Want justice? Get persistent.

There was an Immigration Minister in a certain city who didn’t care about anything beyond “stop the boats”, and let abuse continue on his watch. Refugee advocates came to him repeatedly, saying, “Close the camps! Bring them here! Let them stay!” The Minister ignored them for awhile, but finally he said to himself, “I don’t fear the Greens or care about what the Loony Left think, but these advocates are driving me crazy. I’m going to see refugees get justice, because these advocates are wearing me out with their constant requests!” 

This little story is based on a story Jesus once told. (Loosely based. Very loosely.) When I was thinking about what I could do this year to help asylum seekers and refugees in detention, and how I could best engage with the powers-that-be, it sprang to mind. Here’s how the original goes:

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’  The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people,  but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:1-8, NLT)

Leaving aside for the moment that sometimes I do wonder if God is actually going to give justice, I can see a few parallels between the situation our asylum seekers are in, and this story. I am using this parable for inspiration on two levels:

  1. The inspiration to persist in asking for change.

    The widow wore the unjust judge out. She made a pest of herself. She didn’t change the character of the judge – he never pretended to care about God or people – but she did change his decision, through her persistence. Justice did win the day.

    There are so many of us who have good points to make about the detention situation, both on social media and to our friends – but how often do we take those to the politicians? What would happen if for every comment we made on social media about the offshore detention situation, we also sent it to the Immigration Minister here or the Prime Minister here? Or if not every comment, once a day we sent a brief Tweet or email? Once a day, every day of the year, multiplied by every advocate you know. Polite comments. But firm comments. That would be immense pressure. So my plan is to be one of those voices that persists in speaking to the government, asking for change, letting them know that the public eye is on them, and we want justice.

    We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. Martin Luther King

  2. The inspiration to persist in prayer.

    Even though I have lots of questions and some doubts, I am still a follower of Jesus, and his main point was about pestering God for justice. Now why it hasn’t already happened, I do not know. I cannot answer that question. Nor am I going to attempt to right now – I’m ok with accepting that it hasn’t happened yet, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    Jesus this song you wrote
    The words are sticking in my throat
    Peace on earth.  U2, ‘Peace on Earth’.

    So with those words sticking in my throat, my plan is to persist in asking God for justice in this situation. Will it happen? I do not know. That’s what faith is – not having certainty, but trying anyway. Is it pointless? Maybe, but maybe not. I think in this case it’s better to try and fail than to not try. At this point there’s not much to lose.

 

This year, may we wear out our welcome, and see justice come about through persistence.

Sneaky OCD and faith!

Things have been a bit quiet and I’m keen to start posting some new stuff!  I really wanna hear what you guys are thinking about mental illness/wellness, and I want to make this place somewhere that we can share our stories and share hope. 

I’ve been thinking about OCD lately and I’ve discovered ways it has been really sneaky and taken up space in my life without me really noticing…until I had a good hard look.

3 AREAS I CAUGHT OCD RED-HANDED

  1. Faith
  2. Relationships
  3. Creative pursuits

In this post, I wanna talk about: 

FAITH

Sermons, advice, online articles have all become triggers for me. The cycle goes like this:

A) hear triggering sermon/piece of advice/read article that suggests some improvement to my Christian life. So. Many. Triggers. Even words like “obedience” and “trust” we’re triggers. And like, there is an absolute TRUCKLOAD of advice online. Yesterday I came across an article about should Christians be cremated or not. Seriously. I didn’t realize God had a preference here, but apparently so!

B) Feel anxious that I’m not “doing it right”. Add guilt.

C) Compulsions kick in:

  • Checking whether I am doing “enough” or implementing the suggestion enough in my life – (just a hint: the answer is always no, it’s not enough!)
  • Automatically implement advice without question to relieve the anxiety/guilt, even if the advice is impractical or irrelevant
  • Feel utterly exhausted so avoid sermons/advice/articles 

I didn’t realise this was OCD because it wasn’t causing me to feel super high levels of anxiety (like panic). But clearly, it is. OCD isn’t about the level of anxiety, but the amount the compulsions have taken hold.

And I think they have taken hold, to an extent where I find it difficult to engage emotionally with my faith. It is hard to enjoy prayer, Bible reading or worship when I’m being nagged by these unspecific feelings of anxiety and guilt. It is hard to turn up to church or do a Bible study when I know it is going to trigger anxiety. It is hard to focus on my relationship with God with all this noise going on. And it’s hard to even engage in Christian disciplines like quiet times, memory verses, praying according to a formula because it all becomes empty ritual that simply fuels the anxiety. And all the advice makes me angry because I know it is going to trigger me – not because it is necessarily bad in and of itself. (Although if you are taking it upon yourself to give advice about whether Christians should be cremated, I think there are probably bigger fish to fry and you might wanna focus on that instead. Just my opinion!)

I want to incorporate faith practices into my life that are meaningful and authentic. To do that, I need to start treating this as an OCD problem. 

How is that going to look? 

  • ERP – I need to stop avoiding sermons/articles/advice. I need to maybe intentionally expose myself to some particularly guilt and anxiety inducing stuff and practice sitting with the uncomfortable feelings without engaging in rumination, checking and avoidance. So. Hard. But it is the only way to recover.
  • Mindfulness – use mindfulness based techniques while I am sitting with the uncomfortable feelings to refocus on the present.
  • ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) – know what my values and beliefs are as a Christian and have the courage to stick to them even if other Christians disagree. And even if other Christians think I should be “stricter” in a certain area, still have the courage to risk their disapproval and stick to my own beliefs of having more freedom. Accept that my ideas and opinions and biblical interpretations may be wrong, and live with that uncertainty. This is going to be one of the hardest for me.
  • Just try – pray, read the Bible, learn a memory verse I like. If it becomes a compulsion, stop and try something else. But don’t quit. 

So that is where I’m at. I have to say, there have been days where I feel like I am kind of done with the whole Christianity thing. But I’m not done with Jesus. So that’s why I’m still sticking around. Even though I feel like a poor excuse for a follower of His, I know He isn’t done with me, so I’m not done with Him.

Does anyone else have any faith-related obsessions or compulsions? Or is there an area of life you’ve only just realised that your mental health is affecting? Or is this whole thing brand new to you and you’re like, “What?!” Love to hear from you in the comments, on Twitter (@mytwocompanions) or Facebook (My Two Companions page)! 

Please do not feed the ibis.

In Brisbane and the Gold Coast we have a bird called the ibis. I think there is an African version too.

Now, not many people really like this bird. It hangs around when you’re eating. Some people claim they smell. (I can’t vouch for this personally, I have never sniffed one!) But to be honest, this picture is actually a really nice picture. In reality, this bird looks like it got whacked with the ugly stick, big-time. These birds are just everywhere, they are really annoying and they scavenge. We have signs in cafes in Brisbane that say, “Please do not feed the ibis.”

2038331756_70786bdbe5_z

By Su-Lin, https://www.flickr.com/photos/su-lin/2038331756 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

The ibis is a pest. Sorry, ibis.

Just like you don’t want to feed the ibis, when you have OCD you don’t want to feed the doubts. Don’t give them a cup of tea. No biscuits. Nada.

One of my favourite authors of all-time, Adrian Plass (who is coming to Australia this year!), in one of his best books (in my opinion) Jesus: Safe, Tender, Extreme, writes this:

When doubt knocks at the door, let him in. Sit him down in a corner, but don’t entertain him, and whatever you do, don’t feed him. Let him stay as long as he likes. Eventually, bored and hungry, he will let himself out, probably when your back is turned and you are busy doing something else. At best, you will forget that he was ever there; at worst, you will breathe a sigh of relief when you realise that you have regained the extra space that he has been taking up.

…As the years go by, I continue to suffer from doubts, but I am agnostic to the point of atheism about their reality.
(2006, p.44-45)

Of course he was talking about religious doubts, doubts about faith – but OCD is known as the doubting disease, and we can truly doubt anything (including our faith) – so this is excellent advice. Doubt is like an ugly ibis, pecking around and being a pain, so it is best to be left to its own devices and not given any special attention.

My plan for OCD in 2016 is to take on some of my bigger anxiety triggers and do some ERP to conquer them. Some of these are related to my faith, so I am excited to see what faith disentangled from OCD looks like. Scrupulosity, I am coming for you! We are on like Donkey Kong!

Happy New Year all! What are some of your New Year’s goals or resolutions?

 

 

Devotions (Bible reading & prayer) and OCD

OCD took a bite out of my devotional life quite awhile ago. When I was 15 I decided I wanted to live my life for Jesus. I began reading my Bible a lot. I read through it once a year for 3 or 4 years in a row. Some book encouraged me to do so. 
But when I was 19, something changed. OCD got his claws into my Bible reading. I started worrying that every time I opened the Bible, God was going to issue me some horrible directive from Scripture that would be painful to carry out. The things I was concerned about varied from not dating, maybe being single forever, to doing things that were potentially bizarre but not unscriptural, to confessing things to others that didn’t need to be confessed (this is a classic OCD symptom I have since discovered)…the list goes on. And so I did my devotions, driven by mixed feelings – still a desire to have a relationship with God, accompanied by some severe dread and a warped view of who He was, and the need to be “good”, to live up to someone else’s standard of reading through the Bible once a year. 

This went on for about five or six years.

OCD had plenty of other aspects of my faith to grab onto during this time, but that’s another story for another day. 

Finally after the five or six years, I was done. I had been married for a few months (and again OCD was very present in the lead up to that), and I couldn’t do it anymore. So I stopped reading my Bible.

I didn’t stop praying and I didn’t stop wanting a relationship with God. But I couldn’t continue with the way things were. I couldn’t continue to go back to the Bible when it had become such a source of dread and anxiety rather than peace. Of course, it wasn’t the Bible in and of itself, but my own anxiety that was the problem. But having no resources to cope, I simply stopped. I didn’t plan to, I didn’t decide on a time frame to stop for, I just found I had stopped and there was some relief, so I didn’t want to go back. So my Bible reading became quite sporadic. If I’m honest, it still is, but not mainly because of OCD now!
Pre conceived rules were getting in the way of my devotions. Rules like how much time I had to spend reading, what version of the Bible I had to read, how many chapters, how long in prayer and what I prayed for. It was only a few weeks ago that I had a few moments spare and decided I wanted to read my Bible, but could only find the “wrong” version. I realised that any version was better than no version and went ahead and read it.
A little while later I was discussing these ideas with a group of mums. They said that these things were “excuses” not to do devotions. I realised that to other people these may have seemed like excuses, but to me they were rules that had done nothing but hold me back from a relationship with God. Maybe they were helpful ideas to someone at some time, but for me they were self imposed, arbitrary and doing more harm than good.
So now I try and remember to do my devotions. I don’t get hung up about how much I read, how long I spend, or what version I use. That is called religion, and I haven’t found it too helpful. But showing up regularly and wanting to be there – that is relationship. And if OCD wants to join in for the ride and cast doubts on my understanding of the Word, the genuineness (is that a word?) of my heart, how God feels about me, or whatever else he likes, he is welcome. For now, there will be no devotional life totally free of him, so it is better to have one and put up with him, than not have one at all.
Can anyone out there relate to this? Has OCD ever stopped you from working on some aspect of your faith or life?

The Bible and OCD

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”‭‭ Psalm‬ ‭56:3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

So much of OCD is about trying to gain certainty. It’s not worry as such – it goes far beyond worry, into anxiety and sometimes to the point of absolute panic. It can immobilize you. It’s anxiety about lacking certainty in an area of life you feel you MUST be certain about. OCD is about doubt, and you can truly doubt anything.

But the opposite of doubt isn’t certainty, it’s faith. It’s trust. Those of us with OCD learn to tolerate uncertainty in spite of feeling anxiety, and over time that feeling diminishes. Those of us with faith put trust in God and His word in spite of not having total certainty.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The words “confidence” and “assurance” are used to describe faith, but the words “total certainty” and “all-knowing” are not. We are not all-knowing. We can be wrong. But the skill of trusting in God is one we can draw on when we are learning to tolerate uncertainty and manage OCD. We trust because we have reason to trust – we rely on God’s character and His loving, unchanging nature. And so with OCD, we tolerate uncertainty and trust that our obsessions aren’t the truth about us or life, because we have reason to do so.

When we are afraid, we can trust God and embrace uncertainty.

A prayer for us:

Lord, sometimes we aren’t confident or sure. We are frightened and uncertain. Thank You that You are not. Help us to continue to grow in trust, tolerate uncertainty and move forward with life. Amen.

Prayer and support

If you’re a Christian and you have a mental health condition, it can be hard to open up about it to the people around you, particularly to your church. Not everyone there knows all the details about our conditions, same as in other areas of life, and you do have to be discerning about what level of detail you share, as some Christians might think it’s just a matter of “having more faith” or “praying more”, or that the devil has got his claws into you! (Not everyone, obviously.)

But if it’s difficult to share, then it’s hard to ask for prayer or support. So just putting it out there – if you’re a Christian with a mental health condition (doesn’t have to be OCD) – or even if you’re not a Christian – if you’d like me to pray for you, you can let me know in the comments, Facebook the My Two Companions page or tweet @mytwocompanions. You don’t have to share any details you don’t want to – God knows the details. 

Here’s to better understanding of mental health in our churches 🙂

About Faith

I’m updating this page.

Some of my beliefs have changed, and probably will continue to do so.

I’ve left the original post at the end intact, for your interest. It’s a lot of penal substitution atonement and eternal conscious torment, for those who are theologically inclined. That was all I knew at the time, but I’ve been on a bit of a journey since then. People can change, ideas can change, you can deconstruct and reconstruct your faith, and you can still be a Christian if you want. 

So now I think:

– That although I can’t prove it to you, Jesus is divine. He’s God, or the Son of God, however you prefer to phrase it.

– And in his death and resurrection, he accomplished something very important. (When I can articulate that more specifically, I will. I’m not a theology student, so exploring takes time. Watch this space!) 

– I hope everyone gets to be with God in the end. Eternal conscious torment isn’t the only position about hell that the church has held over the centuries. More exploration in progress.

– I don’t think the Bible is inerrant. That doesn’t mean I think it’s untrue. I think it holds profound truth. But I don’t think it should be taken entirely literally, nor do I think it’s 100% free of mistakes. 

– I think some of the doctrines a lot of us have grown up with, like PSA, ECT, and literal readings of Revelation have been very harmful in some cases, and hampered our efforts to follow Jesus and contribute meaningfully to the lives of those around us.

– Complementarianism, similarly, has been hugely harmful in many cases, to both women and men, and I am no longer prepared to subscribe to it. 

– I am concerned about the mental health of LGBTQI+ people who are in the church. The church of late (particularly the evangelical church) has not been kind or welcoming, and hasn’t yet come to recognize that (in my opinion, anyway. There are exceptions).

I am learning it’s important to be honest about our messiness. We are all messy and broken. So this is an attempt to be a little more clear about where I stand. I have few answers, and I could be wrong about everything I’ve just said. But I’m okay with that. I don’t need to be 100% certain. I trust God will work it all out and I don’t need to be 100% right about everything for him to accept me or guide me. 

It’s okay to deconstruct. 

Here’s my old post:

This is what I believe as a Christian:

  • That God loves us very much
  • That while people are usually “good” (at least by our standards – most of us aren’t hardened criminals), we aren’t morally perfect – and God is. We all fall short, either by doing something wrong or not doing something we should.
  • God is just and will judge all wrong – including us if we’ve done wrong (and who hasn’t?)
  • But God also loves us very much and pursues us relentlessly.
  • Jesus (God and man) died to take on our judgment and exchange his perfection for our failings – then rose from the dead, demonstrating that God accepted His death as payment for our wrong.
  • Forgiveness is freely available because of what He’s done.
  • We can accept it and have a relationship with God that goes on forever. Or we can reject it and refuse a relationship with God forever.

So, what do you choose?

I realise that not everyone who visits My Two Companions is a Christian or even has a belief system at all – and you are welcome here! I want this to be a safe place to discuss questions of faith as well as mental health. As long as comments are respectful towards others, you are more than welcome to post questions or comments about faith, God, the Bible or any related spiritual stuff.

For more information about what it means to be Christian, have a look at this page at Got Questions.org, or feel free to ask!

Update: I still want this blog to be an open, inclusive, safe place for discussion. But you don’t need to bother with Got Questions unless you want fairly evangelical type answers. 

My Two Companions

I have two companions – the noisy one and the quiet one.

The noisy one barged in one day,

Uninvited, unwanted,

An intruder.

Ever since that day I have not been able to get rid of him.

He follows me daily,

Uninvited, unwanted, intrusive.

Sometimes he is just a background noise.

Other times he is blaring, too loud to ignore,

Too loud to switch off.

He is relentless, and I am at his mercy too often.

But…

Long before the noisy one arrived, the quiet one was here.

And when I listen hard, I can hear his voice beneath the din.

“Peace, be still.”

He will stay by my side

Through all the noise, all the fear.

And one day he will turn to the noisy one

And simply say, “Enough.”

And the noisy one will be gone.

Until then, I travel on with my intruder and my invited guest.

My two companions.