Saving Your Sanity, God’s Way

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I have a book in the works called Sober for Life: What Christians Need to Know About Quitting Addiction for Good. The full table of contents is too long to reproduce here, but here’s a teaser: Quitting addiction for “good”–in both senses of the word–is a lot more complicated than repenting of drug use and promising never to do it again. It involves understanding the true causes of addiction, seeking professional medical treatment, knowing what’s likely to trigger a relapse, and planning for the long term.

Addiction is an odd bird in the array of life problems: half bad habit, half medically diagnosable illness. Many bad habits are torture to quit, but things rarely get so bad as to necessitate hospitalization. Many illnesses fall into the “chronic, never completely goes away” category, but most don’t compel the sufferer to repeat the same foolish real-world actions over and over. That said, many a case of addiction disorder begins as a desperate attempt to kill the pain of another illness: either physical pain, as in many cases of opiate addiction, or the emotional pain of severe depression or another mental illness. In fact, about half of addictions are co-occurrent with mental disorders not directly related to behavior; about half of people with other mental illnesses are also addicted to drugs; and often it’s hard to determine which came first.

And turning to my personal voice of experience: I have autism–specifically classified as Asperger’s syndrome–and clinical depression–specifically classified as dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder. In my case at least, symptoms include:

  • Fear of disappointment
  • Fear of changing plans
  • Extreme aversion to letting go of anything
  • Feeling that no one understands or cares, and that anyone who really loved me would rush in immediately to relieve my concerns
  • Periodically sinking into nothing-really-matters despair over the temporal nature of this world and my own inability to effect instant results

While I’ve never been tempted to numb that pain with drugs, most of the coping strategies I’ve been drawn to haven’t been exactly healthy: melting down into rage; filling up on comfort food; burying myself in books and television; working or planning excessively in an attempt to cover every possible contingency; being overly dependent and letting others take care of the work and the bills.

Perhaps you–or someone you’re close to–knows all too personally the pain of struggling with mental illness. It’s a classic “thorn in the flesh“: torments its victims constantly, seems to be fueled by the devil himself, and is impossible to get rid of. While we don’t know if the original “thorn in the flesh”–the one St. Paul struggled with–had anything to do with mental illness, as believers we typically react to that thorn the way Paul initially responded to his: we beg God, often again and again, to take it away from us.

If He doesn’t, few of us are thrilled with our other choices:

  • Keep on asking, struggling to keep our faith up and not grow more discouraged with every “Not now.”
  • Give up and conclude that God doesn’t really care about us, or perhaps doesn’t exist at all.
  • Do as Paul did: let God answer our “why do I have to go through this?” as much or as little as He pleases, and place our struggle in His hands as a tool He can use to make us more effective for His Kingdom.

Need it be said? The last choice is the best one–and the one most of us least want to opt for. Even deciding that God doesn’t care or isn’t real somehow feels more comforting to our pride than admitting we have no right to tell Him how to handle our life situations. And even if we’re willing to accept our hardest trials as serving God’s purpose, we doubt we’ll ever learn to delight in them, which may be possible for supersaints such as Paul, but surely not for us lesser believers.

I’m nowhere close to that goal myself. However, I am learning, slowly and steadily, to find points of gratitude even in hardship and to take risks for growth even when terrified. I may or may not ever reach a steady state of quiet trust in this life. What I have reached is a willingness to accept that the well-being of my soul does not depend on everything always going exactly as I originally hoped.

That’s at least one major step toward letting go and letting God save your sanity His way.

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Things Eternal

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So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV).

The trouble with fixing our eyes on things unseen is that they are, well, unseen. If we’re honest, it’s a rare believer who’s never wondered if all our hopes of Heaven are self-delusion. And even if we know how to appreciate our present moments in joy and gratitude, it can be hard to look long at the temporal nature of earthly things without becoming melancholy, if not seriously depressed.

If our solution is to avoid looking at all, though, we risk turning into “practical atheists” who live only for instant gratification. There was the teenager whose response to every work request was to whine, “Why should I have to clean it? It’ll just get dirty again,” until his mother was fed up. One morning, he arrived at the breakfast table to find his place devoid of plate and food, and asked her what the idea was.

She replied, “Why bother to eat? You’ll just get hungry again.”

Struggle or pleasure, all we accomplish in this life is temporary–all except our own spiritual growth and the positive spiritual energy we generate through love and nurturing of Creation and human souls, an energy that glorifies God and stores up eternal treasure in ways we can never understand this side of Heaven. Therein lies the true cause of our distaste for things unseen: we feel entitled to understand. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, we want to “be like God, knowing good and evil“–and our attempts to grab that gold-plated brass ring lead only to trouble.

The alternative? Both simple and seriously difficult. Cultivate the “just trust Godfaith of a little child. Let go of all demands for instant gratification, for absolute assurance that things will work out, for premature realization of the rewards God has reserved for eternity. Be grateful for what we have now without presuming any right to hold it permanently, and trust God’s promise that the good things of this life are to be enjoyed and yet are as nothing compared with what is still to come.

Even diehard atheists (and proponents of virtually every other worldview) will admit two things about the sum of ultimate reality: a single life is smaller compared to that reality than one grain of sand compared to the whole earth; and yet, in some way we could never explain logically but still realize instinctively, living with integrity and purpose has significant value. As Christians, we can know the unique joy of living in those truths by the power of a God Who is both infinite–and individually concerned with every detail of His Creation.

Including every frustrating, wonderful, mysterious, building-for-eternity detail of the earthly lives that temporarily contain our immortal souls.

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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