December 12, 2018

Quitting Christians

jesus with woman at the wellI am going to stand in for Chaplain Mike for a few days as he takes a well-deserved breather. I have some observations and questions regarding Catholicism I want to lay out before you the next few days. I thought now, with the installation of Pope Francis, was as good a time as any. But this morning I want to get something off of my chest. I’ve touched on this before, but now I want to explore it much more fully. This is an emotional issue for me, though I will try to keep my emotions in check so this doesn’t just turn into a longwinded rant.

I am through looking to Christians for love.

I’m not talking about romantic love. I’m not trying come up with the name of the best Christian dating service. My wife would probably have a thing or ten to say about that. No, I’m talking about something much deeper than romantic love, which can vary with the wind. I’m referring to love that causes one to care for another in a giving, unselfish manner. And rather than reinvent the wheel, let’s just go with Gary Chapman’s “love languages”: gift giving, time spent, encouraging words, acts of service, and physical touch. You might be able to come up with other ways to describe love, but these will do for now.

And, just for fun, let’s revisit the words of Jesus to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  This is my command: Love each other. (John 15: 12, 13, 17, NIV)

Love each other. This is my command: Love each other. Not a suggestion, not a helpful thought. A command.

Now then.

I have also made it clear that I suffer from depression. Most of the time it is under control with the medicine I take, the exercise I make myself do, and the rest I get. But there are times when I am under extreme stress that the depression kicks up to “11” (“The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…”) and I am basically paralyzed. No, it’s worse than that. I’m not paralyzed. I despair of life. At times like these I just hide in bed and hope no one will find me. I don’t just have a headache. I have a lifeache. And I want it to all go away.

I went thru a very rough patch in November when this “11” setting on my depression meter stayed there for most of a month. I didn’t think I could take much more. I shared my story with a good friend and elder at my church.

“You? Depressed? No, you couldn’t be. You’re the most upbeat person I know.”

Well, what can I say? I wear a really good mask. I tried again with another friend and elder, pulling him out of a Sunday service to pray for me right then. He did, but didn’t ask any questions or offer any encouragement. It was pray, then head back into the sanctuary. I headed home.

Three more elders, three more “I’ll pray for you” responses, then nothing. I spoke to our senior pastor, telling him I even had suicidal thoughts (fleeting; but still) in my despair. I stood there crying as I shared what had been going on in my life and how it had stripped me of just about everything. Our pastor told me he was proud of me for hanging in there. Excuse me. Did you hear what I just said? I despair of life so very much I thought about ending it all. That was my unspoken thought. Surely he’ll call me this week to get together for coffee and talk about this some more. No call. No coffee. No talk. No care.

I talked with four other pastors at our church. One has gotten together with me on a couple of occasions for some good, honest talk. The other three? Nada. A couple of the elders told me to call them if I was having another bad day, as if depression was the same as just feeling blue. Do they not know that those of us with depression could no more pick up the phone, call someone and say “I’m having a bad day” than we could learn to fly?

iMonk writer Adam Palmer, who goes to my church, does care. He will text me out of the blue to check on me. He’ll hunt me down in church to tell me about some obscure indie group he discovered that he thinks I would like as well. (He’s almost always right.) Adam doesn’t coddle me or patronize me. He just loves me.

He loves me. Well, there’s one.

Do you know what it feels like to have someone love you not for anything you can do for them, but just because of who you are? Even when you are totally messed up and are fighting just to make it one more hour? It is like cold water in the desert.

One person. One person from my church cares enough to show me love when I need it. What about other Christians I know? The short answer is No. A little longer answer is Hell No. One good friend, for instance, refuses to say or show love because it might be inappropriate. Inappropriate? And I suppose Jesus’ love was always appropriate? No, it wasn’t. Wherever Jesus went he created scandals with his love. His love at a wedding feast created a scandal with the host. His love for sinners he invited to dinner was always getting him in trouble. His love for a man possessed by demons created a scandal when he freed him and sent a herd of pigs—some person’s livelihood—into the sea. And what a scandal he caused by talking to the woman at the well. Not only a woman, but a slut. Not only that, but a Samaritan slut. He loved these and more. Lepers. Bleeding women. Blind and lame men and women. Sinners. Losers. He loved them all, and this caused a great uproar and scandal. But Jesus refused to put his love in a nice, neat box that would be walled in by appropriateness and law and being a good person. He refused to water down his love with rules and regulations and boundaries. His love was full and complete and unconditional and totally scandalous. Of the millions that surrounded Jesus as he walked the roads of Israel, only a handful received his love. And to this day, of the billions who consider themselves Christians, only a handful will really receive his love without adding conditions and codicils and footnotes to it.

I’ve mentioned a coworker I call Smokey. She is a young agnostic tatted-up woman who wants nothing to do with Jesus. But once I explained to her that I was struggling with depression, Smokey has been there daily to tell me she loves me. She asks me what she can do to help me. She gives me little gifts, like a cup of ice water or a handful of yogurt-covered almonds. She volunteers to do extra work, work she wouldn’t have to do, to take a bit off of my plate. Smokey shows me more love than just about any Christian I know. There is nothing romantic about her love. There is nothing inappropriate. There is only what Jesus told us, his disciples, to do. Love each other.

So why does Smokey, an adamant non-Christian, “get it” when it comes to love, but most every Christian I know doesn’t? Why is it that when I am struggling, like I am right now, I can’t get my brothers and sisters in Christ to show love without a court order, but those like Smokey and other employees and customers I work with will show love in their words and deeds? How is it that those in whom Love Himself lives bottle up love and refuse to give it while those who do not know Love are very free with their love? I really don’t get it.  I am ready to quit Christians, or at least quit hoping Christians will do what Jesus commanded and love each other. Christians don’t get it. Agnostics and atheists do. Something is really screwy here.

Am I wrong? Am I placing too much emphasis on love? Should I really expect my Christian friends to show me love with their words and actions? And when they don’t, do I have the right to ask them why not? Maybe love is outdated. Maybe I’m living in a fantasy world, thinking that when I am hurting I can expect others to come alongside of me and not leave. Perhaps wanting someone to say “I love you” is a wrong desire. I don’t know. I know I love others because Jesus tells me to, and because Love lives in me and I can do no less. Is it fair for me to question whether Love really lives in those who refuse to love?

Maybe I should be a Power Ranger Christian male, one who never admits he needs the love of others. One who only gives and receives side hugs. One who would rather wear a skirt than tell other guys, “I love you.” But I can’t do that. I can’t stop being who my Father made me to be. I can’t stop loving others as Jesus commanded. I’m willing to be mocked as long as my words are sincere and are given to those who need them the most. For when I give love, I am reflecting my Father, and that gives him joy, which makes me happy. So if you see me anytime soon, and I tell you or show you in some way that I love you, please know I mean it. Please receive it as from my heart, a heart surrendered to Christ. And if you want to tell me you love me, that will be just fine.

Comments

  1. I struggle with depression as well- and the person who has been there for me the most has been an atheist friend at school. In bad times, I don’t want to seek out any interaction, but I desperately need to be loved and listened to, and this friend understands more than any of the people that I’ve grown up in church with. Also Jeff- don’t be a Power Ranger who only gives side hugs. Side hugs are (1) awkward (2) seem to defeat the purpose of a hug. At least, that’s what I think.

  2. George Malin says:

    I too struggled with depression for a while. I went to a psychologist weekly and even took some medication. What that experience has taught me though was that in the end, I am totally alone. My friends stopped talking to me and my family didn’t understand me. As for my church, HAHAHAHA, they left me for dead essentially. It’s so pathetic that I can’t help but laugh. Needless to say, everything was horrible. Looking back, it’s miracle that I even managed to get out of it alive.

    Overall, it has made me a quiet and very inward man, totally unwilling to expose myself. I live behind a mask of smiles and small talk. I learned my lesson well: don’t be open and honest, people will run away from you then. I don’t know what to do honestly, except to just go day by day, focusing on my tedious work and playing video games to help escape my emptiness.

  3. I could have written this post! I suffered from clinical depression for many years until a year or two ago. My mother, who I was very close to, died a few years ago.

    I have pretty much given up on turning to other Christians for hope or comfort, especially at times when I am feeling at my lowest. Most Christians usually turn out to be judgmental, critical, or they toss cliches and platitudes at you, some love to quote Romans 8:28 at you, and some blame you in some way for your own heartache and pain.

    When it came to the depression, nobody (and certainly most Christians) did not understand, except for my mother.

    When I went online several years ago to see if I could find Christian material offering answers or encouragement for depression, what I found instead was some material by Christians saying I am to blame for my depression (they attribute it to character flaws or personal sin), while others say that a “real” Christian cannot have depression. There is no understanding or empathey shown by Christians for those who have depression.

    After my mom died, good night, was I ever mistreated, in particular by Christians. I was usually ignored (even by the regular church attending Christians in my extended family who knew I was in need of emotional support), but when I managed to build up my courage and go to certain Christians and tell them of my struggles and grief, I either got the brush off (they tried to get me off the phone quickly), or tossed out quick platitudes and I did not hear from them further, while others criticized me or gave me unsolicited advice.

    One of my Christians friends, who I had known since college, made the condolence note he sent me within two weeks after Mom’s death all about him. This friend’s condolence note was chock full of sunny, perky news of how great his awesome life was.

    When I told him two years later about how inappropriate, damaging, rude, and hurtful his self absorbed “sympathy” note was, he scolded me and lectured me that I should be able to laugh even right after my mom dying. (I cut this guy out of my life.)

    I think my least favorite group of Christians during this ordeal were the ones who, when I confided in them about the pain of my loss, would compare my pain to, say, what homeless people or orphans in Africa go through, and was told by them that since homeless people and orphans have more difficult lives than mine, that my pain over losing my mother didn’t really matter.

    My pain was just totally diminished or dismissed as though it were nothing by these types of Christians.

    I have never in my life treated hurting people like that, because intuitively I knew it was wrong, and my mother was a wonderful comforter – she modeled for me that when someone comes to you hurting, you just listen to them. You don’t judge the person, lecture, or give advice.

    During the initial stages of grief, one of the more comforting people to me was an online acquaintance who is a Non Christian.

    At times, she defines herself as an agnostic type,and at others,as a neo pagan. It is very ironic and sad that often times, Non Christians understand how and when to show compassion while Christians do not. Christians I’ve run into often do more damage than good to wounded people.

    I completely related to the original post.

    • Ditto. I have gotten more judgment and criticism from Christians, who are always eager to blame my troubles on me not praying enough or not being a good enough Christian … even if they know nothing about me, so have no basis to know how much I pray or how good a person I am. In EVERY crisis in my life, the Christians walked away saying “I’ll pray for you”; the non-Christians were the ones who stepped up to help. When I was broke, the Christians offered to pray up some food; the Buddhist brought me several days of pre-cooked meals. Not only saw to it that I could eat, but that I didn’t have to spend time cooking that could be used to earn money.

      • @ KC, I’m sorry you were let down by other Christians too.

        I try to do actual, concrete things to help people if and where I can, because just words alone can be so empty.

        I’m glad you had a friend or two who really helped you out.

        A lot of Christians totally fail the compassion test. Nobody wants their pain diminished, nobody wants to be lectured, blamed, or judged- especially when they are hurting, but many Christians do this to people on a recurring basis.

  4. Jeff, your essay brings tears to my eyes. After leaving a loved evangelical church community (where I experienced much love from the people I worked with as head of their music ministry) and moving to a new, distant, isolated location, I felt disoriented, lost and unloved. A year after the move, my husband had to go to the war in central Asia for an unknown amount of time (three times I was told he was coming home, then at the last minute it was, “Nope, not this time, don’t know when”). I was overwhelmingly depressed and struggled with suicidal thoughts. When I asked the church I had been serving in for help — all I wanted was for folks to occasionally call and check on me, as I was alone and friendless — my request was flat-out refused, primarily because a problematic member of the ministry who felt threatened by my presence had spread quite a few lies behind my back, and the leadership there all believed that person over me (as I was told by the pastor’s wife, “because she’s been here for 10 years and, well, you’ve only been here a few months”…it didn’t help that part of the slander concocted about me claimed I was a liar and untrustworthy). The pain of the whole experience (of which this incident was only part) stuck with me for years and I feel I lost/wasted a big chunk of my life over it all.

    I attended that church (I was invited there, and it was very similar in structure to the one I had to leave) with an expectation that people attending a Christian church would be, for the most part, trying to honor God at least by being loving and kind towards their Christian brothers and sisters, if not everyone else. I no longer hold that particular delusion. In fact, this is harsh and I would love to be proven otherwise, but my experience with that church (along with a subsequent others and some local parachurch ministries I was also involved in) has simply taught me that self-proclaimed evangelical Christians are among the most unloving people one can deal with. They’re too busy caring only about themselves — their status, their problems, their agendas, their own happiness, their particular personal relationship with Jesus, their salvation, et cetera. They don’t have time to deal with your problems and struggles — they’re too busy trying to get you to care about their problems and struggles. And they don’t know how to be honest. Something about modern American evangelicalism teaches people to lie all the time and not think anything of it.

    I thank God that, after several years, I am no longer struggling as badly with depression as I did while dealing with church. I don’t attend church anymore — attending church here made me a worse person than I’d been before, and left me spiritually dessicated. I don’t know if I’ll ever attend again while I live here — I don’t see the point. No one was worshipping God, it was all about themselves, so I don’t see why I should go to worship. I thought church was at least a place where I could go to meet and make new Christian friends to serve with and to talk about God with, but all I found were enemies. Life has been a lot less stressful since getting out of the church bubble — the honesty, love, and kindness I’ve encountered outside — by nonChristians and probably more than a few stealth Christians — have been eye-opening. The ones still inside the bubble think I’m lost and going to hell (heck, more than a few thought that anyway while I was still in the bubble), and I’m pretty sure I don’t care anymore, which perhaps is sad.

    I’ve had to come to the awful conclusion that if a community that calls itself Christian isn’t obviously displaying any kind of love for one another, then, no matter what they say or do or hope, it’s not of Christ. The Bible says the way is narrow, and that thought should sober us all. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love isn’t something that simply stays in our heads; it’s something that must be acted out, because humans aren’t telepathic. But the questions you ask in your second-to-last paragraph still lurk in my mind, though I wish they’d go away. I struggle with believing in a loving God when His followers don’t love anyone but themselves. I want to say that anyone who calls themselves a Christian does indeed have an obligation to demonstrate love of others in words and actions, and that any believer of Jesus who goes to a church proclaiming to serve and worship Jesus should be able to expect those in that community to show some manner of love and kindness towards them. But that’s just not the way it is.

    I pray, Jeff, that you would feel a lot more keenly the love many of us have for you, for the work you’ve done in getting Michael Spencer’s book published and in helping keeping this site going, and for being so honest with your struggles.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      …self-proclaimed evangelical Christians are among the most unloving people one can deal with. They’re too busy caring only about themselves — their status, their problems, their agendas, their own happiness, their particular personal relationship with Jesus, their salvation, et cetera.

      The end result of a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. Once you’ve walked the aisle and said the magic words, they put a notch on their Bible, go on to the next mark, and leave you by the side of the road. Because your well-being is not important, only Saving Your Soul(TM).

      • That I’ve walked away from religion says more about the people I met at church than it does about me. I won’t associate with people who kick you when you’re down.

  5. Jeff, someone here in Maryland loves you and prays for you.

  6. Generally speaking, churches are artificial “communities.” They are more like film audiences, or the posters on this website. “Love” and “family” and “community” rhetoric notwithstanding, it would be unrealistic to expect fellow churchgoers to provide the sort of support normally given by bona fide friends, family, etc. The reason this sort of exaggerated rhetoric is emphasized, is that churches do not want people to imagine that they (churches) are less than central to people’s lives, when in fact that is very much the case. A church that bombards you with too much “love” is no improvement; then you get something like the Moonies, In other words, don’t expect church to be any different from normal human life and relationships. Joining a church is no shortcut to genuine, deep human connections, nor should it be.

    • Perhaps you have been looking in the wrong places when you are looking for church….

      • Adrienne says:

        EXACTLY RIGHT PATTIE!! Jeff, as I have said I too suffer from depression caused by Fibromyalgia and all its’ challenges as well as having lost my best friend/husband and being a widow. And all I can say to you is what Pattie just so succinctly voiced. It was when I gave up on trying to find the church that I found it. People came and just surrounded me (1 couple from my church brought me to their home and allowed me to just rest) but most of them were friends and customers from the store I had worked at. They keep me busy, pray for me, call me regularly, laugh and cry with me. Some were in a church, some not. It was the Busy at Church people who didn’t have time. When my husband died and then that was followed by other major losses one on top of another we had 13 pastors in my church. Not one of them had time to see me. Too busy. One expressed to me how badly he felt about that but said he was just overwhelmed with hurting people. Thank God my physician is a Christian who also suffers from depression and it was only his refusal to give up on me that brought me through that nightmare. But the friends have stayed with me. I am included in their family events, holidays and so on. I belong now to a Senior Center and have found a group of widows who take care of each other. Not one of them is “churched”. But I get checked on and invited out for dinners etc. regularly. They are out their Jeff. I have left the “mega church” and am not quite at home in a Lutheran church. And as my one and only pastor often says, Jesus is found among the little, the least and the lost. The great paradox. Will we be surprised when we get to heaven – you bet!

        • Adrienne says:

          Should be NOW quite at home in a Lutheran Church.

          • I wish I felt that way. The one I’ve been attending for 2 years seems only to be concerned about raising money and making Easter eggs. I wish it were different.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            That could still be a better deal than what Adrian and Jeff experienced.

  7. Jeff, your story makes me angry and hurt….and also makes me want to reach through cyper-space to hug you and sit you down with a cup of coffee and a box of tissues and listen. Like others, I too have chased by the “Black Dog” of depression off and on for decades, and think I understand what it feels like when the beast gets his teeth sunk into deeply and starts gnawing on your bones.

    Having said that….are you sure that you are in the right church? I personally have expereinced the value of being listened to and heard, by priests and deacons but also by others who are there in the pews with me every week. There is no shame in being beaten and broken….all it takes is one look up at Christ in agony on the Cross to remind us that this is NOT or home, and that our King didn’t look or act much like one. We freely admit that we don’t understand the reason for suffering, but trust that Someone who has suffered is weaving it together for our good. I will be praying for you…depression is a combination of hay-wire brain chemicals AND the dark night of the soul that Satan would love for us to beleive is because God has deserted our sinfull selves. Take your meds, and excercise and I will pray for you to find comfort in human as well as divine form.

    +peace+

  8. MelissatheRagamuffin says:

    Jeff, I appreciate your honestly, but unfortunately, all I can do is pray for you. I pray for you to be relieved of your depression, that you find a better class of Christian to associate with, and thank God for putting Smokey in your life.

    I have, at times, thought my Quaker meeting was a bit smothering. But, here’s the thing – they’re like that because they love me. If I told them I was going through depression, they’d at the very least offer to pay for me to get some counseling. I know this for a fact because they did it for my husband when he was going through depression.

  9. Jeff, I love you. (Now, how do I put feet to it?….)

    Tom

  10. Richard Hershberger says:

    The problem, I suspect, is that these pastors and fellow church members hadn’t the faintest clue what sort of response would be helpful to you. It may be that all you needed was to sit down and talk over coffee, but they didn’t know that. In this absence, the whole situation made them uncomfortable and induced a flight response. I am guessing that your church tradition doesn’t include counseling training for its pastors. Too much emphasis on counseling can lead to church-as-social-services-agency, but too little can lead to the situations you describe, with the church being worse than useless when times are most trying. The good news is that some people instinctively understand the talk-over-coffee response: hence your co-worker. This understanding correlates poorly with church involvement, alas.

  11. Jeff, you are not wrong.

  12. I did everything to not cry like a schoolgirl while reading this. Not only because I may be suffering from the same. But because of how often I’ve failed to love.

    My guess? The church has failed at love because it has replaced the great commandment to love with the Great Commission. Love which is the primary commanded ethic of the NT has been replaced by one verse.

    • Matt, good thoughts. I felt really guilty reading this, as I’ve far too often failed to love. A few comments back, Adrienne said something that I think is dead on. I’ve felt for years that most churches are so completely over-programmed, that the people who are honestly trying to do the right thing (helping out / serving in those programs) often have no time to actually minister to people. An eye opener for me was something my brother-in-law said to me when he was in seminary: “don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the only way to minister to people is via a church program.”

      Jeff, I felt so badly for you when I read this. But I couldn’t help but think that if I went to your church, to my shame, I probably would have had the same response. So, thanks for this post. I honestly don’t think it’s because the people and the pastors are bad people. I think we’re so used to people putting up false fronts (“how are you doing? I’m just fine. Great, nice to see you, have a great week”) that when we are confronted with a person who is honest enough to share their struggle, we don’t know how to react. Then, we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, so we don’t do anything. I guess that’s just an excuse though.

      One thing though Matt that I would slighly disagree with. I would argue (your last statement) that it’s a faulty interpretation of the great commission that most churches are running after. We can’t just ignore the GC. It seems to me that the very last thing Christ said prior to His ascension was probably pretty important. But again, I think we’ve twisted what the GC really is. It’s a call to make disciples, but we’ve turned it into a misguided effort to make converts. Making disciples is a long, lengthy process that involves getting into peoples’ lives, really getting to know them, and caring for them. So I would argue that the GC goes hand in hand with loving and caring for people. Making converts? Not so much.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Like Alan F., I would probably fail at showing you what you needed to be shown, Jeff. The “I will pray for you” response seems so trite, doesn’t it…and yet, I’ve used it more than once, more than twice… Seventy times seven, maybe…? This is a great article that I hope will help me examine my own actions when confronted with someone’s pain. Compassion, Lord…please give me more compassion!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      My guess? The church has failed at love because it has replaced the great commandment to love with the Great Commission. Love which is the primary commanded ethic of the NT has been replaced by one verse.

      “Great Commission” as in “WITNESS! WITNESS! WITNESS! SELL THAT FIRE INSURANCE!”?

    • …which just goes to show we don’t rightly understand either. The Great Commandment and Great Commission ought to go hand in hand, not work against each other. Unless, of course, the only way to build the kingdom of God is to expand our own personal ecclesial empires.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Unless, of course, the only way to build the kingdom of God is to expand our own personal ecclesial empires.

        Which appears to be a VERY popular way.

  13. I am so sorry that you are suffering with depression, Jeff, and that your church community is not helping you. I was just reading a CNN article about how yoga is helping a lot of depressed people. Years ago, when I could afford it, I would pay for professional massages and I really think that can help (at least a little) with a lot of problems including depression. AA works so well for folks with alcoholism. I wish there was a group that could offer that same kind of understanding, support, love for depressed people. The problem is, when you are depressed you can barely get out of bed, never mind drag yourself off to a meeting.

    I agree with what Werther has written above that it is our family and day-to-day friends who usually are the ones to help us. If having to come up with posts for this group contributes in any way to stress and depression, you should take a break from that, though of course we would miss you! But I hope that you sometimes get some entertainment out of the people here who comment. I know I do!

    Thanks for all that you do, Jeff, and I do love you. Have you read The Shack? Don’t forget that God has a special love for you.

  14. Jennifer E. says:

    Count me in as another who suffers from depression. Have it under control, thank you, Lord. So sorry to read this post, Jeff. It rings true. And it’s a reminder for me to have my eyes open to those around me. To ask questions. To seek to know others. As I go about my day, to be open to people, relationships and not tasks and accomplishments. We all want to know that we matter, on our good days. We all want to know we are loved on our bad ones.

    One thing that has often crossed my mind is that I think our agnostic/atheist friends who love well are somehow…more human. When you’re human and you realize your weakness, you have compassion. When you’re not broken (or don’t realize that you are), you have little tolerance, compassion or love for those who are. It’s brokenness that makes us human. We humans can relate to that in one another, if we admit that we are broken. There’s a solidarity we have with one another when we admit weakness to one another. In admitting brokenness, we are vulnerable. In caring for another who admits, we say, “me too.”

    I think that so much of the American Church cannot admit weakness. Being so much like the surrounding culture makes it difficult to do so. It doesn’t really see it’s brokenness and it’s need for God. You can’t give grace and love if you don’t have it. And you can’t have it if you don’t see your need for it. It gives lip service, but in it’s shallowness it has yet to reach the depths of its brokenness. That’s my two cents.

    God give you peace, Jeff.

    • Adrienne says:

      Great post Jennifer. The American church has put such an emphasis on being WHOLE, having all together, having all the answers that they don’t even get it. We are only “there” when we are broken. Then, and only then, can we truly walk along side one another. Jesus would have just been another religious teacher, a good man who left a good example if it weren’t for the cross. It was when He was broken for us that He became the savior. Brokenness is real life.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Great post Jennifer. The American church has put such an emphasis on being WHOLE, having all together, having all the answers that they don’t even get it.

        They’re like Pneumatic Gnostics — so Spiritual(TM) and Godly(TM) they have completely detached from physical reality. They’re already in their Fluffy Cloud Heaven, polishing their halos.

    • +1 Jennifer

    • I think that so much of the American Church cannot admit weakness. Being so much like the surrounding culture makes it difficult to do so.

      Maybe two things at work here: confession seems so, so…..Catholic !!….(gasp).. hard for true protestants to get our triumphalistic heads around that one; and we may have oversold/joverhyped the “new christian life…” card when in fact we are not that different than smokey or Joe across the street. In fact, we may be much worse in some areas… kind of embarrasing, really. I think Jennifer is onto something big with her point on failure to admit weakness and go from there.

      • Jennifer E. says:

        Great point about confession, Greg. I think the baby got thrown out with the bathwater where Protestants and ritual liturgy is concerned. I see a great value in rituals — they embody the gospel.

        I was just on another blog that spoke to this idea of weakness, only he used the word “powerlessness”. It’s a post with thought pulled from Henri Nouwen’s “The Selfless Way of Christ”.

        Professor Richard Beck writes,
        “One of the most impactful parts of the book is Nouwan’s reflection on the temptations of power. As Nouwan observes, ‘There is almost nothing more difficult to overcome than our desire for power.’

        Why is that? Because our culture of upward mobility constantly tells us that power is a good thing and that powerlessness is a bad thing:

        ‘It seems nearly impossible for us to believe that any good can come from powerlessness. In this country of pioneers and self-made people, in which ambition is praised from the first moment we enter school until we enter the competitive world of free enterprise, we cannot imagine that any good can come from giving up power or not even desiring it. The all-pervasive conviction in our society is that power is a good and that those possessing it can only desire more of it.’

        And yet, the downward path of Jesus is the way of powerlessness:

        ‘Surrounded by so much power, it is very difficult to avoid surrendering to the temptation to seek power like everyone else. But the mystery of our ministry is that we are called to serve not with our power but with our powerlessness. It is through powerlessness that we can enter into solidarity with our fellow human beings, form a community with the weak, and thus reveal the healing, guiding, and sustaining mercy of God. We are called to speak to people not where they have it together but where they are aware of their pain, not where they are in control but where they are trembling and insecure, not where they are self-assured and assertive but where they dare to doubt and raise hard questions; in short, not where they live in the illusion of immortality but where they are ready to face their broken, mortal, and fragile humanity. As followers of Christ, we are sent into the world naked, vulnerable, and weak, and thus we can reach our fellow human beings in their pain and agony and reveal to them the power of God’s love and empower them with the power of God’s Spirit.'”

        Me talking here: the church’s temptation for relevance, temptation to be spectacular and temptation to be powerful preclude us from the powerlessness we need to express Christ to the powerless. When we fall for these temptations, we take the opposite course of Christ himself. No wonder we have no love.

        More food for thought. Entire post here: http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.ca

        • “I see a great value in rituals — they embody the gospel.”

          This is the purpose of the church. It’s never going to be a good support group and it’s always full of selfish people with many of their own problems. But what church should be doing is providing the Gospel to the broken through its rituals. The reading of the Gospel, cross-centered preaching, and then making it real by washing sinners in baptism and feeding them Christ’s body and blood to remind them they are saved and loved by God.

    • +1

    • Jennifer, your comments remind me of why I like hanging out with addicts and alcoholics in recovery. They know they are broken, they freely admit it, and they reach out to others around them with no judgment. I would much rather be with those who lay their lives open and don’t try to be superhuman.

      • Jennifer E. says:

        PL,
        There’s a freedom found in living out the truth. The truth is that we are all broken to one extent or another. If we embrace that, the truth sets us free. We are freed by grace. We are free to extend that grace that we have been giving. We are free to love and live without judgment. It’s a lot easier (but a lot scarier at first) than living the lie. And it’s real living. Not some semblance of life.

      • Jennifer E. says:

        PL,
        There’s a feeling of safety being around people who have nothing to hide because they are open. It’s freeing to live like that (although feels risky at first). When we know the truth, it sets us free.

  15. Humbling thoughts, Jeff and other i-monks. I confess that my attempts at love often look nothing like those yearned for here.

    I have some questions about why the church seems to be so absent of love, but I think I’ll save them for a little later on.

  16. Jennifer E. says:

    On another note, I think depression is so misunderstood in the American Church. Not long ago, someone I don’t know told me on a friend’s FB thread that depression was a choice. Any attempt on my part to share my story and say that it isn’t for me, fell on deaf ears. I won’t get into the various types of depressions and choice theory, and yes, as some level there is a grain of truth in that. A grain. But needless to say, to put that burden on someone who suffers from depression is tantamount to a millstone around a neck. Talk about graceless. Not to mention ignorant.

    And, I can’t tell you how many times I have to go to bat for myself and fellow sufferers over the thought that depression is a spiritual problem. The brain is a part of the body that malfunctions. Why can’t Christians understand that often, depression is a physical problem? I don’t go to the Bible to fix my broken arm. So I won’t go there to fix my dopamine and seratonin levels. Yes, I can have wrong thinking that leads or even exacerbates depression and those of us who suffer should do the hard work to find out if we can pinpoint a life event that is at the root. But for others of us, there is none. I just wish Christians (and non for that matter) who exhibit a little grace.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Not long ago, someone I don’t know told me on a friend’s FB thread that depression was a choice. Any attempt on my part to share my story and say that it isn’t for me, fell on deaf ears.

      That’s still an improvement over “It’s all done by DEEEEEMONS!!!!!” and immediate Spiritual Warfare to cast out the DEEEMON of Depression.

      Did they also start Gospelly diagnosing what Secret Sin you must have that they don’t?

      I’m subject to depresso attacks, too. Not very severe, but they tend to last a while when they come. And Evangelical Christians are NO help at all in such situations.

      • I don’t know what’s worse: the hyper-Charismatic side that thinks there’s a demon everywhere you find problems, or the hyper-rationalist Christians who think that it’s all in your head.

        I’d say Evangelical Christians are no help in depression, but I’m not seeing a lot of understanding from the greater culture, either. One has positive thinking, another swears off helpful drugs, another thinks you just need to get outside, another tells you stop being so grumpy, one tells you to find a girlfriend, others say to get in crowds. Everyone has a book or 20 to send your way that have The Answer.

        Depression is simply misunderstood.

        • Justin, you’re right about it being misunderstood. But there is also not a one-size-fits-all cure for depression. Exercise, diet, medication are all helpful in ways.

          But I can think of one thing that will help everyone with depression: Love. And whether that comes in words (nothing can beat the three little words I Love You), acts of kindness, time given, gifts, or physical touch, love is the greatest medicine one can receive. Yet that is the one thing too few are willing to give. That is the point of my essay. My question remains: Why are those in whom Love Himself lives so unwilling to share love with others?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Last time I found myself in a serious depression (Feb 2010) I was able to write my way out of it, penning a fictionalized magic-realism fantasy version of the events that triggered it.

          • “My question remains: Why are those in whom Love Himself lives so unwilling to share love with others?”

            Perhaps we’ve turned Christianity into somethings to be “mastered” rather than received.

          • Jeff, Thanks, and I agree: there’s not a one-size-fits all – and I apologize if I came off as dismissive. I’ve dealt with similar issues in the past, and I know the benefit of medication, diet, and even just being outside on a nice spring day. Hearing “why don’t you just X” can be exceptionally frustrating, and that’s kind of what I was getting at.

            Why don’t we love? We don’t think we have that much to offer, or we don’t know how to offer what we have. My experience is that just listening is a large part of the battle, and following up is the other.

  17. Jeff, I feel your pain. I went through situational depression associated with a divorce some years back, went to my pastor for counseling, and frankly, found him to be absolutely horrible at dealing with the situation. A seminarian with two counseling classes under his belt does not a good counselor make. I was on staff at the church at that time, and he felt it necessary to make an announcement about the status of my separation and ultimate divorce every other Sunday, “so that people won’t gossip and speculate”.

    The tactic fueled those fires even more. I was surrounded by folks in prayer every other week, but very few made efforts to support me during the hours when depression was hitting me the hardest. One well-intentioned deacon did call me one night, and said, “I know you’re living alone there, and I know you’ve got a computer. I know the temptations a man goes through when he’s alone. I want you to tell me the truth…Are you looking at pornography?” Though I told him I wasn’t, he insisted, “Well, I know you probably are, and I just want you to know if you get tempted, you can call me.” I thanked him for his “support”.

    Another elder, once my divorce was announced, approached me after church one Sunday and asked, “You’re not still going to preach now that you’re divorced, are you?” He was very surprised when I answered, “Yes.” That really made me feel like a million bucks.

    I considered joining an overseas campus ministry, but was told that would be impossible, because I was divorced. I suppose losing a relationship disqualifies one from loving the Lord and wanting others to know Him.

    One day, I got a call from a former student named Adam who had heard about my situation. He talked to me a long time about how much I meant to him as a friend and a pastor, and how none of that changed just because I was divorced. I wept openly during the call, and talked to him about how I couldn’t sleep, and I would just stay awake at night, praying Psalms over and over, crying, asking God to take away my pain, lamenting the fact that He just wouldn’t do it, and not understanding why.

    At about 2:00AM that night, there was a knock on my door. It was Adam. He said “I know you’re having a hard time, and we’ve always said we were brothers. I just woke up and told my wife, ‘If I’m going to tell Lee he’s my brother, then I need to start acting like it.’ And I just got in my car and drove over. I just wanted to be here for you.” He sat with me until almost daylight. We didn’t hold a prayer vigil, and he didn’t give me any deep spiritual advice. He was just present when I needed someone to be present the most.

    Today, Adam is a youth pastor, and he’s a darn good one. He does all the fun stuff that youth pastors do, but he’s also very focused on building relationships with his students and their families. He gets it. He understands that you can’t invite people into community, then only commune with them on superficial levels. He doesn’t just hand out hollow “I’ll pray for you” and “Call me if you need me” declarations. He is present with those he loves.

    We all know John 3:16. Too often we forget I John 3:16…”This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” That’s what we’re called to do as believers, isn’t it?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “I’ll Pray for You” is Christianese for patting yourself on the head (“Attaboy!”) for doing nothing.

      I have a standard comeback, a paraphrase of a line from “Babylon-5”:

      “You have a saying — ‘I’ll Pray For You.’
      We also have a saying — ‘PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS!'”

      • I almost never use the phrase, “I will pray for you”, because I have found that to be the emptiest, loneliest sentence in the Christian mouth.

        I will pray, even cry before God for someone, but only God knows.

        And if I forget, I won’t have made a promise

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      One well-intentioned deacon did call me one night, and said, “I know you’re living alone there, and I know you’ve got a computer. I know the temptations a man goes through when he’s alone. I want you to tell me the truth…Are you looking at pornography?” Though I told him I wasn’t, he insisted, “Well, I know you probably are, and I just want you to know if you get tempted, you can call me.” I thanked him for his “support”.

      Lee, that has all the aroma of “I have Problem X, so YOU MUST HAVE THE SAME PROBLEM”. The “I know the temptations…” line makes it very probable said deacon has a secret Internet Porn problem.

      I considered joining an overseas campus ministry, but was told that would be impossible, because I was divorced. I suppose losing a relationship disqualifies one from loving the Lord and wanting others to know Him.

      Welcome to the Distant Second Class Status of the Single Christian. (Of which the above assumption of Internet Porn is also part of the package.) A subject which has been tackled on this blog and many others. How can we Outbreed the Heathen when you’re not Focusing On Your Family (or able to)?

      It was Adam. He said “I know you’re having a hard time, and we’ve always said we were brothers. I just woke up and told my wife, ‘If I’m going to tell Lee he’s my brother, then I need to start acting like it.’ And I just got in my car and drove over. I just wanted to be here for you.” He sat with me until almost daylight. We didn’t hold a prayer vigil, and he didn’t give me any deep spiritual advice. He was just present when I needed someone to be present the most.

      And (most important), he was smart/wise enough to just BE present, instead of digging out the Bible proof-texts or tracts or just flapping his gums sounding Godly(TM — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8myHowxYsu0) like Job’s Counselors. Because when you are in that situation, anything you say is going to sound Really Really Stupid.

    • Lee,

      What your friend did for you was very cool… and very rare…. those are bonds to cherish…

    • Lee, I am horrified at how you were treated but can’t say I’m totally surprised.

      You said,
      “I know the temptations a man goes through when he’s alone. I want you to tell me the truth…Are you looking at pornography?” Though I told him I wasn’t, he insisted, “Well, I know you probably are, and I just want you to know if you get tempted, you can call me.” I thanked him for his “support”.’

      Ah yes, the assumption that married people are never guilty of sexual sin, and married men never look at pornography. LOL.

      The prejudices and stereotypes against the unmarried that so many Christians have is revolting.

  18. Stuart Boyd says:

    Jeff,

    I am just wondering if part of the reason why the friend at work is able to show love and the church is not at least somewhat related to time and proximity. If the person at work sees you multiple days a week and often multiple times each day, Smokey is more able to offer love in at least small ways that provide comfort. Those at church may only see you for a few hours one day a week, and their ability to offer coffee and comfort is limited by their own work & family committments.

    I am not at all trying to diminish the pain you feel, but I just wonder if at least some of the pain you perceive coming from Christians is not a lack of love but rather a lack of non-committed time. When people’s lives are so jam packed with all the things they need to do for their own families, it is difficult to find time to do more than offer toss-off comments and side hugs on Sundays.

    Just a thought.

    • Stuart, Smokey and I only work together a couple of times a week. And she has reached out to me via text at other times. You’re right that we all have packed schedules, but when things and tasks come before people we have completely lost our way …

      • I would say especially when the “things and tasks” are the grist of a church’s agenda , and not people. See Ken’s comment below about being quiet and learning to listen: not the stuff of most seminars, not very cutting edge, eh ??

  19. Jeff,

    I am so sorry that you have experienced this lack of love from fellow brothers and sisters in the church.

    As you can see from the comments, there are many of us. Within a few years’ time, both I and my spouse experienced serious medical conditions. I lost my last parent and sibling in death and my child descended into the depths of addiction. The church was silent. No one came. No one called. Even the priest, who knew that I was despairing of life did not contact me.

    And so, now, I wonder sometimes about God – whether He’s really even there, or just a fable. I am cynical when someone mentions His great love for us. But still, I pray.

    This past weekend, when things really hit the fan with the addiction of my child, I opted not to bother with church. I knew I could not talk to anyone there about my great fear and pain that really cared. But I did go to an Al Anon meeting where I found kindness and acceptance. There were tears and hugs. And people talking about how their “Higher Power” leads them, calms them … shepherds them. That may have to be “church” for now because the disappointment in what should be the real thing is too much to bear.

    My feeble, but honest prayers will cover you today.

  20. Is it fair for me to question whether Love really lives in those who refuse to love?

    This was the only part of your post I’d contest, Jeff. I don’t think it’s ours to make this kind of assessment, it’s tantamount to saying “I dont’ think you are a christian because you don’t ……….” I know I wouldn’t want to go there. In the positive, however, it can and should be said that our chrisitanity should be apparent by the love you are writing about. This love should be our flagship, not orthodoxy, however we define that.

    FWIW: I suffer from depression often, and know what you are talking about. You have been much, much more bold than I in your attempts to get help. For now, the Adam Palmer’s of the world are your “church” and your lifeline. God bless him, and those like him.

  21. Paul Jones says:

    I’m so sorry to read Jeff’s post and all your comments. I cannot explain or excuse why these Christians failed you, but may I offer you some thoughts as someone who suffered greatly from depression in my teens?

    First, I think it is very hard for people who have never suffered depression to know how to respond to someone who is depressed. But I do think mature Christians should at least reach out to anyone who is depressed, no matter how inexpert their gesture. An invitation to a meal, for example, is an unmistakable expression of love and/or concern.

    I very much hope to encourage you all with these thoughts:

    “Never was grief like mine”: God himself has suffered in this way more deeply than we can ever understand. So he understands and cares for us if or when we are depressed.

    Depression may seem to have no positive aspect at all. But we learn that “the God of all comfort” takes us through our life experiences so that we ourselves may be able to comfort those who are going through similar experiences. Our comfort won’t be a medical or psychological analysis of depression that then puts the burden on the sufferer to get out of it, but simply the fact that “I’ve been there”.

    In the last few decades, attitudes toward depression (at least in the UK) have changed enormously. Depression is better understood and treated, and some people are much more able to respond helpfully. It is no longer a taboo. For example, a few weeks ago I took on a volunteer who has been suffering from depression for over 25 years. The fact that I have been the first person to give him a chance to gain some experience working in an office on our database has, it seems, been a great help to him.

    Finally, many Christians feel that they have to “fix” people, and this may get in the way of loving them.

    I want you all to know that my heart bleeds for you, firstly because of your depression, but more because of the unhelpful ways in which you have been treated.

    I believe that Henri Nouwen struggled with depression at various times in his life. May I recommend “The Return of the Prodigal Son” to all of you; and to those who have been bereaved, as I have, “Tracing the Rainbow: Working through Loss and Bereavement” by Pablo Martinez and Ali Hull.

  22. I don’t have a lot to say in response to this other than “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.

    I will say that reading this the lyrics of U2’s song “Acrobat” come to mind.

    No, nothing makes sense
    Nothing seems to fit
    I know you’d hit out
    If you only knew who to hit
    And I’d join the movement
    If there was one I could believe in
    Yeah I’d break bread and wine
    If there was a church I could receive in
    ’cause I need it now

  23. Jeff, this is my first comment here to tell you how deeply your post touched me. I am so sorry for the additional suffering that has been heaped on top of your suffering because of the responses (or lack thereof) of other people. My heart breaks for you, and I am so very grateful you shared this. Through my tears, I feel a flicker of inspiration and a call to live this kind of love daily. I can say quite honestly that you have changed me this morning. I send a heartfelt thank you and my prayers that you will feel God’s love and comfort surrounding you once again.

  24. God gave us dogs to show us how to love unconditionally.

    • Oh yes, may I grow up to maturity….. dog-liked-ness…… much more wag…. much less bark…. happy for the most simple, basic, things. My one yr. old hound-mix is my role model…

      • You do know the difference between dog and cat theology, don’t you?

        A dog says, “He feeds me, gives me shelter, loves me. He must be my master.”

        A cat says, “He feeds me, gives me shelter, loves me. I must be his master.”

  25. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

    I do not suffer from depression, so my experiences are quite different from yours, I’m sure. But I’ve found that the best church can do (and I’ve got a very welcoming church that many describe as “loving”) is usually provide friendliness. For the real love, I’ve got a handful of people who I’ve known for a very long time that happen to be Christians. Sometimes I reach out to them, sometimes they reach out to me. That reach out can either be from the “Hey, I need to talk to someone” or the “Hey, is everything alright? Do you need to talk to someone?” variety. There are a very few with whom I’m more intimate in my phileo love with, and some with whom I don’t connect very often. While all are folks with whom I’ve gone to church at one time or another, it’s definitely not something that was fostered in church. It was offline stuff. Work, play, meals, coffee, adult beverages, family drama, road trips, rooming together etc. And actually, I think they were almost all relationships I formed as a youth or as a youth-like-adult in my aimless 20’s. They were all surrogate family.

    I think that’s one of the problems; most of us are so wrapped up in our regular lives of work, family, etc., that we have troubles breaking out of our little patterns and families or family-like friends. It’s not right, but I think that’s the way it often goes.

    As someone in the ministry (admittedly new at it), I know I’m a lot better at the surface stuff with folks at church than the real stuff. I think I may not always recognize when folks REALLY need something deep. And that’s a problem.

  26. Jeff,

    You are loved, you probably have no idea how your e-mail touched me. I meant this from the bottom of my heart: “Well, that makes me cry… good tears. What kind words you give and out of the poverty of your depression… Having spent time in a few dark nights/seasons I understand how hard it is.”

    There you were in agony, and you gave me such kind words. it seems to me that it is only those who have suffered a dark night/depression can give grace & love out of their poverty, I pray that the fruit of your suffering will continue to bring more love to your heart for others.

    I have experienced a boat load of church pain, and have no answers yet I have wondered if I scared people with the depths of my depression, that perhaps I stirred up emotions in them that they would rather keep a clamp on. Who knows? Only Jesus. But it really hurts when people leave you alone after sharing with them. O, those Actions really do speak louder than words…

  27. Jeff, I’m sorry for your pain, and the additional hurt and loneliness of having no one respond. We’re a pretty messed up bunch, aren’t we? People will let us down, even those people who love us most. But we have to let them try again to love us, and we have to love them, imperfect as they may be.

    Don’t give up on all Christians. We’re all broken, inadequate souls who need Help, and the thing is to find the ones who know it, and go looking for it together.

    I totally agree with Joel. My dog is the next best thing to having Jesus sit with me in my living room.

  28. Jeff, as usual you write with such raw honesty! It’s a breath of fresh air in a culture that suffocates me (us). Midway through I was bawling. Thank you! For being the man you are! And having the chutzpah to put pixels to screen and share your heart with the rest of us! My day is blessed!

  29. First of all, you get +10 points for the Spinal Tap reference. However, I think you go too far with “I am through looking to Christians for love.” I would be the first to admit that some of the most hateful, spiteful, and downright immature behavior I have ever witnessed was from Christians – even pastors. But on the other hand, some of the most humble, gracious, and loving acts I have ever experienced came from Christians. Its just that no one ever talks about these occurrences. They aren’t supposed to. I know a Christian who spends every spare moment organizing a charity that packages food to feed refugees overseas and here at home. I know an entire church that showered love and grace on a married man who committed adultery…with another man. I know Christians who walk and pray and weep with the struggling, hurt, and broken. The best people I know are Christians (I have some Muslim friends who are also some of the best people I know, to be fair). The fact that there are scoundrels and sociopaths who call themselves bapti – er, Christians – shouldn’t poison the whole well.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I would be the first to admit that some of the most hateful, spiteful, and downright immature behavior I have ever witnessed was from Christians – even pastors. But on the other hand, some of the most humble, gracious, and loving acts I have ever experienced came from Christians.

      “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” — Charles Dickens

  30. I am so sorry that you are struggling with depression – I suffer from depression too and I know how debilitating it is. And I’m sorry that you are not finding the love and support that you need from the people in your church. But I am not surprised. In my experience, being religious and having selfless love for our fellow human beings are independent characteristics – neither positively, nor negatively, related. More specifically, it is my opinion that people use religion to justify being the way they naturally want to be anyways – often to an extreme. A person filled with love uses his/her belief in God to support being even more loving. And a person filled with self-importance and self-righteousness uses his/her belief in God to support being even more elitist.
    In any event, I hope you can find people in your life who truly love you and surround yourself with them and don’t worry about the rest. And please seek out as much help as you can for your depression – including professional help and medication – because it is a darkness that will steal your soul and your life. My thoughts are with you…

  31. Jeff:

    A long time ago I realized that many people in church are uncomfortable with the messiness of life. IMHO Evangelicals have been programmed to either fix things or have an answer.
    So what do you do when you have no answer. Nothing. Or run and hide.

    Very few churches train their people even to be able to just sit and listen, or be friends. So I am not too hard on lay people. Are the elders in your church lay people who have been elected?

    I know this does not help. Its just some thoughts about why you might be getting the reactions you do.

    • For a time I served as a deacon in my church. There was a huge need for pastoral care during that time which fell on the deacons. There were brothers and sisters with emotional challenges and broken relationships. I’m sorry to say that I failed at providing care and showing love. I’m a quiet person, it was all I could do to just send a card or say hello or offer to pray for them. I make my living as a graphic designer — I’m a lay person. The expectation to provide counseling in these tender situations was a burden that left me paralyzed. How much further damage is done when those not gifted in counseling try to lovingly help?

      • To say, “I’m not a counselor, but is there another way I can help you right now?” would do no damage, Paul. But I get what you are saying.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      A long time ago I realized that many people in church are uncomfortable with the messiness of life. IMHO Evangelicals have been programmed to either fix things or have an answer.
      So what do you do when you have no answer?

      “ELOI! ELOI! LEMA SABACTHANI!”

  32. I am reading The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser. I just finished one chapter where he is writing about why we should go to church. He elaborates on each point, but his points are:

    1. Because it is not good to be alone
    2. To take my rightful place humbly within the family of humanity
    3. Because God calls me there
    4. To dispel my fantasies about myself
    5. Because ten thousand saints have told me so
    6. To help others carry their pathologies and to have them help me carry mine
    7. To dream with others
    8. To practice for heaven
    9. For the pure joy of it…because it is heaven!

    Mind you, he describes the church as filled with sinful people who barely have a clue most of the time. I think, though, that if I asked for help and no one was willing to help, I would have to think that I was not in a church and in spite of what he says about not walking out on the church family you find yourself in, I think sometimes that is the wisest, healthiest thing to do for all involved as long as you find your church family elsewhere. I still have a hundred pages to finish the book, so he may say that also at some point.

    • That sounds like a great book, Joanie! I will have to look into it …

    • Dana Ames says:

      Joanie,
      that is one of the best books I have ever read about the subjects he covers, and THE best thing I have ever read on sexuality. It’s a book I return to again and again.

      Dana

    • JoanieD:

      Kinda reminds me of a book I just read, TAKE THIS BREAD by Sara Miles. As I posted about it on Facebook yesterday:

      So, what can a radical non-Charismatic, non-orthodox, non-religious but sacramental lesbian Episcopalian Christian who feels uncomfortable calling herself that teach and tell you about Jesus and church?

      A LOT!!

      As Jesus said: “Come and see!”

      • EricW…I read Take This Bread a year or two ago and I was impressed with Sara’s story and with her passion to bring Jesus to the world.

        Another book I read recently by Rolheiser which was excellent is Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist. Another good book is by Robert Barron simply called Eucharist. (I have been reading a lot lately.)

  33. Wow. Great post. I am so sorry for what you have suffered with depression and people’s indifference to it, Jeff. Where I am I can’t do much more than pray and tell you you are not alone, but I will certainly do those. I don’t suffer from depression but this totally tracks with my experience anyway. My wife and I have reached the point where we don’t really expect to experience love from many other Christians. We know that love should be the core of what it is to be a Christian, but the reality is that it’s often not. Like you, we’ve seen more care and compassion and love from the agnostics and atheists we know in many cases, especially when we were suffering or had great need.

    But the thing that bugs me is that I don’t know exactly where the church went off track or how to begin trying to fix this. You can’t teach someone to love, at least not directly, and you certainly can’t force them to. Love requires being with another person, sharing in their situation, however painful. It’s hard. I know this from my own often inadequate attempts to love others. But what I don’t understand is when people don’t even try. Is it pride? Fear? Indifference? I’m not sure, but it seems we need an accurate diagnosis if anything is to change.

  34. Jeff, thank you for sharing your heart with us, and much love to you. I can very much relate to what you experienced, especially after attending a so-called Christian workshop last summer where I was ignored by most of the other students (I had expected to easily make friends), and got the vibe that they really didn’t care about anyone else. This was further confirmed when a fellow student sitting next to me was so upset that she left the class for hours, and nobody else noticed!

    That experienced was depressing, as I suddenly realized that most of my friendships within my church were shallow, and if I were to be in serious need, I probably would have very little support or aid. As I examined my past and present relationships with Christians, I saw that almost nobody, except those the church looked down upon as sick or downtrodden, had much compassion or understanding for me as a human being. Once again, I was disillusioned about Christians.

    “How is it that those in whom Love Himself lives bottle up love and refuse to give it while those who do not know Love are very free with their love? I really don’t get it.”

    This is exactly the question that has caused me great mental anguish during most of my churchgoing life. I just could not understand how the pastor would preach about sharing with those in need, and yet not want to personally help someone who was truly in need! My husband, who is a lot more cynical about human nature, told me that’s just reality, but as an idealist, I believe Jesus called us to something higher!

    Jeff, thank you for openly sharing and discussing this topic, because almost nobody will talk about it at church, and it needs to be said. May God provide you with the comfort you need at this time.

  35. Once I approached my pastor and said, “I’m beginning to lose my faith in my brothers and sisters in Christ.”

    He said, “Good. it should never have been there to begin with.”

    We are all different. Some are more “loving” and :caring” than others. I look at myself. I’m a very mixed bag and a lot of it depends on what day it is and how much stuff I have crashing in on me.

  36. Whitney B. says:

    Thanks for writing this. I resonate with so much of what you said.

  37. Dana Ames says:

    Jeff, may the Lord grant you peace, and “love with skin on.”

    Francis Schaeffer of blessed memory wrote something very bracing: He said that there is something that scripture says gives non-Christians the right to judge *whether the Father has sent the Son* – and that is our love for and union with one another. See John 14-17. If we want to “witness,” if we want people to believe that Jesus is sent from God, what we must do is seek that union in love and display it – not be a good preacher that can fill an auditorium. May God have mercy on us and help us.

    Dana

  38. My goodness, Jeff, look at all the people who came out of the woodwork! I actually do regard this place as a church. Surely you have asked yourself why you continue to attend a church with faces that makes your situation worse. Other than adding to the population and financial bottom lines, would this church be any worse off if you found a greener pasture? Have you thought about visiting other churches once a month or whenever just to breathe some different air and gain some perspective?

    A lot of good comments here. You can’t really expect understanding from people who haven’t been there, done that. A few mention AA or other twelve-step recovery groups. I have read more than once from Christian authors that these programs are the best example available of what the gatherings that Jesus visioned look like. I have never been to one.

    They have them for all kinds of addictions and difficulties, but I have never seen one for Depressives Anonymous. Just the name strikes me as depressing, and yet if I knew of such a group I would surely give them a try. Maybe someone here can come up with a better name. Maybe Black Dogs Anonymous would do it.

    I know that you have been wrestling with starting some kind of ministry. I know how ten times over difficult that could be with the Black Dog on your back. Maybe you could be the first to start a twelve step for people like us. All you would need is one other person and two chairs, and it wouldn’t be like you were telling the other person what to do from a raised pulpit. I would do it with you if I lived by you. There are a lot of people on this thread would be good to do it with. I never thought about it before but I might even find someone to do it with where I live myself.

    Thanks, Jeff. You astound me that you can keep cranking these things out thru all kinds of weather. Hats off!

  39. I can totally relate. Part of the difficulty is that when I am in that place, I feel like it’s especially hard to be in Church with other Christians.

    I’m at loggerheads. I both want to receive love from others and I want to hide in a dark closet and withdraw from the world. It’s hard to live in this space.

    I’m not minimizing your experience in any way, it’s just that I’ve come to realize how when I’m in that place of depression, it’s really hard for me to receive or seek out love. Ideally, it would be good to have friends like your Adam or Smokey, but I honestly don’t have those kinds of friends right now. People who are willing to ask the hard questions, and who can see my tightlipped smile and who know I’m just faking it.

    Blessings to You Jeff!

  40. Camassia says:

    I’ve been through a situation somewhat like yours, but the lesson I drew from it wasn’t so much that Christians fail to love as that having a vague commandment to love isn’t sufficient to get over all the practical obstacles to dealing with a person in deep mental distress. For one thing, as others have mentioned, a lot of people just don’t know what to do to help. I’m pretty terrible about knowing what to say in those situations myself, even though I’ve been on the other side of it. I believe that the ability to perceive other people’s feelings and therefore suss out the right thing to say, or ’emotional intelligence’ as some call it, is one of those innate capacities with which some people are endowed more than others. (Though cultural training is certainly a factor — as you allude to near the end, modern American masculinity almost prides itself in not having it.) For another thing, a large group with undefined roles can suffer from what social psychologists call a diffusion of responsibility, in that everyone agrees that something is there collective responsibility but no one has been individually designated with a particular task, and so as a result nothing gets done. As a result, those with better defined roles like relatives and ministers end up shouldering the burden, and pastors in particular often get totally overloaded with congregants’ problems. Which brings me to my last point: lots of other people in church have &*(% going on in their lives too! My church was pretty open about this, but I do get the impression that some other churches put on a shiny veneer that can make you feel like you’re the only one with a problem. Maybe it would help if, instead of going to overworked ministers and elders, you could find other broken people and help support each other? I don’t know how practical that is to your situation, but it’s a thought.

  41. Jeff – Thank you for baring your soul.

    Your question: ‘ Why are those in whom Love Himself lives so unwilling to share love with others?’ haunts me. I will be spending much time reflecting and praying about this, asking forgiveness for the times I know I have failed those who were looking to me for love and asking Father to help me to change, once again…..but it’s not enough to just do that. As Eugene Peterson explains Colossians 2:6-7 in The Message: 6-7

    “My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.”

    LORD, help me to do just that – to ‘live it’ so that the Jeff’s in my world will know and experience Your love.

  42. Jeff-

    I was on my lunch break and I pulled out my Android and read this and needed to respond. Jeff I want you to know how much you are loved. You are valuable. You are gift. And it has nothing to do with keeping I-Monk going. You are loved for who you are. PERIOD. What can we do for you? Do you want some of us to call you? Text you? Visit you? Maybe in the future some of us can make a trip out to Oklahoma for a couple of days.
    You said something that caught my eye.

    “Do you know what it feels like to have someone love you not for anything you can do for them, but just because of who you are? Even when you are totally messed up and are fighting just to make it one more hour? It is like cold water in the desert.”

    Yes it is like cold water in the desert. I am amazed why some of you guys love me. Over the past 3 years I said some stuff that I wish I could take back. My biggest fault was lumping people together. And practicing guilt by association. You guys remember some of my rants about Christians being frauds, condescending, arrogant, etc… And there are a large number that do exist. BUT there is another group, much smaller that practices a lot of love. AND really shows grace.

    I learned this when I was in the hospital last summer. I had no idea what was happening to me when I was in an Emergency Walk in Clinic. The medical professionals were telling me I was going into shock. My heart rate was at 160, and my blood pressure dropped to 70 over 40. I was transferred to the ICU of INOVA Fairfax. So much of that was uncertainty…then I laid in bed watching my leg swell to twice its size and the skin splitting. The pain was unbearable with the doctors wanting me to take hard core pain medicine and I would fight back because I was terrified that I would accidently become hooked. Quite a way to have an argument eh? But seriously I have enough problems in life and didn’t need more. I would lay in bed and watch the infection spread up my leg with the redness growing. And against that uncertainty what happened?

    People showed me love. I had the following take place…

    1. Card, chocolates, and flowers from Chaplin Mike and Jeff Dunn.
    2. Becky visited from Richmond (That reminds me I need to get your cane back)
    3. Dee Parsons from Wartburg Watch drove up and helped out for a couple of days.
    4. Wanda Martin from Wartburg Watch visited gave me books, candy, and talked for a while.
    5.. Tyler and his family visited, and when I was in a nursing home Tyler again came by and helped out, grabbed my cloths and checked my mail and garbage.
    6. Trav visited gave me a sandwich and his wife’s lasagna
    I had a college student I didn’t even know who visited and spoke with me for a while. I had pastors I didn’t know who swung by to say hi. So many people came by and helped, visited, and talked. It’s too many to name.
    I could go on and on….but I was crushed by love. It was enough to leave me wondering if I was wrong for what I said about Christians. What else can you do in the middle of the night except stare at the ceiling in your hospital room and reflect upon all that happened hours earlier?

    The love continued to the nursing home, and my apartment. I was on an IV machine in my apartment and one of the most loving and neatest things happened there. My friend Tyler and his daughter visited. His daughter is only about 2 or 3. In my living room we were sitting at my kitchen table and I was hooked up to my IV machine. Then Tyler’s daughter gives me a bandaid, you know one of those kid’s bandaids. I was so moved. I couldn’t bear to throw it out. I actually have it on my bulletin board at work, I look at it from time to time and it reminds me that I am loved. And what about all the cards and emails you guys sent? You softened me so much…Miguel, Gail, Ryan, etc… there are too many to remember by name. And I’m afraid of leaving someone off… BUT love does exist Jeff. You yourself showed love to me. I told you and others that Christianity is a cancer, and you responded by showing me love and grace.

    So don’t despair Jeff…love exists. Heck I can’t believe I’m writing some of this…but I write it to tell you love exists, you and others showed it to me. AND I was a skeptic in my thinking.

    So please, tell us what we can do to show you love. You’re part of the family – the I-Monk family. Do you want us to hug you? Travel out there and sit in the dark with you? Say nothing in your presence but show support? Do you want me to enroll you in the beer of the month club! 😛

  43. I wish I had magic words to make your depression go away. But I don’t. And none of the pat phrases we come up with (such as “God is in control”) really help. I’m also a depression sufferer, and to an extent, I feel your pain. Literally and figuratively.

    I posted a link to your article on my FB page.

  44. Thank you.

  45. David Hartman says:

    All I can say is I’m in the boat with you. Peace

  46. Jeff, thanks for this word and your honesty. I don’t believe that you believe all those who call themselves ‘Christians’ act this way – but too many do. Too many are like the ones very aptly described by sarahmorgan (near the top) – “They’re too busy caring only about themselves — their status, their problems, their agendas, their own happiness, their particular personal relationship with Jesus, their salvation, et cetera…”

    One could add ‘christian’ programs, ‘church’ entertainment centers, making money etc etc… But I’ve been this kind of ‘christian’ – I probably missed an opportunity to be different yesterday or last week… and again @sarahmorgan – that line of yours describes the cancer within american evangelicalism and culture in general… it’s mostly about the quest for individualistic gain at the expense of what Lesslie Newbigin calls “relatedness”, the essence of God and His Kingdom.

    Thanks for the reminder about what following Jesus is really about – loving Him and others.

  47. Jeff:

    I wish I could be there with you. That’s often what’s needed – just someone to BE WITH YOU (and ME), to take away the loneliness and be there to listen and talk about whatever you want to talk about.

    May you soon find people of faith like that.

  48. Test..test…is this being blocked?

  49. I have a disabling physical condition. Which does not stop people from thinking that I’m depressed rather than physically ill. Whenever I asked for help with chores I couldn’t manage, I was always told to just get off the couch and do them myself. When I explained why that was not possible, they continued to try to jolly me into positive thinking “yes, you can!” No, I can’t. I tried to do it myself before I asked for help. They continued to assure me that they were helping me more by insisting that I take antidepressants, get psychotherapy, and “surprise yourself by how much you can do if you try!”

    I couldn’t even get someone from the church to travel a few blocks to set a pitcher of water next to my bed when I was running a fever. Sit with me for a few hours so I’m not alone? Too much trouble … even to those always patting themselves on the back for what loving, giving, thoughtful Christians they are.

    • My heart breaks at your story, which resonates with me as a hospice chaplain. I think the people in our congregations have good intentions, and do take time to do the kinds of things you say here. But the efforts are often not sustained. This is the result of bad teaching, bad ecclesiology, and the loss of a “neighborhood” world in which we see those in geographical proximity to us as the people we have been called to care for most. I’ve been accused of being sentimental about longing for “Mayberry,” but it is the very loss of Mayberry that has resulted in people being too busy and too involved in commuting from place to place for goods and services that makes it easy to ignore folks in need like you who are right under our noses.

      Where, where are the pastors today who both exemplify genuine service and free people to serve others in the small ways?