Well, it is good to be back from the mission trip. It was quite a week and a delight to work with Dorinda, Bill and Linda. But it was not all smooth hammering! In fact we had a mulligan practically first thing. Our first task was to put flooring down in a couple of rooms. After preparing the rather uneven floor Bill and Linda set about laying the vinyl laminate pieces that “fit together.” As they put the floor together, they were not quite satisfied with the way the floor fit together, but it seemed to be the way it worked. We chalked it up to not the best quality materials. By early Tuesday the floor was just about complete in the first room.
Then the leadership staff showed up! As the team expressed our uncertainty about the floor, we all discovered the problem, the floor needed to be laid from the other side. Don’t ask me how this worked. It did. So we had to pull up the floor and turn it around, strip by strip.
Sociologist Brene Brown notes that humans are hardwired to see patterns and once seen, they can’t be unseen. We seek out patterns and trends in life to assign meaning to them. One of the consequences of this is how we handle failure and disappointment in life. For many a failure, like our first attempt as putting down floor means we try again, filing away our learnings for next time.
However, for others, it can creep into our subconscious, creating a perception that we might or may fail at much of what we attempt in life. Rather than additions to our learning curve, like our floor example, it can become an insidious learned behavior of fear and risk avoidance. It can overwhelm our rational minds, at times brining on depression and driving behavior.
Elijah was seeing a pattern. He sensed a trend. Despite a great triumph over the 400 hundred prophets of Baal, all the prophet can see is Jezebel’s contract on his head.
Our story today is the filling between two well-known triumphs in Elijah’s life. Just before this episode is the great showdown with Jezebel and her prophets. God is fearsomely with Elijah and he triumphs. Immediately following this scene is the famous confrontation between God and Elijah on Mt. Horeb when Elijah encounters God in the sheer silence of the hillside.
In this seldom noticed middle story, Elijah wrestles psychologically with God and God’s demands on him. Here he does not get the great physical wrestling match that Jacob had, so it seems les thrilling. Yet in its simplicity it is much more accessible to us than the prophet slaying or the cave conversation with God. Those are biblical stories to us, they happen to prophets and biblical characters.
Instead, here we grasp where Elijah is coming from. He cannot see success, only failure. He is wrestling with his fear of failure and the despair that brings on. Elijah is on the lam, he is running from what he perceives as failure. Despite overcoming the prophets, Elijah’s fears of what Jezebel may still get away with, panic him. In such despair he fleas to the desert and longs to die. It is a day when the world we see has all gone wrong and our greatest desire is to curl up and hide in a safe place.
It is not hard to fathom what has befallen Elijah. His showdown with Jezebel was a violent struggle that drained him. After so great a battle, Elijah is depressed and despairing.
Elijah’s struggle resonates because he is exhibiting signs of depression. We are dealing with a national epidemic in our nation. It is a spiritual, emotional, and physical epidemic called depression.
15% of Americans will require medical treatment for depression in their lifetime.
Around 8 million Americans are clinically depressed to the point that they cannot function at their jobs.
Depression affects each of us at one time or another and to one degree or another.
No one is immune to depression, not preachers, not prophets, not parishioners, not parents, not children.
Elijah exhibits four symptoms of depression: He is irrational, he has defeated Jezebel with God’s involvement, yet still he despairs.
He has become a loner. He let his servant go, and has fled to the wilderness. He has cut himself off from support systems.
He is exhausted, physically and emotionally drained. The battle was so great, and followed years of work as God’s prophet.
He is stressed to the point of breaking. He has no inner support reserves to draw upon. There is an old saying: “You will break the bow if you keep it always bent.”..... In other words, If you’re living under constant, relentless stress, you’ll finally break under the pressure. You must give yourself time for rest and refreshment.
Finally he basks in self-pity, “I’m alone…” he wasn’t really, but it felt that way.
When depression shows itself in our lives, or the lives of those we love we love, it can be easy to take life on the lam, to flea, to run away. Yet that is not the road to health and recovery. So it is important to know the characteristics of depression so that we may recognize them in ourselves or our family.
Depression can appear as:
Feelings of hopelessness and despair.
Long-term feelings of sadness and apathy.
Loss of perspective concerning life, work, family, etc.
Changes in physical activities...... appetite, sleep patterns, sex.
Withdrawal from other people.
Avoidance of problems.... escapism.... thoughts of suicide... desire for death.
Hypersensitive feelings about what others say.
Difficulty in handling emotions, especially anger; and Guilt.
Elijah’s story offers us insight into healthy ways to address depression. In this middle story, Elijah found ways to be renew his strength for the journey ahead:
1. God gave Elijah a place to rest.
He was weary, emotionally spent and spiritually drained.
Have you ever been there? Are you there now? Find a place to rest.
2. God fed Elijah.
Yes, here it is physical food, but we are also fed by reading the Word of God and the grace we can find in poetry or a nourishing story. When you are being bashed around, take the time to feast on scripture and the beauty that can be found in the words of poets..
3. God spoke to Elijah.
He sent an angel to minister to Elijah to feed him, to give him rest, and to give him a fresh Word from God. Who is an angel, a Samaritan, that can reach down to you, and nurture you? Those are the angles God sends, and the very ones to keep close at hand.
D. Some Practical ways to combat depression:
1. Eat Right and Exercise
Avoid sugar and caffeine.... get more immediate energy, but also creates anxiety.
Avoid alcohol.... extreme depressant
A. It releases endorphines which are natural mood enhancers in the body.
B. You rest better at night when you exerted yourself in the day.
2. Get enough Light/Sunshine
Melatonin is a substance that promotes relaxation, but also is a physical depressant.
Melatonin is produced in the body while in a dark environment.
Depression increases in the winter........ Get out of the house and get some sunshine!!
3. Get actively engaged in something you enjoy!
Find a new hobby.
Do something creative and fun.
Find a new purpose in your life!
4. Be Social.
Depression leads to a desire to be alone.... which only perpetuates the problem.
Force yourself and design your life to where you have to mingle with other people in a vital way.
5. Prayer/Meditation/Bible Study/Reflective Reading
God still speaks to those who diligently seek God, in scripture and in devotional reading such as poetry.
6. Minister to others!
Nothing takes your mind off your own problems quicker than helping other people with their problems.
7. Medical/Professional Help.
Depression can also be caused by a chemical imbalance.
There is no shame in taking medicine.
There is no shame in seeking the wisdom and knowledge of someone wiser. Particularly professional medical personnel.
The only shame is wasting a single day wallowing in depression when God doesn’t intend for you to do so. As Elijah discovered under his broom tree, God is present for you and will nurture you through whatever befalls you on the journey ahead.