Psychiatry students were in their college class one day when their professor began a discussion to prove a point. “What we’re going to talk about today,” the professor said, “are emotional extremes that people go through. For example, What’s the opposite of joy?” he asked one student. “Sadness,” the student answered. “The opposite of depression?” he asked another. “Elation,” she replied. Turning to a young man from Texas he asked, “The opposite of woe?” “Well, now,” the Texan replied “I reckon the opposite of woe, would be giddy up.”
Perhaps he hasn’t experienced a lot of woe in his life.
A couple of years ago, a church offered a time during their Sunday Service (attendance of at least 600) for people to come forward and have hands laid on them and pray for healing. The speaker pointed out that there was “a lot of hurt in this room,” sickness, broken relationships, grief.
The response began as a trickle. Soon, others began making their way down from the balcony, walking along individually or in pairs, or rolling forward in wheelchairs. Before long, the trickle became a torrent. One of the prayer helpers didn’t anticipate the type of prayer asked for. “At least 2 out of 3 asked for prayer for depression,” he said. “I thought it would be more for physical needs. But so many said, ‘I’m depressed. I feel unworthy. I see no future.’ I was amazed at how many felt unworthy.
So many people feel down, saddened, overwhelmed, anxious about their future, depressed about themselves. We’re not alone.
It seems to me that we each have a tipping point. We have a capacity to take on difficulties, disappointments, and troubles but only to a point. Beyond this, more than this, we are in danger of being overloaded, emotionally taxed, physically endangered, spiritually overwhelmed.
I don’t know what your line is but you ought to know it. It’s important for each of us to know when we’ve reached our limit. When you have, you need to take care of yourself.
Scripture gives us a case study in a serious depression in our lesson this morning. It also shows us how we can get back some control of our lives, and reclaim our emotions and spiritual strength.
We find that Elijah experienced many of the classic symptoms of being overwhelmed and depression. He felt fear: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life….” He experienced suicidal tendencies: “(Elijah) prayed that he might
die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ He suffered excessive tiredness: “Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep…” He slept for a couple of days, maybe longer.
He knew feelings of rejection: “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” And he experienced this depression for a long time, forty days and nights.
Now, what’s really amazing about this is that just days before Elijah had preached one of the greatest sermons of his life. He confronted 400 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. God had sent fire down out of heavens to consume the sacrifice he’d placed on the altar and a few hours later sent a downpour of rain on a land that hadn’t had rain for three years.
Why would someone who had preached an impressive message and experienced some of the most powerful displays of God’s power be crippled by fear, hopelessness and despair? Why would he run away to a desolate corner of the world and lie down and give up? There are probably all kinds of reasons, but the fact is he did.
And what this tells us is that even God’s most dynamic servants can suffer from sadness, feelings of anxiety and even depression. It’s not necessarily a mark of a lack of faith. Elijah was the man of God in his day. And now he’s so far down in the depths of despair. Something had gone too far for Elijah.
I want you to notice what God did to help and heal Elijah. First, God recognized that Elijah’s mood was not an imaginary problem. Elijah’s feeling of being overwhelmed was real. It was starting to direct his life downward. But the Lord didn’t say, “Get a hold of yourself Elijah. Where’s your faith, man?!”
In answer to Elijah’s prayer to die, God just lets him sleep.
Sometimes our problem is we’re just tired. We’ve run ourselves ragged. We stay up too late; we don’t take time out for ourselves; we keep up a schedule that would take down an ox. Or we haven’t exercised enough.
Take some time to do something good for God’s Temple. Make it a little stronger, a little healthier. Our bodies need to be taken care of for us to do well, feel positive about ourselves, and have the strength to do what’s ours to do. Elijah needed most of all to rest.
There’s something else that happens in our scripture that is so important for when life has you hurting: An angel provides food and drink for Elijah. When we’re down and almost out, we will have to rely on someone else to see us through.
A woman told the story of what happened when one of her nephews, David, (her sister’s boy), died in a fire. “My mother was home alone when she received the call that David had died. (Just a word of caution, a person should never be alone and hearing this type of news over the phone). Alone as she heard the news, something inside of her snapped, and when dad got home he found her disoriented and in a state of shock.
The next day I had a conversation with her and she would say, “David’s dead?” “Yes mom, David’s dead” I’d say. And then she’d talk about him for a while. And then her eyes would glass over as she’d ask again “David’s dead?” “Yes mom, David’s dead.” And the conversation would repeat itself all over again… and again… and again. It’s never easy to see someone you love go through such a brokenness.
The doctors advised dad that mom be put in the hospital for awhile. But dad said “No, I’ll never get her back if you do that!” And for the next few days he never left her side. He waited on her, he held her, and he spoke kindly to her. No probing questions… just rest and love. In time she recovered and dealt with her grief.
Often what we need is just someone who will keep us together until we can get back on our spirit’s own two feet. Don’t resist help when you need it. Let kindness in your life. Take what the Lord gives you. And if you look really hard, that’s God’s angel sent just for you.
It’s natural for us to have expectations for our lives. As children we dream of being sports stars, princesses, President of the United States. For the vast majority, life doesn’t take us there. So there are times in our lives when our expectations do not match our reality. The job promotion doesn’t turn out. A book deal never comes. A relationship you really believed in turns sour. And people suffer other harder disappointments, even tragedies, than these.
When your heart weighs so much it’s tough to lift your heart. It’s difficult to keep a glint in your eyes when your eyes can’t see anything shiny in front of you. But here’s the thing: Your spirit is directly linked to God’s spirit! What you have inside of you is made of the same stuff as the Lord’s spirit. What you’re going through, if given a chance, will mold you and make
you and change you and in some mysterious, God-directed way grow you in time.
We never want our pain. But God isn’t done with us when we’re walking through the valley. The Lord doesn’t leave us when it’s darkest. We’re being remade, refashioned, recreated, and his Spirit is holding our spirit the whole way through.
Someone once said, “I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining. I believe in love even when it is not shown. And I believe in God even when he doesn’t speak.” When we’re in emotional trouble we have trouble believing God is doing much of anything. But the Spirit is hard at work in ours helping us to survive and committed to us thriving again, changed, transformed but always under God’s care.
In all this time, God doesn’t say a word to Elijah. And while we don’t see any direct counsel, we can be very certain good things were happening to Elijah, small things but after awhile they add up.
We have to look for the angels in our lives feeding us a simple meal. That’s the thing I like the most about the scripture. Elijah is fed by an angel twice and he never even takes notice of it. Was it an angel? That’s what scripture says but maybe the point is that Elijah was provided by someone food and drink, the minimum needed, by the grace of God. Even when he didn’t see God taking care of him, even when he had much bigger expectations for his life, he was still being blessed by the simple pleasures of love, food and drink.
How often we ought to take a good hard look at our lives and take in the good things we still have.
But eventually God did deal with Elijah’s depression. What did God have Elijah do? Well he first had him get back on track with his faith. God sent him to church, so to speak. God told Elijah to go to Mt. Horeb, where the Law was given to Moses. And there the Lord would meet him.
Church is one of the best places to deal with depression. When Church is done right it’s the place where we listen to each other and help one another. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” says scripture. It’s really tough to get back on track if we don’t try to lift our heart to the Lord.
Andrew Newberg, director of clinical nuclear medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, studied the brains of religious individuals who either prayed or meditated. His team found a dramatic increase in action in
the front region of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex. The region is associated with judgment and empathy. When we get to church, we feel more connected to others, ourselves, to God.
The group also discovered decreased activity in a region of the brain known as the superior parietal lobe, which gives us our sense of “self.” The findings seem to indicate that people, while engaged in spiritual pursuits, felt a loss of self, that is they felt less their own situation and its difficulties and instead felt more others people’s condition and troubles.
And if I might just throw out a blatant commercial for coming to worship each Sunday, coming to church, prayer and meditation have been shown to lower the risk of depression and heart disease and improve immune function.
During a lecture on mental health someone once asked Dr. Carl Menninger: “What would you advise a person to do if that person felt a nervous breakdown coming on?” Most people thought he would say, “Go see a psychiatrist immediately,” but he didn’t.
Much to everyone’s astonishment, Dr. Menninger replied, “Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find somebody in need, and help that person.” To overcome discouragement, “Don’t focus on yourself, get involved in the lives of other people.”
The Lord is working things out for you. There are angels all around you. Lift your heart to the Lord. God’s Spirit is strong upon you and within you, blessing you and keeping you for his name’s sake. Can anybody say