The first four words of the apostle’s creed demand that the reader stop and decide if it is worth going any further.
I believe in God.
Jerry Falwell famously said, “I may have been wrong, but I was never in doubt.” I think he was poking fun of his own bravado with that statement, but it brings up a touchy subject among believers: doubt.
I do not think that anyone who has seriously considered the existence of God and pursued a life of faith has not had times of doubt. I know there are those who claim to have never doubted, but I see that as a byproduct of lazy faith. Lazy faith assumes truth out of habit. Each day, I assume that the sun will rise again. It very well may, as it has in the past, but I have no way of causing this or truly knowing until it does. This is what I mean by lazy faith. It is to assume to know rather than to actively believe something.
Doubt is uncomfortable. This is one reason why apologetics remains popular. If doubt can be soothed by reason, then bring it on and let that reason do the trick. This is not nearly as logical as it sounds, as most will grab hold of the argument that sounds best to them and ignore its holes. This is not just a matter for believers. Many atheists do the same thing. It is nothing more than lazy faith, but the assumption at hand is dressed up in a philosophical argument.
Do not get me wrong, I enjoy a few of these arguments. Ontological arguments have always intrigued me. For that matter, C.S. Lewis’ argument that our shared sense that somethings ought to be a certain way is evidence that morality transcends humanity and finds its source in something else. I also like Tolkien’s suggestion that the stories we tell and love are all echoes of one true story. Plato had a few things to say a long those lines as well. However, at the end of the day, most will simply cling to those arguments that comfort them best.
Faith is not knowing something. It is not assuming something. Faith cannot be so passive. Faith, at its core, is choosing something. Faith chooses to believe. Faith chooses to step into the uncomfortableness of doubt and say, “I believe in God.”
And more so, faith chooses to believe in who God is.
“And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned.” Nehemiah 1:5-6
In faith, I choose to believe that God is great and awesome. I choose to believe that he keeps his covenant of love. And knowing that I break this covenant and reject His love on a regular basis, it is in faith that I hope that he turns an ear toward my prayer, hearing and forgiving.
It is in a hopeful, active faith, and even doubting at times, that I say, “I believe in God.”
I think this story begins in the shower. Really, it begins earlier, but we’ll pick it up in the shower. I was taking a shower. In the middle of my shower, Sam yelled that I had a phone call, and came in and handed me the phone. Must be important. She later said, she had a strange feeling about that call. So I turn off the shower and took the phone to speak to this person who tells me that they have just mailed us a check for $20,000 to help us in our desire to adopt a baby.
I almost dropped the phone.
The journey began. That was in June of 2002, and it would be another year and a half of paperwork and red tape. And waiting. Always waiting. Waiting so difficult, it’s impossible to know unless you’ve been there. It was June 2003 when we saw the picture. A swaddled, chubby-cheeked, 1 month old Kazakh, described as being very healthy and very happy. We could meet him, they said, in September, no October, no, November.
It didn’t seem that possible in November. One thing after another seemed to cause a delay. Everything seemed so uncertain. I said over and over again, that I won’t believe we’re going until I step on a plane. Even there in Memphis, when we got on the plane, we knew weather was closing Airport after airport, and when our plane stopped on the taxiway to wait for clearance to take-off, I was holding my breath.
It took off. On a Sunday afternoon, just before Thanksgiving in 2003, we took off to Detroit, then to Amsterdam, and finally, in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday, we arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Just stepping off the plane, we knew we’d left it all behind. Nothing was the same. It all seemed like something out of a 1960’s spy movie. I remember the surreal feeling we had as an early 90’s model Vulga sped us through the streets of Almaty and to the hotel.
The next day was spent sightseeing, and the day after it was time for another flight. This time it was on Air Kazakhstan to the frozen north. Pavlodar. We landed on a sheet of ice, and getting off of that plane, I learned what cold is. The winds of Siberia cut right through me. We could hardly breathe. Then came another crazy ride to a hotel, but on the way, our lawyer (Svetlana…she met us at the airport), pointed to a building and said, “your baby is there.” What?!? After a year and a half. After all the prayers and tears and all the “I won’t believe it until…” After this surreal journey around the world, you’re telling me that we just casually drove by the building where he lives?
The next day was Thanksgiving, but there were more important things. There were interviews with government officials. We had to be approved by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Orphan Care and Guardianship. The next day would be one to remember forever.
On the day after Thanksgiving, we met Danat Kalievavich Rhakhmatov. They took us to the music room of the orphanage, and brought this nine month old, baby boy to us. He smiled at Sam immediately. My low voice (he had probably never heard a man speak before) startled him, but he just looked at me in his curious way and opened his eyes really wide…and poked me in the nose with his finger. I think we got to see him for five minutes. I don’t mind admitting that we both cried. Once back to the hotel, I made my way down the street to the internet cafe where I crashed the server trying to email pictures. I didn’t care. There were waiting family and friends who HAD to see these pictures. Yes, its true, we wanted to say, see, we’re actually holding him!
This began the two weeks of orphanage visits. Sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes 2 hours. Always interesting. He was usually in good spirits, except for the one day when he was a little sick, but I’ll spare you the details of how we learned that. We even got to see him pull himself up to stand for the first time during one of those visits. We lived for those visits. We spent the rest of the day talking about them, or trying to pass the time by exploring.
And exploring was fun. With two wonderful couples, the Zimmermans from Iowa and the Stewarts from North Carolina, we found cafes, shops, parks, the ice village, etc. We tried out the American food place. We tried Horse Milk. We learned that it was more than ok to eat the chicken sold on the street corner…it was great! We learned that Kazakh police do not give directions. We learned that people were always making fun of us, but what did we care? We bought leather coats at ridiculously low prices…and we talked non-stop about the children we’d be taking home
On December 12, 2003, we had our day in court. We were ushered into a small room. The cast of characters was Sam and I, Svetlana, Lena (her interpreter), a representative from the orphanage, the prosecutor, and the judge. We each had to stand and be questioned by our lawyer and the prosecutor. He was a little tougher on Sam, but it all turned out to be a cultural misunderstanding. Then we sat down and listened as people spoke Russian all around the room. If you’ve ever listened to people speaking Russian, you know it sounds angry. Lena could hardly keep up to tell us everything, so we waited nervously, then the judge looked at us and said something in Russian which Lena translated, “Congratulations, you are parents.” At that moment, little Danat’s name changed to Caleb Ray Davis, and all legal documents were changed to list us as his parents. It was official. As we tell Caleb, its gotcha day because that’s when we got-cha!
Yes, there was more waiting. Another week to actually take him out of the orphanage, and due to a mix up with the good ‘ol US of A, it would be another month before we returned home.
And it’s all remembered as the best trip we ever took. Probably the happiest time of our lives. Among the vivid memories, I remember walking down the concourse of the Memphis airport on January 13. We were tired, but beside ourselves. My wife, who although she had been traveling for 24 hours and had just spent 3 hours in immigration, looked radiant as she proudly carried Caleb. Way down at the end, I could see our families anxiously waiting. I choked back tears and jumped up and down to wave at them. We were home…and we are a family.
So today is our own little holiday…Gotcha Day. We’ll tell this story to Caleb (again). We’ll get out the pictures…which we would show you if you want. We’ll watch the videos…again, we’d love to show you too! We’ll share our favorite memories of Kazakhstan. We’ll make it a day to tell Caleb how happy we were to adopt him.
People always say that he must be so fortunate to come from such a bleak world of the Kazakhstan orphanage into our family. I always think, are you kidding? Sam and I are the fortunate ones!
So, celebrate with us….Happy Gotcha Day!!!
When The Gospel Coalition published an article regarding Pastors and Suicide, it caught my attention. I served in full-time church ministry for 15 years, first as a youth pastor, then as a pastor, and finally as a church planter. Throughout that time, my life-long issues with depression and anxiety intensified. Unfortunately, I was always afraid to tell anyone. After all, pastors are not supposed to have these kind of problems.
I do not know if it was age, a church planting failure, or a combination of the two, but after 15 years, I reached my breaking point. After I spent 5 days in a psychiatric hospital, I came to a conclusion: I have to start telling my story.
I decided that 15 years of pretending everything was find did not help anyone. It was not healthy for me, my family, or the people I served. So, if the Lord wills, I plan to spend the next half of my career telling my story.
I have been around enough ministry leaders to know I am not alone. I can see the signs in others. However, seeing The Gospel Coalition claim that pastor suicides are increasing really hit home.
It made me wonder, why do ministry leaders not get help? The famous Lifeway study proves that the fear is real. 48% of evangelicals believe that prayer and Bible study alone are enough to treat mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. If one in two church members see reaching beyond Bible study and prayer as unnecessary, the fear that many pastors have about getting help is well founded.
Do not get me wrong. I am all for prayer and Bible study. I know of people who have been healed of all sorts of calamities through prayer alone. However, when a person comes down with cancer, do we not pray AND seek medical help? Do we not see the great advances in medical knowledge and technology as something that God gives and uses? The Bible never speaks against medicine and doctors, so why do we treat mental illness differently?
I can think of two primary reasons. First, we think the Bible does address depression and anxiety and that these are not illnesses. Second, we fear that the psychiatric community will be hostile to the Christian faith. There are other reasons but I will address these two. These two reasons are myths that are keeping many from getting the help they need.
Myth #1 The Bible speaks of depression and anxiety and these are not illnesses.
The Bible does talk about sadness, grief, and worry. However, a clinical definition of depression and anxiety is not simply being sad and worrying. A person diagnosed with major depressive disorder is not just sad.
In fact, in order to be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, the patient must have at least 5 or more of these symptoms in the same 2 week period:
Also, those symptoms cannot be the result of a diagnosed physiological effect or other medical condition. Further, the symptoms must be causing significant impairment either in the patients social life, employment, etc.
A person that is clinically depressed is not just sad. A person that is has generalized anxiety disorder or “panic attacks” is not just worried. In fact I am not much of worrier at all. My anxiety shows up as anger. A pastor friend of mine had knee pain as a result of anxiety.
In my case, there is a real illness in my brain that prevents me from being happy even when I should. That is not an excuse, any more than getting the flu is an excuse for anything. It is up to me to learn to live with this problem and to honor God anyway. However, if all it took was prayer and Bible study, I would have been healed long ago. I have not given up on prayer and Bible study, but I thank God everyday for the doctors and the medicine that He has sent my way.
Myth #2: The psychiatric and psychological community will be hostile to Christianity.
Psychiatry is a medical specialty. Doctors are people and they have a wide range of thoughts and opinions about faith. However, it is an error to assume that they will always be anti-Christian. The American Psychological Association has a code of ethics that prohibits practitioners from degrading a patient’s faith. (it would contradict point 3.03 in the APA ethics code)
I can say that from my own personal experience, I have never met a mental health professional that was against my faith. When I went to the hospital I dealt with a psychiatrist, a general practitioner, a psychologist, and a social worker. They were not opposed to my faith. In fact, they encouraged it. The psychologist talked to me about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and then said, “You know, Pastor, that’s in the Bible. Didn’t the apostle Paul say to take every thought captive?” The social worker asked me before I was discharged if I had a church. She was prepared to recommend one if I did not. The hospital chaplain visited the unit and my pastor was welcomed to visit me even though any other visits were tightly regulated. Were all the people running the unit Christians? I think some were and some were not, but they were hardly hostile to my faith. If anything, even the most secular practitioners I encountered saw a value in faith.
It is time to change the way we as Christians think about mental health. Pastors need to know that they are not alone and that there is no shame in trying to be healthy. Churches need to be ready to meet the needs of those that are suffering. A healthy church will encourage healthy people.
Aaron Davis is an author and speaker. He is the author of the novel “Street Preacher” and the memoir, "Baggage Claim: One Minister's Journey Through Depression to Peace" . Click here for information about having Aaron speak to your church or group.
A few days ago, I sent out a tweet on Twitter that said, “Nationalism and Christianity are mutually exclusive.” This is a concise statement (as they must be on Twitter) and deserves some explanation.
The first thing to be examined is definitions. Labels are useless unless clearly defined. Nationalism does not simply refer to love or devotion to one’s country. According to Marriam-Webster, Nationalism is: “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” Further, Merriam-Webster separates patriotism as being only the first part of the above definition. Loyalty and devotion to one’s nation is patriotism. Nationalism goes beyond patriotism. Also, I am not referring to duty. The Apostle Paul taught that Christians should respect the rule of civil authority and Jesus taught that people should perform their civic duties. So I am not stating that a Christian cannot love his or her country nor am I stating that a Christian cannot perform his or her civic duties.
Nationalism goes beyond love and devotion to a primary emphasis on the promotion of a nations culture and interests. The American Heritage Dictionary also includes this definition, “Devotion, especially excessive or undiscriminating devotion, to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state.” [emphasis mine] Again this is not simply devotion to a country but undiscriminating devotion.
Nationalism warps the good and edifying notions of civic duty and patriotism to become something else. The Nationalist will not discriminate, i.e. discern between nation and God. Nationalism asserts the nation as the highest good and thus, to the nationalist, identity is found in the nation, and what is best for the nation is the moral compass. This stands opposite Christianity in that to the Christian, God is the highest good and identity is found in Christ.
Thus, where civic duty and even patriotism are acceptable, and even encouraged, in the Christian life, nationalism has no place.
I do not bring this up because I think that Donald Trump is a nationalist per se. Such conjecture is not helpful. I do believe he is an authoritarian, a brand of leadership that nationalists generally favor. He does surround himself with people who are nationalists and his election has given rise to the voice of nationalists in what is being called the “alt-right.”
Despite its recent time in the spotlight, the “alt-right” is nothing new. Over the years, I have received emails from those who call themselves “Pro-Western Christianity.” They define Christianity as a devotion to God, Race, and Family. Back then, they were marginalized. Their hatred of adoption (particularly international adoption), their hatred of global missions, etc were hardly noticed. Now, they are finding a place in mainstream politics. Moreover, they have found a place in the party that many Evangelicals feel shares their values. The camel’s nose is well into the tent.
However, while Christians may love their country and perform their civic duties, Christians cannot ignore the fact that we are first part of a Kingdom which transcends nations and ethnic groups. Christians cannot ignore the fact that we are called to make disciples of all nations, and that our true home is not of this world.
The Nationalists are finding their place in mainstream politics. I urge those Christians who work within the GOP to stand against this. However, all Christians must now work to prevent nationalism from finding a place within our churches before it poisons our mission and our very faith.
Aaron Davis is the author of the novel Street Preacher and is currently working on a memoir, Baggage Claim. He is developing a speaking and coaching ministry to address mental health in the church and ministry. If you are interested in having him speak to your church or organization, click here for more information.
Ministry burnout is more than just ending a career in the ministry. Burnout can damage churches, families, and yourself. Here are some warning signs and some tips for saving yourself from ministry burnout
1. I do not have time for important things!
Many ministry leaders will say that their marriages and their families are most important to them, but the demands of the church make those things take a back seat from time to time.
When you have a moment to think clearly, make a list of the things that are most important to you. If you find that you do not have time for those things, you are in danger of burn out.
2. These people are awful!
Does it feel like life would be so much better if your church was different? Are the individual idiosyncrasies of your lay leaders occupying more and more of your conversations and your thoughts?
Every church has its problems. However, ministry ought to bring more joy than pain. If you find yourself thinking and talking more about the problems of your church, you are probably beginning to burn out.
3. I cannot talk to anyone!
Ministry is a unique situation, but not so unique that no one can possibly understand it. If you find yourself thinking that you cannot talk to anyone about your struggles then you are not only on the path to burnout, but you are on some shaky personal ground as well.
4. I want out!
Escape fantasies may range from longing for a different church, to longing for a different job, to even wanting a completely different life! It is common to think that the grass is greener on the other side from time to time, but when escape fantasies become more common and more grandiose, burnout is taking place.
Steps to take to prevent burnout
1. Evaluate your health
Are you exercising? Are you eating right? Are you following your doctor’s orders? There are 4 aspects to being healthy. Read more about them here.
2. Evaluate your time
Remember that list of things that are most important? When you schedule your week and your day, do those things get a place on the calendar? If you cannot find room to spare, consider ending a few projects or delegating some responsibility in order to make room.
3. Evaluate your calling
Spend time with a coach or mentor and get to the center of your calling and vision. Sometimes the day to day work of the church gets further and further away from this. Make a plan to get things back on track.
4. Consider taking a sabbatical.
Not every pastor is in a position to take a year off to study. However, it may be possible to take a week or two off from preaching in order to get refreshed and reorganized.
When to take emergency action:
If escape fantasies involve the end of your marriage or your life, or your family is experiencing major stress at the expense of the church, you need to take emergency action. You need to speak to someone and make a plan immediately!
Aaron Davis is the author of the novel Street Preacher and is currently working on a memoir, Baggage Claim. He is developing a speaking and coaching ministry to address mental health in the church and ministry. If you are interested in having him speak to your church or organization, click here for more information.
There is a lot of talk about how divided the United States is as a nation. This is nothing new. Every election cycle has shown pretty close margins for some time now. This most recent cycle was by far the worst. The candidates were soundly disliked by their respective parties and it seems that many voted simply to stop the other side.
Now it is decided. The refrain “not my president” would be heard regardless of the winner. The only difference is which side is saying it. So now we hear from the powers that be that we must come together.
That is a tall order. How does a country so divided heal?
I want to offer some advise to Christians. American Christians hold a dual citizenship. First is the citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. That Kingdom transcends race, nationality, and time. After that, we have our citizenship in the US. Our role should be that of ambassadors, representing the Kingdom to the United States.
We find ourselves coming to our post amidst gloating and despair. We see people that feel like they pulled their country back from the brink and we see people that feel as though their country just fell over the edge. We see that both those sides have a lot of animosity for one another. As ambassadors of the Kingdom we must consider what we have; what we represent.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2, ESV)
The problem is that we do not yet have these fruits and we do not yet have this tree. The Kingdom is now and not yet. So what do we have now?
We have a role of healing. We have the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) which we are to use, enjoy, and give liberally.
And we have some basic instructions for living in this society.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, ESV)
I encourage you to go and hear why some are rejoicing and some are weeping. (note: hearing in person is far better than hearing on social media) Listen past the rhetoric and vitriol and hear the hopes and fears. Listen and respond in love and kindness and gentleness.
Listen, rejoice, weep, and heal.
Aaron Davis has served as a youth pastor, a pastor, and a church planter. He currently resides in Springfield, MO and is the author of the novel, “Street Preacher” and is currently working on The Baggage Claim Project. For a list of public appearances or info on how to invite him to speak to your church, business, or organization click here.
I am glad it is November. From October 2015 to October 2016, I had the hardest year of my life. It started with closing the church I had worked to plant and moving back to my hometown. Since then, I have had two jobs that taught me exactly what my skill set does not include. I was diagnosed with the beginning stages of type 2 diabetes. I have lost friends. I have been angry at God. In October 2016, I spent 5 days in a psychiatric hospital. I am glad it is November.
And here is what I have learned this: Total health must encompass the body, the mind, the soul, and the tribe.
A Healthy Body
I served in the ministry of Southern Baptist churches for 15 years. Southern Baptists frown on drunkenness, but we would rather not have to talk about gluttony. It is an acceptable vice. We eat. We eat fried chicken and we love desserts too. In that aspect of Southern Baptist life, I had no problem fitting in. I can eat a lot. I also enjoy sitting at a desk, writing, or visiting with someone. I do not get a lot of exercise. At my last annual physical, my cholesterol was somewhere over 210. My blood sugar was 132. I have even managed a blood pressure reading this year of 186/120. Needless to say, I have to make some changes.
I am happy to report that I have lost 13 lbs. I have cut out sugar almost completely. I eat vegetables and I cook more and eat fast food less. Exercise is tough, but even if it just means walking a couple of miles on the college campus near my home, I try to do a half hour a day. I am getting physically healthy.
Perhaps because we fixate too much on Heaven, we Christians tend to ignore this gift of a physical body that God has given us. It is a gift. Life is a gift. To be able to live long and live well is crucial to having good relationships and a good legacy. For total health, one must look to what they put in to their body, and how they train their body.
A Healthy Mind
I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder. I come by it naturally. It runs in my family and I have a rare endocrine system disorder that does not help. Thus, I have a mind that does not feel happiness they way a mind ought. My mind can acknowledge all the good in my life and still tell my body to feel miserable. Mine is not a healthy mind. However, it does not have to be that way. Medication helps, but so does exercise. Learning to notice unhealthy (and errant) thinking and consciously retrain myself to think in truthful, helpful ways is crucial. At the same time it is important to note what I allow my mind to take in. I have to get rid of the junk food of thoughts, so to speak. If I want to be healthy, I have to take care of my mind.
A Healthy Soul
I have spent most of the last year being angry at God and angry at many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I neglected the spiritual aspect of my health. Now, as I strive to be healthy, I realize that spiritual disciplines are crucial. Spending time in scripture, prayer, being honest with my church, serving others, etc. are all building blocks to a healthy soul. I am fortunate to have a church that is incredibly welcoming of people no matter where they are in life, but I cannot just join the crowd. It takes effort to feed and protect the soul. Effort that is well worth it in the long run.
A Healthy Tribe
Everyone lives within certain social circles. For me, those circles start with my family, my extended family, my friends, my church, my neighbors, etc. These circles are the tribe in which I live. A tribe is only as healthy as the relationships that exist within it. Thus, for a healthy tribe, I have to be intentional about my relationships. I must work to be a better husband, father, son, brother, friend, church member, and neighbor. I have to be aware of the relationships that exist in my life and work daily to strengthen them.
Putting it All Together
Now here is something that is often goes unnoticed: Each of these areas of health impacts the others. If I were to sit around all day in front of the TV, gorging on junk food, it would become very hard to avoid depression. Depression and anxiety would then get the best of me and I would begin to neglect spiritual matters. In this state, my family would surely suffer and I would become isolated from any healthy relationship. All of these work together.
For this reason, it is important to address total health. To move forward intentionally building up the body, mind, soul, and tribe. It is a lot of work, for sure, but well worth the journey!
Note: I know I promised only one political post, but I recently stumbled across something I wrote several years ago, and thought it worthwhile. mea culpa
I once got in to a political discussion on Facebook and took some criticism for not standing by a “classic definition” of politics. I decided to look in to what exactly that person meant. I am not sure that I can get any more “classical” than Aristotle’s τα πολιτικά which is essentially “Affairs of the State” (literally, “having to do with the polis”).
The gospel, on the other hand is literally, “good tidings” or “good news.” Biblically, that good news is defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.(ESV)
"3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures..."
It is absolutely crucial to note that the good news is not simply an affair of the state. In fact, one could seek to bring Biblical principals to affairs of the state and still ignore the gospel.
This is not to say that a Christian should have nothing to do with politics. On the contrary, it is important that people who have embraced the good news of Christ bring this understanding to the affairs of the state.
The issue at hand is priority. When politics comes first, the gospel is lost. When the gospel comes first, politics are greatly empowered.
The difference in priority is important. It is as C.S. Lewis wrote: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither. ” Many have attempted to define the gospel as politics. They work feverishly trying to imitate the Kingdom of God in our society. This is nothing but a facade. The Kingdom of God is only realized through Christ.
The gospel; the good news of Jesus Christ: that He was crucified for our sins, buried, and raised again is key. Everything else falls in to place, but one does not have the kingdom of God without it.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you"(Matthew 6:33, NKJV).
Today was my first follow up appointment with a psychiatric nurse practitioner since my hospital stay. I’ve had several follow-up visits with a counselor, but this was my first psychiatric visit. I find that many people are surprised at what a visit to the psychiatrist is like. Perhaps there are too many images of Freud and couches swirling about that we assume it is going to be like that. The reality is quite different.
Psychiatry is a medical discipline, and typically, psychiatrists are much more interested in symptoms and the effectiveness of medicine than memories of one’s mother. My visit today was a good reminder that in finding peace from mental illness, I have to consider my overall health. Good diet, exercise, avoiding unhealthy habits, etc are all to be considered in a path to recovery.
Medicine helps, and I truly believe that our medical knowledge and technology is a gift from God. A carefully monitored drug regimen is part of the outcome, along with some helpful tips and even some emergency plans.
I often talk with people suffering from depression or anxiety who tell me they have been put on some medicine but it has not made much of a difference. My first question is wether or not they are getting that medicine from a psychiatrist. Usually, they are not. Typically, people start with their family doctor. That is a perfectly reasonable place to start, but the psychiatrist is going to have a greater knowledge of the wide range of drugs that can be used.
The other question I always have is, “What else are you doing?” Mental and behavioral health has many disciplines under its umbrella. In my case, I visit a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a counselor. One helps with the medication, the other helps with getting down to the nitty gritty of “taking every thought captive” and learning how to identify and overcome the destructive patterns in my life. Besides those, I also see my family doctor to work on my health (I am working to lose weight and get my blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure to normal levels), and I am open with those closest to me like my wife, my pastor, and some other friends at church.
I often tell stories about my time in the hospital as a way to break the ice around mental illness. However, I am frequently told, “but you aren’t like those other people.” That is partially true. I do not have the same illnesses that some of them have. There are more serious cases. However, the biggest difference that I have found is not so much the diagnosis, but the resources. I am blessed with a supportive family and health insurance. I have deployed those resources to the task of getting healthy. Those without such resources bounce around and get worse.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, help them find the resources that they can use. Speak with your pastor and find out what your church can do. If you are struggling, tell a supportive loved one and start finding your resources. They are all a part of getting to a better place.
Several years ago, I had a bad car accident. After several hours in the Emergency Room, I was released. I had broken my right hand in three places and had torn the ligaments on the top of my right foot. This made walking without a crutch impossible and using a crutch almost impossible. When I finally go to my house, I tried to hop up the front steps. I fell and the pain brought me to tears.
“Are you going to let me help you now?” My pastor at that time asked. He was the person who brought me home from the hospital and I refused his help so far getting up to the door of my house. However, now I had to let him help me up and hobble on in.
It is hard to ask another person for help. I would much rather figure out a way to help myself. In American culture, we honor and support this idea. We even have a saying (as inaccurate as it is) that, “God helps those who help themselves.”
On Sunday, my pastor taught on the very end of Ephesians, where the Apostle Paul says his good-byes. He pointed to Ephesians 6:23 where Paul concludes with three things: Peace, Love, and Faith. These are perhaps intended to be his final words to them and thus the legacy that he desires to leave.
Our pastor then challenged us with this question: Am I leaving the same kind of legacy? Am I blessing others with peace, love, and faith?
So today, I have been thinking about this notion of Peace. American Christianity is often associated more with bickering and political strategizing, so I find it hard to point to a good example of this peace. My own life (as any of my readers know) has the internal chaos of depression and anxiety. That’s the opposite of peace!
The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible defines Peace as "Total well-being, prosperity, and security associated with God's presence" A quick glance at most popular Christian television shows and books suggests that Christians today are pretty focused on well-being, prosperity, and security. But would we say that is Peace?
Did the Baker Encyclopedia get it wrong? After all, a major struggle for me as always been to find peace with myself, and one need not look far for examples of those whom enjoy the most prosperity having this same struggle.
There are two missing keys here. The first is right in front of me in the Baker definition: Total well-being, prosperity, and security associated with God's presence. So often, we think of our faith as something we use to attain things like well-being, prosperity, and security, and we get frustrated when despite our best efforts at believing, these things are still lacking. That is because we are striving for a notion of peace that is found apart from God. Seeking God's usefulness is not the same thing as seeking God's presence. I would imagine the difference is something like the difference between sitting in a room, talking with a good friend, and sitting in a room, barking orders at my good friend so that he is reduced to being my butler.
This leads to the other missing key, that peace is something to be shared. For the Christian, the way to experience God's presence is found far more often in gathering with other believers than it is in being alone. This is the necessary value of the church. If our desire for our well-being, prosperity, and security leads to making God our butler, then it will also lead to the church becoming nothing more than a supply closet. It becomes a place we go when we feel we need something. However, if we are seeking God's presence then the church is no longer a place but those fellow believers where we experience that presence together. In the New Testament, the word for "Church," always refers to a group of people rather than place or building. It would be hundreds of years later, and sometime around when Governments started to see Christianity as a tool for political power, that the use of the word changed.
So my desire for peace, and thus, my desire for total-well being, prosperity, and security must be focused on the presence of God and sharing these things amongst one another.
That is the hard part. Something in our nature wants us to seek our own well-being over that of others, but in Christ, we are to seek our well being in that of others.
This is why it is not only helpful, but necessary to both rely on others and serve others. It is easy for a person like myself to try to isolate myself. I’d love it if I could just sit somewhere and write all the time. Of course, a story that is not read, like a song that is never heard, hardly exists. Likewise, for the Christian to exist in and experience peace, requires that our lives, messy as they are, be intertwined with others.
Peace to you!
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower