Spiritual Journey: The Mad Season

It’s hard to say which came first for me, the Depression or the anger, but the people of God felt decidedly absent from both.

That was the summer I stopped calling them Christians, started calling them “Church People,” because that’s where they were: at Bible study or worship team practice or service.

They were going through study books heavy with fill-in-the-blanks. They were searching Scripture for the right answer.

They were not with me as I drank margaritas and cried into my basket of free chips. They were not listening to my slurred, pain-filled questions as I shot them across the table. The ones whose answers do not fit neatly into a blank.

I was cynical and angry and broken in a million pieces, and the Church People were nowhere to be found.

*

One of the most unhelpful and frustrating comments I’ve come across in the blogosphere goes something like this: I used to feel that way, but I’m getting tired of all of this criticism and endless discussion. It’s time to move on. Be the Change.

I’ve seen variations of this comment on things that I’ve written and on things others have written. I’ve seen entire posts centered around this theme of Get over it, already.

And in some ways I get it. I too remember the first time that I was well enough to really hear that famous Ghandi quote, and it spoke truth to me in a brand new way– Be the change you wish to see in the world.

I remember how it filled me with tentative hope…that even though the Church was full of problems and hate and darkness and ugly, I could choose to be part of the solution. I remember the freedom of finally feeling strong enough to stand up in the wreckage, well enough to be part of that change.

But it was a long time coming.

Our hearts swing like pendulums, back, forth. We are always moving and learning and reacting and hoping. And when we get hit by some great weight of the soul, we tend to swing from one extreme to another. From on fire to angry, cynical. From so in love with Jesus to the dull ache of loneliness.

You don’t choose this Angry Place with its concrete walls and shards of glass. Not at first. You just find yourself here one day, and it is cold and dark and lonely.

And if someone won’t go down there with you, won’t let you rant, let you rage, let you be where you’re at, then you find yourself stuck. If someone’s not in there to give you a boost when you’re ready to climb out…then you stay there for too long. It starts to turn your heart cold.

But the evangelical culture as a whole does not go there. We’re not sure how to handle the bitterness and cynicism that feel so volatile, so explosive and dangerous.

We don’t know how to be here with one another, so we rush each other through, forward, into a more comfortable place. We turn our backs, crank up the Christian radio; we dismiss the pain and talk about more important things. Like changing the world.

We say, “Just trust Jesus” or we say, “Stop complaining. Be the change.” And it’s two sides of the same, worthless coin. A token given instead of our presence and patience. A nickel tossed to the beggar while hurrying by, being careful not to look into her eyes.

*

To the one who is angry: you get to be angry.

You are not late or behind or wrong; your struggle matters. Ask the hard questions, the ones with the sharp edges. Sometimes they are the truest ones.

I want to say to you, Angry One, I know. I want to say take your time.

Even here, you are Beloved. Especially here.

To the one who has long ago left that place behind, don’t forget its coldness, its hardness. Don’t forget the sharpness of its edges or how hard it is to crawl out. Give grace freely; choose your words wisely. Remember that love is patient.

To the one who has not been there, give grace too. Choose understanding. The journey, after all, is long, and who knows what emotional and spiritual landscapes we will find down this narrow road?

We are all doing the best we can, moving at our own pace, so desperate for grace and understanding. We walk face-first into hard questions at different times. We find ourselves in darkness or in light, and it matters. We all have something to add to the discussion.

Do not be afraid. God is in this too, every last volatile bit.

Dare to descend into someone else’s hard, angry pain and find Him waiting there.

61 thoughts on “Spiritual Journey: The Mad Season

  1. Yessssss.

    I remember sitting across from a friend two and a half years ago and saying, “I do not think I’m a Christian. I don’t think I ever was. And I don’t know if God exists. And if He exists, He’s not good. And if He’s good, he’s not good to me.”

    I was cold and indifferent. She was good church people.

    She just listened. That’s all she did.

    She was the first one of the good church people who just listened. And then she said, “I love you.”

    That’s all.

    It was a turning point for me.

    Not THE turning point. But one. One of many, many times when I had to breathe and be okay with the fact that this packaged faith was not so packaged as they had us believe in Bible school and church chairs. This faith was messy, messier than the lives all my friends portrayed, messier than the three steps to freedom or fullness or faith, or whatever bullet points were coming my way that week.

    Love this Addie. As always.

    1. So glad that you had someone like that who did the exact right, beautiful thing.

      I love how you said, “It was a turning point for me. Not THE turning point. But one.” That’s so true. We have this contrived idea that it will be one big moment of epiphany that will get us turned around, but so often it is a hundred tiny little “turning points” that eventually get us facing back in the right direction.

  2. It is too easy to give answers that do not mean anything to the suffering soul. Too easy to tell them all will be well if they “just believe”. It is to easy to take this easy way out. What kind of friend is that? What kind of friend do you want to be? It is hard to scale the walls we make for ourselves because we always make them just high enough to keep us in. I think sometimes all people want and the best we can give is to listen to them. Let them rant and let them hate on God. God can handle that so we should not be offended. We should be a beacon of hope by letting them be who they are and ready to answer with truth. Sometimes it is hard to give hope. Sometimes it is hard to tell them you have no idea when things might get better. You have to convince first yourself and then them if they let you; that long term is what we must go after and long term God will be there and he will accept them where they are and will help them get to a better place. Life can be ugly and we must be willing to be with others in those ugly places if we are to help them find hope into places not so full of despair and not so full of walls keeping them penned in without hope.

    1. “It is hard to scale the walls we make for ourselves because we always make them just high enough to keep us in. I think sometimes all people want and the best we can give is to listen to them.”

      Amen.

  3. Yep. I wasn’t there, but I got to be there with someone who was. Hand hold her into life when she didn’t feel like living. Get her out of the pjs, dressed, and outside for a walk around the block. Be her training wheels and crutches when there was no balance. Get her to eat well regularly. Be hope for her when she had no hope, while even I wasn’t sure “normal” would return for her. And I stayed away from church and bible talk.

    1. That’s cool, Eric. I’m glad you were able to be there for her in meaningful ways. I don’t think that faith talk is necessarily bad, but I think too often we use this language as Bandaids or “quick fixes.” Sometimes the right words are about Jesus, but you have to listen, really listen, to know that.

      1. This gives another dimension to “taking the Lord’s name in vain”.

        My goodness, “let go and let God” just doesn’t help when I’m in the depths of despair.

        From my experience, love in action, with elbow grease, driven by God’s love, gets better mileage than the best of intentions in even the most carefully worded platitudes.

  4. Yes Yes Yes. Just Yes

    Also, I am too tired of the church people being uncomfortable to go into the hard places with people. Even after my Mom’s death, just a few weeks after she took her life people asked me if I was all better already.

    Real authentic life has to include real authentic times of anger and struggle, or coming up against the wall and banging your head for a while until you kick it down… or whatever healing metaphor works for you.

    I like you a lot. Thank you.

    1. I like you too, lady. 🙂 I think that church people can be really great in the initial moment of crisis. I’m thinking about Micha’s post about all the good Baptist women bringing casseroles when her grandfather died. I’m thinking of how quick that prayer chain can fire up, and everyone knows, and everyone who can helps. It can be a really beautiful thing.

      The problem is when the struggle lasts longer (or when it never had an obvious inciting incident in the first place). The problem is when it lasts indefinitely. It’s like we run out of patience for each other’s grief or anger. We run out of tangible things we can do or bring, and then we disappear. God help us learn this kind of long, patient love.

    2. Life is not a fairy tale, and many of us miss the happy-ever-after that we are all looking for. Life is tough and many people even in wealthy countries struggle in life, struggle with poverty, unemployment, indifferent people, lack of real friends and so on and so on. Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we should hide behind meaningless ‘nice platitudes’ or false niceness, we should be real and honest. If someone is really suffering for one reason or another, or they are severely depressed (and I’ve been severely depressed before today) that last thing they want or need is some well meaning person telling them to get better, or asking them to ‘snap out of it’! That is so patronising!

      Just being there for someone without judging them is often the best answer.

  5. Oh my, yes. I really like the Ghandi quote but I feel it is something we need to adopt for ourselves; very rarely should we extend it toward another and only then after we have spent time listening, waiting, and really seeing. And sometimes, there simply is not room for the kind of change we wish to see or be. Sometimes we have to move on from where we are.

    The thing about being in that place is it’s necessary to be angry and frustrated. There’s a purpose to it. As much as we or others would like to sweep it under the rug, it won’t stay there and so must be expressed. When we come out on the other side, whatever side it may be, we are better for it.

    1. I love that: the necessity of anger. So often it’s part of the process by which we grow and figure things out.

  6. The hardest thing for me to learn during church detox was to use the pronoun “I” and not “they.” Even if “they” was appropriate, it was far more important for me to first understand what I was thinking and how the actions of others had impacted me. If I couldn’t understand myself, how could I understand others? Once I faced up to where I was at and accepted my anger and disappointment, I was able to show a lot more grace and to process things in a much healthier way. But wow, it took a while,and a lot of people did not get that!

    1. I love your “church detox.” I had one of those too…less on purpose than out of sheer bitterness. But I think — especially for those of us who have grown up sort of enmeshed in our church cultures — it’s important to take some time out figuring out our relationship to the church. Sometimes we have to take a little time away to do that hard soul work that results in “I” instead of “they.” We need to get better at giving people grace to do that.

  7. Yes, beautiful. Sometimes I think church is just too BIG – that the angry and sad ones get lost in the handshakes and smiles. It’s been a hard season for us, and we haven’t been to church as much lately… but church doen’ts seem to notice. It’s my dear and true friends, my family, who offer to babysit or bring meals or clean, who are Jesus to me. I’m struggling with this – do we leave, do we try to find a smaller, closer-knit church who can truly be the hands and feet of Jesus to each other, or do we stick with it and try to be the change…

    1. I know. I struggle with the same thing at our fairly large church. I think during my own “angry season,” that was one of the nails in the coffin: we stopped coming to church and no one noticed or seemed to care. No one offered to meet me on neutral territory simply because they missed me.

      If the ones who need Jesus the most are “getting lost in the handshakes and smiles” (so beautifully said), I think we’re doing it wrong.

      Grace for your hard season, friend.

  8. You always write so well, and of things that matter, and of things that pertain so particularly to the culture I call my own. Thank you for this, Addie.

    I remember when my OCD was undiagnosed and I was attending a fundamentalist church (not even knowing this is what it was), and my questions always felt too thorny and prickly for the shiny, smiley faces that glowed all around me like human Jack-o-Lanterns.

    God never spoke to me like He did to those around me, and for this I felt inadequate.

    I had a Pentecostal student in one of the public speaking classes I taught at the time, and when we talked about God and I relayed one of my questions to him, He said he’d heard from God about me: “He says He loves you. If you’ll just seek His face, you will experience Him.” Of course, I immediately thought, “What on Earth does ‘seek His face’ mean? Is God’s face missing or something? Is He like Eleanor Rigby, keeping His face in a jar by the door?” 🙂 I just thought that was ludicrous.

    It helped when I was diagnosed with OCD, and when I met other Christians who didn’t have neatly packaged answers, and who could appreciate messiness in others because their own hearts were untidy. Boy did it help! 🙂

    Thanks for all you do, Addie. You’re a gem! 🙂

    – CTJ

    P. S. Don’t be the change. Spend the change on a Diet Coke, and let the caffeine change your countenance. 🙂

    1. Thanks for sharing this part of your story, Chad. (Did you see Miles’ response to it below? It’s kind of awesome.) It’s so interesting. I grew up learning all the “right” answers, perfectly packaged. I read all of these books on apologetics and had these fool-proof answers for every possible objection. But you’re right…that never really helps. It’s when we’re willing to admit our humanity and our own messiness, our lack of answers, that we’re of any use to each other. (You’re a gem too. Loved the Diet Coke reference.)

    2. Sometimes there are no easy answers; oh there are answers alright but we just don’t know them! I’ve avoided church all my life as a Christian because I have heard a million such stories as yours; people being nice and well meaning but not really being there for you in a real and practical way; what’s the point of being a Christian if you don’t have genuine love for your fellow humans?

      I have had depression and mild OCD; it’s something that you have to come to terms with and can’t wish away or get rid of by being insanely positive.

    1. I know. I too am forgetful about these sorts of things, partly because remembering is hard. Putting myself back there is hard. (Even writing this post was a little hard.) May God give us grace to go to the hard places with one another.

  9. Anger and the church. Inappropriate, uncomfortable, ungodly. Funny, I, having been raised in the church, am only now figuring out how to give myself permission to be happy or angry. I can be sad…sad is fine…but happy is selfish, and anger lacks self-control, so sad is all that’s left for me. And the church doesn’t know what to do with that either. Now this is just me. Not the church. In fact, its a little risky to accuse the church unless we really are defining it as it is given…people who are just uncomfortable dealing with reality. Including me.

    1. Yeah, we’re not great with emotion. I love what you said too about how when you say “the church,” you really mean yourself. I’m aware of this in myself right now. Who are the invisible angry and hurting in our midst right now? Where am I, since I’m not sitting with them in their pain? Why do I keep missing them?

  10. Ah, a breath of grace at last. I shared deeply and vulnerably with a lady from a church I was attending. The pains vomit lay smelly on the table between us. Then she said, “Don’t ever speak about these things again.” My cement walls were sealed, then and all the “Job’s friend’s answers,” had been thrown in my face. I later found a safe writing group, where I was allowed to speak. Healing started to come, and they listened and didn’t judge, and God listened. Thanks for listening with Jesus ears.

    1. I’m so sorry that happened to you Annette. That is not love, that is fear, and we are all so afraid sometimes.

      For me the healing and understanding didn’t come from traditional church groups either. A handful of (also struggling) friends who could relate. A writing group, yes. And therapy. I guess it’s a reminder that God is not limited to the church — it’s success or its failures — to heal us. What a hopeful thing.

  11. Addie: You seem to post what I need most lately. I have been in that hole for a long time and there is NO ONE who understands the darkness that walls us in even when we stand upright in front of everyone smiling to hid the pain. Trying to make sure that no one looks to closely or they will see all the suffering that is happening to us inside. I have been given the gift of masking…. I have a mask for when m kids are around, one for at work one for the few people I talk to and then the best one for church. I am sure someone knows that one. The one worn when everyone ask “How are you?” when they really don’t care that you are at church only because you were able to beg a car for the day since your car is dead …. forever and you have no means at all to get a new one. Geesh 1/2 the time you struggle just to put food on the table. But they don’t want to know about your hole… how deep it is or if they can help you get out… they just want to show others how caring they are and then rush home to their air conditioned house and relax watching the Olympics all while you struggle to get the car back to whom it belongs only to walk into a house that has no Air conditioning while praying it will cool off enough to allow your daughter to sleep that night.
    I pray God hears my cries, feels my pain and relieves it soon. It is really a hard hard place to be.

    Thank you for your words… they so say more than I ever could…and they remind me that I am not alone in this hole. Others are here with me.

    Amy

    1. Amy, I’m so sorry that you’re bearing such a heavy weight right now. That’s a lot for anyone to handle, and you must feel so tired. I hope that you can find the courage to take down the mask a little and show a few, kind people what’s really going on. I am praying that you are surprised by grace and an abundance of love.

  12. “Friends don’t let their friends go through hard times alone. Period!” – Kathy Escobar.

    When Elijah was hiding is his cave, God didn’t point fingers and tell him to get his butt out of there. God said, “What are you doing HERE Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9). God was right there in the darkness, the damp, amongst the spiders and bats. And if we are to be like God to our friends, we need to be there sitting in the mud right next to them, holding their hands, and listening to whatever stirs in their souls.

    And when the listening is done, offer them a hand and journey with them to whatever meal may be awaiting them outside in the Light.

    Love, love this, Addie (as usual!!).

    1. Great insights Jim. I love Kathy too…she has some great insights into how we help each other move through these cycles of cynicism and anger.

  13. Awesome as usual, sis. It always comes back to love. One of the things we need to be able to do is laugh with those who laugh, weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn. When did Jesus say, “get over it!” Why, then, would we?
    Fear, that’s why.
    And why do we fear? because we don’t have enough love in our lives. It always comes back to love. Always. Love never fails. It’s patient. It hangs in there. It listens. It hugs. And in the process fear flees. Darkness flees. Hurt is healed (perhaps scabbing over first).

    Chad: Maybe that student did hear from God. But he either only knew how to speak Pentecostal, or he was convinced it was the language of God. But God speaks Chad (and Miles, and…) as well– and if I’m afraid to speak Chad, there’s not much point in trying to deliver God’s message to Chad. You might get it, anyway, but then it would be in spite of me. Frankly, that’s not a place I like to be. 8^/

    And yes, I learned much of this the hard way.

    1. “God speaks Chad (and Miles, and…)…” I love that. Love is not being afraid to speak in a way that others can hear. Great comment Miles.

  14. I love that somewhere on this earth there is someone else who knows the Angry Place – and is still a Christian!

    I was thinking yesterday about Phil 2 and how Christ descended – not just to earth and humanity, but to death, and a disgraceful and shameful death. He just kept on going down, down, down. It strikes me that not many Christians have the courage to step down into the pit with others – we just shout advice from the top.

    For me, reading Job recently was a Big lightbulb moment – he moans for ages! I recently posted on this – Get angry at God: Job did. There is so much freedom in saying it is okay to be angry. http://tanyamarlow.com/?p=1134

    Thanking you once again for your words.

    1. I think that more people know the Angry Place than you’d think. Thanks for these great comments. I need to re-read Job again. The first time I did, I was still very young and “on fire,” and I identified more with the rotten friends than I did with the suffering job. Now that I’ve been to the Angry Place, I think I’d read it differently.

  15. Thank you for writing this. I can relate to so much about having my pain being dismissed by “church people”.

    Also, I dig your writing style. Nice use of white space (or pale eggshell-coloured space, as it were).

    In Christ,
    Steeny Lou

  16. I have come to suspect that we who twist and writhe in an honest ignorance do well when we cultivate compassion for those who persist in persecuting themselves and others in a rearguard action aimed at staving off an unnamed fear for their own spiritual safety. Perhaps such compassion is called for so that we do not ourselves fall into a countervailing persecution–a persecution, that is, of those who have not yet taken hold of the opportunity in turning square to, and gazing affectionately at, the responsibility of a ernest spiritual uncertainty. But more likely, such compassion just is the mark of one who can sustain their own gaze at an unknown other who looks back. Either way, I admire those who hold close the churning vitality of everyday life and who wrap tight in open display the cherished glimmer of a vulnerable courage to be, those who valiantly stand precariously poised beyond the edge of certainty, those who in the very tension of their desire might win the vantage point to savor the decisive moments–both mondain and divine–that together compose a singular song…a singular life.

  17. Wonderful perspective. Thank you, Addie.

    I’ve come to see many good, earnest church goers replace living with church and ‘religious’ activities – the church-equivalent of Paxil or pot. I used to be one of them (church, not pot, mind you). Instead, we should be filling ourselves with God. And with His work, which is very simple: To love Him and to love others. Loving Him, like anyone, does mean spending time in His company, hearing what he has to say through His word, prayer, sermons and community. And to ask Him questions just like I might call and ask you. This is beautiful and the ultimate (and only) source of peace I’ve found truly sustainable. The Christian is so rightly and vulnerably acquainted with our own human need but we can be so wrongly seeking it through a fluff and flurry of activity, that we miss the very nature of Christianity itself! That is….belief in God and communion with Him. It’s THE reason Christ died…that we may be restored and have relationship with Him. It’s so touching. And still amazes me that I can directly call to the God of the universe and receive a response, talk and listen so plainly (thankfully not audibly…yikes) as I do to you, or my mother, or my friends. Fulfillment comes in this, not in church activities. While these activities may be a part of fulfillment (it’s good to sing, to learn, to serve together), I wager (and am learning the hard way) that simply living in the world armed in good relationship with God and fellow man is a far better day-to-day teacher.

    It’s important to take time by quiet streams and green pastures to heal, to receive His word and really wrestle with what it’s saying. Church is a wonderful place to do this. But by seeking to balm our own wounds and woundedness ourselves (yes, that’s what we’re doing with over-churched-ness), we’re hiding in a church when the very PURPOSE of a church is to help bind the wounds and serve the needs of others. And in doing so, we overlook the very needs of even those inside and especially outside.

    So I make a motion! Let’s take Church time outside its traditional four walls for the majority of our week and celebrate/learn/receive when we return inside each week for a much-needed refresher. Instead of staving off suffering with programs, let’s allow it to have its way with us and begin to see/respond to it in others. Let’s have fearless confidence in a God who will use our lives in the world if we let Him and stop fearing it so much. And truly worship with His children when we reconvene.

    Jesus spent less time in the church than the Pharisees did. He blessed His church. He drove out thieves. He worshipped his Father there. But He didn’t hide there. Or ‘overeat’ on church programs. And he especially didn’t replace his shephard duties with a resume. His church is a people, not a place. He lived in the world and loved it’s people. Shouldn’t we?

  18. You may be my new best friend! 😀 I’ve read three of your posts today and have really enjoyed all of them. Nice writing style and refreshing honesty without losing sight of Truth. Someone told me recently (perhaps it was my daughter) that God is not afraid of our wrestling and in fact He welcomes it ala Jacob. And when we have held on in our wrestling, when we are touched…we walk differently after that. My anger burned for a long, long time…even after I came back to God. For years I would beg Him to change me, but in His grace and mercy He didn’t…He waited for the time when He could show me the heart of my anger and how incredible His grace was over me. I was angry at Him…the image I had had of Him and the whole time He kept singing a grace song over me and now I can finally hear. It is changing how I walk towards others…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

^
Back To Top