Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Parable.

Pretend it's not 30 AD. It's 2012.

Jesus came upon a man thoroughly worn out from having to walk everywhere for years without ceasing and who had stopped beside the road. His calloused feet were dirty and weary and blistered, his muscles worn out, he was exhausted and in horrible pain. He was very depressed and hopeless, and would frequently, abruptly stop his journey, sit by the roadside and cry, yet other times he would appear very elated and full of energy, sleeping little, whereupon he'd walk and walk without slowing down. He didn't understand why, but his abrupt change of moods unnerved him. He thought that he was going mad.

Jesus happened to be walking by with his gaggle of followers, having performed miracles all along His journey when the man cried out to Him.

After the man told Jesus about his problems, he asked Jesus, "I've seen you before and heard your Word. I believe in You and that you're the Savior, the Son of God, and that you perform miracles. Can't you at least make it easier for me? I'm so tired and I don't think I can walk any more. My brain feels sick, just as my body is worn out. I was admonished from my village because they all thought I was crazy. Different. I tried to be normal but I just couldn't. Could you help me by giving me a donkey to ride, Lord? I have to be somewhere and I will never get there by walking."

Jesus thought for a moment, could see the man was struggling and broken down, and, being merciful, He knelt down beside the man alongside the road where the man had fallen down, dismissing the disciples, who urged him to continue down the road.  Contemplative but full of love, Jesus turned to the man.

He offered a couple of solutions. "I could carry you everywhere, physically," Jesus said, "But you'd forget how to walk on your own. Any muscles you had would atrophy. Yes, I can pick you up when you fall down, and trust that I always will, if you follow me and come to me in prayer, but that's only part of it," He told the man. "I understand that you either feel hopeless and sad or elated and full of energy. I know this because God made you this way. As for the donkey... I don't think a donkey will get you where you need to go, even though you wish for one." 

"I feel stuck," said the man. "I can't walk any further and I have so far to go to get to my destination," he said.  "Where I'm supposed to be just seems so far away," he said, nearly breathless.

Knowing Jesus could and did perform miracles, the man begged Jesus to calm his mind, and to renew his body and spirit. "But Lord!" he cried out, "I've prayed for you to heal me, so many times. I prayed to the Father. I've told others about you. Should I pray more? Should I pray differently? What more can I do?"

"I could heal your body and your mind, most definitely," Jesus said. "But I'm choosing not to. The Father and I have different plans for you." "What I think you really need is a car," decided the Lord. "There are two cars from which you can choose," He told the man.

The first car was very attractive on the outside, brightly colored, without any dents or rust, had a 5-CD changer and it got 60 mpg. "This car is brand new, totally automatic," Jesus said. "It runs smoothly. It will require no repair. You will have to wax it and Armor All the wheels, and keep it looking wonderful on the outside all of the time, though. The windows are even tinted darkly so no one can see how bedraggled you look inside the car. This beautiful car can be yours. You don't even have to pay money for it. I should tell you, though, that this car only holds one person and the GPS will perpetually redirect you incorrectly." The man asked, "Ok, but will it get me to where I'm going?”

Jesus answered, “That depends on where it is you want to go on your journey.”

The man questioned, “For how long will I get to keep the car, Lord?" Jesus said, "That's all up to Satan, actually, because it's his car to give, not Mine, and he'll probably want you to trade it in every year for a newer, shinier car, and you'll have to promise him things I would never ask of you. Satan will promise to heal you in return, but he cannot, for all of Satan's promises are empty."

The man certainly thought the new, beautiful car was an attractive option, and with just his mind and not his soul, he leaned towards it. Relying on his instincts, he figured he could do without the GPS. He thought he wouldn't mind traveling alone. Surely, he could find someone to wash and wax the car for him, the wearier he became. "Ok, I'll take Satan's car, I think," he told Jesus. "Yes, I think I can manage it."

"Oh really? You sure about that?" the Lord asked. "You say you've listened to my Word. That you've prayed. That you believe Me to be your Savior. Why, then, would you choose what Satan has to offer you?"

“Because it seems easy to drive and looks very nice,” the man said.

"Well, wait. What about the other car, Jesus?" the man wondered. "What's the other car like? Your car?" 

Jesus explained the second car to the man. It was a big, ungainly SUV full of dents and scratches, that was rusting, had no front bumper and a cracked taillight, got 12 mpg and it made strange noises when it ran, had clear windows, wasn't very attractive, and, while very clearly used, never needed to impetuously traded in. "This car requires a lot of maintenance, and frequently needs repairs. It barely runs, and the upkeep is very expensive. It needs premium fuel, special oil, a gallon of washer fluid every day, anti-freeze, and the tires tend to lose their air a lot, and it really gets worse the older it gets, but if you choose it, it will be yours forever."

"Throughout the rest of your life, this car will run for millions of miles if you keep up with the maintenance as I have asked of you. If you choose this car, there's enough room to bring many other people along, and to take them wherever they need to go. This car, I have purchased by myself. I bought it FOR you, and am offering it to you.  All I ask in return is that you obey what I have taught you and spread my word wherever you may stop. I will sacrifice my very life for you to drive this car. But you have to believe in and trust ME. You have to take the hand of the Holy Spirit and let Him guide you and those who are in your care."

The man was confounded. The car Satan offered was certainly very alluring. The car Jesus offered, though, didn't seem like it'd make his life that much easier than it was when he was walking, given all the hassle owning it would entail, though in his heart he wanted to be able to help others reach their destinations, knowing how hard it'd been for him to walk for so long.

"It's totally up to you," Jesus told him. "I can't make the decision for you," He said. "You needn't have walked this far all by yourself, you know. I was here all along. You knew of Me but you didn’t seek Me. You seemed to ignore the Holy Spirit."

The man answered, "But when I prayed for you to stop my pain, my pain didn't stop. When I prayed to you to ease my suffering, it only got worse. You're the one who said with You, anything was possible. If I choose the car you're offering me, will I be strong and well again? Will you heal my body and mind?"

"Unfortunately, no, you won't heal completely," Jesus said. "You might suffer for the remainder of your days on earth. If you continue to ask me why, I will keep telling you that it is My will. If you decide to take my car, though, the Holy Spirit will help direct you towards doctors who can counsel and aid you, who have medications that will ease you. Towards educators who will teach you how to help the people alongside you on your journey."

"So you're saying I have to live with this for the rest of my life?" the man questioned. "Yes," Jesus answered, "But with faith in God's wisdom, I will bestow upon you the tools to use your afflictions to mend the torture of others with whom you decide to travel. 

Realize, if you ride without tinted windows, everyone will see what you look like, and you're very flawed, even more so than most of your brothers and sisters. The GPS on my car will never lead you in the wrong direction, no matter how many times the car breaks down. I will understand and forgive you if you curse my name and come to me for repentance, because I love ALL of you, not just part of you. I know you might get angry with me sometimes, or question why I’ve chosen this life for you. But after all is said and done, and your work here is through, and you've driven everyone you can to their destinations, I promise that you will reap eternity with Me in paradise, unless I come back to get you first!"

"And if I choose Satan's car?" the man said.

Jesus replied, "I'm sorry, but you'll be on your own. Satan will promise you great reward. He’ll tell you that if you follow him, and give him your soul, that you’ll be healed. Satan will invariably test you, over and over again, and cause you to question Me. Even though his car looks good, it comes with a price of spirit, not of money. But understand: Satan has no power to help you. He’ll only hurt you.”

The man answered, “I want to be able to take as many people as I can on my journey. I don’t really want to be alone. Even if they admonish me from my own village—away from the people who said they loved me…” Jesus said, “The Father created all of you in His own image. While sin has caused you to fall short of God’s glory, believe when I say that it was because we have greater plans for you.”

“Do you trust Me?” Jesus asked. “Do you truly believe that you were afflicted with illness of body and mind so that you could help others on their own journeys?”
“I do,” said the man. “I have felt your calling for a long time. But I had no way to get there. I walked and walked until I could walk no more, and I need your saving grace to carry on. Your car isn’t the easier car to drive, but I am willing to give it up to You.”

“You still have a choice, you know. You can drive Satan’s car or My car, as I have explained it to you,” Jesus said. “I love you unconditionally. I will pick you up when you fall along the way. I will forgive your mistakes. Your suffering will not be in vain. You may never be ‘normal’ but to Me, you’ll always be loved and special.”

Giving the man a few moments to think, Jesus idly built a pile of rocks beside the road into a little mountain. “Look at it this way,” He said. “All of you who follow me are like this little mountain of rocks. When one of you veers in the wrong direction, and the mountain falls down, I am here to pick all of you up and rebuild the mountain.”

“Jesus, I am putting my trust in You. I will take Your car,” the man said. While hesitant in his voice, he felt confident in his decision.

“And you realize you will continue to suffer. That your brain and your body won’t heal, but that My will guides you to pick up countless others who need your help. “

“Yes, Lord. I understand now,” the man replied. “Come to me in prayer and worship. Partake of my body and blood. Know that I died and rose again for your soul. Know that I am not choosing you to suffer out of malice; rather, it is out of my love for you and for all of those who need your help. Here is the key to my car,” Jesus said, handing the man the key. “Use it wisely, for a greater good,” He said. “I am here for you always, whenever you call upon Me and even when you don’t. I will never leave you and will always bless your journey. I won’t make it easy for you to find the doctors, or the medication, or the educators. I won’t make it easy for you to help other people. But I will walk beside you the whole way. I chose you. I am counting on you to do some of my work here on earth, because soon I will have to return to My father in Heaven until it is time for Me to return.”

The Lord bid the man his peace and prayed quietly with him, knowing He had a lot of other people who needed His blessings that day. “Thank you for the car, Jesus,” the man said. “I will put it to good use, as you have commanded. I can't promise you I'll be perfect or righteous all the time, for I am a sinner. I'm human, you know that. I will hurt people just as I heal people. But I am ready to have your Spirit guide me.”

“Of course, you are welcome. I love you and just as you believe in Me, I believe in YOU." Jesus said as he got up off the ground and brushed off the dust from where he was sitting. "There's your car. Now get in it and DRIVE. Just keep on trusting Me."

The weary man put the key in the ignition, hearing the immediate rattle of the engine. Trusting in God's promises, he began his journey of picking up others on the side of the road who looked worse off than he was. The Lord was pleased. Satan was embittered, as usual. The man took the car to the gas station, filled the car with gas, and put air in the tires. "This'll have to do for today," he said, knowing the work he had ahead of him and that he had been given a very special gift. One step at a time.

That's sort of what it's like to be a recovering addict/alcoholic/bipolar patient training to become a psychologist specializing in substance abuse. As with any chronic, incurable illness, which could be bipolar, or diabetes, or epilepsy, or Crohn's Disease, it seems as if we plead with and bargain with God constantly in favor of us becoming well and for our diseases to just go away. As humans, we usually don't understand God's bigger plan. We want everything on our terms, and spar with God when things don't turn out the way we wanted them to work out. 

With bipolar disorder, you clearly know *something* is wrong with you, but it takes years to finally figure out WHAT it is. Diagnosis and treatment are insurmountably challenging notions, and while you try your hardest to "act normally" or "just forget about it" and carry on with your life, it's always THERE. Just like any prevalent, chronic illness or sickness, you have it, that's how your body or mind works, and apart from intermittent relief, there's not a damn thing you can do to make it go away. "Normal" or "healthy" people don't GET that. Other folks are so wrapped up in denial, they also fail to see the bigger picture, the greater plan. Everything's surely somebody's fault--be that the individual's, God's, his/her parents...somebody is always ultimately to blame. And that's not it at all. 

When I'm asked to stop talking about bipolar disorder, or the struggles I have with my sobriety...or my anxiety...whichever...and to pretend it isn't a major facet of my personality and my core being, it's merely a clear sign of the ignorance, stigma and embarrassment that this disease causes OTHER people. I have NO shame in being chronically ill. As I've said before, the reason why I'm so open and honest in public about bipolar and addiction is because it HELPS other people, which I firmly believe is God's calling for me to do with my life. 

People who know and love me have suggested I defy what my doctors feel is the right answer for me, medication-wise. My doctors know that while my medications help curb the symptoms of bipolar and anxiety, nothing ever makes it disappear, and while some people who love me say "Get off all those drugs," they don't understand that my brain has an illness which is no different than being diabetic, or epileptic. Would you deny a cancer patient radiation or chemotherapy because of its side effects? Would you tell the diabetic, "Just stop taking your insulin, you don't need it?" An illness of the brain is absolutely no different. My heart races too quickly--I have chronic tachycardia--so I take medication every day for it. Same with my brain. It either races or depresses, or I'm faced with sometimes paralyzing anxiety in certain situations or moods. So I take medication for that too.  

Intimating to me that I shouldn't be on all of the medication I take is like this analogy: A doctor sees his patient who has had both legs amputated.The patient has been going through the hassle and difficulty in getting prosthetic legs, but for now is wheelchair-bound. Me going off of my medications--any of them--is no different than telling the amputee, "I realize and see you have no legs, but you need to get up and walk." 

Others close to me say that if I go to God in prayer for healing and deliverance, He will cure me. I don't think that's true either. While God has the power to heal me, and has certainly seen to it that my rusty old car gets me from point A to point B, He has seen fit for every part of my journey to be daunting and difficult, which has caused me to question God's love for and mercy towards me, which is exactly what Satan wants. 

God made me special and different for His own reasons, and I'm very clear as to why He did that. Most of the time, I just wish He didn't make things SO damn hard to achieve, that He'd keep the "car" maintained longer, and that He'd cut down on the expenses I have to put forth towards owning the car Jesus paid for with his life vs. the shiny, new, easy car that Satan has to offer.

Anyone battling chronic illness will tell you they've tried bargaining with God, praying for a cure, and questioning why God, if He loves us, would let us go through as much crap as we do on a daily basis. It seems as though half the reason why I'll relate to and help so many of my own future patients in due time is because I come from a standpoint of having suffered with mental illness and addiction. If helping people reach their destinations is in the beat-up car, I take comfort that it holds 6 people at a time vs. the car Satan offered the man in my parable, which only holds ME, and while life might look prettier on the outside, it can only go in one direction, and it's always the wrong direction. With the Spirit guiding me, and loving people to help and encourage me in any ways they can, I fail to see how God would let me fail...

I am capable, as God has willed, to endure my many mental diagnoses, because God did indeed promise release and relief for me when I go to Heaven. I am not ashamed of the challenges I have, though people from older generations, or different lines of thinking, wish I could just adopt a better attitude about what's wrong with me and be quiet about it. That it's not that big a deal. I, on the other hand, am and choose to be as open and public about it to indeed help erase the stigma of mental illness, to say "It's ok if your feet are blistered and your clothes tattered. It's ok if you don't feel like walking alone anymore. God has sent me to help you." As Jesus told the man in the story, "You could've come to me sooner. You needn't have walked this far alone." That's also very true. God doesn't inflict upon us injury or illness because we, at some point, did something wrong in our lives. 

Even when we make horrible mistakes on our journey, God shows us mercy, love and forgiveness. We have to learn that "our will" isn't always "His will" and accept life as it's been granted us. Anyone with chronic illness will tell you how they wish "His will" would be different, but it's not. And for a reason. 

I don't even know if my little parable makes any practical sense, but the thought popped into my head on my way home from therapy at Swedish Covenant on Friday, only to find that one of my tires was going flat, which was the week's icing on a very ugly cake that was disintegrating in my hands. Who'd I go to first to get advice? As I am wont to do lately, Pastor Dave. (He's my resident car expert anyway, in addition to being my chief spiritual advisor.) 

I'd just taken my computer in for some expensive repair (due to me being a dumbass), school  for the fall was still being worked out (and isn't yet), and I had Luke's school registration to manage this week. I felt that the Lord gave me more than what I could bear at one moment, but I also didn't pick up a drink, though the temptation was very strong. I talked it out with Kate, to whom I'd sent a desperate email, who helped me immeasurably. I went out with my sponsor from AA on Saturday night after church to talk and help her out w/something of her own. I utilized the resources God has so richly provided me with to keep me on the right course.

I still don't know what's happening with grad school, which is causing me a huge amount of unnecessary anxiety. The leak in my tire is slow and steady, but I can't even afford to get THAT repaired right now, so I keep adding air and God sees fit to spare me, for the moment, and I press forward. It'll all work out the way it's supposed to, that I believe. In the meantime, I am grateful for the support and love of friends and loved ones who have made such a fervent effort to understand and assist me in my journey. 

I continue to pray for patience, for time, and for grace and forgiveness. 


Andrea Miklasz said...

Having had Pastor skim the parable, and talking to him about it, it's kind of like I had it half right. I should've emphasized the concept of faith more and the promise of the Lord that we WILL and CAN be delivered and WILL meet him in paradise, no questions asked, if we ACCEPT Him.

I explained that my larger point was to have people who love me understand why I'm mentally ill and why God has chosen NOT to have me "suffer," but rather that the experience of it, the treatment of it, and the purpose of it, I believe, is God's way of employing in me a larger plan, which is to take as many people as I can to receive the help they, like I, so desperately needed or still need. God doesn't wish affliction on any of us, because He loves us.

This parable was to attempt to half-ass explain why I *do* take all the drugs I take and have to take forever. We all eat food, because we need food to survive. Some of us need medicine to survive, and that medicine, that wisdom from the doctors, that's all part of God loving us, which isn't a "bad" thing. I tried to explain that my bipolar/anxiety/depression won't ever just "go away," for my brain is wired differently than "normal" peoples'. I'm not going to argue with God's design of me, that's for sure. I'm going to put it to good use.

Anonymous said...

When you have that classic car, it's going to need a lot more regular maintenance than some new ride fresh of the lot and some of the parts you need aren't going to be "standard" or easy to find. If you neglect it, it can fall to pieces on you in the blink of an eye. But if you take good care, you have a car like few others. A classic.


Andrea Miklasz said...

All very true, Monk.

Pastor and I didn't deeply get into the "what do you do when you feel like the lot you've been given (in this case, Jesus' crappier but larger car vs Satan's new one) already, on the surface, appears so utterly flawed and beyond repair that it's virtually useless?"

Dave and I were talking about Job, to whom countless people have compared me, and what he reaped once he finally "got it" with God, whereas I feel sometimes more like the cocky, know-it-all, rebellious Jonah, waiting for the whale to vomit me out.

I really *was* just trying to help explain to some people why I take everything I take, and I think even Pastor Dave agreed that no, in all likelihood, God won't miraculously deliver me from my ills. This I have accepted, and though I'm frequently worn out, I think I have a good grasp on, as I told Dave, why God's brought me back from all those countless brink-of-death experiences (accidental OD's being several of them, bipolar just a piece of it).

St. Paul knew that following God's path, God's message, and faith in God were all the more difficult and dangerous paths to salvation during his time, and was willing to go to whatever lengths the Spirit took him to carry out God's plan, even if that meant giving up his own life.

I've been cursing God, giving Him ultimatums, threatening to renounce my faith, if MY plans aren't carried out, and God's seen to it that the road to what He has called me to do has been littered with potholes and bumps, all of which I guess I deserve. I told my girlfriend SuperJuls, "If this school thing doesn't work out, I'm totally going Hindu." Juls texted back, in the voice of God, "Oh my ME, I love you, Annie." That sort of snapped me out of it over the weekend as I vainly attempted to write the parable. (And it's admittedly a bad and confusing parable, so sorry, Jesus.)

Pastor Dave's seen a lion's share of folks as they've taken their last breaths. He's talked with them, held their hands, been part of surrounding families and friends who were preparing to lose someone. A dying woman, not ready to just *surrender* asked Pastor if "she'd done enough" to be able to be with the Lord. Dave reassured her that yes, if she had faith that Christ was her Savior, that she trusted Him, that was all that was necessary. Ultimately, Dave said, while we might be surrounded by other people when we die, we all die alone, just as our bodies came into this world alone. It's just ourselves and God, or Satan, and we are surrendered to either of them. It's up to us in whom we place our faith and trust.

Having heard those encouraging words, and trying to absorb those faith ideas while I wait out grad schools, financial aid, and cars and medicine and computers and kids and school supplies...not knowing how it'll all come together, I don't know. It kind of came together today.

But NOTE TO SELF: Don't wear your Christ/Krishna comparison t-shirt TO church to switch out drum kits on the OFF CHANCE you RUN INTO your PASTOR, who read the shirt, stopped, rolled his eyes, and, like God, sighed and said, "Oh, Annie..."

Anonymous said...

I read the parable as, in part, also recognizing that those who chose you (God, in particular) have done so knowing full well they aren't choosing a shiny new Beemer with fancy accessories. But just as the man in the parable chose the SUV for a reason, so too God and those who love you chose YOU for a reason. You know that intellectually, but the parable adds an emotional/metaphorical layer to that understanding.

Same goes if you replace "You" with "Me" or basically anyone else. God's in the used car business, I guess.

Andrea Miklasz said...

I don't know...we're ALL used cars, when it comes right down to it. It's up to our relationship with God and our faith in His promises and how much we surrender our hearts to Him as to whether or not we become junkers or classics, right?

You're smart enough. You know I was lamely trying to employ a bigger metaphor, although my execution of said idea, like I said, was only about half right.

(I'm only on a trial lease with the Hindus and Buddhists, btw.)

Andrea Miklasz said...

*WORTHY OF NOTE*, as long as we're talking about cars???

Went to leave w/Luke this afternoon and saw that my car key, my ONLY key to the Pacifica, was MISSING off of my key ring. I couldn't imagine where I'd lost it.

"Did you check the car?" my mother said. "Is it still there?" I went out to the car to peer inside.

Attached to the driver's side door handle was a black plastic tie with my car key attached to it. Nothing was missing from my car.

Whomever that benevolent soul was, they were today's blessing. It had to be a neighbor who knew that it was a Chrysler key, or found it near my car.

That's God at work, ya'll.