Monday, October 31, 2022

I Have a Psychiatric Diagnosis

I Have a Psychiatric Diagnosis: What Does the Bible Say? Edward T. Welch (New Growth Press, 2022)

This very short book tries to address some very big topics, and overall does a pretty solid job of it. Welch is trying to bridge the divide between the reality of psychiatric diagnoses and what that means spiritually, so that we can understand:
- What God says, &
- How the bible speaks in ways that help you find wisdom, rest, and hope in Jesus, with a diagnosis
“Psychological categories help us see important human struggles. Spiritual categories include those struggles and help us see more. Spiritual indicates that God speaks in every detail of our lives, and we need him in every detail.”
He carefully balances the wisdom of learning from the world, medicine and health, with what we find in God’s word. 
“Careful observations, like those of the mental health sciences, help us to see important things; Scripture reveals what is most important. It opens our eyes to what is unseen and eternal.”
So, his approach is to:
  • Listen to God and get help from his people. This including returning to the gospel and understanding that Jesus calls us to speak to him about our struggles, and to believe the gospel and how it practically impacts our lives with mental health struggles 
  • Listen and learn from those who have experience. This includes medical specialists, those who understand and live with it, and exploring options such as medication. 
“These two approaches anchor the rhythm in what is ahead—listen to Scripture and God’s people, listen to those who have experience, listen to what God says. Back-and-forth. Listen, learn, ask for help. The cycle continues until you understand your struggles (or another’s struggles) better and have ways to help. What is important is that Scripture has the final words of hope.”
From this point, Welch explores four areas:

1. Anxiety and panic disorders. This is a helpful simple chapter, pointing to the wisdom of the world in recognising panic and anxiety and that all is not right, then turning us to God and how seeking him and the gospel speaks to our deepest anxieties and give us freedom to bring them to the Lord. 
“Faith simply acknowledges that you are desperate and needy, and only Jesus can give what you most deeply need. Your panic attacks have exposed the delusion that life is just fine—you can manage on your own—and it is good news when delusions are exposed. When we feel in control, we have no reason to turn to the Lord.”
2. Trauma. This is really a primer on trauma, helping the reader to understand its impacts and challenges. Turning to the gospel, we can see that God knows you and loves you, he has entered dark places to find you, he cleanses you from shame, and makes your future new. He encourages the person who has experienced trauma to find words to describe their experience, and speak them to God and to others. 

3. Depression. This chapter encouraged starting with listening to God and his people, and speaking our concerns, doubts, worries and melancholy to the Lord remembering that Christ is our faithful helper and friend. There is an encouragement to share your life with others, no matter how hard it feels.

4. Narcissism - this was a confusing chapter, for it was aimed at the person interacting with the narcissist, not the narcissist themselves. It does seek to find common ground for we are all sinful, we get to know their story, and assume they are normal human beings. But even this felt discordant with the rest of the book, and a little condescending.
“The narcissist has no problem, at least none that he or she feels. If there is any problem, it is you. Your disloyalty, your base ignorance and overt stupidity, your lessness. So you begin by finding words that help you understand someone else. You first go out and listen to what others are saying.”
The book abruptly ends after this chapter, with a list of further reading recommendations. I couldn’t figure out why more wasn’t included. The introduction mentions anorexia, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia. I was surprised that narcissism was included over some of the others, and would have appreciated a reason for choosing to address only those four. Each chapter finishes with questions, but they were so open ended as to almost be unhelpful, with each including: “What questions do you have?”. I’m not sure that helps anyone unless you provide a way for them to explore it further.

You can hear Welch’s care & compassion for people in his writing, but I felt this book fell a little short on what it was trying to offer.

I received a ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Art of Rest

The Art of Rest, Adam Mabry (The Good Book Company, 2018)

I often have a book about rest on my shelf waiting to be read. I’m sure it is due to God’s gentle prompting that I grab it when we go on holidays. For me, times of leave are good times to think further about rest and its purpose. In the past, I have delved into The Art of Rest (Claudia Hammond), and Refresh (Shona & David Murray) as well as others that touch on this idea: The Busy’s Christian’s Guide to Busyness, Serving without Sinking, Zeal without Burnout, Going the Distance, and so on.

I really liked this short book from Adam Mabry. He starts acknowledging he is an unlikely candidate to write about rest, having pushed himself too much for way too long. Yet, he also concedes - if he has been able to learn how to rest, you can too.

Overarching the book are two themes - rest is a gift (from God, given for very good reasons) and rest is an art (there is no one way to do it, but rather to find ways that suit you).

Beginning with a history lesson of rest and why God has given it to us, we are reminded that it is truly a gift from a loving God: 
“If God is a hurried taskmaster constantly turning knobs and pushing buttons, frantically refining his work, it's hard to imagine resting with him. But if God the Father, Son, and Spirit are the very definition of love, and fundamentally relational, and the idea of resting with him becomes more than imaginable. It becomes desirable.” 
What struck me was his link to the fact that once the temple was a place to meet God, now that we have the spirit and our bodies are a temple to the Lord. So, he calls the Sabbath a time temple - a chance for us to stop and rejoice in God in our lives, “but do we have the time -do we make the time - to Sabbath, to experience a time holy to God?”

Following chapters explore:
  • Rest allows remembering - God, ourselves, the meaning of life, and grace. 
“The story of the whole Bible is in many ways the story of a people who always forget their God and a God who always remembers his people”
  • Rest is resistance. All work is done for one of two ends - to glorify God or justify your existence, “rest is an act of profound resistance against the siren call of self justification”. Rest helps us to resist anxiety, autonomy, coercion and idolatry. 
  • Rest restores relationships - with God and others. There were four questions for self-examination: 
  1. Are you really interested in having a relationship with God? 
  2. Where is rushing ruining your relationship with God and others? 
  3. In what ways have your tried to silence your inner murmur of self-reproach? 
  4. Will you stop waiting to rest? 
  • Rest brings reward. ”Rest anticipates the destination along the journey, because it offers an experience akin to being at the destination even while we are on the journey.” 
  • Gifts of real rest - reward of memory (who we are in Christ), reflection, security (in our sonship), endurance (“if we want to keep going, we need to keep stopping”) and anticipation.
He finishes with what resting might actually look like. First, it’s not about following a rule, rather finding patterns that suit you daily (small allowances to breathe, pray, eat, reflect and worship), weekly, and annually. He suggests including: sleep, reading, prayer, reflection, avocation (eg hobbies, something that is not your job), recreation, eating, and singing, but with the encouragement to find your own activities of rest.

A very helpful book. Short and concise, but with enough to prompt thought and encouragement, and hopefully a desire to rest, understanding it is indeed a gift and an art, and necessary to grow in in order to thrive.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Anxious About Decisions

Anxious about Decisions: Finding Freedom in the Peace of God, Michael Gembola (New Growth Press, 2022)

Do you find yourself overwhelmed by decisions? Find it hard to make them, or feel anxious about the implications, that “what ifs?” Do you overthink, gather lots of advice, feel self-doubt, feel unable to trust others, or delay in decision making so long that you lose opportunities? If this is you, you are likely to find some helpful guidance here. Michael Gembola’s general message is:
“God uses your decision-making to help you grow up and mature as a Christian. Decision-making is an arena for spiritual formation.” 
As such, decisions are not usually about discovering God’s will in the specifics, rather God uses times of decision making to make us more peaceful and to make us better stewards.
“My own conviction is that God is more interested in growing us up as Christians and helping us learn how to make wise decisions, rather than making decisions for us via impressions or authority figures.”
Part 1 explores decision anxiety - how it works (by trying to eliminate risk), and how we make it worse (by overthinking, overconsulting, overchecking, and avoidance). He notes that God tells us his moral will, but not the answers to nonmoral questions. There are helpful warnings about relying on feeling and testing God for his guidance:
“It’s hard to live with the reality that we don’t know all we’d like to know before we make decisions, and that in most nonmoral decisions, we won’t ultimately know with perfect assurance we’re making the right decision, or the decision that will lead to the outcomes we desire.”
Part 2 explores where decision anxiety comes from - notably the cultural challenges of young adulthood, and family background.

Growing into spiritual maturity is the key:
“But what a beautiful thing it is to be deeply at peace, to be spiritually steady, to be loving and serving others even when you feel stuck, to be able to take small, constructive steps even when you feel confused or anxious.”
Part 3 explores three main areas: marriage, vocation, and the smaller things.

With marriage - the key advice is that you need to know God and know yourself to have wisdom to make this major life decision.
“As you have a better sense of your goals and dreams in life, you have a better sense of who would be a good fit to pursue those with you—and whose goals and dreams you’d like to sign on to as well.”
He encourages the prayerful consideration of a partner’s compatibility, character and your connection with them. I thought these were wise considerations for anyone in the discernment stage of a relationship. And he does advice listening to your anxiety in this area - it may be telling you something you haven’t yet managed to put into words. 

With vocation he encourages working toward faithful stewardship and peace, and we steward in community.
“We must learn to be faithful stewards of the little corner of creation that God has invited us to cultivate. Knowing what job is a good fit for us requires us to go a step further than interests and talents. So vocation—calling—is not primarily something found inside us. It suggests that someone is doing the calling—there is a voice; there are words for us from outside of us”
The final chapter explores smaller decisions that cause anxiety and also touches on the traits that tend toward obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): “I want you to consider decisions about the small stuff as small steps of faith and trust.” He advises that decision making is a learned skill, so take the risk, accept our imperfections and mistakes, and see incremental progress.
“One final piece of ancient advice from believers long ago who were quite familiar with the overscrupulous conscience is this: whatever anxiety tells you to do, do the opposite. If it tells you not to risk going out, go out. If it tells you to pray longer, don’t. Consider anxiety an unreliable guide.”
Gembola explicitly does not provide a protocol for making good decisions, but does provide resources at the end for those who would like that. It does also seem aimed slightly more at young adults, who are working thought some of the major decisions he discusses, however I think it has applicability for many.  decisions. He finishes with the encouragement of our goal:
“we aim to follow Christ with a humble confidence that leads to neither a deficit nor an excess of decisiveness. If we are rooted and grounded, we’ll be able to say no when we need to, and our yes will be meaningful and not only conflict avoidance. We’ll step out to love and serve neighbors. We’ll follow God’s calling and God’s will in our lives. And with these roots, we’ll be steady.”
This is a useful contribution to the Ask the Christian Counselor series. It’s a somewhat specific topic, but will be very helpful for those to whom it applies.

I was given an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, October 7, 2022

Build a Stronger Marriage

Build a Stronger Marriage: The Path to Oneness, Bob Lepine (New Growth Press, 2022)

I have had the opportunity to review a new series of books by New Growth Press called Ask The Christian Counselor and I’ll tell you about them over coming weeks.

First up is Build a Stronger Marriage: The Path to Oneness, Bob Lepine

Aimed at couples in struggling marriages, Lepine has written a gospel-focussed book that gives hope and guidance for those that may have lost their way. He starts considering the wrong reasons and expectations many have when they marry, then brings the reader back to remind them of their true purpose:
“If your goal is to have a marriage that pleases you, you will face ongoing, perpetual frustration and disappointment. But when your goal is to have a marriage that is pleasing to God, each challenge you face along the way will be a fresh opportunity to fix what’s broken and make ongoing progress toward that goal.”
He explores the four main problem areas of the past that influence a marriage: family of origin issues, childhood trauma, issues of shame and guilt related to sex, and unaddressed relational wounds. These are not dealt with in depth, but have enough content for you to identify whether you are impacted by them and may need additional help in working through them. The reader is then brought back to their restoration in Christ, and the encouragement that our past does not define our future.

Lepine proposes that the essentials in any marriage are: putting anger to death, determining when to overlook things and when to confront, and the crucial role of repentance, confession, and forgiveness. These were honest chapters laying responsibility for our behaviour clearly at our own feet. I was also pleased to see the caveat that gracious forgiveness does not extend to abusive or controlling relationships without repentance.

Encouraging us to put off sin, and put on the fruits of the spirit, he posits four best practices of marriage - generous forgiveness, extravagant love, enthusiastic encouragement, and common convictions.

Considering the length of the book (100 pages), I was surprised by the amount of quality content. Each chapter is punchily short, but with enough to consider, challenge, and engage with, as well as illustrations and examples to make his points clearer.

Each chapter ends with a section “Practical steps for real change” where the real work is done personally, with the encouragement to write answers to the questions. The focus is on you, the reader, and Lepine asks you to honestly consider the part you play in your marriage, not your spouse - for the only person you can change is you. Obviously, couples that work through this together with a desire for change will reap the most benefit.

An excellent short book for those wanting godly guidance, wisdom and suggestions for growth and change.