Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hope Part 2

I wanted to follow up on the last post with a couple of others thoughts regarding depression and our ultimate hope as children of God. I was told the other day that Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church, had once said that you can't be an authentic Christian and struggle with depression. Now, I am not sure in what context those comments were made but on the surface they appear horribly misguided. I know of several Christians, myself included, who have struggled and currently struggle with depression. According to John Piper, none other than G.K. Chesterton, struggled with depression during different parts of his life. But I think there is one very good reason why Christians SHOULD experience some level or some season of depression.

The following is an excerpt from John Eldredge's Desire:

"All good things come to an end." I hate that phrase. It's a lie. Even our troubles and our heartbreaks tell us something about our true destiny. The tragedies that strike us to the core and elicit the cry "this isn't the way it was supposed to be!" are also telling the truth - it isn't the way it was supposed to be. And so Pascal writes,

Man is so great that his greatness appears even in knowing himself to be miserable. A tree has no sense of its misery. It is true that to know we are miserable is to be miserable; but to know we are miserable is also to be great. Thus all the miseries of man prove his grandeur; they are the miseries of a dignified personage, the miseries of a dethroned monarch?What can this incessant craving, and this impotence of attainment mean, unless there was once a happiness belonging to man, of which only the faintest traces remain, in that void which he attempts to fill with everything within his reach?

Should the king in exile pretend he is happy there? Should he not seek his own country? His miseries are his ally; they urge him on. And so let them grow, if need be. But do not forsake the secret of life; do not despise those kingly desires. We abandon the most important journey of our lives when we abandon desire. We leave our hearts by the side of the road and head off in the direction of fitting in, getting by, being productive, what have you. Whatever we might gain - money, position, the approval of others, or just to get away from the discontent itself - its not worth it. "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" (Matt 16:26).



Hope

"We must accept finite disappointment but we must never lose infinite hope." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"To lose heart is to lose everything."

"When the world says, 'Give up,' hope whispers, 'Try it one more time.'

2We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. - 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

I've been struggling with depression again. Not nearly as bad as the dark times around 2004 but it has been more pervasive than it has been in some time. For me, depression isn't a function of a chemical imbalance in my brain. God has shown me that pretty clearly. The brutal honesty is this...I still place too much of my hope in this world.

It's frustrating and somewhat maddening. I implore fellow Christians quite often to keep their eyes fixed on heaven...to maintain proper perspective on what has eternal importance and what is only temporal and ultimately meaningless. I tell myself to do the same. But I struggle with this all the time because the things of this world are constantly in my face every single day. There is no reprieve. There is no escape in the here and now. The problem as I see it is twofold.

One, my heart, and therefore my hope, is still way too tied to the pleasures of this world. Matthew 6:21 says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." So, I am still desiring too much treasure here. Part of this is due to my job. The goal of any profit-driven small business is to be successful and flourish. I desire to flourish. We aren't flourishing. It is difficult to work hard every day and to not only go nowhere but to have actually gone backward significantly over the past two years.

The second issue is that I continue to view too much of my self-worth in terms of worldly success and failure. I put too much hope in myself. I judge myself on an absolute basis given what I know I have the ability to accomplish, but for one reason or another, have not. I also judge myself on a relative basis with what others my age and younger have accomplished who, in my opinion, are certainly no brighter or more skilled than I am. It's kinda interesting...the bigger temptation for Christians is usually to look at the sin of others to justify their morality whereas I tend to view others in a better light compared to myself. Just shows it is so easy to go from erring on one side of the spectrum only to go all the way to the other side to find a new way to err.

It's good that I can recognize these dynamics at play. It somewhat lessens the hold that the feelings of depression can bring about but it certainly doesn't magically make them go away either. Here is how these two should be addressed:

Ultimately, my professional goals should not be about business growth, success and profits.

"23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." - Colossians 3:23-24

I should be about the Lord's business within and through my business. This is not easy for someone who grew up with visions of being very successful in the working world and also has very real financial needs that he feels can be solved with the worldly definition of success. Counter-cultural indeed.

Secondly, I must learn to see myself the way God sees me. Again, this is the Gospel. My worth is not found in what I do but what Christ has done for me. I need to tattoo this on my forehead and spend hours every day looking in the mirror. I am still way too wrapped up in trying to find my worth in my own actions and accomplishments.

So, this is what it comes down to and why I struggle. My hope ebbs and flows between heaven and this world...between the eternal and the temporal...between the saving grace of Jesus Christ and my desperate attempt to save myself. I love Paul's phrase, "your endurance inspired by hope". When I start to lose hope my endurance definitely suffers and the temptation to quit looms large. But that is only when my hope is outside of God. I want to eventually get to the point echoed in the verses below. When all earthly hope has been removed...when there is no worldly reason to go on...I will simply look up and know who I am and rejoice in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (New American Standard Bible)

17Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.