From March 1998
Your first pony ride. The first snowfall of winter. The first ice cream cone of summer. Your first car. Your first kiss; okay, and the second. Your first REAL job. Your wedding. Your first child. Delights all!
Do you remember when you first realized that your sins, your rebellion, were truly, genuinely, completely forgiven? Now run those feelings, those realities throughout the rest of your life.
Oh, not there yet, huh? I’m not talking about people who don’t know Christ; well, in a way I could be. Rather, I’m talking to Christians who always get stuck in their lethargy, or who never quite entrust their lives to Christ; guarded Christians.
Seriously, why would anyone want to live as a ½ committed Christian, hanging on to their ownership of who they used to be?!? That has to be one of the most frustrating, exasperating lives imaginable. Too much work, always keeping track of what you’ve said, or done wrong. No way!
Delighting in Christ, knowing the freedom to dance before God with a clean slate, is one of the most amazing realities about being a genuine Christian, instead of a half-hearted, morbid self-condemning “Christian.” How does anybody live like that? Who would want to?
Check yourself. How are you living? Like a guilty Christian or as a forgiven sinner? This is NOT just a matter of perspective: it is a reflection on how you view Christ’s work on the cross— for you. I’d rather be dancing and delighting than constantly wondering if I’m good enough for God.
An end-note— I struggle with depression. [See this Patheos article for further insight.] I’m on meds to correct the imbalance in my body chemistry; but there are some days when even they don’t work. So I’ve learned to push through, to live through, to tough it out; but not everyone can do that. In the end I wind up doing what I should have done in the first place— turning to God for mercy, healing, and forgiveness.
It is in those times that our Lord asks me—
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.
~Psalm 41:11 (NKJV)
Delight, joy, and hope. This is a description of the normal Christian life. Get into to it.
I’ll be on the dance floor,
Rising above despair, or crawling your way out of it, is not easy. It might take more time than you initially thought. And you may never fully find yourself completely clear of it. Some pains leave deep scars.
If there is one tool in the fight against deep, enduring despair it is this— make decisions. It will require every ounce of strength and determination you can muster, and then some. And you will get it wrong sometime. Fine! Try again. Don’t let failure defeat you; learn from it; grow from it. Get mad at your situation. What did Sir Winston Churchill say during World War II? “We will never give up! Never, never, never give up.”
So also it must be with you.
At some points you will not even have a hint of what those decisions are. That’s OK. But there will come a day, a moment, a tipping point when a decision, a resolution will become clear. You must make it. Right or wrong…, MAKE IT. It’s better to be engaged in doing something than to lie there sullen, mired in your own solidifying concrete.
First, a disclaimer. I am prone to depression; to deep spirals; to feeling empty and useless. So, these thoughts do not originate from a book on counseling or self-help. They are real, just like the anguish you are now enduring.
- One, I’ve already mentioned— get mad at yourself. This will at least awaken your ire and challenge you to start fighting.
- Don’t over-analyze. Mulling the same think over ad infinitum has a way of breeding reptiles of the mind that gnaw at your soul and cramp your emotional/mental capacities.
- Pray. If you do not have faith in a God who created you and has your best interests at heart, then this idea doesn’t apply to you: but it should anyway. Call it external processing if you must. Unburden your heart to someone who can help. I vote for God.
- Seek medical help. Whether to get through your pain, or, to gain a sense of stability once again. God’s healing is both natural and supernatural; it’s hard to tell which is which sometimes.
- Eat the right stuff. Even though chocolate and coffee are essential food groups you still need a source of meat (cow, fish, protein), vegetables (fiber & vitamins), grains (bread, oatmeal, fiber), dairy (yogurt, cheese, hit fudge sundaes).
- Exercise. Brooding bloats the brain. Get out there and burn off some endorphins, stress, and calories.
- Again, talk to a wise friend. Or, pay a counselor. You need an external perspective.
- Make decisions that give you hope and a clear path of resolution and restoration.
Never give up! Never, never, never give up!
Welcome to the Christian life! Can’t you just taste that cheesecake with strawberry topping and drizzled chocolate?!? And that huge scoop of cookies ‘n cream ice cream! Yeah…, me too. No? Go ahead…, take a moment to taste it. Yes, now.
The first days of freedom and realization in the Christian life are like that. You can just taste your whole body smiling. The Delight phase, at least the initial one, is pure hot fudge! My first days as a Christian were a complete Lightness-of-Being. After 3 years of fighting and running from God I gave up; it was as if a tremendous weight that was pressing me down had been lifted off me. I was finally free.
There is an peculiar sense of peace, of inner-grinning-joy that overcomes you when you realize you are forgiven and set free before God. If there were any subjective evidence of regeneration in Christ, as God’s grace is extended to us, it would be this internal delight. This inward quiet peace that has a warming, soothing effect.
Still, for many of us, when we lose our joy and return to a more settled Christian life, we wonder what happened. Let me see if this helps. Remember your first kiss? And the next and the next and the next? Of course you do. Well, as your relationship with Christ develops and deepens, those kisses take on a richer meaning beyond mere passion. They become symbols of your mutual commitment to one another. Your passion morphs into something far more powerful than initially.
The same is true within your Christian faith. The passion is still there; but it manifests itself differently. It expresses itself in worship, longer times in prayer, and acts of grace to others. Its language takes on more practical and private expressions.
Now, all this being said, it was a surprise to me that, as I aged, my original passion returned. And it did so within a much more informed, educated, experienced faith. It is a far deeper delight than I might have imagined.
So as you move through the various Phases of your Christian life, and maybe recycle a few, keep in mind that it isn’t over ‘till you’re dead. You’ve got a few more Phases to grow through.
Reveling in the new reality!
Welcome to the Christian life!
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”–Tertullian
In the first few centuries, Christianity grew quickly. By AD100, it had become mostly Gentile and had begun to break from its Jewish origins. By 200, the faith had permeated most regions of the Roman Empire, though Christians were mostly in the larger urban areas (Gaul, Lyons, Carthage, Rome). By 325, an estimated 7 million were Christians with as many as 2 million killed for the faith.”http://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/anceint_christian_martyrdom.htm
The Martyrdom of Stephen, (only 36 at the time of his death) spurred many “Christ Followers” to deeper understanding of the cost of their salvation. Is this what you’ve sighed up for?
Throughout these next few months I will set forth the various Phases of the Christian life, as I see them. Granted, there are many more, or fewer; this is only one early 21st Century writers perspective. Enjoy.
Here is my list of the Phases of the Christian life we will explore.
|1. Deliverence||6. Discouragement|
|2. Delight||7. Decisions|
|3. Discipleship||8. Dedication|
|4. Distraction||9. Deliverence (again)|
|5. Disillusion||10. Delight|
For now, let’s start with the admission that if everything in your life of faith is static, solid, and unchanging, you are not growing in your newfound faith. You are pretending or hiding or deceiving yourself. The Christian life is not a static, once-for-all-time thing. It is a fluid work of art in constant flux.
Get used to it.
Being in love is not for the faint of heart. Loving has become a dangerous enterprise in Western Culture. Expressing love, no matter how up-front or innocent, is open to interpretations of manipulation, harassment and aggression.
Let’s start with our own love-wounds. If you have not been hurt through love, you have not loved, or allowed another to love you. Hurt is part of life: it gives joy its perspective. So if you are guarding your heart, sadly, you also have given up hope of ever trusting or loving at another time. The longer this continues the harder it will be for you to ever love, or be loved, again.
Some of those I’ve counseled have constructed such a protective shell about them that they can barely bring themselves to speak. Fear overtakes their lives and they retreat even deeper into their reclusive shell. Others shut down all and any emotion; no sadness, no elation, no joy, no sorrow. They become the living-dead.
If you are tired of feeling no pain, no joy, no love, try implementing one of these action plans.
- Find a friend. Anyone. They need to be someone with whom you feel safe, more at ease.
- Spend time in sunlight. No, seriously. Vitamin D works wonders on the soul. Take a walk while you’re at it. The exercise will rid your body of the toxins that accompany the pain.
- Talk with a counselor about any abuse. Remember, neglect is abuse too. Whether from a father, a sibling, or a bully, or a spouse, your scars run deep. Don’t let them fester and feed your dark side.
- Find an empowerment group. You’re not the only one who’s been hurt. Others have been through the same or even worse pain. Bond together with them for mutual building. [Not bitching.]
- Come along side someone who has been hurt. That’s right; in your misery reach out a caring hand to someone else. It may do more for you than it does for them.
- Cut back on sugar. Sugar is probably one of the most poisonous substances in our diet, causing everything from depression, to heart disease, to early dementia. Eat fruit. I am dead serious.
- If possible, confront the cause(s) of your pain. Not alone. Take an advocate or an arbiter; especially if the cause is an abuser. Actually, with an abuser, the best course of action may be a simple old snail-mail with no return address. If the cause is a former boyfriend/girlfriend…, well, they probably will not want to meet with you. There is always email, though. Be kind…, and truthful.
For future encounters, please keep in mind that love is always a risk, even more so in these early decades of the Twenty-first Century. It beckons you to put out a little, and then a little more. Reciprocation will tell you if you are on the right path. Do be careful. But do take the risk. Yes, you may be hurt again. But you will be wiser and stronger to handle it this time around.
On a personal note, I have been hurt by people so much in life that I have lost track. And that is a good thing. If I hung on for resolution of every painful experience in life, I would be a useless blot on the DNA scan of the Universe. So now I struggle to live without resolution, yes, but with great hope and trust in the God of my faith. He has always proven to be faithful, safe, and, for me, a little dangerous. It’s just hard sometime.
NEXT DISCUSSION: Learning to Love Again.
Healing from the hurt,
So…, How are your Love Games going? Had time to implement any ideas from the last Learning to Love article— LOVE GAMES…, and how to play them? At one point or another we’ve all had to play them. We need, or just want, to protect our hearts. But there comes a time when we simply get tired of playing the game. We want out.
Are you tired of the one-upmanship, the secrets, remembering what we said or did not say, etc.? Do you want straight forward love/trust/transparent relationships? Could you be asking too much? Maybe? Maybe not? We want things cleaned up, straightened out, untangled. Basically, safety. The difficulty is— How do we do it?
If you read the previous entry in this series— LOVE GAMES…, and how to play them, you could start by flipping the 7 points to morph into their opposites.
- Get REAL with yourself.
- LOOSEN UP. You don’t have to control everything.
- LEARN to TRUST others. Seek their best.
- TRUST GOD. It’s scary; but what life-changing endeavors in life aren’t?
- STOP JUDGING PEOPLE. They are different than you. Measure them by another standard.
- SPEAK TRUTH! All of it.
- CONSIDER YOUR COURSE. Are you on-target to become the person you know you should be?
The first steps of escaping Love Games are internal. They are frank conversations with yourself about who you actually are. Let go of the projection of yourself you want others to see. Speak the truth to yourself about yourself. You need to resolve to own a new level of revelation and transparency. Up for it?
The next steps of escaping Love Games are more external, more socially interactive. It might be prudent to begin with a smile on your face and an apology in your pocket for being the manipulative jackass you’ve been for so long. “If you put yourself on the bottom, there’s only one direction you can go: if you put yourself on top… .” ‘Nough said.
Words like confession, submission, humility, and forgiveness should become part of your vocabulary and your lifestyle. These ideas are NOT signs of weakness: they are symbols of strength. Hopefully, you can adjust to them without a radical change in your personality.
God has designed each of us with individual characteristics—strengths and weaknesses. As you know, our strengths often backfire on us and become our greatest weaknesses. Our weaknesses, on the other hand, can often be nurtured to overcome their own inefficiencies and blend within our strengths. You will find that a great deal of shifting around takes place when you are trying to escape your Love Games.
WARNING. TAKE HEART. The majority of the population on our planet play Love Games, including Christians; but we don’t have to. It is only the rare; it is only the strongest and resolute among us who can break free of THE GAME. Doing that outside the readily available power of Christ is extremely difficult.
NEXT DISCUSSION: BEYOND LOVE GAMES: accessing the Power of Christ.
Carry on, and drink single malt Scotch,