The Silence and Suffering of God: Part 2

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!'” Mark 9:23, 24 (NKJV)

I have a true desire to have a healing, loving relationship with God, myself and others. I want to believe that is possible.  Right now, I think I am in the worst struggle with my mental illness that I have ever experienced, and that is with the cooperation of doctors, therapists and medication. I believe that even though there appears to me to be a great disconnect, although God seems to be silent, I still believe he is guiding me and healing me. That may sound like a contradiction, and maybe it is, but I’m okay with that.

Paul Tillich closes his book called The Courage to Be with these words: “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.” I don’t know if, when the doctors get my medication right, if my faith will improve. I don’t know if, after years of therapy, if my faith will improve. It could be, that I am just a skeptic, a doubter, and my continual suffering will be a plague of anxiety due to a seemingly silent God who seems to act from far away, even despite his own yearning for a better relationship with me.

I do believe that when I suffer, God suffers, because God is infinitely loving and compassionate. Although I struggle with my faith, although God seems silent so often, I think he watches over everyone, because he loves all of us. Like a heavenly gardener, he is always waiting for opportunities to tend to his creation, to give it what it needs to flourish, to thrive, and to be healthy and beautiful. I am a flower, and I need good soil, plenty of water, clean air and maybe some occasional fertilizer. I know God is doing these things for me, even while I can’t seem to bring myself to talk to him, to read the bible, or to do the things that the church instructs us all to do.

Maybe in some small way I do believe in God. Maybe there is hope for me, even as God has opened certain doors for me, and, after a while, I have slammed them shut. I do believe that there have been plenty more doors that have opened over the years, even if many of my friends and family do not understand or appreciate that. I have gone in directions of which many Christians would not approve, but I need to believe that those choices are equally as valid. I am on a tiny raft in a raging sea, but I have tied many ropes to many other tiny rafts, which are tied to larger and larger water crafts. Like mine, none of these crafts are perfect, but in the end, we will all get there, together.

Covered

Believe sight through front album

Sing foul struck stop ill ain’t stick

Weep therefore rewind faculties ancient

Shallow remember inhibited shank

Smart sift swallow bullshit alleviate

Surrender sale more weep veer sank

Wolf hungry lonely follow build bible

Real roll rap sweet argue results cure

Impatience wash circumference all

The Silence and Suffering of God: Part 1

There have been many times in my life, usually when I was either very emotional, or I had a great need, and I prayed about it, but God seemed to be silent. Looking back, I wonder, could I have done anything to help myself, in those situations? I think when I was young, it was leaving a bad situation. I usually felt pretty helpless to do anything about it, and sometimes, it was leaving one bad situation and entering into another.

As I got older, when you would think I would become more confident, my sense of helplessness continued. I spent many times praying to God to help me when I thought I needed him to intervene, but he never did, in those times. Eventually, I did leave that bad situation, but my feelings of helplessness continued, accompanied by something else, mental illness. At that time, I sought help for a while,  then simply abandoned God, even though, looking back, I know that he continued to watch over me. It was a twisted, downward spiral, deep into madness. I just about destroyed my life, risking it in dramatic ways. God continued to come to my rescue, even despite my rebellion. Finally, I gave up, deciding I just wanted to completely escape from life as I knew it, and, after attempting to end my life, I decided to seek dramatic help from professionals. I thought I got better, and so did they, but the old fears and feelings of helplessness returned. And I would try the professional help again, then go off on my own, then do it all over again.

Then something dramatic, but very different, happened. I met a very caring, sweet woman, who would soon become my wife. My relationship with her was a long stillness, in a raging storm. Things got better, at least on the outside, and I went through the motions of religion, but deep down, the raging storm continued. The fear and sense of helplessness would bob it’s head up in my secret thoughts and feelings, but we fooled ourselves into thinking our lives were under control. What I believe we wouldn’t admit, was that it was really us trying to be in control. We both practiced religion, she earnestly prayed, just like I had in the past, and we both would occasionally see some light peeking out from the dark clouds, and we knew it was God, taking care of us, but I also knew, it was not due to any faith on my part. And although she may have kept us somewhat afloat with her broken, old time religion, and, yes, her simple faith, and perhaps it also was helped through the loving prayers of our supportive families and friends, I knew, I was still severely damaged goods. I was rotting on the inside, though I appeared to have it somewhat together. My faults were looked at as idiosyncrasies, just part of being human, even by those who knew, as just part of having a mental illness. But I knew my well was dry.

So, then it happened. I entered crisis mode. But things had changed in twenty years, with professional help. I learned many new coping skills, ways to reach out, and ways to take care of myself. I even told myself that I was getting closer to God again, despite the many suggestions of my friends, who tried to lovingly point out, that I was not moving any closer to God. In fact, they said, I may be moving away from him. And although I passionately denied it, even to myself, deep in my heart, I knew that I was not moving closer to God. I told myself and others that I knew God, that I loved God. I told them that I had been so hurt by the members of the church, so judged, so betrayed. Someone suggested that it was just my mental illness giving me that understanding, that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. I brushed aside well meaning suggestions of the seemingly tired, ineffectual rituals of prayer, reading my bible, and attending church. In my heart, there was still a wall, hiding my eyes from seeing God, although God could, of course see me clearly, he knew the pain I was feeling, from not being in a truly healing relationship with him, and in compassion, I know he wept.

Bipolar Life

A lot of time my mind is so clear,

So awake, so aware,

But also, so overwhelmed,

Even with what seems like paranoia.

My thoughts move so fast,

That I can’t keep up with them.

I’ll be so tired, and I’ll lay down,

But I can’t turn my mind off.

It is like a speeding train,

Trying to go around a sharp curve.

The strain of it all, sometimes,

Causes me to wonder if I can stand it,

If, like that speeding train,

I will run off the tracks.

I try to control, to be practical,

To distract myself, take meds,

But I can’t always do that.

Sometimes I am caught in an atmosphere

Where I feel the need to escape,

But I don’t really want to,

I want to participate in life, feel it,

Be there, interact with whatever

Or whomever is around.

Maybe I need more discipline.

Maybe I need to be more careful.

But I don’t always want to hide.

Sometimes I don’t want to be rational.

We all occasionally do stupid things.

And sometimes, I regret it.

Sometimes my wife has to reel me in,

Get me back to reality.

I am grateful for doctors, counselors,

Family and friends.

It does help to have support.

I just have to take it one moment at a time,

Doing the best I can.

That’s all I can expect of myself.

More Than Usual

I don’t feel normal, at the moment,

Not sure if I ever have, it seems,
But not normal for me, anyway.

I’m tilting, off center, more than usual.
Everything, more than usual.

More elated, more depressed,

More scared, more sad.

More overwhelmed, if there is such.
I have help near me,

In the bed with me, at the moment,

My spouse, my mate, my caregiver.

So cold that seems, I know.
But I’m trying to keep

As much distance from my feelings

As I can, for fear of breaking,

Under the strain. A strategy, at least.
A possible plan exists,

Plan A, with sub plans 1 and 2.

Plan B, with the same.

Trying to stay logical, a chore.
So, will I make it?

I have commitments,

Some more important than others.

How will I fulfill them?
What if worse comes to worse,

And I am environmentally incapacitated,

So to speak. What then, I plead?

What of my mate, my lovely, innocent,
Sweet, but somewhat dependent mate?

Who will assist her? We have friends,

A few. There is always family, not far,
Too far, anyway. She asked me,

Should I ask them to come?

I said, not yet, later, when I’m gone.

Extras throw variables into the equation,
Drama I’m not prepared to deal with,

Right now. Keep it simple, please,

That’s what I always want, just simple.

I have enough variables in my own body,

For God’s sake. I’m a logarithm unto myself.

So she stays with me, keeps distracting,
She does her best. No social media,

She orders. Delete it. Take it off your phone.

It’s a disaster waiting to happen,

She claims, but I know she’s right.
I might have to disappear for a while,

Remove myself from normal contact,

For the most part. I hate it. I hate it all.

I hate life right now, not her, though,
Though I do get stressed, from all

The checking, the instructions,

The alarms, the constant reminders.

It gets old, after a while.
But that’s the least of my problems,

The very least. I’m not too worried.

I’m safe, for the most part.

I’m safe, you can be sure.
Though on the verge of tears,

Every other moment,

I am in control, at least,

I tell myself that, and she agrees.
We both have doubts,

As to how long that will last.

It’s a scary territory to be in,

You understand. You must understand,
If I am to continue. Let’s be partners,

For now, like my spouse and me,

We’re a team, an old team,

We know how each other works,
We know the strengths we can lean on,

The weaknesses to look for,

The buttons to push, and not.

Most efficient. Most reliable, so forth.
So, now that I’ve been vague,

I’ll keep it up, it works, right now.

Crisis mode, on alert for anything,

Everything more, all but more. 

The Search for Goodness

Paradoxes have always both fascinated and frustrated me. I’m reading a wonderful book right now called Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life, by Joan Chittister. The theme of the book is that every paradox of life has a goodness that we can gain from each side of it. The catch is that we need to be willing to accept, learn and grow from them, and in my experience, that is more difficult than it sounds. She believes that God is a part of our healing, but she lays it out in a very nonjudgmental way, full of psychological knowledge and wisdom from a sage whom has been there in the darkness and can point the way out.

In Chapter 13, she addresses an idea with which many of us struggle: trying to be perfect. The title of the chapter is called, “The Temptation of Sinlessness.” Many people are immediately turned off at the mere mention of the word “sin.” I think that is because it has been used so inappropriately in our culture. As far back as the times of Jesus of Nazareth, there was a struggle between people who wanted to remain sinless and Jesus, who said to a rich man that the only way to be “perfect” (not sinless) was to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor. Then he would have treasure in heaven. Jesus said to “then come and follow me.” The term “perfect”, as it was used then, did not mean sinless. Chittister would say it meant holy, which I understand from her use of that word to mean healthy and loving.

Well, jump forward to the times of Saint Augustine, one of the Fathers of the Christian Church, and whom Sister Chittister points out in the second paragraph of Chapter 13 as “the expert on sin, confession and repentance,” and the plot thickens, in my opinion. Augustine said, “This is our perfection: to find out our imperfections.” The thought that came to me as soon as I read this was that he is not saying perfection is to avoid sin, and he’s certainly not saying that perfection is to stop sinning. He just says to find out what your sins are. Chittister points out throughout the chapter that this awareness is for a special purpose: Acceptance. Stop rejecting yourself, and then you will stop rejecting others.

I have spent much of my life trying not to sin, and I think many of my Christian friends and family have done the same. In some ways, it is just a part of the “Christian American Way.” So, how much time, effort and energy have you spent trying to stop sinning? Do you think it is possible, or do you agree with Jesus, and Chittister, that all this obsession with sinlessness is really a form of hatred of ourselves, which is then projected onto others? I think the first step in the process of healing, what Chittister would call “holiness” is accepting God’s infinite, unconditional love for us. The next step is accepting and loving ourselves.

I have bipolar disorder, and one method I have used to cope with various symptoms is called “thought suppression.” Sometimes, I seem to avoid conflict, and that is probably what I learned when I was young. But, these days, I have learned that a better solution is mindfulness, the mental process of focusing on what is happening in the here and now. It takes practice, but it works great for redirecting energy and attention that would usually go to worrying, anxiety, obsessing, acting inappropriately (like in a meeting at work, in therapy, or while just “listening” to a friend or family member. Wow, I know). The reason I mention all this is that it is a healthy way to get out of the “I’ve got to be perfect” mindset, and we aren’t constantly stressing ourselves out with self-loathing or self-hatred, and then projecting it onto others. I still struggle every day, but I think I’m moving in the right direction, and that’s what really counts!

The process of discovering our sins is simply one step in an effort for personal growth, not to make us become sinless, but to make us aware of our needs, so that we can be capable of loving ourselves, loving God, and loving others. At the end of the chapter, Chittister repeats Augustine’s words, then says “we never need fear our capacity to sin against God by sinning against others.” I instantly anticipated the flip side which is covered in the next chapter. I struggle with this other side of the paradox as well. She calls it, “The Struggle Between Guilt and Growth.”

I worry constantly in fear of doing the wrong thing, and being punished for it, judged not by God, but by other family, friends, authorities and anyone else I meet on a daily basis. I struggle with guilt, shame, and, occasionally, telling the truth, when I am too afraid of what might happen if I do. I happen to be an artist. I write poetry and draw abstract pictures. Most people say my creations are hard to understand, but some say they are beautiful. I have a really hard time accepting the second part. I look at my art, and it looks ugly, sickening, perverted, demented, scary and dangerous. I think about thoughts that occasionally pass through my mind, or feelings I’ve had, or memories of things I’ve done that I’ve perceived as wrong, or tried to cover up because I was afraid to tell the truth about them. Terror fills my soul about these things. And so, Sister Chittister would agree, in those areas, and perhaps in others, as my fears grow, I’m not psychologically or spiritually growing. I’m stuck.

Another author that I’ve read, Ram Dass, in his book, “Be Here Now”, would say the process is to notice these dark thoughts, feelings, even actions, and say “yes, that” “it does exist” and to accept it, which enables you to not be mastered by it. The next step is to redirect to what is happening now, to be where you are, in the moment, and move on to life in the present, which means freedom, serenity, love, the place where we all need to be. I hope and believe I am on that path, very slowly, full of hiccups and failures, but I’m trying, I’m making an effort, and I’m growing. I believe we all can do it, no matter how many problems we have, or how many times we’ve failed,  or even how bad those problems or failures have been. We can all get there, maybe not right away, certainly not completely. Life is a journey. We are all on that journey together. We just need a little courage, and the willingness to try, and to keep trying. Let us go together, in search of goodness.

Sap

Star fix not flicks some round tank ordersHear fang stack flower allow forge ancient

Hollow beauty seen shallow untied smooth

Angel talent taken enable swallow hell end

Rank enter tube trudge calm grin veer kick

Quite whoop quality strike mere rude bid

Move mite put stoop preach real huge hit

Judge salvage swoop twang thrust thirst

Hill run range route roll ill rule mule mill

Motley cue vault view mew reel seal meal

Stool stiff want speed spot spark quark

Mock stilt wilt miff meek wallow stalk sap

Free Again

Done moving conquer strive overcomeRound the pen I pace, I fly, I cry for relief

Endings come among the changes time

Expands in my mind healing starts with

Every expression loud leaps angry weeps

Cages blood knives lodged in the heart

Pain flows like oxygen through my lungs

I must breath breath breath so I can empty

Those dreams and trade the darkness in

For light shine on everything it is all good

My empty yearns to be full my desertion

Claims another mountain I want to climb

I want to receive the blessing I am baptized

With holiness I receive the cleansing spirit

Of peace and all fear disappears oh how

I know there is hope and healing in my heart

I want to expand my life so I can give away

All the things that beggars need and I do not

Want I am chained I want to break free help

Label

Height not apple range motley stand
Angel man never pond taught lots tandem

Neat eel rude tender tool tile tall manger

Mate teal prevent tangle mere tube kneel

Nile swoop near tub boot root need table

Toward mood eat like lock pocket toot

Loot model noodle stool knuckle muck

Stuck struck slack slob ladle stable style

Mare stare rare air make rake are stale

Veil ale snail mail nail able enable label