The Shape of Gratitude

Praise God for today! Did something momentus and wonderful happen? Yes, in fact, it did.

I woke up.

Is that not enough? I wish I could say I am pious enough for that to be true, faithful enough for praise to pour from my lips in a torrent at all times (as it should)…but on morning’s like this, it’s a battle.

Another survival of a night of severe insomnia, the kind where my body is beyond exhausted, but my mind will not rest, like I’m a car set up on a hoist in a mechanic shop, engine running, wheels spinning in the air, burning fuel but going nowhere.

As a result, this morning I woke up surrounded by a cloud of depression, my brain buzzing with the kind of anxiety produced by exhuastion, like the prickly numb feeling you get if a limb falls asleep. I am “brain-fried,” as if I spent all night answering questions on a timed, stressful, difficult test. I feel thin, stretched, like one puff of air and I’ll disperse like smoke, that’s how fragile my brain feels right now.

Even on a “normal” brain day though, I often feel as if I’m expecting it to all fall apart at any moment. As it often does. The temptation is that I feel “protected” by this idealogy because if I expect it, it won’t hurt so much *when* it does happen. But that wouldn’t be walking in submission. I still enjoy the freedom when the depression and anxiety relent, I just make no demands anymore. I’ve learned not to try and hold onto any state of mind because like others with bipolar disorder, my brain likes to switch between despair, effervescent joy, and the kind of anxiety that makes me feel as if my life is in imminent, mortal peril. Often with no trigger or warning or reason. The helplessness of it all makes me irritable and like I’m ready to jump out of my skin from the stress of my brain going into panicked survival mode, ready to lash out. I literally have no control over my emotions.

Today I am still praying for mercy from the depression, anxiety, and mixed moods though, because I want so dearly to be able to impliment and enjoy our weekly mommy/kid night tonight. Sometimes, I’m unable to, and just have to retreat to my room so I won’t snap at the kids or have a breakdown in front of them. But I never tell the kids that mommy/kid night is a guarantee.

Campbell and I have learned never to make “future promises” because it’s not biblical to do so. Make plans, yes; promises, no.

Even if Campbell didn’t have cancer, he could die at anytime in a car accident. Even if I didn’t have mental illness, I could suffer a sudden, severe fever, leading to brain damage and madness (like the insane Roman Emperor, Caligula).

James 4:13-16 says we shouldn’t make promises about tomorrow because we don’t know what tomorrow holds.

Also, my brain is too unpredictable. Thinking about it positively, it can certainly make things an “adventure.” We always tell the kids that whenever an adventure begins in a story, it usually begins when something goes wrong or something unexpected happens.

My brain has adventure-making superpowers.

And because of that, we’ve all learned to roll with it and try to make things fun and humorous and light in the midst of any unexpected bump in the road.

I have also learned to be grateful for it. Like a wagon carrying a load, the thorn the Lord has allowed in my life helps me drive straighter.

Gratitude is never first on the scene though. Like anger, it’s a reaction only, more often a choice, and when consistently pursued, a habit. Like other emotions, it’s a fuel. But unlike depressive states, it’s not a fuel that burns me down to ashes, it’s a fuel that drives me forward. It’s flexible to any kind of attack, has no end, and it can roll any which way.

Like a sphere, I suppose.

Love is also like that, so I suppose it makes sense. To me, gratitude in the midst of my circumstances, no matter what they are, is an expression of love toward my God; an unwritten love letter lived out.

It truly is amazing because whenever I focus on the Lord and start praising Him for everything He’s done for me, energy and peace rise up in my spirit, despite my circumstances. Am I still physically and mentally depressed (which means, in my case, not sad but in internal pain) and anxious, weighed down and fogged over and choked by mental fatigue? Yes. I am.

But in Christ, my spirit is free.

That’s why scripture says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:3) Gratitude brings freedom to my spirit!

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

“If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

***side note–the beginning of this sentence about abiding in His word is often left out and excluded from the second half. Everyone knows the phrase, “the truth with set you free,” and in fact, is often used in a dark context. But in context of the whole sentence, freedom follows submission to His Word. And Jesus is The Word according to John 1:1! Jesus is also “The Truth” according to John 14:6. I know Him, because He first knew and loved me, and knowing Him sets me free!***

I am reminded of The Fall in Genesis 3 and how the Lord told Adam and Eve if they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would die.

Like that instance, and the scriptures about being free in Christ, the Lord was and is talking about the spirit…not the body. When Adam and Eve fell, they died spiritually, and this led to their physical death, because the natural, eventual consequence of sin, is death in every way–spiritually, mentally, in the soul, and physically.

There is no true life apart from God. Without Him, we are the walking dead. He is THE (singular–there is no other) Life.

William Cowper was an 18th century poet and hymnist, the most famous of his generation during his lifetime, even more so than John Newton (who was a dear friend of his). Cowper suffered from bipolar disorder (type II like me), was institutionalized for insanity, and tried to commit suicide several times, yet he found freedom through his faith in Jesus Christ. He is the author of the hymn, “Light Shining out of Darkness,” in which he coined the phrase, “God works in mysterious ways.”

What is more mysterious than finding Life amidst death? Hope in despair? Light in the deepest darkness? Joy for mourning? Gladness for sorrow?

It doesn’t always mean the mental anguish leaves me, but the important part is HE never leaves me. And as Matthew 28:30 says (as well as a whole host of other scriptures throughout the Bible)…

He never will.

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