Wednesday, May 10, 2017
On Receiving Help and Love
The following was written for the upcoming church newsletter.
As some of you may well know, I like to think of myself as strong and self-reliant. I’m convinced that I can handle anything that comes my way. This has often served me well. During my flying career an emergency didn’t rattle me. It was simply a problem to be dealt with.
However, there is a significant downside to my self-image. I can become very frustrated when I’m unable to do something. There are plenty of things I know I’m not good at, but when I think I should be able to do something but cannot, or do it poorly, I often beat myself up pretty badly. To make matters worse, asking for help can feel like failure. And so I’m not very good at either asking or receiving help.
That likely explains why only after things got really bad, only after my wife had encouraged me for months, did I seek help for a deepening sense of sadness, burnout, and depression. Even then I hoped that a few sessions with a counselor would let me figure everything out and quickly get back to “normal.” I certainly wouldn’t need ongoing therapy or medication, a certainty that quickly disappeared.
I have a long way to go in getting back to “normal,” whatever that is, but I hope I’m on the right path. I’ll spare you any more details of what already feels to me like oversharing. I felt compelled to share, however, for a couple of reasons. The first is that I’m hardly the only person who puts off getting treatment for mental health issues because it feels like admitting to failure or weakness. Perceptions have changed in recent years, but there is still a stigma attached to mental illness. I hope my sharing is one more small chip knocked out of that stigma.
I also see a faith dimension to this. At a very basic level, Christian faith is about being open to receiving help. Our Presbyterian/Reformed Tradition understands relationship with God and faith itself as a gift freely given to us by a loving God. Jesus is the embodiment of a love that is not earned but is simply received. One does not merit or deserve it. Jesus doesn’t love me because I’m so lovable but because God is so loving. But I tend to measure my own worth by what I accomplish. And so I have trouble loving myself, much less believing that God could love me, really love me.
Our society encourages a culture of performance, and this emphasis on achievement seems only to be growing. We began putting pressure on our children to perform, to do well, to engage in “enrichment” activities and sports at an earlier and earlier age. No parent means to say, “I’ll love you if you do well, if you are successful,” but no doubt some of our children hear just such a message.
The church also gets caught up in our culture of performance, but that is a distortion of the gospel. At its heart, the gospel is and always has been counter-cultural. That is why is says silly things such as the last shall be first, the poor are blessed, and being part of God’s new day isn’t about more success but about letting go and becoming more like a little child. (Children had little “worth” in Jesus’ day.)
As the church, we are called to embody Christ and his gospel. That means being a community where people experience the love of God that is not dependent on measures of performance or success. That means being able to accept and love ourselves, and it means being able to accept and love those around us whether or not they “deserve” it based on our personal measures of success or worth. Perhaps there is no greater gift we could give our children, our neighbors, or ourselves than to rest so fully and completely in God’s boundless love in Christ that it transformed us into agents of Christ-like love.
Grace and peace and love,