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Downward Mobility

Downward Mobility
By Anthony Vartuli

I was first introduced to the phrase “downward mobility” while reading a Henri Nouwen book. At the time, back in 2003, I was just coming to grips with a diagnosis which came crashing into my life: Bipolar II. For whatever reason, my grandmother’s death that year triggered something in me which put me in a state of depression I could not overcome. In a matter of a month I had lost 25 pounds, had no appetite, and could not sleep at all. I had struggled with some form of  depression all my life. But nothing like this. 

Downward mobility. That phrase came to mean something to me. Something important. Some  whisper of the Spirit of God. I fought the diagnosis, for fear I would be labeled an emotional  cripple, for fear that I might be done with my pastoral calling, for fear that God was done with  me. 

Downward Mobility. God moves us in a downward direction in order to bring more freedom into  our lives. Freedom in the Christian life does not come from an upward spiral to victory and  success. It comes as we follow our Lord’s way, our Lord who “though he was God he did not think  of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took  the humble position of a slave…he humbled himself…and died a criminal’s death on a  cross…therefore God (the Father) elevated him.” (Phil. 2: 6-9) 

Downward Mobility. As Paul tells us in Romans 7, when we come to a place where we are brought low by a deeper awareness of our own foolishness, then we are more deeply set free by the Holy Spirit, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you  belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads  to death.” (Romans 8:1-2) 

Downward Mobility. How could I have possibly known that such a diagnosis would serve to set  me free in new ways? I couldn’t. God’s ways are so counter-intuitive. I will tell you that my life has deepened in Christ. I gradually moved from a man of pressure to a man of increasing internal solidness and rest. I began to read the Bible less as a spiritual manual and more like a relational story, the Story God is telling. I began to relax, asking God “What are you up to in this?” Not only did my life deepen but also my ministry. People began to trust me in new ways, with ongoing struggles, physical and relational. I became a more safe and trusted person. 

And now, today, 21 years later? While I would say that I am a man more at rest, I still struggle  profoundly with the foolishness in my heart. I still struggle relationally with my friends and family. And I still struggle profoundly, at times, with God. Yet, I am learning to struggle well. And that has made all the difference in the world. 

Every disability, every limitation, conceals a calling (C.S. Lewis). May you continue to find God in  these most unlikely places in your own life. His Grace and Peace to you. 

-Anthony Vartuli

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