Saturday, February 21, 2009

Three Common Experiences

“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak Whispers the o're-fraught heart, and bids it break.” - Macbeth
In giving sorrow words I find it necessary to confront three states of being in which the hurting heart may find itself.

I’m not suggesting that what I’m about to say is a cure-all, but it’s important to accept that depression is normal. If you and I weren’t capable of depression, neither would we be capable of celebration. In fact we’d truly be the “bland leading the bland.” Of course some states of depression far exceed the normal; however, everyone will find themselves depressed at times. There are numerous examples of depression in Scripture, because it’s a common malady. Elijah the prophet suffered severe depression—for reasons that are clear to readers of his story, though maybe not so clear to him. I want you to see how God dealt with this man.

“Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’" 1Kings 19:5 (NIV)

The angel of the Lord didn’t offer Elijah instruction on how he could better manage his schedule. The angel touched him and gave him the most practical instruction: get up and eat. In other words, when you’ve suffered a setback, a layoff or death in your life, what should you do about your depression? Do the next thing. For me it was simply to breathe. Get up and make the bed. Eat. It felt at times like putting one foot in front of another was a major achievement. I marvel now at the grace of God who helps the hurting simply do what they’ve lost the desire to do. It’s seldom inspiration that leads us out of depression, but doing the simple things can lead to inspiration. God cares and reminds us of the practical.

In Luke's gospel, some disciples are walking away from Jerusalem following the crucifixion. They’re joined by a stranger they don’t recognize. When he asks why their faces are downcast, they’re incredulous that anyone could be ignorant of the tragic events that had taken place in the city. Listen to their words that define their utter sense of dejection.

"...but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place." Luke 24:21 (NIV)

Hurting people often demand answers from God. After Tammy died, I had a lot of questions, but I knew that answers would not bring her back, nor would they satisfy the aching of my heart. For me, answers in and of themselves would never be enough. You see, the disciples on the road had the facts straight. They knew what they’d just experienced and had already put the events into context. They were accurate—but their conclusions were wrong. You can hear their dejection in the phrase "it is the third day since..." They accept the reality of the death of their hopes and all that seems to remain is dejection. They don’t recognize Jesus until He expounds on all the Bible foretold of these events, connecting the dots of all God promised through the Prophets and relating how these things impacted their experience. They’re amazed, but it isn’t until late in the evening that the light goes on. They finally see that the very Savior whose loss led to their dejection is now sitting before them alive.

This leads me to one undeniable conclusion. God's answer to our hurting heart is often not an answer—but Himself. He’ll remind us of His promises, but He sometimes walks beside us like a stranger until our eyes open to see it’s Him.

Despair comes when we realize we’ve blown an opportunity that will never come again. We all experience these things. We think about what should have been our response or what could’ve been our opportunity and wind up with a feeling of unutterable self-loathing. This kind of despair may be far more dangerous than depression and dejection combined. The desire to attack ourselves, berating and belittling our very existence drains us of the energy that sustains life.

Jesus has an answer for despair. To a group of snoring disciples who missed a golden opportunity to pray for and with Jesus, he simply said, "Rise, let us go!" Matt. 26:46 (NIV)

What should I do after I’ve failed my Lord again? Get up from despair and do the next thing. Refuse to lie in a pool of my own bloody despair. Rise and trust His goodness and grace for the next opportunity to be faithful. Trust Him as I walk with Him down the path to the next thing. Others may think me glib for refusing to sulk in my failure, but faith requires that we move, not allowing failure to corrupt the next move of faith. Far from ignoring failure, faith refuses to make a habit of it.

Ed Litton