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Anxiety, Depression & Knowing God

I wrote this a long while ago, whilst in the middle of it all. Now having gained some perspective, I think it may be helpful to re-publish. (it was first published here: http://whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog/article/knowing-christ-in-the-dark)

I was giving a public talk in defence of the Christian faith. Having answered the first question without any difficulty, I proceeded to address the second. Suddenly, without warning, I felt a fear rising within me that was somehow different to the nerves I am used to. I had been exhausted that day, and I found it difficult to collect my thoughts and understand the flow of the argument I was attempting to deliver. The audience of 100 people looked at me expectantly. I remember stumbling over my words as my mind raced. What was happening? Panic rose within me, and I thought ‘I just can’t do this, I have to get off the stage.’ I had no choice – I gave my apologies and walked off the stage to the bewilderment of all around.
A month or so after this incident, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which had been brought on by stress. This soon led to a form of depression which cost me my job and I had to step down from many of my responsibilities at church. This season has caused me to ask many questions about God and his character:

“We wonder, ever wonder, why we find us here!
Has some Vast Imbecility,
Mighty to build and blend,
But impotent to tend,
Framed us in jest, and left us now to hazardry?”

Thomas Hardy once wrote these words in contemplation about the seeming contradiction between God’s omnipotence and the existence of evil. For both experiential and philosophical reasons this has been an ancient question. In our universities it is known as the ‘problem of evil’. How can God be good if he allows suffering?

Forms of this question are pondered by many who suffer. We may be able to sympathise with Hardy’s sentiments, although I imagine we might come to different a conclusion. It has led many to believe that God does not exist at all. However, what does the Christian do with a question like this?

Having experienced depression and fear as a Christian, I have struggled at times to trust in the goodness of God. These times have generated within me an interest in understanding what being a Christian really means, and how I can judge if I am keeping the faith. When I was first filled with the Holy Spirit I believed that perhaps the inexpressible joy would last forever, the sufferings I read about in the Bible did not fase me, because I assumed the internal joy and certainty would last, and I would be able to overcome anything! The reality was quite different. Instead in times of trouble it seemed that God had abandoned me, my joy was gone, my mind left racing with the thoughts ‘Is God really . . .?’, ‘Can I trust him with this?’, and ‘I don’t think I am strong enough to do this, will God really be there for me?’. I am sure there are many readers who recognise these thoughts. Indeed, the Psalms are filled with these questions.

The main question for me was this: Do I still know Christ if I cannot feel his presence? Encouragingly Asaph describes a very similar dilemma in Psalm 77:

7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favour again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

In the depth of despair in which he found himself he says:

10 “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.’”

Asaph remembers the times when God moved in power, and he puts his faith in God’s character, as shown to be true and good by the miracles he performed in Israel’s history. Asaph does not say, ‘because I feel that God is good’, but rather that “I will remember . . .” I am sure that even when Asaph remembered God’s works, there was still a temptation to think, ‘but, has God’s unfailing love vanished forever, despite this?’ Instead Asaph goes on to praise God saying “With your mighty arm you redeemed your people”, and in so doing he is sure that God still desires to redeem him from the trouble in which he finds himself.

So what is the basis of Asaph’s faith? Is it his feelings or his experience? It cannot be either, for the psalm clearly shows that Asaph is in emotional turmoil. Is it his morality? Again, it cannot be, for the psalm itself does not mention any of Asaph’s deeds. Does he place his faith on the strength of his conviction? No, for he is questioning this very conviction by asking “has your unfailing love vanished forever?” Instead Asaph places his faith in the person of God, and his character as demonstrated throughout history.

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In the same way we are to trust Christ and what he has done for us on the cross, and we can do that even when we do not feel his presence, or even when we are tempted to question his faithfulness like Asaph did.

We can trust Christ because we know him, and he has changed our lives. How can we be sure that we know Christ in times of trouble? Firstly, knowing Christ is not solely ‘belief’ or based on a theological system as is says in James 2:19 “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” Therefore Asaph is able to question God’s faithfulness and his own belief in God’s goodness, but still rest his hope in God despite his doubts. Secondly, knowing Christ is not only feeling his presence, as clearly we all go through times when we do not feel close to God. Lastly, knowing Christ is not only doing the works of the kingdom, as Jesus says that on the final day some will claim that they did mighty works in his name, and he will say “I do not know you”.

Therefore, knowing Christ is a relationship by God’s own initiative: the cross of Christ. Knowing Christ will affect the way we think, feel and act, but our faith is not based on any one of them, but rather on the character of God displayed supremely in God’s unfailing love at the cross. Any of us who have felt abandoned by God, or any of us who have been tempted to believe that God might not be for us can take comfort in the fact that their acceptance by God is based on the sacrifice of Christ. It is not, at root, based exclusively on our thoughts, feelings of actions.

In this way I can know Christ when I feel that I am in the dark. Thank you Lord.

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Brighton Marathon

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I’m so glad to be part of a church that wants to help the local community, and does so. The Brighton Marathon is a great community effort, and generates a lot of money for charity. What a great thing to support! So, as a church hundreds of us got up, some as early as 530, and served as support team for as long as 8 hours – for free. Well done to all involved!

Here are some photos from the event:

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My brothers at the 22 mile point

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My brothers at the 22 mile point

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My First T-Total Night

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Before any of you start thinking it, I’m not going T-Total because I’m ‘religious’ (I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as religious anyway, even though I’m certainly a Christian, but that’s to be explained in another post!)

I’m going T-Total because I find it difficult to just have ‘one’. Now, that makes it sound like I get smashed every-time I have a drink. Not so. I believe in being paced and sensible. But, each drink I have causes me to be that bit more tired the next day. I also seem to want to eat SOOOO much more when I get home. Yes, that is after 1 beer! I don’t know if anyone else is the same? (I know some people are not the same; I’m sure a few drinks for such a person will not hinder them, like it can for me)

Now, I think drinking can be a good thing, in moderation. And for many it’s a good and innocent way to spend an evening. But, because of my propensity, I feel that drinking wastes a lot of my time and money – so what could be easier than just saying ‘no’. Well, a lot actually. Our whole social society is based around drinking. It’s hard to go out and not drink. Clubs, and even pubs, are filled with bassey and intrusive music that is, I swear, designed to make you want to drink more. I believe that they purposely make it socially awkward, to sit in a room with loud music so you have to shout at your neighbour to be heard; you drink to over-come your ingrained British reserve. But, having said all of that, it is not due to peer-pressure that I feel more comfortable with a few drinks of an evening. Oh no. For me, it is the sheer boredom of such evenings.

Meeting up with my friends at their houses is so much more engaging. One can actually have a conversation. But, when you are ‘out’ it becomes a tedious amount of effort to remain engaged – unless of course you ease yourself into it with a few drinks. I’m sorry if I sound overly pessimistic, but I have often had these thoughts; and this is why I have decided, for an undetermined amount of time, to go T-Total.

Well, tonight was my first night trying it out on a ‘party’ night. It went well! I was out between 6-11pm, 5 hours in total, and not one drink. I’m very pleased! These are my observations: it wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. A drink can ‘put you in the mood’, and I wondered whether I’d be getting too bored or tired towards the end of the evening. But this wasn’t the case. I reckon this was due to the fact that I went to one of my good friends houses, and met other friends with whom I enjoy chatting. And although I did leave earlier than I might have done if I had a couple of drinks, none of the conversations were stifled, nor were they repetitive or inconsequential, but rather intimate and jovial. A good night!

Perhaps T-Total is the way forward for me? At the moment I don’t know, but it sure was good tonight, and I believe that it could be true for evenings in the future. The best thing about my T-Total evening is that I’m now in bed on time, watching TV, knowing that I haven’t eaten more than normal. Neither am I going to be too tired tomorrow, and waste any of this 4 day weekend! Bring it on!!!!

Disclaimer: by posting this I am not committing forever to T-Total living, but rather to a trial period to test the benefits. (So far, so good).

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Opinionated Women and Elantris

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I’ve just finished reading a novel. I usually, or rather I used to more frequently, read non-fiction. Recently I have been trying to relax a little more. Slow down my pace of life; wow, don’t I sound old before my time! As such, I have been reading some fantasy books; fantasy and Sci-Fi are my favourite fiction. I like to escape to another world. Oh, and I also like murder mystery!

Anyway, I have finished Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. I very much enjoyed it. It was a page turner. Some books are slow burning, and you enjoy the character play and wait for it to get exciting at the end. This book hit you with action and excitement from the word go.

It starts with the prince of Areleon, Raoden, being taken by the ‘Sheod’, a transformation that comes on any of the people of Areleon and Teod. This transformation has been malfunctioning for years, and turns the recipients into dark patchy-skinned half humanoids. As a result the prince is chucked into Elantris, which is the relic of a once affluent city. All people taken by the Sheod are cast into Elantris.

Raoden was engaged to be married to a Teoish princes Serene, but he was cast into Elantris before she was able to even meet him for the first time. He is thought dead by the nobility of Areleon, a rumour started by Ieoden the King, lest shame come upon the King’s house.

I will not say anymore, so I don’t ruin it for anyone. I loved the character play the most. Personally, I thought Serene was cast best. Perhaps that’s because I related to her in someways In my teens. Serene is an intelligent no-nonsense woman who is very interested in politics; and she is very skilled in it herself. She has pushed men away by her powerful personality. Men, Serene had discovered, liked women who were not as intimidating as herself, and who did not threaten their role as protector and guardian. She was also a very witty woman. Now this is something I have often wondered, I might even be slandering my own sex here, but: why does it seem that there are more witty men than women!? Anyway, that is an aside.

I don’t relate to Serene because I used to be intelligent or into politics. I relate because I have FELT on occasion that my unreserved character could have sometimes put men off. I don’t claim this is necessarily true, buy just the way I have felt in the past. Sweet, pretty and submissive girls seem to go like hot potatoes! Average-looking, quizzical, have-an-opinion type girls seem to have a harder job of it. I have heard many other girls complain that this is true.

But let’s analyse: is it really that men often overlook the qualities in a woman because of her less-than-beautiful appearance? I’m sure it is sometimes true. But perhaps those women who are left waiting longer mis-judge their competitors? It is possible, surely? Perhaps the pretty girls have a great personality too? Perhaps they are also very intelligent and skilled. ‘Ah! It’s not fair!’ I hear you say. But, as I have always thought, why would any woman want a man so very swayed by appearance? Surely that is the Hight of immaturity and shallowness? I think so.

But again, balance is needed. There needs to be SOME physical attraction. But my issue is with those who are overly interested in appearance. I love it when you meet someone who you wouldn’t describe as a super model, but by getting to know them they become very attractive to you. Isn’t that always lovely?

Conclusion? Well, I guess us women might be better off comparing ourselves to each other a bit less, and perhaps there will be greater understanding between us – and a marked rise in our self-esteem. But I think I’m preaching to the converted, a lot of these things have been said before.

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Ruth, how are you doing?

Dear Reader

So, you would like to know how I am doing? Well, where do I start! There is so much to tell, but I will narrow it down to the relevant points otherwise you would be reading his for a long time!

It’s difficult to know where it started because stress often doesn’t have a fixed starting point. I was doing so much at church and in my personal life that I was stretched to breaking point. I was then promoted at work, which was great. But it was extremely stressful, and compounded the problem. Although at that stage I didn’t realise that there was a problem.

What happened is that the stress started causing me to have prolonged panic attacks, which i would get for hours everyday. Over the months this led to depression, and obsessive negative thinking. So since September I have been tackling the depression mainly, with the anxiety now less of a problem.

But the good news is a leader at church started seeing me and gave me some very good advice. Over the last few months this advise has really been helping. In fact this last week I believe there has been a real breakthrough. Although having said that, I’ll have to see how I am over Feb to be 100% sure. But I really do think I have made a lot of progress. My obsessive thinking has dramatically decreased and I’m able to get stuff done every day.

I’ve also managed to keep going to work. I’m a manager of sorts – so this can sometime be demanding. So I’m pleased that I still have some responsibility and am not feeling stressed by it at all.

In terms of my walk with the Lord, it has been very difficult. Some of the negative thinking included deep emotional issues with curtain bible verses. Working through them and trusting in the Lord at times seemed like an impossibility. But my mum and dad and a select few christian friends helped me greatly, by praying for me, and having faith instead of me. Its very difficult to have faith or be expectant when you are depressed – even when you so want to. Therefore, to have people doing the leg work on your behalf was a perfect example of ‘carrying each others burdens’.

My church leader asked me not to complete theology or read my bible – this has been true for 2 months now. The church leader is keen that I learn to relate to God in different ways other than academically. I’m very passionate about apologetics and theology, but Steve wants to make sure that when I start running with them again, I’m not dependent on then for my relationship with God. So it’s all a bit knew for me, this non-reading lark, but I’m loving having the covering of the elders. It makes me feel secure! I think Steve will consider me getting back into theology in 2/4 weeks. He has indicated this may be the case. Whoopp!

I wonder if you knew you would have to read an essay when you asked me how I was!? Ha!

Yours faithfully,

Ruth Preston

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