When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend…

What do you do when your life falls apart? When your mind falls apart? How do you walk with a friend who is breaking before your very eyes?

Have you ever felt utterly alone? Misunderstood? Unable to make sense of the blizzard in your brain… let alone explain it to someone else.

In July 2005 Mark Meynell and his family moved to London so that Mark could take on his dream job on the ministry team at All Souls Church in central London. He writes, ‘everything went without a hitch. Until my mind seemed to fall apart‘.

In his new book, Mark writes in his usual engaging manner with raw honesty, deep insight and courageous vulnerability.

This book is a must read for anyone who is walking the road of mental illness or who walks alongside those who do. Mark’s candid and winsome explanation of life ‘in the cave’ is deeply moving.

In reading this book you will be given the privilege of a window in to one man’s deepest pain. In allowing you this remarkable opportunity, no doubt at great cost to himself, Mark offers the reader understanding, companionship and hope.

This book doesn’t offer the tidy answers we might desire. In refusing to give in to trite platitudes Mark allows the reader to remove their mask, engage with their deepest questions and in the end to be driven to Christ where we find the one who truly walks with us in the cave.

Buy and read this book, you won’t regret it.

When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend comes out on 17th May and is available to order from 10ofthose, the good book company, Amazon or IVP.

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What do you have faith in? (Guest Post – Linda Allcock)

Having one of those days where God has me surrounded. Everywhere I turn I am getting the same message. ‘Have faith in God.’

Simple you might say. Basic. Elementary. How can I not have got this message by now?

Well truth be told, I thought I had it nailed. Sat in the early morning prayer meeting in Costa I was quite proud that my faith had got me out of bed in time. In spite of losing an hour to BST.
The passage we read seemed pretty simple to understand – Mark 11:22-24 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Keen to demonstrate my faith in God, I upped my game slightly on the prayer requests ‘God, please help me to really believe you can save my parents.’ Thought I had it sussed. Have faith in God. Yup.
Then, on the tube, I picked up Clare Heath-Whyte’s latest book, For richer for poorer. I was onto chapter 3, Mary Muller. Wife of George. They lived their whole married life by faith in God. I read on with interest. This meant often having nothing but the loaf of bread in front of them, without enough in the purse for the next one. So they would pray ‘give us today our daily bread.’ And they would mean it. They kept lists. Lists of the prayers that God faithfully answered every time they needed food, or clothing or medicine or prayers. 
Alongside reading on the tube I had also mentally been lamenting the lack of anything decent in the house for dinner, not an unusual experience at this point in the week (it was Tesco-delivery-coming-tomorrow day). It struck me to my shame that my cupboards and fridge are, relatively speaking, overflowing. I recalled the post prayer meeting moan to a friend about how often our house is used for ministry and what a hassle it is to have to keep it tidy. My home, that is the one we live in, that we call our own, in comparison to the tiny house that George and Mary lodged in, alongside thirty orphan girls.
Don’t get me wrong. I have great faith. Unfortunately, I reflected, that faith is in all the wrong places. It’s in my Tesco delivery, or my ability to reserve the ideal slot for the upcoming meals. It’s in daydreaming about what extra work I could pick up that month to cover our shortfalls in budget (by which I mean so that we can afford the horrendously overpriced sports kit our son ‘needs’ to be able to take part in the races, rather than a loaf of much needed bread). It’s in scanning the second hand sites to pick up cheap school stuff and ski gear for a planned trip to my brother in freezing Kazakhstan.
Why do I never think of turning to my Father in prayer? I claim to have faith in God, but where is the evidence? And even when I do pray the Lord’s prayer I’m not sure I have ever really meant ‘give us today our daily bread.’
By having faith in myself, I am missing the point of what Jesus came to do. In Mark he came to destroy the old house of prayer and rebuild a new one. Through his death on the cross, our house of prayer is now in him. And what a relationship this is – we can ask for anything in his name and we will receive it. Wow. A relationship with God where I see the impossible happen in the everyday. What a privilege. In a way I envy Mary and George. In having nothing, they really possessed everything because they had a Mark 11 faith in God.
So here’s an impossible request: “God, help me to really learn to have faith in you. Not myself, or Tesco, or the education system, or my work, career or bank balance. May my faith be utterly, entirely, only in you. May that be seen in the way that I pray.”
This is a guest post from Linda Allcock who is part of the Globe Church family. Thank you Linda!

Spring is coming… (Guest Post – Linda Allcock)

The wonderful Linda Allcock has kindly agreed to write the odd guest post for this blog. Linda lives and works in London, she is Mum to three little lads and wife to Jonty. They follow Jesus and are part of the Globe Church family which meets on the Southbank near the Tate Modern. Tuck in and enjoy her first guest post…

21st March. Spring is officially here. The warm sun on my back as I walk along the Southbank, waking to the sound of birdsong, seeing frogs in the pond, all confirm it. Winter is past.

Earlier in the week winter was definitely still hanging around. In my heart. For the last few weeks I had been harbouring a bitterness and resentment towards a friend who had let me down. I don’t know why, but this time it was once too many. I was still speaking courteously to them, convincing myself that it was all ok between us. But the truth of Psalm 32 was very real to me – ‘When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped…’

I was waking early each morning feeling guilty and rubbish about myself. My thoughts were bitter and I was ruminating over past hurts. I really felt the way that CS Lewis so vividly describes the reign of evil in Narnia: ‘always winter, never spring.’

I would love to tell you that by reflecting on all the ways I have let Jesus down, I was able to see my friend’s sin in perspective, and forgive. The way that Jesus exhorts us to in the parable of the unmerciful servant, Matthew 18:21-35. But I if I’m honest, I was unwilling.

The catalyst for change was surprising. It came as I saw the vulnerability of my friend. In the course of a brief conversation, it became apparent that though I was hurting, they too were hurt by me giving them the cold shoulder. If I dug deep, I realised that I was expecting them to treat me perfectly, always to be faithful, never let me down, to be there for me when I needed them. In short, I was asking them to be God.

I realised they were only human after all (to quote Rag and Bone Man, that well known theological consultant ;-). We cannot expect others to be perfect and we are being unrealistic when we don’t allow space in relationships for failure. Only God is perfect. He is our Rock. Ever faithful, unchanging, always there for us.

Seeing their humanity, recognising that I am just as bad, enabled me to forgive. I am no better than they. Who am I to think that somehow, I deserve forgiveness for all the times I fail, but they don’t?

The relief that came was tangible, as I acknowledged my sin, and did not cover up my iniquity. As I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ Psalm 32:5. The verse goes on: ‘And you forgave the guilt of my sin.’ Spring came to my heart – the next morning I awoke not only to the sound of birdsong outside, but to a peace in my heart. The peace of knowing I am forgiven – even as I have forgiven others.

What is thrilling is that alongside this, I am seeing the very first spring coming in the heart of a friend. She came along to an event at church and was really struck by the idea – new to her – that we could know God. She took away a gospel of Mark and has been carefully and thoughtfully reading it. She is rearranging her diary to try to come along to church. She is blown away by the idea that we could have a relationship with God, listening to him, speaking with him, knowing that she can be forgiven and loved.

Spring is coming! Have you felt its warmth?

Where do you take your pain?

What do you do when you feel side splitting pain?

Like you might throw up, shaky, fearful, a throbbing head, darkness overtaking your body.

After bereavement, in sickness, depressed, lost, empty.

Those who love you are still there, but they can’t reach you.

Where do you turn?

There is great solace to be found in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Yeah, yeah I hear you say – know that story, I was hoping for more than that.

Whether or not we believe Jesus’ death accomplished the forgiveness of sins, many of us know the account. But have you ever read in when you are in the midst of pain, of isolation, shame and fear?

I once read Matthew 27 when I was in such a place.

It is the account of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and burial. There is so much in this text, it takes us right to the heart of the good news that Christians believe with the Centurion’s cry, ‘Surely he was the Son of God’. But that is a whole other blog.

As I read the text I was struck by how Jesus identifies with our pain in the narrative. Or how we can identify with him.

Consider these events:

  • Have you been falsely accused? Are people speaking untruth about you? Have you been misunderstood? – Jesus was innocent, falsely accused of crimes he did not commit and condemned to death for them.
  • Are you suffering as the result of another’s self interest? – Jesus was betrayed by a close friend for some cash, he was hated by the leaders because of the threat he presented to their power.
  • Have you been violated, exposed and shamed? – Jesus was stripped by the soldiers, he knows the shame of being exposed and brutalised.
  • Do you know the pain of being mocked, ridiculed, perhaps scorned? – Jesus was mocked, jeered at, spat at, laughed at.
  • Do you feel abandoned by God? Alone? – Jesus was totally abandoned by God, he prayed for his Father to make another way, to take away the pain he would endure, but God didn’t do that. On the cross Jesus cried out to God asking Him why He had forsaken him.

Jesus knows what it is to feel all these things and more.

So where do you take your pain… the shame you feel… the isolation…?

Jesus achieved many things on the cross, primarily he opened the way for all our shame and wrongdoing to be washed away. But also in this account we see a man who gets it, who knows what these feelings are like, who we can identify with in our shame, our pain and isolation.

It is the Christian belief that this man, Jesus Christ, is God, God’s Son. If that is true, then this identification we have, with the Jesus who suffered unjustly at both the hands of those closest to him and the authorities of the day, is more than just a nice fuzzy feeling that someone has been there before.

Rather it is God, the God-man, exposing himself to shame, pain, isolation and more. If it is God up on that cross, this identification takes on a whole new power.

The God we can talk to, who we can hear from today… that same God knows what it is to suffer, to be exposed, betrayed, shamed and violated.

  • How does that make you feel towards Him?
  • How does that make you feel about your pain?

Grasping this also raises lots of questions! But there is a comfort to be found, a peace that can settle the heart.

The problems don’t go away, the pain may still pierce just as deep, but somehow that knowledge that the God who rules the world, who knows the details of my life far better than I know them myself, knows these feelings, that He identifies with my pain, shame and isolation… is a comfort.

We can find rest in the knowledge that He gets it. He knows it and He is in control.

 

 

 

So how does Depression affect you?

In this life we all have different struggles, ups and downs. Some of them are quite universal, for example, we all know the feeling of being out of our depth, perhaps in a job we don’t feel qualified for, writing an essay we don’t understand, sitting an exam we didn’t revise for enough or entering a new stage of life – moving to a new city, parenthood, etc.

Others are not common to everyone, for example, illness. Not all of us know what it is like to be told we have cancer, or that a loved one has cancer. We don’t all know the fear of being sat down and told we have MS. These experiences are hard to make sense of until you experience them, we can imagine, but never fully understand.

So too with depression.

One of the most challenging things about understanding depression is that you can’t see it and without experiencing life in the grips of this illness it can be difficult to make sense what all the fuss is about.

But there certainly is fuss.

The sufferer can be irritable, angry, apathetic about life. They may let you down, cancel on you a lot, fail to respond to messages or take the help you are offering. There might be self harm, under eating, overeating or even suicide attempts.

Sometimes it will seem like they are lazy, selfish and attention seeking. Maybe they are short with you, forget important things that they normally wouldn’t or just seem like a totally different person from the one you got to know.

This is hard!

Being friends with someone suffering from depression can be a real challenge. I can say that, I have depression and I am blessed with wonderful, compassionate friends who are patient and kind. Those of us with depression know it is hard and we are really sorry, we don’t want to be like this. Sometimes we get stuff wrong because we are human and selfish, sometimes it is because we are ill.

Like the cancer sufferer who needs you to take them to hospital appointments, sit with them as they cry and support them whilst they are off work, so too the sufferer of depression needs help, love and care.

I think it can also be a real blessing have friends facing illness, be that cancer, depression or something else – but more on that another time.

Because you can’t see depression it can be particularly hard for people to understand.

Good friends might ask – so how does depression affect you? What does it feel like?

I have been asked this a few times in the past couple of weeks and I don’t think my answers were very helpful. I found it hard to articulate an answer.

So I have been thinking about it a bit more, here are some ways that attempt to explain how depression affects people who live with it day by day:

  • Imagine you are lying down and the weight of a building is on top of you – a strong, immovable even weight over your whole body, restricting all movement and crushing you. You can’t move without the weight pressing down on you, even thinking is difficult as you are crushed. This makes replying to a text or going to buy some milk feel like an impossible task, your body is held down by a crushing weight.
  • Have you read the Harry Potter books? Remember the Dementors? Depression feels a bit like spending time with one of them. This is how Lupin describes them in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Dementors… infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.‘ 
  • It is a bit like your whole body is being both sucked in to itself, as if you are shrinking in to your stomach but at the same time you might also explode. Adrenaline pulses through your body, your heart rate feels like it is on overdrive but at the same time you are withdrawn, quiet, trying to hide from the world, afraid you might just collapse or explode.
  • It feels like being the living dead – all colour has gone from the world, energy is sapped away, love and life seem to be a thing of the past. Worst of all it seems like there is no hope of these things ever returning.
  • Vincent Van Gogh wrote about it to his brother Theo, his description is a helpful one, ‘I am so angry with myself because I cannot do what I should like to do, and at such a moment one feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless.‘ This is part of the challenge, not only are you feeling bound at the bottom of a dark pit, you are mad at yourself for it, riddled with guilt – sure, there will be things to feel guilty about, but having depression is not one of them!
  • You feel bad for just existing – there is a deep sense of shame that stays with you always. This is different from guilt, guilt is about when we do something that is wrong. It can be forgiven. Shame is about who we are, it isn’t that I did something bad (which leads to guilt), it is that I am bad, it is who I am. This is very very hard to shift!
  • A feeling of total exhaustion and emptiness but coupled with the inability to sleep. This can lead to despair.
  • Some have described depression as like living in a dark, dank cave. The more you sink the deeper you fall in to the cave – sometimes it is like you are constantly falling, further and further away from those you love, you can’t really see or hear them any more, just muffled voices that don’t connect. The darkness is overwhelming, isolating and terrifying.

I’m not sure any of this really makes sense but it is an attempt to put in to words something that in my experience is impossible to express. The words I have used here do not accurately describe the experience of the sufferer, but they try to get close.

If this is something you live with, do share any ways you have found to explain to others.

If you don’t live with this then I am hoping this might help you come alongside friends who do. Hopefully it makes sense of why things like cooking, washing, cleaning, working, thinking and eating can be a challenge. When you see people achieving these things – it is a remarkable achievement!

THANK YOU so much to those friends who ask, who try to understand and who walk faithfully alongside. Those of us who face this stuff are blessed to know you.

There is stuff that can be done and said to help – but that is for another day.

Let’s Talk About Sex

‘So tell me – have you ever experienced an orgasm?’

These were words spoken to me by a medical professional several years ago now. I had never met this woman before and the words rolled off her tongue like it was the most normal question in the world. They shocked me.

Apologies if recording this for you has made you blush.

Don’t worry – I am not going to let you in to the inner workings of my sex life in this post, but I am going to use it as a space to encourage you to talk about sex.

Not on the internet…

Not to everyone you know…

But to someone…

Christians have a reputation for being a bit stuffy about sex, old fashioned, prudish even. In many ways we have earned it! Sometimes all that is heard from the Christian corner is negative – you mustn’t do x, or y, and definitely not z…

This is a real shame.

God made us as sexual beings, He invented sex and He thinks it is very good! The Bible celebrates sex, have a read of this:

‘How beautiful you are and how pleasing, my love, with your delights! Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.” May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine’. Song of Songs 7:6-9

In 1 Corinthians 7, married couples are encouraged to have sex, and lots of it.

Proverbs 5:19 says, ‘may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love‘.

God certainly isn’t ashamed to talk about sex. He made us, part of the make up he gave us was to be sexual and he encourages us to think and talk about how to live out our sexuality in a way that is for our good.

The Bible says loads about what is good for us as humans sexually, the point of this post is not to give a comprehensive treatment of how God wants us to live out our sexuality. For that have a read of the Bible and see what conclusion God comes to.

My aim here is simply to say that we don’t need to be ashamed of our sexuality and it is good to have a few friends in your life who you can talk about these things with.

We don’t have to figure these things out on our own.

Sex is something we hear loads about, in our culture, from nights out, magazines and films. But is there anyone in your life who you can talk to, really talk to about it?

Whether happily single, desiring sex or maybe scared of it, dating and unsure of what goes and what doesn’t, or married and struggling with sex or really enjoying it. Your history might be peppered with bad experiences, regrets, abuse, trauma even. Or you might be inexperienced, hopeful, excited, perhaps confused.

These experiences are common. Even in the relationships where sex is easy, thrilling and full of safety, love and intimacy, there will come times when it is difficult. There are so many reasons – illness, child birth, loss of desire, exhaustion, I could go on…

What are your hopes, struggles, fears and battles at the moment?

Are you walking them alone? Or have you got a trusted friend or two who can walk the journey with you?

Do you struggle in this area? We all do sometimes… Who could you show some vulnerability with, open up to? It might be a blessing to you and it could help them find relief and help in being able to share with you too.

Whether single, dating or married – we all need trusted friends with whom we can talk about these things, who we can ask questions of, share challenges with and encourage.

I wouldn’t recommend going in with the question the medical professional posed to me! But with a close and trusted friend, how about asking something like:

  • How are things going in your marriage/relationship at the moment? Are there any particular joys or struggles?
  • Are you finding you and [insert name of partner] get enough time together? Are you able to communicate love and care for each other? How is that going?
  • I am finding [insert your challenge] hard at the moment, is there anything you are struggling with? Perhaps we can help each other.
  • How are you finding the joys and struggles of singleness at the moment?
  • I guess we all have a distorted view of sex and sometimes it is hard and awkward to talk about but I hope we might be able to in order to help each other grow in this area. What do you think?

Just some ideas to get these conversations started…

 

 

 

#UniMentalHealthDay

I have had the privilege of working with students in London for the past 4 years. It has been such a joy for me to get to know many intelligent, compassionate and interesting students during this time.

One thing that has stood out to me as I have worked with these young men and women is the prevalent problem of poor mental health.

I studied in sleepy St Andrews 10 years ago – I and some of my classmates battled mental illness. But in my experience there was nothing like the number of students struggling in this area back in my St Andrews days compared with what I see in London today.

Continue reading “#UniMentalHealthDay”