Fight the Good Fight
Biblia Luna #7
Welcome to Issue #7 of Biblia Luna! In this weekly newsletter, I share a few things each week related to mental illness and faith.
Crazy Lectionary (26th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
The second reading for Sunday, September 25 is 1 Timothy 6:6-19. Like last week’s text, this one is from again from First Timothy, one of Paul’s “pastoral letters,” apparently written to offer counsel and encouragement to leaders of the early church. I want to focus here on verses 11-12. The Common English Bible renders them as:
11 But as for you, man of God, run away from all these things. Instead, pursue righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness. 12 Compete in the good fight of faith. Grab hold of eternal life—you were called to it, and you made a good confession of it in the presence of many witnesses.
Paul is exhorting Timothy, I think, to be strong in the face of adversity, to withstand temptation, to grab hold of the “life that really is life,” as he will write in verse 19. Last week, I wrote about the difference between storms that are external to us and storms that are internal. I referred to mental illness as a storm that comes from inside, but is every bit as destructive as any outside storm.
Again, here I believe that Paul was calling Timothy to resist the external storms in his life, to be strong and faithful despite what was going on around him. But as someone whose internal storms have always been the stronger ones, I see something else going on here. The pursuit of righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, gentleness – those are all great, wonderful things! And they are really hard things to strive for when stuck in a depression! Or overwhelmed by anxiety! Or in some other way torn and twisted apart by mental illness. They are really hard!
Compete in the good fight of faith? Paul, I’m too busy competing in the good fight of keeping myself alive right now! I can’t grab hold of eternal life – I’m too busy trying to grab hold of my life here and now.
But maybe that’s the trick. One of the things I’m more and more convinced of is that eternal life is not a synonym for the afterlife, but is rather a description of a way of living here-and-now. A way of living that involves not being stuck in the past or in the future, but living now, filled with hope and courage to face the day around you. And perhaps the life that Paul is calling Timothy to is not something that’s too much for someone struggling with mental illness to handle – on the contrary, perhaps he’s calling Timothy (and us) to precisely what people with mental illness need to hear: encouragement to keep doing whatever you need to do to fight the good fight.
For someone with mental illness, sometimes the good fight of faith is precisely the fight against giving into the nasty and wretched feelings filling our brains. It means doing the things we know are good for us, whether that’s pushing ourselves to get just ten minutes of exercise, or pushing ourselves to reach out and call a friend, or just forgiving ourselves for taking a nap. That’s it. The life of discipleship doesn’t always have to mean something above and beyond. Sometimes the life of discipleship is just taking care of yourself, and doing whatever it takes to be truly alive today.
What I’m Reading
This week, I finished two books. The first was an advance copy of In It Together by JoEllen Notte, a handbook for people who know and care for someone with depression. It was outstanding, and I was very honored to be able to write a praise blurb for it. I look forward to its release in a few months, and I’ll let you know how to order it when it’s available.
The second book I finished wasn’t about mental illness, but it was lots of fun. But What if We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman. It started with the premise that we always think we know better than people in the past did. We always think that they got it wrong, but of course we have it right. Well, what if we imagine ourselves in the future, looking back at our present time? What would we have to say about the things we believe now? Probably that they are equally wrong. The book rambles all over a bit, but that’s part of the joy of it. It’s kind of refreshing to think that we don’t have it all right. In fact, we’re probably wrong about just about everything we believe! And that’s okay!
In the fall of 2021, I spent two weeks in a “partial hospitalization” program at Lehigh Valley Health Network. Partial hospitalization is a common treatment for mental illness; there are programs like this at many health centers. I suppose it’s called “partial,” because it’s kind of halfway between inpatient and outpatient. The program I was in ran from 8:30 to 3:00 each weekday. I was expected to be there for the entire time each day, but then went home at night. It’s designed for people who are in need of immediate care for an acute episode, but who do not present as a danger to themselves or others. (If they were perceived to be a danger, inpatient would be a better choice.) I found my care there to be outstanding. Each morning was spent in several hours of group therapy, in a group of about four – eight people. The afternoons were in a large group, with someone who led us in some sort of learning or experiential activity. We learned guided meditation; we heard from an alumnus of the program who shared his story; the hospital chaplain led us in a spirituality exercise; things like that.
It was intensive and intense, and I was able to focus almost exclusively on my mental health for those two weeks. I really needed that at that time in my life. I have no idea if the program I was in was typical, or whether it would rate better or worse than similar programs elsewhere, but I highly recommend partial programs. Inpatient mental health stays can be terrifying (I know from experience) – this was not. I felt cared for, and I felt free. Two big thumbs up.
Tonight, I’ll be recording a Zoom interview with the host of the podcast Ignorance Was Bliss. No idea if/when it will air, but when I find out, I’ll let you know!
And of course the other scheduled stuff…
Northeastern PA Synod Bishop’s Conference
November 14-15, 2022, Allentown, PA. I will be one of the speakers at this year’s bishop’s conference, a special annual event held for the clergy of the Northeastern PA Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
St. Andrew’s Women’s Group
January 11, 2023, Easton, PA. I will be speaking about Darkwater and the topic of mental illness & faith to this monthly gathering of women from St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Easton.
Learning Ministries Day
January 28, 2023, Cherryville, PA. I will be leading a workshop at this annual event which gathers leaders in Christian Education from Lutheran congregations all over northeastern PA.
The Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
— 2 Corinthians 12:9, New Revised Standard Version
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