Tag Archives: Depression

Side-Note to the Lowly Scribe

Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.
Jeremiah 45:5 (NIV)

History records the words and lives of those who were “great” in their time. Little is said, however, about those who surrounded these individuals, walked the journey with them, served them, and witnessed the events of that person’s life and times.

In today’s very brief chapter (only five verses!), we have a fascinating historical side note given to Jeremiah’s servant and scribe, Baruch. Baruch was the son of a man named Neriah. Baruch took Jeremiah’s dictation and wrote Jeremiah’s prophetic messages down on scrolls. Jeremiah’s never-ending stream of doomsday prophecies certainly took its toll on Baruch. I’m sure he would have appreciated an open prescription of Zoloft had it been available in the day.

The other interesting thing we learn from the anthology of Jeremiah’s life and work is that Baruch had a brother named Seraiah who was a servant of King Zedekiah and who ultimately accompanied Zed when he was taken captive to Babylon. So in the back story of today’s chapter we have a tale of two brothers.

Seraiah served the King and was afforded all the worldly power, comfort, and privilege of being in the royal entourage. Baruch, on the other hand, was the lowly scribe of the unpopular Jeremiah. Jeremiah was reviled by the king and those in power. He faced continual death threats. He was belittled, insulted, laughed at, and eventually imprisoned. Baruch was right there by Jeremiah’s side, enduring it all right along with him. Seraiah got to serve Cabernet to the King while Baruch followed a naked Jeremiah through the streets of Jerusalem listening to the insults of passersby and wanting to slink under the nearest rock. Baruch felt the weight of Jeremiah’s gloomy predictions, and he seems to have felt fraternal frustration of not measuring up to the success his brother found.

Today’s chapter is a short but very specific prophetic word from God through Jeremiah, to the scribe Baruch. Yes, God tells him, there are bad times coming. Don’t worry about greatness and success (FYI: your successful brother is going to end up a captive in Babylon). There’s a lot of bad stuff coming, but no matter what happens and where you end up, you’ll escape with your life.

This morning I’m thinking about a conversation Wendy and I had just last night on our patio. Our life journeys lead us to places where we walk along side events that are really happening to others. We witness them. We feel for those involved, but the truth is that we are not intimately a part of the event itself. I’ve learned that this is an important distinction to see and to make. My ego likes to make everything about me, so I take on other peoples events and circumstances and make them about me, my feelings, and my life.

I’m reminded by today’s little side-note of a chapter that God not only sees and knows the heart and circumstances of the great prophets, but also the lowly scribe who his quietly playing his own little role in the Great Story. I sometimes feel that I’m in a culture where I’m expected to react to every news story, empathize with every victim, and take on every cause. Silly. Baruch’s journey was not his brother’s journey nor was it really his boss’. His journey was his own.

God knows, I’ve got my own journey to walk. I don’t need to take on another’s.

Just When I Thought it Couldn’t Get Any Worse

And they took Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah along with them. 
Jeremiah 43:6 (NIV)

Just a week or so ago I was listening to a Typology podcast with a panel discussion of those who are Enneagram Type Fours. I also happen to be a Type Four, and listening to the podcast threw me into an unexpected depression. “I don’t want to be one of those people,” I groaned to Wendy that night in bed. The ironic (and hilarious) part of it was that my dramatic brooding about being a Four is exactly how a Four reacts!

I so identified with Jeremiah in today’s chapter. The poor old man (who I’m convinced was a Type Four as well) has lived such a long, hard life dramatically prophesying a lot of pessimistic, doom and gloom predictions to people who refuse to listen to him. He then gets to watch as his prophesies come to pass. He lives through a siege in which he almost starves to death, is imprisoned, and eventually thrown into the bottom of a well and left to die. He’s rescued only to watch his city destroyed, God’s temple destroyed, and his own people slaughtered. If that’s not bad enough, in today’s chapter – after giving a prophetic Word to a group of people who asked him what they should do, they reject his prophetic advice and take him captive to Egypt.

“Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse!

The truth is that most every one has stretches of life’s journey in which nothings goes right and everything seems to go wrong. Just when you though it was bad, it gets worse. Hopefully, you and I will never be rejected, imprisoned, thrown into a well, left to die, have to watch our town destroyed by invaders, witness people cannibalizing their own for lack of food, and then being taken captive to another country. Jeremiah’s list makes anything I might moan about seem ludicrously silly in comparison.

The description of Type Fours on the Enneagram Institute website states: At their Best: inspired and highly creative, Fours are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.” As I reread that again this morning it reminded me that how I handle the valleys, detours, and pot-holes on life’s road is really up to me. I can allow myself to be a slave to my own pessimistic, brooding natural bents, fears, and anxieties. Or, I can continually work on becoming the healthiest version of myself and transform my circumstances into a better, healthier, more capable human being. The person Jesus calls me to be. The person I was created to be.

I don’t always choose my circumstances, but I always choose how I react or respond.

 

The Depressed Prophet

Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    “A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame?
Jeremiah 20:13-18 (NIV)

Across the ages, the ancient prophet Jeremiah has been labeled with  the moniker “The Weeping Prophet.” In our bedroom at the lake Wendy and I have a copy of Rembrandt’s portrait of Jeremiah looking depressed and sullen as he sits amidst the ruins of Jerusalem. It reminds me that the lake is a thin place where any who are burdened can find rest for their souls. Alas, it would seem that Jeremiah had no such place.

In today’s chapter we read of a confrontation between Jeremiah and a priest named Pashur, who was “the official in charge of the Temple of the Lord.” The fact that the one “in charge” was out to get Jeremiah is a good indication of just how corrupt the system had become in Jeremiah’s day. The priest in charge of the Temple was overseeing all of the pagan rituals and cults operating out of the Temple. The Temple had become a religious corporation, a powerful money-maker for those in charge (not unlike the way Jesus’ found the Temple in His day).

While Jeremiah had been protected from the death-threats that had already been made against him, Pashur decided to at least punish the prophet for his inflammatory prophesies of doom and destruction. I’m quite sure they were bad for business. In fact, I can almost hear Pashur saying, “This isn’t personal, Jer. It’s strictly business.” Once again, this is not unlike Jesus who, after His repeated rants against their corruption and His stirring up of the people, pressured the Temple leaders to plot His death .

After his time in the stocks, Jeremiah immediately confronts Pashur with a stubborn and willful repeating of his prophetic message: Jerusalem will be destroyed and its people led into captivity at the hands of Babylon. Obviously the prophet wanted Pashur to know his punishment did not have the desired effect. In fact, it simply appears to have pissed Jeremiah off.

What comes next is fascinating. The weeping prophet goes into a depression and pens a dark poem that graphically expresses his wish that he’d never been born. Obviously, the burden of his role, his prophecies, and the steady threats and persecution were getting to him. Of course they were. It would get to me too.

This morning I’m thinking about how common it is for humans to go through periods of depression. If you were privy to my medical records you’d find that I’ve had a few bouts with the blues along my life journey, and I never faced anything like what Jeremiah was dealing with. I’m also thinking about how common it is for individuals in history (artists, musicians, writers, thinkers) who saw and expressed things no one else could see were given to depression, madness, mental illness, and even suicide. I’d certainly put Jeremiah alongside the likes of Van Gogh, Hemingway, and Parker.

I’m struck by the contrast this morning between the spit-shined image I believe we often have of a “godly” person or a “servant of God.” We demand so much, expect so much, and are so quick to scapegoat individuals for their weaknesses and shortcomings. Jeremiah reminds me this morning that God’s servants were fully human, carried human flaws and weaknesses, were susceptible to all the shortcomings known to humanity, and were even given to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Jeremiah reminds me to cut others a break. He even reminds me to be a bit more gracious with myself.

Wendy and I were at the lake late last week opening it up for the coming summer season. Once again, I saw and pondered Jeremiah’s portrait as I lay in bed.

I’m looking forward to getting back there.

(FWIW: My latest message was added to the Messages page.)

Low-Key Birthday Confessions

Birthday Cake
Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’”
Job 3:1 (NIV)

There are always interesting differences that emerge when you marry someone from a different family system. I never expected birthday traditions to be one of them, but life is full of surprises. I come from a family that celebrated birthdays, but did it as a rather low key affair. Mom baked our favorite cake. There were a few small presents from mom and dad, but we never did much of anything between siblings. In the childhood years birthdays meant you could have a sleepover (with a maximum of two friends). It was a special day that I looked forward to as a child, but as the years went by my feelings and expectations around birthdays diminished.

As I progressed into adulthood, the low key birthday traditions of my family evolved into even more low key expectations. If my siblings and I even remember each other birthdays there may, perhaps, be a phone call or voice mail message with kind wishes, though even that is not an expectation. Once in a great while there might be a token gift or a gag gift, but those rare occasions are frosting on the proverbial birthday cake. My family is so bad with remembering birthdays that my siblings and I will occasionally text each other reminders knowing that it’s likely someone forgot.

I’m not proud of this, mind you. It is what it is. Yet, along the journey I’ve come to realize that my low-key traditions and expectations surrounding birthdays are rather offensive to particular friends and loved ones. Wendy finds it appalling, and it only took one memorably disastrous birthday into our marriage to discover that I had better raise the bar for myself when it comes to the annual celebration of her birth. I’m a work in progress.

All of this pondering about birthdays comes as I read Job’s lamentation this morning. His tragic circumstances cause him to rue the day of his birth. Forget being low-key about the date, he curses the day he was born. No matter where you land on the importance of birthdays, there is no doubt that the day of our birth has inherent meaning. It is a special date because it was the date we entered this world. Birthdays, whether low-key or grand affairs, are linked to a celebration of life. To curse the day of our birth is to curse the precious gift of life that God purposed in our being and existence in this world.

I hear in Job’s words the kind of extreme, all-or-nothing thoughts that I have commonly witnessed coming out of despair both in myself and in others. Our life can feel so terrible in this one moment that we are blind to anything worthwhile, life-giving, or redemptive about our lives to this point. Extreme circumstances birth extreme emotions which, in turn, produce extreme thoughts (and sometimes actions). I don’t find anything sinful or improper in this. It is altogether human to experience these thoughts and emotions. The threat that this brings to our lives is to either give in to the extreme thoughts and emotions until it conquers our spirit, or to deny the thoughts and emotions in what will be an unsuccessful attempt to pretend that we are unaffected by our circumstances. Either of these ultimately end in the diminishment of Life.

Today I am thankful for Job and the day of his birth. I am thankful for the example he gives us in the honesty of his grief. This important human emotion, when experienced and processed in healthy ways, can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of life.

I am also thinking today about birthdays and my relative nonchalance surrounding them. Birthdays are a celebration of lives that mean a lot to me, and lives that have deeply impacted me and my own life journey. They are an opportunity to say, “You are important to me.” Lesson noted. I’ve got some work to do.

Elijah, the Spaghetti Western, and Me

28857-man-with-no-nameThe Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of theLord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-12 (NIV)

Elijah is such an intriguing character. His personality seemed uniquely created to be the person God needed. He appears on the scene like Clint Eastwood‘s “man with no name” in Sergio Leone‘s spaghetti westerns. Out of the wild comes this charismatic loner displaying miraculous qualities and a passion for God. He seems invincible. Outnumbered 450 to 1, Elijah gets into a spiritual shoot-out with the prophets of Baal and, thanks to a heaven-sent fiery climax, he finds himself the last man standing. It’s the stuff of a Hollywood action blockbuster.

Then, the story takes an unexpected twist. The invincible hero does a complete 180 degree turn and becomes shockingly human.  Fresh from the miraculous victory at Mount Carmel, Elijah learns that Queen Jezebel has put a price on his head and he withers on the vine. After three years of famine, scratching out an existence in the wilderness, and the big showdown on Carmel, God’s heroic prophet is physically, mentally, and spiritually shot. He shows the all too familiar human qualities of fear, anxiety, depression, despair, and suicide.

Elijah runs away. He gives up. He throws in the towel, lays down to die, and begs God to bring the end quickly. He then goes on a self-pitying pilgrimage to the mountain of God. Upon his arrival, there is a cyclonic wind, a great earthquake, and a raging fire. God was nowhere to be found in the cataclysmic manifestations.

God appears in a whisper, and asks His man a profoundly simple question: “What are you doing here?

I find in this story of Elijah so much of my own frail humanity. I experience amazing, miraculous moments along the journey and then seem to forget them when petty anxieties paralyze me. I have episodes of victorious faith, then run from the next challenge. Given to blind, self-centric drama I fail to see all that God is doing in and through those around me while I project the weight of the world on my  own shoulders, blow my own problems grossly out of proportion, and then slink into a corner to obsess and lick my petty emotional wounds.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And yet, I am strangely encouraged by Elijah’s story. I am no different than this hero of the faith. Human frailties are common to every spiritual hero, because every hero is limited by his or her own humanity. The question is not whether I will experience common human episodes of fear, anxiety, insecurity, despair, depression, self-pity, weakness, and conflict. We all experiences these things. The question is how I will respond when they happen. And, they will happen. Too often I pray for and expect God to send dramatic winds of change, a seismic shift in circumstance, or a explosive miracle to sweep away my humanity. I am beginning to learn that what I need to listen for is God’s still, small voice meeting me right where I am, in the midst of my all too human condition.

Steering Out of Unhealthy Ruts in Life’s Road

The Road to Home
Familiar ruts (Photo credit: Universal Pops)

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.
Psalm 116:7 (NIV)

There is an ebb and flow to life. Things cycle. Relationships repeat familiar refrains. We often wander thoughtlessly from day to day, then wake from a daydream to realize that we are in the same place we’ve been before. If you’ve noticed, our life journeys follow patterns of our own unconscious making. Like tires that slip easily into the well worn ruts of a dirt road, we slip into well worn patterns of thought and behavior.

Over the past few days I’ve found myself in an emotional valley. I recognize this place. I’ve been here many times before. I’ve come to know that the depth of winter is a difficult seasonal stretch of the journey for me. Short, gray days give way to long, dark nights. The holiday hoopla is over and with it comes a certain physical, emotional and relational hangover. My subconscious links familiar sensory stimuli to painful memories of seasons past. With my guard down, anticipation for the year ahead is lined with an uncertainty that easily lends itself to anxiety and fear. Ugh. Back in the rut.

I ran into the above verse this morning and I heard in it the whisper of the Spirit calling gently to my soul. Return to the rest God has for me in healthy paths and patterns. I have learned from experience that the first step in progressing out of unprofitable emotional or behavioral ruts is to recognize that I’m in it. Once aware of the situation, it takes a conscious resolve to steer out of the rut, which may require an initial jolt of personal effort and energy:

  • Replace: Combat negative thoughts with positive affirmations.
  • Replenish: Do one tangible thing each day to show care for myself.
  • Refresh: Do something loving and unexpected for someone else.
  • Relate: Make time with friends and family who will encourage and fill my life and love tank.
  • Return: to familiar, healthy patterns and paths that have led to good places in the past.
  • Remind: myself daily. Without conscious attention, I easily slip back into mindless, unhealthy ruts.
  • Repeat: There are cycles and patterns to life. Healthy, positive ruts will not made by doing things once, but many times over and over and over again.

 

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Refuge Amidst Rough Stretches of Life’s Path

Ubari Oasis in the Category:Wadi Al Hayaa Dist...
Ubari Oasis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lord is good,
    a strong refuge when trouble comes.
    He is close to those who trust in him.
Nahum 1:7 (NLT)

Life’s journey takes each one of us through many different emotional terrains. Mountaintop passes offer breathtaking vistas. They are wonderful and inspiring, but the reality is that the path leading to the mountains usually contain long stretches of flat, barren plain in which each day seems much like the last, leaving you to wonder daily if you’re moving or making any progress at all. In contrast to the mountain tops, each life’s path eventually (often repeatedly) descends through dark valleys and rocky terrain that test our faith, will and perseverance.

We should not marvel at this. This is life. It’s a journey and a pilgrimage. If we don’t experience the emotional breadth of it, we’re not really living and making progress.

I have to be honest. I found today’s chapter to read like a dark valley through rocky terrain of anger, wrath, and judgment. I laughed to myself as I began to read. There’s no real reason why I picked the ancient prophet Nahum to start reading today. It has three chapters and there are three days left in the week. No big spiritual discernment in that choice. Still, the vitriol and dark words of judgement seem an emotional enmeshment for my own path in recent weeks. Just great. It’s not enough that I’ve got an acute case of the blues, I thought to myself, now God has to pile on.

Then, as I’m reading through the haunting words of Nahum’s message to Nineveh and groaning under the weight of my spirit, I run headlong into the verse above which sits nestled in the middle of a message of woe. An oasis of fresh living water in the midst of a desolate, barren wilderness. Just when we need it most, we find a life giving way-station for the soul. A message of refreshment. A reminder of the reality that if we have faith, God is a true place of refuge amidst the difficult stretches of our journey.