The Art of Lent – Day 5, Monday

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, on final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Philippians 4:6-8 NLT

As you read these verses, write down seven words that stand out to you. Use these seven words to write a poem, with each word in your list as the first word of each line. Your poem doesn’t have to rhyme or follow any set verse pattern, so just follow God’s prompting and write what fills your heart.

The Art of Lent – Day 4, Saturday

Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have – Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials – gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward.

1 Corinthians 3:10-14 NLT

Jesus is our foundation, our cornerstone. In this passage, our works are imagined to be a building that will survive the fire of judgment so long as everything is built on Jesus. Draw the temple that you are building on Christ. Then draw the temple you have built with your self or the world as a foundation. What are your bricks made of for each temple? How solid is the foundation of each temple?

The Art of Lent – Day 3, Friday

And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Matthew 6:16-18 NLT

Fasting as a spiritual discipline serves to focus our energy on God, and not to draw accolades on ourselves. Using this scripture as a reference, write an advice column answer to someone seeking guidance on fasting.

The Art of Lent – Day 2, Thursday

Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.

John 10:37-38 NLT

The miracles Jesus did left evidence behind, and that evidence pointed straight to Jesus being the Son of God. What evidence of Jesus at work do you see in your own life? Draw something that represents the proof that he is working in your life and that Jesus is who he says he is.

The Art of Lent – Day 1, Wednesday

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James 5:13-16 NLT

The power of God animates prayer and provides us with a direct line of communication with our creator. As you sit with these verses and pour out your heart to God, write him a letter about what comes to mind most as you pray. Are you suffering hardships? Pray about them as a letter. Are you happy? Write a letter full of praises. Is your heart burdened by unconfessed sin? Confess it in your letter.

A Lenten Invitation

Depending on your experience with church traditions, you may or may not care that the season of Lent begins today. If it’s not something you’re familiar with, Lent is the 46 day period preceding Easter Sunday that begins on Ash Wednesday. You’ve probably heard of Lent as a 40 day period of fasting (people often choose one thing to “give up” during Lent, like meat or coffee or chocolate), so 46 days seems like church people are bad at calendar math. The old traditions of Lent required some form of fasting every day except Sunday, so the “extra” 6 days are the 6 Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Lenten fasting in current traditions varies by church denomination if it is observed at all.

I grew up going to Baptist churches, and that’s still where I attend, so I’m not as familiar with Lent as a regular yearly practice, but I think it’s a lovely tradition that focuses on spiritual discipline and preparing our hearts for Easter in the same way that Advent looks forward to Christmas. Several years ago, I led a group that focused on creativity as a way to worship God and study the Bible, and I wrote some creative journaling prompts for the group Lent. Rather than fasting, we decided to focus on the spiritual discipline of daily Bible study in the 40 days (plus the 6 Sundays…) leading up to Easter.

For a whole lot of reasons, this year I want to share those prompts with anyone who’d like to journal through Lent and build a practice of daily Bible study. Each day’s prompt has a short Bible passage to read and then something to write or draw in response. I’ll share each day’s prompt here on the blog as well as social media each morning. I’ll use #artoflent on the social media posts if that will help you find them. As I update this site and my e-mail list, I’ll point you to options to sign up for a daily e-mail version. (My goal is to have that worked out by the end of the week, but in the interest of being honest, there are some other things that need to take priority over blog work.)

If this turns out to be something you love, please feel free to share the prompts if you know someone else who might enjoy them. As always, I’d love to see what you create if you are willing to share it. You can comment, tag me on social media (also use #artoflent), or e-mail me at mabbat@gmail.com if you don’t want to share publicly. Even if creative work isn’t your thing, I pray that the verses each day will draw your heart to meditate on God’s word and the sacrifice of Jesus that is the focal point of church Easter traditions, regardless of denomination. I pray that this Lenten Season will be a time of renewed spiritual discipline and deeper faith. And I’m planning to return to regular content posting after Easter.

Doing New Things – Three Things Thursday

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19 NLT
That moment when you break 18 eggs all at one time 😱

Friends, this week has been a constant mess, from breaking an entire carton of eggs to fighting with the tiny human about school work and getting chili oil in my eyes. Normally at this point in a week like this, I’d be done – so over it that I would just cruise through with the minimum effort needed to get to the weekend so at least the schoolwork arguments would end for a few days.

BUT…

I only cried when I got chili oil in my eyes.  I didn’t even lose my crap when the dog took a nap in actual crap and tried to come inside with crap all over her shoulder.  And all those eggs I broke Monday?  We had delightful quiches for breakfast this morning.  (Yes, I just said “delightful” about quiche, and I feel just as weird about it as you do now.)  I feel okay in spite of all the mess, and that’s a new thing for me.

I finally feel like there is a very real pathway through the desert for me, and there is a river flowing through the dry wasteland that is depression brain (besides the chili oil tears from my eyes).  So here are the three things you should know this Thursday:

1. There is always hope.

I know from my own experience that it doesn’t always feel like it.  I haven’t ever really been suicidal, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought the world would be better off without me.  But that was a lie from the pit of Hell that is never something God would say to you or want you to say to yourself.  We are each specially designed by God and valuable as his work of art and destined to fulfill his purpose in our lives.  Never stop believing that.

2. I had to make changes for the better in every aspect of my life and be consistent with those daily actions to see this giant improvement.

I started with a few things and built on it, but God isn’t just interested in our spiritual health.  He wants us to be healthy and strong in our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our work, and our faith.  You may have to address the biggest fire first, but it takes a whole being approach to reap the biggest change rewards.

3. At some point, I will relapse and have depression symptoms again.

I’ve dealt with it long enough to recognize that I will not be one of those people who has an episode or two and then gets over it.  I will need to treat depression like a chronic disease for the rest of my life.  It sounds a tiny bit depressing just saying that like a fact, but it is a fact, and acknowledging the fact means I can manage it like any other chronic illness can be managed.  I can expect good times, and I can expect relapses.  It’s just a fact of life, so when it happens I can remember that it won’t last forever and it’s just part of the illness (not a mental or moral defect).

So, when life cracks all your eggs, make a delightful quiche.  And when life cross contaminates your paper towel with chili oil that you then wipe your eyes with, may your tears form rivers in the dry wastelands and may your milk be cold and close at hand.

It’s a good thing they’re cute.

The Best Laid Plans… Mindset Monday

Today will not go as perfectly planned.  In fact, it’s already off the rails.  Do your best.  Don’t quit.  Good is good enough.

I am horrible with schedules.  Being on time is ridiculously hard for me (and harder for the rest of my family, so you can imagine getting out the door with our crew is LOADS of fun), which everyone who knows me well has experienced.  I wish I could be one of those people who could shrug it off, but I also feel it deeply like a moral failure.  (It’s also SUPER fun to be a perfectionist but not also a Type A organized person…)

When I’m being an organized person and using my daily planner, I rough out the time allotment for each task in half hour increments, and I shoot for that as I work through the day.  BUT, I have yet to ever complete a perfectly planned day perfectly.  It never happens.  It probably never will happen.  BUT, it doesn’t stop me from trying.

I know the definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome, so I tweak my approach once in a while.  I’m not completely crazy – just a little nuts most of the time… 

No matter how hard I try, something is going to derail my perfect planner day.

I’m generally resilient enough to adapt and still get the big things done (see last week’s post about prioritizing tasks), but one of the worst perfectionist personality traits is the desire to just chuck it all if it can’t be done perfectly.  I have those days once in a while, and I have to make myself finish the day.  It’s usually not pretty.  I probably act more childish than my child about it.

This train isn’t even trying.

Most of the time, a quick gut check is enough to remind me what’s important, and I just roll with it.  Wherever you go, there you are.  So if the derailed perfect plan train takes me hallway around the world, that’s fine: I’ll see new sights.  I have been described more than once as “unflappable.”

Some days, I am flappable.  I need to be reminded that not quitting may be the best I can do, and that’s okay.  I just need to do the best I can in that moment, even if it’s not the best I could have done in other circumstances.  I keep trying to work my way to being perfect, but I can’t be.  The truth is, without grace, my whole life is a runaway train, and there’s not a thing I can do about it.

That’s a tough pill for a perfectionist to swallow, but it’s the grace that Jesus taught over and over.

“But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!  There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:41-42

“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’”  Matthew 11:28-30

I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard or pay attention to the details – God wants us to offer our best when we work – but I am saying sometimes we get wrapped up in the wrong details.  I can get honed in on a particular set of circumstances and miss the big picture.

Forget the rails, just hang on!

In the next few weeks leading up to school start dates (or not starting, or partial weeks, or whatever the plan is today), we’re all going to need grace to make it work.  Some of us may need a lot of help to make it work.  My teacher and school administrator friends are going to need so, so, so much prayer from us and grace from their classroom parents just to stay sane.  We’re all going to need resiliency and (say it with me this time) grace to make it through the semester when the only constant is change.

I’ll be telling myself over and over to step back and find the one thing worth being concerned about and going hard after that.  Here’s a secret: it’s always going to be loving God and loving people.  That’s always the big picture, and it never changes.  Let’s hang on to that while our perfect schedule trains ride off the rails into new territory.  I bet the scenery will be worth it.

Colossians 2 – How the Bible Can Help with Depression

In the Mabbat Facebook group, I’ve been posting a Bible study guide each week, and right now, we’re in Colossians chapter 2.  (Here’s the link if you want to check that out: https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmarks  It’s going up in weekly installments in the Facebook group, and then I’ll post it as an e-book after we’ve completed it in the group – more on that to come next month!)  Each week, there are a few notes, and then there’s space on the page for you to do some creative assignments to deepen your study of God’s word.  I’ve discovered as I write the Bible study prompts that there are some things I would love to add but don’t really have the room for if I stay focused.  So I decided to share those here on the blog.

Oftentimes as I’m reading the Bible, I find ideas that correlate with things I’ve learned in therapy.  I don’t know why that surprises me, because I firmly believe that God gave us the Bible as a blueprint for living the best lives we can.

20180716-Colossians 2 on DepressionIn Colossians 2:2, Paul expresses a desire for the church members to be “knit together by strong ties of love” before he expresses his desire for them “to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan.”  As a lifelong church member, this felt backwards to me until I spent time thinking through it.  Aren’t we supposed to have Jesus first and only?  Isn’t he sufficient for all our needs?  Yes, but… Our standard church answers leave a lot unexamined.  Jesus gives us the tools we need, and he will faithfully meet our needs, but we aren’t absolved from investing a little elbow grease in the process.

Paul wanted the church at Colossae to be bound together in love to provide an environment that fosters learning, trust, and care for one another – an environment that will encourage confidence in the knowledge of God.  As I breathed in that verse, I understood that we can’t see Christ’s love unless we are expressing it and receiving it, and that is the primary function of the church – to be a network of Jesus’s love and grace.

How does this fit in with depression coping skills?  I’m glad you asked.  Strong relationships are key in combatting depression.  There are plenty of scientific studies (as well as every therapist I’ve seen) that tell us the more connected we are to other people, the lower our risk of depression and substance abuse.  If you have depression, think about your symptoms.  Do you find that you pull away from people and, however unintentionally, isolate yourself?  Do you drop out of activities with other people that you enjoy?  Do you back out of engagements with family and friends?

Paul knew it was vital for the church to have strong, loving relationships to understand the fullness of God’s love, and it’s vital for our daily lives, too.  Especially if you battle depression.

So how do you do this when you are in the throes of grief and depression?  First, let someone in.  Find at least one friend that you can trust, and open the door.  Share with them, and listen when they need to share.  Then add another friend.  Then join a group – maybe go to a class you enjoy and start meeting the class members, or go to your local church and join a small group or Bible study class.  Slowly expand your circle and invest in those relationships.  In my experience, the more connected I am to my family, to my circle of friends, and to my church, the better I feel and the easier it is to get out of a funk when I fall into one.

20180716-Colossians 2-7Another verse that grabbed me in Colossians 2 is verse 7.  It’s a beautiful image to think about: “Let your roots grow down into him…”  It’s also a solid way to build a foundation for faith.  First, establish roots, then build, then grow, and then overflow.

That’s not just a solid way to develop faith, but it’s also a solid way to build mental health.

You need roots – some basic skills to recognize depression in your life and some basic skills to combat your symptoms (a treatment and/or maintenance plan).  Once you have that, then you can start building up your coping skills and work towards a “new normal” as your symptoms stabilize.  Then you will grow stronger, and then you’ll be able to share and help others.  The thing about this setup is that you can never neglect any of the stages; they’re all continual and build on each other.  As soon as you skip a step (ignore your roots, say), the entire thing (your mental health) comes crashing down.

This may be less dire for episodic depression and acute grief that will pass once the circumstances shift, but if you struggle with depression as an ongoing issue, you know you need to keep your eye on the ball and not ignore the things that keep you healthy.  I have recently been able to stop my antidepressant medication, but I can feel it when I let stress build up and skip the things that make me feel sane, like exercise, eating well, writing, and art.  When I see my cues – a short temper, complete lack of motivation, and a desire to eat all of the chocolate in the world – I know it’s time to evaluate and get back to basics of self-care.  Sometimes, I know it’s time to check in with my therapist.

What does your root structure look like?  Do you have a solid foundation of self-care and coping skills?  What does your life look like when you are “overflow” stage?  If you’re not there, what will it take for you to get on the right track?

*I am not a professional therapist or counselor, so I don’t offer this as a replacement for professional care.  If you are dealing with depression, please talk to your doctor and make a plan to begin healing.  I believe that Jesus can heal us, but I also know that he gave us tools like doctors and psychologists to help us when we need it.  If you are not getting better through prayer and healthy habits, please seek professional help.  I hope if nothing else, I hope my example can help remove the stigma that so often shadows mental health issues in our churches.  If you don’t know where to start, contact me, and I’ll be happy to help you locate resources in your area.