Thursday, April 05, 2012

An attitude of joy?

Lord, I’m confused. And every time I think I’ve sorted things out, I find someone or something that says I haven’t. Yet I’d like to be clear about things like this, because how can I pass understanding on to others if I don’t have it myself?

My pastor recently said that “our attitude in the face of hardship and suffering reflects our confidence in God (or lack thereof).” He had been talking about the “joy” expressed in the letters Paul wrote from prison. Joy, in spite of hardships.

I started thinking about the depression my friends and I often face. How would it be possible to have an attitude of joy at times like that, when all you’d like to do is to die?

Does Pastor Don consider that I don’t have confidence in you when I’m in the midst of depression? I feel a strong need to defend myself. I consider myself a fairly good Christ follower. Can I help it when depression comes upon me? Can I help it when all I can do is think negative thoughts? And I remember with compassion the people in my support group who feel at times that you have abandoned them. Their pain is immense.

In times past I’ve bravely thought how I need to go through depression once in a while if I’m going to do the work you gave me to do – if I’m going to follow my calling to support people who, like me, have a mood disorder. It’s true, I know how to be a good supporter and advocate because I’ve struggled with depression myself. And, I suppose being able to do this gives me joy. It has given my life meaning.

Yet over the last couple of years my experience with depression and the desire to die has been worse than I would ever want to experience again. It was impossible to have an attitude of joy. Even when the episodes were past, I wondered if the benefits were worth what I paid.

But am I thinking of myself too much, Lord? The central purpose of Paul’s life was you and his desire to serve you. He wasn’t concerned about himself. …and I would like to be like Paul. I too want to serve you. The purpose of my life is not me or my own well-being…at least I try not to let it be. But maybe too often it is?

You endured unimaginable suffering as you hung on the cross. You also felt abandoned, crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). No joy there, was there? Yet you willingly endured it, knowing the good it would do: the transformation, or redemption, of humanity.

So, if I’m truly your follower shouldn’t I willingly endure depression, knowing it will eventually help me have greater compassion? It will enable me to help others in a special way. And in that there’s joy.

Lord, help me have the courage to withstand future episodes when they come…because they always do come. Help me to follow you wholeheartedly, even when it hurts.

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