Tag Archives: Depression

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.

Parade of the Downhearted

English: Christmas lights in Sanok
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 68

God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
Psalm 68:6a (NLT)

“Christmas is such a happy time of year,” Wendy said to me as we drove to rehearsal the other night. The Christmas lights on the businesses along Franklin Street were shining bright in the crisp night air and the Vermeer Windmill was decked out with all of its holiday decorations.

I wasn’t trying to be a Scrooge, but the first thought that came to my mind and my response to Wendy was “It’s not a happy time of year for everyone.” I know that the holidays can be incredibly stressful for some. For those who have lost loved ones or who struggle with loneliness, the holidays can be a time of increased anxiety and depression.

I can tell in the quiet this morning that my heart and mind have made the turn toward Advent. Advent comes from the latin term meaning “revealing.” It is traditionally the season followers of Jesus prepare their hearts each year to celebrate the birth of our Jesus on Christmas Day. Psalm 68 is a song of procession and was meant to be sung as people paraded to the temple to worship. It made me think about all of us who are making a procession towards Christmas. As I read the lyrics of the opening stanza of Psalm 68, I found it interesting those whom it describes in this processional to praise:

  • Fatherless
  • Widows
  • Lonely
  • Prisoners

How appropriate, I think, for the downhearted to be called out for this parade. The whole reason for Christ to come as a baby, to live among us, to die for our sins, and to be raised back to life, is that which is broken in all of us might be healed. Consider that in His first public message, Jesus proclaimed his personal mission statement when He quoted these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This morning I’m thinking about the upcoming Christmas holiday in relation to the downhearted, the lonely, the grieving, those in bondage to their destructive thoughts and behaviors, and those who are suffering emotionally and physically. As we proceed toward Christmas, I’m praying that those of us who are suffering. Instead of experiencing increased levels of loneliness, isolation, anxiety and pain, I’m praying for us all – myself absolutely included – to find the healing and hope which can be found wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Don’t Worry, It’s on the List

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 56

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.
Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

Lists. My life is full of lists. Wendy is the Queen of the Lists. Her royal highness manages the Vander Well realm via a series of lists. There is the white board calendar list which used to list our daughters schedules, but now lists our evening meals for the week. There is the kitchen grocery list that is updated any time you use the last of something in the kitchen. There is the Playhouse list of what needs to go to the lake. The other day I was asked to print the rehearsal list for the theatre. I have a work list, a honey-do list, and a list of people to call. I have a list of chapters we’ve covered on this chapter-a-day journey. There’s a list of DVDs we own, a “must see” movie list, and a list of movies in our queue. My computer holds mailing lists, show lists, and cast lists.

This post is beginning to feel like Dr. Seuss.

Big list. Little list. List, list, list.
How many lists must I insist
on managing all that life persists
to throw my way as I exist?

In the days when David wrote the lyric of today’s psalm, kings and rulers in authority were known to be keepers of lists and records. Because the written word was rare and reserved almost exclusively for rulers, it was a big deal for Kings to have anything that was written down read to them. Sometimes, if the king had a bout of insomnia for example, he would ask his servants to read from the records, chronicles and lists. In doing so, he would sometimes run across an item on the list on which he would act. There are at least two very clear references of God using circumstances like this to fulfill His purposes in the old stories:

In the story of Esther: “That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him.” (the chapter-a-day entries for this chapter from 2009 and from 2012)

In the story of Josiah: “Then Shaphan the secretary informed [King Josiah], ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.” (the chapter-a-day entry for this chapter)

When David’s lyrics refer to his tears being stored up and his troubles recorded, the image he is creating is that of his lament being written on God’s royal record. It is chronicled and will not be forgotten by God who sits on the throne. God sees. God knows. It will not be forgotten. It’s written on the list.

We all go through periods of life when we feel alone. Our troubles seem so huge. Our prayers seem to hit the ceiling and bounce back. We wonder if God is listening. We question whether God even cares.

Today, I’m reminded that God says the number of my days is already accounted for in His records. My name is recorded in His book. Even the decreasing number of hairs on my head is on a list somewhere in heaven’s royal archive. Certainly, I am not abandoned despite the intensity of my feelings to the contrary. My troubles are not forgotten. My cares are known.