Sunday, July 09, 2006

Coming up, after a long descent into darkness

Hello Lord
It's me, your child - I
Have a few things on my mind
Right now I'm faced with big decisions and I'm
Wondering if you have a minute, 'cuz

Right now I don't hear so well, and I was
Wondering if you could speak up
I know that you tore the veil
So I could sit with you in person
Hear what you're saying
But right now
I just can't hear you...

(Sara Groves, "Hello, Lord", from Conversations)
If one man calls you an ass, pay him no mind
If two men call you an ass, pay
them no mind
If three men call you an ass, get yourself a saddle...

(ancient parable)

When one person writes and says, "So...what's up?", it's easy to ignore it. Five people, it was pretty easy, too, to be honest. But when one email came from Canada, one came from Australia, and a bevy of emails came from people I hardly speak to any more, it was pretty hard to miss the notes of care and concern.

I am grateful to God for your concern, and your inquiries - even if I'm not grateful for much else, right now.

Yes, I am physically all right. No heart attack, no seizures, no strokes.
Yes, I'm still sober. No drinking, no drugs, no public lewdity.

Just an ever-increasing spiritual and emotional darkness that flowed into my soul over the last year, and just cut me off almost completely from the sunlight of the Spirit. If you have never known truly spirit-killing depression, I am glad for you. If you have, then you know where I've been.

How bad did it get? Pretty damn bad, actually. First, I stopped going to church; then I stopped praying; then I lost any belief that God even wanted to hear from me. Oh, I still said God wanted to hear from me; and I believed that God wanted to hear from you. I was being beaten to pieces by a battle between what I wanted to believe and what seemed to be absolutely, unarguably true.

I still have a shelf full of books on prayer; they mocked me in the silence. Trust me, there is an immense difference between knowing about prayer, actually taking the action to pray, and believing that God would want to hear my prayers. And when you've lost that belief, it's almost impossible to even "go through the motions" or "fake it till you make it," you know?

And in the midst of all this, I found an employer who was the perfect synergy of codependence and compulsive activity. My reason to get up and go to work became like the song from the musical Oliver:

I won't betray their trust
Though people say I must
I've got to stay true, just
As long as they need me....

The Employer (to protect their anonymity, too) became very much like an octopus - spraying inky blackness all around when threatened. Which, given the brokenness of their systems and procedures, was constantly. So yet another life-sucking vampire came into my life. In addition to being at work one to two days a week until 2-3 AM, I found myself not sleeping. That was when my brief adventure with anti-depressants turned me from a listless, uninspired, withdrawn, depressed man into a listless, uninspired, withdrawn, depressed man who couldn't sleep. That helped a lot, I've gotta tell you...

I stopped doing even the most basic of things - returning phone calls, cleaning the house, doing the laundry. It got pretty ugly. A series of increaingly strident demands from Codependent Associates made it even uglier. It culminated with a 32-hour marathon to meet an impossible deadline. And of course, being Dudley Do-Right, I made it...but at what cost, I wonder...

At one point, in a one-on-one with my Dilbert-esque boss, I told him that in the Spanish Inquisition, they would take heretics, place them between two immense planks, and then place large rocks on top of the top board, to crush confessions out of them. The only difference that I could see was that the Inquisition actually allowed people to DIE... whereas The Employer didn't seem that civilized. Like the sainted martyr, we indentured employees were evidently just supposed to say, "More weight...."

I wish I could say that it's all better now.

It is, in some ways. I actually started taking my blood pressure and diabetic medication again. (There was a nearly-disastrous time when I wasn't even doing that....)

Tomorrow will be my first day back at church in, oh, forever and a day, it seems. It will be interesting...the church also has a counseling center that may well provide some guidance out of the darkness.

And throughout all this, neither drinking nor suicide ever looked like serious options (though there were times when they both looked like "the easier, softer way.") That, in itself, is a gift, I suppose. (Although one might argue that my overeating and "just forgetting" to take life-prolonging medicine might have fit in the latter category...)

But the work situation, the financial situation, and the whole "WTF am I supposed to do with this insistent yearning to ministry" thing, still seems unsolvable. There are other issues - some involving one of my sisters and her health, and a couple others that don't bear mentioning yet - that are equally vexing.

It still ain't too pretty.

Like Tom Cruise in a scene from Top Gun, it seems like my fighter-jet of life has gone into a flat spin. I can hear the engines trying to re-ignite; the nose of the plane seems to be pulling up. But I've lost a lot of altitude, and there's no ejection seat in this situation....

Part of the spiritual sickness, of course, is that I would have rather had a gasoline enema than admit any of this to anyone. But I was also losing any ability to "fake it till I made it" with my writing. (Not to mention that being at a PC for 10, 12 or 18 hours at a time meant that the last thing in the world I wanted to do was sit back down in front of a PC.

This last week, though, I got several emails that basically said, "Car 54, where are you??" I got a phone call relayed by a reader to one of my old friends, basically saying, "Where's Steve?" But I have to admit that in the end, it was my Canadian blogo-sister, Erin, who sent the email that put the icing on the cake. She wrote:
If you're just too busy to write, maybe you could poke your head up so we won't worry.
If you're not alright, maybe you could poke your head up so we could know how to pray.

Either way...missing your presence...
So now you's definitely the latter.

Tonight - well, earlier this morning - I pulled down my trusty (and dusty) copy of Prayers for Daily Use. This prayer, "for one in dire extremity," caught my eye...
God of all mercy, Shepherd of every hope, the Refuge of bewildered hearts, steady us with your most tender mercy, lest the darkness of this hour hide the providences of a lifetime from our sight.

Within the shadows of our fear, your love stands waiting upon the very threshold of our need. Though we cannot see the way, guide us step by step and strengthen us for each day's journey with a peace beyond our making.

Wherever we walk, in sunshine or in shadow, show us the sign of Christ our Lord, who has gone before us and suffered all things that we might be delivered from fear, and in every extremity trust you with our life. Amen.
Amen, indeed.


Hope said...

What a relief to see you post this morning.

You came to my mind yesterday as I went to an AA meeting. I wondered what it would be like to be in a meeting with you. You are one of two bloggers whose honesty about the journey influenced me to go back to meetings after an 8 year absence. I was much closer to a relapse than I realized. Meetings have shown me that. Thank you for being honest.

Yesterday I also worried (for the umpteenth time)that something had happened to you and how would we ever know? So I was very thankful to see you on my bloglines feeds this morning. And thankful for Erin's email to you.

Is the computer world one which seems to demand more than humans can reasonably deliver?

~m2~ said...

you know the Holy Spirit is pretty cool about interceding for us when we simply don't have it in us to even lift our thoughts to God, let alone our hearts.

i've been praying for you, but you know that. will continue on, steadfast.

bobbie said...

thank you for not choosing the gasoline enema steve! you admitting strengthens me (us all) - really it does.

i hear your longing to fulfill your call, it sounds so much like my own. during my worst time - 9 years after graduating from 'bible college' and a solid time of infertility i had figured out that god had rendered us 'unfit' for both ministry and parenting. the teens were were volunteering with at church were getting pregnant, but we were unfit... please know that i hear your pain.

please also know it was a lie. you are not unfit, or unnecessary. there is a place for you to use your many gifts and talents in the kingdom - you just haven't found the place yet. it meant leaving our 'denomination' (a couple of times) to find a place where i, a woman can minister and use my gifts fully.

if i can encourage you at all PLEASE find a new place where you are welcome - they aren't the only tribe in isreal! there is a place somewhere that you fit and you will be allowed to bless many. it might not look anything like you imagine it to be - but it's there. i promise. please don't loose hope.

i will be holding you in the light. i know the darkness of despair. the 'softer way' is truly no way at all. you'll be in my prayers dear one.

TN Rambler said...

Welcome back Steve. Continuing to lift you up in prayer.

Barry G. said...

Your name, Steve F. with "long hippy hair" about the "gift of extreme desparation" when Diane was new to AA, at the "Little House" this a.m. It sounds as if you're at that point again, but it's not booze or drugs that are the demon's weapons. It's the obsession to be best and to please others that really are too selfish to ever be pleased. Maybe it's time to take another "1st Step"!

We can't tell you what to do, but you've got a lot of people that you've helped over these years praying for you and wanting to help. You started that part of your journey completely unemployable, but you're far from that now. Renew your pledge to yourself and to God - because you're not able to be any good to anyone (including yourself) if your unmanagable life (as it now is) controls you. Change is one of the hardest things we ever do, but it is only way to grow!

We'll be praying for you!

juniper68 said...

prayers, prayers, prayers and more prayers.

David Chatelier said...

Welcome back. So delighted that you are safe. Your on-line "congregation" will be enriched by your contributions. But more than your contributions, through your authentic and vulnerable sharings, we have come to love and appreciate the unique YOU that God has gifted us with.

Rick said...

I am so glad to find you here, brother. I printed your piece and am going to go read it again and pray. I have missed you and have been going through a lot myself.

I will pray for you.

Cobb said...

Its good to read you again. You have been in my prayers and your prolonged absence was cause for concern about your health. Welcome back and know that you have friends, both old and new, who are praying for you.

Sanford said...

Another powerful and honest post, Brother. Your post is witness that even the most powerful Christians are vulnerable, but can through Christ, be strong. Keep preaching and teaching.

isabella mori said...


well, here's from another canadian who kept wondering why there were "no postings in the last three days".

and isn't it interesting - the prayer at the end of this entry, i'll pass it on to someone else who direly needs it ...

"i put my hand in yours, and together we can do what we could never do alone."

Im A Foto Nut said...

Dearest Brother,

I too, have been remiss in my posting, and reading up on friends. I am soooo very sorry, that I was not aware of your pain!

I think I have told you this before, however, it bears (sp?) repeating. "The Devil doesn't work on dead wood."

You are at a very pivotal point in your life/ministry, and Satan is going to do whatever it takes to keep you from becoming a force to be reccond with.

Frankly, you are already that force, so he needs to keep your eyes on anything but what is most important to you and your Lord.

I would encourage you to seek counseling, both from your church and professionally. You must make that time. If they give you any crap about it at work tell them that you are already putting in way more than even 50 hours, and you need a few in order to refuel.

I know where of I speak. I have been, what I call, circling the bowl many times, in a deep deep depresive state. I once lay on the sofa, in my underware for over a week. (I never moved once, even to go to the bathroom.) I almost ate a bullet that time.

The only way you can keep the devil from doing his number on you is to keep yourself as mentally/physically fit and healthy as you can. That may mean getting a new job, cause your current one is not exactly working for you. Frankly, the only thing it is going to do for you is to get you six feet under alot quicker than anyone wants for you.

I will lift you up dear brother, you can not do this alone. You are going to need as much help from God, your friends, your AA family, and your church family in the Windy City, and on the plains of Kansas.

Sorry, if I Dr. Phil'ed you. I just see Satan clamping his bony fingers around your ankle, and pulling you down with all his might. He almost got you this time! Reach out to your Savior, he will never let you down. Remember, if you rebuke Satan in the name of Christ he must leave you. There were days when my only montra was, "Get behind me Satan, In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!"

We will all keep praying for you brother!

Brother Sean said...

Brother Steve: Thanks for poking your head up once more, and letting us all share even just a little bit of the cross(es) you're bearing right now. I'm an AA who knows of that spirit-crushing depression of which you write ... many of us do, and we're happy to help in any way we can, through prayers, our own posted responses, etc. God knows your postings have helped many of us, in our hours of darkness. Keep on keepin' on --

Keith Brenton said...

Steve, I don't know you from Adam (oh, wait - are you the one with the clothes on?), but I have come to deeply admire your candor and wisdom. Yup, wisdom. I wonder if the lyrics of a song from Chorus Line might not be appropriate to your situation, especially your working situation: "This man is nothing. This course means nothing. If I want something I'll find a better class. And when I find one, I'll be an actor."

Why don't you prayerfully consider starting an emerging church? A church where no one is expected to be perfect or wear robes or memorize catechisms. A church where imperfect people gather to thank God for even tiny mercies, and beg His help. Why not start with some of the lads in your AA group? Just casually mention, "I'm going to be down by the lakefront near the sub on Sunday morning, worshiping - and I would really enjoy worshiping with you guys."

It sounds like just the kind of church where Jesus would be right at home.

And I can't think of anybody that God has equipped better to plant it than you.

Im A Foto Nut said...

I second, third, and fourth, Mr. Brendon's remarks! Jesus, his diciples, and John the Baptist, didn't all graduate from a Semonary. Go for it Dude!

Poor Mad Peter said...

Welcome back, Steve man.

c.l.beyer said...

Like Keith Brenton said, I, too, am thankful for your candor. I completely resonate with Sara Groves's lyrics: "...I was
Wondering if you could speak up
I know that you tore the veil
So I could sit with you in person
Hear what you're saying
But right now
I just can't hear you..."

And even though I _know_ there's a big difference between understanding prayer intellectually and believing it really does connect me to a loving God, sometimes it just... doesn't... click.

Thanks for your honest post.