One Day’s Struggle Against the Dragon of Depression

July 15, 2017

Today is starting well. It is 5:30 and I’m ready to get up and start my day. But for the sakeImage result for dim light in darkness of Charity (my wife), I will read the news and check out the posts on Facebook until 8:00. Although my night was short, it was five hours of sound slumber without any PTSD dreams to disturb my sleep.

9:30 finds me in the shower getting reading for the day and anticipating brunch.

10:00. On the weekend, Charity almost always fixes a nice brunch on Saturdays. Today it’s pancakes and bacon. While I’m eating my breakfast a cloud of darkness descends and engulfs me in its blackness. I finish the meal with my head in my hands. My plans of putting baseboard down will have to wait.

Why am I suddenly sad? Every reserve of energy has evaporated like the morning mist does when introduced to the sun. My strength is failing as an abyss of sorrow overpowers me. Any will I had mustered for the task ahead, any determination and resolution, and any excitement and joy is being replaced with paralyzing fear and disabling weakness. Why is this happening? Is my tendency toward perfectionism causing me to question my ability? I have been undaunted about taking on projects that I previously had no experience doing. Why has my confidence left me now?

10:30 The night of restful sleep is consumed by my dragon of gloom until I am left chained to the desire for isolation and helpless against my eyelids forcing out the light.

2:00 Nearly four hours have passed. As I slump in my chair in various stages of sleep and wakefulness, my sleep is not deep enough to escape from Saturday’s normal house noises – our grandchildren playing, and Charity coming in to check on me and ask a question or two. Yet, my wakefulness is not enough to move beyond my four-legged dungeon. Only the call of nature makes the foreboding door open, but freedom is not within reach. A tether of sadness does not let me stray far.

2:30 Trying to chase away my dragon with numbing noise, I turn on the T.V. For a few moments as a story unfolds I climb upward, but with each commercial or the end of a story I fall off my ladder of escape. This repeats itself for the next eight hours.

4:00 Charity comes in again as she has done throughout the day. She comforts me with an engulfing hug, a tender and empathetic kiss, and a reassuring, “I love you.” Her kindness and supportive gestures are appreciated far beyond my ability to reciprocate. The bars of the dungeon are too strong and I remain trapped in the dragon’s lair.

Could it be a crisis of confidence? I wonder, looking for answers where there seems to be none. Has my fear of failure reduced me to inaction? Are my perfectionistic tendencies crippling my mind with a fog of mistakes? Bedtime releases me from the dungeon to walk two steps to my bed where the sense of gloom and sadness has me ensconced still.

10:00 As I prepare for the unknown night, the 25th day of my battle with the dragon comes to an end. It has won the day and gained ground. What will tomorrow bring – more defeat, a draw, or a little victory?

As I settle into the bed and pillow my head, I see a ray of light. It is the same Light that has always been there through nearly two decades of battle with the dragon.  It is sometimes so dull and faint the darkness threatens to shut Him out; sometimes bright, shining rays of hope into my despair.

Hebrews 6:18 reads, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast . . .” Hope is the best medicine for despair. If all of the things I treasure are suddenly gone and I still have a dose of hope, I can survive. I can thrive. Someone said, “There is nothing left but to bury a man when all hope is gone.” But, for the Light, however dim, I would be that man. Hope has kept me alive. It is when hope is fed that the shadow of death must give way.

A second thought entered my mind before I went to sleep. What can I learn from this depression episode? Here I confess my independence and the efforts to conquer my dragon by my own power. I need help – the help of God, my family, and my support network. When I humble myself and admit my weakness, that is when I grow in strength. May the lessons I learn be put to good use to help family, others, and myself.

11:00 Sleep joins my hope and willingness to learn, which together provides a peaceful slumber.  My last thought of the night is that tomorrow will be a better day.

May the LORD be with you.

WITHOUT DEPRESSION, I WOULD . . .

A person sent me a note last week that read in part, “I am so sorry you have to suffer from the illness of depression.” Immediately I responded with a “Don’t be sorry for me.”

The 19th century pastor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had a mega-church before that phrase was coined. By age 22 he hadImage result for charles haddon spurgeon crowds that surpassed the 10,000-seat capacity of the largest auditorium in London. Yet, he was plagued with disabling depression. However, he credited his depression with making him a better minister.  “The way to stronger faith usually lies along the rough pathway of sorrow,” he said.

“I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable.… Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library.”

At another time he wrote, “I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.”

Since I received that note, I have thought about what I would have lost without depression.

Without depression, I would not have the understanding or insight I possess today. The food of despair, the drink of hopelessness, the bitter cup of feeling forsaken by God, the acrimonious prayers to die, and the dish of suicidal ideations have plagued my soul. I can sit with people who lounge in the cellar of darkness and understand the depth of their agony. I have more authority than most to speak to them in their misery, because I sat where they sit.

Without depression, I would not have discovered my capacity for empathy and compassion. Because of the losses I have experienced I can sit at the table of sorrow with others and weep with those who weep. It brings a modicum of comfort and mollifies the feeling of aloneness when someone who has hazarded the treacherous waters before you enfolds you with arms of mercy.

Without depression, I would not be able to effectively advocate for those hidden and forgotten by society. I was homeless four times, penniless – without a cent to my name – for seven months, without transportation, unable to get housing or employment because of my criminal record, prevented from being near my fiance’s grandchildren, slandered, shunned, and denied a path to ministerial restoration without a hearing. Many doors were bolted against me because governments erected hundreds of barriers for the criminally convicted that prevent housing, employment, and stability. The floor attachment of a vacuum is being used to clean the fine furniture. As a result the beautiful upholstery is being sucked in along with the intended dust. The resulting damage far outweighs the harm the dust could ever have done. Federal, state, and local governments demand science based outcomes, but they are guilty of ignoring that same science when it comes to making laws and regulations. I have experienced the injustice and can now give voice to righteous causes.

Without depression, I would not know the need to fight against the stigma of mental illness. I become angry when I hear others define the life and character of an individual with a mental illness diagnosis, “He is schizophrenic” or “She is autistic.” In every other health discipline stigmatic vocabulary has been eliminated. “He is a dwarf,” thankfully has passed from formal usage. To say, “She is retarded,” is considered cruel. There would be a rousing chorus of fervent criticism against any hospital staff that referred to its patients as “the heart attack at the end of the hall,” or “the cancer in room 303.” The purveyors of kindness in our society have overlooked the labeling, prejudice, discrimination, and separation experienced by the mental health community. This needs to change.

Without depression, I would not have experienced the freedom that came inside a jail cell. Imprisonment was the only thing that stopped me cold on the path of personal destruction. A year of confinement gave my mind and body the rest it desperately needed after nearly forty years of abuse. Most importantly, it gave me an opportunity to renew my relationship with God.

Without depression, I would not be on the path to becoming the man I always thought God wanted me to be. Gone is the uncontrolled anger and yelling. In its place has come a capacity and ability to love others unconditionally, forgive, humble myself, and grow as a husband, father, and grandfather. What I had aspired to be all my life is becoming a reality and the boundaries of who I can become are being moved higher.

Without depression, I would not know the joy of being in right relationship with Jesus Christ. Beyond elevated emotions, beyond a rule book and a uniform, beyond correct dogma and doctrine, and beyond creeds and rituals; I have come to know that abiding place in Jesus where I as a branch receive nourishment from Him as the Vine, submission of myself and the desires and plans I may have to the Lordship of Christ, and a desire to know God in His revealed character and attributes, the splendor of His creation, and the grace of His redemptive work.

Spurgeon professed, “This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing

a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison (blessing).”

Do not be sorry for me. Without depression, I would not have the experience, knowledge, and wisdom I have today. Several years ago I quit praying for healing. My prayer now is to learn the lessons God is trying to teach me through each depressive episode.

May the LORD be with you.

 

GRIEF and the FAMILIES of PERPETRATORS

Image result for suzanne hodgkinson“I get up every morning feeling guilty because I didn’t stop it,” said Ms. Susanne Hodgkinson, the wife of the man who wounded Congressman Steve Scalise and three others during baseball practice for a charity game between Republicans and Democrats.  She continued, “I wake up with hot sweats, thinking: ‘You should have known. You should have known,’” writes JULIE TURKEWITZ for the New York Times.

The families of people who perpetrate mass or serial shootings, murders, rapes, or child abusing/molesting crimes have a very different experience than anyone else who loses a loved one.

While supply-pastor at a church in Jackson, Mississippi, I walked with a family through a similar experience. It was heart wrenching to see the complicated grief of this family whose son had killed another person. He was not dead, but it felt very much like it. This dear Christian family, who I will refer to as the Johnson’s, traveled through some very different, dark, and troubled waters.

There were the legal issues – acquiring a lawyer who was willing to defend someone whose guilt was without question. Guardianship over him was established in order to conduct necessary business on his behalf. Bank accounts were accessed and a new one established. Outstanding loans needed paid or arrangements made for the property to be repossessed. Anything remaining was invested. There was also the question regarding the custody and rearing of a child left fatherless, but whose father was still alive. Social Services came in to protect the interest of the child. The court appointed an advocate on his/her behalf and a trust was established to protect the child’s assets. The Social Security Administration and insurance companies got involved.

For the families of perpetrators who died while committing their crimes, Ms. Turkewitz writes, “There is the question of how to mourn. How to dispose of a body that everyone else wants to forget.” She reports that the funeral home that accepted the body of one of the Boston Marathon bombers had protesters outside their place of business carrying signs that said, “Bury the garbage in the landfill.” The pastor that conducted the small private funeral of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters, was forced from his church because of it. The relatives of the San Bernardino killers were refused burial in California cemeteries and had to be interned in another state.

The Johnsons knew and were close to the victim and grappled with what to do or say to the victim’s family. At first the conversation between the two families was civil and forgiving, but it soon turned to hostility. Accusations and condemnations were thrown about. The Johnsons absorbed the vitriol without offering a defense because of their own feelings of regret, guilt, and shame. The family debated the propriety of attending the funeral, and at last a few decided to go. They still wonder, after over 25 years, if it was the right thing to do.

Ms. Turkewitz tells the tales of “hate mail, death threats,” and other dangers that the families of perpetrators endure. Ms. Hodgkinson was slapped in the face by a stranger while in a grocery store parking lot. Her neighbors now get her groceries, mow her lawn, and take “out her trash, dispersing it around town to evade snoops.” She is worried about the treatment her granddaughters will get when they return to school this fall.

The Johnson family had their share of troubles, too. Mr. Johnson was shot at from an unknown shooter that shattered the driver’s side mirror while he was getting out of his car. The social worker recommended against placing the child with the Johnsons solely based on them being the parents of the perpetrator. The court-appointed advocate was especially cruel with cutting remarks, a constant air of suspension, and an attitude of guilt by association. Fortunately, the judge saw a different image of the Johnsons than had been painted and awarded them custody. Today the child is an adult with multiple emotions of his/her own. S/he had a difficult introduction to adulthood, but has since overcome and is doing well.

The Johnsons grieved for the son, father, and brother who was capable of doing such a heinous thing. Mr. Johnson mowed his yard several times a week; it was when he could cry alone. Mrs. Johnson was filled with shame, remorse, and guilt that she never quite got over and took to her grave. His three children carry the stigma of being the offspring of a perpetrator and have a very complicated relationship with him. His brothers grieved hard, but had to mask their grief with strength in order to take care of all the multitude of things that resulted. They shared their grief with each other and with their wives, but few others.

As a pastor no thought of my reputation entered my mind. There was a family that was hurting and I rushed to be at their side. I took every opportunity available to be with them through it all. It was unchartered waters for me and all the other ministers who visited; they do not teach this kind of thing in seminary.

Through this experience I learned a few things. . .

  • The families of perpetrators grieve for both their loved one AND his/her victims. It is a pain that shakes them to the core. Their moral and ethical belief system is challenged. The “Why” question haunts them through the night and all of the day. They carry a tremendous load of stress and question over and over again every move they make. The victims and their families weigh heavily upon their collective conscience.
  • The families of perpetrators are filled with regret, guilt, and shame. Regret is sadness and disappointment coupled with repentance. Repeatedly they will ask for forgiveness for what their loved one has done as if they are somehow culpable. Guilt is the feeling one gets when s/he does something wrong. “How did I miss the signs?” “What could I have done more?” are questions they ask themselves repeatedly as if on a recorded loop. Shame goes beyond regret and guilt and attacks a person’s beliefs, values, and who they are as a human being. “Where did I go wrong?” “What is wrong with me?” Beliefs and values are challenged and they feel responsible for their loved one’s actions.
  • The families of perpetrators come to believe that they deserve the severe treatment and hatred of others. After all it was their son, father, and brother that did this awful thing; they may have felt the same way were the roles reversed.
  • The families of perpetrators grieve long after it leaves the consciousness of the public. Long after the haters and despisers become silent. Long after their ministers and the other members of their network cease their extra visits and support. Alone, in the middle of the night, perhaps years after the event, they still cry.

Ms. Turkewitz quotes Sue Klebold, “When you lose a loved one who has hurt other people, one of the struggles you have is the ability to focus on your sorrow, because your grief is so complicated by all these other things.”

Since my experience with the Johnson family, when I hear of these terrible incidents, I pray not only for victims and their families, but also for the perpetrator’s family. Of all the victims, they may be the most pathetic.

May the peace of God be with you.

*Italics separate my contribution and that of Ms. Turkewitz.

*Photo by Kaly Johnson

GRIEF and the FAMILIES of PERPETRATORS

Source: GRIEF and the FAMILIES of PERPETRATORS – A pastor’s story about helping the family of a perpetrator through their complicated grief.

My Depression and My Spouse

Source: My Depression and My Spouse

A man writes a letter to his wife about his depression.

My Depression and My Spouse

Image result for wife holder her depressed husbandLast week was a really bad week for me. Although I am never really symptom free, I am able to manage. But last week the bottom fell out and I lapsed into a deeper depression. As I write this I am gaining strength and I can see the light getting nearer. Because I am somewhat drained mentally I asked my dear wife to give me a suggestion for what to post this week. She hesitated for a moment and then said, “Write me a letter about what you want me to do when you are [depressed].”

Charity and I have been married for less than 18 months and she had not personally witnessed me in that state. Oh, I told her everything long before we started talking marriage. Early in our renewed relationship (we were high school sweethearts) I was hospitalized twice and went through a year-long-ordeal as a result of my major depressive disorder. Her eyes were wide open when she agreed to be my wife. But, letters and phone calls, and dates and discussions are not the same as living with it and seeing it for the first time.

Therefore, the following is my response to her request. . .

Dear Charity,

Thank you for asking me what I want you to do for me when I am in a depressed state. Your desire to help and respond appropriately are refreshing. You truly are a gift from God.

I want you to . . .

  1. Reassure me.

You are well aware why I ask this of you. During the 19 years I have lived with depression, it has cost me a lot – significant damage to my connection with God, my previous marriage and many other precious relationships, careers, freedom, most everything I owned, and nearly my life. My marriage ended 14 years before it became official and depression was the direct cause. Charlene was not able to adapt to or live with a person with depression. Our marriage and I became the least of her priorities. Those 14 years have left an indelible scar of fear upon me.

Charity, my love, I know you are not her. Still I need you to tell me that you love and respect me. To tell me that you are committed to our marriage and the vows we shared before God. To tell me that you believe in me. Relieve my fears by telling me that you will not leave me either physically or emotionally. That you will give me your support through my dark hours and beyond.

I want you to reassure me that I have an important role in our family. Before, my place in the family was absconded and to this day it has never been returned. Therefore, I was and am unimportant, dishonored, disrespected, discarded, and destroyed. Queen of my heart, tell me that my role in our family as friend, husband, father, grandfather, and protector is valued.

  1. Let me isolate for two or three days.

It is when I am alone in the dark with the door closed that I can process my thoughts, assess the severity of my depression, and plan for the next step. It is the way I charge my batteries for the task ahead. You are welcome to come in and check on me, but ask me if I am able to see anyone else before you send them in. There are exceptions. If you see me sleeping all the time or wandering about the house aimlessly all night, unhygienic, and generally unable to function, it is time for an intervention.

  1. Act normal.

Please, sweetheart, act as normal as is reasonably possible.  I am not mad at you and you have done nothing wrong. It is NOT your fault. Be patient with me, you did not cause my depression and you cannot cure it, if it can be cured at all. Neither hover over me nor withdraw from me. Do not be either angry with me or indifferent toward me. Show me compassion without condemnation. In other words, be balanced, be normal, be your own beautiful self.

  1. Encourage me.

Depression is not a way to avoid responsibilities. It is not a phase. I cannot “just get over it.” For me, honey, it is a serious disease of my brain. I apply the tools I have learned to try to manage it, take my medication as prescribed, attend individual and group counseling, and have gathered a support group around me, of which you are such an important part, to prevent free falls into utter darkness. I wish I could tell you that it works every time, but that is not true. Sometimes the severity of my depression overwhelms all personal and medical efforts to control it.

Encourage me to take my medicines and do spot checks to see that I do. Encourage me to keep my psychiatrist, counselor, and group appointments. Ask me what I have the strength and will to accomplish today and accept the answer I give you. You can challenge me to go beyond what I feel I can do, but please do not nag or ridicule me if I cannot do it or fail in the attempt. You are such a comfort and confidant and I need you to be my wife and friend, and leave the cajoling to my doctor and counselor.

  1. Ask me if I am having suicidal ideations.

Do not ask me by saying, “You’re not thinking of doing anything stupid, are you?” I may answer, “No,” not because I am not thinking about suicide, but because I do not think it is a “stupid” idea. Ask me in a straight forward manner, “Are you thinking about suicide or harming yourself in any way?” Ask me in such a way that you expect me to tell the truth and will not act shocked and upset by the answer. You do not want me to give you the answer you want to hear, you want me to tell you the truth. If I answer, “Yes,” then it may be time to take me to the hospital. Be strong, my precious princess, look me in the eye and ask the question.

  1. Educate yourself about my depression.

Do not rely on what you have heard from others or learned on television. Get recommendations for good books to read. Glean through the medical transcripts that I have stored at the house. Make an appointment to talk to my counselor. I will sign the necessary confidentiality waver to make it happen. I want you to be informed. I want you to know.

You are my hero in so many ways, Charity. You reached out to me in my darkest hours with encouragement and support, believed in me when all the evidence for doing so was negative, and loved me for who I was and not for who you wanted me to become. I thank God for you every day.

With all my love and gratitude,

Porter

Contradictions Revisited

Source: Contradictions Revisited

A discussion of profession and practice.

Contradictions Revisited

Image result for contradictionsMy writer’s group thought that my article, Contradictions, last week lacked a connection between contradictions and expectations and they felt that the conclusion lacked connection between the aforementioned subjects and a neat wrap-up to the whole. Therefore, without regurgitating the original Contradictions, I want to try to revisit the subject for the purpose of clarity and connection.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2016 I was attempting to make amends to people I had harmed and repair friendships that had been damaged or broken. To that end I joined Facebook – after a three-year absence – and sent emails and letters. In several instances I was disappointed, hurt, and disillusioned by the response. One person I sent a letter to responded with a phone call extending forgiveness, but then proceeded to justify all his/her actions leading up to our break. I was disappointed and angry. The self-justification was unnecessary. It left me feeling like I had worked and processed my words and actions from the past, accepted responsibility for the same, made thorough admission of my guilt, sincerely apologized, and sought reconciliation for nothing. S/He responded in a way that left me believing that s/he had no confidence in my growth, no culpability in the whole affair, and had performed perfectly. It was not the response I had expected or wanted to hear. (Thankfully, after several more gentle and earnest attempts, the relationship is mending.)

In another letter I sent I recalled the close friendship this person and I had shared and some of the humorous and serious moments we experienced together. In the letter I asked him/her what I had done to him/her for him/her to not respond to me in my hour of need. The reply I received thanked me for the recollection of good memories and abruptly ended there. Not only was there no response to the questions I asked, there was no acknowledgement of them at all. Within days of receiving his/her letter s/he published an article on his/her blog about the need for a fallen Christian to embrace the church rather than run away from it. S/He used words and phrases like “safety,” “embrace,” “a place to grow,” a place where one can have the “freedom to fall and get back up again,” and a “community (where the fallen one) could have … an opportunity to flourish in faith and life,” The contradiction of his/her words and actions were dark clouds, pouring rain, heavy winds, and stormy seas to my mind, soul, and spirit.

S/He is not the only Christian who turned away from me. The community of Christians from which s/he came and of which I had been a part for 25 years did not reach out to me either. Not one person from that fellowship has ever asked me what happened or ever attempted to contact me in any of the myriad of ways one person can get in touch with another these days. Furthermore, when I attempted to befriend people from the Christian communities of my past – going back to my childhood – on Facebook, I was ignored or blocked by a host of them. (I thank God for the Christian people – mostly from my adolescent years – who embraced me, loved me, expressed confidence in me, and helped me in so many ways.)

You see, I have certain expectations of people, especially those who profess to be a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. I not only have these expectations of them, but also hold myself to the same standard. If I announce to all that I have a certain and clear set of values, then you have a certain expectation that I will adhere to them. The same is true of me to you, I expect you to be what you profess to be. It is at this very point where expectations and contradictions converge. When you or I do not live up to the system of beliefs we profess, you and I are disappointed, disillusioned, hurt, and yes, even angry.

As I mentioned last week, contradictions of our expectations come from a variety of sources. There is/are . . .

  • Accidental and unaware contradictions. We are human and we are bound to say one thing and do another some point in our lives. For me, it has been several times I am sure.
  • Rethought positions. Beliefs that change with careful study of the original sources from which our belief systems flow.
  • Immature thinking on a subject. Beliefs often change with time, experience, and maturity.
  • Blind spots. These are words and actions that are unknown, unintentional, and unawares to us that contradict our stated standards. Others may see it in you, but you do not see it in yourself. It awaits revelation.
  • Blatant contradictions. These are known, intentional, and purposeful violations of ones stated belief system.

It is this last category that causes me the most irritation. It concerns me when Christians profess to believe in forgiveness and reconciliation and fail to do either. When they profess to embrace 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new,” (NKJV) and fail to accept that in another. I have come to believe that the Christian community at large has a systemic issue with reclaiming their failing or fallen brother or sister in Christ. This appears to be especially true of any who sin in a dramatic or public way that embarrasses the Church or betrays its trust. At this point the Church appears to actually become hostile, critical, condemning, unforgiving, and unwelcoming. The lost sheep is not sought and the prodigal cannot return home. I will not be the judge of the intentions of others, but when it is happening to you it is hard to feel that it is not intentional.

It is a bit tricky to recognize when my expectations are mine alone and not related to a larger scheme. In my first illustration regarding the phone call I received in reply to my letter, this is the case. I had no right to expect this person to respond in the manner that I thought s/he should. The hurt and anger were of my own making because I set myself up to expect one reply and received another. I still do not like the response, but it did not necessarily violate a dearly held set of values.

However, the second illustration is, I think, an example of a person acting contrary to his/her stated standards. Instead of “safety,” and all the other things contained within his/her writing, I found coldness, disinterest, lack of concern, distance, and a refusal to engage. I will leave it to God to judge whether these were blind spots or blatant contradictions, but contradictions they clearly are. It is here where my expectations of certain behavior based on ones proclaimed position and his/her actual behavior contradicted each other. I expected him/her to act like a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ and he/she did not. That is the contradiction that most disillusions and disappoints me.

What can I do about this conflict between beliefs and behavior? As I stated last week, I can …

  • Shield myself from all pain and become emotionally unattached to my own feelings and the feelings of others.
  • Become a cynic or skeptic and not believe in myself or others, or in God’s ability to give one enough grace to live consistent with his/her beliefs. This is not an expectation of perfection, but an expectation of reliability and dependability.
  • Believe in God and in people.

I choose to believe. I choose to believe that God’s grace is sufficient to redeem and change people and provide them with the will and desire to live free of blatant contradictions and respond quickly to blind spots when discovered. I choose to believe that people, although fallible and imperfect, want to live consistently and adhere faithfully to their system of beliefs. When my expectations are not met and there is just and clear evidence of contradictions, I will still choose to believe. As a result of believing in people to be what they profess they are, I will continue to have my expectations of myself and others unmet at times. Because people intentionally or unintentionally fall short of their professed belief system – I include myself here – there will be contradictions between profession and practice. I choose to believe in people anyway.

As a Christian I am called to love others. The  greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love others. This is the core of the Christian faith. It is precisely this call to love others that results in my disappointment and disillusionment, but I choose to love others as unconditionally as I am capable. The risk of pain pales in importance to the belief in and love of God and others.

CONTRADICTIONS

Come explore the causes, consequences, and resolutions to contradictions in our lives and the lives of others.                         Source: CONTRADICTIONS

CONTRADICTIONS

Image result for cartoon character scratching headThere has been a question that has haunted me for the past eight months, “Why do people disappoint me?” “Why am I hurt by the words and actions of others?” I have come to the conclusion that disappointment and hurt are the result of my expectations of others. Am I wrong to have expectations of others?

As a former counselor, my clients had an expectation that I would keep their confidences. Nearly every session I informed them that everything they said was confidential with the exceptions of voiced desire to harm themselves or others, confession of juvenile abuse or molestation or elder abuse, or if the courts demanded disclosure (which is extremely rare). I held that trust inviolate. Whether in the role of pastor or counselor, to me the pastoral/mental health/substance abuse counseling office was as sacrosanct as the confessional. Once I was asked to disclose to appropriate staff and faculty the content of my counseling with college students if said counseling revealed violation of school rules or codes. I strongly objected and flatly refused to do it. And I never did. In whatever setting, clients have the right to expect that their counselors will keep their confidences.

Other types of businesses and relationships have their own set of ethical and moral expectations to which we expect adherence. The same is true of my Christian walk. If I tell you that I am a practicing disciple of Jesus Christ and if you tell me the same, it comes with an implied set of spiritual, moral, and behavioral standards. When my attitudes, actions, and words contradict my profession of faith, I should expect you to be disappointed in me. And, if you fall short, you should expect me to be disappointed in you. These I call – contradictions.

Contradictions come from a variety of sources. There is/are . . .

  • Accidental and unaware contradictions. Inevitably it happens that you and I will say one thing at one time and another thing at another time and not even be conscious of your or my contradiction.
  • Rethought positions. A sincerely held position at one point in time may not last the microscope of learning and revelation. St. Augustine of Hippo lived long enough to write, “Retractions.” A work from his mature years of life that “retracted” some of his ideas recorded earlier in his youth. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, revised his journals and other writings with margin notations that expressed his current understanding. Oh, that we all would live long enough and have such a sense of responsibility to truth and accuracy to do the same to our proclamations, speeches, and writings.
  • Immature thinking on a subject. It is the evolution of thought where what was spoken at the beginning of your understanding changes with the maturing of your study. As a first time and very young pastor, I used my college class notes to lead a Wednesday night Bible study on the book of Revelation. While preparing for and teaching each lesson, I became aware that I was disagreeing with what I had learned and was now teaching. I finished the series, but never used those notes again. Over the years, my thinking on the subject has matured and is far from what I taught and began to question over 35 years ago.
  • Blind spots. These are areas that are unknown to us and unintentional. The Johari relationship window has four panes: 1) known to us and others, 2) known to us, but not others, 3) known to others, but unknown to us, and 4) neither known to us nor others. The third pane is my meaning here. It represents places in our lives that need to be confessed and corrected. They may be clear to others, but as of yet unclear to us.
  • Blatant contradictions. It is when you say or do something that you know contradicts your belief system. About three dozen years ago I was a passenger in the car of a minister who was throwing trash out onto the side of the road. The next day his sermon was about our responsibility to God’s creation. In my eyes, he spoke without much credibility on the subject.

It is this last category that causes me the most irritation. Because of my personal failures there have been some in the Christian community who have turned their backs on me. It hurts when I send a letter seeking reconciliation that gets no reply or one that is very formal. I feel anger rise when I confess and beg forgiveness for my sins, faults, and failings to another only to hear them become sanctimonious and “holier-than-thou.” One person spent our entire conversation without taking any responsibility for his/her actions, instead s/he justified them.  When I see the names and faces of people within the Christian community who have blocked me on Facebook, ignored my friend requests, or made it impossible for me to send them a friend request, I feel pain.

One author wrote, we who fail should “embrace the (Christian) community as a safe place to grow. Within holy community, we have a freedom to fall and get back up again. We shouldn’t leave when we fail!” That has not been my experience. Instead of a forgiving “embrace,” I found rejection. Instead of “safety,” hostility. Instead of a “place to grow,” a toxic and unhealthy environment. Instead of “freedom to fall and get back up again,” condemnation and ostracization. Ronald Reagan once said, “I did not leave the Democrat party, it left me.” I feel the same about many in my “family” of Christian friends, I did not leave my church family, they left me. Here I stand repentant with wounded arms reaching out for help, but many are they who pass by on the other side. (I thank God for those who did welcome me, allowed me to minister in the ways I could, and who demonstrated confidence in and acceptance of me.)

The author of the above statement is one who passed me by. Is this a blatant contradiction or a blind spot on his part? “Christian community could have given (a fallen person) an opportunity to flourish in faith and life,” he says. Does he think that statement includes me? Unfortunately, I have found it best to hide my failures from the Christian community and make them known to God and a very few confidants alone. The risk of rejection and condemnation is too great to disclose to the Church. This “haven of rest” for the redeemed Christian can become an anchorage of death for the fallen. Therefore, I stay silent. It robs me of an opportunity to share what God’s grace can do and has done, and it robs them of the joy in rejoicing with a lost son who has returned home.

I know the cause of my woundedness – expectations – yet the question goes beyond the cause. It is not enough to identify the why, I need to determine the next step. In my estimation, there are three possibilities. I can . . .

  • Shield myself from all pain. Although that sounds reasonable, pain actually serves a valuable purpose in our lives. If I ignore the pain, I risk greater injury, not less. If I harden myself to my feelings and emotions, I leave myself without empathy. Star Trek’s Spock is an example of this brand of Stoicism. He is presented as a praiseworthy character, but he is stunted in the department of relationships and pleasure. By suppressing the painful lows, he also loses the pleasant and exhilarating highs. My personal pain has taught me too much and afforded me too many opportunities to help others to give it up.
  • Become a cynic or skeptic. A cynic is one who distrusts the motives of others, and a skeptic is one who distrusts belief systems. The cynic questions whether you have God in your life, while the skeptic questions whether there is a God. If I cannot believe that people are who they represent themselves to be, then I must logically question the same in myself. As a Christian, it leaves me without assurance of my standing with God and without confidence that God can truly change you or me. It is only a small leap from there to question if God is really active in our world today or is He distant and uninvolved. Ultimately, it leads to questioning the very existence of God. I believe in redemption – the power of God to change people from the chains of sinfulness to appropriated and actual righteousness.
  • Choose to believe redeemed people are who they say they are. I choose to believe the grace of God can change people. I choose to pray for those who intentionally or unintentionally cause me pain. When I am hurt, disappointed, or disillusioned; I choose to believe in God. For I have found that God is always good, faithful, true, and trustworthy.

Will I be hurt again? Most definitely. I will be frustrated. I will be annoyed. I will be offended. But I choose to embrace all the negative risks that come with loving and believing in people.

Our LORD be with you.