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.)