[Welcome! This is a four-part blog series to compliment The Bothy Sessions. Each week following the release of The Bothy Sessions film, we’ll release a blog article to compliment the ‘big thought’ behind each piece. This week, the offering is a fuller part of my testimony relating to mental health and to compliment our first film, Prelude – see below].
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:9
I’d been listening really hard in Sunday School as Tina Campbell-Black led us all in one of the biblical accounts of the colourful life of Joseph. Tina had then led me in a prayer to personally receive Christ. It was the most natural and most monumental decision I would ever make.
Leading up to, during and after my ‘prayer of response’, the presence of God had ruined my mind for possibly the first time: I had believed; I was a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Isaiah 6:5).
It wouldn’t be the last ruining.
My response? To run around Isaac Singer’s former mansion home announcing to all and sundry that “I’ve done it!”. Of course, I’d done nothing except stare at a bridgeless chasm – as children do – and stepped off anyway.
Before I knew it, I was twenty one and had already known Jesus personally – and powerfully – for well over a decade. For more than ten years, I’d enjoyed the unspeakable joy of being able to recall this eternity-sealing moment when faith and grace had kissed my life forever.
But, back in the glorious English Riviera, I had no way of knowing what dark valleys lay ahead and the emulsifying onslaught that they would issue on my mind. I was more like Bilbo Baggins than I could know, blissfully tucking in to a Sunday tea without the faintest idea that my life was about to be filled with a company of comfort-disturbing Dwarves.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today
~ Genesis 50:20
Eleven years or so later, I’d been walking across a leafy park in South West London en route to play some tennis when it happened: the accumulated turbulence of immoral living, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, brought me to a breaking point and one that had made more sense than all that had gone before.
The ashen, inescapable consequences of my sin were like a pyroclastic flow:
I had followed suit at university and drunk to excess; I’d been initiated into the culture of “lad” via the pint-downing/pint-vomiting football team; I owned a large cardboard box full of FHM magazines that I stupidly regarded as harmless and didn’t consider to be pornographic. (By the beard of Zeus, I even had a large poster of Austin Power’s Felicity Shagwell emblazoned on my university bedroom wall).
Yet, I was still leading worship at Christian Union and constantly thinking about Jesus. I still prayed and read my Bible every single day.
I was a half-hearted time-bomb of contradiction.
So, now imagine a different scene: that I was walking gingerly across a vast lake of ice and, beneath my bare feet, cracks had started to appear. Without any doubt that I was eternally covered by the blood of the Lamb, I still knew I was lost at sea, standing on top of an ocean of breaking water.
Here I was, in my tender early twenties, staring at a tectonic-shift-event in the ultimate conflict between good and evil (what pleases the Spirit vs what pleases the flesh) and for it to ripple into the inescapable moment of my cognitive fracturing.
This was the aftermath of my hypocritical discipleship: images I didn’t want to see, thoughts I didn’t want to have, rest and relief that I wasn’t sure that I could find.
God was sounding ten thousand rousing trumpets in my febrile, calloused mind and I would rather have had two broken legs than the mental pain I was experiencing. I was about to go under into a freezing abyss of anxiety.
All of this (acute) turmoil was only in addition to the ongoing (chronic) Christian toll of the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. (More on this in Week 3 – Jesus Sojourn).
In any case, God knew.
The Laundrette & The Lamb of God
As a young man fumbling his way through the formative stages of the Christian journey, and without fully turning my back on Jesus, I had been naievely incubating sinful thought patterns that were completely at odds with prophetic sensitivity, ill-fitting responsibility that I didn’t yet have, and conspiring against a prophetic power that I had no real idea how to wield.
I wasn’t loving or pursuing Jesus or His kingdom as I should have been, and yet God continued to use me.
One day, my room-mate and I went to take our dirty laundry (ironically) to the public laundrette off-campus from the uni, just next-door to our favourite beer-swigging haunt, The Waldegrave Arms.
While we waited for our cycle of sartorial sanctification to finish, an old lady down the opposite end of the washing machines engaged me in conversation by asking, “Do you fellowship locally?”.
I was deeply encouraged because her question was legitimately a kind of God-balm. It actually wasn’t a question at all about whether or not I fellowshipped locally (I did), but rather the obedient response of a dear old saint to the out-of-the-blue prompting of His Presence. It was the most pertinent of questions for a Son of Adam to be asked by a Daughter of Eve.
This old English sage would have had no idea how much I’d been wallowing in my mud-pie slums. At this point, a holiday by a Devonian seaside seemed practically another world away.
As my room-mate and I left the laundrette, he turned to me evidently amazed by what had just happened and proceeded to quip, “What, do you have a cross on your forehead or something?!”.
Yes. There really was a blood-red, burning cross seared on to my flailing mind. Even my unsaved mate could see the Golgothic battle for the skull (mind) incarnated in this trembling prodigal.
My Victor was gently showing me my total depravity, my abject weakness and His all-sufficient strength. The Spirit of God had got my attention in a way that two broken legs – or even full paralysis – could never have achieved.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
~ Psalm 84:5
Recovery – The Sword of the Spirit
Over the next couple of years, God would begin to administer to me a prescription of sanity from Isaiah 26:3.
This reverse chain of “being kept in a perfection of peace” by a “steadfastness of mind” that only comes from the brokenness that has learnt to “trust in Him” was (and still is) like a cardiac pacemaker implant to ensure sinus rhythm.
Reminiscent of the golden chain in Romans 8:30 (and those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified) He was seeing to it that I would now dance to a different beat.
Oh, what mercy! A sinful man being glorified (and adopted) by the King of Glory.
Today, the power and truth of this verse in Isaiah 26:3 continues to be a daily prescription for my limping mind. The redemption of our bodies will be glorious but, perhaps, not as glorious as the redemption of our scarred minds. (Romans 8:23 – think Jake Sully from Avatar, but infinitely better).
So this film project has been a little like an 18 year-old single malt whisky, maturing sweetly and slowly in a single refill sherry cask and personally selected by my Malt Master.
I believe that the conflation of a cultural openness to the issues relating to our collective mental health, and the season of burning disaster upon the apostate Church, have created a perfect condition for this word to come.
The four parts of Prelude, Brain Chemicals, Jesus Sojourn and Dissolution of Denomination will culminate in an urgent call to personal/corporate repentance that, if heeded, will lead from the ultimate schizophrenia to the ultimate freedom in God.
There is more to be said but that will come over the next few weeks.
The Bothy Sessions (Parts I-IV): Prelude (September 21st) Brain Chemicals (September 28th) Jesus Sojourn (October 5th) Dissolution of Denomination (October 12th)