Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wherein I name my depression "Karl"

Luke 11:1-13

The Lord’s Prayer

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
   Your kingdom come. 
   Give us each day our daily bread. 
   And forgive us our sins,
     for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
   And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

Perseverance in Prayer

 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.”And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

This is one of those passages that is so full, so true that I feel like simply reading the passage out loud and then dropping the microphone and saying “peace out.” Maybe we could all call it a day go get ice cream or donuts or something.  Everything we need to know about Jesus and faith and Christianity and God and love and truth is all tied up right here. There’s really nothing more that could be said. Nothing, really, that could be said in a better way.

This is how to be a follower of Christ.  This is how to trust in God. 
This is how to pray:
That’s it.
Keep it simple, silly. (we don’t say “stupid” in our house...)

And yet, when it comes to praying, we just can’t keep it simple, can we? 
Even the disciples want to know the “right” way to pray.

When I was a young, idealistic evangelical in college, the “quiet time” was the bane of my existence.  I just couldn’t seem to get down to the business of praying every day.  I had a list of things that needed to be done in order for my time to be qualified as a legitimate “quiet time.”  Find a quiet room.  Make sure the room had the perfect ambiance - light a candle, close the drapes, kneel or sit cross legged by the bed, or prop the pillows just so, make a cup of herbal tea, play calming, but appropriately hip, Christian music in the background.  Read a particularly intense passage of scripture, preferably from Paul or Isaiah. And then I’d be ready to talk to God.  
But I had to talk to God in the right way.  First, adoration.  Then, praise. Then, thanksgiving, intercession, and then finally -- if I was still awake -- petition.  It was a mental marathon every morning before 18th Century American Lit. Class.  No wonder I’d usually just make very good friends with the snooze button.

It would go this way for years.  Going to bed with the best of intentions, only to wake up dreading what I “had” to do. Each day, I’d finally crawl out of bed feeling guilty for not spending time with God, promising to make time during the day to do it, sometime, later, then collapsing back into bed feeling a failure.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

It just so happened during those spiritually formative years that the weight of the world, the weight of my life, the gray curtain of blah, suffocated me so much that even sneaking up onto the roof of my dorm and smoking clove cigarettes wasn’t enough to keep me from wanting to jump from one of those Dutch windmills into Lake Macatawa. Like those black and white montessori cards for a two month old, depression had sucked me in.  

At first, depression was kinda the hip thing to suffer from, kinda sexy. And since I’d never before had a real boyfriend, let’s just call my depression, “Karl.” At first, Karl would just come around during deadlines: midterms, term paper due dates, final exams.  He’d hang out at the end of my bed and, with sultry, seductive eyes, ask, “what’s the point, anyway?”  Wooed by his ability to wear factory torn jeans with a sense of irony, I’d believe him, and he’d start to come by more often.  At first, like a nervous teen, I’d invite him over.  I’d read textbooks about the Holocaust and the Black Plague, and the rise of the patriarchy. Then, eventually, he’d just show up out of the blue to criticize me. He became “that” boyfriend.  He’d join me in the cafeteria line, questioning my choice of french fries and ranch dressing for lunch. He’d ask if maybe I should buy a larger pair of jeans or try that new acne cream. We’d ride together on those dutch bikes, tempting me to swerve just enough into traffic.  He’d be the pillow I’d smother myself in when I cried myself to sleep.  He was that persistent dull headache.  He was the voice in my head that said, “why even bother to jump from a bridge into Lake Macatawa; it’s not even worth the effort.” 

Needless to say, I needed to quit Karl.
But he was so wrapped up with me -- or I was so wrapped up with him -- that I couldn’t tell the difference between Karl and me.  Between my depression and who I really was.  Like Brangelina, or Benifer, or Kimye, Karl and I were TIGHT.  We were #Jarl?  #Jenrl? #Karlifer?

And do you know what my “Christian” friends told me?  Get back to those quiet times.  Pray more. This is my fault because I wasn’t putting God before everything else. With God as my first priority, Karl would fade into the sunset, be kicked to the curb.

But anyone who has suffered from depression knows that the LAST thing you want to do is be alone with your own thoughts.  That’s like leaving the front door unlocked, your windows open, your phone off the hook, just waiting for Karl to come bursting into your house wearing a ski mask and looking for where you keep your jewelry and your savings bonds. 

Praying only made things worse.  

I’d talk to “God” about my sins.  About how awful I was.  About how I sucked at quiet times, sucked at being a friend, sucked at being a student, sucked at being human. God  had given me so much, and how do I repay “him?” By ignoring him like a spoiled brat.  I’d leave my “quiet times” worse off than when I started -- and hearing nothing but my own self-hatred and God’s big fat silence.

Lord. Teach us to pray.

How did I finally “quit” Karl?  

Some people loved me.  I talked to some great shrinks. I popped antidepressants like vitamins. 

Oh, He’s still around. But more like that cat that needs to be stroked a few times before he runs out the door and disappears for a few days.

I started to attend a tiny Hispanic church over by the train tracks.  Crossroads Chapel.
This was a mess of a church.  It usually started about 15 minutes late.  Every song went to the rhythm of “boom chick chick, boom chick chick,” and worship consisted of people shouting out their song requests from creaking, rusting folding chairs.  And the pastor who was also the music leader, who also was the janitor, and administrative assistant was also the Spanish-to-English translator.

In fact, he would get so lost in all his many roles, so lost, especially in his translating, that if you didn’t speak both English and Spanish, his sermons would rarely make sense.  

But wonderfully, gracefully, amazingly, these people knew how to pray.  And they all prayed in Spanish.  And wonderfully, gracefully, amazingly, I don’t speak Spanish.
Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo.
Santificado sea tu nombre.
Venga tu reino.
Hágase tu voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo.
Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día.
Perdona nuestras ofensas, como también nosotros perdonamos a los que nos ofenden.
No nos dejes caer en tentación y líbranos del mal.
Most of the time, I’d have very little idea of what was going on in that church.
And that was fine with me.

When someone else was praying in Spanish, I didn’t know for what, or how, or whether or not I agreed with her theology, or shared his political preference, or even knew his name; it didn’t matter.  They were praying.  And in a way, they were praying for me, instead of me, praying in my stead. It didn’t even matter if I liked God at the time, or trusted God, loved God, or even if I believed in God.  They did.  They liked and trusted and loved and believed for me.  I didn’t have to understand how. Or why. They just carried me.
And I sat in silence.  And let it all wash over me. 
I’d feel what I felt.  Anger. Exhaustion.  Confusion. Deep, profound sadness.
And slowly, I’d give that to God.  Not in a way that was a “let go and let God” sort of “giving.” But as an offering. I’d tell God, “well, I got nothin’ in these hands but a bunch of anger and confusion.  And all it seems you’ve got is a whole lot of silence.  So. So, here we are.”
And then I’d pray to God about how much it hurt. About how dark it was.  About how I wanted to just close my eyes and never wake up.

And then I’d ask to make it to another Sunday. And another. And maybe just one more. 

And people would start to look for me during the passing of the peace.
And they learned my name. And I learned theirs.
And I’d go up for communion.  
And I’d take the bread and dip it in the juice and I’d tell God, “Well, I am so angry at you and your maddening silence that I could spit, and I’m probably not even talking to anything real right now anyway, but I’m hungry.  And I believe that I’m holding bread.  And I believe that this is juice.  And someone’s looking me in the eye as she offers it to me, and she says, “the body of Christ,” and I don’t know what that means, but bodies are good, even if I hate mine, so I’m going to take and eat. And maybe come back next week. Amen.”

It felt like God was that friend - the one from our passage - who slammed the door on me when I asked for bread. 
And like a stubborn toddler who demands his mother’s attention, saying “Momma! Momma! Momma! Momma!” until Momma finally says, “WHAT!?!,” and then gives me the bread I asked for, I knocked so hard my knuckles bled. I sought so hard my eyes dried out and turned red and I used toothpicks to hold them open.  I asked until my voice was hoarse and my throat was dry and I needed a trache because I could hardly breathe.

And then I entered into a community that knocked for and with me.
I joined a family who sought God in honesty and vulnerability.
I joined in a chorus of voices - some silent, some rowdy and raucous, some quietly petitioning - asking and asking and asking.

Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father.”

Not “My Father.” 

Maybe we have the words.  Maybe we don’t. 
Maybe we are experiencing the mountaintop high of conviction that God is real and directing our every move.  Or maybe we are so lost we don’t even know which end is up.  Maybe we’re just cruising along, numbly ambivalent.

We aren’t praying alone.  Even when we don’t think we’re praying at all. 

It’s “Give US this day OUR daily bread.” 
Not “Give ME this day MY daily bread.”

We ask God to forgive OUR sins, not just mine.

We ask that God not bring US into a time of trial - even if I feel like I am suffering from that time myself.

I’m not fed unless you are.
I’m not forgiven unless we all are.

And if I’m hungry, then you are too.
If you’re worn and weak and flailing on the ground, then I am too.

And if you’re praying along with the rest of the communion of saints, then somehow, I am too. Even if I’m not saying a word.  Even if I don’t believe or understand or claim one bit of it.

It’s vital that we pray this prayer in the first person plural.  We need the “we.”

And so, together, in the Lord’s Prayer, we cry out into the silence with the audacity of a child who forgets to say please and thank you. We just demand what we want. What we need.

It’s a bossy, audacious prayer.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we become one collective, demanding toddler.  We call out “Dadda,  Dadda! Dadda! Daaaaaaadddda!” Until we get a response.  
Give us! Forgive us! Lead us! Deliver us! 
We are really praying when we come before God as our authentic, broken, messed-up selves.  Not when we’ve got it all figured out, or when we are believing it right or when we feel particularly grateful or faithful or full.  Not even when we’ve convinced ourselves that we’ve finally “given our lives to Christ for real this time.”
Real prayer comes from when we are hungry, from when we don’t know how to pray, from when we are so smothered in clouds of desperation that we can’t fathom a way out. Prayer comes from our deepest need, our fullest brokenness. 

Slapping that snooze button was a prayer.
Weeping into my pillow was a prayer.
Lying numb and broken in my dorm room was a prayer.
Not jumping into Lake Macatawa was a prayer.
Sitting with my arms crossed and rolling my eyes during the services at Crossroads Chapel was a prayer.
Closing my eyes and letting the Spanish voices wash over me was a prayer.  
Opening my eyes to the day was a prayer.
And God’s response usually comes in the form of bread and juice, or collective prayers in foreign languages, or when someone looks you in the eye or remembers your name, or maybe when you get a little release from that tension you keep in between your eyes or between your ribs. It comes when you finally have the strength to kick Karl out of your dorm room, or at least ignore him, or put him in a  monogrammed pillow at the end of your bed where you can at least tell him to “sit,” “stay,” and “be quiet.”  God’s response comes through an eventual lifting of the fog.   

Lord, teach Us - all of us - together - to be real. To be honest. To be hungry. To need. To carry each other. To face the day. 

Lord, teach us to pray.


1 comment:

  1. Amen, Jennifer. I know of what you preached. While reading I felt somehow you saw God through my eyes. Sorry about Karl. :-( I love you.