I’m sure you’ve all seen it. The meme that says: If 2020 was a math problem.
If you’re going down a river at 2 mph and your canoe loses a wheel, how much pancake mix would you need to re-shingle your roof?
The idea is that we can’t make sense out of what has happened in the past twelve months and when we try to figure it out with logic, our head feels like it’s going to explode.
Have you ever stopped and just shaken your head and thought: Who could have imagined this in January 0f 2020?
We were entering a new year with all the hopes and dreams that go along with a new year.
Very few people knew what a Coronavirus was, hardly anyone had heard of the Chinese city of Wuhan, and nobody could image the impact that COVID would have on the world.
And then just like that, everything changed.
When the preaching team was working on our spring schedule the topic that resonated with each of us was the topic of Mental Health. We had all had dealt with people who were experiencing increased depression or anxiety because of the COVID experience.
I discovered an interesting article in The Lancet, which is among the world’s oldest and best-known general medical journal: The article was entitled: The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with and without depressive, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorders: and appeared in the January 2021 edition.
“People with depressive, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorders are experiencing a detrimental impact on their mental health from the COVID-19 pandemic, which requires close monitoring in clinical practice. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic does not seem to have further increased symptom severity compared with their prepandemic levels.
In fact, people without depressive, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorders showed a greater increase in symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas individuals with the greatest burden on their mental health tended to show a slight symptom decrease.”
I’m not a professional. Well actually I am a professional, I’m just not a mental health professional.
I took two undergraduate course and one post graduate course in psychology and counselling. That does not a professional make.
In 1980 I completed my ground school training for my private pilot’s licence but trust me when I say that you wouldn’t want me flying your plane. That’s not to say I wouldn’t try.
Over the next four weeks we are going to look at topics such as depression, anxiety and what it means to renew your mind.
This morning we are looking back into the Old Testament.
The scripture that was read earlier is a fitting Psalm for the Sunday following Easter. It’s often been called the Psalm of the Cross because there seems to be several parallels between this scripture and the story of the crucifixion of Christ.
The Psalm begins with the words: Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Which of course is linked to Matthew 27:46 At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Later we read, Psalm 22:16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet.
Definitely sounds like crucifixion to me, listen to the words of Luke 23:33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
And probably the reference known the most is found in Psalm 22:18 They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing. And you will remember from the Easter story what was done with the clothing that Jesus had been wearing when he was arrested. Mark 15:24 Then the soldiers nailed him to the cross. They divided his clothes and threw dice to decide who would get each piece.
And for many people this is evidence of the plan that God has for us and the incredible sacrifice that was made at Calvary for each of us.
And that’s pretty impressive considering this psalm was written a thousand years before the birth of Christ.
But I’m kind of a simple guy, when I read the Psalm 22, I saw a man struggling with despair, overwhelmed with the circumstances that surrounded him and even questioning the presence of God in his life.
And then it seems like a corner is turned, the Psalmist doesn’t seem to find solutions, but he finds strength, strength in who his God is and the promises that his God had made.
This is the same David who wrote Psalm 28:7 The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. And Psalm 9:2 I will be filled with joy because of you. I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.
And maybe you have ridden that roller coaster. And if you have then you know what I mean. The feeling that you are under a cloud that will never lift, wondering why the God whom you love so much seems so distant and far away. Echoing David in Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Maybe you understand what Poet John Keats meant when he wrote “I am in that temper that if I were under water I would scarcely kick to come to the top.”
You need to understand that the Psalms are not doctrinal dissertations they are poetry and are more interested in how things feel rather than what things mean.
There is no other book in the bible that more accurately charts the ups and downs of a person’s relationship with God then the book of Psalms. In some cases, we are reading a person’s innermost thoughts and they don’t always provide answers. Instead, we get “Life stunk and now it doesn’t.” But no “why” and no “how”.
If you read through the Psalms, you ride a roller coaster of ups and downs with David, and we don’t know what all David struggled with.
Maybe he had to deal with SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and these were written during the rainy season, when he hadn’t seen the sun in forever. February isn’t my favourite month at all, I’m down I’m cranky and I’m irritable.
Or maybe in David’s case it was Situational Depression, maybe life really was that bad right then. If you read the story of David’s life you see there were times that he had every right to be depressed. Times when his enemies really were out to get him. Times that he had given into temptation and fallen into sin. Times that his children rebelled and times that his marriage was rocky. And when we are going through times like that in our lives there are reasons to be depressed.
Or maybe it was a physiological thing for David more than psychological. Maybe he was struggling with chemical imbalances, enzyme deficiencies or hormonal issues.
We will never know. But what I do know is that there are those here today who go through those very same struggles, and there is no shame in that, any more than there is shame in having heart problems, or cancer or diabetes.
And just like you would go to a doctor for help with physical problems there are mental health professionals who can help when you are dealing with the black dog, or the blue funks or whatever you want to call them, and they stretch on for more than a couple of weeks.
But listen up that might be part of your story, but it doesn’t have to be all of your story.
Now I mentioned that David didn’t offer a solution and so we are going to look elsewhere this morning. What practical advice could David have used when he was writing Psalm 22? And the answer comes from a bible story that happened a couple of hundred years later. It involved the Prophet Elijah, and it is a classic case of depression and in his story, we find some answers.
The story is found in 1 Kings. It happened during the time that Israel was ruled by the wicked king Ahab and his equally wicked queen, Jezebel. It was Jezebel who introduced Baal worship throughout the kingdom and immorality ran rampant. It was during those dark days that Elijah stood out as a beacon of righteousness in a sea of degradation. His speech was characterized by boldness and his ministry was marked with miraculous deeds. It was Elijah who challenged the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and then prayed down fire and then rain.
And you are thinking, “And this guy suffered from depression? Not likely.” And yet we read in James 5:17 Elijah was as human as we are. And so, we have to conclude that the type of experiences that we have that he would share and that we would share his experiences as well.
Elijah was a successful, high achiever type “A” personality.
He had spent a pile of emotional, spiritual, and physical energy in the show down at Mount Carmel and as a result he saw the people of Israel turn away from their idol worship and turn back to God. Then he then prayed for an end to a three-year drought and it rained. When that prayer was answered he was certain that Queen Jezebel would fall on her knees and repent.
Instead, she threatened to have him killed. He was expecting more success instead he was rejected and threatened, and his joy turned to fear. 1 Kings 19:3 Elijah was afraid and fled for his life.
I discovered an interesting article on the International Bipolar foundation website “. . . instead of feeling victorious, Elijah felt hopeless, alone and afraid. He had low self-esteem and wanted to die. He wanted to sleep and had to be encouraged to get up and nourish himself. Elijah, a prophet, Biblical hero, and person of faith, was seriously depressed.”
The entire story climaxes in 1 Kings 19:4 Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
So, how did Elijah find himself in this spot? And how did God help him out of it?
1 Kings 19:5–6 Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again.
1) Elijah had Physical Needs. Even though depression is a psychological condition some of its behaviour results in physiological problems.Loss of appetite can become a vicious circle with the lack of proper nutrition resulting in a lack of energy and general apathy which causes a loss of appetite which results in a lack of proper nutrition which. . . Well, you get the picture.
Difficulties in sleeping result in listlessness and once again the resulting apathy contributes to the ever-deepening despondency and the downward spiral into depression.
God didn’t tell Elijah to go to the altar and get right with him, he didn’t tell him he needed to pray more or read the scripture. Instead, God provided the two things that Elijah needed the most. It started with good food. Did you catch that not just food but good food, proper food?
You ever notice what you tend to eat when you get into deep blue funk? That’s right, chocolate ice-cream, with peanut butter, chocolate chips and chocolate sauce. Or so I’ve heard.
And then he provided Elijah with a deep restful sleep. You ever notice how much better life looks after a good night’s sleep?
When we are depressed, the temptation is to stop taking care of ourselves, but we need to make sure that we are eating properly and sleeping properly. On Psychologist suggests that making sure we get up at the same time every morning, he says that even more important than getting to bed at the same time every night.
1 Kings 19:4 . . . He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”
2) Elijah had Spiritual Needs.
When Elijah asked God to take away his life, he was in effect saying, “I am not satisfied with what you are doing in my life and it’s your fault.” And so, from the depths of despair we begin blaming God for where we are.
Instead of it being his problem or the result of circumstances in his life, or the way “They, whoever they were, acted” now it is God’s fault.
Remember how David opened Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Elijah and David both demonstrate their dissatisfaction and lack of trust concerning God’s control in their lives. But we know that God hadn’t abandoned David or Elijah.
Let’s look at how God responded, 1 Kings 19:11-12 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.
Elijah needed to know that God was still on his throne and that things were as they should be. In demonstrating his power God was showing Elijah that he was still in control of the situation. In doing this he was taking the responsibility off of Elijah’s shoulders and assumed it himself.
In demonstrating his control over events, God allowed Elijah to release some of the burden. God set the tone for the conversation. Elijah needed to be back in touch with God and God set the stage for that.
1 Kings 19:10 Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
3) Elijah had Emotional Needs.
Elijah had come to a place where everything revolved around him. Look at how much I’ve done and how little I’m appreciated.
Read Psalm 22 again and see how many times David uses the words “I, me, or mine.”
Did you catch the whining here? If there is one particular emotion which supersedes all others in burnout and depression it is self-pity, “Oh poor me, I have it so bad.”
Most people know the story of Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing as a small child, lots to feel sorry about listen to her words: “Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.”
Elijah was so caught up in Elijah that he couldn’t see anything or anyone else.
And if people don’t agree with you about how bad things are then you start to detach yourself from others because at least you understand how bad things are for you.
Now, listen to the words of Paul in Romans 12:3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.
It’s not a great distance from “No one appreciates me” to “Everyone is out to get me.”
It was Henry Kissinger who said “Even a paranoid can have enemies.” And there was no doubt that there were those who were opposed to Elijah, but he took one threat against him and turned it into the entire nation being out to get him.
In Elijah’s mind Jezebel’s lone threat had become a national conspiracy against him, seeking his assassination. Read Psalm 22 again and see how many times David refers to those who mock him and his enemies.
When God had asked Elijah where he was, and Elijah goes off on this tirade that has nothing to do with the question that had been asked. That’s so typical, when we can’t or don’t want to answer a particular question, we act like it was never asked.
The question that God asks had nothing to do with the children of Israel. And yet that is where Elijah started. I would hazard a guess that there were a lot of unresolved hostilities in Elijah’s life.
In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus explains in the Sermon on the Mount the dangers resentments and lack of forgiveness pose to our spiritual lives.
I don’t know how many times I have sat across from someone for counselling, and it all comes bubbling out, the hate and bitterness over some hurt or slight, either real or imaginary that is literally eating them up from the inside. And what they don’t realize is that they are still allowing those people to hurt them.
God prompted Elijah to get rid of his intense feelings. During the communication God allowed Elijah an opportunity to air his grievances.
There are a lot of people out there who are literally walking time bombs. They have crammed resentment, hurt, bitterness and disappointments into their souls. And because they are afraid it’s sinful to express those emotions, they’ve kept them under pressure and some day it will explode and hurt a lot of people.
To get rid of those negative feelings you can’t continue to suppress them and bury them and hide them. Instead, they need to be expressed, not in a hurtful way but in a constructive healing manner. That is why talk therapy can be so helpful during times of depression.
It is only when we expose those problems, that we can begin to see them realistically. That’s part of what David was doing in Psalm 22. And it’s only when we begin to see those problems in the light of day that we can begin to deal with them and get rid of them.
And it’s not always a one-off process, in the account of Elijah God had to prompt Elijah three times to open up. It may be with a professional, or it might be with a friend who is just willing to listen.
1 Kings 19:15–16 Then the Lord told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu grandson of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet.
4) Elijah had Practical Needs Only after the physical issues had been dealt with and after Elijah had purged himself of his resentments did God give him new things to do.
When God created humanity, he put in them a desire to do stuff. To farm, to fish, to paint to sing. And often times when we are depressed, we stop doing stuff.
God started slow with Elijah, at the beginning of the story God sends him on a journey, nothing demanding, well it was a forty day trip, but that’s all it was. He was to go from point a. to point b.
A person who is climbing out of the pit shouldn’t be immediately put back into the same circumstances that had put him there in the first place. But they do need something to do to take their minds off the almighty “ME” they also need those tasks to help rebuild their self-respect and self-esteem.
We were created to be productive, to create and to do, we weren’t created to lay around and do nothing and so one of the needs that has to be filled in our lives is the knowledge that we are doing something.
1 Kings 19:19 So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away.
5) Elijah had Social Needs.
Through the early part of 1 Kings, we see Elijah as a fairly social individual. He was with this person, or with that person. But when he runs from the queen, he ends up alone.
Often in our depression we want to be with other people, but we don’t want to be with other people. They are a reminder of what life used to be, and they are always trying to help. Neither of which seems to be helpful at the time.
As the final step toward Elijah’s recovery God provided him with something everybody on the face of this earth needs and that is a true friend.
From that point on Elisha became Elijah’s friend, fellow worker and confident.
Do you remember what God said after he created Man? Genesis 2:18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. . .”
Elijah felt like he was alone, now that wasn’t reflected by the fact that the Bible tells us there were seven thousand other Israelites who refused to worship Baal. On the other hand, Elijah had been very much alone, but only because like so many sufferers of burnout and depression he had brought about his own loneliness by abandoning other people.
Everybody needs a friend. British comedian Stephen Fry wrote, “It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
Now this wasn’t a do-it-yourself psychoanalysis course. Burnout and depression are serious business. But God doesn’t want us to live in that particular emotional desert. God has a great plan for your life, don’t let depression and burnout rob you of that plan.
Let’s finish this morning with some more of David’s words, Psalm 22:22 I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.