“Most people are walking around with a low-grade depression,” said my mentor, Richard W. Gray. That’s like walking around with a low-grade fever. I tend to run in cycles – up and down. Thankfully, as the years have gone by the lows are not as low and the highs not as high.
Palm Sunday I looked around in church. Attendance was down. The time had changed. An hour was lost. Spring break had begun. Yet I was expecting a whole lot more. We had been encouraging the congregation to try to bring someone on Palm Sunday and/or Easter. It appeared that we had accomplished little or nothing and I got discouraged.
Like a disease, disappointment can quickly make us negative about a lot of things. That began to happen to me. I started asking questions about the commitment of others, and my own commitment. What difference does the gospel make?
But it didn’t end there. I went from worship to a Sunday school class I’ve been teaching. We’ve had some great sessions. But on that morning attendance was down, and I found myself struggling through the material. It felt like the whole group was laboring to get with the program.
Note this: I didn’t say to the class, “I’m kind of down today.” In fact, I tried to mask it. But that’s virtually impossible.
Some years ago I had extensive conversation with a pastor who was deeply discouraged, seriously considering abandoning the ministry. One of the things he said was, “I’m careful not to let anyone in the congregation know how I feel.” My response: “You’re fooling yourself.”
That has played out in my own experience. I was still down when I led a Bible study group on Tuesday evening. We struggled through that session. However, I doubt that anyone would have put his or her finger on what I believe to have been the big problem.
It may sound like I’m suggesting that we ought to wear our feelings like a shirt, on display for anyone to see. But that isn’t always helpful. So where does that leave us?
1) It will help immensely if we are self conscious about what is going on in us. That is often difficult because we tend to be masters of denial and deception. I’ve heard people, red in the face, angrily contend that they were not angry. John Calvin understood that to know ourselves we must know God. To face what we know about ourselves in the presence of the Father will help us to see more what we are like, causing us to seek his mercy in fresh ways.
2) There will be occasions when it is appropriate to talk about our struggles, and times when it is not. But we must always be real. To cover ourselves with superficial expressions of piety or in other ways pretend that we are something that we are not is never appropriate. I have a vivid recollection of the minister who in one forum gave a distressing report about his personal situation, and in a matter of a few minutes, responded to another group’s greeting with a hearty “rejoicing in the mercy of the Lord.” He didn’t have to lay out his troubles with these people. I doubt it would have been appropriate. But one thing seemed clear. He was not rejoicing in the mercies of the Lord at that point in his experience. Most of the time we Christians don’t give others enough of a sense of what churns inside us. Perhaps that’s why opening ourselves to others may at times cause us to feel like we are jumping into an abyss of the unknown. We don’t want to face God or ourselves.
3) We must commit ourselves and our responsibilities to the Lord. There are times when the Spirit has taken me beyond my circumstances and abilities to use me in a particular setting. It can happen with you. Maybe it has. These are small indications of God’s grace and power.
4) Healing is often preceded by an open admission of our wound. That may be the heart of our reluctance to let ourselves be known to others or to God. To allow God, often more than others, to pick at the scabs of hurt and rebellion is too much to contemplate. Underneath it all we don’t really want to change. We may not like where or what we are, but we’ve been that way long enough that we are comfortable.
We urge change in those we teach. But do we really want to change? Do we really want to know God?