Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Je Suis Elijah Under the Broom Bush

My pastor preached on 1 Kings 19 last Sunday -- the story of Elijah running away to Horeb after his big victory over the prophets of Baal (in chapter 18). This story has been a meaningful one in my life: God used it in the past to teach me about my depression.

You see, Elijah is depressed here. "He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die." That's depression. And one of the first things to note here is that it came after a mountaintop moment . . . which is not uncommon. We should brace ourselves for a possible crash after a spiritual high, especially if we know we are naturally susceptible to such crashes.

But what's the first thing God does for him? He let him sleep. He let him sleep a lot. He slept, then he woke up to eat, then he slept again. I've learned that for me, a lot of my depression is connected to sleep deprivation. I'm TIRED. I need rest. Just getting a good nap usually helps my outlook significantly.

And what's the other thing God does for him right away? "All at once, an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat.'" He gave him food. The man had been running for his life and presumably had not stopped to get any nourishment. In fact, the angel fed him twice: sleep, eat, sleep, eat. Taking care of my body -- so important for my emotional health. Depression is a physiological thing to a great degree; it is profoundly influenced by maladies in my physical self. A change in diet often improves my emotional state.

Now, note what Elijah says in verse 10 when God asks him what's up:

"I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too."

Poor Elijah. It's all about him, isn't it? Now, in a sense this response is understandable in his situation, but if you keep reading, you notice that he makes this exact same speech again in verse 14. The man seems to be rehearsing this lament; he's got it down, memorized to the word, ready to spout to anyone who asks. Meditating on your laments will not pull you out of the doldrums.

So God does one of those awesome things that He did with Old Testament prophets that we often wish He would do with us: He came to Elijah, directly.

"Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper."

My pastor said on Sunday that the phrase "gentle whisper" is sometimes translated "the sound of silence." Often, I realize that my depression is exacerbated because I am paying so much attention to the storm and noise. God speaks in the sound of silence. I need to ignore the noise and listen to God in the silence.

So, what does God do next for Elijah? He gives him a job -- three people to go anoint in His name to take over important roles. In other words, stop moping around and do something productive, something for someone else.

Then He filled Elijah in on something he actually probably knew but just conveniently ignored in his self-pitying rambling: "Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel -- all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him."

Elijah wasn't "the only one left" like he claimed. There were seven thousand more Israelites staying faithful to God . . . Elijah just wasn't paying attention to them. He went off into the wilderness, even leaving his servant behind, and pouted alone. Isolation increases depression. We were made to need each other.

One of the things about the Bible is that it doesn't idealize its heroes. Peter denies Christ, Moses kills a man, David commits adultery . . . we see the spiritual giants in their worst moments as well as their best. God needed us to see, first of all, that these were real people with real problems and failures, just like us. And He also needed us to see models for how to deal with these problems. When I'm under my broom bush, praying to die (which, praise Jesus, happens far less these days), I need to stop obsessing over my misery . . . get a good night's sleep . . . cut the sugar from my diet for a while . . . make a plan to get something productive done . . . and get out of the house and with some friends.

Don't tell me the stories of the Bible are not practical for our times.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jesus and Girly Tea

There is a pile of little girly things on my living room floor right now. As in little things that are very girly.

We're babysitting a little girl this week, so my daughters got out their old toys. Mini Barbies . . . mini princesses, of every type . . . mini tea sets . . . mini vanities . . . mini carriages and horses . . . and there's probably a unicorn in there somewhere.

Oh, the memories.

I miss the little girly days. I mean, I miss my daughters being little girls, but it's more than that. I miss when I was able to get lost in their world for a moment and life was all tea parties and horse rides and ball gowns and hairdos.

Cheesy as they are, I kind of miss the old kiddie shows when the good guys were all beautiful and nice and got good things in the end and the bad guys were all ugly and obvious and got their come-uppance . . . or saw the light and switched sides.

Bad guys are not always ugly and obvious. Good guys do not always win, at least in this life.

Our world is so broken. Humanity is so broken.

It makes me tired.

I might have, at one time, said that it makes me depressed. But I have learned over years of dealing with my own particular brand of neurosis that many of my emotional problems are a result of mislabeling. I have physiological feelings in my body that mimic what we feel when we're sad, and if I label them as "sadness", then I start to think about things to be sad about and get genuinely sad.

I am sad about the state of humanity, but that's not what I feel at the moment. I feel tired. I know the end of the story for our world, and there is hope for the good guys, so my sadness is tempered. But I also know there's a long, difficult road still ahead before we get there, so my tiredness is magnified.

I'm tired of fighting ignorance. I'm tired of fighting selfishness. I'm tired of fighting self-righteousness. I'm tired of fighting inaccurate depictions from others of what the stinking fight is even about.

My sleep deprivation is also a cause of the fatigue, but it only exacerbates my soul fatigue. I'm ready for rest . . . even eternal rest.

I know there are some who find it morbid and disturbing to wish for heaven and the end of the world. But when you have confidence in the justice and grace of the One who holds the end in His hands, it starts to sound very inviting. I want the brokenness healed, and I know there's only one way this will happen.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus. I'm ready for a tea party with You . . . in a beautiful ball gown . . . as Your Beloved.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Story and Being Human: Imago Dei

In a quiet moment last night with my hubby and youngest, I sat looking at our bookshelves upstairs. We have bookshelves in many places in our house, but these particular shelves have my daughters' old books. Some that they read on their own after they became independent readers, but many that hubby and I read to them at bedtime over many, many years of their childhood.

Oh, the books. Oh, the memories!

Narnia and the Pevensies. Laura and Mary in their Little Houses with Ma and Pa. All the American Girls. Junie B. Jones (the B. stands for Beatrice, but she just likes B and that's all). Anne of Green Gables, the whole series. The Magic Tree House. The Babysitter's Club. All sorts of Dear America history books. Charlotte's Web. Stuart Little. The Mandie series they got from their older cousin.

Oh, I wanted to go back. For a moment, I wanted to be sitting on a bed with one of their heads lying on my chest reading about Aslan singing the world of Narnia into being. I'll be sharing that book with my 6th graders this fall, but no -- it's not the same standing at the front of a classroom as it is snuggling at the head of a bed.

One of the greatest blessings of homeschooling was all the reading I got to do with my daughters. They did read on their own, but I also read literature aloud to them, stuff that was a step above their independent reading level to move them forward. I remember reading Julius Caesar with my eldest when she studied the Roman Empire in fifth grade or so, skipping a few unimportant scenes, stopping to explain stuff as we went, but reveling in the language and reciting my favorite speech of Antony's with mucho gusto. To this day, she claims that Shakespeare is one of her favorite writers.

An article I just read yesterday reiterated what I have heard and known for many years: one of the best things we can do to help our children write better is spend years reading high quality literature aloud to them. Let them hear the rhythm of mature language so they can replicate it naturally.

But reading high quality literature to them is also one of the best things we can do just to help them live better -- to help them become truly Human. The root of the word "educate" means "to draw out." We often think of schooling as a matter of pouring information into someone's head, but no -- it's a matter of drawing out of them what is there so that they can use it well. Which means something has to be in there to be drawn out.

Now, I believe there is a core of "knowing" that God has already instilled in us. It's a part of our being made in God's image. What is lacking is a "language" to couch our knowing in. Does that make sense? There are a lot of things I know, in a sense, but until I draw it out, until I can explain it in words, it is of no use to me. Most of those are spiritual things; thus, they are the most critical things to be educated in.

And this is where stories come in. Stories are a vehicle of knowing. Ideas and concepts can be communicated through story sometimes far more effectively than through exposition. Those inner things we know from God but cannot yet use can become accessible to us through narrative.

When I read about Laura's relationship with her Pa, it rings true in my soul, because somewhere in my soul, I already know about the security of a father's love, whether I have a father or not.

When I read about Anne breaking her slate over Gilbert's head, it rings true in my soul, because somewhere in my soul, I already know the extent of humanity's foolish pride, whether I'm conscious of my own or not.

When I read of Aslan's death on the Stone Table, it rings true in my soul, because somewhere in my soul, I already know the nobility of and need for sacrifice, whether I recognize my personal need for it or not.

Man has always told stories -- around the campfire, in books, on screens, on stages, in poetry, in song, always and everywhere. Jesus himself told stories to communicate the truths he has to tell us. When I teach my students about the story elements and the plot chart and such, I emphasize to them that this isn't stuff that people made up. We write stories that way because that's how God created story to be. That's how He made our story run. When we tell a good story well, we're imitating God. Imago dei.

Read to your kids people. Read to yourselves now. Read. Read. Read.