Illogical Peace, and the need to reach out

frustrated caregiverBy Emily Holladay

Have you ever had one of those days where you just feel like giving up? Like your best will never be good enough and you’ll never be worth a place at the proverbial table? Like you can’t seem to breathe hope into the future, because everything around you seems so dark?

Have you ever had one of those days only to come home and discover that someone else has given up?

Depression is scary. It’s scary when the pain in your heart is so real and so heavy that you feel like a dead weight strewn across your couch unable to move. It’s scary when you can’t pinpoint exactly why you feel the way you do, and the more you try, the more you just… hurt. It is scary when you reach out to friends and family, and they don’t have the words to say to make you feel any less… alone.

I am not going to try to tell you that I know what Robin Williams was feeling yesterday when he chose to take his life. And I am not going to claim to know anything about the journey that led him to such a tragic decision.

What I can tell you is that peace is hard to find. In a world where our value is assessed by what we do rather than who we are. In a world where our relationships are mostly virtual and we struggle to shut off the thousands of voices talking at us each day. In a world where Ebola, human trafficking, neighborhood violence, and the plethora of other harsh realities facing us each day cause us to feel hopeless and afraid. Peace is hard to find.

I’m having trouble finding the words to say, because I know that this won’t be news to you. I know that many of you reading this have experienced pain deeper than I care to imagine. And I’m having trouble finding the words to say, because I know that no amount of words can bring back the many lights that have gone out in this world because the pain was just too much.

But, what I want to tell you is that like depression, peace is illogical. It doesn’t make sense. Peace is hard to find, because it’s counter to our very nature. It’s for this very reason that we find Jesus so difficult to understand and hard to follow.

And even though we want to believe that, had Robin Williams just reached out and told someone what he was going through, he would still be with us today, I’m just not sure that’s fair. For one thing, reports claimed that it was common knowledge that he was battling depression for many months. For another, it doesn’t seem fair to insinuate that his family did not try to help him. I am sure that they were on the front lines, punching some proverbial demons in the face, but in the end, it was just too much.

Unfortunately, sometimes the reality of tomorrow is just too much.

And tragically, we end up saying, “goodbye,” to some of the brightest lights among us.

And I’m sorry, but posting on Facebook urging people who are depressed to find someone to talk to is not going to change that because (1) depression is not something that you can fix with a few magic words, and (2) most people who suffer from depression desperately need someone to understand without being told.

We have to change the conversation. We can’t talk the weight off each others’ hearts. Rarely can we even fight someone’s battles for them. But, we can make peace a little easier to find.

I truly hope you've found peace.

One of the greatest gifts we can offer each other is space. Not space from each other, but space with. Space away from the noise, chaos, and trouble surrounding us constantly. Space to experience the metered, still breathing of another soul also escaping the muddy terrains lining this journey called life. Space to be me and you, without expectation, without labels – just plain ole you and me. Space to be human.

When we offer that space – whatever it may look like – we allow ourselves and others to experience a moment of deep, life-giving peace. And while that might not change the world, bit-by-bit, it changes us.

Practicing peace. Giving ourselves and others that space daily. Over time, we will start to embody peace. And maybe someone we didn’t even know was hurting will come to experience that peace through us. But maybe, just maybe, we will also learn to see more vividly the people, places, and situations around us that need peace breathed into them.

Depression is real. It’s painful and debilitating. Depression consumes your whole body until all you can feel is weight and all you see is darkness. This world needs more people who shine a faint little glimmer of peace into that void. Not just when we know someone is hurting, but all the time.

Practice peace today. Invite someone to share space with you. Tomorrow – invite two people. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds (Philippians 4:7).

This article was originally posted on Rev. Emily Holladay’s blog, Rev. on the Edge.  It is reprinted with permission.

Councilman Joel Burns points BGLT students to a hope-filled future, fights bullying

Several weeks ago, I posted an article that spotlighted the negative repercussions of bullying in the workplace.   We usually think that bullying is mere child’s play.  Unfortunately, in many instances–especially when students and children are involved–bullying can be fatal.

In a moving, personal plea, Fort Worth city councilman Joel Burns encourages students who have been victimized by bullying to be hopeful despite their hardships.  Burns does so after noting that bullying in his community led to several teen suicides.

The speech–about 13 minutes long–is worth your time.  Please be mindful that it is uncensored and may not be suitable for children.

Even though the speech is not Christian in nature, it should encourage all churches to be ambassadors of reconciliation wherever bullying is present, especially when it makes such an impact on our children and families.

Churches should also be safe places for all people–the BGLT community included–because churches can teach children and youth how to rightly include all people who are in need of God’s love.    When bullying means one child telling another, “You’re a faggot and you’re going to hell,” the language invokes a theological message.  Whatever church preached this type of message couched in this type of theology has failed both children because such language misses the mark of offering the Gospel–Good news–to those who need it most.   And children have to get their theology from somewhere.

Ministers, like parishioners, often face depression

In my last post, I wrote of my mini-sabbatical from church and the importance of taking a sabbatical as part of a minister’s spiritual journey.  Sabbaticals are important because they give ministers the space and time to tend to their own personal issues, many of which originate from family, spiritual, marital, and mental strain.  Without the type of release a sabbatical offers, a minister’s work can get the best of him.

Two days before my article printed, Major N. M. Hasan, a military psychiatrist, murdered thirteen individuals at Ft. Hood.  There are several theories why Hasan killed others, but what is most peculiar to me is that Hasan was a psychiatrist.  He belongs to a profession committed to heal people not hurt them.

Hasan’s situation was unique; it is rare that a healthcare provider murders another in cold blood.  It is not uncommon, however, that many healthcare providers face overwhelming job stress and pressure that leads to unhappy endings.  In 2008 the American Medical Association reported that suicide rates among doctors were higher than the national average.  That’s roughly 400 doctors a year.

The reason that healthcare providers commit suicide is because they neglect dealing with distress, depression, and mental illness for the sake of their career.    Ours is a society that expects doctors to be stable and healthy; any sign to the contrary compromises the doctor’s reputation.  Instead of dealing with their issues, healthcare providers suppress their suffering.  Eventually, the stress becomes too much to bear.

As healthcare providers of a different type, ministers also face extreme stress and depression.  Ministers are spiritual pillars of a community, and, like doctors, they find it hard to reach out for help when help is most needed.  Greg Warner, writing for the “Biblical Recorder,” noted that a quarter of all pastors struggle with depression at any given time, many of whom fail to seek treatment with a licensed counselor.

In several other studies on depression among clergy, ministers have cited various reasons for experiencing distress.  Some reasons include job loss, pressure to grow a church, trying to meet unrealistic expectations, and failing to make deep relational connections with trusted support systems.

If ministers do not attend to their spiritual, mental or emotional health over time, their issues can build up and lead to symptoms that we have seen in the public sphere: Pastors get caught committing adultery, engaging in pornography, disengaging from a church, or preaching macabre sermons that lack hope.  Any one of these can be a sign that a minister is not taking steps in dealing with his inner demons.

Talking candidly about ministerial depression or mental illness remains taboo, but churches must take steps to help their clergy face the realities of stress.  Some churches do so by building into the minister’s salary a stipend for professional development or therapy.  In turn, ministers are more open about struggles in which prayer is needed regarding areas of family, finances, marriage, sin, or grief.

Another way churches can help is by encouraging staff regularly.  Writing cards, sending emails of encouragement, providing constructive feedback on sermons, and praying for a pastor can make a world of difference.  Pastors are better prepared to serve churches when they feel their congregations treat them as normal human beings.

In a tech-savvy and therapeutic-centered society, many resources are now available to ministers and doctors who need help with distress.  Retreat houses, therapists, spiritual directors, and pastoral counselors stand ready to help our ministers, but ministers need for us to let them know that seeking help is okay.  Ministers are a part of the Body of Christ and need edification and intervention just   like the rest of us.