The challenge that is faith...
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."
If only that were possible. My training in looking after my own mental health is all about finding the same peace mentioned in the bit of Philippians just before my favourite quote of all:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
The argument I had with the therapist was precisely that it - peace - surpasses all understanding, and my inclination is to seek understanding in everything I undertake, including my own mind. The armour that I had worn for 30-odd years of my life up to that point was that I could seek a deeper understanding and, usually, find it. And if understanding didn't bring comfort, at least it brought a type of knowledge of the world that could lead away from disappointment, frustration and anger. To be stripped of that armour by a mental illness that I didn't understand and couldn't conceive of a way of countering was as devastating as any grief I have experienced. It might be better to say that it encapsulated all the grief I have experienced, or that it - the illness - was a kind of conduit to the front of my thoughts for all that grief.
I have been in danger, since being trained to be mindful, of feeling something approaching peace. Aided occasionally (and indeed currently) by the softening, cushioning effect of anti-depressant medication, I have been able to hold off some of the introspective dwelling on negatives that is so destructive in my personal experience. I have learned to accept that the things in the past cannot be altered, and that those things that have happened - including the ones where I did wrong, or failed to be kind, or otherwise let myself or someone else down - bring me to the point I am at today. Some of those reflections have the odd character of bringing on a smile, followed by emptiness or sadness. The best way I can characterise it is the excitement and promise of something great about to happen - that is real enough, and it is enjoyable when it is happening - then the disappointment of that promise remaining unfulfilled. Some people seem to be able to accept the disappointment without it tarnishing the enjoyment that came before, but not me. But the point is that at times I have felt able to distance myself from those reflections, able - as the therapy trains - to step back from the thoughts, to disengage, to let them go without grasping on to them. To hand them over to God, I suppose. And that is the great promise of Christianity, the idea that it will bring salvation to those who truly believe in it. I don't disagree with the moral teachings of Jesus himself - because they amount, as I have stated before, to not much more than 'be nice to everyone as much as you can' - but the promise that this will be rewarded with an eternity of peace does not ring true, because I can't swallow the metaphysical commitment that it needs.
But peace is short-lived, fragile, easy to upset. Peace that is based on faith and hope in people is prone to disappointment when those people, inevitably perhaps, don't live up to the faith that is placed in them. I would love to be one of those people who can build a sort of castle of immunity around themselves, a set of mental (and physical) barriers that prevent harm by stopping you opening yourself up to it in the first place. But for whatever reason I seem to not be able to. Sometimes that is what I like about myself, although it causes me problems as well. It allows the connection I make to be deep and fulfilling, immune to the effects of distance, time, prolonged and even enforced silence. But it makes you vulnerable. 'So human', perhaps, as my departed colleague and friend once described me.
So - and this is an undertaking, a wishlist rather than a promise, let me finally decouple myself from the desperate struggle I have had with faith, with the idea of a personal God judging me in the world, with the sense that good and bad done are answerable to some higher power or that those things done might be the route into heaven (or the barrier to it). Let me instead have faith in the life I have, in the people I have shared a few moments with, whatever the circumstances. Let me find peace when things around me go wrong, whether they be mundane or significant, let me be free of anger and guilt and judgement.
Life is long, and there is time for things that are wrong to be righted. "Live, then, and be happy, beloved of my heart, and never forget, that until the day God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, 'Wait and Hope'."
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought