Monday, September 22, 2014

Ministry like Jeremiah (Part 4: It's Okay To Be Sad)

God has recently prompted me to read through the book of Jeremiah. I'll admit, I wasn't too excited about the idea. This lengthy prophetic tome is filled with blistering passages about God's wrath for the sinful nations, as well as Jeremiah's suffering at the hands of his own people. Yet as I read, I am reminded over and over again of God's faithfulness, His covenantal love for His people, and the nature of ministry. It is this latter point--the nature of ministry--that I wish to unpack here more fully.

Ministry Lesson #4: It's okay to be sad. Jeremiah could be described as moody, sullen, passionate, and depressed. Traditionally, Jeremiah has been given the title "the weeping prophet." The shoe certainly fits. Just read this passage in Lamentations 3, written by Jeremiah:

I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.

Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.

He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.

He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.

The gritty imagery is palpable. Imagine filling your stomach with bitter herbs, chewing on gravel, living in the depths of darkness, or being mangled by a roving beast. This isn't the image of the brave, heroic leader leading the charge. Jeremiah is a whimpering mess. And for good reason. He's experienced a great deal of suffering in his ministry. So he responds like any of us would respond--he's sad, angry, depressed.

There are no ministry leaders in the biblical narrative who didn't experience seasons of deep sadness. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, David, Jonah, Peter--they all have moments of weeping, mourning, or anxiety. Earlier this year, megachurch pastor Perry Noble took a significant risk in authenticity when he admitted to experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts, and having to take medication. His bold step was a move in the right direction, dismantling the myth that the pastor or ministry leader must be the "strong one" who always has it all together. Sadly, the response many Christians had to Robin Williams' death also revealed our ignorance and lack of empathy about depression and anxiety, with a few louder voices dismissing his suicide as an act of selfishness

If there was a singular example of a ministry leader who experienced sadness, we only have to look to Christ. He was the man of sorrows, despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3). He knows our grief and pain, and can empathize in our sufferings (Hebrews 4:15, 5:8). He's the one who wept so strongly in the garden of Gethsemane that blood and sweat poured from his brow.

Jesus wept. So can I.

It's not that we revel in our sadness or remain in depression. It's simply to say that being sad is okay, that there are some Sundays when I seriously don't feel like going to church services, that I can experience the same anxiety and melancholy moments like anyone else. In the midst of this, I can also authentically point others to hope in the midst of pain and depression, just as Jeremiah does in the middle of Lamentations 3:

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
His compassions are new this morning. Even if you are experiencing sadness or depression, there is genuine hope. It *will* be okay. The Lord is our portion. Wait upon him for healing and strength and grace.

If you're beyond a temporary season of sadness and experiencing ongoing burnout or depression, I humbly encourage you to seek help and support from people who genuinely care about you.

1 comment:

  1. Joel thanks for this post. I think a lot of Christians are afraid and won't always let themselves be sad...they don't know what to do with words like depression or ongoing sadness. But it's real and it exists. It's not easy to deal with but some way we have to... And I think Christ is okay with that and he is always there to meet us in the midst of it.