The Art of Bog Slogging

I’ve had the privilege of having a couple different conversations in the last month about depression. Sometimes I get sad and it doesn’t go away. But I’m also trying to follow Jesus as one of his disciples. I think I can hold these two truths in tension. It’s certainly possible.

I call them “tailspins”. Something can set them up or nothing can happen at all. But when they come (as one did this week), there is this horrible desire to simply soak in it. Maybe it’s just my temperament, but I love it when there’s something big to feel, even if it’s hopelessness. And so there’s an odd temptation to just revel in the darkness. But I don’t think that’s right. Paul Maxwell has been very helpful here in fighting against depression from the perspective of cognitive behavioral theory.

With the people I’ve spoken with recently, the question has been more one of spiritual progress. Or perhaps spiritual regression? It’s at least a question of maintenance. If depression is a bog, then how do we slog? How can we keep dancing through the darkness? How do we tread water when every urge says “give up and sink”? Here’s what I’ve found works for me.

Tell Yourself What You Believe

I have found that reciting the Apostles’ Creed helps. For centuries, Christians have been telling themselves what they believe even when they don’t believe it, perhaps even so that they could believe it.

This is not a way to sweep depression or doubt under the rug. This is how I strangle those hobgoblins to death each day. When I say “I believe,” it functions as a verb and as a command. And I believe the Spirit uses something as simple and ordinary as this to strengthen my failing faith.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Eugene Peterson’s famous description of discipleship is apt. Some people say that the Christian life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I have no doubt that is true for some people. For me, it is more like an uphill crawl through barbed wire while getting shot at.

That’s why I pray the Daily Office as I can, when I can. This was Thomas Cranmer’s attempt to get an entire country of people reading the same Bible passages together. I value it especially for the sheer amount of Psalms it pours into you. There are lots of places to start using it online. The point is to be able to read lots of Scripture everyday because “the voices in your mind are anything but kind,” to quote Andrew Peterson. It’s the Protestant answer to the question of how one “prays without ceasing” (1 Thess.5:16).

Our Father

It’s sad how many evangelicals view the Lord’s Prayer as some piece of biblical trivia to memorize or, worse yet, as a rote and mechanical ritual that has been ruined by the smells-and-bells high church crowd.

I even heard a substitute Sunday School teacher for me once refer to it as “the Disciples’ Prayer.” I almost threw up. This is how Jesus spoke to his Father and, remarkably, this is how he invites his brothers and sisters to speak to their adopted Father as well (Mt.6:9-13; Lk.11:2-4).

The Lord’s Prayer functions as simply as a prayer to pray that puts you fully in line with the heart of Christ. It can also serve as a pattern of prayer, as we paraphrase the various parts of it. The Church has historically gotten endless mileage out of this one way of speaking to God and it has been of limitless help to me in the middle of the night, no matter the hour of the day.

Slog On

Keep going. Whatever trauma has wrap itself around your legs, keep going. Even if your progress is inches and you find yourself going backwards some days. Whatever dryness has settled into your heart, keep going.

You cannot bottle the wind and demand that the Holy Spirit suddenly strike lightning in your life. But you can cover your soul with kindling and all of this spiritual fuel and trust that the Lord uses ordinary means of grace to build his Church.

Keep going. Dawn is coming. Slog on.

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Church as Suicide Prevention

Every suicide is a tragedy. Particularly and uniquely, they are tragic as individual ends to individually beautiful images. Outside the death of an infant or child, I cannot think of a more tangled web of sorrows and regret. But that’s one of the reasons I’m thankful that God gave us the Church. The Church has a tremendous opportunity to function as suicide prevention at a time when “deaths of despair” are reaching epidemic rates in my generation alone. 

The Philippian Jailer in America

In my state, the average suicide rate is one person every eight hours. Three people a day is a horrific prospect. That said, 77% of adults in Missouri profess to be Christians. I’m approaching this as a confessional Protestant. In my state, 77% of the population claims to be Christian and yet three people a day commit suicide. I wonder if one could help the other.

I know that not everyone who says they are a Christian know what Christians believe or attend a church with any regularity. But what if churches could function as suicide prevention? Christians are prone to depression and dark thoughts (myself among them), but what if the communities of faith were vigilant in the detection and the prevention of suicide in their own spheres of influence?

In the book of Acts, chapter 16, the apostle Paul and Silas are imprisoned in jail in the Roman colony of Philippi because they were proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Around midnight, the other prisoners are listening as Paul and Silas are singing hymns when a massive earthquake hits. But there’s a miraculous element to the quake in that the doors are opened and everyone’s bonds are loosed. The jailer wakes up (because who can sleep through an earthquake?) and sees that the prison doors are open. And what does he do? He prepares to commit suicide. 

Knowing that shame, unemployment, and probably death would be waiting for him with the sunrise, the Philippian jailer draws his sword and is prepared to fall upon it. In a single moment, he is utterly devoid of hope. He has no chances of making it out of this situation on top. Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe he was on his last strike. We’re not told. But his immediate response to a hopeless situation is to end himself. But then what happens?

Acts 16:28- ” But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer is converted and baptized. Now, I know that, in context, “we are all here” referred to Paul and Silas and the other prisoners. But it strikes me that this is the perfect word for the Church towards those who struggle with the darkness and contemplate snuffing out their own lights. 

What if the Church were to call out, with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we all here”? In my time as a youth pastor, I’ve seen teenagers wrestle with depression. Some have fought daily and triumphed. Some have rolled the stone away, only to be crushed under its weight in a weak moment. Some have cut themselves to feel something, even if it’s pain and shame. Many have starved themselves to feel valuable. I’ve seen death claim the image of God. And who knows how many countless others totter on the edge, doing the dark math of a cold cost-benefit analysis? 

Do not harm yourself, for we all are here. We are all here. The scared and scarred, the addicts and the recovering, the self-righteous and the prodigals. We are all here and we are here for you, to support you and hold you and shield you from the night. So do not harm yourself. If the Church is the Church, you are never alone. Never without hope. The dawn will always break upon you in the arms of Christ.

Do Not Harm Yourself

If you are considering ending your life, immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and just start talking.And then find a church. There are multiple ways to find a local church that will love you and take the time to be there with you:

The Church can be priceless shelters of prevention and you need only reach out.

We Are All Here

Reach out. If you feel that someone is fighting against the darkness, reach out. Even if are utterly untrained, just say something. Trained professionals can always (and should) be contacted later. But the first step is to keep your eyes open and be the Church enough to see how someone’s really doing.Depression often wears a smile. Don’t be fooled by the masks. Make sure that your church is a safe place where people can admit that they are not doing well and that they sometimes consider removing themselves from the equation. We are all here- those who cry without knowing why and those with shoulders to cry on. Christ died for all.

Do not harm yourself, for we are all here. And we are all here for you.

Hobgoblins in Winter

There’s a certain value in tears. Life in the vale is sweet, but so often salty. There are times when the sun is full and the air is warm and even the nights are full of honey and moonlight.

But we cannot always live in those perpetual springtimes. Especially after great tragedies or relentless circumstances, we find ourselves in “the winter of our discontent,” even while our hair is more pepper than salt.

I’ve heard believers in Jesus say that depression is simply an issue or evidence of unrepentant sin in your life. Just read more Psalms and double down in your prayers, and the melancholy will lift. I can’t decide if such an understanding is cruel or only naive.

But going on four years now, I’ve found it’s more like a grey hobgoblin, a mixture of neurochemistry and one sorrow treading upon the heel of the first. Eventually, he slides off your shoulders, but it’s only to slink away to find a cozy shadow. It’s not to beat a panicked retreat to the abyss, never to return again. I have developed multifaceted strategies for prevention, but the best real time treatment, I’ve found, is to not leave the house and just go to bed.

We don’t talk about it in the Church. Evangelicals, in particular, get nervous around it. Depression is one of those sadnesses that Christ will undo someday. But until then, we must learn keep each other warm in the winter.