Written February 5, 2017
My mother. She’s gone from here now. She left on January 10, 1998. When I was in my teens, one of the marvels Mom put on display with no pretend at all, was how she prayed. Her cries for the other often included a wonderful phrase that in itself must have brought her into the warm waters of deep comfort. She would ask, for the other, that Father would give “the peace that passes all understanding.” At times she would plead this with an intensity that expressed longing, yearning, a depth of desire that spoke, I am certain, from her own personal experience. She knew that peace, was persuaded by the courage it gave her. She knew it first hand, as though she’d been flooded with it, filled so she could say that the jar of clay she was overflowed, gushing out in a groan.
I did not connect this in my younger, growing up years. It was only after she went away from her warm body that I gained a view into her spirit. She would freely admit on occasion that she took her “nerve pills” when she needed them. It seems there were times when it just got too much for her. Instead of the overflowing peace, she became overwhelmed — with anxiety. My mother was an anxious woman, and she was a woman of deep faith. She took nerve pills. In her mind, this was no contradiction.
When I had been a pastor with more than five years I walked down into the realization I too was overwhelmed. I was at times frighteningly anxious. It was about 2004 that I gave in, went to my doctor, and began to take something very similar to that nerve pill my mother ingested. It was no cotton candy. It was a powerful drug, prescribed for anxiety and clinical depression. At the time it lifted me up tremendously. It assisted, aided, helped me much. My beloved and I often marvelled that we lived now, when so many medicines like this were ready, were available. (Such are meant to assist, not be the final solution, but that’s another story to tell.)
Mental illness. Anxiety is one part of it. So is clinical depression (which is sadness and fatigue that has little do with the circumstances surrounding your life; when clinically depressed, you can’t decide one day you’re not in that darkness any more). I, it appears, had both. I had a mental illness, and still struggle against it.
I have been reading lately my journals. These I started writing in at first to help me process my anxious thoughts. Over the past four or five years, however, they have served as a way to recall the ways in which my God has delivered me. I noticed again how anxious I was in the years when I completed being a pastor in the formal sense. At the root of anxiety is fear, and when fear finds you, chasing after it often will be unbelief (a vice we are called to guard against; for it comes sneakily, cloaked, hidden). Yet, despite the fears, anxiety and unbelief, I can tell you there often was bravery and courage and fearlessness that broke out on me, busting out in gushes of kindness and tender acts of mercy. There was also, undergirding this courage, the peace that passes all understanding.
February 17, 2015. Let the record show that two years before I made a deal with the Creator. See, one of the joys I love falling into is deep, rest-filled sleep. When I say being in a state of quiet rapid eye movement repose, I mean I desire this to be as long as can be stretched into the sunrise. Sleeping to me is one of the finer, fabulous gifts we get as humans.
Things shifted for me in the spring of 2013. My beloved and I left on a jet plane, and flew to draught dry California, landing at Bob Hope airstrip. For three days we joined a group of others to search for the Presence, the Face of God, in prayer. The host of this close encounter was a Korean congregation; people known for intentionally seeking God’s Presence in prayer. This group was gripped by the hand of Jesus a century ago. When they saw , the word dwelling in them like roots in soil, the recording that Jesus eagerly rose right early, before the coming up of the sun: well, they immediately knew how precious that was. Before Christ approached them, their Buddhist tradition handed out the very same. The God of the new creation realigned their hearts to move toward him instead.
So we rose those three days before the sun did, for “early morning prayer.” Here’s what I discovered: it was not a weight too heavy, but a joy-filled experience. The Presence was so palpable in that place, the peace, the simple delight, the sense of receiving love, the eyes of hearts beginning to sleepily open. It was fulfilling. It was so full of Life, so wakeful, so restful, that sleep could not compete.
So I made a deal with the Almighty. “If you want me to get up early, you’re going to have to wake me.”
For three or four years he did.
It is written: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7 NASB). I have known these verses for many years of my life. Here’s what I discovered: when I get intentional about rejoicing in the Lord, simply seeking him out, I find an amazing thing springing up. I find he also delights in me. When I call out, “I love you, O LORD, my strength” (Psalm 18:1), I am delighted to experience this, that he loves me, too. When I take my anxiety, my fears, my despair to him, he replaces those with that peace.
Best of all, the more I intentionally seek him, the more nudges and leanings and surprisingly soaring answers have come consistently, persistently, rapidly; have indeed been beyond anything I might have imagined. Mostly, I have experienced the kindness of my mighty God. The call for this is perseverance, and that is not so easy to keep up, something I also have discovered.