For When You Can’t Function

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Now here’s a subject I know a bit about – not being able to function. By which I mean not being able to engage in normal activities like writing or cleaning or answering emails or having conversations which require saying something other than “uh huh”, “you don’t say” and “I need to go lay down for a little bit”.

So, my apologies for the long silence. And double apologies to those of you whose emails I haven’t answered. I’ve been too focused on enduring to figure out things to say. Sending pages and pages of uuuuuuugh and grrrrrr and uroawooonmnuuuurg didn’t seem appropriate.

It’s always uncomfortable and a bit embarrassing to find yourself unable to do anything other than endure, but it turns out that enduring is a skill that God holds in high regard. Romans 5:3 says that endurance leads to character which leads to hope. Timothy 2:12 says that if we endure, we will reign with Christ. You look at me and see a big blob doing nothing, but God looks at me and sees me being prepared to rule the universe. Or something.

Anyhow, my point, such as it is, is that enduring is something we have to be able to do sometimes. Life is hard. Depression’s a nasty bitch. Beds are soft and brownies are comforting.

So, for those of you who are struggling to endure, I’d like to share this bunch of words I miraculously strung together that I use to keep myself enduring for just a little bit longer. I hope they help you as well. If they don’t, that’s totally cool. Feel free to say, “eff off, Rebecca. You have no idea . . .” Just do it in your head and not in the comments because while I totally understand, I totally don’t want to hear it.

Anyhow. Here you go:

You are fine. And you can do this. Maybe not right this very moment, but that’s OK. You don’t have to be able to function and overcome every single moment of your life. You’ve been able to function and handle life plenty of times before and at some point, you’ll get a few moments where you’re able to do that again. And that’s enough. A few of those moments are more powerful than all the hours when sucking air takes all of your strength.

When you sit down and find yourself unable to move again, it’s OK. You don’t have to fight it. You don’t have to feel weak or guilty. It will pass. We all get too sick to move sometimes; this is no different. Just sit and when the moment passes, you’ll get back up. No use beating yourself up in the meantime. Nothing wrong with just sitting for a spell.

Don’t tell yourself that you can’t function any more. You can. Just not right this moment. It’s OK. You don’t have to function well all the time. There are times when you function just fine. And sometimes you may not be fully functional, but you’re also not immobilized. If you can’t move or think or function at the moment, it’s no big deal. There are other moments, moments when you don’t have to think to breath or struggle to move while the pain blanket is smothering you. And in those moments, you are downright amazing. It’s no wonder you sometimes hit a wall – being that amazing takes a lot out of a person.

It doesn’t matter if right this moment, you can’t feel or believe it, but you are fine. Don’t fall for the guilt and condemnation. You don’t owe anyone a clean house or folded laundry or three blog posts a week or dinner at 6 or a face with make-up on it or anything at all except, so far as it is in your power, to be here tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. So just make that happen and it’s enough. The people who love you want you more than they want anything else in this world.

Don’t tell yourself that no one loves you and that you’re not important. It doesn’t matter if you can’t feel it or receive love right now. When the wind blows against the window, you don’t say it’s not real because you can’t feel it moving against your skin. You know the wind is blowing even when you can’t feel it. It’s the same with the love people have for you.

Not being able to feel or receive love or joy or the good of the world doesn’t means you are wrong or broken. It’s not always a sign that you need to change or do something. I’m sure a massage isn’t particularly enjoyable to someone who’s been hit by a Mack truck either. It can take a lot of time and meds and healing for the pain to get thin enough for the good to get through.

Sometime today or tomorrow or the next, you will see someone who is joyful. A child who made a painting for you. A dog who is so happy you’re home that they can’t control the urge to jump and run. A teen who laughs until they cry at a joke about bodily functions. A spouse who’s elated at having nailed the presentation. When that happens don’t regret that you can’t feel or share their joy. Instead, take a moment to stand in awe that such joy exists. When all you can do is endure, you understand better than anyone else what a miracle and wonder it is that joy exists at all.

Is Your Faith Good Enough? Yes. Always.

gotfaithOnce upon a time, back when I was a young, single mom trying to get my crap car to start, or wishing for money to fall from the sky to get my electricity turned back on or hoping I could  make it to the gas station on fumes, I prayed many desperate prayers. I was queen of the desperate prayer, in fact. But my prayers were answered close to never. Which made me think that I didn’t have enough faith. Because if I had enough faith, I could make anything happen. Right?

“Name it and claim it”, some people would say.

“Walk boldly into the throne room and lay hold of your rightful inheritance,” others would advise.

“True belief is the key that unlocks the blessings God has promised his children,” I was told.

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,” Jesus claims.

So as I moved from crisis to crisis to crisis, I tried really, really hard to have faith. Enough faith. Real faith. Good enough faith. The kind that could move mountains. Or at least help me find change in the couch cushions to buy milk for my toddler right before payday.

I was like a little kid who’s been told that a fairy’s going to die if they stop believing in fairies. “I do believe! I do believe! I do!” I would practically clap my hands and will myself to really, really believe – with absolute certainty – that God would answer my prayer.

In the end, I learned two things. The first is that magic isn’t real. I can’t just really, really believe and say just the right words and make things happen. I’ve heard of people who this works for, but I’m just going to have to chalk that up to the sort of illusions which all so-called-magic relies on.*

The other thing I learned is that my faith isn’t faulty. You see, when you’ve been told that the key to getting God to answer your prayers is having enough faith, unanswered prayers can never be God’s fault. If you get mad at God then he’ll really not ever answer your prayers. Therefor unanswered prayers are always your fault for not having enough faith.

But one day I heard the scripture verse which refers to Jesus as “the author of our faith.” And I had a little revelation. Whatever faith I have – be it big and certain or small and doubtful, has been written – authored – by Jesus. Who can always be trusted. And who does all things perfectly. So my faith, shaky though it sometimes seems, is always just as it should be.

And all those unanswered prayers? Well, that same verse says that along with being the author, Jesus is the “perfecter” of our faith. As hard as it is for me to swallow sometimes, my faith is much more important to Jesus than my car not starting. My car problems will pass one day. (Maybe. I’m still waiting on that one, actually!) But my faith is meant to be carried into eternity.

As much as I would like it if I could simply believe and make things happen by the magical force of my belief, instead I have a faith that doesn’t fail when my car does. Or when my wishes don’t come true. Or when tragedy strikes. Or even when God is no where to be seen. Because Jesus has been using all those unanswered prayers to perfect the faith he’s authored for me.

So if you ever worry whether your faith is strong enough or good enough or big enough, stop. It is. Because Jesus himself is authoring and perfecting it just for you.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith ~ Hebrews 12:2

And all God’s people said – Amen and amen!

*For the record, this is not meant to discount the possibility of being gifted for healing or other seemingly miraculous things. I know a young man who regularly goes into the ER waiting area at local hospitals with a group of friends to pray over people. Most of them end up leaving without seeing a doctor. But that’s a gift given by God for his own purposes, not something which is just our due for putting an “X” next to the Christian check-off box.

Shall I Become the Anti-Evangelist?

You know what extreme sport I would never want to engage in? Spelunking. Throw me from an airplane. Tie a rubber band around my waist and push me off a bridge. Put me in a cage in shark-infested waters or leave me in the wilderness with a paper clip and a coffee filter and tell me good luck. But please don’t send me to explore an underground cave system. It’s not the dark or being underground that would get to me; it’s the narrow tunnels between caverns that I could never tolerate. To have the earth closed in around me such that I can’t flex my joints, twist my back, turn my shoulders – being able to do nothing but breathe and creep forward is the stuff of my nightmares. Just thinking about it makes me feel like I’m suffocating. I cannot for the life of me understand why people do it. Unfortunately for me, this seems to be exactly the position I’m in spiritually. And it turns out that being in such a constrained place in the spiritual realm is as uncomfortable as I imagine moving through a very narrow tunnel under the earth would be.

You can look at your life as a large cone that becomes narrower the deeper you go. There are many doors in that cone that give you chances to leave the journey. But you have been closing these doors one after the other, making yourself go deeper and deeper into your center. You know that Jesus is waiting for you at the end, just as you know that he is guiding you as you move in that direction. Every time you close another door . . . you commit yourself to go deeper into your heart and thus deeper into the heart of God. ~ Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love

I first came across this quote from Henri Nouwen years ago and have always thought that it was rather apt. There are so many ways that one can just walk away from the spiritual life. Or maybe not even walk away, but just find a door that you can’t bring yourself to close to hang out by. You could hang onto guilt or unforgiveness.  You could make choices based on what’s safe and comfortable.  You could decide that instead of an identity in Christ an identity as a parent or spouse or accountant or whatever is good enough. Or you could just decide that throwing yourself into the abyss is kind of a dumb way to live your life and go to seek your fortunes out in the world beyond that ever narrowing cone. But I didn’t. And now I’m in the deep dark part of the cone with no escape hatches in sight.

Early this year I said that I thought this year would be one of letting go. Which was kind of silly. I’m already really good at letting go. I’ve practiced it to near perfection over years and even decades. I deal with a problem, learn from it and then let it go. I let go like a champ. No, this is not the year of letting go. This is the year of limits. And that I am not so practiced at or comfortable with.

“Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”. ~ Matthew 7:14

Up until now I’ve recognized limits and chosen to abide by them. I’ve failed at things and chosen to accept that it wasn’t the right thing at the right time. But the presumption was always that I could choose not to accept that limit. I could have chosen to break through failure, paid the price and pursued my goals to the point of success. Limits meant saying “I won’t”, “I don’t”, “I haven’t . . . yet.” But in the last 12 months I’ve had to add another phrase to my repertoire: “I can’t”. And now the “I can’t”s have piled up until I can hardly move. As I’m discovering, it’s one thing to practice being still. But it’s another thing entirely to not be able to move.

My van died. My dog bit the baby. We can’t afford the $45 surrender fee the shelter requires to take him back. My 12 year old flunked his online course because the computer crashed and ate his (not turned in) homework during the system restore. Now the school district is threatening not to pay for any more classes because it looks like he did nothing. I had to quit my DJ job because I can’t carry the equipment since I’ve been sick. I’ve been working on making a series of vlog posts for weeks. But each time something goes wrong; YouTube ate the file, I get interrupted, the microphone was off, I get interrupted, the video camera stopped recording part way through, I get interrupted, the picture is all jerky, I get interrupted, I can’t get new video capture software to install properly. (I swear, I’m just giving highlights from the last month. There’s much, much more of this joyousness.) On and on it goes. Day after day. Nothing completely catastrophic, but one thing after another blocking any way out.  I feel like I’m just being pinned down and there’s nothing I can do about it. Like a person stuck in a narrow passage while spelunking, all I can do is breathe and keep creeping forward.

He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light . . .He has walled me in so I cannot escape . . . Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my path crooked . . I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. ~Lamentations 3:2,7,8-9,17

I’m not sure if it’s the stress or being sick almost continuously for 2 months (did you know that under certain circumstances you can pee out blood clots? I had previously been unaware of this fascinating possibility.) , but I honestly think I have brain damage. It’s taken 4 days to write this post so far.* My body doesn’t work. I can’t hear God at all. I can’t pray. I can tell that better things are coming, but frankly it just doesn’t make much difference at the moment.

All the old saints and mystics say that the greater the darkness, the closer to the heart of God you are. Even if that’s true and I haven’t spent my life on a fool’s errand or been cast into the outer darkness for swearing too much, I can’t imagine why I or anyone else was ever be foolish enough to try to come this way. As St. Teresa of Avila is purported to have said to God, “if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder that you have so few.”  I suppose it’s like labor; everyone knows it’s awful and yet we manage to convince ourselves that it’s worth going through.

More than once in the last month I’ve started a blog post in my head that included some version of the words: “If you are thinking of following God, don’t. It’s not worth it. He will lead you into misery and humiliation and abandon you there. Even if He finally brings you out of the awful places he takes you into, you’ll be too destroyed to give a crap.” I’ll become the anti-evangelist. Not that it would any good. There’s just something about being caught up by God. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome or something. Only God won’t have me rob a bank – that would mean giving me access to cash.

My soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning . . . I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him. To the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. ~ Lamentations 3:20-23,24-26

*OK, it took 5 days. Plus an extra day waiting for the neighbor whose internet we’re stealing to fix their modem. It was down for a while. They really need to take care of that. heehee