when I live my life seeking to help others find Jesus…that is when I taste a tiny bit of heaven. My heart is full to overflowing, and I laugh and cry, and know that this is who I was meant to be. What if that’s what it means to “be like Jesus”?