Help My Unbelief

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Mark 9:17-27 tells the story of a desperate father who longs for his sick son to be healed.

“…Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.” (Mark 9:17-18, NASB).

After Jesus laments the generations unbelief, He calls for the child to be brought to Him. The child immediately goes into a convulsion. Jesus asks the father how long this has been happening and the father replies:

“From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mark 9:21-9:22, NASB, emphasis mine).

I sympathize with the father here. When I was a small child, I suffered with seizures. I don’t remember having one, but I’ve heard stories from my parents and other family members. I was never diagnosed with epilepsy or any disorder, but I took medication until I was ten years old. When I read the father’s words, I can hear the helplessness he must have felt when his son had these attacks. My parents must have felt the same way when I had a seizure. (For the record, I’ve not had another seizure for over thirty years).

Jesus then puts the emphasis on the father’s faith: “‘If you can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23, NASB).

“Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.'”

Jesus commands the spirit to come out of the child, which causes more convulsions before the child is healed and freed from the demonic spirit.

We often look at this story as one of Jesus’ miracles, which it is or we only walk away with the “All things are possible verse.” However, as I re-read these verses this week, I really empathized with the father. I have been in those desperate situations, whether it be health, financial, marital or loved ones dealing with a sickness, only to have my faith tested. When the pain goes on for a long time with no answers in sight, the doubt creeps into our spirits. We question what we know, we question God, and we question the point of having faith.

Mark’s text doesn’t say how old the child was, but he dealt with this spirit for a long time. I know the father had to be emotionally and spiritually drained from the ordeal. I’ve been wearied through many battles myself and I’m sure you have as well. I believe the worst thing we can say to someone is “you just need more faith.” I believe this statement is damaging to one’s spirit and reflects our ignorance of someone’s situation. We don’t know someone’s level of faith. We truly don’t know what someone has gone through up to that point. The best thing for us to do is to love and accept someone right where they are. God bless.

 

 

Embrace and Adapt to the Circumstances

“Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.”1 -Epictetus

I don’t deserve this. I try to do everything right. I show up and do my job. I’m a dedicated spouse and an even more dedicated parent. Why am I suffering? Why is God silent? Why is He allowing this to happen?

Does that train of thought sound familiar? I have gone through that script so many times, I should’ve been nominated for a major acting award.

(Before I go on, I want to make a disclaimer: No one, under any circumstances deserves to be abused, mistreated, harassed, or tormented by anyone else. If you find yourself in that situation, please seek help).

Deserve. A word which signifies an entitlement or something that is owed to us. We often think of deserve as a reward for doing the right thing, for not acting like everyone else around us. Deserve means we should be spared from a life of pain and suffering. However, all of us, deep inside know that is not the case.

Life is unfair. Legal or social justice does not always prevail. A husband or wife can decide they want out after decades of marriage. You can be fired or laid off from that job for which you earned while climbing the corporate ladder. A retirement fund or savings account can be wiped out with one swift downturn in the market or a major illness. You may have reached middle aged or older only to find yourself starting over. Life is unfair.

To paraphrase the above Epictetus quote: It’s not about what we deserve, it’s about what we get. We must manage our expectations of love, marriage, career, health, and everything else we deal with in this life.

I never thought my health and career would take a turn for the worse at thirty-eight. I never conceived that I would be divorced three years later. I didn’t expect to start over in a one bedroom apartment. Life will take you places you don’t want to go. Life will drag you kicking and screaming if it must. However, it’s not all bad and you are tougher than you think you are.

I agree with Epictetus that we must temper our expectations as we go through life. I’m not saying to prepare for catastrophic failure, but we must train ourselves to adapt to changing circumstances. Jesus said that in this world, we will have tribulation, but we can take solace in knowing He has overcome the world. The Buddha said existence is suffering. Yoda said that we must let go of everything we fear to lose. Basically, bad times are going to come, we must find peace and contentment in the worst of circumstances. To use a sports analogy, if our game plan is not working, we must be able to make adjustments on the fly. Embrace where you are and God bless you.

1Epictetus The Art of Living: A New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 7.

The Holidays and Mental Health

2019 has flown by and Thanksgiving is approaching quickly. In the United States, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season. While it’s easy to get caught up in shopping, gift giving, holiday parties,and decorations, the holidays may not be festive for everyone.

For those who struggle mental illness and/or grief, the holidays can be a stressful time.

When I was married, Christmas was difficult for me because of the infertility my ex-wife and I experienced. Though I love my nieces, nephews, and little cousins, it grew increasingly difficult to watch them open presents year after year while there were no children at our home Christmas morning.

The holidays can also serve of reminders of grief and loss. Maybe you lost a loved one around the holidays as you remember past family gatherings. I personally have lost three grandparents around the holidays. Going to the homes of my grandparents was always what made the holidays special, as the entire family would gather together. However, loved ones pass away and family dynamics can change due to divorce or other circumstances, leaving us with grief and loss.

The 2018 holidays were tough for me. My Grandma passed away the day after Thanksgiving. My Grandma’s funeral was on Tuesday and I received notification on Friday the same week that my divorce was finalized- a holiday double whammy.

In the coming weeks, I hope to share tips for dealing with mental health during the holidays. I just wanted to bring awareness that the holidays aren’t fun for everyone. Before you accuse your spouse, family member, friend, or co-worker of being a “Scrooge” or a “Grinch,” be mindful the holidays may be a difficult time of year for them.

Also, another aspect of holiday stress for some is the costs of gift giving. If someone bought you a gift that wasn’t as extravagant or costly as what you gave them, don’t belittle them, show appreciation. Maybe that gift is all they could afford. Maybe your gift giver didn’t have as good of a year as you. I personally dislike the commercial and financial aspects of the holidays as it becomes more about comparing checkbooks than celebrating the precious few moments we have to share together in this life.

I know this is a Christian blog, but I believe the words of the Dalai Lama ring true:  “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

 

The Lawless Times

“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.”

Matthew 24:12, NASB

It is so easy to turn a deaf ear and form a cynical heart towards community decay. Newscasts are filled with stories of people being shot, crime, rape, child abuse, political bickering, and an overall disregard for established law and order. If the incidents take place blocks or miles from our comfortable existence, we can become insulated and isolated in our thinking about our community’s pain.

Jesus in His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) discusses what the times will be like before His return- wars, natural disasters, persecution of believers, false prophets, and rebellion to name a few signs. (Jesus also speaks of these events  in Mark 13 and Luke 21).

God knows our limitations as people and He knows how overwhelming bad news and events can weigh on our minds. Just the major events in our own lives- the death of a loved one, addiction, divorce, job loss, and financial problems can trigger anxiety and depression, causing us misery upon misery.

As overwhelming these events seem in Matthew 24:12, that people’s love for each other and God will grow cold, Jesus us offers us hope.

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13, NASB).

Verse thirteen is not dealing with eternal salvation, it is dealing with a sense of protection or deliverance in the midst of suffering.

Now that we have a reason to hope, Jesus gives us an assignment.

“The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then, the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, NASB).

We live in lawless times, but there is a way not to become overwhelmed and unloving regarding people and their suffering. We must reconnect with the love of God by repentance, prayer, study, and being community with other believers. As we grow in our love for God, our love for people will be a natural offspring and a platform for sharing the gospel with them. God bless you.

I Found Peace

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I am at peace. I am at peace with myself. I am at peace with my circumstances. I am at peace with the past and with God.

I didn’t have a mountain top experience nor was it a sudden revelation, I just came to be. A coworker this week mentioned that I have a different look on my face than I had in recent months. I believe my period of mourning has lifted and new life has sprung forth.

I have to say the last six years of my life have been the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I have detailed these struggles on this blog and I believe this period of darkness inspired some of my best work. If you’re new to the blog, I briefly recap what the last six years has been like- I left a church I had been apart of for fourteen years and the changing spiritual dynamics left me wandering and questioning God. I was hospitalized with anemia,which I found out a year later was caused by Celiac disease. I was laid off from a job, which sent my career in a tailspin. Recurring flare-ups of my Ulcerative Colitis, my nephew’s suicide, my battles with anxiety and depression, and being blindsided by a divorce after eighteen years of marriage.

I was a broken man. My mind, body, and spirit were broken. I felt so hopeless and alone. I know that I wasn’t alone because I had the support of my family and my family of coworkers. I went back to church and joined a men’s group and heard the stories of men who were in my same situation. I sold the house my ex-wife and I built together, which was a burden off of my shoulders and a boost to my mental and financial health.

When I think about my struggles, I’m reminded of two Bible verses, Philippians 4:7 and Romans 8:28. To summarize, Philippians 4:7 discusses a peace that transcends all understanding, while Romans 8:28 talks about how God uses all things to work together for our good. These Scriptures don’t say that everything that happens to us will be good, but we can have a peaceful heart in the worst of times. I memorized Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:7 when I first became a Christian, but the truth of those verses have really sank into my heart.

At the beginning of the year, I posted about this year being a year of restoration, and it has become that, a period of restoration. Being at peace doesn’t mean that everything has worked out and is resolved like a sitcom, drama or movie. Finding peace means that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. You’ve made it through previous hard times and you’re going to get through this.

 

Only Me

By Michael W. Raley

I live in community,

Yet I feel so lonely.

I can connect to people around the globe,

But I end each day alone.

I work to keep my thoughts and emotions steady;

Deep down I’m still not ready

To face the challenge of a new day.

I give myself the encouragement talk,

Only to fail following through on walking the walk.

The realization that I am truly alone

Makes my heart sink like a stone

Into an aimless sea-

No lighthouse, no flares, no ships, only me.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

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Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.

I’ll never be successful.

How can anybody love me?

I’m a failure.

How could she do that to me?

I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.

The list goes on and on.

Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.

The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.

As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes.  My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?

Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”

As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.

Focus on what you can control

We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.

Temper your expectations

There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.

This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.