Friday, January 30, 2015

The Depression Suffered By ‘the Prince of Preachers’

“My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for … a kind friend was telling me of some poor old soul living near, who was suffering very great pain, and yet she was full of joy and rejoicing. I was so distressed by the hearing of that story, and felt so ashamed of myself.… [but] sometimes the Christian should not endure his sufferings with a gallant and a joyous heart… [but] that sometimes his spirits should sink within him, and that he should become even as a little child smitten beneath the hand of God.”
— Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834 – 1892)
Real as real as real was the spiritual torture known to the great preacher, Spurgeon. There were the physical maladies (gout, for instance) and there were the defamatory maladies – envies and jealousies, without much doubt – the weight of responsibility for his preaching, and the spiritual agonies some like him are ‘blessed’ (or burdened) with.
What a comfort it is to know that a great and very famous preacher was so normal as to be utterly spent in his own soul’s agony!
I heard of recent that nearly seventy percent of pastors will suffer mental illness at one time or other – and a portion of these must be afflicted most continually. We are not alone! We find ourselves in good company, for the work we do, which is disposed to spiritual attack, criticism, indifference, and fickleness, not to mention our predilection for praise and approval.
There are two main causes of depression and depressive disorders – perfectionism (the fear of failure, not meeting lofty goals, etc) and relational dissatisfaction (including bullying, loneliness, loss, etc).
Spurgeon’s depression runs similarly to ours – at times we know not the reason. Perhaps there are too many causes and effects. When we list them down and analyse them – if we have the energy – we are, at times, delighted in a resigned sort of way to have negotiated the labyrinth of reason.
Sometimes the tears have no sense at all, yet we do most dedicatedly shed them!
This is not to say, per Spurgeon’s life, that God can’t use us greatly or effectively in all our weary brokenness. Of course, God ensures it’s the broken who are used, just so the proud minister cannot explain it.
There are two other points the prince of preachers makes – two appositely arranged: 1. It’s often highly appropriate that the person with depression have no reason or excuse for joy – despair is a useful locale; and, 2. There are other times when we simply must come before God, besotted by his Presence, in a humble and cordial childlike surrender.
1.     Do you find you are guilty for depressed days or weeks or months? What could God be saying that makes theological sense, plus provides you a hope in truth?
2.     Have you noticed any vicious cycles apparent in your depression? Can charting these cycles provide any insight on how to manage your mental health?
3.     Perhaps you’ve never been depressed. How can you have empathy (if you struggle for it) with those who suffer?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, January 26, 2015

What Abraham Lincoln’s Depression Teaches Us

What I marvel at, what gives me such hope, is that this man could overcome depression, self-doubt and the constraints of biography and not only act decisively but retain his humanity. Like a figure from the Old Testament, he wandered the earth, making mistakes, loving his family but causing them pain, despairing over the course of events, trying to divine God’s will. He did not know how things would turn out, but he did his best.
— Barack Obama
The black dog is a scourge many of us have faced. Indeed, it may well climb on our backs and bark and growl at the most inappropriate times. What are we to do?
Lincoln, sixteenth U.S. President, suffered major depressive disorder. He was weathered chronically by life, swinging between the extremes of passion and nonchalance. It seems he grew through being constantly dogged by thoughts for suicide, and had several periods of constant ideation toward self-harm. He was also the subject of several life-jarring events that probably contributed to his mental illness.
It’s incredible that a person who did so much for reform also battled with his personal demons, proving what one can do against the flow of probability.
Lincoln turned depression into wisdom. But how did he do it?
1.     He refused to just suffer. He learned to learn what he could from it.
2.     He defined and consumed himself in goals. He became bigger than himself and gave himself to an ideal bigger than he could ever truly be had he not widened his perspective.
3.     Lincoln thought a lot about his thinking and about how his feelings impacted his thoughts. He grew through the intensity of thinking that buries us in fatiguing analysis and learned to harness his thinking and accept it.
4.     He developed an intense love for learning, reading everywhere he went, even as he walked and waited and wallowed. He used learning as a distraction. He kept his mind occupied on nobler things than his pain.
5.     Lincoln also developed a great sense of empathy for others that he was able to disburse upon himself also. He was able to feel for others and himself also.
6.     He accepted the mysteries of God, suffering, the universe, and the natural order of things with great humility, which served him well in not complicating perplexing things more than he ought.
7.     He used an industrious mind to produce a passion for work and he developed a keen sense of humour. Both of these he used as key diversions from his spiritual lethargies.
Depression appears an unconquerable nemesis. But, as Abraham Lincoln’s life attests, there are several strategies of resilience, learning, re-thinking, work, and humour that can help.
One way to live with the black dog is to walk with it and talk with it every day. What may seem impossible is first made real through practice, and then, second, it redefines our very beliefs.
Learning to embrace the reality of one’s pain is one way to learn a new reality buoyant with hope.
Learning to fight our way through the pain of depression is about believing there is a way through. God will guide us.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Free of Mind, Joy to Find

Courage is waking into a nightmare, seeking God for the rectification, and deciding to act.
Courage takes us from the chasm of the abyss into a lusher heartland of salubrious content, but not without negotiating much threatening terrain on the way.
Waking is an unknown; the subconscious is the operating system until the conscious mind can gain a grip of awareness, where awareness is key:
Some mornings I wake,
And need to say, “For goodness sake!
Step out of this messy thinking,”
But then somehow I’m stirred,
By God I know I’m heard,
He Who lifts me out of my sinking.
Just how does this work? It is the matter of awareness that gives us the impetus and persuasion to do something different. We only need to be aware of the chasm – its presence before us and its passage into the abyss – and then to choose courage and we have everything we need. And God is our awareness.
He Who steps with us is with us, always.
To be stirred within – and to know that stirring is the Holy Spirit in me – is of great comfort. I don’t fix myself, God fixes me.
More often these days I’m given to wonderful thoughts of plans for the day upon waking. What a ‘lucky’ life. But I’m still reminded every now and then, as the subconscious claws its way into conscious being, that I’m at the mercy of my circumstances – that I’m not so ‘mature’ as to “consider it pure joy” when I suffer trials of many kinds.
How thankful I ought to be. But I, like you I suspect, am prone to forgetting the place of gratitude for my life.
Freedom of mind is joy to find.
And to gain that freedom it’s up to me to arrest that thinking, first by awareness, because God has stirred me, and secondly by courage to make a decision.
The decision to walk into the light, away from the abyss, is soaked in wisdom.
Awareness of the light and the courage to walk: these are what we need. God procures the first, and I must decide for the second. I add to God’s faithfulness my faithfulness to obey.
1.     What do you struggle with most: awareness or courage?
2.     How does God stir you? How do you decide to break free of messy thinking?
3.     What are you grateful for, today?
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

No Time for Resentment, Time Only for Reconciliation

Urgency necessitates action where the length of time is unknown.
Life is but short; no time can be afforded but for the indulgence of real sorry, or contests upon questions seriously momentous. Let us not throw away any of our days upon useless resentment, or contend who shall hold out longest in stubborn malignity. It is best not to be angry; and best, in the next place, to be quickly reconciled.
— Samuel Johnson
It is a serious challenge to our pride to reconcile the idea of relational reconciliation in all circumstances. Only the person given to humility can overcome the temptation of pride that breeds and broods with anger.
I must contend against myself of the times more recent when these contests of pride and humility have taken their toll.
It is not easy living the relational life where there are always seemingly high stakes. Where stakes are high, there go the emotions, and commitments are often made rashly.
Once a commitment is made it is doubly hard for the pride to rescind the error.
We are counselled well to take none of life so seriously that we lock ourselves in, unless, on the circumstances, once or thrice in a lifetime, of a meta-cause. If we will give ourselves to a purpose, then that will take us into seriousness, but we must regulate the emotions that will carry us through the journey.
Many reminders of our proclivity to anger are necessary.
Anger rises, sometimes, and most dangerously, against the flow of our joy. It surprises us when we deny how we truly feel.
Time is a great healer only if we will surrender ourselves to what we cannot control.
We waste our time on the pettiness of emotions astray.
Common sense may not be very common, but if we make reflection common we are sure to grow in sense.
There is no time for resentment, only time for reconciliation.
But, of course, not only is that easier said than done, it’s also something we need to learn the hard way.
Most of us need to waste some of our time on the uselessness of paddling against the current of our circumstances – to experience the folly of contriving a result we cannot achieve – before we finally learn it’s hopeless.
Let us enjoy every moment of life free of anger toward others. Let us quickly go to them who we are angry with and forgive them. Because we can. Because their power over us is then finished.
Declare war on resentment by uniting the will to reconcile with the joy of purpose.
The war of life is waged over time. Time we win or lose. There’s no time for resentment.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Peace and Joy By Staying Present

The forefront of our thinking is paramount to our experience of life.
None of us go into life prepared to accept a reality devoid of peace and joy. However we define these two that go together, we seek to satisfy them with everything we have.
One of the facts of peace and joy, though, is they are spiritual designates; they don’t operate apart from the relational aspect of life. In other words, those who value the good things, like love and respect, attract the felt experience of peace and joy.
Peace and joy, as a package, rely on the focusing of our awareness on the present.
Peace and joy will last,
When you’re present in your mind,
So in being present now be cast,
And peace and joy you’ll find.
Staying in the present seems easy in theory, but it isn’t mastered without a great deal of practice. So, let us continue to practice being present until it becomes a competency.
Staying present isn’t only about being present; it’s very importantly about focusing our thinking on what is wonderful and beautiful. And there is plenty of that to see. What comes in about now is the value of perspective – how we see things.
It would be an insanity to think we could experience peace and joy by remaining chaotically-minded or negative. Keeping the thought life clear and simple is another key.
Scattered thinking is an enemy of mindfulness.
And at times mindfulness is beyond us. But it pays to persist. The rest we so desire in order to get mindful, in order to be present, in order to experience peace and joy, is sometimes just a little time away.
Much of life,
Can be a struggle to cope,
But we hold on,
Because our faith says, “Hope!”
So, when we come,
To survive the test,
We tell ourselves,
“Soon we’ll rest!”
Patience isn’t hard if we know relief is in sight. And, because time is relative, we might look forward hours or days for the time to enter that rest we yearn for.
Keeping the present in mind is such an aid to the whole of our lives.
As we make a commitment to refocusing on being present, positive, and retaining perspective, we have access to peace and joy. We are not plagued by the unusable past or the unknown future. We operate with our full conscious minds enabled to the possibilities of our creative thoughts designed with an eye on innovation.
Being present, focused positively, and a retained perspective: peace and joy are secured.
Maintain mindfulness. Actuate the awareness. Participate in being present.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Holding On In the Early Days of Goal Fulfilment

New Year brings the opportunity for a new start – to shelve the failures of past to reach the goal or goals we’ve richly striven for but fell short of.
Early going can be hard. Days after we commence a new endeavour, no matter how much we looked forward to beginning, we found ourselves in a lonely predicament; it was a great deal harder than anticipated.
The early days on the journey to goal fulfilment are about continually reminding ourselves to stop thinking about what we are missing out on – because what we are missing out on is more misery, more wasted time, and ultimately more pain.
We can leave that alone, surely.
The way we think and what we think about is crucial.
Goal fulfilment is very much about setting up a new mental environment; about creating a new emotional and spiritual environment to counter the loneliness involved in creating a new normal.
As each day passes on a new journey closer into view comes destiny.
As the days surrender their brightness to the coming horizon, we thank God for his strengthening to get us through the difficult parts of the day. As the day is birthed in blazing sunshine, we seek and call to God: “Help me, again, Lord!”
One day at a time, if we will count them, we develop confidence the longer we go.
With each day put into the shelf of the memory the journey looks more like what we wanted it to feel like.
We need everything set up for us to win when it comes to achieving a goal; yet, there’s the very real possibility that our goals are achieved very much more when the early going is messy.
When we have a hiccup, a short period of straying from the vein of progress, we often gradually compromise more. We lose our fight to get back on track. We think that “Oh, well, I can afford to do this...”
But we can’t afford the fuller compromise. A brain fade we can handle, but to clamp down and get re-focused before the fuller slide into a crazy compromise; that’s wisdom.
Destiny is within the grasp of the common person.
Destiny is within the grasp of the person who makes good decisions that align with the vision they have set for themselves.
God will honour the actions that mirror good intent.
God is with us and for us as we do all we can to achieve our goal.

© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Suffering’s Purpose, Resiliency’s Hope

If something bad has happened to you,
And you have no way of holding true,
Go to God while you’ve still got time,
The Lord God Almighty will give you a new way to climb.
Suffering is ingenious; it’s the way to new life,
Suffering teaches us how to deal with our strife,
In our suffering we wonder just how we’ll cope,
Yet strangely suffering takes us through resilience to hope.
Suffering is the worst of opportunities toward the best of outcomes.
Suffering is no guarantee of survival, but it is one step closer to a stronger version of us that will withstand the heinous vagaries of life that threaten as squalls in the future.
There is another vital step we must take, however, having been placed into a cauldron of cruel circumstance – to respond well, which is to see God’s grace as it is in everything. Such a response causes us to be broadly grateful and thankful, even though one life has ended and new life (perhaps one we don’t want) has begun.
If suffering is to be converted from the worst of opportunities into the best of outcomes, these two conditions are present:
1.      We are real about the circumstance, which, on the one hand, means we must complain as part of the process, but, on the other hand, we must also search God and surrender it all, routinely, before him.
2.      We resist going into ourselves, to deny the truth, or to rally against the truth. We respond the right way – which the world knows nothing about – so we can expect confusion in our friends and family; they may not understand that submitting before God is the answer we long need.
It’s a grand and polarising paradox that the only way through to healing and growth is an acceptance that seems too meek to the world.
But power comes on us when we listen to the still and small voice of the Holy Spirit as he gently helps us through massive situations of inner conflict.
Suffering is ingenious. Pain, if we can accept it and embrace it, can be the most direct route into gain. Our faith will reveal us to this fact.
And who would have thought that something as bad as suffering would be central to plans for a good future, custom designed by the Lord God, himself.
God does not inflict suffering on us, yet he allows it because he has already made a healing path through it. We must trust and obey.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, January 2, 2015

What We All Live So Passionately For

Dreams. We all have them. Dreams are much more powerful and deeply indentured in our souls than goals are. We are all indelibly sold to our dreams!
Something that melts us at our core is the very thought that one day, one tremendous hour, one solitary quarter hour, we could attain to that which we have always lived for.
This thing is also the greatest fear we have. We feel worthless when our dreams are shattered. Such smallness is so undignifying, yet our world only affords rare opportunities at the sort of spiritual riches of a dream come true.
When we dare to dream of the unknown it’s like spreading the wings of possibility and God is always on the side of faith-inspired hope.
Dreaming with the gaited candour of an eternal spirit is every person’s divine right, role and responsibility. Only we can do it for ourselves – which is but taking God at his Word: nothing is impossible for God.
When we grace our natural talents with a work ethic prepared to anything it takes, these are the ploys of humanity. But such ploys are nothing really without the Spiritual sponsorship of God.
God is for us!
Let it sink in. If we have a dream, and that dream means we itch with irritability any time we are not working on that dream, then perhaps the dream is a destiny.
Maybe we are destined to work the dream and be penniless if need be. When dream becomes devotion and attitude becomes action we are on our way. Nothing can hold us back. We are living the life.
It’s what we all live for.
Living to work can seem such a drone, but if it’s a labour of love and a passion of presence then we have a good reason to work our fingers to the bone.
We all have a right to have a dream. It’s why we become so passionate, even to the point of losing sleep, anxiously betwixt, and unable to keep whatever seems unnatural.
The dream is not only a right, it’s a role. We have come to be here, to take up our parts as members of humanity, to make a difference in the only ways we can – by using all our talent, heart, and ingenuity.
It is right to have a dream, and God has made it that we won’t be content until we admit its importance and search out the dream.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.