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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Arming Yourself Against Depression: Prayers for Strength

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Last week, I talked about 2 Chronicles 20 and how some battles are won simply by getting our minds off a problem and focusing on God. As I also mentioned, that doesn’t always mean God will solve the problem while we aren’t looking at it. He often requires us to take an active hand in tackling the problem, both to make us stronger saints and to let us serve His world directly.

Do we remain conscious of God’s strength once it’s time to get up from kneeling prayer and into battle? Or do we forget about God and revert to tackling the problem in our own strength–or do we tell God how it should be tackled, with the implication we’ll accept His help if He concedes our approach is best?

Strength to Make the Right Decision

At least as important as praying for the physical-world strength to do what needs doing, is praying for the strong wisdom that accepts what needs doing. A lot of depressed people get that way because they believed in God’s strength to help them overcome a problem, but they didn’t really believe in His wisdom to know the best solution and reveal it in His own timing. When their plans failed despite their confidence God would help; when they asked again and again for an outcome they never achieved; when the thing they feared most came upon them despite their prayers–they concluded God had abandoned them because they did something wrong, or that He simply didn’t care.

If you’re praying for God’s strength to deal with a problem, and seem to be making no progress, it may be that you’re letting your own strength clog the channel. Surrender your will all over again if:

  • You’ve been so committed to one particular outcome that you haven’t even considered there might be any other possibility.
  • There’s any deadline by which you think God must act or it will be “too late.”
  • You’re pretty much convinced it’s already too late–that if God had any serious intention of acting, He would have done so by now.
  • You have a solid idea of what God wants you to do–even if it’s simply to “wait”–but you keep on praying in hope of getting a different answer. Or, you’ve traded actual prayer for attempts at convincing God and yourself that your own preferred course of action isn’t that bad.

Strength to Do the Right Thing

If you’ve gone so far as to be seriously considering an action your conscience knows isn’t God’s will, stop right now! Another well-traveled road to depression is paved with bricks of expediency, engraved with the rationalization “I had no choice.” And if you’ve already gone down that road, get on your knees immediately and confess “I have sinned, forgive me and lead me back,” rather than continuing to hack at the dead-end wall with the “no choice” chisel.

Conversely, if you know what God wants you to do and you do want to do it, but you’re discouraged by the obstacles in the road or the opinions of others or (especially) your own inadequacy, remember the Lord’s words to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” And do as Paul did: accept your weaknesses, even thank God for them. And thank Him for the great things He will do in and through your struggles. Plus the incalculable blessings He has waiting for you.

Ultimately, praying for strength is less about asking God to increase our strength than about rejoicing that His strength works through us.

  • 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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