Worship

In May I was diagnosed with clinical depression.

Depression looks different for everyone. I had a friend one time who described his as “walking around with a lead x-ray vest on.” I can relate. One day the lead vest is Gorilla Glued to my body…and then the next day I will be cracking jokes and asking friends to grab lunch. On the whole, I am having many more “good” days than “bad” days (PRAISE HANDS) and I celebrate the healing. I also celebrate that I get to return to a culture that similarly wrestles and share with them the hope I have in Jesus!!

When I was diagnosed, I was relieved to have an explanation for my symptoms but I also knew there was a long road ahead. My doctors and I were all in agreement that although there were many components at play, the chemicals in my brain simply were not playing nice and needed some help in ways I couldn’t control on my own. So I started medication. My doctors and I came up with a treatment plan that has additionally included counseling, more rest, wisely reducing commitments, exercise, and healthy eating.

But I knew that would not be enough. The ache in my soul was even deeper than my exhausted and depleted body. My soul needed care.

I’ve closely monitored what media I am consuming: television, podcasts, social media, movies, and music. I’m aware of my need to have honest conversations about what is going on inside my head, speaking Truth to lies. I’ve been more purposeful about the Books I read, as well as setting aside time for prayer and cracking out my journal more often. I find the most comfort in the Word of God (especially Psalm 30) and have found that my heart needs a way to proclaim this Truth of who He is.

I know worship is so much more than just the songs we sing, but in this season I’ve needed the literal psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. (Eph. 5:19).

Pause for a sec: Let me be up front about this –– I do not only listen to Christian worship music. I will debate you all day long about how a good dance party to Yeah! by Usher or Perm by Bruno Mars can be highly therapeutic. (For the record, this is my favorite performance to date.) Plus there’s so much value in being part of culture through music. There’s a wise way and a wrong way to engage with secular music and everyone has different boundaries. So I am not saying that a certain approach is better than another, but rather this is just where I am right now.

The hardest part for me has been that I can’t be all for all. My capacity isn’t what I’m used to. I’ve dropped the ball with friends, forgetting birthdays and anniversaries and other special days. I’m used to being the one giving help, not asking for it. I have no problem admitting that I’m not perfect, but when it comes to asking for help that’s a different story. I love helping other people, but for some reason when I ask for other people to help me I immediately think that I am being a burden. It’s really sad how that’s transferred over into my relationship with God.

What I love about hymns specifically, or other Gospel-centered songs, is that they remind me how God saved me and chose me when I was broken. It gets better…He keeps choosing me and won’t ever stop. My counselor this week asked me if I ever think about how God is happy that He chose to create me. It’s hard for me to ignore the subconscious mantra of “my brokenness is too much” and instead walk in the freedom that God is infinitely bigger than my brokenness. He delights in me, whatever my state.

The beauty of brokenness is that there’s that much more room for Him to shine.

The following are some of my favorite lines from hymns. I need these sweet reminders to replace the nasty lies. These songs remind me of how God delights in me. I am not too much. He’s got this all under control.

“I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small; Child of weakness, watch and pray, Find in Me thine all in all.””
Jesus Paid it All

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”
Great is Thy Faithfulness

“All to Jesus I surrender, Make me, Savior, wholly Thine; Let me feel Thy Holy Spirit, Truly know that Thou art mine. All to Jesus I surrender, Lord, I give myself to Thee; Fill me with Thy love and power, Let Thy blessing fall on me.”
I Surrender All

“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch; like me! I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed!
The Lord hath promised good to me, His word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be As long as life endures.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we first begun.”
Amazing Grace

 

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Solitude

If you had asked me two months ago to name the spiritual disciplines, my list would have included prayer, Scripture memory, reading/studying the Bible, and accountability. Turns out there are a good number of additional practices. One of those additions is something called “solitude.” And turns out that it’s not just for monks.

Y’all. Over the past 6 weeks, the longest I’ve gone without hearing some mention of solitude has been three days. NOT KIDDING. Books for fun, books for a seminary class, friends, podcasts, more friends, sermons, more books…everywhere I turn, there has been some nugget about the importance of solitude.

I’ve also had the exact same “it’s showing up everywhere” experience with a new-to-me author, Henri Nouwen. (And also with Chick-fil-A…but I still have five months left of my CFA fast so we don’t talk about that one.) Would you believe me if I said that it took me two weeks of these “solitude” and “Nouwen” bombardments before I realized Henri Nouwen has a lot to say about solitude? And here I was thinking they were two separate occurrences. Ha.

By that point, there was no denying that God had my attention. If everyone (including this Nouwen dude) is claiming solitude is so essential, why was this the first I was hearing of it?

Solitude is counter-cultural. In a world that demands go and do, solitude demands that we stop and sit. 

This nugget was from a seminary book:

“The practice of contemplative prayer––learning to quietly sit in God’s presence, gazing upon him, and allowing him, not our worded response, to fill our consciousness––is a transforming discipline for Christians more accustomed to prayer of the head than prayer of the heart.” (David Benner, Care of Souls)

Not only that, but I would venture to say that we also live in a world that demands we have a response to everything. We are trained to have a thoughtful opinion, witty rebuttal, or insightful analysis. If we don’t, well…you just failed 10th grade English, or you’re the laughingstock of the dinner party. Solitude can be super uncomfortable because it forces us to stand, unmasked, before God.

“Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.” -Henri Nouwen

Nouwen is adamant that even though solitude is hard work (I’ll affirm that claim), when we set aside time and space we will undoubtably be inundated by a thousand distracting thoughts as we are face-to-face with our inner chaos, but the result of perseverance is hope in the presence of God. We are reminded that God is bigger than we are.

But here’s what really got me: Did you know Jesus practiced solitude? Matthew 14:23 gives us a picture of Jesus practicing solitude in the middle of His ministry, “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” Did you catch that? Jesus left the crowd. Went by himself up the mountain. Where he prayed. By himself. For a long time. He also practiced solitude after hearing about John the Baptist’s death (Matthew 14:13), after healing many (Mark 1:35), before choosing the Twelve Disciples (Luke 6:12), and the night he was betrayed (Matthew 26:39). One last verse to drive home this point: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16 NIV)

Here are some questions that helped me begin to practice solitude:

  • Where am I trying to use outer distractions to shield the inner noises?
  • When was the last time I stopped to listen to the quiet whisper of God?
  • Am I persevering, pushing into solitude?
  • What is my attitude toward solitude?

“In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.” -Henri Nouwen

Sometimes we choose solitude and other times God plops us down in the middle of it. Regardless of how we got there, God will always, always, always use those times to teach us about who He is.

Solitude is not just for monks.

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Presence

I have a love/hate relationship with my phone. I love that it helps me keep in contact with family and friends, but I hate that I can so quickly feel pulled away from a conversation because I can feel it ringing in my bag.

This past month I was on a trip where I had a few days with very limited cell phone coverage. I knew this going into the trip, and (not surprisingly) had mixed feelings about it. I don’t know if you’ve had time away from your phone before, but it’s both simultaneously exhilarating and alarming.

In one of the brief moments where I had a single ray of the glorious Wi-Fi, I expressed this tension to a friend. I was so used to the rhythm of going nonstop. My soul was also EXHAUSTED from this pace of life. There were still things I could (and should) be working on during the trip, but I also could not ignore the timing of it…the hope of being able to catch my breath.

My friend’s encouragement was simple: practice the presence.

As I read her words, something triggered in the back of my brain. Just three days before I  had listed to a song five times over (not a joke), praying Psalm 16 to the chords of Shane and Shane:

My heart is glad and my soul rejoice
my flesh it dwells secure
because You put on flesh
lived a blameless life
my curse on the cross You bore
then You ripped the doors off the City of Death
and the chains fell to the floor
Now the serpent’s crushed
It has been finished
and You reign forever more

You are my portion my cup and you make my lot secure
the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places
a beautiful inheritance

in Your presence there is fullness of joy, of joy
at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore

Shane & Shane, Psalm 16 (Fullness of Joy)

My phone reminds me that there are always things that need to be done…people to talk to, bills that need to be paid, information to be gathered. Someone, something needs me.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of places I look for significance, but this past month I’ve tried to put it in productivity. What I’m really searching for is found elsewhere.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

I have to fight to be in His presence. And to be quite honest: that’s hard. I wish I could grasp this entirely and practice it effortlessly.

For me to be reminded of His presence, I most often need to stop what I’m doing and thinking and sit with him. And that feels very counter productive to my productivity mindset.

I’ve “practiced the presence” in a few different ways this month, making a conscious effort to step away from my phone and endless to-do list every time. I have a few I like to rotate through:

  • Going for a walk
  • Reading outside
  • Working out to worship music
  • Driving without the radio
  • Painting
  • Enjoying the quiet of the early morning or evening

When I sit with the Lord, I’m reminded of the first 10 verses of Psalm 16. Those verses proclaim who God is and what He has done for me and how I relate to Him. In Jesus is the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

 

 

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