Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Up-Side of Depression




I should begin this post with an apology. My last post was written when I was in the midst of a bout of depression. I wrote it as a way to work through that episode. Unfortunately, when you are in the midst of something like that, the words, images & videos that you choose may not ultimately be the wisest or convey the bigger picture of what you are trying to get across.

I caused more than a bit of worry for many people, and that was certainly never my intent. On the good side of all of that concern was & is the fact that there really are quite a few people in my life who care a lot about me, and are willing to show it. So I thank you all for that.



With that having been said, I want to write a bit about the Up-Side of having depression. That may sound odd, but it's true. Sometimes my depression is a bit like a teeter-totter, and I'm the fat kid choosing where to sit on a particular day. I do believe that there are a number of good things that can result from having depression...or any variety of difficulties. (I should state that this is just my opinion, AND that I can only speak ultimately about my own struggle. You have to examine your own situation to see if & what can be positively gleaned?)


The fact of the matter is that everyone walking the planet has struggles in common with everyone else. They also have personal struggles that are unique unto them. I have some friends who have some very serious struggles with issues that I will never fully understand. I would suppose that for those who have never and will never struggle with bouts of depression, my own frustration with it will seem rather foreign and incomprehensible. (Either way, I am thankful that I only seem to get hit two or three times a year.)


Still, there is a good side to my struggle, from time to time, with depression, and it works like this: As I stated in my previous post, I always seem to have a large does of self-doubt running around right below my surface. It seeks to make me believe that I am a phony and a fraud.

Now, when an episode hits, those feelings come racing out full blown and I think even more negative thoughts about myself. (And there is not fun in any of that.) However, when I am in my usual place of existence, i.e feeling fine, those feelings of self-doubt actually serve a good purpose. They keep me in check. Yes, they can cause me to over-think and continuously re-evaluate things. (Took me almost 4 hour to write a 3 page position piece for a perspective employer this morning.) But that serves the purpose of me making sure that I have my ducks in a row before I state an opinion. I really do want to make sure I am correct when I evaluate a situation, an idea or a theological position.

You see, I have a real problem with certain folks...especially with certain preachers, teachers and theologians who are so firmly convinced that they have it all figured out. I see a large degree of over-confidence and arrogance in the way they present their facts. More often then not, I would wish them to make the following statement at the beginning and end of their presentation; "I am pretty darn sure that this is the way it is...the way God goes about doing such & such...that this is the truth. However, I am willing to concede that I am finite & limited, so I could be wrong." Something like that would be very helpful, and I certainly think a more humble approach than I see many use.

Listen, I can be as arrogant, stuck-up and stubborn as anyone. But absolutes and rigid doctrinal statements about the inner-workings & minute details of the sovereign God of the universe is beyond my temptation, thanks in large part to my nagging self-doubt. (So I got THAT going for me.)

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Ultimately, I suppose that I would hope that what ever personal struggles you may have, allow God...who causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him...to show you how that frustration can also be a blessing. You might as well, since you'll be stuck with it until the day of our ultimate redemption. If he can make decent use of me and all of my weirdness, he can probably get even more milage out of you.



During this past Sunday morning, when I was at my worst, I decided to skip church and take a drive. I just didn't want to be around anyone else. Plus, driving around helps me to clear my head. So I headed east towards the St. Croix River.

Along the way I turned on the radio. On Being, NPR's show about faith, meaning & ethics was on. The title of that days show was "Pursuing Happiness," and it was a panel discussion with the Dalai Lama, an Episcopal Bishop, a Muslim scholar and the Chief Rabbi of the U.K., Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Of all of the people on that panel, I was most impressed by and identified strongest with the Rabbi. The host put it to the Rabbi that the Hebrew Bible, and the Psalms in particular, delved quite deeply into the sadness of the human experience, and that their writings were a way through those difficulties.

Rabbi Sacks responded; "It is true that if you read the Jewish literature, and you read Jewish history, "Happiness" is not the first word that comes to mind." Needless to say that in the state of mind I was in at the moment, I was hooked.

He also went on to say something that I found very profound. I think it is extremely important for the church in America to consider. Rabbi Sacks spoke of Jacob wrestling with the angel in Genesis 32. It was at this point that God changed Jacob's name to Israel, because Jacob "struggled with God and with men and had over come."

The rabbi said that he viewed suffering in this same way. Suffering in many ways is wrestling with God. Jacob wrestled the angel all night until day break, and he told the angel; "I will not let you go until you bless me." Rabbi Sacks said that when something bad happens to him, he will not let go of it until he finds the blessing in it. It was at that point that I first began to feel better.


Rabbi Sacks said something interesting towards the end of the panel discussion, which I think could be applied to all of us who go through tough times and come out the other side. He said that the way that many Jews can sum up their faith, and all of the trials that they have had to suffer through, come down to three sentences. "They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat."

Whatever frustration I have to go through, either external, or in the case of depression from time to time, internal, I think that I should wrestle with it until I find God's blessing in it. I'm pretty convinced that it is there somewhere.

For what it's worth, I hope that you can too. If you are reading this, you survived...so go eat.

Peace

Joe

P.S. If you wish to hear the full panel discussion from "Pursuing Happiness," click on the following link. http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2010/pursuing-happiness/

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