“I’ve had months of emptiness, nights of misery…
I go to bed and thinking it won’t be long till I have to get up.
But the night is long, and I toss and turn until dawn…
Days pass without me even noticing;
And at the end of the day, I’m in despair;
My life is a breath; I’ll never see happiness again;
So I won’t restrain my tongue;
I’ll speak out of my deep anguish;
I’ll complain out of the overwhelming bitterness of my life…
I say ‘At least my bed will comfort me;
Then I’ll get some respite’;
But then you frighten me with dreams
And terrify me with nightmares,
So I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones.
I loathe my life…
Leave me alone.”
Those words are a prayer. A despairing prayer. A biblical prayer. A prayer of a great hero of faith (Job 7).
The Bible is full of these kinds of prayers.
Think of Elijah: “And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life…” (1 Kings 19:4).
Or Jeremiah: “My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me…I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me…Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night…Why is my pain unceasing, my wound uncurable, refusing to be healed” (Jeremiah 8:18, 21; 9:1; 15:18).
Or the psalmist: “I am languishing…my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled…I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears…My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes” (Ps 6).
“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Ps 13).
“My soul refuses to be comforted…I am so troubled that I cannot speak…Has God forgotten to be gracious?” (Ps 77).
“You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves…Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless…your dreadful assaults destroy me…darkness has become my only friend.” (Ps 88)
The Bible is so honest, and so true to experience! In Britain, statistics suggest that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year. Over the course of a lifetime, 1 in 5 people experience suicidal thoughts, 1 in 14 people self-harm, and 1 in 15 people attempt suicide. Each of these figures has gone up over the past 20 years; and the stress and trauma of the past two years has only increased the problem.
How can our churches be kind and safe places for those of us who suffer in this way? That’s the topic of our next Ideas-Exchange.
Perhaps you know what it’s like to suffer from acute and/or chronic depression and anxiety. Perhaps you know the added burden of the unrealistic expectation that Christian leaders should somehow be immune. Perhaps you know the agony and helplessness of watching a child, or a spouse, or a sibling, or a friend suffering. There will certainly be people in your church who suffer deep depression or crippling anxiety, often secretly and in silence.
The theologian Paul Griffith describes the Fall as The Devastation. It’s a chilling, but brilliant name. Each of us lives in a devastated world, in a devastated human nature. And for some of us, for all kinds of reasons, that is all but unbearable.
Wonderfully, Jesus promises never to crush a bruised reed or snuff out a smouldering wick (Matt 12:20). Sadly, churches are not always as gentle and kind to those in their midst who suffer from depression and anxiety. And the Bible can be wielded as a weapon, rather than offered as a balm for troubled souls.
This Ideas-Exchange will be led by Matthew Mason, who is one of the Anglican Futures Trustees, has years of experience of ministry in Anglican churches, and is now Tutor in Christian Ethics at the Pastors’ Academy. Matthew has had long and difficult experiences of depression and anxiety. And he’s experienced some of the bad as well as some of the wonderful good that Christians can do to those who suffer. Most often, though, he thinks that churches want to help, but don’t always know how to care for those who struggle with these things.
In this Ideas-Exchange, there’ll be some teaching as well as plenty of opportunities for discussing and sharing ideas together. We’ll consider questions like:
· How can we help as friends of sufferers?
· How can we help ourselves?
· How can our churches be kind and safe places for those who suffer?
· How does the Lord Jesus offer comfort and hope in the pain of life in the Devastation?
It would be great if you could join us: