Monday, December 1, 2014

Depression, Fear, and Me

On Thanksgiving Day I got up early and headed off to work. As it turned out, the client who thought she would need my help that morning to prepare for her large family gathering did not need me after all. She sent me home with a full day's pay just the same. My own family gathering would be a small one. My daughter and her boyfriend were out of town for the day. My son and his girlfriend would not be available for dinner until 7:00 pm. I was tempted to lay around all day and do nothing. After all, I work hard. I could use some rest. But I know myself well. I resisted that urge and decided to make better use of those newfound hours.

There is nothing like the process and result of cleaning your own house for clearing the cobwebs from your mind. As a person prone to depression, I know first-hand that it is a lying brute that will try to stop you from doing the very things that actually have the power to fend it off. If your house is dirty, it tells you there is no point in cleaning; it will just get dirty again. And so you sit in your filth, feeling hopeless, and also justified in doing nothing about it. (The old-fashioned word for this is laziness.)

If what you need most is interaction with other people, especially other Christians, so that your iron can be sharpened against theirs, or your wounds soothed, it will remind you of the times you have been offended in church. It will tell you that you can't trust those people. It will point out all the ways in which they don't really love you and how you don't really matter to them.

Sometimes - oftentimes - what the depression tells you has some truth to it. Okay, speaking honestly, it has a lot of truth to it. But this is how it is so effective in its deception. Most of us are not inclined to accept blatant falsehoods, or to enter into wrongdoing without some justification that holds weight with us. Our depression is just as smart as we are. And so, at this point I will try to stop calling depression "it". Because really, it's not "it". It's me. It is my sinful way of looking at things. And "it" - like me - is pretty smart about it. In depression I play both ends against the middle. I play both truth and falsehood to whatever so-called advantage I can. Really, there is a part of me that wants life, and all its happiness and joy, handed to me on a silver platter. I don't want to have to do the things necessary to have the joy I think I deserve. And so I argue against any thought that would require me to make some effort toward my dreams.

Depression is me. It is me paralyzed by fear, too afraid to face the challenges that it will take to accomplish my goals, to pursue the expression of my talents and abilities. It is me thinking a good life should land in my lap with minimal effort, as if the world owed me a living. And then, It is me having expended as little effort as possible, wondering why I have no sense of satisfaction in my life and very little to show for the very little effort I have expended. Depression is me, begrudging the good others have, assuming they don't deserve the fruit of their labor any more than I deserve fruit from my lack of it.

Depression is me refusing to recognize that life is hard and everyone who wants to accomplish anything in this world must do it in the face of obstacles. Depression is me thinking my own fears are unique, and excuse me from engaging in life's challenges. Those challenges are there for everyone who accomplishes any good at all in their lives. Why do I expect to be able to do what others do but without the effort and failures they are subjected to. Am I the only one who is afraid? Is my fear an adequate excuse to not do the things I have been created to do?

I have recently been taking a long, hard look at the role fear has played in my life and my depression. What I have come to see is that I have allowed fear to dictate nearly the entire course of my life. Fear has been my god. But fear is not God and it does not come from God. And again I would like to take a moment to stop thinking of fear as "it", as if it had a life distinct from me. Fear is me. It is me choosing to dwell on the multitudes of what-if scenarios rather than believing the promises of my faithful God and Savior.

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!
    I shall be killed in the streets!” Proverbs 22:13

Fear is me, the wicked part of me which believes that God is nothing but harsh and exacting, and uses that belief as an excuse to do nothing.*  Fear is me refusing to recognize that God has cared for me all along, that he has never dealt with me as my sins deserved. Fear is me refusing God's precious gift of forgiveness through faith in his Son. Fear is the opposite of faith in this most literal sense: it is opposed to faith. It won't have any of it.

And very often, depression is really just me living in the hopeless place the fear in me has relegated me to. It is me convincing me to borrow against the future for what I want or am afraid of at the moment. Depression is me living in the land where the path of least resistance has taken me.

The truth is that we humans cannot be happy unless we are actively counteracting the chaos and uncertainties we face every day. We are meant to work, to overcome challenges, to face terrible fears, to master temptation, to live and love boldly, to produce beauty in our surroundings. When we give up on that, we give up on life and its joys.

Christians, we are not helpless in the face of fear. Don't let the fear in you convince you otherwise. In Christ and in his word we have all we need for life and godliness. That spirit of fear is not from him, so don't give it a welcome place in your head. The Spirit he has given us is a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. Let that be the Spirit that reigns in your mind and in every decision you make. So, my encouragement for you today is this: get up and do something about the things in your life that your are fearful or hopeless about. Don't let fear paralyze you or depression make you idle. And on this and every other day be thankful for each breath you take and for every bit of strength that you have and use it all for the glory of the God who has saved you from the fearful you, the depressed you, the sinful you.

* Consider The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Decisions I'll Never Regret

I've lived fifty years on this earth and I have a lot of regrets. But one thing I can say that I have never regretted was a decision to forgive.

Decades ago I had an employer, a professing Christian, active in ministry. He was a charismatic man with big dreams, and his employees were devoted to him. But his dreams were bigger than the reality in which we all lived, and the business foundered.  Paychecks became sporadic, but his bright optimism, our belief in his vision, and our loyalty kept us around. Eventually, however, it got to the point that he neglected to pay us for weeks on end. This went on for two or three months before I finally quit, but there were others of us who stayed far longer waiting for that oft-promised ship, carrying its thousands of dollars of back-pay, to come in. One of the last straws came for me when I learned that all the while we were not getting paid, our boss was renting a luxury home in Dana Point. I was indignant.

I, too, was a professing Christian then. I knew that the Scriptures teach a man not to  withhold wages from his workers. When I finally quit I took my case to the Labor Board to try to force payment. But before I got very far in the process my conscience began to trouble me:
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?...To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?"  1 Cor. 6:1,6-7
And there was also this:
"and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Mt. 6:12
So I abandoned my claim and wrote my former boss a letter forgiving him the debt he owed me.

When I look back in my memory at that time of my life, what I remember is the joy of being able to look that man in the eye again and smile, and to see him smile in return.  I have never regretted that decision, or any decision to forgive after that. The freedom to love is more precious than anything it might cost. And it does cost. In order to forgive I had to determine to absorb the loss and the offense that had come with it.

These many years later I have come to understand more fully the gospel I never really grasped all those years ago.  Back then I followed, when I followed, as one following a rule book.  But even then I experienced the sweet reward of warm affection that forgiveness brings.

In order to have true fellowship, we must break down every barrier to love and relationship. This means we must forgive offenses, over and over. And, yes, this also means we must absorb the costs.
"And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him..." Colossians 1:21-22
This is what God did for us in Christ.  He absorbed our sin against Him at the cost of His precious and sinless life. He did this while we were still his enemies, and this is what he calls us to do  for each other.
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." Col. 3:12-14
This harmony is worth everything it cost Christ and everything it costs us. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Praise of Dish Soap

 It's been a while since I've offered any new cleaning tips or recommendations.  That's because what I've been doing all along, and have recorded in previous posts, has been serving me just fine.  But, as we all know, necessity is the mother of invention, and need arose recently for me to discover something new - or, rather, rediscover something not new at all.  You see, I ran out of Mr. Clean and I needed something to mop a floor with that would be gentle and not leave streaks.  Then I remembered back to the days of my youthful poverty when I would mop my kitchen floors with dish soap rather than buy some special product.  So I took my empty spray-bottle added a few drops of dish soap* and filled it the rest of the way with warm water.  A short time later I was looking at perfectly shiny, streak-free floors.

Being out of Mr. Clean for the rest of that day, I ended up using the dish soap mixture on everything I would have used Mr. Clean for.  It was perfect.  Excited, I spent the week trying it out on several other applications.  It removed the fingerprints from door jambs nicely.  It's great for appliance fronts and even stainless steel.  It cleans marble and stone counter-tops to a streak-free shine. It even works well on bathtubs and showers, provided they are not coated with heavy buildup. Most surprising of all, to me, it was even better than the name brand glass-cleaners for windows and mirrors.  Just spray on, rub around with a sponge (if necessary), and wipe dry.  And all this for a fraction of the price of Mr. Clean and window cleaners.

With a spray bottle of dish-soapy water on hand, I've found the only other products I need on a daily/routine basis are 409 (or other degreaser) for more heavy-duty messes like stove-tops or the insides of microwaves, a bleach-based scouring powder, Barkeeper's Friend, and Endust. (See my previous posts for other quality products I recommend and their particular uses.)

An added advantage I noticed, as someone who cleans for a living, is that it does not irritate my lungs.  There are no fumes, so I get no cough.  Now, for a professional, there can be a downside to this, though, as the house will smell less like the cleaning products that the general public has come to associate with "clean".  If this is becomes a problem, you can add a little Mr. Clean, or your preferred all-purpose cleaning concentrate to your soapy water bottle.  You'll still be using fewer chemicals and fewer dollars each day.

Finally,  I know what some of you are thinking: "What about GERMS?!"  Yes, I understand.  This is why I recommend a bleach based product for the toilet bowl and sink area.  And you still may prefer to use a specialized product for the bathroom surfaces.  That's fine.  But keep in mind that the scientific community is no longer encouraging the use of any antibacterial products which are not either bleach or alcohol based in non-hospital settings.  Look for soapy water to be making a come-back!

*  I am not specifically endorsing Dawn here, though it is a good brand.  Any quality brand of dish soap will do the trick.  I cannot recommend the cheap brands, however.  Very often they are watered down and require you to use twice as much, which defeats the purpose as far as I'm concerned.

P.S. You can also use a dab dishsoap on a grease-spot before laundering to prevent a permanent grease stain.