Those all together, happy, healthy, and reasonably sane and ‘self actualized’.
Those with significant issues, have hang-ups, and who are lesser sane.
We gravitate toward success. Even in a spiritual sense we do so. No one wants to be associated with a ‘washed-up’ loser. We expect success (at least in its fundamental form) to ooze out of every preacher, teacher or ‘wanna-be’ that intends to lead us to ‘the promised land’. We expect (or demand) it to be so.
But there are those broken ‘on the wheels of life’ who offer nothing at all. They are busted and broke. They may once have been noble and keen; they might have stared at life as if it were their own already. They were gifted, but breakable. Alas, and they broke. And they have nothing to give. So many things have disintegrated around them, they are left without a clue, and certainly without hope from a ‘fickle’ Church.
What makes a man or woman ‘spiritual’ or holy? Is it living up to a special standard or calling? Or maybe they look and sound good at what they do? Perhaps it is none of these. Maybe it really comes down to brokeness and humility? Perhaps we’ve looked at it all wrong. Perhaps the real yardstick is spiritual poverty?
““They are blessed who realize their spiritual poverty, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Matthew 5:4, NCV
Make no mistake, the ‘good’ seems very good. It is easy to ‘receive’ from some preachers. They do it so seamlessly, and so correctly. We often wonder why we haven’t been so receptive before. But ‘polish’ can never replace ‘broken’ prayer. I will trust my soul to those ‘busted’ by the meanness of life, rather than those who pretend that things are ‘rosy’ all over. Brokenness is not a given. But it really is ‘the coin of the realm’. It is how the Kingdom does ‘business.’
“But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me.”
2 Corinthians 12:4, NCV
I hate to say this, but if being broken is the desperate need of the moment, then hammer me over and over again. I can’t imagine or even explain a better calling. “Bring it Father God”, (but help me if I stumble.) Oh, and one more thing: typically ‘mercy’ is absent for those who seem to live so ‘perfectly.’ (You just don’t see them with any.)
Look for mercy, and you will probably find someone truly authentic.
Take your candle, run to the darkness, and light your world, and love the unlovely while on your way.
Stuck in the wonderful convolutions of scripture we can start a great study of Leah and her sister Rachel. These two daughters of Laban have become Jacob’s wives.
Now, we may question this polygamy when all we know is monogamy. These kind of decisions may be criticized and even outright challenged, but we will change nothing (and does it really matter)?
Jacob longs for Rachel. She is his “soul mate” and because he is so much in love, the customs and technicalities of the day somehow get by him. Because of this, he will have to take on Laban’s subtle trickery, where daughters get exchanged, and he must sort out who is who. Laban’s deception really creates a crisis. But it seems Jacob just rolls with it. I suppose deception has always been Jacob’s strong suit. (But when a deceiver gets deceived, that can’t be all bad, I suppose).
Jacob is so in love with Rachel that he works for seven years for the right to marry her. This may be a bit outrageous. But we really must weigh these issues. I believe Jacob really is a monogamist at heart (shh… don’t tell him). He can only see that one girl that he is crazy about, his true love, Rachel. But it’s Leah that I think about. Her own issues are unique. Genesis 29 explains it a bit cryptically,
“Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.”
I must tell you that there is confusion by commentators about the “weak eyes.” Some take it literally (as in, she in very “near-sighted,”) others who look at the original Hebrew find the words to be a bit looser and vague. They think that this is a polite way of saying she really wasn’t pretty. IDK, but I think I can gain from either interpretation.
In the long view, Leah would birth four patriarchs for Israel. But she would struggle with jealousy over her younger sister’s beauty and favor. Her pain was real, and she would hurt deeply over this.
I think I may understand Leah. She is wounded, and life requires that she live as unwanted. She sticks out as a woman of tragedy and broken hopes and dreams. She will always live as a reject. At best, she will always be a distant second, and perhaps a bit scorned and neglected for this.
I so love Leah and I do understand her.Her life is a long tragedy and very full of sadness. For the next 30-40 years she will always be a cast-off, someone who has been broken on life’s hard wheel. I look at her with a painful bit of understanding. She reminds me of being a struggler and a survivor. Her sad life is comparable to us who have to fight so hard over our own illness or handicap.
I suppose its “Leah’s eyes” that catch me. I have no idea what the issue was. But I know that she was weak, and challenged by this terrible weakness. I understand this. My own life has been “topsy-turvy” and a really hard struggle. Somehow it seems we must work through way too much. It doesn’t seem fair. But than again, we are the ones who must drink our adversity straight; and the ones who get to know special comfort.
For those of you who are confined to a ‘chair,’ and the others who must deal with mental illness. Leah should be our hero.
Those who have been betrayed by addiction, or who have felt rejected through a bitter divorce. Leah speaks to us. For she is for every loser and for failures of all stripes. But through all of our “set-backs” and messes, we must realize that God does love us– even as we weep.
We may have “Leah’s eyes,” but we also have His grace.
One more thought that might be relevant:
“When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.”
Monotony has become a fixture around here. I had been told to be on alert for it, but it seems like I’ve got to learn for myself.
With any chronic illness there can be something tedious and routine about life. To have a physical or mental illness can be acutely painful. But interspersed between the pain is the sheer weariness of the afflicted. It can be intense and intrusive. It is the pure drudgery of depression.
The sheer boredom of my illness is killing me. Everyday is the same and the foreseeable future holds little hope of it changing. Now I’m a reasonably sedate person. I don’t need a lot of excitement. (I like a good book and a cup of tea.) I’m not after adventure, but I don’t care too much for monotony either.
Brain-numbing existence is quite common. It is often seen in a “trivial” life.
the single mom working as a secretary
the man mopping floors
the college grad frying burgers
the resident at an old folks home
These situations seem inescapable. We see ourselves locked into a situation where escape is not possible. We are consigned to do whatever our circumstances dictate. We’re all trapped. Pure and simple. We can find no meaning in our lives; we start to despair, “Will it ever be different?”
I believe the drabness of our lives can often be attributed to a lack of intimacy with the Lord Jesus, We are built for fellowship with God, and anything else is just “treading water.” Nothing satisfies, except Him present.
When I’m filled with hopelessness, I often find myself filling the emptiness with anything I can find. This usually leads to even more “sadness” and deadness inside.
When I ponder my hopelessness I feel like giving up. I simply don’t want to take another step into the doldrums of what my life has become. I despair that life will continue its “suffering grind.”
Joy is what I must have to survive, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). I don’t have to dwell in the grey drabness of hopelessness. My heart can find a reason to “sing to the Lord.”
The Holy Spirit understands our “brokenness.” Jesus is interceding for us at this very moment, and I can rise above this tedious “mess” I have made for myself. This is the only way out for me. Depression is a form of suffering. I give this to Him.
Professor Mitchell, what is the difference between being depressed and just feeling bad about yourself?
Sometimes it’s easy to tell the difference; sometimes you’re not certain. I look for clinical indicators of depressive illness: whether the person’s life is becoming impaired by these bad feelings, when it’s starting to interfere with people’s sleep, appetite and weight, when it’s interfering with their work and concentration, they’re having suicidal thoughts, they can’t buck up. Those symptoms help me to sort out whether it’s just life problems or whether it’s more.
So depression is an illness?
Yes. Even though there are both psychological and physical parts to it, it makes sense to think of severe depression as an illness. There are good medical and psychological treatments that can help people get out of it.
What proportion of the population is depressed?
Figures vary, but over a lifetime about 15% of the population are prone to getting depression on at least one occasion. So it’s relatively common. Some people only have one episode, but for at least half of those who suffer depression once, it is a recurring experience.
Is depression the sort of thing that certain personality types are likely to suffer?
I think that’s true. Anybody is vulnerable to becoming depressed, if things get difficult for them, but some personality types are more prone than others. For instance, if you tend to look for your own failings and weaknesses, if you expect disasters, you are prone to becoming depressed. People who have fragile self-esteems are prone; people who are excessively perfectionistic can be thrown when things don’t go quite right; people who have long-term high levels of anxiety.
Can you describe what it is like to be depressed?
Patients find it quite hard to describe. They often use analogies, like there is a ‘black cloud’ or a ‘weight’ on them. They say that they just can’t enjoy things any more, that they can’t get the drive to do anything; they stay in bed because they just have no energy or enthusiasm. They tend to ruminate and think about their failings, their hopeless situation. But many people find it hard to communicate the experience; even very articulate people have told me how difficult it is to communicate the experience to other people.
On the other side of the fence, what is it like to be close to someone who is depressed?
I think it’s very wearing. It never ceases to amaze me how couples stay together, particularly when it’s prolonged. Even with the best of good will and human kindness, long-term depression can be a very tiring experience for a spouse or close friend. You may get little response from a depressed person, little enthusiasm, withdrawal. They don’t want to interact socially and sometimes they can be quite irritable. Within a marriage, tension may be increased because the depressed person has no interest in sexual activity. So these things exacerbate the problem.
I sometimes hear it said that depressed people ought to just ‘snap out of it’. Can they do that?
Not when the depression is severe in the way we have been talking about. If someone can snap out of it, usually they have by that stage. In general, a depressed person doesn’t like the experience and if it was a matter of just getting on and doing something, they would have tried it. Sometimes people need to learn psychological ways of getting out of the depressed state. But sometimes there is a biochemical process going on that means the person isn’t physically able to snap out of it, without professional help.
Often there is a mixture of the physical and the psychological. It’s very rarely one or the other. The more I see depression, the more I see a complex interplay between personality, the biology of our brains and our life experience.
So depressed people can’t snap out of it, but they also can’t explain very easily what is actually troubling them. It’s a very frustrating illness!
Absolutely. It’s hard for people who haven’t dealt with it professionally to have any idea what it’s like to be depressed. So people have this difficulty understanding it, and this tendency to think that the person should be able to get out of it, and the depressed person has difficulty explaining the experience and feels frustrated and stigmatized when people are telling them to snap out of it, because they know they can’t snap out of it. There is enormous tension.
I suppose the big question is, for both the depressed person and those around them, can depression be cured?
Most people with depression can either be cured or significantly helped by available treatments. These days, we have very good treatments. We can’t help everybody, but we can help the vast majority of people we see.
Is it always a long-term cure, or can it happen quickly?
It varies. Often within a few weeks many people have benefited significantly. Some forms of depression require more long-term psychological treatment, others respond very quickly to medication. And there are grades in between.
Is depression like alcoholism, where you can get it under control but never really be beyond its reach?
For most people, that’s probably a realistic comparison. I tell people that they are always going to be prone to becoming depressed, so they need to be wary about relapses in the future. They need to be sensible about their medications, learn techniques to help them, think about whether there are aspects of their lives that they need to change. We can’t always prevent future episodes, but we can usually make them less likely.
The poet Les Murray recently has been very public about coming out of his depression. It’s interesting that some of the best poetry is written by people who have been depressed. Look at William Cowper, a Christian poet and hymn writer who wrote some of his most moving material during periods of profound depression. So depression can be both creative and destructive.
This raises an important issue for Christians. How do we connect our mental and our spiritual lives?
Cowper became very doubting at times, during his depression. One thing many Christian patients say is that God seems very distant during such periods. I’ve come to accept that as part of the depressive experience rather than a problem with their faith. I’ve seen people with a very deep faith, who yearn to be close to God, and who when depressed feel very barren and remote from God. For instance, J. B. Phillips, the Bible translator, was profoundly depressed for much of his adult life. He has described this sense of distance from God.
That is very distressing for Christians. They begin to worry that it is a lack of faith or lack of spiritual growth. But having seen it enough, I think it is just an expression of the depressive experience. Many Christians also feel that depression is a sign of weakness, of spiritual inadequacy, and they have a strong sense of guilt. Unfortunately, I think that often the church, explicitly or implicitly, has encouraged that—that if you have depression, it’s a reflection on your spiritual life. This adds an incredible burden to people who are already feeling guilty and self-critical. It’s a bit like Job’s encouragers, who basically made him feel worse.
Why does there seem to be a large number of depressed people in our churches?
It’s often the more sensitive people who become depressed, and there are often a lot of obsessional and sensitive people in churches. My experience is that there is a lot of depression in our congregations and that we don’t handle it at all well. We often infer, explicitly or implicitly, that the Christian shouldn’t have the experience of depression—that it’s not part of the victorious Christian life. And that causes enormous guilt and makes people less likely to talk about it. I think we have a lot of silent suffering going on in our churches. People just aren’t getting helped, because they feel guilty about having depression. We need to bring out into the open the fact that depression is a common experience, even within the church. And that being a Christian doesn’t stop you from getting depression. And that having depression is no more a failing than having diabetes.
In general, the church deals very badly with mental illness. In the middle ages, it was considered demon possession; in the late 20th century it’s considered a symptom of spiritual inadequacy. But it isn’t necessarily either of these things.
Are people in very demanding ministries especially prone?
They are prone; I don’t know about especially. They are in line for so many of the factors that contribute to depression: burn-out, demoralization, excessive demands, not looking after your own emotional needs, not having time to yourself. I see some of the casualties, and often by then it’s too late because someone has resigned from the ministry or become completely disillusioned. And it’s all too hidden, too hush-hush. We’re dealing with it no better than the secular world; in some ways we’re doing worse.
What then are the ways that a depressed person can be helped, both by individuals and by the church?
Well, especially in the early days, one can be supportive, help people get back into their lives—those normal things of friendship and support, being a sounding board, willing to listen to difficulties. These things might be sufficient to alleviate the early experience of depression.
But if we’re looking at a fully formed depression that’s been going on for a while, the person should be encouraged to seek proper professional help. That doesn’t always mean a psychiatrist; it might mean a GP or a counsellor. Just someone with the skills and training to help. So that’s the first thing, when the support networks have been stretched to the limit.
While that process is happening, it’s important to be around for the depressed person, accepting the fact that it might be a frustrating experience until that person picks up. Not feeling that you have to do everything yourself. There has to be a point where a friend accepts that they can’t provide everything the person needs. That point is usually indicated by signs like someone crying constantly, their work falling apart, withdrawing inexplicably, perhaps losing weight. These things indicate that the depression is getting severe.
Finally, do you think depression has become more of a problem today than it used to be?
It’s an area of debate. There’s no doubt that depression has always existed. The old Greek medical writers are clearly describing patients with depression. There was a book written in the 17th century called The Anatomy of Melancholy which described what we would call depressed patients. So it goes back through the ages; it’s part of the general human experience.
The issue is whether it has become more frequent. People have looked at the occurrence of depression in groups of people born in different decades in this century, and the frequency of occurrence seems to go up as the decades continue. People born in the 60s are more prone to depression than those at similar ages, but born in the 30s. Now, the significance of that is debated. It could be that people in recent decades simply have become more willing to admit to their depression, hence the higher rate of reports. Or it could be true that it is becoming a more common experience, and presumably that reflects changes in society. What those changes are is a very difficult question to answer.
So it’s hard to say whether the loneliness of urban living is a major factor?
Well yes, and it’s a very interesting area of debate. The World Health Organization has released predictions of the impact of different illnesses over the next century. They are saying that depression will be the 21st century’s most disabling condition, in terms of the impact on the individual, frequency and cost to society, on a worldwide basis. That survey included all medical conditions, including cancer and heart disease. So there is a recognition that it is a very prevalent condition, and that it is a very disabling condition to have. Whatever is causing it, we’re going to have to deal with it.
Philip Mitchell is a Professor at the School of Psychiatry, Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney, Australia.
“These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing.”
2 Cor. 4:17, CEV
“Before God could bring me to this place He has broken me a thousand times.”
As we move toward maturity, over time and through circumstance, we will start to develop exciting new ways of thinking. We engage the Word and combined with our relationships with people we start the work of God. We soon learn that the Kingdom of God flows through relationships, almost exclusively.
Pain and sorrow are some of the more intense ways the Lord reaches down and into our lives.
Rick Warren has written, “God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others.”
I think that as we dwell on this we will start to see the hand of God, moving things around in our complicated lives. As we attend class in this school of the Spirit, we learn things that will change our life and ministry.
But we must consider that we can waste our pain and sorrows by not engaging the issues properly. Will I submit, or will I grow sullen and cynical? Will I worship through my tears? Surrendering to Christ is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It is a daily, and even hourly process. I regard any kind of cynicism though, as a hungry predator who is hunting me. Very dangerous, and I am highly suspectable.
Pain is the way the Father reaches me, he isn’t too concerned about our comfort (it isn’t the real issue, after all.) When I hurt, I invaribly look for Jesus. And that cannot be all bad. Through the trials and pain I begin to reconnect with my Father. Without the trials, I doubt we would ever call out for His help.
“Don’t waste your sorrows.” It is easily said but seldom done. We start to stagger by the weight of our personal issues. Overwhelmed by the pain we start to panic and grab things, and throw them overboard, to lighten the load. We can be confused, and will do whatever we must do to stay afloat. But unless we take these sorrows well, we are just short-circuiting God’s intentions.
C.S. Lewis once commented on our issues,
“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn—my God do you learn.”
The darkness intends to absorb us. Satan uses our own bitterness and frustration to do this. Our discipleship is no longer valid if we commence doing our own will and desires. Even though we get “flaky” the Father will always love us. But we dare not waste our pain, it comes at too big of a price.
“So Miriam was kept outside the camp for seven days, and the people waited until she was brought back before they traveled again.”
To be numbered among the chronically ill often can mean a transition into frustration. We can not do what we want, we are ‘trapped’ by a disease we never asked for, and held hostage by our minds and bodies. It seems apart, from the management of our symptoms, we have little time to do anything else. We once had a job– a career… and our time was occupied by that. We were accustomed to something more than this illness.
I once was a pastor of a small church here in Homer, Alaska. I also taught Gospels for many years at the Alaska Bible Institute. I loved both. They defined my identity and gave me purpose. I loved helping people and teaching the Word. I strived to be faithful in the ministry. My wife and two children were also significant and all of these things led me to think they would always be there. I was living my dream (in a good way.)
With the sudden onset of a brain tumor, followed up by a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder (BP), I knew I had to step out of the ministry. I simply could not function. My depression grew more profound with the stillborn death of our third child. Things suddenly ground to a stand-still as we tried to process what has happening to us. I guess I just couldn’t understand and more or less just shut down. I spent months in bed, unable to function.
Some people were jewels. Others were mean and uncaring. (I had to learn to take the good with the bad.) I suppose I should have been more forth-coming, but things were so tangled up inside I couldn’t verbalize a thing. The post-op surgery was an ordeal, as I had to learn many things all over again. Years later I ended up on disability; I was unable to work, and no one would hire me. My symptoms were so unpredictable, and things were too erratic. The BP was giving me it’s customary depression, as well as paranoia and hallucinations.
Sometimes, like Miriam, we are quarantined by the Lord for his purposes. The isolation is worse that the pain it seems. We wonder why this is happening, and fabricate lies about our worthiness or God’s goodness. In our isolation things seem polarized to extremes. Our value seems to be ripped apart by our illness. We can feel cursed, or worse.
I have been slow to learn this: God brings good out of the dark. I’m embarrassed by my lack of acquiring this truth.
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”
2 Corinthians 4:7
This light must shine. The treasure is found in clay vessels. Brokenness only means the treasure is now seen clearly. It’s important to note: treasure loses none of its value by being surrounded by broken clay.
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”
2 Corinthians 4:8-9
Troubles of various ilk come to us. They are variegated and unplanned. No matter what their nature, God holds his people in place while everything else is falling apart. But there is no magic wand; the pain will probably continue. But for the broken believer, there comes another dimension; a new supernatural layer of grace to bolster our beleaguered faith. We will triumph through this thing, and we will stand– because He makes us stand.
Quarantines are a real possibility, even in this day. A quarantine is imposed when disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent Ebola Virus are just a few physical diseases where strict isolation must be imposed. It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force have been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.
This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible. The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted must isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace as a result of their disease.
In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthian he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.
“I have already passed judgment on this man4 in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus.5 Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lordreturns.”
1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT
Understanding the Principal of Usefulness
20 “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”
2 Timothy 2:20, NASB
Found in God’s pantry are many things. Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.
There are vessels of a different category. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re used in common ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)
21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”
2 Timothy 2:21
Paul, the author of New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:
All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belong to Him. He determines their use.
Things are not yet in their final state. Change in status can be experienced. Clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’
Some sin is contagious. It effects other believers and the Church. Sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit until the contagion passes. I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times. But there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. God waits for me.
Yes I am His servant, and I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good, and for the Church. And Father knows best.