Thursday, September 3, 2015

When the Church is Silent (or not helpful)

One morning, not long ago, I woke up crying. It was a silent, soft weeping.  I had been dreaming about sharing an extremely difficult time with a group of people.  In the dream, I was not rejected  by the crowd nor was it a bad experience.  I did not wake up feeling terrified.  Neither did I wake up feeling energized.  “Resigned” is probably closer to the right word.  I do not relish the idea of being so transparently vulnerable.  I really am a private person.  I will share intimately with those I trust and that I feel safe with, but to be so unguarded with people I barely know? Um, no thanks.

I recognized this dream as a signal.  I knew this time would be coming.  While I had shared this struggle with a couple of small groups of people, I knew it was only a matter of time before God asked me to share it with more.

Here is my story…. 

For a time, I had known something was not right.  It was not that I was just “unhappy” or “unsatisfied”.  I could not pinpoint it.  Mere words could not even identify it some days.  “Despair”, “Fear”, feelings of severe “inadequacy” and “failure”.  I even blamed myself for not being able to “fix” it.   I must not be praying enough, spending enough time in the word, trusting God enough…..  I was ashamed.  If I was a “good” Christian, why could I not win this battle?  I must not have enough faith.  I did not want to ask for help of any kind, asking was a sign of weakness. Being terrified of “scandal” among my circles of acquaintances and friends was not motivational either.

After an extensive amount of time and soul-wrenching anguish, I finally asked the doctor for anti-depressants.  I won’t go through all the medical treatment that transpired, but it took over a year to get the diagnosis and medications correct.  (Part of that was my fault for lack of follow-through because of fear).   Talking to a therapist/counselor was a necessity.  I needed to be able to talk about how I became depressed and identify coping skills to keep me from succumbing again.  Continuing to pray, seeking God, and studying his Word was vital too. (It still is).

In the beginning, I was scared to share with my Christian friends and church family about my struggle.  I was afraid of the stigma attached to depression.  What would they think of me?  Would I be a failure in their eyes too? (I saw it then as a personal failure that this was happening, actually, I still struggle with this….)

Most of the people I trusted with my heart have been more than understanding.  Yes, there have been a select few that reacted with a response I dreaded, but they are the exception.  

If we ever hope to change attitudes toward depression in the church, and to break the bondage of shame and fear for the captives, the silence needs to be broken.  Someone has to step forward and tell the truth.  I want to speak for your friend or loved one that is struggling with depression.  I want to share truth in the hopes of displacing the fear and stigma.

The truth – 10% of America’s population suffers from depression in some form.  That means one in 10 of those people in your church pew, your small group, or around your dinner table at Thanksgiving are dealing with it (or have, or will).  But we think we are alone.

The truth – It is an illness; a disease.  No amount of our “will” can overpower it and banish it thoroughly.  It is not JUST a flaw of character or a spiritual disorder.   But we feel like we are not trying hard enough.

The truth – It is not a choice.  No one would “choose” to be in that state of hopelessness.

The truth – Even if someone looks “happy”, they can be depressed.  We can all act.  Our happy face can be hiding our pain and fear.

The truth – Platitudes do not help.  We frequently know the Word.  Quoting it AT us really is not helpful (especially if we don’t have a relationship with you).

The truth – Your unsolicited (even if well-intentioned) advice of what you saw on Oprah (insert any other talk show, internet website or magazine here), especially if you have not experienced what we are going through just makes us feel judged.

The truth – Just because we accepted medical help doesn’t mean we don’t trust and believe in the healing of our Heavenly Father.  I am still trusting Him, DAILY.  The manifestation is just taking some time.

What we DO NOT  need?  Your judgment.  Your “suggestions” on why our bible study and prayer time is not productive.  Your scorn.  A loss of your friendship when you learn of the battle we are facing.  The “awkward” look when we are in common company.

What we DO need?   We always need Jesus; point us to Him.  Sometimes we need medicine (even temporarily.)  AND we need an open atmosphere where we don’t feel ashamed of our struggle.  A place where light can be brought to the subject and awkwardness is banished.  Jesus brought light to every situation He touched.  I like to picture his hand open to the desperate soul of the woman with the issue of blood lying in the dust at his feet.  Shouldn’t the church, the model reflecting Christ, be a haven for those in the midst of depression?   The church is not a place for the perfect.  It is a place for the broken.  We are all broken.  Just in different ways. 

This is an opportunity for us to make a difference in lives of hurting people.  Let us be in the practice of "First, do no harm."

I encourage you, if you suspect a friend or relative is suffering, reach out, offer them the hand up out of the dust that Jesus would have offered.  Offer them - Love.  Acceptance.  A friend.  Support.  Kindness.  A Listening Ear. Your prayers.  A cup of coffee. (Okay, maybe he didn’t use coffee, but you can.)

As I walk out this journey, you can expect me to share more, because I have a story that can benefit others as I continue this pilgrimage of healing, growing faith, and transformation.

If you suspect someone needs professional help, do all you can to help them get the help they need.  A pastor, a licensed therapist/counselor, psychologist/psychiatrist, (probably all of the above.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Should I pray for Patience?

We are an impatient country. The light turns green and someone honks before your foot is off the brake. If the grocery lines have more than two people in them you hear grumbling and complaining. Groups of people together are always conversing about ways their patience is being “tried”.

I admit, I often struggle with impatience. Ahem! I DO have FOUR children!

I often hear, “Patience, don’t pray for it! Because you WILL be tested.”

 "But the Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, PATIENCE, Kindness……. "(Gal 5 :22)
Patience comes after Love, Joy and Peace and before Kindness. I always wondered if that was purposeful? Surely the word order was not just random? I guess it could have read differently, but I think it was intentional. I have no theology to back it up, just my thoughts and musings.

First listed is Love. The highest commandment? Love the Lord your God with all your Heart, Soul and Mind. Then? Love others as yourself. Is it any wonder the first fruit of the spirit mentioned is Love? Forgive the cliché, but Love makes the world go round, right? Love was the motivator for God to send Jesus as a sacrifice for us. (John 3:16) Our response, Love for Him, should be a motivator in our interactions with others.

Second is Joy. Joy is the outflow of Love, isn’t it? Pleasure, delight. What could be more delightful than reveling in the Love of a Savior? And then having the privilege to share that Love with those we know. And when we are delighted, it is easy to make the stretch to peace, isn’t it? Can you reach a place of tranquility and serenity when you are coming from a difficult place that isn’t joyful? Yes, but it sure is easier to come from a place of joy.

I haven’t lost you yet, have I? Because I have not even come to the reason I started the post, Patience. Why was Patience tucked in behind Peace? There are those pesky verses in James (chapter 1, verses 2-5) that talk about the testing of our faith developing perseverance and perseverance helping us become mature and complete, how can we reconcile that with Peace leading into Patience? Shouldn’t we welcome the hardships? Stay with me friend, you can have trials and tribulations and hardships and still be AT PEACE! You can be working out your salvation with fear and trembling and still be AT PEACE! You can be having your faith severely tested and still be AT PEACE! How is it possible? You know WHOSE you are. You go back to the basics. When a child struggles with a concept, a teacher has to strip away the concepts to get back to the point where the child DID understand. Same for us. Strip away the hindrances and get to what you know, even if it goes back to JESUS LOVES ME, THIS I KNOW. Build again on that foundation. That is PEACE! An understanding of the TRUTH! When we understand the Truth and can recognize it in ourselves, when we have had to strip away the obstacles in our own lives, we can learn to have patience with others while they do the same. (I told you I would get there!)

Does that mean we won’t get exasperated with each other? No. Does it mean we won’t disagree? Absolutely not. Praying for Patience isn’t the way to go. How about we start at the beginning. Let’s recognize and acknowledge God’s Love for us. Let’s show His Love to those around us. Let us express that Love in Joy. Let us live in Peace by stripping away those misunderstandings, wrong assumptions or wrong thinking. Maybe then we can have some more Patience with each other and with ourselves. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Taking flight

Standing in my kitchen I watched out the window. The fledgling robin sat on the back of the patio chair and flapped its wings a few times. The parent perched nearby offering encouragement. “You can do it!” The parent flew to the back of the swing-set. The fledgling watched, tilted back it’s head, cried out. “It’s too hard, but I will try!” Turned to the parent. Flapped it’s wings. Took off, wobbly, and low to the ground, awkward. A short flight. Landed just under the swing-set. I was distracted by the kitchen responsibilities for a bit, but came back to the window a while later to see the fledgling atop the swing-set. I couldn’t help but smile and think, “Good for you, little one!” It started to rain, and the robin was hunched over on top of the swing-set, seemingly paralyzed by fear. Comfort and safety of the dry nest was in the tree only a few feet away. The adult flew nearby, offering encouragement again, “Trust me! You were made for this! Stretch out your wings and fly!”
Our heavenly Father is the same way with us. Nearby offering encouragement when we think life is too hard. We can look to him for that encouragement every time. Trust in what he says. He won’t lie to us. He knows our capabilities. We can trust in our abilities that He has gifted us with. Let’s not let fear paralyze us from taking off in flight. Our comfort and safety are in His will for us. He made us for a specific purpose. He gives us hopes, dreams, goals, missions, but we have to stretch out our wings, and trust that we were made to fly!