In my last post, I mentioned what I call the Balloon Squish. I thought I ought to take a minute to explain that term.
Two weeks after the party, you decide to clean behind the couch and in the process you find an old balloon. The balloon was full and vibrant two weeks ago, but now has faded to half its size and is all wobbly and squishy. As you pick up the balloon and head for the trash, you think of all the fun you had at the party, and look for something to pop the balloon with so that it won’t take up all the space in the trash can.
On the way, you play with the balloon, squishing it between your hands. If you squeeze hard enough, you notice that sections of the balloon pop out between your fingers. Some parts go out between your thumbs, others go out up your arm. If you keep your hands in the same place on the balloon and squeeze in the same way every time, usually, with small variations, the balloon will squeeze out the same way every time. If you were to squeeze hard enough or hold the balloon long enough, it might develop a permanent stretch and maintain the squished out part even after you let go of the balloon.
We are a lot like balloons that are squeezed. When the trials of life hit us, we react. When the same trails hit us over and over again, usually we react in the same way, over and over again. Sometimes we react in good ways. Sometimes we react badly. But we always react. And sometimes our bodies join us in the reacting and sometimes they permanently react. I think mental illnesses, in general, are our body’s reaction to the stresses of life handled in natural (in the case of victims) and sinful (self-absorbed) ways. Suppose a three year old is beat every day by his alcoholic father. This produces incredible stress for a young fellow, by someone who God has put into his life to protect and serve him. From the first time his father beat him, he was reacting to his treatment. His mind was warping, his body was changing, his spirit was dying. Over time, his reaction to the treatment was having a greater and more far reaching effect on his person. It is no surprise that he might create a world inside his mind where he can go to escape the horrors of his torture. It makes sense that his mind would finally snap and might begin hearing voices in his head. The balloon squeezes until something in the balloon finally gives and a hunk jumps out between the fingers. And if the stress isn’t alleviated or is increased, the balloon can permanently stay popped out, even if later the squeeze is released.
If you were to confront the father about why he beats his son, I’m pretty sure he would give you an answer that to him, in the moment, makes perfect sense. Let’s suppose he isn’t doing a very good job at work, his boss is expecting things he can’t physically do. Suppose, he reacts to his situation at work (where he is a victim like his son is a victim at home) by stopping by the bar on the way home. After spending a few of hours chatting with his Norms, he staggers home, and in blind rage beats his noisy son to a pulp. He has been a victim (his boos), but he’s added to his balloon squeeze by not going home and loving his wife and son, by getting drunk, by beating up his son, and sleeping in late the next morning (which adds to his trouble with his boss). The guilt, shame, and overall disgust and self-hatred, mixed with is worldly love of himself, is creating an incredible balloon squish. And all these reactions are the balloon popping out through the fingers. So, the man is not only squishing out, he is increasing the squish as he squishes out. Eventually, something will pop, snap, or happen in his life. Some things may be permanent, some not so permanent.
The Bible is full of examples of people who suffer. In fact, will find suffering on every page of your Bible. Both kinds of suffering are there: those who are victims and those who create victims. The only passage in the Bible where there is no suffering is in the first two chapters. From then on, things get worse and worse, until the end of the Gospels when Jesus rises from the dead. And notice he rises from the dead. Even he didn’t have all that much fun when he was alive on the earth. In fact, the Bible is a book written to people who are suffering. And everyone suffers. Some more than others.
The Bible also presents the way through suffering. Suffering is given to us as a gift to humble us, to bring us to God, to cause us to trust in him and to live with one another in an understanding way. We are supposed to let the troubles we face take us to the throne of Christ, to the lap of God, to seek respite in the presence of the only one who can save and give peace—even in the midst of pain and suffering.
When the squeeze of life comes to us we can either run to our own devices or we can run to Jesus. If we run to our own devices, we run to death. If we run to Jesus, we run to life.