When You Have to Return from Narnia

About 91% of Jesus’ life was unseen, undocumented. His 3 year ministry is where we tend to focus, on the miracles, the parables, and of course, the greatest thing of all, the giving of His life in exchange for ours, the earth quaking, the temple veil torn, death embarrassed by limp muscles incapable of holding Him a minute longer than he would allow.

“Epic” and “awesome” are watered down words today, but they can both be used in their truest sense to describe the events of those 3 years, snowballing in momentum and culminating in the answer to humanity’s desperate question. It is in the epic and the awesome that we find the exclamation point at the end of the sentence He came to write, but we can’t forget this:  91% of Jesus’ life, the 30 years before the 3, was paced by the rhythms of the mundane, His movements not made holy by their visibility, but by the fact that it was Him acting. 

And for most of us, our lives are and will be much the same. We’ll have moments of visibility, chances to do “big” things, but regardless of the job we hold, the country we live in, or the platform we have, probably at least 91% is spent in the mundane: hitting snooze for the third time before a day filled with spreadsheets, e-mails, grocery shopping and getting ready to do it all over again.

I’ve been told many times that I’m “brave” for traveling alone, for striking out in a country that isn’t my own and diving head first into all the challenges and misadventures that come my way. And I have no doubt that He purposed me there for those times.

But bravery…I don’t think it’s that simple. 

Nearing the end of my senior year of college, I’d been waiting an eternity to hear whether I’d gotten the grant to Russia, 9 long months from application to final answer. 

And when I opened that long-awaited e-mail, a queasy shock shot through me. Alternate. I hadn’t gotten it. I was an alternate. 

In my mind, there was no way I could get bumped up to grantee. After all, who in their right mind would give up a chance to live by themselves for a year in the land of Stalin and Siberia?! [Sarcasm sign ;-)]

How I reacted revealed the state of my heart. I wasn’t just disappointed, I was devastated. I had staked all my hope for the future on getting a ticket to teach abroad, because of calling, yes, but also because life in that country I loved had always been full of adrenaline and newness and emotion.

Heart motives are so often a tangled mess of pure and impure, and one of those tangled threads was that Russia had always been an escape from a life in the U.S. where the mundane depressed me and I never felt like I quite fit in. In Russia, I felt like my truest self: these people, they were just as emotional and romantic as me, this language, it was so beautiful and ordered and intricate that I wanted to bathe in it, and in all the challenges, I was no longer Lucy Pevensie, but Queen Lucy the Valiant in this Narnia I had stepped into. 

Bravery, not so much. 

Later in the week, I got a new e-mail. Someone had declined the grant, and Russia was calling my name. I was saved, or so I thought. 

These people, they were just as emotional and romantic as me, this language, it was so beautiful and ordered and intricate that I wanted to bathe in it, and in these challenges, I was no longer Lucy Pevensie, but Queen Lucy the Valiant in this Narnia I had stepped into. 

This time though, my sixth in Russia, He gave me the reality check I needed. This time, I was there long enough for the adrenaline to actually wear off, and it was then that I began to learn the simple truth: life is life anywhere, and the mundane is not to be feared. I wrote

“Three months ago, I would have told you that freedom is synonymous with wandering, and that roots are synonymous with chains. I would have told you, if I really trusted you, that maybe this running away to Russia wasn’t as brave as it seemed, since I thought that steady was synonymous with stale and lifeless, and boring was synonymous with depression. That life, real, conscious, colorful life was synonymous with running into an adventure that could swallow me into purpose, where each day could be a story, quantifiably exciting, to be snatched and put in a snow globe, waiting to be shaken up and retold.”

I thought….that life, real, conscious, colorful life was synonymous with running into an adventure that could swallow me into purpose, where each day could be a story, quantifiably exciting, to be snatched and put in a snow globe, waiting to be shaken up and retold.”

And it was true, I was addicted to the misadventures I often found myself in, and I had the skewed view that my life wouldn’t count for Christ if it was quiet and steady and “average,” if a typical day didn’t include a harrowing act of bravery for Him. But it was here that He began to teach me that the biggest act of bravery for a temperament like mine is to be faithful in the mundane. Because when all I can see is the routine on the horizon, my tendency is to start to daydream, to disengage from the flesh and blood people in my life who need to see Christ in me and hear him through me in the meeting at work, at the checkout line, on a walk through Burnt Hills. 

This isn’t to say that the pull I feel to other parts of the world is not from Him; I believe it is. But at a time like this, when I find in myself a longing for rootedness but a simultaneous fear of it, I need to remember the 91%, the untold life of Jesus in the routine rhythms of a carpenter. I can’t mistake the mundane for wasted time, because a hidden heart submitted to God, waiting for directions from the Holy Spirit is as radical in His sight as jumping on a plane to the middle of nowhere. 

I’m not crazy about flashy proposals. For a number of reasons [I won’t give my 95 theses right now :-)], I can see myself getting angry if a man asked me to marry him at a baseball game or concert. Much more precious to me would be a proposal in the quiet, just between us, with no thought to spectators. Now, I can’t take this metaphor too far, because there are so many times when being audacious in public is exactly what we should do as Christ-followers. But when I think of how precious a private proposal would be to me, I can’t help but think that it reflects the heart of God when we do something for Him that no one else will ever see.

A hidden heart submitted to God, waiting for directions from the Holy Spirit is as radical in His sight as jumping on a plane to the middle of nowhere.

So for those of you in the midst of that 91%, take heart. Take heart that He will use you powerfully right where you are, in the daily rhythms of your job and family and community. Take heart that He sees the heart behind the actions, and that an unseen act done out of love for Him is precious in his sight. And take heart that your effectiveness in His kingdom is not measured by numbers and visibility, but by obedience and faith. 

The Lord Will Fight For You

There’s a fine line between acting in faith and trying to gain freedom in my own strength. I tend to think that if I talk about a struggle enough, if I analyze it from every angle and dress it in different words, I’ll be able to finally discover some insight that will set me free once and for all from thought patterns that keep coming back to haunt me. Now don’t get me wrong, there is responsibility on my part to be proactive in setting my mind on what is good and true, the way that I’ve been approaching it until now hasn’t been effective.

I’m reading a fascinating and insightful book by J.P. Moreland, Finding Quiet: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices that Brought Peace. Moreland, a theologian and professor, recounts his experience with mental illness (he had two anxiety-induced nervous breakdowns 10 years apart) and practical steps we can take to replace toxic thoughts patterns with what is true. One of the most enlightening things I’ve gotten from the book so far is that fighting our toxic thoughts by camping out with them and analyzing why they aren’t true actually reinforces the thoughts and keeps the neural pathway that these thoughts reside in well-oiled. Moreland writes:

“The key is not to ruminate about the message, arguing with yourself why it isn’t true or drawing out horrible implications of it. Such rumination, even telling yourself why the message isn’t true, actually depends the brain grooves that trigger the message and makes it harder to get rid of. The goal is to dismiss the message…” (71).

My strategy, so far, has been just this, to ruminate, gritting my teeth, determined to kill the negative thoughts. But I see the irony, trying to fight the battle against distorted thinking with the logic of the mind in which the distorted thinking resides is foolish. Instead, I need to “dismiss the message,” as Moreland says, by acknowledging that the thought is a lie and refocusing my attention on something solid and true.

A good friend recently said the same thing to me, that redirecting my thoughts rather than dwelling on them will play a huge part in experiencing freedom. She used the analogy of a dog being trained, a mental image which stuck with me. When the dog acts out, a smart owner redirects the dog’s attention rather than reinforcing the action through long, drawn-out punishment. So instead of punishing myself every time I have a thought that I think I should have grown past, maybe the wisest thing to do is to submit it to God, refuse to self-flagelate, and redirect my attention to something that I enjoy, whether that’s writing a blog post, listening to Susie Larson’s podcast, taking a trip to the Russian grocery store, or watching Jim put Dwight’s stapler in Jello.

When the Israelites found themselves surrounded on all sides-the Egyptians ready to strike and the Red Sea blocking their way, no human battle strategy could save them.

No human battle strategy could save them, but God could, and he did. Moses told the people, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.” (Ex. 14:14)

And God fought for them in a way only He was able: he parted the sea and His people walked to freedom. They had to step forward, yes, but it was the Lord who led the way.

In the same way, when freedom seems impossible to me, perhaps it’s because I’m trusting in my mind rather than trusting God to lead me to mental victory. No amount of analysis on my part will lead to freedom; instead, my victory will only come when I rest my weary mind, submit my thoughts to him and say, “Lord, only you can fight this battle.” So may I trust His healing process, may I rest my mind, and may I take joy in the fact that He is fighting my battles, and that He always wins.

3 Ways to Fight Depression When Counting Your Gifts Doesn’t Help

Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts made a lasting mark on Christian culture, and rightly so. In her “dare to live fully right where you are,” she recounts her transformation from despair into joyful gratitude through the simple practice of counting her gifts, blessings from God that are all too easy to miss unless we commit our eyes to intentional sight.

“Morning shadows across the old floors,” she writes.  “Jam piled high on the toast. Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce” (p. 45).

I read the book when it came out in 2010 and was captivated by Voskamp’s poetic writing and fresh expression of a timeless truth. And today, healthy and healed, when I count God’s gifts, a gloomy demeanor on an off day is put into perspective, an inward focus turns upward and outward, and joy begins to diffuse the despair.

But when I was severely depressed, this practice backfired. In the years of the deepest depression, I fought back with Voskamp’s advice. In a tear-riddled journal, I etched my gifts hard into the pages day after day.

And all I felt was shame.

Shame at how God had given me so much, yet I still had a perpetual lump in my throat.

Shame that the hopelessness I felt outshouted the hope I had in Christ.

Shame that God had given me so much to live for, yet, on some days, I wanted to die.

If the same has happened to you, you are not alone.And if the same has happened to you, remember this:

Faith and feelings are not synonyms. Continue reading “3 Ways to Fight Depression When Counting Your Gifts Doesn’t Help”