(I’ve worked on this piece for several weeks, can’t get it right, but keep coming back to it. Maybe I’m having trouble because the subject itself is depressing. A friend of mine, Dr. Larry Kennedy, once wrote a book he titled “Down With Anxiety.” I loved Larry–he’s long in Heaven now–but could not help but think the title itself was a downer. At the moment, I’m almost through reading George Orwell’s first book “Down and Out in Paris and London,” a little paperback novel in which he tells how it felt to be desperately poor in the 1920s in those major cities. I am so ready to be finished with this book and to watch a Marx Brothers movie or something! Anyway, on this Saturday, for what it’s worth, I am sending this little article on its way with a prayer that it will connect with someone who needed its word.)
Saturday is the worst of all possible days for a preacher to be down emotionally. He is about to tackle his heaviest assignment of the week–to stand before the flock and declare the counsel of the living God–and for that he will need all the strength and energy he can muster.
To prepare himself for tomorrow’s challenge, he needs his faith intact, his vision clear, and his confidence strong, and he needs it today, Saturday. He needs to be free of pain if possible, free of worry if practical, and free of stress if that is achievable.
But what if he has the blues? What if the preacher is down in the dumps, is sad, feels something called an angst, which I take to mean a free-floating anxiety?
What if at the very time he is expected to be at his very best, the preacher is depressed?
Now, I’m a congenitally happy person, a glass-is-half-full type. By “congenitally,” I mean I must have been born this way. It’s not anything I’ve worked at or learned. It’s just the way God made me.
Once in a while, however, the bottom drops out and I’m down there in the basement emotionally.
When I get that way, I do not want to do anything. Don’t want to go anywhere, see anyone, do anything.
I don’t want to laugh. (That’s the first sign my wife knows something is amiss.)
I am abrupt, almost unfriendly. (I barely spoke to the checkers in two stores this morning and only nodded when the guy at the smoothie shop began telling me how he was sad because his longtime girlfriend had broken up with him. Normally, I would have spoken a word of encouragement. Today, I didn’t care. Deal with it, I thought. But did not say.)
When I’m low, I am pessimistic and grouchy. (My family has learned to stay out of the way.)
Feeling that way on a recent Saturday, I was dreading driving four hours to the town where I would be preaching twice the next day, and simply not looking forward to those opportunities.
Nothing is fun when the blues settle in.
So this is what it feels like to be a deacon.
Sorry. Just teasing, guys.
Over the years I have, however, fairly well learned not to take instruction from my feelings.
Emotions are fickle things. They obey no laws, have a mind of their own, and fluctuate according to a thousand things–the weather, the last meal you ate, the last thing someone said to you, what you are remembering, whether you got enough sleep, guilt over skipping your exercise program.
I do not depend on my feelings, do not trust them, and do not take dictation from them.
To be fair, I love good feelings as much as the next person and miss them on the rare days they don’t show up.
So, even though I felt lousy, I read my Bible. And I prayed, although the prayers were shorter and more pointed. “Help me, Father!” was the gist of most of them.
I packed my bag and gathered the materials for my trip out of town.
I asked a friend to pray for me.
Then, I did something that turned everything around.
I got to work.
With a half-hour to spend before leaving town, I looked around the house and decided to do something.
I cleaned the linoleum in the kitchen. I ran the vacuum over the carpet in several rooms. I washed the bathroom.
I ended up being a little later leaving than I had planned, but it was for the best.
In the car, not ten miles out of town, I was laughing and rejoicing and praising the Lord.
The blues were nowhere to be found.
So, that’s it, I thought. That’s the cure for the blues? Just get up and do something productive?
Many a pastor has discovered, I expect, that nothing drives the “dumps” away like doing something productive. Maybe, taking some tracts or church material and going down the street to knock on some doors. Or, taking groceries to that needy family across the tracks. Or, calling some shut-in you’ve not seen lately. Or, opening the church rolls and calling members who’ve not been to church in a while, “just to say hello and see if you folks are all right.”
Within a half hour, you’re feeling great.
The blues cannot abide being ignored.
Some of the Lord’s greatest warriors–and a lot of otherwise outstanding people with no claims to spiritual faith–regularly dealt with depression, what Winston Churchill called his “black dog.”
Christian writer/speaker Elisabeth Elliot has written that her approach to dealing with depression is to “do the next thing.” When she could not muster enough energy to plan the day or the next several hours, she could make herself get up and do one thing. Then, completing that task, she turned to find another and did that. In time, she had had a productive day in spite of the emotional weight that was trying its best to shut her down that day.
Just do something.
I’ll tell you one thing, pastor, the very thing you don’t want to hear. “I felt bad that day” is no excuse for anything. No one will cut you a yard of slack if you offer that as the reason your sermon went unprepared, that pastoral visit unmade, some appointment missed.
I will tell you what I tell myself. Maybe it will help or maybe you will only find it offensive. Either way, here is what I say to Joe McKeever when he wants to take a powder and go to bed and pull the covers up over his head and be left alone for a few days:
“How you feel has nothing to do with anything. Now, suck it up. Get out there and do your job. God is faithful, whether you are or not! Trust Him. Someone needs what you have to offer. This is not about you. Now, quit your whimpering and go!”
God bless you, friend. Fellow-sufferer, fellow struggler, and fellow overcomer! We can do all things through Him!