Self-Imposed Chains

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By Michael W. Raley

I failed to recognize my chains

Until I was set free,

Empowered by the knowledge

That I held the key.

At any time,

I could’ve walked away

And not resided in that prison

For another wasted day.

Ignorance is not bliss

When you think about your life,

The opportunities and joys missed

When we are embittered and in bondage

To things present, things future, and things past.

We fill ourselves with complaint and outrage

And wonder why the good times didn’t last.

We fume about things out of our control

And bicker about the politics and melodrama

Never realizing the toll

This takes on our energy and our spirits.

My brother, my sister, my friend,

It is not too late to change the story,

You are the writer who can change the end

And begin to enjoy this one live you’ve been given.

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Anger

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By Michael W. Raley

My anger, like the sun,

Rises slowly over the horizon

Penetrating the inner darkness.

No matter the situation,

The anger goads me,

Asking accusing question after accusing question

Until I respond in rage

And say what I’ve been hiding under the surface.

I know it’s not right and that I am better than this,

Yet, I pacify the anger instead of putting it away.

I have only so many cheeks to turn

And only so much humble pie I can eat.

No matter how hard I try,

No matter how much I pray,

No matter how much I change,

The anger grows back like a weed

And I am back to square one.

Betrayal

By Michael W. Raley

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I thought I understood the depths of pain,

Until I learned of your betrayal.

Everything we worked for,

Our hopes, our dreams, our history,

Was eradicated with a handful of bad decisions.

I am far from perfect,

But I never thought this would happen.

We don’t deserve this.

I always thought we would be the couple

Who would defy the odds and always stay together,

Alas, it was not meant to be.

I gave you the best years of my life

And I stayed when things went dark

Because I believed not only in you,

But in the person I believed you could be.

Somewhere along the way,

I have failed you and I am sorry.

I worked my hardest and did my best

To build you the life you wanted.

I know there were goals we never reached,

Yet, I was willing to make the best of it with you.

Although I didn’t have the means

To give you everything you wanted,

I gave you the best of me.

I realize now after all these years it wasn’t good enough

Because you no longer want me.

The Problems of Evil, Suffering, and Belief

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The problems of evil and suffering have long been used critics of The Bible to argue against the existence of an Omnipotent, or all-powerful God. In recent years, I have become very skeptical of the mental gymnastics required to ignore this problem. If we were to be intellectually honest with ourselves, I believe we would have some major doubts about our religious worldviews.

I know many times I have accepted my suffering as “part of God’s plan,” because “God has something great” for me. If no one had an explanation, then the standard responses are, “God’s ways are above our ways,” or “We’ll have all of the answers when we get to heaven.” I’m sorry, but that is no longer good enough for me. The story of Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden is not a sufficient explanation when examined logically.

Besides being Omnipotent, Christians believe God to be Omniscient,or all-knowing. If God, with one glance of his eyes can see across all history and time, then why do we have the Garden of Eden story?

*God creates the angel Lucifer knowing that he will lead a rebellion and will be cast out of heaven with one-third of the angels.

*God creates a paradise, but with the proviso of a forbidden tree, which will keep Adam and Eve in perpetual ignorance if they stay away from it.

*So if Lucifer wasn’t created and the forbidden tree wasn’t put in the garden, then the talking snake would not have convinced Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, which caused the fall of humanity.

*The all-powerful God could have dealt with sin and Satan right then and there, restored everything, hence there would have been no need for a worldwide flood, the sacrifice of Christ, or the need for a Second Coming of Christ to finally vanquish Satan and his minions.

*The idea that my suffering, your suffering, and the suffering of untold billions is due solely to the fact a talking snake convinced two people to eat a piece of fruit does not hold up upon further review. If your great-grandfather robbed a bank in 1925, decades before you were born and the police show up at your door to arrest you for your great-grandfather’s crime and throw you in prison, that would be ludicrious.

Let’s take another biblical example of innocent people suffering because of one person’s actions. If you are a reader of The Bible, no doubt you are familiar with the Exodus story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Moses, on behalf of God, goes before Pharaoh to “Let my people go.”

However, Pharaoh refuses and God sends plagues on Egypt, which included the Nile River turning to blood, flies, boils, darkness, etc, which culminated with the death of every first born child in the land of Egypt. On the surface of the story, Pharaoh seems to be a very stubborn person who will allow innocent people to suffer over the fate of slaves. However, The Bible states in Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 9:12,11:9, and 14:8, that it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart, which brought on the plagues, which brought on the suffering of Egyptians not involved with Moses or Pharaoh. Why didn’t God just deal directly with Pharaoh? In fact the Exodus story doesn’t mention any direct punishment Pharaoh received due to his actions against God’s people, but innocent people suffered because of the stubbornness God put on Pharaoh.

Isaiah 45:7 states, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” (KJV).

Isaiah 45:7 is a verse used by theologians and apologists to describe evil as “natural evil,” such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, and the like. God can use this kind of “evil” for his purpose to bring healing to a community or country, for which the disaster can be used “for his glory.” I believe this begs the question, why does God have to use suffering in order for people to pay attention to him? Why did God allow Job to suffer so much, yet give him no explanation? It was God, after all, who put the limits on Job’s suffering. If God is all-powerful, then can’t he simply manifest himself in a definitive way?

I am not belittling anyone’s faith and I am not saying you should or shouldn’t believe in God. However, if we are to base our lives and possible eternities on beliefs laid out in ancient texts, can we still apply logic and reason to what we believe? Is it still viable in our modern world to question the advances of science and society in order to hold onto a book that insists the world was created in six days, slavery is allowed, women are to be treated as property, and genocide is encouraged? We must examine the heart of these issues and what we believe. We have been given the gifts of logic, reason, free thought, and common sense let us use them to the best of our abilities. I will leave you with a quote from the 4th/3rd Century BC Greek philosopher Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. If he is able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

A Monday Morning Reflection

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As I write this, another Monday has sneaked up on us. For many of us, Monday marks the start of a new work week or another week of school. Ugggh! Right?

I know the feeling of those “Sunday night blues,” that feeling of dread that hits you in the pit of your stomach. I can’t begin to tell you how my overall mood changes. A large clock begins to tick, counting down the hours and minutes of freedom left before the grind starts over again. Does it really have to be that way? Monday, like the other six days, are just dates on a calendar, as we are the ones who assign meanings to the days.

However, I am trying to battle the dread of the upcoming day. I am making progress, slowly, but surely. The lesson I’ve learned is that I cannot sacrifice today’s peace of mind and the joy of the present moment worrying about what might happen tomorrow. For each today we sacrifice worrying about tomorrow will turn into weeks, months, and years of lost potential moments of joy.

From the date of my birth to this post, I have lived 15,178 days. If I were to divide that number of days by 7, that’s approximately 2,168 Mondays that I have survived. More than likely I will survive this Monday. I made it to another Monday! I am learning to view each day as a gift and a chance for me to be better than I was yesterday.

As you hear the ring or buzz of the alarm, the dripping of the coffee pot, and the sounds of traffic, just remember how blessed you are to wake up to those sounds. More importantly, remember that the response to the day and its events are up to you. There are a limited number of days that we get on this planet, so let us make the best of each one of them.

 

My Struggles with Anxiety and Depression

 

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According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million people over the age of 18.1

I am one of those 40 million people. As far back as I can remember, anxiety has dominated my life. Being anxious is part of the human condition- it’s the nerves before a presentation or a big game, a first date, or a job interview. However, anxiety becomes an issue when it hinders decision making and holds you back from living the life you want to live. I can’t tell you the number of times my anxiety has talked me out of potential opportunities because deep down, I didn’t feel worthy of said opportunities or the imagined potential disaster. As the saying goes, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Anxiety is a bully, taunting and mocking you constantly. If anxiety brings along his buddy, depression, then you’re in for a really bad, no good, awful day. In my experience with anxiety, I for many years did not label it as anxiety. I and others thought of me as “quiet,” or “shy,” or my personal favorite, “socially awkward.” Though great strides have been made in the medical and psychiatric fields concerning the awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health issues, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness. For those with anxiety, depression, or any other illness, having to fight our inner battle with the outside perceptions of others can delay our healing process as it did with mine. Mental illness is a serious issue, it should never be joked about or dismissed. Just because someone doesn’t “look sick” doesn’t mean their issues should be swept aside with flippant comments such as “What do you have to be depressed about?” “It’s all in your head.” “You need to do more of this (pray, give it to God, etc),or “Get over it.” If a friend or family member had cancer would you tell them, “Turn that frown upside down and suck it up”? I would hope not. People with mental illness are not weak or lazy, as they are some of the strongest people out there because they fight every day to get up and try to live a “normal” and highly functional life. Compound a mental illness with any number of autoimmune diseases, and life becomes even more difficult.

Since I have done my own research into my anxiety, I can truly see how much it has controlled my life. When my anxiety was triggered, physical symptoms would follow: deep breathing, shaking hands, a racing heartbeat, the “fight or flight” response, becoming agitated, stuttering and stammering over my words, all of which made want to dig a hole and hide. These attacks would come on during social situations such as job interviews, leaving the house to go to work, or simply going to family gatherings. However, people often comment about how calm I am and never appear to be rattled, which in all honesty is my learned ability not to show the outside world what’s going on inside of my mind. The next time you watch ducks swimming on a lake or pond, just remember those calm, peaceful birds are peddling their legs in the water as fast as they can; I believe that is a fitting analogy for how I have managed to hide my anxiety.

I tried different techniques over the years to deal with my anxiety and depression. The first is that sheer will power “put your nose to the grindstone” mentality. That only wore me out and wore down my nose. I came to faith in Jesus Christ back in 1999, which I hoped my faith, studying the Bible, praying, and “Let go and let God” would free me from this darkness. After all, Jesus said not to worry (Matthew 6:25) and the Apostle Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing,”(Philippians 4:6), plus there are 365 verses in the entire Bible that tell us to “fear not,” so why be anxious? However, I began to learn that my depression and anxiety were not going to go away by saying prayers or shouting out Scripture. I came to the rational, logical, conclusion that my battle was not with demons or doubt, nor was it because a talking snake convinced two people in a garden to eat a piece of fruit,but there was something wrong with me mentally, biologically, and chemically, which could be treated.

I tried to deal first with the depression and made the decision in 2008 to talk to my family doctor and he prescribed my Prozac, which I took until 2010, when I felt good enough to try to conquer depression on my own. Things were good for a couple of years, then life began to pile up on me: my health declined, my wife had problems with her health, grief and loss, family issues, infertility, a crisis of faith, and being laid off from my middle management job and starting over at the bottom, to changing careers at mid-life. I could not cope and went back on the Prozac from 2016 until mid-2018, when the Prozac stopped being effective. My doctor then prescribed me Celexa, which is also used to treat anxiety. I do feel better mentally, though I am not completely free from depression and anxiety, I do have more good days than bad ones.

Though my faith is not what it used to be, I have found comfort in relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, listening to classical/instrumental music, and trying to implement Stoic philosophy into my life. Stoicism is a practical philosophy, which in a nutshell is managing your responses to what happens to you and determining if the event is within or without of your control. Stoicism is incidentally one of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Though I know that my war with anxiety and depression are far from over, I have won many recent battles and that gives me hope. My hope for you is that if you are struggling with your mental health, please seek treatment and determine what is best for you. You don’t have to live life as a prisoner of your mind. The keys are within reach, grab them and work on freeing yourself. Stay encouraged, there is hope, there is healing. You can’t erase what has been written,but you can change the narrative. Be the hero of your own story.

A Thousand Heartaches

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By Michael W. Raley

Stabbed in the heart,

Numbed to the pain

Of a thousand heartaches

Which after a while begin to feel the same.

I’ve done everything I could to make things right,

Sacrificing my life, health, and peace of mind

Along with my heart, spirit, strength, and might.

No matter how much I gave,

It was never enough.

I would find myself lonely and abandoned

When times became tough.

You have your issues

And I have mine,

Yet I held on to the belief

We would have worked them out given more time.

I guess it wasn’t meant to be,

As you’ve decided it’s time for things to end

And for you to be set free.