September 25, 2020

The Homily

IBR-1113189

“At the end of the seven years, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked to heaven. I was given my mind back and I blessed the High God, thanking and glorifying God, who lives forever:

“His sovereign rule lasts and lasts,
his kingdom never declines and falls.
Life on this earth doesn’t add up to much,
but God’s heavenly army keeps everything going.
No one can interrupt his work,
no one can call his rule into question.

“At the same time that I was given back my mind, I was also given back my majesty and splendor, making my kingdom shine. All the leaders and important people came looking for me. I was reestablished as king in my kingdom and became greater than ever. And that’s why I’m singing—I, Nebuchadnezzar—singing and praising the King of Heaven:

“Everything he does is right,
and he does it the right way.
He knows how to turn a proud person
into a humble man or woman.”

(Daniel 4:34-37, The Message)

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  (2 Corinthians 12:9, NASB)

This morning I want to share something very personal. I hope you will allow me the leeway to do this. I promise next week to return to upsetting you with my thoughts on God’s grace.

I have shared in these pages how I have struggled with depression. I’ve written about darkness that engulfed me for the last year or more. I have endured great physical pain in my life, but nothing to compare with the emotional pain of this depression. For me, the darkness reached the breaking point a few weeks ago. I could not take any more. I told God if he truly is merciful he would take my life. I prayed to not see another sunrise. I could not go on any longer.

Then, two weeks ago this last Friday, I was in great pain with muscle spasms in my back. For two hours I lie on my living room floor, stretching, trying to relieve the pain. I had taken twice the normal strength of my pain medication and could hardly walk straight, but I finally decided I had to do something, so I pulled on shoes and socks and headed out to walk in the heat. Even though it was now 1 a.m., it was still in the 80s. I thought perhaps working up a sweat would ease the spasms. As I walked out the door, I grabbed my iPod shuffle and turned it on.

The first song that came up was The Land Of Hope And Dreams by Bruce Springsteen. For my money, this is the greatest Gospel song of all time. I have listened to this song many times, but somehow that night one verse stood out to me as if I had never heard it before.

I will provide for you and I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion now for this part of the ride
Yeah, leave behind your sorrows, let this day be the last
Well, tomorrow there’ll be sunshine and all this darkness past

When I heard those words, I forgot all about the pain in my spasming muscles. I thought, That would be so great if it were true. I listened all the way thru to the end of the song, and then I played it again. Again when I heard that verse I felt a tiny spark of hope in my chest. Could it be true? Once again I hit repeat and listened to the whole great song.

Yeah, leave behind your sorrows, let this day be the last
Well, tomorrow there’ll be sunshine and all this darkness past

When I walked into my house, my back pain was completely gone. I knew then I could go to bed and I would sleep. And I did. When I woke in the morning … my darkness was gone. Gone. I cannot explain it any more than that. On Friday I was in complete despair; on Saturday I knew the peace that passes understanding.

I am still dealing with physical ramifications of the emotional stress and distress. My bowels and I are not yet on speaking terms. I have hives on my finger (my middle finger, which I think only fitting). But the blackness that gripped my soul has given way to the Light. I want to stress that it was nothing I did or said or swallowed that chased away the dark. It was God who moved for me in his time, in a time and way that was totally unexpected and inexplicable. If I were to try to explain how and why, I would be wrong. So I will just say it was God doing what only he could do and leave it at that.

I want to share three things from this time of horror I have come through. Not things I have learned. I don’t think God was teaching me anything here. He was trying me as gold is tried. But I have three observations to share.

First of all, there were very, very few who walked closely with me in my time of darkness. Springsteen sings,

I will provide for you and I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion now for this part of the ride

and that is so very true. But finding a good companion for the ride is nearly impossible. Very few are willing to stand with someone in such pain. I found that to be painfully true. I did, however, have a few who would not let me go. Adam Palmer would write to me most mornings to tell me the reason I needed to live that day—usually so I could listen to some new song or album he had come across. My friend Mike set a time every week (sometimes more than once a week) to get together with me for something as simple as going to get an ice cream at the DQ or go to a used bookstore. Both of these showed me they were with me and would not leave me. My brother in law Jerry stood by my side in texts and calls. I had a few other friends who would come see me at work without me saying anything or texted me to say that they love me and would not let me walk alone. But these were very, very few.

But there were many, many others who had the opportunity to show love in words or deeds, but chose not to do so. Their lack of words and actions hurt me deeply. It was in their hand to help, but they refused. I was lying in ditch bleeding and dying, and these crossed to the other side of the road, unwilling to get themselves dirty by saying “I love you” and staying by my side. Some said, “Call me if you are having a bad day,” not knowing that in the throes of depression, I could no more pick up the phone and call as I could take a stroll to the moon. Some said they would keep checking on me, but they never did. The worst were those who said “I’ll pray for you,” but didn’t follow that with “I love you.” To me, saying “I’m praying for you” without the words “I love you” is extremely shallow and hurtful. Don’t tell me you will pray for me if you are not willing to love me. And loving me was very difficult when I was lying in my own stench and vomit and despair. It was not easy to love me. But love is what I needed the most. I did not receive love from the pastors or elders of my church. I did not receive love from some whom I thought were good friends.

I forgive these who did not love. I must. I must forgive, that my sins (which are many) may be forgiven. I must show mercy so that I, in such desperate need of mercy, may receive it myself. But I want to say this again: Do not tell someone you will pray for them if you are not willing to love them right then as well.

Finally, I want to speak to those of you who are in your own darkness and despair. Those who do not know how you will lift your head one more day. Those of you who pray that you won’t have to see another sunrise. I want you to “hear” the lyrics to this song one more time.

Yeah, leave behind your sorrows, let this day be the last
Well, tomorrow there’ll be sunshine and all this darkness past

And I want you to do this. I want you to write to me. You will find my email address at the top right of this page. Tell me you are going thru darkness and need a companion for this part of the ride. I promise you I will pray for you and that I will love you. I promise I will not let you go alone. No one should have to go alone.

Let us pray.

Comments

  1. Thanks for your openness and encouragement. So glad to hear of both your journey towards healing, and of those who walk with you in this season.

  2. I’ll second what Steve said – it takes more courage to talk about our brokenness than it does to remain silent, though so many of us have been socialized that way. Grateful to read this.

  3. Ali Griffiths says

    You can have no idea how angry and worried I have been feeling recently with leaders who are spouting dangerous and damaging rubbish about depression just being another form of selfishness. I woke this morning feeling seriously discouraged, out of step with all the world, convinced of my worthlessness in a way I only feel when confronting the dark and your words are balm to my soul. Thank you for an honest and heartfelt post. Bless you Jeff.

  4. I am sorry to hear about the depression and pain that you have experienced, Jeff. And I am happy that this “round” is over! And I give thanks that Bruce Springsteen wrote that wonderful song. I love him and I love you. Keep writing about grace. I need to hear it and know it. I know it when I hear and see people able to forgive others of unspeakable horrors. Surely God would not be less forgiving than the people he has created.

  5. This brought tears to my eyes, and gives some hope in the black hole of depression that I myself am in. I’ve never heard that Bruce Springsteen song before, but I looked it up. And you’re right, it’s when people are there for you that counts. For some people, Jesus might say “I was lonely, and you left me alone to pray for me.”

    Sometimes we opt for the quick and easy solutions for those who are hurting. If I may, I’d like to share a blog I did on the subject:

    http://www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_journal_individual.asp?blog_id=5381744

    I hope it is as helpful as yours, Jeff.

  6. Robert F says

    Sorry, Jeff, but I can’t “hear” the lyrics of the song; I’m glad you could, though. And I’m glad there were at least a few people there for you in your darkness. “Blessed are those who mourn…”; and blessed are those who mourn with those who mourn.

    Though I don’t want to go into details, I’m having a hard time. I expect it to continue until I die, likely getting worse; sometimes I long for death, thinking that then the suffering will end. But my times, and destiny, are in God’s hands, not mine, and there I’ll leave them.

    I will pray for you, and love you to the degree that I can, though I’m not much good at loving; perhaps the praying will help me to love you more. Please do the same for me.

    • Robert, I can relate to your comments. Thank you for sharing them.
      “And I’m glad that there were at least a few people there for you in your darkness.” That grabbed me the most – especially what I think was left unsaid. Let’s pray for each other – and to Jeff’s point, I love you and appreciate the help and hope you gave me today. Pax.

    • David Cornwell says

      Robert, I’m truly sorry about the suffering you are going through. However I’m not sure you are any worse at loving than any of us here, we are all broken and need grace and healing.

      Often your words have blessed me here. Sometimes you get to the bottom of an issue very quickly and it becomes plain. It’s a gift God has given you. You cause me to see a side of something that I haven’t thought about. So God is using you. May this continue to be true.

  7. There is nothing harder for a Christ-follower than to have a spirit-led lesson taught us, so often from our own. As I read this my heart was stirred by how often in our own families are the times we failed to speak the words, “I LOVE YOU and CHOOSE to walk with you and be there” no matter the cost to my own inconvenience. Who can speak of God’s great mysterious mercies and his amazing grace. Perhaps the weeping one who lies in the ditch of brokenness and the thin thread of faith in the pain. Thank you, Jeff, in being courageous to share and to be my teacher. Yeah, my teacher, so that next time, to inconveniently be there in presence instead of words. Jerry

  8. That Other Jean says

    Jeff, I am incredibly happy for you, that you have found a way though your depression, and that you have been able to forgive those who avoided you or promised more than they were willing to deliver while you were in such pain. I have never suffered the kind of depression that you have; but I have, more often than I like to remember, distanced myself too much from friends who did—not from lack of love, but from a kind of fear that the darkness which held them would somehow engulf me, too. Thank you for showing me how wrong I was, and what to do instead.

  9. Jeff, thank you for your honesty. You put this SO WELL! All of us need to hear it in all of its harsh reality for what it truly is–darkness. Unless you have walked this particular path, you have no idea the degree of helplessness, despair, hopelessness, and the desire for life to end. It’s a battle I’ve had since college, and each round, as I age, gets just that much more difficult. I wished I’d had Bruce S’s song! However, for me it was a year of listening to an album a friend randomly gave to me (not knowing my situation at all) that was cross-centered songs–and I listened to it for one year, straight. Nothing else. I needed that; you never know what it will be that speaks to and heals the soul. Others need the grace, and the love, that we have not received….and your forgiveness speaks to that, and loving them well.
    Plus, I have to say, iMonk has been a big part, too, just knowing I’m not alone with my ‘wanderings’ has often been a place to go to and realize I am not crazy–though feel like, at times.
    THANK YOU for this post.

  10. Thank you for these words, Jeff. Thank for the Scriptures you chose. I recently was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis,.Pain is my companion, at least for now. I have had many people tell me they were praying for me, few who actually offered to help.

    May your darkness stay at bay and may there always be those who stand by your side.

  11. Blessings, love and, yes …continued prayer for you, friend. 🙂

  12. Jeff,

    Thank you for your honesty. Praise be to God for his healing in your life.

  13. Jeff,

    As someone who suffers from depression, I know how hard it can be living with it. I rejoice that God has brought you healing.

  14. Christiane says

    “Let nothing disturb you,
    Let nothing frighten you,
    All things are passing away:
    God never changes.
    Patience obtains all things
    Whoever has God lacks nothing;
    God alone suffices.”

    ( St. Teresa of Avila )

    A saying in my Church:

    ““” Jesus did not come to explain away suffering
    or to remove it.
    He came to fill it with His Presence.” “

    • I like that saying, Christiane. I will take that with me today … thank you for sharing it with me.

    • John Michael Talbot put these words to music. As does most of JMT’s music, this song really ministers to me.

  15. Jeff – I am glad the sun found its way through a chink in the clouds. Really, i’m glad it doesn’t take that much light to dispel the darkness.

    Robert – May He Who nourished the growth of the tree that eventually became His cross accompany you

  16. cermak_rd says

    I’m so glad, Jeff, that you’ve had at least a couple of companions on your journey into darkness. I’m pulling for you to remain in the sunshine.

    I can relate to mental illness. In my case, it’s social anxiety. I had a health scare last year and they took me off the SSRIs that have kept me stable these past many years in order to run tests without their interference. As it turns out, I’m fine physically, and since I had gone off the SSRIs, have stayed off them. So it’s now been close to a year and while I do fear still crowds and strangers, every time I manage a social event without a panic attack, I get a little more assurance that I can handle another, by myself without the drugs. This year has been the first time since I was 12 that I haven’t been on some kind of med to control the anxiety. And it’s been quite a year!

  17. Jeff, I love this. I love you. I have always been touched in the deep recesses of my heart by your writing, so full of candor and mess and grace. Thank you. For being here, alive, and willing to write with your heart wide open, even if (and when) it hurts. It matters.

  18. Dana Ames says

    ((Jeff))

    D.

  19. Dana Ames says

    ((Robert F))

    D.

  20. Jeff, I took you up on your challenge. Check your e-mail.

  21. Jeff, I am so glad for you. I think music can break through to the soul sometimes when every other input fails. What a wonderful relief and release!

    I am sorry there were few there to stand by you in this hell. I’ve been there too, and have had a very few angels who were willing to keep trying to be with me, even though I wasn’t much fun to be with.

    Heather

  22. Jeff,

    Your posts have uplifted me on many occasions and I am praying for the Son to shine brightly on you. I will pray for you and I love you.

    Carol

  23. Today my blogname (been there, done that) is not only extremely inadequate, it is also downright wrong as I have never experienced clinically-diagnosed depression. However, I used to say I had “high highs and low lows” and that I lived “a roller coaster life” but stopped when it occurred to me that what I was describing was what was then called manic-depression. And maybe I am/was. I never went to a doctor with it.

    Jeff, I have loved your writing for a long time because you express yourself so plainly and you are not afraid of making yourself transparent. I truly think you inherited Michael Spencer’s mantle. God bless you, man. I am praying for you and I do love you. Praise God for doing what only He can do.

  24. Christiane says

    JEFF,
    whether people admit it or not, anxiety and depression hit all of us at some point in our lives . . . the pain is so great that I would not at all surprised if some good comes to us from having gone through it, if only to increase our compassion for others . . . I will keep you in my prayers this week.

    We aren’t told the nature of the ‘thorn in St. Paul’s side’ in 2 Corinthians 12:9, so I often look at what he wrote and think it must apply to our wounded human condition itself:

    ‘8 For this thing I sought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

    9 And He said to me,
    “My grace is sufficient for you:
    for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

    Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me.’

    nothing as severe as depression can leave you unchanged . . . I’ve been there. It left me humbled, and a lot more understanding about the weaknesses of others . . . and much less willing to sit in judgement on another soul.

    God Bless you and keep you sheltered in the storm. Christ makes all things new.

  25. Just reading this now, Jeff, and praying for a good week for you. Thanks for sharing this and for the encouragement.