I Am An Extremist

donneI am a person of extremes. It remains debatable whether that is due to my bipolar disorder, or to some facet of my own personality. As it happens, my mother is also an extreme sort of person. For both of us, it is easy to fall into an “all-or-nothing” mentality. I either do not bother playing a computer game – or else I play it until the tears are running down my face from overstraining my eyes. I once read The Lord of the Rings so avidly that I was unable to refocus my eyes for a day and a half. It is easy for me to become obsessed, or the opposite, and be indifferent.

In matters of faith, too, it affects me. I was quite anti-Christian until illness threw me into faith, and now I increasingly think of little else. It has been some years since I last read a book that was not specifically Christian, for example, although I used to read widely. I cannot imagine life without faith now, and the outward signs of it (like going to church) are also important to me. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that – but I am aware that it could cause problems.

The problems I have in mind are that I know I have an attraction to fundamentalism. I disagree with many things arch-conservatives believe, mainly on social issues, and tone, but I can see something in it. I think it is so easy, to be so literal, to follow the party line and not think for myself, nor risk rejection by sticking closely to the most conservative viewpoint. I hate arguments, yet for years I used to argue with American fundamentalists on the internet, until I realised that it was actively harming my faith to do so. I now restrain myself from reading too much on the sort of “hot topics” that cause arguments within Christianity – issues such as gay rights, women, that sort of thing.

Most of all I stay away and force myself into a more peaceable mindset. My association with fundamentalists meant that I learned a debating style which was quite aggressive, and, to my mind, lacking in love and respect for one’s opponents. I try to stay away from controversial issues now, and I endeavour, whenever I disagree with someone, to be gentle, to hold back, to be kind. I would probably have done my usual thing of rejecting (at least) conservative Christianity, were it not that I know two very lovely, very very conservative Christians, who I really like.

I am attracted to extremes, and I remain ambivalent about whether this is a character flaw I should be doing something with, or not. I worry that one day, my obsession with Christ will just…end, and I go away from faith into some indifference instead. Right now, I could not bear that and cannot imagine feeling like that, but it is something I worry about. See, there is my anxiety again! I worry that I will become “lukewarm” as the Laodiceans were condemned for being in Revelation 3:16.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)

I don’t know where I am going with this post, really, except to say that I am both scared of my tendency to extremes, and also want that tendency to be more pronounced. In my faith-life I seek to be completely and utterly all for God, and my anxiety manifests itself in an internal voice telling me I do not have enough faith, I have not done enough (although I know that “doing” is not really the central message of our faith) I am, myself, not enough. Yet I remember that Christ said that “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) Yet then I remind myself that he was speaking to his disciples – who had lacked even so small a faith, and so were unable to cast out a demon.

I don’t know what to make of it – what I should be seeking. I worry a great deal that I have a weak faith – although to read my blog, to speak to me, people perhaps think differently. I think a factor of my illness is that little voice which always says “you are not good enough” – it is something that screams at me when I am depressed. Of course, when I have my high periods I become the opposite, and think I am the greatest – which is why my highs are most welcome, because they mostly come when I am deeply depressed. They are like a holiday in winter, although I know that psychiatrists are concerned about them, perhaps more than they are concerned about my depressions.

I have been reading a little John Donne, and I want to read more of his work, and more about him because I know very little. I did come across a poem of his that expresses how I feel about my faith, and what I would ask God. I have a feeling that I have posted this here before, and written on a similar idea, so please accept my apologies if this is a repeat for you! The poem is Holy Sonnet XIV:

Batter my heart, three-person’d God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

You can read the other poems of Donne on the Luminarium website.

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Comments

  1. Wow! There are so many thoughts running through my brain that I am experiencing some difficulty reigning them in. So, let me start with this — I totally get you!!
    This post is so incredibly transparent, vulnerable, existential, and relate-able. While I do not suffer the same affliction, I totally identify with what you are saying. There are times in my days when I wonder if I have “enough” faith. There are days I ponder whether there will be a single event in my life that will rock my faith so severely that it will break the bond I have with the Father. And then there are days when the Lord moves, breathes and crosses my path and I feel as though I have just moved that mountain!
    A few things did come to mind as I read your post. They are thoughts I tend to think when I am examining my faith and how I move and have my being in this world.
    1) the father of all lies is the accuser of the brethren. When I begin to feel myself doubting the depth and breadth of my faith, I know it is the enemy circling my camp. How do I know this? Because the feeling is condemnation, not conviction. God leads us from glory to glory and faith is a journey. The faith I have today is what I need for today and should I need to increase tomorrow, then, with God’s help I will increase it.
    2) God watches over His people. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the story of a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son and how when one gets lost the owner goes in search of it, does not give up until it is found, and rejoices when it is recovered. Because I have received Jesus as my Savior, I have been engrafted into the flock. No matter what happens in my life God will always come looking for me. I am His sheep. My comfort is knowing God is faithful to His word.
    You are an amazing creature with a purpose that is uniquely yours.
    Blessings, Kellie

    • Hi Kellie,
      Thanks very much for your comment – really encouraging! I sometimes have to remind myself that when I am doubting whether I have “enough” faith…that means I do actually have some faith after all, or else I wouldn’t care. Thank you for reminding me of Jesus’ words about lost sheep!
      Thank you!
      Emma

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