A CASE OF PANDEMIC BLUES

A Fight for Joy Through COVID-19

Save us out from the darkness

I woke up depressed last Saturday. I mean I was down, really down. I was in a not-even-sweetly-joyful-Jan-could-bring-me-out-of-it funk.

I’ve always tended toward the melancholy–though I’ve grown over the years to be less so. But at times darkness still hides His lovely face and I succumb to gloom.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on the cause. I suspect a collection of stay-at-home-order suspects ganged up on me that day. Frankly, my emotions have taken a wilder rollercoaster ride through this time of COVID-coopedupness than I ever expected.

I feel relationally starved. My life revolves around ministering to others. Texts, phone conversations, Facebook messages, Zoom calls and the like get me only so far in my need for connection.

Then there is the ongoing privation of the ordinary means of grace that are not so ordinary to me. I miss singing with God’s people, hearing the word of God preached, feasting at the Lord’s Table, breaking bread with our church family, among other priceless things.

Perhaps I’ve got more ministry idols in need of exposing than I care to explore.

I wonder how many others struggle so?

It took a day or so, but I managed to come out of the nosedive. A week-long postmortem revealed some insights for me about the journey.

Asking Questions of Myself

My friend Ken Sande of RW360 has helped me with this aspect of relational wisdom. The “S” in his “SOG” plan stands for being Self-Aware.

It involves asking yourself things like: What am I feeling? Why do I feel that way? What am I inclined to do? What will I do instead?

David prodded himself similarly in Psalm 42:5:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.

Those last two questions in Ken’s list are crucial to a successful  upward climb out of the pit. What I was inclined to do was somehow veg the whole day. Instead by God’s grace I chose a healthier path.

Doing the Next Thing

Saturday was a work day for me. I was behind in my hours for the week. I didn’t want to do any of it. But I did anyway. Here’s why.

This counsel from Oswald Chambers has served me well over time:

Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with surprises all the time (emphasis added).

Relishing the Surprises

I finished my work. I felt a bit better, but still lingered in my melancholy.

Then I got this Onesiphorus-like text “out of the blue” from a brother in our church:

“Happy Saturday night! Hope you both are doing well. I wasn’t sure how much you are going into town for supplies. If there is anything I can pick up and deliver for you, let me know. We are doing OK . . . learning to be thankful for things.”

Please understand. In this rural Idaho valley, nobody lives close by! This was a huge offer of kindness. I told him he made my day, especially as I was struggling with the blues.

And that last line of his text about learning to be thankful? What a great reminder to fight for joy with verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Self Care

It took me years in ministry to learn this lesson.

A counselor once asked me, “What does Curt do for Curt?”

This without-healthy-boundaries caregiver immediately dismissed the validity of the question for the fear of selfishness.

But eventually he came to his senses. He who cares for the interests of others without due care for his own needs eventually ends up unable to care for anyone’s.

Saturday night we ate a good supper. We got a great night’s sleep–still getting used as a preacher to sleeping in on Sunday mornings–way longer than usual! If food and rest were the Lord’s prescription for a depressed prophet, we best apply the same as needed.

By the time Jan and I made our way to an online service Sunday morning, my joy had returned and we worshipped the Lord.

It still wasn’t the same as gathering together with our church family, but it helped frame another week of fighting for joy in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Question: What helps you fight for joy in this difficult season?

 

 

SPURGEON’S SORROWS, MINE AND YOURS

Josh thinker

Grief casts a long shadow. At least 365 day’s worth. One year ago today we lost our firstborn son, Josh, or, as he liked others to call him, “Thee Heff.”

Life-threatening cancer proved my effective tutor in 2005. Gut-wrenching loss brought its mastery instruction in 2014. I’m learning, reluctant or not, much in the school of sadness, perhaps most importantly this: some pains in life visit and determine to stay. I don’t expect grief ever to release its hold for the rest of my life. The words, “Josh is dead.” altered my experience forever. I’ve heard other loss-sufferers say such things. I thought I understood. Now I really do.

I find solace this tortuous anniversary weekend in the reading of a book. (Read books. They change lives.) Zack Eswine, thank you for writing Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression. In its provision, providence smiled on this sad heart as I read through its 144 pages the last two days.

Any Baptist preacher of the Reformed tradition (others as well) treasures Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Few preached with greater anointing. No one wrote more sermons. Calvinistic, gospel zeal pulsed through his veins in degrees of which I can only dream. With reading Pastor Zach’s book I added a new dimension of appreciation for this giant of the faith – how his near lifelong battle with depression helps me cope with my sadness and in turn comfort others in theirs.

I have long known about Spurgeon’s trouble with melancholy. I did not realize, however, its root for the man in one horrific event early on in his preaching ministry (see p. 19). It brought catastrophic grief, grief, believe it or not, I honestly imagine greater than my own. It prompted this comment from the author, borrowing from a Spurgeon sermon entitled “Weak Hands and Feeble Knees”:

For some of us, we’ve been unable to live in any other scene but the one that crushed us. We were brought so low that we never held up our heads again. It’s like we will go from that time forth mourning to our graves. Circumstance haunted us and went on. Depression came but never left. It haunts us still (p. 29).

Pastor Zack joins our hands with “Charles,” as he fondly calls him, and walks us through his journey. He invites us to view it as “the spurgeons sorrowshandwritten note of one who wishes you well” (p. 23). And well we should. The author has served the reader admirably with numerous citations from Spurgeon’s work on this challenging subject. He has thoroughly mined the precious ore of insight to be gained from one who suffered so greatly and dared talk so freely about it from his influential pulpit. Pastor Zach also shows us from Scripture the reality of sorrow. Additionally he borrows from numerous other works on the subject. He accomplishes a lot in so short a resource. Though I wish I could ask him humbly and gently, “How could you leave out Lloyd-Jones’ classic Spiritual Depression?”

Who should read this book? Easy. Any sufferer of depression and its close relatives, sorrow, sadness, and grief. Here you will find compassion, understanding, hope, and help. Pastor Zach inserts along the way distilled lessons from Spurgeon’s experience that ease the burden of “heaviness of spirit” (p. 46). While not all will agree with or like some of his prescriptions (e. g., medication as necessary), there is plenty of spot on assistance to glean especially from part three (Learning Helps to Daily Cope with Depression).

Caregivers, pastors, and otherwise “one another” gospel-shaped Christians who want to do 1 Thessalonians 5:11 well will also want to read this book. Pastor Zach takes particular aim against “God-talkers” and insensitive Job-like comforters. He pleads for more of us in the helping trade to adopt compassion and understanding in dealing with the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks in this broken world. May the tribe increase.

Gratefully, Pastor Zack leads us from the lesser story of Charles Spurgeon, as instructive, yet incomplete as it is (there are some cautions to hear along this path) to the greater story of Jesus – the Chief Mourner (p. 86) – the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). He even shows tenderness to the skeptic on looker who’s own loss may venture her to wade into these pages though not sure at first what to make of this pastor’s God-talk. You can give this to a seeker and not worry so much.

Thanks to our good friends at Westminster Books, I scarfed up a bunch of these for a mere $5 a piece. Lord willing, you can find them in the OGC resource center next Sunday.

I’m not sure I’ve arrived at the place Spurgeon did, especially after my most recent post, Never Again. But I affirm the truth of it in ending my anniversary reflections on loss:

I am sure that I have run more swiftly with a lame leg than I ever did with a sound one. I am certain that I have seen more in the dark than ever I saw in the light— more stars, most certainly—more things in Heaven if fewer things on earth! The anvil, the fire and the hammer are the making of us—we do not get fashioned much by anything else. That heavy hammer falling on us helps to shape us! Therefore let affliction and trouble and trial come.

They most certainly will. And His grace, as always, will most certainly be sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).