The Gift of Helping

The Ashtoreth Addendum: “Let your yes be yes…”

As we move into the conversation about friendships in “the Gift of Helping” devotional series, I want to talk to you about a type of friend you don’t want to have.

This friend is a woman (or man, though it expresses itself differently) influenced by the spirit of Jezebel. Common psychological descriptions of this kind of person would be: narcissistic personality, borderline personality, or bipolar disorders. I realize that it can appear stigmatizing to attach the label of an unclean spirit to a psychological disorder, but let me remind you of three things: 1. You are not your disorder. Your created person is not your disorder. 2. Mental illness is the nastiest kind of disease. The pathologies of narcissistic personality, borderline personality, and bipolar disorders are devastating and destructive. It is why we characterize the symptoms as “abnormal” and “serious.” 3. My disease model, my theory of disease, is intertwined with my theology. From a charismatic perspective, which mine is, everything, even Life and Death, and certainly Illness, is driven by entities that are spiritually embodied and active in heaven and on earth.

In fact, “the Gift of Helping” series is from the period where I was rejecting God’s shelter over my life and person. You probably have or will detect throughout this series, in my accounts about my own behavior, a Jezebel quality to my neuroses.

A friend under a Jezebel influence is controlling, chaotic, and frenzied. They have disorganized attachments to other people. They love you until they hate you, and they always hate you when you are not doing what they want you to do.

This kind of person will force you into “contracts,” commitments, and covenants with her. When you try to withdraw at all, even just to attend to your other relationships, you are accused of abandoning her.

The Jezebel friend is seducing. If there is ever an argument, she knows how to smooth ruffled feathers, ease your anxieties (anxieties, also known as discernment!), and get you firmly tucked back under her wing.

You can feel that you are in a romantic relationship with this kind of friend as she expects you to prioritize her above your own family and all of your other friends. This person will confess love to you, give you gifts, and compliment you. She catches you up in the whirlwind of her affection, her passions, and her problematic life. She wants you; she needs you; she’s gotta have you. You are the best thing ever and the only true friend she’s ever had. Which means, you better not let on that you have other friends, let alone a husband. And you better not let her down.

You are probably this Jezebel’s personal helper. Her help-meet even. This is why this topic is so relevant as you launch into “the Gift of Helping” series of devotionals. You must be discerning about helping, what it is and isn’t. Be aware when you’re being asked to “give sacrificially,” or to “serve the needs of others,” or to “lay down your life for a friend.” God is a God of order. You are fully empowered by scripture to refuse to serve disorder.

The Jezebel influenced friend has a highly developed sense of her own righteousness. She will complain about and criticize the character substance of other people. She will make bold and unequivocal statements about her virtue and high value standards. She most likely feels persecuted. She is well versed in her superior understanding and will use this against you. You will be chastised as being morally in the wrong for anything she perceives as a slight.

The spirit of Jezebel is a religious, legalistic spirit, and it is a defiling spirit. Remember that Jezebel herself was a priestess, and highly motivated to dictate the religious life of Israel. She worshipped and served the “Queen of Heaven,” Ashtoreth. Under the guise of “works of righteousness” a modern-day devotee of Ashtoreth will violate your personal autonomy in every area of life that you give her access to. She will seduce you with the promise of “kingdom work” as a way to win a carte blanch to your time and energy.

Because of the legalistic nature of the spirit of Jezebel, I do not believe that “boundaries” are the appropriate construct to defend your personal sovereignty from the intrusion of a Jezebel friend. You cannot fight legalism with legalism. You must counter legalism with grace.

Boundaries are a pre-prescribed set of laws for how you expect to be treated. Boundaries do not allow for a spontaneous response to a situation fit to the specifications of the actual problem unfolding in realtime.

Boundaries depend on assumptions of what problems will arise and what will solve them. Boundaries can sometimes become arbitrary and cause unnecessary, unproductive conflict.

Grace is marked with love and defined by freedom. Boundaries require you to relinquish your freedom to them ahead of time for a sense of protection. Grace depends on God to protect you from violating types of people. Grace leaves space for the Holy Spirit to move in every one of our relationships and conflicts according to His time and His terms.

When we operate in this way we follow Jesus’ command to “let our yes be yes and our no be no.”

In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus instructs, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’  But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Even boundaries are a form of an oath. (But, so are professions of love!)To create pre-set boundaries says in essence, “I will always” or “I will never;” “you must always”or “you must never.” Those are oaths. They are binding and inflexible.

To truly maintain autonomy and sovereignty in any relationship, all that really needs to happen is for you to say “yes,” and act out “yes” or say “no,” and act out “no.”

I already know what you’re thinking— that this is way harder than setting boundaries. Exactly.

Legalism is always easier than grace.

Legalism streamlines the process of interactions. It lets us go on autopilot by requiring less continual emotion. It depends on unforgiveness, propagating hair-trigger conflict and expediting the severing of interpersonal ties.

A Jezebel friend wants to force you quickly into contracts with her and becomes enraged when you break them. So don’t make them. Don’t get caught up in confessions of “best friendship” or sisterhood. Don’t depend on boundaries— because she’s probably the one making, breaking, and redrafting them anyway.

Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” Believe me, she’ll stop wanting to be your friend real fast.

This kind of steadfastness cuts right through the vapors of emotion and the confusion of frenetic pressure that Jezebel loves to apply.

Try to argue with a single, solitary “yes” or a single, solitary “no.” You can’t. They are inviolable.

If you are being drawn into a “helping” relationship with a person who reacts frantically or angrily to hearing “no,” it is likely that you are not going to be edifying this person spiritually through the gift of helping, but rather you are about to become their blood supply.

If you cannot stand your ground, she is probably for someone else to minister to. You can always do as Elijah did: Run. Hide. Cry Out to God. Wait for directions.

The Gift of Helping

Sonja: “No shadow of changing…”

In “The Gift of Helping,” we are exploring the spiritual gift of helping and how it applies far beyond the scope of acts of service at church. The gift of helping is a series of scripture meditations orbiting around personal anecdotes about 10 people who helped me in life saving ways in the last 10 years by exercising the unassuming gift of helping.

I heard once that the most important qualification for Jesus to be the Savior of the World was willingness. He was able to do the job for obvious reasons, but more critically, he was willing to do it.

You can be just right for a job, but it doesn’t matter if you aren’t willing to do it.

In the years after my diagnosis with bipolar disorder, my friend Sonja was the epitome of helpful to me– Mostly because she was willing to put up with me!

At that time, Sonja knew my neuroses more than any other friend. We once sat down in a movie theatre together– probably to watch one of the Twilight movies– and I was overcome with dread. It was a hot day, and I couldn’t shake a worry that my little puppy-dog, who was at my house, in my yard, would get heat stroke. So we left. And she was totally cool with it.

Sonja accommodated me. I have actually never known anyone else who was so good at providing material support for emotional issues. If you could give someone a tissue for a runny heart, Sonja had the supply.

She would drive out of her way to pick me up from the bar when I had had a drink. Hyper-vigilant anxiety means that I literally wouldn’t drive after a singular drink.

Sonja brought me Slurpees when I was pregnant. My first (and second) trimester weird automatic gag-inducing food was water!– of all things. So, I constantly felt like I was thirsting to death.

We usually call these types of things “favors” and don’t think much of them. Sonja was definitely the friend that heard, “Can you do me a favor…” all the time.

We should think more of favors. When a person is consumed with anxiety or is incapacitated by depression, they often need favors. They need material support to make it through a day of emotionally paralyzing obstacles.

It’s important to know that a person with a mental illness gets stuck on things that you probably don’t. We get stuck on our dog being outside on a hot day, and we can’t get over it. We get stuck on feeling unquenchably thirsty, and we can’t get over it. We get stuck on the prospect of getting pulled over by a police officer, and we can’t logically work through what your blood alcohol level is four hours after one Jack and Coke.

Going out of your way for a person like who I was in the high days of my illness took a consistency of effort that is truly admirable. Doing one favor once is nice. Sonja consistently made efforts to bring me things I needed and take me places I needed to go for years.

Those little accommodations being met did very big things for my anxiety. Sonja’s consistent willingness to stop-gap these quirky needs became a kind of safety net. I didn’t feel alone. I didn’t feel stranded and unprepared. The fact that she was always willing to help, meant that when I was seized with fear, I knew there was someone who I could call who was familiar with my weirdness, and she was probably going to help me if I asked.

When you offer the gift of helping, willingness is of primary importance, but consistently being willing is the apex.

Thank you Sonja, for giving me the gift of helping through your consistency of aid, your constancy of friendship.

Sonja and Me blog pic

The Gift of Helping

Julie: “Neither height nor depth…”

In “The Gift of Helping,” we are exploring the spiritual gift of helping and how it applies far beyond the scope of acts of service at church. The gift of helping is a series of scripture meditations orbiting around personal anecdotes about 10 people who helped me in life saving ways in the last 10 years by exercising the unassuming gift of helping.

You’re not supposed to remember anything from your time in psychosis, but I do. Some have tried to cast doubt on these memories: “Surely, you don’t remember what you did; what you said.”

Yes; I do. The parts I’ve forgotten were under heavy sedation, and even then, the dreams are vivid and permanent. I might add– frightening. They were frightening dreams of familiar objects set in an unfamiliar dimension.

One memory that is snap-shotted into the album of my experience at “Garden Pavilion”– a local euphemism for the locked door psych ward– is Julie taking a seat next to me on a vinyl couch in a glass enclosed “rec room.”

She put her arm around me and let my heavy head, half lucid and full of pharmaceuticals, fall into her lap. She stroked my hair in an automatic motherly response to my sleepiness, probably a way she knew how to do as her son was three years old at the time. All of the dopamine and cortisol that had been conspiring to keep me awake finally settled and let me fall asleep in her firm presence of unmoved friendship.

Nearly two weeks later, she was sitting in my hospital room, I took off on a delusional rant of prophetic proportion. Jules stopped me. “Nat, they’re never gunna let you out of here if you keep talking like that.” Something snapped right within me when she said that. The meds were leveling me out chemically. So, now, I just had to kick the conspiracy theorist thinking habits that I had fallen into during four weeks of seeing the world from an entirely right-brained, mushroomy perspective. It was time to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

With my release impending, my parents started to panic because it turned out that while manic I spaced on paying my insurance premium. I couldn’t remember the password to my online insurance portal. My parents were days away from the grace period ending, after which time I would have no medical insurance to cover 14 days of hospitalization. With hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging over our heads, my parents asked Julie to get the password out of me. I couldn’t remember it, but she figured I’d be able to type it out if given a keyboard. So she brought me two pieces of grayscale paper taped together– an image of her computer keyboard that she had photocopied. Julie for the win!

Julie was convinced that I would continue living a normal life as soon as I was released from hospital custody…I mean, care.

Within a week of coming home, Julie put her professional reputation on the line and invited me to a work event. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist I saw the day after I left the hospital didn’t feel that bipolar 1 disorder was an accurate diagnosis, so he had cut my lithium dose in half. The tailspin was already starting while I drove with Julie up to San Jose for the wine expo her organization was participating in. I’d be back in the hospital a week later, and so would Julie.

Every visiting hour, lunch and dinner, she was there. “Always order the cake,” she’d say. “The hospital contracts with Layers Cakes and it’s fabulous!” Fabulous is Julie’s word. It was nice to hear her say “fabulous” in that weird, creamy-foamy-blue, plastic place that was slightly gray all over from the smudges of too many daylight-deprived hands pressing against its walls.

In every way, Julie acted herself in the hospital. She used words like “fabulous.” She told me to “act right.” She referred to my hospitalization as “your vacation.” She got buzzed in twice a day for all those days and sashayed to sit with me at the dining tables like the boss that she is. She was real, and she brought me back to reality.

Julie was a crisis-resistant friend. She was not about to be shaken by a little delusion. She wasn’t going to put on some alternate personality to deal with me in my altered condition– which pretty much every one else did. I was all broken up, but she held her integrity.

Anyone who is caught up in chaos needs a crisis-resistant friend. When a girl you know is being turned inside out, she doesn’t need a friend who is barely holding back how grossed out you are by her entrails. She doesn’t need you to show up repressing how scared you are of her. She doesn’t need a friend with a nice, bland, “helper” mask on. She doesn’t need you secretly wondering if you ever really knew her.

She needs you to show up undeterred by the mess. She needs you to keep a laser-like focus on who she really is. She needs you to be crisis-resistant!– for you to continue to be yourself no matter what, and for you to allow her to be herself no matter what. You have to know for her that she’ll come back sooner rather than later.

This is the only way to truly reach anyone that is any kind of “lost.” Crisis-resistance. Boldly show up in truth and confidence until the person in the dark regains consciousness in the light.

Thank you Julie, for exercising the gift of helping by refusing to back down or bend in the face of my personal disaster.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Julie and Me Blog 2

The Gift of Helping

Brittany: “A friend who sticks closer…”

In “The Gift of Helping,” we are exploring the spiritual gift of helping and how it applies far beyond the scope of acts of service at church. The gift of helping is a series of scripture meditations orbiting around personal anecdotes about 10 people who helped me in life saving ways in the last 10 years by exercising the unassuming gift of helping.

“Boundaries” is every therapist’s favorite word. In the emotional landscape of today’s West, every person is to have a clearly thought through and established list of every behavior they will accept, every attitude they will not, and a plan for how they will present themselves in every still frame of their lives as fully enforcing their own little set of Ten Commandments.

I have never heard of anyone successfully, or consistently, re-enforcing their $150/per word boundary statements in the context of their actual relationships. Why, is a simple explanation. Relationships require flexibility. Flexibility is a thing that a boundary is not.

Relationships with difficult people– you know, like ones whose world have just been shattered by psychosis, whose friends seem to fear them, and whose churches do not want them– relationships with difficult people require Elastigirl, supermom of The Incredibles, capable of actually turning her body into a parachute while she falls with you.

Brittany was a year behind me in high school. She was home waiting to start grad school after college. I can’t remember how we reconnected, but I was just out of the hospital and spending all my time in bed.

All I wanted was to be able to do normal things. Things like take a shower, eat a meal, wear clean clothes, and do more than move from my bed at 1:00pm to the couch until moving back to bed at 10:00pm.

Brittany, whose vibe as long as I’ve known her is full of sweetness, pep, and an ability to turn an idea into an action, offered to meet me at Carmel Beach to go for walks on Mondays and Wednesdays.

And she meant it. Mondays and Wednesdays. Like all of the Mondays and all of the Wednesdays.

We walked and talked the length of Carmel Beach for hours over weeks. Every Monday and every Wednesday, Brittany would text me to confirm that we were meeting. Sometimes I wouldn’t text back. My alarm would have gone off half a dozen times, but many days it just wasn’t happening for me. Sometimes, Brittany would text that she was at the beach waiting for me, and I’d tell her then that I wasn’t up to it.

Were Brittany a “boundaries” kind of friend, our walks would have happened maybe twice or three times. Thankfully, Brittany is a “persistent” kind of friend. She was a “selfless” kind of friend. A friend that bounced back from my offenses. A friend who put up with my prickliness, listened to me bad mouth a God whom she loved, and never stopped engaging with me.

Brittany also shared with me what was going on in her life. I was not a project, I was her friend. After hearing about her secret crush, I later got to attend their wedding. She wasn’t evangelizing me in my lostness, she was sticking with me, for real.

“A man of many companions comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” Proverbs18:24.

In the months fresh from my mania, psychosis, diagnosis, and prognosis, I definitely did not have many companions. I did have one companion though, and she stuck close despite every reason to feel disrespected by me.

Companionship is a function of the spiritual gift of helping that builds up God’s church. Companionship sticks. It takes walks. It calls. It reschedules. It tries again. It rolls with the punches. It shows up, and is ready to be real.

You cannot underestimate the way in which you can rebirth life into a person by tenaciously spending time with them.

Brittany, thank you for extending to me the gift of “helps” through your companionship.

Britt and Me