Tag Archives: Depression

Unseen Choices

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As for me, I will always have hope;
    I will praise you more and more.

Psalm 71:14 (NIV)

I have observed on multiple occasions that 2020 has, thus far, been the most challenging year of my life journey. Over the weekend I found myself hitting the wall with it all. COVID, masks, lockdowns, racism, riots, name-calling, finger-pointing, posturing, politics, put-downs, elections, and egos. I came to the realization that I just don’t want to talk about it anymore, nor do I want to hear anybody talk about it. It seems, however, that it’s the only thing people can talk about right now. I get it. We all need to process.

In the quiet this morning, I began peeling away all of the circumstantial elements of our currently stressful times. I separated circumstance and spirit, elections and eternity, coronavirus, and Kingdom. Under the surface of all the Jesus said and did there was a conflict that broiled but remained unseen, a struggle of the spiritual.

Without conflict you don’t have a good story, and at the heart of the Great Story lies the ultimate conflict: The power of Life and that which sets itself up against it.

That which celebrates death instead of life.
That which perverts justice with power.
That which perverts appetite with lust.
That which perverts humility with pride.
That which perverts truth with deception.
That which seeks to tear down rather than build.
That which seeks to turn faith into fear.
That which seeks to turn hope into despair.
That which seeks to turn unity into division.
That which seeks to turn peace into conflict.
That which seeks to turn order into chaos.

In our chapter-a-day journey, we are coming to the end of “Book II” of the anthology of Hebrew song lyrics known as the Psalms. Thus far, almost every song in the 70 we’ve read was penned by David. We’re coming to the end of David’s journey. Today’s psalm was written near the end of his life.

If you’ve been sharing this chapter-a-day journey with me the past few months, it’s obvious that David’s life was not a cake-walk. David saw his share of death. He experienced injustice as well as the consequences of his own lust. He suffered through the pride, hatred, division, conflict, and despair of his own son who tried to steal his Kingdom away. He has faced constant fear from enemies both without and within who worked to tear him down. Now, as he feels his life slipping away there is growing chaos regarding who will ascend to throne after him.

David sang the blues a lot, and with good reason. I imagine David shaking his head at me this morning.

“Dude, you’ve had a rough year. I, like, had 2020 for a lifetime.”

It was with that perspective that I went back and read today’s chapter, Psalm 71, a second time.

Though you have made me see troubles,
    many and bitter,
    you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will again bring me up.

I couldn’t help but notice that David’s faith, hope, trust, and praise are not the result of his circumstances. They don’t spring from a cushy life on Easy Street. What became clear to me is that David is choosing them despite his circumstances, the same way he always has…

When he was on the run from Saul.
When he had a price on his head.
When he found himself alone in his enemy’s fortress.
When he was living in a cave in the wilderness.
When his own son raped his own daughter.
When his other son killed his own brother.
When that same son almost took his kingdom.
When he faced scandal from his adultery.
When his conspiracy to commit murder became public.

David’s lyrics, written across his life journey and making up roughly half of the Psalms, stand as testimony that time-and-time again he chose into praise, faith, hope, and trust when he had every reason to give in to the anger, fear, despair, and hopelessness.

In today’s song, the old man nears his journey’s end. He looks back at all he’s been through and everything he’s experienced. And this is the center verse, the lynch-pin of his song:

As for me, I will always have hope;
    I will praise you more and more.

I am reminded this morning that in the early chapters of the Great Story God said to His people, “Life or death. You choose.”

David teaches me that the choice is still there. Every day. Every year. A choice that, in the eternal perspective, is more consequential than my November vote for any politician.

As I enter this week of Thanksgiving, I choose Life. I choose hope.

Always.

As 2020 keeps punching, I choose to double-down on praise.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Postcard Promises

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From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;

Psalm 61:2a (NIV)

Wendy and I have been working on finishing the decor in our guest rooms. We’re agonizingly slow about it, but the process has been to allow a theme to emerge for each room over time. For the room right next to my home office the theme has been written words. As the unofficial family historian, I have a bunch of letters and ephemera that have come down to me through the years. We’ve been trying to find creative ways to use them.

There’s a postcard that I framed and hung up in the guest room. It’s dated July 23, 1954 and addressed to my Great-grandmother. It’s unsigned, but reads:

Couldn’t make it last nite. But I will see you tomorrow.
Don’t worry everything will be okay.

I have no idea who wrote the postcard. I have no idea what the circumstances were. Yet there was something in the cryptic message that resonated in my soul, along with the nostalgia of a time when you could mail a postcard in a small town in the morning and know that it would be delivered that afternoon. That was texting in 1954.

What was causing the anxiety? Why was the sender delayed? What was it in receiving this written assurance that motivated my Great-grandmother to tuck this postcard in a shoebox or a family Bible like an heirloom?

That postcard came to mind as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 61. It’s a short little ditty written when the songwriter, perhaps King David, was not in a good place. Like the postcard in our guest room, the circumstances are unknown, but the lyric starts out by establishing that the author is “at the ends of the earth” calling out to God in this musical prayer as his “heart grows faint.” In ancient mythology of the Near East, the world was understood to be flat, and at the “ends of the earth” you’d discover the threshold to the underworld, the netherworld, or what the Hebrews called Sheol. Metaphorically speaking, the songwriter feels as far away from God as humanly possible.

The song goes on to express the author’s longing which was to dwell in God’s tent taking refuge in the shadow of His wings. For the Hebrews, God’s presence was considered to be in the traveling tent temple that was constructed in the days of Moses, specifically the Ark of the Covenant, winged Cherubim adorning the box that contained the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses. In other words, this song is about feeling alone, isolated, and distant and longing to feel safe in God’s presence and protection. The song ends with the author’s hopeful vision of being back in that presence when everything would be okay.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the many moments on this life journey when my prayers have felt like a cry from the ends of the earth. It’s part of the experience. One of the great things about this chapter-a-day journey and spending my life reading and studying the Great Story is that Jesus words are forever stored on my mental and spiritual hard drive. Even when I feel a chasm between me and God, Jesus’ words remind me that it’s a mirage.

“I am with you always.”
“Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.”
“The Father and I will come
to you and will make our home with you.”

No matter where this post finds you today, even at the ends of the earth, consider it a postcard.

“Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.”

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Thirst and the Why

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Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?

Psalm 42: 5 (NRSVCE)

I was in a mentoring session with a client. I had coached this individual for a number of years when he was a front-line agent. Now he was in his first managerial role. He’d just received his first annual performance review as a manager and was spiraling downward into full emotional meltdown. Why? Because his boss had rated him a “4” out of 5 in overall performance.

It was obvious to me that my protégé needed to vent. The review had been given a few weeks before our session and I was aware that he had been waiting for our session to get things out. In the emotional flood of anger, frustration and shame that followed I was noticed a few things. First, it was clear that my protégé knew his weaknesses, and admitted there were things he could have done better. Second, the monologue rabbit trailed into childhood memories, family system issues from adolescence, and then projected issues in the current workplace. Third, we had been here before.

The emotional monologue began to wane after about thirty minutes. I then asked if I could ask a question and make an observation. My question was: “If I was your boss, and you freely admitted to me this handful of areas you know needed improvement, then why on earth would I give your performance a five out of five? Given the things you told me you needed to work on, I think four might be a generous vote of confidence!”

There was no immediate answer.

I then proceeded with my observation. Back in the days when I first coached my protégé on the service quality of his phone calls, there were times that he would be emotionally distraught when our team had marked him down for service skills he should have demonstrated, but didn’t. At one point, I remember tears being shed out of the intensity of emotion, and the exclamation “Every call should score 100!”

My protégé laughed as led him on this trek down memory lane, and my point was obvious. There was something within him that expected, personally demanded, a perfect score on any test, assessment, or evaluation that drove him to illogical and emotional ends despite cognitively recognizing the quality of his work didn’t match.

“Why do I always do this?” he asked.

Now, we’d gotten to the question the might lead to real improvement.

The chapter-a-day journey kicks off with the second “book” or section in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics known as Psalms. The section begins with songs written for a choir called “The Sons of Korah.” They were a family choir with the Hebrew tribe of Levi whom King David had appointed to sing in the temple. Those who compiled Psalms began the second book with seven songs that were ascribed for this choir. Seven, by the way, is almost always a significant number in the Great Story. It’s a metaphor for completeness.

Today’s song is a personal lament. The writer is struggling with “Why?” they are in such a funk, and why they can’t get out of it. They are singing the blues and struggling with why their soul is in the pit of despair even as they repeatedly choose to keep singing, keep trusting, and keep seeking after God. The song begins with the proclamation, “my soul thirsts for God.”

And, that’s what struck me this morning. It was the “thirst” for God that motivated the singing, praising, trusting, and seeking after the “Why?” It was the “thirst” for God that allowed them to not fall over the edge of despair but to keep seeking the answer to “Why do I feel this way?” even as they were in the tension of feeling it so acutely.

In the quiet this morning, I thought of my protégé finally getting to his own version of “Why do I always feel this way?” As a mentor, my next question is “What are you thirsting for?” If it’s an easy stamp of approval to deceitfully appease your need for perfection then you’re never going to mature. If you’re thirsting after an understanding of who you are, why you’ve got yourself tied up into emotional knots, and what needs to happen within to stop this repetitive and unhealthy emotional pattern, then there’s hope for progress toward maturity and success.

“Based on the evidence of my own life, actions, words, and relationships am I really thirsting after God? What am I really thirsting for?”

“Am I holding the tension of choosing to praise, trust, seek even as I wrestle with my own versions of despair and my own questions of ‘Why’?”

Those are the questions I’m personally asking myself as I head into this day, and I’m going to leave it here.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The “How Long?” Blues

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How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

Psalm 13:1 (NRSVCE)

Along my journey, I have come to observe that there is a natural ebb and flow to life. It’s like the Sage of Ecclesiastes pointed out. Time and seasons for everything. There are times of plenty, and times of want. There are times when everything seems to be going my way, and times when every circumstance seems stacked against me.

Back in Psalm 11, David penned that “the upright behold [God’s] face” and I mentioned in my post that day that the notion of seeing a King’s face was a metaphor in the ancient Near East which meant that you had the king’s attention and favor. David used the metaphor to close that psalm with the faithful assurance that God would come through.

What a stark contrast. In today’s Psalm David begins by asking God how long he will hide his face from David. If holding the King’s face is his favor, then the King hiding his face means just the opposite. Today’s psalm seems to be David’s cry to God during one of those stretches of the journey when nothing is going right.

The contrasting metaphor remind me of the way I thought of life as a child. If things seemed to be be going my way, then I assumed that I had been good and God was blessing me. When things weren’t going well then I assumed I had done something wrong and God was punishing me. It took me a long time to see what a self-centered perspective that really was, as if everything in life is about me. Jesus said that if I want to find Life then I have to lose it, including the surrender of a childish notion that I am at the root of every circumstance.

Back in Psalm 7, I pointed out that David was singing the “Why Me?” Blues. Today’s song can just as easily be entitled the “How Long?” Blues. And, I think that’s the point as I meditate on it this morning. What makes the blues such a powerful music genre is that it resonates with and expresses the cries of my heart when life’s road gets rough, as it does for all of us.

Along the way, I’ve learned that the road is going to have its ups and its downs. There are going to be good times and bad. It may not be about me, but it’s certainly for me if I’m willing to learn what each stretch of the journey has to teach me about faith, gratitude, perseverance, joy, praise, growth, humility, blessing, trust, and maturity. And, when the road seems like a hard slog and my petulant inner child feels like God has hidden His face from me, I can always sing the “How Long?” Blues in which David begins with lament but ends with a refrain of trust and a reminder of God’s goodness despite the struggle.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Much Needed Affirmation

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The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,
    silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.

Psalm 12:6 (NRSVCE)

As I have confessed many times, I am not by temperament an optimist. In fact, as a child I didn’t get into fights with other kids because I was so good at beating myself up. The spiritual journey, if one genuinely follows Jesus, will always lead to dealing with the shit inside, and I use that word deliberately. We all have spiritual, emotional, relational, familial, experiential, and/or personal waste gumming up our souls and stinking things up inside.

I was fifteen or twenty years into my spiritual journey following Christ before Holy Spirit led me to the toxic waste that my internal critic had been creating in my soul with repetitive negative messages I’d been feeding myself without every being really conscious of it. As I processed my way through this, talked with wise counselors, and addressed the issue, I learned how much I need regular doses of healthy, affirming messages that counteract the negative self-talk that I can so easily slip into like a comfy old sweatshirt.

The first half of 2020 has been the most tumultuous period of time that I’ve experienced in my lifetime. COVID, lockdowns, social breakdown, economic downturn, violence, hypocrisy, and rage. Each morning as Wendy and I read the news we can’t believe what we’re reading. It’s enough to trigger my old inner critic to feed me all sorts of depressing messages of doom.

The lyrics of today’s short psalm feel like they could have been penned today. David is looking at the world around him, the generation he finds himself living in, and everything seems terrible. People are leaving the faith in droves, everyone speaks lies and false narratives to make themselves feel good, people demand their own way with arrogant pride, violence and vile acts are not just tolerated but celebrated, and the poor and needy are forgotten in the tumult.

Even as I write those words I have images of recent events coming to mind.

The reason for David’s song is found in the third verse. Amidst the seemingly endless stream of lies, hypocrisy, hatred, and false narratives David reminds himself that God and His promises are “pure” and have been refined by the fires of current events time and time again throughout history. David’s song is his own version of a much needed healthy, affirming reminder. God hasn’t abandoned or forsaken him. God’s promises are true. God has always faithfully protected, provided for, and delivered David from his enemies.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thankful for David’s little ditty. It reminds me that we are not the first generation of humanity to think everything was going to hell in a handbasket. I am not the only one who needs regular doses of healthy affirmation. God’s got this. I can believe it, and I can mentally run to that affirmation as many times as I need to today as I press on in the journey one more day.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Time, Distance, and Perspective

[King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon] took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.
2 Chronicles 36:20-21 (NRSVCE)

Struggle, discouragement, loss, conflict, death, and divorce. Along my Life journey I’ve experienced both events and seasons I didn’t understand in the moment. I had no good answers to the “why” questions. From my vantage point on the road of life, the dark clouds surrounding me had no silver lining. Daily life became a slog through confusion, anxiety, grief, and even despair.

I know my experience is not the exception, but the rule. While the exact events and seasons may differ from person to person, I don’t know a single person who has not experienced at least a few “mountain top” moments in life, nor is there a person I know who hasn’t walked through what the Psalmist aptly describes as “the valley of the shadow of death.” Even Jesus in His earthly journey had His mountain top transfiguration contrasted with His guttural cry of despair: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

In today’s chapter we finish the book of 2 Chronicles. It’s a Cliff Notes version of the final Kings of Judah who become puppets of both the Eyptian and Babylonian empires. The season of Judah as an independent kingdom is over.

What fascinated me as I read the Chronicler’s final chapter is how he left the story. It’s very different than the scribe who wrote a parallel history in the book of 2 Kings. The scribe of Kings was writing at the time of the Babylonian exile. The story simply comes to an end with the fall of the Kingdom to Babylon. He is writing in the dark cloud of defeat. He has no vantage point of time and distance. He has no answers to the “why” questions. He is struggling to make sense out of the circumstances.

The Chronicler, however, is writing post-exile. He’s is further down the road of life and history. Cyrus, King of Persia, has allowed the Hebrew exiles to return to Jerusalem and has made allowance for wall of Jerusalem and the Temple to be rebuilt. There is a new beginning. There is hope. The Chronicler looks back at the exile and sees prophetic fulfillment. He sees that the exile has allowed his homeland to experience sabbath in preparation for a new season, the planting of new seeds, and the anticipation of new life and possibility of a fruitful future.

This morning I’m thinking about the ebb and flow of our respective journeys and our stories. There will be mountain top moments. There will be deep valleys and despair. I won’t always have “why” answers in the moment. In fact, I come to accept that I may never have certain “why” answers that satisfy my heart this side of eternity. If I keep pressing on, however, I may be able to look back with much needed perspective. Like the Chronicler, I may see in retrospect that to which I was blind in the moment.

At the end of every valley is another rise, and that which lies beyond. I won’t see it until I get there.

Possibility. Anticipation. Hope.

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.