The blessings of family and friends

…cannot be over emphasized for the person wrestling with depression. They stand by, support, encourage, and pray for the depressed loved one. It is hard, long, tiring work. Many times it is above and beyond the call of “duty.” I thank God for all of them.

One not-so-helpful comment

On occasion during the Lenten season I will hear some well-intentioned person say, “You know, if you would just avoid all that Lenten stuff it would help. The music and orders of service during Lent can be a real downer. Sing some of the uplifting songs of faith.”

I appreciate the concern and I listen closely to this kind of comment. Somewhere in the back of my mind I would agree with that. But my heart recoils from such advice. Why? I think that the Lenten focus gives expression to things I would rather not express, but need to express. The hymns, Scriptures, contemplative evening services draw me; they speak to my own hurting heart. They show that the God of all compassion understands me such that His Word is able to capture my sense of alienation. I can take even my deepest despair to Him. He will never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5), even in the deep valley of depression.

Here are two passages that speak so well to this: one expresses the pit of depression, the other gives hope in the midst of depression. Psalm 137:1-4

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. 
Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps. 
For there our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, 
 “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” 
How can we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land?

Depression is a “foreign land.” Certainly not the physical displacement that the Israelites experienced in the Babylonian captivity, but still real “foreign-ness.”

The end is in sight

One friend who also struggles with depression wrote to me this week about the differences between physical sickness and depression. With physical diseases, we usually know that they have an end. But with depression there is often the sense that not only is there no end, but even if there is an end, it is nowhere in sight. And that feeds the depression.

Paul helps us with the view of the end in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

In this text God is giving hope (the end is coming!) through Paul to those who experience the trials of life. In my depression I need to hear that, read that, meditate on that. That is real life. In depression, it can overwhelming, but this text lifts my eyes above the immediate.

For the person depressed this can be the lifeline of hope. Thus, as one who struggles with depression, I would ask that you not take away the Lenten themes, Scriptures, and hymns. They speak to where I am. If you are not in that place, then a quiet request for the sake of the weaker brother or sister—read these texts, sing these songs, in the company of those who are hurting. That is true community. It will not always be this way. Perhaps in six months the roles will be reversed. We need one another.

Sometimes it is hard

…to even talk with family and friends when you are on the slide of depression. It isn’t a disease in the sense of poison ivy or an infection where there are simple medical steps to take. Even describing that something isn’t right sounds almost lame, like an excuse. But it’s not. Do I want to sit alone? Yes. No. I don’t know.

A place to reflect

So you probably have determined that this has been another difficult week. There isn’t one event or trigger point, nothing that someone said, but a gradual slide. And it is difficult to talk to others about it. Sometimes I want to crawl into a hole; other times I want to be alone, but where, and how? I can’t even answer those simple questions.

Is it serious? No, but it is frustrating, and puts me on edge at times. Impatient with myself, with others, with life in general.

Someone sent me a Scripture reference this past week: Psalm 42:9-11

 I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”

My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

And there is the answer, to which I cling…it has been the lifeline I needed.

… especially for men in the church

A silent plague, no, the silent plague in the church is so ingrained in churches that we don’t recognize, or we shut our eyes and ears to it, so that we don’t have to deal with it. But as people of God we have to deal with it. This post is just to set the stage for looking at this destructive force in our midst, destructive in our homes and families, but even in our church life together.

This past Sunday, we talked about the issue of abuse in our Adult Bible Class. The focus of that was our challenge as disciples of Jesus Christ and how we can act in mission in such a critical area. That provides a backdrop for this post.

The Hidden Nature of the Plague

This post is directed to conservative Christians, and specifically conservative Lutherans, and even more finely tuned: pastors, male leaders, and males in congregations. As a pastor in The AALC, this hits close to home, so close that I have been blind to it at times. But we have to get this in the open; as Christians we don’t have the option to be silent.

What is the plague? Abuse, physical, emotional, and spiritual. It is a sad reality that 95% of all physical abuse is done by a male against a female, most often within the same household. This leaves scars that last a lifetime. Identity, relationships, expectations, all are affected by abuse. Add in alcohol, drugs, pornography, etc., and the problems multiply.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Abuse comes in many forms beyond the actual abuse. Do we listen to what a woman says in conversation? Do we pick up signs of abuse? How about pastors, do we compound the abuse when we urge a wife to remain in a home while abuse is occurring, telling her “she has a responsibility in the marriage”? Do we listen to her undercurrent of fear, uncertainty, shame, guilt? Have we caused her even more fear, doubt, and lack of hope?

These are tough questions—they need to be! We cannot sugar coat this plague. Yes, the victim of abuse suffers from each of these problems. By our indifference or insistence on “being faithful and not moving out” we have added to the abuse, silently. Note, this is not to counsel divorce… far from it. But it is to point out that abuse, especially physical abuse has to be stopped, immediately… before any helpful pastoral care can enter into the situation.

So what can we do?

Let’s begin with Scripture. In Psalm 68:5, we read:

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.

God himself sets the tone for us with this passage. Further study indicates that throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, especially in Luke’s Gospel, God is concerned about widows and orphans. I suggest that the woman/child who is being abused is in a spiritual state of being a widow or an orphan, only worse because they do not have a voice. Don’t believe that? Spend a little time with someone who does counseling for abused women and children; you will soon discover how on target such an assessment is. If this is a high priority of God’s compassion, then it has to be our high priority as men, as husbands, as fathers, as grandfathers. Right now I am writing to those who are not abusing, but seem to be “ordinary guys” with their own families.

Emily Cook, wife to an LCMS pastor, a mother of six little chilren, has blogged on many important topics—often bringing in critical statements in the midst of incidental aspects of life. Recently she posted about watching her children play in the first snowfall of the year. Then when she mentions her oldest daughter (at the time, 8 years old), and she writes:

a picture daddy loves… and I remind myself to tell him to tell her that, because she is getting to that age when it is so good for a little girl to be told by her daddy that she is lovely.

What a wonderful starting point for each man to begin a change in perception and attitudes! To realize how much influence we all have in the lives of our children (and our wives)—it is huge! A simple expression of gratitude and acknowledgement from a father can shape this young girl for the rest of her life. Don’t overlook the everyday life we live: God places us in our vocations as husbands, fathers, grandfathers, uncles for his specific purposes, living out the new life in Christ.

How are we doing in what we say to our wives and children, grandchildren? Does our speech reflect what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:29?

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Yes, we can take a first step right here. But let’s not stop there. How about when we are in meetings in churches? How about when we are in a “guys only” session in the parking lot. Are we showing our real (sinful) colors? Or is the Spirit at work there, too, directing our speech?

What if I have failed?

As I look back over my life in various vocations as husband, father, grandfather, I realize how far I have fallen short—so many times. Perhaps you are there, too. It might be easy to say, “What can I change after so much water has gone under the bridge?” First, God’s mercy is such that when we confess our sins of omission as well as commission, we receive God’s forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Christ. Life begins anew—Paul wrote, “Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence” (2 Cor. 5:17 GW).

Second, with that restored status, God showers us with the Holy Spirit, yes, to study and grow in Scriptures, but also to look at all of life in a new way. That is, because you have been forgiven and restored to God, the Spirit can lead you to a new relationship with your wife, daughters, sons, etc. It may be that as the Spirit works, you will become aware of sins that were hidden from you. You can now go in humility to the person you sinned against. Is it hard? Yep, been there, done that, and it is never easy. But it is critical. This is not “family” as usual, this is the beginning of a new relationship with everyone, especially your wife and children. Note, too, that how you speak to your wife will influence how your children view the vocation of wife, and the value of women and girls.

Third, you can now pray unhindered, which is critical in relationships. Peter wrote

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.(1 Peter 3:7)

Do you see that? It is the husband who treats his wife respectfully who then can pray unhindered.

Some good memories

After reading Emily Cook’s post today I am reminded how quickly our grandkids are growing up. So, here are just a few photos as reminders, from our visit in April 2011.

Cindy and I surrounded by the five grandkids April 2011


Alexis and Aaron, Jr.
Arthur and Addison
Amber and Grandma at school

And of course, Aaron and Amanda!

Aaron and Amanda

“The days of our lives… are soon gone.” Psalm 90

We love you all. Blessings and thanks for the fun memories, just a short 10 months ago.

Words of hope in the midst of…

For my devotional reading this morning, I once again was refreshed with Psalm 34:18

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

“Crushed in spirit”— (דַּכְּאֵי־ר֥וּחַ). What a description of our lives! That word “crushed” is the same word used in Isaiah 53:10 when describing the Suffering Servant’s work: “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him…” In other words, the Suffering Servant (Jesus) knows exactly what it is like to be crushed in spirit. He was—for us.

English: Isaiah; illustration from a Bible car...
Isaiah looked ahead to the Suffering Servant

So, the LORD (יְ֭הוָה Yahweh) is near to the brokenhearted, for the purpose of saving them. And He identifies with them perfectly. He identifies with me, perfectly. And yet, in my weakness I fail to remember that truth. I seem to think God has moved away from me. The truth is that He is near to me, a brokenhearted sinner.

This verse seems particularly important for those of us who struggle with depression. But it is much broader than even that (perhaps a good Lenten theme sometime in the future). Under the Law, we are all crushed in spirit. Only Yahweh (LORD) can save us (Gospel). And thank God He does!

And the battle with depression

…continues. I traveled this past week with all day (and evening) meetings, so little chance to post. I appreciate everyone’s responses (mostly offline) to the posts on depression; many people have emailed and others have spoken to me face-to-face about their own trials and struggles with depression. If even one person is helped by what I have written, I am glad that I could help. Paul’s encouragement of 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 is right on target.

It is amazing that some of the things I wrote about in the posts have come back again in real life (triggers that surprise!). So, the challenge and battle of depression is a constant reminder of how much we are dependent on God’s grace and not our own strength. I am doing better than I was 3-4 weeks ago. Thanks, also, for my wife and a couple friends who are supportive and good listeners.

For those struggling with this, I pray that God will bring the right person at the right time with the right words to speak words of hope and comfort in Jesus Christ.

Have you hugged your porcupine today?

Odd title, huh? Actually it is appropriate for today’s blog: the two sides of living with depression. One side involves the person who is depressed, the other side involves the people who live with the person who is depressed. And the porcupine imagery catches some of the tension and difficulty in living on either side of depression.

English: Photograph of two North American porc...
Hugged a porcupine lately?

One who struggles with depression is acutely aware of pain, suffering, woundedness, etc. When some one close wants to help, through words, or hugs, or just listening, the quills of the porcupine make it painful even for the helper. Often unknowingly the one helping may trigger some reaction (see Depression and Triggers) in the depressed person. It may bring back memories (see Depression and Memory) that cause further pain. The quills are getting sharper.

At the same time, for the depressed person, the quills pointing inward feel much larger, much sharper, and much more focused on the areas of pain. Thus, the helper is reaching out and getting stuck with quills, and may withdraw. Meanwhile, the depressed person is hurting more, and tends to withdraw. It is a catch-22, the depressed person needs more companionship in the best sense of that word, yet the encounter can be painful and self-defeating.

It doesn’t take long for the porcupine effect to close doors rather than open them. Thus, for the depressed person every event becomes intensified. Rejection is more acute, a sense of abandonment lurks behind every relationship. Not a winning combination.

A depressed man sitting on a bench
being alone… God’s mission field

For the person who is depressed, it really comes down to having a few people who will faithfully walk with you, not pressuring, not demanding, but to be there for you. In the darkest days, God was drawing me, even when I wasn’t aware of it. In the flesh, I was blessed with my wife, our son and daughter-in-law, and three elders and their wives. They stuck by me in the very worst of times. I marvel at their patience, their willingness to “put up with me.” And they did so for several years. Always supportive, always listening, always loving.

As I look back, I can see how difficult I was to live with. In the worst days they needed to direct me to do things, every day things that we most often take for granted. If someone has not been down that dark road of depression, it might seem silly to need help with simple tasks. My close circle of family and friends never once gave that impression. They demonstrated Christian fellowship in the best way possible.

Another aspect of companionship is to realize that I as the depressed person wanted to be around some people, but not necessarily participating in their discussion. It sounds odd, but for me I wanted to be a wall flower, listening and seeing others respond, but I didn’t want to speak or interact. It was almost as if I had to learn how to interact with people all over. And I didn’t trust myself on what or how I said things.

I have found that dialog was hard for me. In the slide down and coming out the other side of the depression valley (for me a 4-5 year process for the actual diagnosed depression), I sometimes would speak, but not appropriately. I don’t mean vulgar or filthy talk, but it was if I couldn’t see how my remarks affected others. Even now when the depression battle rages, I have to be careful on what I say; when I forget about that, it can have negative repercussions. Of course, that plunges me further into the recrimination of despair.

There were always two questions people would ask me: 1. Are you okay? 2.What can I do to help? I couldn’t tell whether I was okay, because I had been out of kilter for so many years. And I didn’t know enough about myself to ask for help, or even what kind of help I needed or wanted. The questions showed concern, but as a depressed person I wasn’t capable of providing even an intelligible response. That made me feel bad for a long time. As years have passed, I realize that neither I nor the other person knew what to say… And I am okay with not really answering. Those who care also can accept the lack of answers. Their love and presence spoke more than their questions, and more than any answer I could give.

For me the ultimate place to be with people and yet not be part of it was in worship. The liturgical worship service provides the environment to welcome, embrace, and lead people who are hurting. Confession: I was good at internally… I could beat myself up quite well, thank you. But confession before God exposed the shallowness of my beating myself up. It wasn’t only words and attitude towards others, but towards God that I needed to hear, to face, to confess—most often in my heart, the words not actually forming on my lips. But it was confession nevertheless. I could never tire of hearing that my sins were forgiven for Jesus’ sake.

For me some Sundays I couldn’t sing the hymn of praise (“This is the feast…”). But inwardly I liked being around people who could. The creeds brought me reassurance that not even this congregation was my world; they drew me into the “cloud of witnesses” throughout the ages. The Lord’s Supper likewise reaffirmed the eternity of this reality, being in God’s presence, receiving His gifts. Once again the body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The beauty of family, close friends, and worship comes together to bring about God’s work of pulling a person through even the deepest valleys.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3-7)

Ten times “comfort” is used in the passage. Speaks volumes, doesn’t it? And now God has given me the grace and comfort to embrace other porcupines… Been there, done that, and yes, porcupines can be loved. And God wins!