The Swamp of Despondency, [Pilgrim’s Progress]

 
Trapped, and unable to move
“Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
   Tell others he has redeemed you from your       enemies.
  For he has gathered the exiles from many lands,
      from east and west,
      from north and south.
 Some wandered in the wilderness,
      lost and homeless.
 Hungry and thirsty,
      they nearly died.
 “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
      and he rescued them from their distress.”

            Psalms 107:2-6

Recently watched the new release of the movie “Pilgrim’s Progress” and I have to say, it’s remarkably close to the book, which often is not the case when a movie is based upon a book.  In his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan has written one of the most beautiful allegories about the journey we all travel as a believers.

The book describes the hero, Christian, and his journey from the City of Destruction to his heavenly destination, the Celestial City. Now there’s one part of Pilgrim’s Progress that I want to focus on today –walking througH (or sinking into) the Swamp of Despondency!

At one point during their travels, Christian and his companion suddenly find themselves there….into this particular swamp. Still bearing  a burden, Christian begins to quickly sink in the mire.  His traveling companion manages to get out, but he returns to the City of Destruction without giving aid to Christian.  Christian is left all alone and sinking even deeper in the mire, until Help, the allegorical figure for the Holy Spirit, pulls him free from the muck.

Christian then asks Help why this dangerous plot of land has not been mended so that poor travelers might go safely to the Celestial City. Help replies, “This miry slough is such a place that cannot be mended.”

How true it is in real life!  As hard as we try to avoid them, whether young in the Lord, or spiritually mature…swamps of despondency seem inevitable, and we must struggle through them!

Charles Spurgeon once wrote to his students in the book, “Lectures to my Students”,

  • “Fits of depression come over most of us.  Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down.
  • The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.
  • There may be here and there men of iron…but surely the rust frets even these.”

There are times in our lives when we will struggle through the swamps of despondency — but praise God that He has provided us a helper for those times of need!  We need to press through, seeking and trusting the power of the Holy Spirit to pull us out of those nasty swamps, and set our feet back upon the Rock of our salvation.

Let’s also look around us to see our brethren who may be struggling in the swamps of despondency, so that, rather than abandoning them, we might give them a hand on their journey to “the Celestial city”!

Source: http://www.worthydevotions.com/christian/depression

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Some Christmas Advice

Christmas is my most favorite time of the year.  I grew up in the northern part of Wisconsin, and my most valuable and tenderest recollections are my Christmases.  I was raised in a Norwegian Lutheran church, (Think: Lutefisk.). Many memories flow from that; the cold, the snow and the tree and the presents.  I have been made a ‘rich’ man through all of these great memories.

I remember our annual Nativity play at Church. I remember the sticky, caramel-covered ‘popcorn ball’ each one of us would get from the church ladies aid.  I fondly remember a very bleak Christmas when there was no money to be had for presents. A local charity came through at the last minute with gifts. I was profoundly touched by all of this, and more. Even when it was bad, it was still very good.

I have no real way of instilling any of this to you. However I do exhort you, go out of your way to minister to the young hearts you have contact with.  Help them believe.  Make it easy for them to touch the miracle of the manger.  Let them leave your company yearning for  God’s presence in their day. 

It won’t take much, maybe keen imagination on your part.  But those things you do may spark, ignite and become a blaze that will direct them through their lives.  Be kinder than you need to. Purposefully do things that will impact them, even small things often carry an astonishingly strong influence.

You may be in the thick of it. You have lost the purpose and meaning of this day. But I’m pretty sure any failure isn’t permanent. But at least, try to do as much as you’re what able. Let us know if we could pray for you this season, alaskabibleteacher@gmail.com.

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A Lutefisk History – Lutefisk Recipe (Lyefish) http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/LutefiskHistory.htm

On Following Jesus!

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“All of Jesus’ followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for the wonderful Life they had seen.”

Luke 19:37

I suppose that this is what broken believers do. There is an essential element of joining others in this verse. The faithful followers will inevitably flock together. There are very few solitary people following the Lord Jesus. We can’t do “Christianity” by ourselves.

They all gather to a one person.

Not a religion, creed, formula or pattern. Many will sort this out as time goes on. Jesus is our Lord and master and friend, not a “Powerpoint” presentation. It’s Jesus! We come together because we love Him, and we’ve been told that He loves us as well. That reciprocal love is why we were created.

Within this intimate assemblage we can hear spontaneous shouting. Some will sing. It will get raucous and loud. Their enthusiasm is focused on Him, “the wonderful Life.” Frankly, some who follow Jesus are not “quiet” people. I don’t know how you feel about this. (Maybe, you just need to adjust?)

Sometimes we may get moody and withdraw from others. Depression can thin out the ranks quicker than anything. It is like a communicable disease that spreads from person to person. I have become a victim, and a carrier myself. For me, as a broken believer I must seek out an inoculation for my brooding.

The verse talks about the walk. And yes, there is a definite walk! Within the rabbinical pattern of first century discipleship, the student would copy his teacher as closely as possible. If he limped so would they. He would dress like his teacher, talk like his teacher, and walk like his teacher. Imitation was the highest honor you could bestow.

The verse talks about “what they had seen.” They were observers. That means they had to get closer to the action. Seeing something, or someone up close makes you a witness, an “eye-witness.” You may need to get closer, and see for yourself this Jesus, who is the Lord and Savior of the whole world.

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“Darkness is My Only Companion”

“Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”

—Ambrose of Milan (340-397)

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Our theology makes all the difference in fighting depression, writes Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Author of “Darkness, Is My Only Companion” and Episcopal priest. Here is an excerpt where she introduces the depression of Christians.

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In his Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that suffering is uniquely difficult for the Christian, for the one who believes in a good God. If there were no good God to factor into the equation, suffering would still be painful, and  ultimately meaningless.

For the Christian, who believes in the crucified and risen Messiah, suffering is always meaningful. It is meaningful because of the one in whose suffering we participate, Jesus. This is neither to say, of course, that suffering will be pleasant, nor that it should be sought. Rather, in the personal suffering of the Christian, one finds a correlate in Christ’s suffering, which gathers up our tears and calms our sorrows and points us toward his resurrection.

In the midst of a major mental illness, we are often unable to sense the presence of God at all. Sometimes all we can feel is the complete absence of God, utter abandonment by God, the sheer ridiculousness of the very notion of a loving and merciful God. This cuts to the very heart of the Christian and challenges everything we believe about the world and ourselves.

I have a chronic mental illness, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression, but now is less offensively called bipolar disorder. I have sought help from psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals; one is a Christian, but most of my helpers are not. I have been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over many years, and have been prescribed many psychiatric medications, most of which brought quite unpleasant side effects, and only a few of which relieved my symptoms. I have been hospitalized during the worst times and given electroconvulsive therapy treatments.

All of this has helped, I must say, despite my disinclination toward medicine and hospitals. They have helped me to rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer I believe God wants me to be.

During these bouts of illness, I would often ask myself: How could I, as a faithful Christian, be undergoing such torture of the soul? And how could I say that such torture has nothing to do with God? This is, of course, the assumption of the psychiatric guild in general, where faith in God is often viewed at best as a crutch, and at worst as a symptom of disease.

bad-times-333-300x250How could I, as a Christian, indeed as a theologian of the church, understand anything in my life as though it were separate from God? This is clearly impossible. And yet how could I confess my faith in that God who was “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1) when I felt entirely abandoned by that God? And if this torture did have something to do with God, was it punishment, wrath, or chastisement? Was I, to use a phrase of Jonathan Edwards’s, simply a “sinner in the hands of an angry God”?

I started my journey into the world of mental illness with a postpartum depression after the birth of our second child. News outlets are rife with stories of women who destroy their own children soon after giving birth. It is absolutely tragic. Usually every instinct in the mother pushes toward preserving the life of the infant. Most mothers would give their own lives to protect their babies. But in postpartum depression, reality is so bent that that instinct is blocked. Women who would otherwise be loving mothers have their confidence shaken by painful thoughts and feelings.

Depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It’s walking barefoot on broken glass; the weight of one’s body grinds the glass in further with every movement. So, the weight of my very existence grinds the shards of grief deeper into my soul. When I am depressed, every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts.

And often the opposite is the case when I am hypomanic: I am scintillating both to myself, and, in my imagination, to the whole world. But mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. Sometimes, when it tips into full-blown psychosis, it can be terrifying. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it: there is no pulling oneself “up by the bootstraps.”

And yet the Christian faith has a word of real hope, especially for those who suffer mentally. Hope is found in the risen Christ. Suffering is not eliminated by his resurrection, but transformed by it. Christ’s resurrection kills even the power of death, and promises that God will wipe away every tear on that final day.

But we still have tears in the present. We still die. In God’s future, however, death itself will die. The tree from which Adam and Eve took the fruit of their sin and death becomes the cross that gives us life.

The hope of the Resurrection is not just optimism, but keeps the Christian facing ever toward the future, not merely dwelling in the present. But the Christian hope is not only for the individual Christian, nor for the church itself, but for all of Creation, bound in decay by that first sin: Cursed is the ground because of you … It will produce thorns and thistles for you …” (Gen. 3:17-18).

This curse of the very ground and its increase will be turned around at the Resurrection. All Creation will be redeemed from pain and woe. In my bouts with mental illness, this understanding of Christian hope gives comfort and encouragement, even if no relief from symptoms. Sorrowing and sighing will be no more. Tears will be wiped away. Even fractious [unruly, irritable] brains will be restored.

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“Darkness: My Only Companion”

Kathryn Greene-McCreight is assistant priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Haven, Connecticut, and author of Darkness Is My Only Copanion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness (Brazos Press, 2006).

On the web:  http://www.hopeandhealing.org/contentPage.aspx?resource_id=311

 

 

 

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