A sad day

Slide1I have about 125 blogs that are fed to my reader every day.  Most days I check in a couple of times to see what has been posted by people I admire and like to follow what they are thinking.  I checked more than that today.

I have never really been enamored much by popularity.  Underneath the facade of celebrity, they’re just people.  I guess when entertainers or politicians or sports heroes I have connected with over time pass away, I feel like I’ve lost a friend.  Maybe it’s just because I am growing older, but death captures my heart a little differently these days.

Today was a difficult day.  So many people reflecting on the suicide of Robin Williams.   If you want to read a couple of really good posts, you can check them out here and here.

Here’s what I want to pass on:  Depression, mental illness and addiction are real.  But, it seems like the more the stories are heard and played out for the world to see, the more polarizing the reality becomes.

For all the sympathetic and empathetic reactions to William’s suicide, there have been a huge number of cynical, unsympathetic, and judgmental responses standing in opposition to those calling for understanding and grace.

“He took the coward’s way out.”

“Depression is just an excuse for weak people.”

“Come on.  Everybody gets a little depressed sometimes.”

 “He didn’t die from a disease.  He died from his choice.”

If those are similar to your thoughts about depression, I guess I’d like to kindly ask you to keep them to yourself.  I’m not usually much for openly confronting people for voicing their opinion, but I just have to on this one.  (Btw, if you’re a friend and you’ve already posted opinions about depression like this on Facebook, trust me, I haven’t read them and probably won’t.  I don’t spend much time on FB these days.)

Here’s the truth.  If that’s what you think about depression, you’ve never been seriously depressed.  Sorry.

However, if you are, or ever have been depressed, your heart is broken for Robin Williams and the unimaginable darkness he found himself in, during his final hours.

I have never been where Robin Williams found himself yesterday.  But I have walked in similar darkness.

I’ve written about it here and here and here and here and here and here.  

If you’re struggling at all with thinking you might be depressed, I would encourage you to read my posts and see if you identify with any part of the road I have travelled.  

From where I sit, depression is real.  I have been there.

But there is hope.

And you don’t have to fight this enemy alone.  There are ways to fight back.  Give me a shout, if you want a friend on this journey.

 

Cousin Eddie’s back…

CousinEddiecousin eddie showed up at my house a couple of months ago.   and he hasn’t left yet.

you remember cousin eddie, don’t you?  he’s the crazy, unpredictable, annoying, embarrassing, rude, obnoxious, insufferable, detestable cousin of clark griswold, in national lampoon’s christmas vacation (the greatest holiday flic of all time).

eddie has this thing about showing up unannounced.  he catches the family by surprise.  and then he just stays… inflicting his brand of torture on those he loves.   clark tries to ignore him…rebuff him…reason with him…avoid him… correct him…but nothing works.

so he’s reduced to trying to hide him.  from his neighbors.  from his family.  from himself.

my cousin eddie has been busting into my world…uninvited…for the past 25 years!  he comes in and makes himself at home.  he interferes with my sleep.  he steals my attention when i try to study.  he grabs the remote and robs my television watching enjoyment.

he worms his way into my friendships and dominates how i interact with them. he even works his way into my psyche… sucking away my confidence.  he has this way of getting in my head and my heart.   i know we’re related.   he’s my cousin,  for crying out loud.   but by the time he finally packs his bags and leaves,  i can honestly say i hope i never see him again.

oh yeah.  my cousin eddie’s real name is depression.

(i’ve chronicled my journey with depression for years.   if you’re interested, you can check it out here.   if it catches your attention, you can read the whole series.  feel free to contact me personally,  if you want a friend to talk to about it.)

i know how the door got opened for cousin eddie a couple of months ago.   i got blindsided by his intrusion.   something happened that totally exposed my weakness.   depression,  just like cousin eddie,  doesn’t ask for my permission to come in.   it just busts the door in.

i’ve been around a bunch of people lately who are battling various degrees of depression.   some of them are just sad.   others are angry.   some are gripped by fear.   most have some form of emotional paralysis.   all of us wrestle with an emptiness or darkness of the soul.

some depression is acute and debilitating…and it needs help bad.  right now.   other depression is more low-grade and most people would never know there is a war going on.   that’s my cousin eddie.

the good news is i know eddie really well.  when he shows up,  i know there are things i need to do.   my emotional stability is influenced by what i eat and how much exercise i get and what my sleep patterns are.   so i usually get right to work on those things.   it’s also affected by my work habits and relationships and spiritual disciplines (or lack of).   so i will always have more to work on.   sitting and doing nothing is simply not an option for me, if i’m going to get cousin eddie out of the house.

but those things are all peripheral.   the core issue is about what i  believe.   depression controls what i believe about myself…about others…about god…about my world.   depression screams at me that i’m a failure.   that i don’t know what i’m doing.   that i’m inadequate.   that people don’t like me.   that my life isn’t worthwhile.   that i’m not successful.  that my future is insecure.   or a host of other self condemnations.

so i circle back to a basic question.   is jesus enough?

the fact is, at times any of those statements may be true about me.   failure…loser…inadequate…afraid…worthless… whatever.   but because of jesus,  those words will not…no, cannot…define me.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19

either i believe it or not.

either you believe it or not.

Don’t shoot the messanger

ac_treeif you’ve followed my writing much over the past seven years, you know there is seldom much of a flow to what i write.  it’s almost always what i’m thinking (or feeling) at the moment.  kind of a what-you-read-is-what-you-get deal.

more often than not, writing is therapy for me…especially when i find myself in a dark place.  writing becomes prayer for me.  writing (and the inner dialogue that comes with it) becomes the light to see my way out.  most of the time, it’s where i reconnect with the leading of the good shepherd.

hey…it works for me.  and i need to go there right now.

over the past decade, my struggles with melancholy and even depression seem to surface more during december than they do during the rest of the year.  some of this makes sense to me…

preaching every sunday, every year during the christmas season has made me super aware of the extreme sadness that many people feel at this time of year.  frankly, the christmas season is an emotional killer for many, many folks.  the loss of loved ones…painful memories of broken family units at their worst…the crushing disappointment of not having enough money to make christmas merry for little ones… and so much more.

i preach about the savior of the world born to bring peace on earth and goodness to all.  we sing of wonderful promises and wholesome traditions.  christmas television shows and movies conjure up “joy to the world” and festive cheer.  and all the while, i live with the deep awareness that all is not well for so many.

the dichotomy wrecks me inside.

the sadness i feel for those who live in fear and hopelessness and grief is something that i have just had to learn to deal with during the holidays.  it wasn’t that way when i was young.  it wasn’t that way when our kids were growing up.  but it surely is now.

i think i’ve changed some over the years.  i’m more aware of the needs of people around me.  i feel deeper.  i act more, but it is never enough.  i try my best to balance the guilt i often feel for having so so much, while so many people i rub elbows with every day have but a fraction of my bounty…or for having such an amazing life, while others seem to live under layers of problems that beat against their foundations relentlessly.

depression is such an enemy.  it’s confusing.  it’s deceptive.  i feel like most everyday is a full-on collision of joy and sadness…hope and despair… fear and optimism…faith and doubt.  these december days i am  always duking it out…my emotions sparring with my intellect or my fears clashing with revealed truth.

it leaves me weary.

but it will not beat me.  faith, hope and love will win out.  seasons of depression are just that…moments that pass.  i am grateful for the awareness that there are real problems in the world…in my community…in the lives of my friends and acquaintances.  it keeps me from ever blowing the pettiness of my self-imposed crises out of proportion.

the pain of the temporary world around me cannot rob me of those things that are eternal.  it can mess with my emotions, for sure.  but it cannot steal what i love.

or hinder the One who was born to die for me.

Thinking back…

i go through a full season of melancholy every week.

it usually starts late on saturday evening and is almost always gone by about 9:45 on sunday morning.  occasionally it turns into kind of a low-grade depression that might last a day or two, but it’s never acute.  it’s not debilitating.  nobody ever knows.   but it’s there every week like clock-work.

my normal saturday night routine is to spend the last couple of hours before i go to sleep going over my sermon for sunday morning.  i put what i have spent the week preparing into it’s final form and go over it a few times as the last thing i do.   it works for me.   i’ve done it this way for years.

as the words of words of what i have written scroll through my mind,  i always think of people…those who will be hearing what i say…and those who won’t.

not those who will be gone on vacation or working overtime or grabbing some much-needed family time or recuperating from a demanding saturday.  those people usually generate a smile and make me grateful i’m part of a church family that doesn’t beat people up for missing a sunday.

no.  it’s the people who are gone.   not the ones who have moved to another location,  but the people who are still around, but never come anymore at all.   their absence just makes me sad and is at the core of my regular saturday night melancholy.   i wish i could just forget about them,  but i don’t.

for me,  there are two groups of people who are gone but not forgotten.   the first are people who simply see no value in being part of a church family.   maybe they’ve been hurt by people.   maybe they no longer believe in god.   maybe the way we teach the bible conflicts with their belief system.   maybe they see the values of church life conflicting with the way they want to prioritize their week.

whatever the reason,  there is no longer room in their lives.   i don’t buy the “i’m just too busy” reason.   we’re all busy.   and we all make time for what we believe is most important.   and for these folks,  church life is no longer important enough to invest in.   and i remember them every saturday night.

i pray.  i hope they will find their way back to a desire to walk with people of faith.  i reminisce about the life we used to share together.   i always wonder if it was something i did…or didn’t do.   (i know i think too highly of myself, but i still wander back to my messiah complex that was supposed to have been put to death years ago. )   it’s almost always the content of the sermon that triggers my memory.   and then my relationship takes over.   even if i see these people occasionally…or no longer see them at all…the feelings are still the same.

the second group is different.   you would think after all these years of walking with people,  i would figure out how to deal with this better…but the melancholy still floats around like an unwanted intruder.

one of the things i suppose i will never get used to is how,  in the church,  people will just walk out of your life.  they get hurt or frustrated or angry or feel neglected or misunderstood or embarrassed or a myriad of other possibilities,  but then they just walk away.  most of the time it’s to another church family just down the street or over in another neighboring community.  sometimes, as a leader,  you are actually the source of their frustrations…and other times you are a supporting actor in their life drama…or maybe you’re just “collateral damage” in something you have nothing to do with.

sometimes it’s abrupt and other times it’s a slow walk…either way, they walk.   sometimes you get to know why.   other times you don’t.

people who used to be close friends are no longer.  you may have occasion to see them…and there is no conflict, but it’s different.  they are no longer part of the family where you shared life together.   i suppose it’s just part of life’s cycle.  maybe we are designed to grow apart after a period of time.

maybe their time was only for a season.  maybe it’s for the good of the kingdom.

but things change and we are not the same as before.   i’ll never get comfortable with this.   i’ll always take it personal.   i’m glad my marriage doesn’t work this way.

maybe it really is better for everybody.

but i don’t have to like it.

Autopilot

have you ever got to a spot in your life where you are so emotionally drained that you feel like you are just going through the motions?

…or when you are so physically exhausted that you have trouble connecting your muscle-memory to your normal brain functions?

…or when you are so sick that your reasoning capabilities seem stunted and you can no longer think clearly?

…or you are so overwhelmed with the prospects of your current life situation that simple decisions become epic deal breakers?

…or fear of the future has such a stranglehold on your will that your freedom to choose wisely seems paralyzed?

…or failure has robbed your confidence and sucked the joy out of relationships?

…or anger and bitterness has blinded you to the awesomeness of grace and forgiveness and mercy and reconciliation?

…or your pursuit of comfort and situational happiness has overtaken the reality of your day-to-day and established unreasonable and unrealistic expectations for how your life is supposed to unfold?

…or your need for justice or fairness or even retaliation for the wrong done to you is causing you emotional grief and wrecking your ability to interact with people kindly?

…or poor decisions have left you tentative and reluctant to step out in faith?

…or you just want to quit?

what do you do?

do you have a spiritual reservoir that allows you to go on spiritual autopilot until your inner man can catch up to real time?

have you made enough deposits into the bank of your soul…so that you can make withdrawals to weather the storm you find yourself in?

when there is no will to open up the book and no words that can be prayed,  is there still enough to grab a hold of to pull you through?

this isn’t about crying a prayer of desperation when you find yourself empty and at the end of your rope.   this isn’t about letting go and letting god.   this isn’t simply calling down the power of god in some superhuman display of faith in the middle of your mess.

i suppose each of those are possible.   sometimes that’s all you’ve got.

but it doesn’t have to be that way.

in the day-to-day,  spiritual discipline is a lot like physical discipline.   you can put in some good work outs ahead of time,  anticipating a future stretch when you won’t be able to exercise.   the early work outs will sustain you and get you through,  until you can get back to the weight room.

it’s a crude analogy,  but it works for me.   during the times of our life when things are going well and difficulties are at a minimum,  we need to be spiritually bulking up.   developing spiritual muscle and endurance.   the apostle paul calls it being filled with the spirit.

filling ourselves with the wisdom of god’s truth…so that when come face to face with those times where the will is paralyzed and the spirit is completely drained,  we can go on spiritual autopilot…until the storm subsides and the clouds clear and light begins to shine again.

This hurts…on a bunch of levels

according to a recent study looking into the private lives of pastors,  well…let’s just say the statistics are pretty sad:

  • 80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as a pastor
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 80% of seminary and bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first 5 years.
  • 33%  felt burned out in their first five years of ministry.
  • 61%  admit they have very few close friends.

being a skeptic of surveys and studies by nature,  i think we need to be careful that we don’t draw any wholesale conclusions.   never-the-less,  these stats are really disturbing for my fraternity of most holy reverends.

willow creek is one of the biggest of the big-dog churches around.   their answer to this depressing condition?  a seven-week online course where you can be mentored by famous ministers through your computer and join a web-based community of other discouraged pastors…and,  as they say in their promotion“you can finally become the leader you were created to be.”

seems kinda sad that the only hope we have is in a computer.

maybe its time to reconsider the whole pastor thing,  don’tcha think?   maybe there’s something inherently wrong with the system…

and for the record,  i can do other things to make money.   i know how to drive a mean bus.

Living with my dysfunctional companion…part 6 (final)

i have battled low-grade seasons of depression since that ride in the back of the truck in the philippines in 1989.   i have had two major bouts…one lasting about nine months and the other about five months.   i continue to have episodes a few times a year that last a few weeks each time.

depression is my dysfunctional companion.  here are a few things i’ll pass on:

depression is more common than you think. conservative statistics say that over 10% of american adults struggle with depression.   that’s what people report to their doctors.   my guess is that doesn’t include a lot of men.

depression looks different in everybody. it has a variety of symptoms.   it looks different in men than it does in women.   it is exacerbated by different personalities and related health conditions.   here are some symptoms:

* sadness or “down” mood
* loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
* poor appetite or overeating
* trouble falling or staying asleep or sleeping too much
* feeling tired or having little energy
* feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach or guilt
* trouble concentrating
* moving or speaking very slowly, or the opposite, being fidgety or restless
* thoughts of being better off dead or of hurting oneself in some way

depression is complicated, but you can learn about it. read.   read.   read.   learn about it.   for yourself.   for the ones you love.

depression is not a sign of weakness. it’s not the scarlet letter.   it doesn’t mean you are weak or wimpy or a sissy-man or an over-emotional woman.   simply not true.

depression is not a sign of spiritual immaturity. just because you can’t pray away a problem doesn’t make you a spiritual weakling.   evidence of weakness should never be equated with a lack of spiritual depth.   sometimes it is the divine pathway to the presence of the almighty.

those who get depressed are more susceptible to recurrence. not great news,  but reality none-the-less.

understand the connection between mind, body and spirit. we have to take care of all three.   sometimes when one is out of whack,  the others will suffer.   exercise and diet are incredibly important to fighting depression.

don’t be afraid of counseling. it’s amazing to me that we still live in a christian culture that sees counseling as a black mark and that it is only for losers.   get over it.   if the plumbing leaks…get a plumber.   if you need brain surgery…get a surgeon.   if you need your transmission fixed…get a mechanic.   if you are having emotional struggles…get some counsel.   sometimes a trusted friend.   sometimes a trained counselor.   whatever.   stop doing this alone.

sometimes medication can help. i have never taken medication for my depression.   it doesn’t make me more mature than a person who does.   i know many people who i respect who take controlled medication for depression…and it helps.   it’s not a sign of spiritual weakness.   it is not prohibited in the bible.   it should not be your first or primary plan.

hear this. in spite of my personal journey with depression and my sensitivity to those who walk the same path,  i am confident that the ultimate response to depression and personal health and well-being will never be found completely in counseling or medication or a diet/exercise plan or reading books or sitting at the feet of a personal guru.

right living…right responses…right relationships…right outlooks…can only be found in a right response to god and to his word.   period.

other things can help.   they cannot substitute.