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Walking Through Depression

I Kings 19: 9-15,18   Walking Through Depression   January 24, 2016

I Kings 19: 9-15a, 18

Then, Elijah went to a cave, and spent the night there. The word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

11 God said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus…. When you arrive, you shall find seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

 

I was really saddened by the death of Robin Williams last year. It bothered me. Maybe it bothered you too? It isn’t just because it was a terrible loss for us. I mean, what other great movies and great characters Williams might have developed that we will never see? He was only 63. He had another 20 or more years of acting ahead of him. Our loss.

From what we know his death came because the pain of life was getting too much for him.

A friend of mine sent me an article. A neuroscientist and psychologist from the University of Iowa, Nancy Andreasen, completed a study on mood disorders.  She and her co-workers discovered that, "There is a high statistical correlation of mental illness in highly creative people."

Maybe we already knew this?

Some of the most creative and influential people have suffered from depression.  Everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Steve Jobs, to Buzz Aldrin to Emily Dickinson, from Isaac Newton to Franz Kafka. The list goes on. Most likely 30% of the population will struggle with a mental health issue at some point in their life and more than 10% will live with it always.

But, though it is that common, there remains a deep stigma which discourages people from confessing their abiding hurt and relentless sadness.

It isn’t their fault but they often feel guilty. Not a person I know with depression chooses it, rather the depression chooses them and then they have to do something about it.

So, when I look out on the congregation on any particular Sunday, I know 15 or 20 of you are very sad this morning. Maybe you have been sad for a long time and perhaps you worry you will always be sad? But, there is deception at work.  

I think it is interesting that another name for Satan is the Great Deceiver? In his book, People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck (a book we will study in Lent) describes evil as deception. Satan is The Great Deceiver and people who get caught up in evil, don’t just lie to others, they mostly lie to themselves. Right? Think about all the evil acts in history and isn’t it safe to say that all that evil was caused by people who were self-deceived? They were convinced they were doing God’s will or they were just positive they knew the truth, but, in reality, Satan had deceived them.

It is safe to say that all of us lie to ourselves in one way or another, but people with depression often caught by stinking lies. By that I don’t mean they have no right to be sad or that nothing has happened to cause their sorrow, but those wrestling with depression find themselves believing all kinds of lies. “Nobody cares about me.” “I will never be happy.” “I am a failure.” All lies, but when we are depressed, we believe them, nonetheless.

I asked a counselor friend of mine what would be his best advice to people with depression. He said people with depression get stuck or maybe more accurately, they are unable to see choices. Their brains get into this negative trance and – it is like being caught in a strong current in a river – the negative trance gets a hold of us and pulls us along.

We feel caught in a current and when we are depressed, it can feel like walking through a maze and around every corner there is just another wall. This is why so many people, people like Robin Williams, choose to commit suicide it is because they feel trapped. They don’t want to die, they just want to be free from sadness and anxiety. They want release from the current and they want to get out of the maze. They don’t know how else to escape.

The good news is there are ways to get out of the negative trance and there are ways to get through the maze. My counselor friend says one way to get out of a negative trance is to spend time near people who are in a positive trance. Does that make sense?

He says this, “When they encounter someone who is in a positive trance or an emotional place that is very safe where they feel aware of their strengths it is possible for the first person to experience a shift and then be more able to see what was there all along. [in themselves]”

So, we come to worship, not because we are happy or because we feel bubbling over with faith, but who knows, maybe we will sit next to someone who is happy and their positive attitude will infect us? I know when you are sad sometimes being near happy people can be annoying, but it can also be rejuvenating. We don’t’ have to be happy; we just need to be open to the possibility that we could be happy and that the negative things we tell ourselves just may be deceptive lies.

 

Here is where we turn to the story of Elijah which we heard today.

A week or so ago before the quiet whisper of God got Elijah’s attention at the cave, some other things happened. Elijah had challenged King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and the 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah meets them at the altar of God.  The 450 prophets of Baal spend the better part of that morning dancing and prancing and bowing and crying out to Baal, but nothing happens. When it is his turn, Elijah steps up, raises his hands and says, “Lord God of heaven and earth, show us you are here!” And like that (snap), the altar, the foundation holding it and everything around it, are consumed in a flash of fire and lighting. The 450 disappointed prophets are slain. A very surprised King Ahab and a very angry Queen Jezebel are all that is left.

As Elijah is making his exit stage right, he hears Queen Jezebel cursing over his shoulder, “Elijah, your days are numbered!” So, Elijah just walks a little faster.

Now, one might think Elijah wouldn’t feel the least bit threatened by Queen Jezebel. I mean he had just witnessed the power of God. Why should he be afraid of one angry queen?

But, as we listen to Elijah, we don’t just hear a man who is scared, we also hear about a man who has been caught up in a lie. He feels all alone – it doesn’t mean he is actually alone, but he feels that way. As Elijah makes his way to his cave, we hear him saying, “Lord, I am all alone. The same people who killed all your prophets before me and are now setting their sights on me.” Elijah feels isolated.

Elijah is caught up in lie – his despair is because his feelings deceive him. When God whispers to Elijah it should give a clue as to how God speaks – not in loud and obvious and undeniable voices, but rather in ways we have to really try to listen to hear.

The good news is he believes the lie only for a short time. The story ends with God telling him Elijah not to give up. He isn’t alone. Go to Damascus and he will find 7,000 other people who are also fighting to maintain their faith as well.

I suppose if there is one thing I would tell people struggling with depression, it’s this: I don’t know if there are any words which are sure to dispel all your sadness, but what I can tell you, for sure, is there is no way you are alone. There are other people who know something of what you know. If you are willing to trust God and keep moving you will discover thousands more who understand. Just keep walking and like, Elijah, you will find out your are not alone after all. Who knows? You may find a reprieve and, maybe just take off your mantle of depression and walk away.

I want to end with a story which I hope blesses you.

I heard about a grandfather who took two of his grandsons out for a walk in the country-side. He said he wanted to show them something. After walking a bit, they came upon this big old barn. The grandfather said, “Let’s go take a look inside.” They hadn’t gone too far when suddenly one of the grandsons starting complaining: “Grandpa, there is horse manure all over the place. All these stalls stink of it. And, look, I even got some on my new shoes!” He was not happy. Before the grandfather could respond, he noticed the other grandson was running around the barn. You could tell he thought this was pretty neat. Finally the grandfather said, “What in the world are you so happy about?” The grandson said, “Grandpa, with all this manure there must be horses around here somewhere!”

Of course, he is right. The truth is, with all that horse manure, there must have been horses somewhere. The next time we feel surrounded by stinking lies, find the horse and go for a ride.

 

TO GOD BE THE GLORY. FOREVER AND EVER. AMEN.