Monday, June 18, 2007


'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?... O, my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.'

'I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me. When I lie down I think, "How long before I get up?" The night drags on, and I toss till dawn.'

'Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees. But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged... Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?'

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them... when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs... if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

(Psalm 22:1 and 2; Job 7:3 and 4; Job 4: 4-6; Isaiah 30:20 and 26; Romans 8:17 -- all NIV)

Dear Adam... A letter to South Africa

This letter is a reflection on the struggles that both the writer and reader share in being people-helpers:

Dear Adam, I feel so strange writing this letter to you, a person I don't know in a situation I know so little about, thousands of miles away. All we have is a mutual caring friend, who asked me to write to you, a mutual profession and a mutual dark night of the soul.

I don't really know what to say as the same words at different times by well-meaning friends have injured or uplifted me, as I have dragged myself through the blackness of depression.

All I can do is sit in the 'dust and ashes' with you, and place my shaking hand on your boil-infested body and quietly share your pain and cry for justice. Words are so inadequate, those around us are threatened by our cries and God seems deaf to our pleas.

In my own room I have cursed the night as once more, like clockwork, my troubled spirit awakens at 2.00 am. I have lain there tossing, turning, shaking and sweating as wave after wave of fear and despair rolled over me like the fever of malaria. My God, what had I done to deserve this, night after night?

The texts on the wall mocked me as they became readable in the growing light: 'Be joyful always...' 'they are new every morning...'

I just want to turn my face to the wall and die.

Yet 1 am still here, and have found out that I am not the only one like this. In some strange way I can begin to understand a little of what Paul means when he talks about sharing some of the sufferings and comfort of Christ so we can, in turn, comfort those experiencing similar valleys of shadows as we are.

I also gain some strange comfort in knowing that some of the great men and women of the past and of this century have gone through similar expenences. These indude Elijah, David, Job, John of the Cross, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Spurgeon, J.B. Phillips... to name a few.

But apart from this growing insight, I have few other answers, Adam, to your (our?) many questions. I don't know why, to quote you, God 'has brought together two people on different continents... two people sharing most of the inner distress of walking through a desert blindfolded...'

However, I do draw strength from the progress I can read in your letters, faltering as it may be. In your August letter, your feelings of anxiety and depression, the lethargy and lack of energy, your critical spirit were to the fore, while your November letter seemed to indicate some slow but positive re-integration and ability to face others.

Your January letter seems even to have some sense of excitement about 'the learnings that we are to discover and share with each other.' I hope I can catch that beginning sense of excitement. My feelings still fluctuate so much, yet I feel a little of the vision and energy returning, but for how long? I'm so afraid of being hurt further or of hurting those I love with my black moods and critical spirit.

Perhaps you are right in thinking that part of the problem lies in our being 'driven people' rather than 'called', to quote Gordon MacDonald. Like you, I have tried to control my goals and direction and have been disappointed and angered by those who didn't live up to my expectations or 'vision'.

I haven't been 'success-oriented' but, perhaps I have channelled such desires into my Christian life and ministry. Oh, how do I become called rather than driven? I suspect that the 'solutions' lie not only with me, but with the Christian Church as well.

Personally I'm sure I need to learn how to wait and abide more in Christ; to listen to what he is calling me to. Perhaps this is why I have been forced to slow down. In the meantime, I need to forgive and let go those who have unknowingly hurt me and not close off completely to others.

I need to spend more time with people that energise me and less with those who drain me. Gordon MacDonald's book Restoring Your Spiritual Passion has some good things to say about this.

Also I think the Church has a lot to account for in the way it hasn't enabled the laity to recognise and follow God's calling for them. Because of this, much of the work is left to the very busy few who, in turn, are resentful of the lack of participation by the majority. This often leads eventually to apathy, depression and 'burnout' in these few workers.

Finally, thankyou for sharing your thoughts with me; my attempting to reply has helped some things fall into place. Perhaps some of our questions will never be answered this side of heaven. Keep the faith, Shalom...

Tragically, when people who are accustomed to their role as helpers get depressed, they experience more difficulty than the average person in seeking professional help and in making good use of it when they find it.

John White, Masks of Melancholy

Spurgeon himself was quick to admit that he was not immune to periodic bouts of depression. He said that he knew 'by most painful experience what deep depression means, being visited there-with at seasons by no means few or far between'. He then went on to cite from the biographies of Martin Luther and John Wesley, which are full of reports about their own experiences of depression.

Arch Hart, Coping With Depression

'This evil will come upon us, we know not why, and then it is all the more difficult to drive away. Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with... If those who laugh at such melancholy did but feel the grief of it for one hour, their laughter would be sobered into compassion.' (Charles Spurgeon)

H. Norman Wright, Now I Know Why I Am Depressed

I have always been plagued by depression, which has often been so excessive that I could neither work nor relate to people... This was so extreme, that I wished to die.

Robert Girard, My Weakness: His Strength

Walter Trobisch, a Christian counsellor, notes that the word for depression in German is schwermut... It means the courage to be heavyhearted, the courage to live with what is difficult. Strange as it may seem, courage is part of depression...

Once I heard an experienced psychiatrist say, 'All people of worth and value have depressions.' Indeed, superficial people seldom have depressions. It requires a certain inner substance and depth of mind to be depressed.

H. Norman Wright, Now I Know Why I Am Depressed

Depression is a symptom which warns us that we're getting into deep water. It is, I believe, designed by God as an emotional reaction to slow us down, to remove us from the race, to pull us back so we can take stock... It is a protective device which removes us from further stress and gives us time to recover.

Arch Hart, Coping with Depression

There are many Christians -- true believers in the Lord Jesus, who are genuinely seeking to follow him -- who, like me, have, for too many years, been desperately lonely, and in great emotional distress, each thinking that he or she is the 'only one' who, as a believer, still struggles and fails so miserably against sin. Baffled by repeated defeat in areas where other Christians seem 'to have the victory', these miserable strugglers are on the point of giving up.

Robert Girard, My Weakness: His Strength

Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too! I thought I was the only one!' (C.S. Lewis)

Robert Girard, My Weakness: His Strength

Being fairly suddenly deprived of the ability to 'perform', my sense of security and of being useful deserted me and all kinds of nameless terrors swept over me, usually at night.

Vera Phillips & Edwina Robertson

..then we also should have an address book of our special friends... special friends are committed to helping each other discover and maintain spiritual passion.

Gordon MacDonald, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion

Dear Lord, at times I feel so tired and weary; I have so many questions to ask you, but I don't even have the strength to ask them now.

Please let me rest a while in your arms and be carried close to your heart. Let me cry and drain out all the pain I carry deep inside me for myself and others.

Lord, break me if you will, but do not crush me. ...Your Kingdom come, your will be done...! Amen.

A Benediction

Here I am, Lord. Here is my body, Here is my heart, Here is my soul. Grant that I may be big enough to reach the world, Strong enough to carry it, Pure enough to embrace it without wanting to keep it. Grant that I may be a meeting place, but a temporary one; A road that does not end in itself, because everything to be gathered there, everything human, leads towards you.

Michel Quoist, Prayers of Life

Rowland Croucher ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys, Albatross/Lion, chapter 17

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