A “Come As You Are” Party

Anne Lamott’s personal page bio includes this:

“Twenty-three years ago a very hung-over Anne Lamott stumbled into a small church and started what was to be a long journey towards sobriety and sanity. There were no instant miracles on that road, but many small mercies that for Lamott added up to a growing awareness of God’s grace. She soon came to understand that, to her, religion was a “come as you are” party, with no need to pretend to be anything but your own true self.”

…….interesting words, “to her, religion was a “come as you are” party, with no need to pretend to be anything but your own true self.”

Those words reminded me of a night  in May 1997, when I had been voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital after struggling with some unusual experiences that I later discovered were symptoms of a lengthy and profound depression that had gotten even worse after a particularly stressful season of life at age 43.

I had tumbled into a state of nearly total inability to manage the daily activities of life due to the depression and experienced a break with reality.  My husband had accompanied me from the local hospital’s emergency room to the admission office of the psychiatric hospital where I was interviewed and signed to be admitted.  I was crying with relief.  I knew I needed help.  I was aware that there were various issues in my life that needed to be explored that had led to the depression and eventually to nearly complete inability to function. The first night I was placed in a suicide watch unit, although I had no suicidal ideations or attempts to harm myself or others.  It rained all night and I sat on the bed wrapped in a blanket and I cried.  I could hear laughter outside my room.  At some time during the might, I got focused on the laughter and believed they were having a party.  I was afraid, in my delusional state, that they were going to come and get me to join the party, but  my delusion further implied that I was going to have to go to the party naked.  That was a strange delusion, to be sure, and something I would never do in the physical.

But there was a sense, in the spiritual, in which that is exactly what I was there to do….throw off hurts that were too painful to share or even remember accurately, drop pretenses that had become way to heavy to continue to carry, cast aside masks that no longer suited my desire to be who I was, who God wanted me to be.  I was beginning a journey that night of “getting naked”….baring my soul.  I would spend time over the next ten years with a wonderful Christan counselor who helped me learn to do exactly that.  Transparency, honesty, with motives that can stand up to scrutiny by others…..that was the place to which I was beginning my journey that night from a bed in the suicide watch unit of a psychiatric hospital.  It was scary.  I felt vulnerable.  But mostly, I felt relieved.  I could begin the process of getting “naked”, spiritually and emotionally in safety and with compassionate support, so that I truly could enjoy the “party”…..the banquet to which the Rich Master was inviting me. Daily life is a banquet now.  The despair, depression, and secrets of the past have long ago been unloaded.  There are still moments when situations cause anxiety and my capacity to trust is stretched by new challenges.  But I am thankful I learned the lesson of transparency and of having godly counsel.  It allows me to continue in the joy of the journey, enjoying the banquet daily.

At one point, in the emergency room before I was transported by ambulance to the psychiatric hospital, I had another delusion…..or hallucination…..or heavenly vision.  At the moment it felt like and I interpreted it as though I was talking with God.  In my mind, I was inside a dark geodesic dome, similar to the one at Disney’s Epcot with the Space Mountain rollercoaster.  There were twinkling lights over my head outlining the shape of the dome.  I heard a voice say, “If this is too hard, you don’t have to do it.”  I thought I was being given permission to die, to simply cease to exist.  But, as I said, I had not had suicidal ideations.  So immediately I responded to the voice, which seemed very much to me like God’s, “No, I want to continue.  I love my family and want to get well.”  In that instant I awoke from my dream/delusion/hallucination/vision and was lying on the exam table with my husband and two pastors standing by me.   Weeks later, in a session with the Christian counselor, I told her about that experience.  She said that it may very well be that there is a point in time in which one experiencing mental distress has a choice to make…..to simply surrender to defeat, give up trying, or to keep fighting to understand and reach for mental, emotional, and spiritual health.   She affirmed my sense that, in that moment, I was at that point of having to choose.  But now, years later, it seems that there was an even greater choice that I was making…..to trust God entirely with circumstances of the past, with the present distress in that moment, and with the future.  It may have even been the moment in which God began preparing me to say “yes” to a call to ministry that I would not recognize until ten years later.

Truly, the spirit, mind, and body are fearfully and wonderfully made.  God is present in the midst of whatever we are experiencing because he has created us, made us in his image for relationship with him, and we are his.   Christian religion, in the context of it being a relationship with Christ and participating in the banquet in God’s kingdom as a child and heir, like Christ, truly is a “come as you are” party.  But, once there, be prepared for some extraordinary revelations and transformations!