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When Missing Church Isn’t Okay

Saturday night rolled around, and Jocelyn was starting to feel feverish and a bit nauseated. By Sunday morning, she was full-blown sick and wouldn’t be making it to church.

 

At church that morning, people asked a friend of Jocelyn’s where she was, if she was ok. The friend wasn’t sure, so people were left to wonder.

 

The next day, a lady from Jocelyn’s Sunday school class called her, but Jocelyn didn’t answer. “Hey, Jocelyn, it’s MaryAnn. Just giving you a quick call to make sure you’re doing ok. We missed you in church on Sunday!”

 

Jocelyn didn’t call MaryAnn back all week. She figured she’d just tell anyone who asked the next week that she’d been ill. No one would question that.

 

Now let’s rewind. (Or, for those of you who don’t remember the VHS era, let’s go back to the Main Menu and choose the Start Over option.)

 

Saturday night rolled around, and Jocelyn was starting to feel depressed and a bit anxious. By Sunday morning, she’d had several full-blown panic attacks and wouldn’t be making it to church.

 

At church that morning, people asked a friend of Jocelyn’s where she was, if she was ok. The friend wasn’t sure, so people were left to wonder.

 

The next day, a lady from Jocelyn’s Sunday school class called her, but Jocelyn didn’t answer. “Hey, Jocelyn, it’s MaryAnn. Just giving you a quick call to make sure you’re doing ok. We missed you in church on Sunday!”

 

Jocelyn didn’t call MaryAnn back all week. She figured she’d just tell anyone who asked the next week that she’d been dealing with her depression and anxiety again. No one would question that.

 

Right?

 

No, unfortunately, almost everyone would question it.

 

So, Jocelyn talked herself out of going the next week before it even got close enough to worry about.

 

And she continued to talk herself out of going—it became a vicious cycle. She didn’t want to have to explain what she struggled with when she knew so many disagreed. And trying to simply say she had been sick wouldn’t work. First, she wasn’t sure it even counted as being sick. Second, everyone would ask, “Oh, did you have that nasty stomach bug that’s going around?!” But she knew she couldn’t say “yes” to that, because she hadn’t.

 

Now this story is entirely fictional, made up solely for the purpose of this article. However, Jocelyn’s story is far too familiar to many of us—on one side or the other. No one questions our missing church when we have an illness of the body. Why are we not afforded the same understanding when an it’s an illness of the mind? Rather, we are told, “You should make yourself come to church. You’d feel so much better!” Although these common phrases are not meant to hurt, they do. No one would tell someone who had the stomach bug and a fever to come to church because it would make them feel better.

 

Thus, it begs the question: Why do some feel the need to tell a friend who has had five panic attacks in a row that aren’t being helped by medication (medication that usually works, by the way) to show up to church to “feel better.” Is it because we’re to be “of a sound mind”? If that’s the reason, we need to re-examine the context of that verse.

 

But that’s for another article.

 

Those of us who struggle with mental illness have even come to believe some of these lies. Will church make us feel better? Sometimes. But sitting in service not being able to pay attention because of the anxiety and depression riddling your body probably isn’t helpful. The pastor sees a congregant who isn’t paying attention, and the struggling congregant isn’t getting anything out of the sermon.

 

So, I beg you, if your brother or sister is struggling with mental illness, don’t throw platitudes or advice born out of fear, misunderstanding, and/or stigmatization at them. Come alongside them—send them a card if you feel so inclined. Offer to make a meal. Do what you’d do for anyone missing service for a physical reason.

 

Mental illness is no easier to deal with than a physical illness, so, please, stop expecting those struggling mentally to make it to church every time the doors are open any more than you’d expect a physically ill person make it there.

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Two Quick Verses for When You Feel Overwhelmed

I’m not sure if this post needs an introduction. Life gets overwhelming. It happens. And it happens for numerous reasons. Whatever the reason, God’s word helps because God is the God of rest. He is peace. I hope you can read these verses and rest in His love.

 

  1. “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (Joshua 1:5-6)

 

After Moses’ death, God speaks to Joshua, who has been appointed the new leader of the Israelites. Joshua faces quite a tall task, and he knows it. It appears as though he was nervous, afraid, or that he didn’t believe he was up to the task because God tells him to be “strong and courageous” three times in a span of four verses.

This passage gives me comfort. I struggle with self-confidence, so naturally I don’t always feel confident I’ll do a good job in what God has called me to do. I can get overwhelmed quickly and give up. In this passage, God doesn’t rebuke Joshua for his lack of confidence. Instead, He repeatedly encourages Joshua. God knows that if Joshua will just trust in Him and move forward, he (Joshua) will do great things. And that’s what happened.

I think this principle applies to us as well. If we’re scared about something God’s calling us to or we feel overwhelmed, God encourages us to trust Him and take the first step forward. He really is a good Father.

 

 

  1. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

 

Worrying can certainly makes us feel overwhelmed. It’s not uncommon to worry about bills and money and food. What if this happens? What if that happens? What if we don’t have enough?

Jesus addresses this problem. I recently wrote about this verse in my new book Pursuing God’s Kingdom Day by Day:

 

He exhorts His audience not to worry about life’s necessities: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31). We should remember that His audience in this passage likely consisted largely of poor people. They were dependent on the harvest for food, so we can imagine they worried about the harvest’s productivity. Jesus knows that. He grew up in Galilee—He knows the people’s mindset and how they think about food. His response to this concern is to trust that God will provide because He “knows that you need” all these things (verse 32).

God wants us to trust Him enough to pursue His kingdom. In fact, He wants us to pursue His kingdom “first,” and, He says, “all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). That is, make God’s kingdom your priority and He will provide life’s necessities for you.

 

Worrying is hard because we want to have control over our lives. We want to know there’s going to be enough food or enough money tomorrow. It bothers us that we don’t always have that control. But Jesus tells us to just trust Him.

If this kind of trust is hard, I think the number one thing to do is pray. Ask God repeatedly for the faith to believe that He will provide. Our Father gives good gifts: He will give you the faith you ask for. He wants us to rest in His love, so to speak, so we will have room to enjoy Him and pursue His kingdom. That, after all, is where we find true joy.

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The Face of Bipolar and Anxiety: The Mixed Episode

I’ve seen so many times (usually on Facebook) about what it’s like to live with depression and anxiety. However, what I have yet to see is what it’s like to live with bipolar and anxiety. To truly understand what bipolar and anxiety combined look like, you’d best buckle up—this ride’s going to get a bit wild.

 

The phone rings. You’re deathly afraid of the phone because of your anxiety, and you don’t really speak to anyone on it aside from your mom and best friend. Even talking to your dad is weird and stilted. Grandparents? Nope. And, if you have a significant other, you’re only talking to them with ease if you’ve been together forever.

 

The caller left a voicemail. You knew it was another close friend, but you went from the immediate response of fear to justification of apathy. You didn’t really have to answer it. Not now.

 

You know you should listen to the voicemail; but the moment you do, that’s the moment it becomes real…and that’s the moment you feel obligated to call back.

 

So you put it off. Day after day.

 

Then you get a text. “Hey! We’re going dancing tomorrow night, just the regular group. Wanna come?”

 

You love to dance. And you know everyone in your small group quite well. You don’t want to miss out. And, besides, the last day or so, you’ve felt more upbeat. You didn’t sleep last night, but you know the anxiety won’t become a major issue for another little bit. Maybe a day or so. You can do this.

 

In fact, you’re feeling upbeat enough to pick up your cell and call the friend back. You excitedly say that you’ll go.

 

But then you don’t sleep that night either.

 

Mania has arrived…and with it? Agitation is setting in. And then the anxiety, even worse than normal.

 

It’s now the morning of the day you’re supposed to go dancing. But now, it’s not sounding like such a great idea. You’re not upbeat anymore: you’re just wide awake, though deathly tired and down, and the anxiety is worse than the day that friend called.

 

Welcome to a mixed episode. You’re not just manic anymore. Oh, yes, you’re still manic, but not the on-top-of-the-world manic you were before. Now you’re just beyond wide awake and vibrating inside, but you don’t want to go anymore. You’re too down…and did I mention anxious about how it would go? What if you get into an accident on the way? What if you have a horrible time? What if…

 

And the questions go on.

 

This is where you decide whether to back out. Sometimes you don’t go; sometimes you do.

 

This time, you ignore what you’re feeling and suck it up. You go.

 

The ride is truly ok.

 

No, better than ok. You’re with that friend that called, and you’re having a great time. You do better in person with this friend than over the phone. At least for now.

 

But then you get there.

 

This particular gathering is lesson-based, and the lessons take place before the open dance. Everyone wants to participate—even you!—but the idea of dancing with different people scares you to death. Especially since you don’t actually know any of them.

 

Your mania-induced anxiety is rising.

 

Your friends convince you that you can do it, though, so you do. You’re sweaty from the anxiety before you even start, hoping that your partner pays attention to the instructors, rather than trying to talk to you. Why? Because your mania-induced anxiety is even worse than your normal anxiety; and your everyday, normal anxiety makes you lock up when talking to strangers. Small talk? Not your thing. And you don’t have a friend to talk to or a phone with which to look busy to save you.

 

In the hour lesson, you have to talk to only a few people for a few minutes before you get to move on to your next partner.

 

Then, the open dance starts.

 

But you’re starting to crash. It’s eight o’clock, which is still early; except, you haven’t slept in two nights. You only have two guys in your group that you can dance with. Unfortunately, in your group, the ratio is 2:4. You don’t really mind, though. You don’t have to dance the whole time.

 

But then, those other three female friends convince you that you need to stand on the edge of the wooden dance floor to be able to get a partner. After all, one of the two in your group is preoccupied with someone specifically: that leaves one. One partner to four. Your best odds are that you’ll dance one in every four songs.

 

But even that’s ok: you’re starting to get tired. You’re crashing, remember?

 

What happens, though, you weren’t prepared for, though you should be. It happens every time. One of your friends is taken by the available partner in your group. That leaves you and two friends standing on the sidelines. You can’t hear them above the music because they talk too quietly, so conversation is impossible. You’re just standing there, feeling like you look dumb. Needy.

 

And then a stranger comes by, and takes off to the floor with one of your friends.

 

Now there are two of you.

 

Your anxiety is rising again. You’re edgy, still manic enough to want to snap, but you’re getting tired of standing there. It’s been two songs. Your friends aren’t back.

 

Then, the one friend you’re left standing with is whisked away. Now? It’s just you.

 

You stand there another minute with no one, acutely aware that you’re one of the taller friends, while most of the available partners are shorter, which makes them feel weird. Unfortunately, you’re not the thin taller friend.

 

You start to back up toward the table away from the edge of the floor. No one’s there: just everyone’s stuff. You stand next to it, wondering if maybe that’s still good enough to get a partner.

 

But no one comes over. You see the one partner in your group making his way through your friends, and even some strangers. You haven’t danced in the open dance yet…and you’ve been there a half hour.

 

So you sit down.

 

The number of thoughts running through your head is insane: I’m not good enough. I don’t dance well. I lumber. I’m fat. I’m too tall, I’m ugly. I wouldn’t know what to say, anyway.

 

Finally, the one partner available in your group comes up.

 

You get to dance now.

 

You try to dance without thinking too much about form, but while still thinking about it enough that you maintain it properly. This partner is a talker. Amazingly, he is one of the few you can talk to.

 

But that doesn’t make it any easier. You have anxiety, remember? Every time you say something, you internally question it. Was it stupid? Should I have said it?

 

Yeah, that was stupid.

 

So you laugh at the end of your sentence, but your laugh comes out weird. More of a grunt, because you know it wasn’t truly funny. You just didn’t get the reaction you thought you would from the person you’re dancing with.

 

After miraculously managing to get in a dance or two, you start lobbying to go home. You’re tired, not on top of the world anymore like you were when you first went manic this time, and your anxiety has such a strong grip that you’re still playing through your conversations from hours earlier.

 

Eventually, everyone agrees to leave. You’re in the car, about to cry because you feel like you’ve made a fool of yourself all evening. Those conversations you’re still playing through in your head don’t stop. In fact, they’re going to continue. For how long, you ask? A day. A week. A month. You may recall the conversation years later and still wonder, was what I said stupid? Did it sound stupid?

 

Your friend drops you off, and you make it into the house. You’re so tired that you don’t bother with a nightly routine. Your nightly routine is hit and miss anyway. You just put on some pajamas and climb into bed.

 

Welcome to the crash: depression has hit. You may be in bed for a day…or a week. I can’t tell you. No one can.

 

But this? This is the face of bipolar and anxiety.

 

This is me.