Wednesday, July 8, 2009

if you're happy and you know it

This has got to be fast, cause I have to be at class in 30 minutes. Let's see how much ground I can cover.

I recently heard a preacher talk about depression and he said that the only true cure for it was "the spiritual antidepressants in the Word of God." He also said that studies show (not sure whose) the depression rate among Christians is about the same as non-Christians.

He just couldn't understand this at all since all we need to do as Christians is take our daily dose of spirituality and we'll be fine. Occasionally at church when I'm leading the music, I have someone from either the platform or the congregation tell me we should sing the last stanza again and, if we really love Jesus, we'll sing better or louder or faster or with a bigger smile on our faces. I'd like to say "no, I'm gonna let that stand as it is," but it's kinda hard when you're called out like that, so I just oblige.

It's a big problem, though, this feeling that we should be happy all the time if we really are saved. Part of this, I'm sure, comes from the modern pragmatic evangelical opinion that God's chief purpose in my life is to meet my needs and make me happy, although they don't usually use that word. It's not churchy enough. Fulfilled, maybe. Joyful is a big one. Anyways, while I don't have a problem with those words or people feeling that way or with a sense of fulfillment, I do resist the mentality that says there's something wrong with our salvation if we struggle with depression and grief and loss.

We just can't be happy all the time. Many of us struggle with this, actually. Some more so than others. I asked my friend, Francis, if he'd ever felt depressed one time. He said, "no, but I haven't thought about it, really." It's just a result of the fall that affects some of us more than others.

I used to agree about the spiritual antidepressants until I hit rock bottom, wallowing in my own depression. Not the kind you have when you have a bad day and get cranky. The kind I'm talking about is when you feel horrible and down for days, weeks, months and then you run out of hope and then you get sick and tired and can't sleep and stuff like that. The kind you have when you go to the doctor thinking you're anemic or need some vitamin shots or something.

Part of what brought that on was the attitude of guilt that I carried around with me all the time and the legalistic, formulaic form of Christian spirituality that I was familiar with. Trying to hold myself and other people to the same moralistic code will really wear you down.

When I began to wrestle with this toxic mindset, it was more than I could handle for a while. I experienced a deep sense of loss and shame. I had been living as if the only thing that mattered was how other people saw me. I thought they saw someone with strength and conviction. Too often, they actually saw judgment, self-righteousness, and insecurity. Growing really hurt.

Thank God for my wonderful wife. She came along at just the right time, after the depression had begun to set in. I don't know what would have happened to me if I hadn't run into her right when I did. She helped me understand some important things about grace. Actually, she taught me more about grace than anyone, before or since. Her and Martin Luther, actually. I know he was kind of a grouch, but there's a lot one can learn about grace from his work. We would have gotten along well.

Additionally, this world sucks. I mean, the grace of God is wonderful and the look in my wife's eyes is wonderful and my little dog is wonderful. There's actually a lot of good and Creation is good and we need to realize that, but there's a lot to hurt about. There's a lot we should hurt about, both in general and personally. Relationships are strained, our psyches can be tormented, the Church...oh, it's so easy to feel hurt and grief when we see the Church.

We need to feel this. We need to allow others to feel this grief. It's not an option. We must lament sometimes. We can't have feasting without fasting. True worship must incorporate every aspect of human expression.

Next time I'm asked to repeat the last stanza of "Trust and Obey," I'm going to cut right to "Abide With Me" instead.

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.



Andrew Winter said...

My sister works at a psych ward and this is one of her pet peeves. Although some depression is a spiritual problem, sometimes it is a physical one.

jaigner said...

Yeah, my wife is a counselor and feels similarly about this issue.