Feeble Knees

Friday, February 11, 2005

Alive and Well

We are recovered. Mr. F had it worse than I did. Mostly I was just exhausted, but that could be partly due to the pregnancy. It's that notorious six-week point where all sorts of things like exhaustion and nausea supposedly come into play. So far I've just been very tired, and as a result, not very motivated to blog.

I've heard several things this week that would normally really aggravate me and bring me down. But I'm discovering another symptom of pregnancy that no one (so far) ever told me about: I don't care about the things I used to care about. I am humming along, happy and hopeful. It's a very strange, down-the-rabbit-hole experience for this born pessimist. Perhaps this also has something to do with my lack of desire to blog. I read terrible things and think, "oh that's awful!" but then I just go on without dwelling on it. Very strange.

What is happening to my brain?

Speaking of my brain, I'm becoming rather ditzy. The other night while making us some tea I completely spaced out. I poured my cup and set it to steep. Mr. F asked, "is the tea steeped yet?" I'd almost forgotten it. "Oh yeah!" I said, then went to pull out the tea bags, add sugar, etc. When I looked own into the cups, I realized I'd very nicely poured my cup but not Mr. F's. It had been sitting there empty, save its poor little lonesome teabag. And all this time I thought it was steeping. Ditz!

* * *

One thing is troubling me though. I keep hearing stories about SuperChristians I know who are having total meltdowns. They are despairing about having missed God's will for their life. They are consumed with fear about making decisions, for fear they will miss God's plan. They are convinced they've failed the Lord. Some have ended up on medication. Another was institutionalized. Really. Which causes me to say:

What the heck is wrong with us?

There is something terribly wrong with Christianity in America. Is it that our lives are so soft that we fall apart in the face of tedium? Are there so few real life-and-death struggles in the average American Christian's life that the smallest ripple in the pond sends us over the edge? What is it?

Or is it a symptom of a greater evil?

It never dawned on me how prevalent having "faith in faith" has become. I can't help but suspect this way of thinking has something to do with it all. There is such an emphasis on having faith these days, and not just any faith, blessing-grabbing, cash-producing, mountain-moving, super-miracle-sized faith. If you don't have faith like this, obviously you don't trust God, He's not going to bless you, and you're a bad Christian.

Michael Spencer at Internet Monk has been just about tearing his hair out over the popularity of Joel Osteen and his Word-Faith style teachings, and with good reason. Osteen teaches that we can speak problems or blessings into our lives with the words we speak and the language we use. This, my friends, is absolute poppycock and completely unbiblical. There are plenty of people throughout the Bible who told things like they were and were perfectly honest about their doubts and fears. God still cared for, delivered, and helped them. Exhibit A: David in the Psalms; Exhibit B: Job; Exhibit C: Jonah; Exhibit D: Peter. Shall I go on?

iMonk's recent campaign to debunk and discredit Osteen's teachings reminds me of a girl I met several years ago. She wouldn't admit when she had a headache (never mind take an aspirin - which to me bordered on Christian Science). To say out loud that she had a headache, in her mind, was akin to having no faith that God would heal her. So long as she never admitted she had a headache, she was walking in faith. If someone asked her how she was feeling, she would respond with something like "God has given me a sound mind and body!"

This, my friends, is called LYING. When you clearly appear to be unwell, and someone asks you if you're ok, and you say you are "wonderful, Praise God", what you are doing is LYING. You are stating something that is contrary to the evidence at hand. Furthermore, you are putting your faith in the strength of YOUR FAITH, not in God.

I can't help but wonder if it is this kind of denial and self-deceit that has caused so many Christians to go right off into the deep end. How can you NOT go crazy when you're continually refusing to admit that things are not what you say they are? My bills aren't overdue, I'm trusting in God! I'm not sick and in need of surgery, God is a healer, Amen! At some point, your heart, body and mind will part company with your best efforts to deceive yourself, resulting in what the rest of the world calls a nervous breakdown.

Please understand, I'm not saying all nervous breakdowns, mental or emotional struggles are the result of suspect theology. Let me make that very clear - I don't believe that people necessarily "bring this on themselves." There are folks who have had horrible things happen, or fight a legacy of mental health issues handed down through the family. It is not those people I'm talking about here.

I'm talking about the otherwise normal, happy healthy Christians who seem to be doing everything wonderfully one minute and then the next they're in the depths of despair over their inadequacy as servants of the Most High. They're the ones flogging themselves over their lack of faith.

One of the classic signs that you're falling prey to HyperFaith is Manic Ministry. Lord knows I've been there. (Ok, I never refused to admit I had a headache - even I thought that was extreme silliness.) We overcommit to ministries, we drag themselves around exhausted, we keep on a never-ending treadmill of prayer, devotions, service, church attendance and other ministries with no let up. Yet all the while, we have a growing sense of desperation that we're not doing these things well enough or spiritually enough. Why? Because somewhere down the line we inadvertently put our faith in ministry and service to save us instead of Jesus.

My dear friend Joy and I spoke on the phone the other day. She admitted that she still feels guilty that she's not in umpteen-million ministries, like she used to be. She knows that at this point in time, her job is to let God help heal her, yet she feels wracked by guilt that she is not "doing anything for God".

But she is. She is letting God minister to her. She is letting Him rebuild the trust she once had only in Him, before well-meaning but seriously people taught her otherwise. She is re-learning how to prioritize and live a healthy life, devoid of overpowering fears and compulsions around living up to an impossible standard. She is slowly rebuilding bridges back to family members and friends that were severed when she was in the church - people who are starting to see the true message of God's grace in action over time, as she heals.

Some wise person once said to me that you can't expect a person with a broken leg to get up and run a race before the leg is healed. Further and greater injury can result when we fail to pay attention to pain and exhaustion. It is no different in the spiritual aspect. The Bible says to weep with those who weep, not rebuke them for experiencing and expressing honest sorrow or pain. When I started this blog, I chose Isaiah 35:3 as a reminder to myself what is really important in my own life and walk right now. It is also an admission that I am weak, that despite my best efforts, I am not a SuperChristian. I'm identifying myself as one of the wounded in the hopes that my fellow Christian soldiers won't trample me as they go marching in.

Unlike iMonk, I have no desire to start a campaign against a particular teacher, preacher or faith movement. I'll let some stout-hearted soul with more fortitude fight that battle, and godspeed to them. But I can do something about the individual lives I come across day to day. My prayer is that maybe I can encourage overstressed souls to take respite in the Lord, and learn to trust His desire to nourish and refresh us. He knows we are dust, weak, and feeble in-and-of ourselves. If only we would admit that ourselves more often. When we are weak, He is strong. 2Corinthians 12:10

I can praise God today with a full heart because He took me out of all the craziness at the old church and hid me. I've been resting beside still waters, crying and healing, but gradually sorting things out. How can I begin to express the gratitude that I have for a God who cares more about my heart and my relationship with Him than about any stellar church attendance record? Some days I feel like David and his men must have felt after ravenously tearing into the shewbread, or Elijah when the ravens brought nourishment to him in the wilderness.
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. Psalm 139

It says more about the nature and character of God that He would still tend so faithfully to one who left "the flock". His love bowls me over. Truly He is a God like none other, and worthy to be praised.
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