One of joys and burdens of being the 5pm Church Pastor is to sit with folk whom I love and hear them tell me about how tough life is for them. There are 5pm family members who are really really struggling at the moment.
And there are many reasons that lie behind some of those struggles – unemployment, depression, grief, breakdown in relationship, childlessness, money, marriage difficulties, singleness issues, doubts of faith and more.
How I long to just snap my fingers and have the problems fixed. I don’t like to see folk walking such hard paths.
Alongside this, I am disappointed with our society. It promises so much yet it delivers so little especially for those who are doing it so tough. As I reflect, I see a lot of energy and voice given to promoting individual causes (‘the most important person is you!’). I hear a lot said about doing what feels good (‘you should do what makes you feel happy!’). What a lie. And how unhelpful to the one who is so desperately crying out in the midst of depression or sickness or turmoil.
Let me focus a little on depression as so many at 5pm Church suffer in this way. Now I write not as a medical professional, but knowing that depression ranges in seriousness from mild to persistent and can affect people of any age including children. I know there are many different forms of depression (i.e. melancholia, psychotic, anti and postnatal, bipolar, cyclothymic, dysthymic and seasonal affective). And I know that these forms of depression can be induced by internal or external factors and often both. There are professionals at 5pm Church who can tell you far more about depression than me.
Let me focus on depression as an observer and pastor who frequently hears about many of the burdens experienced in the depths of depression.
- Depression robs the sufferer of joy and hope.
In reality there could be much to be thankful about, much which causes great joy, but depression takes that away and tells the person there is nothing to enjoy, nothing to hope in.
- Depression makes the world small.
Depression reduces the sufferers’ capacity to see beyond themselves and often causes the person to withdrawn from the wider world into their own world. There may be people who can help, there may be experiences to have, there may be tasks to get done, there may be medicines that can help, but depression closes down the person so that they cannot see their way out of the little world that they have withdrawn into.
- Depression tells lies.
Our society repeatedly tells us to follow our feelings and to do what we want. That is a massive issue for those who suffer with depression because what they feel is not often that good. For someone who is depressed, their feelings are telling them to withdraw, to ignore advice, to avoid. Feelings will say that their cause is lost, that their depression is permanent, that God is not there, that everyone is against them. All lies.
In fact often the best thing to do when suffering from depression is to do the opposite of what you feel. When you don’t feel like meeting with others, you should. When you don’t feel like getting out of bed, you should. When you don’t feel like praying, you should. When you don’t feel like going to work, or looking for a job, or fixing the house, or doing the finances, or going to Home Group, you should.
King David is credited as the author of many Psalms and many are psalms of lament. He lived before our clinical age of depression diagnosis, but I have often wondered if he would have been a candidate for depression because of the force of some of the psalms he writes. Psalm 142 is an example (have a read). He cries out the Lord, pours out his complaint, pleads for help for he is in need. It is a Psalm which reads desperately – yet there is hope. When all around has failed, the Lord is still David’s refuge, his righteousness upholds him.
There are times when Psalms quite simply express what one feels – for the person with depression, it gets alongside and effectively says ‘Let me say what you are feeling’. For example Psalm 25:16-18
Turn to me [LORD] and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.
It is a cry for help and it is an expression of burden. What David feels is undoubtedly true. What David does with those feelings is give them to the Lord. He does the opposite to what he feels. Earlier in that same Psalm (vv.4-5) he says:
Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.
The encouragement here – especially for the person who has no joy or experiences failing hope, or whose world is collapsing upon them, or who is finding little help from the world – is to include God in the trouble and remember his great love and mercy, and be reminded of his willingness to rescue and carry and care for those who know his voice. Put your hope in him all day long.
And for the rest of us at 5pm Church, because you know the hope we have through Jesus and you feel the joy of what it means to live in that hope – let’s be people willing to offer a hand or ear, or word to those in our family who are doing it so tough. We can’t take their burden (Jesus does that), but we can help to carry some of that burden as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Lord, help me to do that better.