September 2, 2014

Quitting Christians

jesus with woman at the wellI am going to stand in for Chaplain Mike for a few days as he takes a well-deserved breather. I have some observations and questions regarding Catholicism I want to lay out before you the next few days. I thought now, with the installation of Pope Francis, was as good a time as any. But this morning I want to get something off of my chest. I’ve touched on this before, but now I want to explore it much more fully. This is an emotional issue for me, though I will try to keep my emotions in check so this doesn’t just turn into a longwinded rant.

I am through looking to Christians for love.

I’m not talking about romantic love. I’m not trying come up with the name of the best Christian dating service. My wife would probably have a thing or ten to say about that. No, I’m talking about something much deeper than romantic love, which can vary with the wind. I’m referring to love that causes one to care for another in a giving, unselfish manner. And rather than reinvent the wheel, let’s just go with Gary Chapman’s “love languages”: gift giving, time spent, encouraging words, acts of service, and physical touch. You might be able to come up with other ways to describe love, but these will do for now.

And, just for fun, let’s revisit the words of Jesus to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  This is my command: Love each other. (John 15: 12, 13, 17, NIV)

Love each other. This is my command: Love each other. Not a suggestion, not a helpful thought. A command.

Now then.

I have also made it clear that I suffer from depression. Most of the time it is under control with the medicine I take, the exercise I make myself do, and the rest I get. But there are times when I am under extreme stress that the depression kicks up to “11″ (“The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and…”) and I am basically paralyzed. No, it’s worse than that. I’m not paralyzed. I despair of life. At times like these I just hide in bed and hope no one will find me. I don’t just have a headache. I have a lifeache. And I want it to all go away.

I went thru a very rough patch in November when this “11″ setting on my depression meter stayed there for most of a month. I didn’t think I could take much more. I shared my story with a good friend and elder at my church.

“You? Depressed? No, you couldn’t be. You’re the most upbeat person I know.”

Well, what can I say? I wear a really good mask. I tried again with another friend and elder, pulling him out of a Sunday service to pray for me right then. He did, but didn’t ask any questions or offer any encouragement. It was pray, then head back into the sanctuary. I headed home.

Three more elders, three more “I’ll pray for you” responses, then nothing. I spoke to our senior pastor, telling him I even had suicidal thoughts (fleeting; but still) in my despair. I stood there crying as I shared what had been going on in my life and how it had stripped me of just about everything. Our pastor told me he was proud of me for hanging in there. Excuse me. Did you hear what I just said? I despair of life so very much I thought about ending it all. That was my unspoken thought. Surely he’ll call me this week to get together for coffee and talk about this some more. No call. No coffee. No talk. No care.

I talked with four other pastors at our church. One has gotten together with me on a couple of occasions for some good, honest talk. The other three? Nada. A couple of the elders told me to call them if I was having another bad day, as if depression was the same as just feeling blue. Do they not know that those of us with depression could no more pick up the phone, call someone and say “I’m having a bad day” than we could learn to fly?

iMonk writer Adam Palmer, who goes to my church, does care. He will text me out of the blue to check on me. He’ll hunt me down in church to tell me about some obscure indie group he discovered that he thinks I would like as well. (He’s almost always right.) Adam doesn’t coddle me or patronize me. He just loves me.

He loves me. Well, there’s one.

Do you know what it feels like to have someone love you not for anything you can do for them, but just because of who you are? Even when you are totally messed up and are fighting just to make it one more hour? It is like cold water in the desert.

One person. One person from my church cares enough to show me love when I need it. What about other Christians I know? The short answer is No. A little longer answer is Hell No. One good friend, for instance, refuses to say or show love because it might be inappropriate. Inappropriate? And I suppose Jesus’ love was always appropriate? No, it wasn’t. Wherever Jesus went he created scandals with his love. His love at a wedding feast created a scandal with the host. His love for sinners he invited to dinner was always getting him in trouble. His love for a man possessed by demons created a scandal when he freed him and sent a herd of pigs—some person’s livelihood—into the sea. And what a scandal he caused by talking to the woman at the well. Not only a woman, but a slut. Not only that, but a Samaritan slut. He loved these and more. Lepers. Bleeding women. Blind and lame men and women. Sinners. Losers. He loved them all, and this caused a great uproar and scandal. But Jesus refused to put his love in a nice, neat box that would be walled in by appropriateness and law and being a good person. He refused to water down his love with rules and regulations and boundaries. His love was full and complete and unconditional and totally scandalous. Of the millions that surrounded Jesus as he walked the roads of Israel, only a handful received his love. And to this day, of the billions who consider themselves Christians, only a handful will really receive his love without adding conditions and codicils and footnotes to it.

I’ve mentioned a coworker I call Smokey. She is a young agnostic tatted-up woman who wants nothing to do with Jesus. But once I explained to her that I was struggling with depression, Smokey has been there daily to tell me she loves me. She asks me what she can do to help me. She gives me little gifts, like a cup of ice water or a handful of yogurt-covered almonds. She volunteers to do extra work, work she wouldn’t have to do, to take a bit off of my plate. Smokey shows me more love than just about any Christian I know. There is nothing romantic about her love. There is nothing inappropriate. There is only what Jesus told us, his disciples, to do. Love each other.

So why does Smokey, an adamant non-Christian, “get it” when it comes to love, but most every Christian I know doesn’t? Why is it that when I am struggling, like I am right now, I can’t get my brothers and sisters in Christ to show love without a court order, but those like Smokey and other employees and customers I work with will show love in their words and deeds? How is it that those in whom Love Himself lives bottle up love and refuse to give it while those who do not know Love are very free with their love? I really don’t get it.  I am ready to quit Christians, or at least quit hoping Christians will do what Jesus commanded and love each other. Christians don’t get it. Agnostics and atheists do. Something is really screwy here.

Am I wrong? Am I placing too much emphasis on love? Should I really expect my Christian friends to show me love with their words and actions? And when they don’t, do I have the right to ask them why not? Maybe love is outdated. Maybe I’m living in a fantasy world, thinking that when I am hurting I can expect others to come alongside of me and not leave. Perhaps wanting someone to say “I love you” is a wrong desire. I don’t know. I know I love others because Jesus tells me to, and because Love lives in me and I can do no less. Is it fair for me to question whether Love really lives in those who refuse to love?

Maybe I should be a Power Ranger Christian male, one who never admits he needs the love of others. One who only gives and receives side hugs. One who would rather wear a skirt than tell other guys, “I love you.” But I can’t do that. I can’t stop being who my Father made me to be. I can’t stop loving others as Jesus commanded. I’m willing to be mocked as long as my words are sincere and are given to those who need them the most. For when I give love, I am reflecting my Father, and that gives him joy, which makes me happy. So if you see me anytime soon, and I tell you or show you in some way that I love you, please know I mean it. Please receive it as from my heart, a heart surrendered to Christ. And if you want to tell me you love me, that will be just fine.

Comments

  1. Randy Thompson says:

    Wow. I just realized why I love this blog so much.

    Nearly everyone here is a depressive-type too.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Many years ago, a writer contact in Louisville related to me how a guest speaker at his church once asked him “Have you ever considered that depression might be your spiritual gift?”

      Because it is often the dark and strong emotions that empower art and writing.

      • Yeah, about that, HUG. I wouldn’t call depression a long-term spiritual gift, but it may very well be from God in the short-term. For some people. Once in a while, heavily qualified, because it can also be deadly, and that ain’t from God.

        A woman who used to live next door went through a marriage breakup about 20 years ago, her alcoholic husband left her with four little kids and no way to pay her way. So she moved away, went through a spell of depression, and her mother tried to get her to take Prozac to snap out of it. She refused, and I agreed with her when she told me years later. Sometimes you do need to go through a grieving period, after a death or divorce, and this can be a godly thing; but beyond a certain point it’s deadly and can even be demonic. Sorry for that last part, but it’s also a possibility.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      P.S. Maybe this is the reason why Evangelical Christians can’t seem to produce any art or writing or music beyond Jesus Junk knockoffs. Because depressos like us have no place in a Shiny Happy Clappy “Are We SMIIIIILING Today?” Body of Christ.

      So we wander the Post-Evangelical Wilderness and take our art and writing and music to the mainstream.

      • I would place myself under Evangelical Christian more than any other title and I’m studying Art and Design atm. I write songs, poetry, dance and choreograph. I always explore very deep topics and leave people crying with my performances as I reach into deep, emotional places. I just realized that I sound like I’m trying to show off :/ All I’m trying to say is that I’m a Happy Clappy because I know what Jesus has done for me and when I spend time in God’s presence I’m filled with a Joy and peace that I can’t find anywhere else =D But life is not so easy and not something that we can be so Happy clappy about. I personly just don’t agree with your comment because I went through depression and I guess, as you named it, I’m one of those ‘depressos’. As long as I spend time dwelling on God, I’m able to have a smile :)

      • Mayor McGuinness says:

        Seems that the majority of creative types throughout history were imbued with some sort of mental illness, whether depression/bi-polar/or hyperactivity that often drove the need to create. As a practicing artist and educator in a school of art and design in a big state university in a big state, I see this trait in the vast majority of truly creative artist types that come through our program in studio art. Most of these young people are in turn taught and mentored by faculty that carry these same traits (and, yes, I am one of them!).

        Having attended churches where a premium is put on outward going, extrovert, happy shiny people holding hands behavior, I often felt alienated and an outlier in a community that almost went to extremes to avoid anything that didn’t conform to its Prozac-tinted version of relational aesthetics. Hard to be part of a community that is all Hillsong all the time when one is all Joy Division on a rainy day.

        Bottom line form my experience is that artist types generally confuse “normal” folk with our uncertainly gained from a life of not knowing when the next peak or valley is going to erupt from the depths of our twisted tortured souls. Or something like that anyway.

        Always wondered if Jesus was merely a carpenter, which would register to me as a pragmatist, or an artist, which would only add another layer to the reasons he was misunderstood and hated by those who demand and need structure more than color in their lives.

      • How true! (LOL)

      • Although it sounds trite to say that great art comes from pain given some kind of expression, there is quite a bit of truth to the statement. It’s not mistake that you find behind some of the most wonderful writing and thinking some great difficulty.

        No doubt my perceptions are shaped by the fact that I have a melancholic personality, but I really can’t figure out why more people are not put off by the “happy” and “upbeat” and “inspirational” tone that American evangelical culture wants to take – not just some of the time, but all of the time. Seriously, it takes a break only when it wants to be angry about something (such as, “all those liberals trying to get in the way of everyone living the good American happy life of faith.”)

        Incidentally, I don’t think all evangelicals are like this in person, and I can think of many contrary examples among people I have known. The public image is a fiction, as most are. But motivational speakers, music, and publishing houses of the movement have tried very hard to give an upbeat-happy impression and a lot of believers measure themselves against it. The old fundamentalist notion of the triumphant life buttresses this structure. You’ve got to bust through the platitude-tossing to get to a real human conversation. And I usually get the impression that everyone is a little relieved when this happens!

        • As a completely random person who ended up following a link to this blog, I have no standing to ask this, but as an artist with severe chronic depression I’ll say it anyway:

          PLEASE stop romanticizing depression as artistic, deep or profound.

          Depression is debilitating. It is chemical. It is not being able to get out of bed for no reason, when your life is fine.

          Depression means no art, no writing, no creating, because everything feels pointless and nothing matters.

          The poisonous idea that mental illness somehow goes hand-in-hand with creativity stops many people from getting the help that they need for fear that they will somehow lose the creativity that depression is already preventing them from fully using.

          This idea can literally help deliver people to their deaths.

          Please stop.

  2. My love and prayers are going out to you, Jeff. I rarely comment on here, should thank you and the others for this wonderful blog which I have learned so much from! Back when I was in my fifties I endured about five years of depression, anxiety and panic attacks and a short period of extreme agoraphobia which nearly incapacitated me.The church I was in then tried to help, I sat in the circle while well meaning hands touched me and tried to cast IT out, also another well meaning group decided that I needed to remember forgotten childhood abuse..no luck there..but the wonderful thing that I experienced there was a young couple almost strangers to me, who insisted that I take their phone number and call anytime of the night, If i needed to have them pick me up and install me on their couch! I never needed to do so, but knowing they meant it gave me great comfort! It has been 20 years since I experienced this, I found that therapy(required by my job) and getting medical help pulled me out of it..but the kindness of my family and this young couple I still thank God for..Take care.

  3. Wish I could send my one Oklahoma friend over to give you a hug, but I think you live in different cities. When I am really depressed, I always wish for someone to encourage me. I eventually learned to turn that around and try to give encouragement to others. What I am hearing here is you are doing something similar, still trying to give love, even when you don’t get enough back.
    Why do christians have such a poor grasp of the fact that we are supposed to be known by our love? Could it be that the pastors are too busy teaching doctrine to remind their flocks that it’s really about love? Or maybe the pastors don’t know how to love themselves, so they can’t model it for us? Maybe we need twelve step classes for the unloving!

  4. I understand what you’re saying. I also suffer from depression and even with medication and counseling some days are worse than others.

    I’m sorry you feel you have to give up looking for Christ’s love among the very people who should be providing it. Not all Christians fail in this area and I pray you find those who exemplefy that love. Know that people here hurt for you and what you’re going through. You are not alone. And you are not unloved.

  5. Jeff -

    I know this will be a minority opinion even here on IMonk, but I kind of thank God for my “black days”. Cheerfulness and optimism are so overrated. There are days when I am in the mood to detonate a nuclear device in the center of my city. It’s then when I hear a voice in my head “I know exactly how you feel. Look at all these dumb f*ckers, you included. Clueless as stumps every last one of you. My boy went down there and died for you and most of you could care less. The ones who do, don’t care that much. Still, what are you going to do? You just gotta keep sloggin’ on.”

    No way I want to compare my depression to yours. They way you describe your condition is like I have a cough and you have emphysema. I’m glad you got help for it, and I’m glad it is mostly under control. But I couldn’t imagine life without a few blue, and even violet lines in the spectrum. I would seem so insipid. It would be like going right to Easter without going through Golgotha, or Ash Wednesday.

    John Milton said it better than I can:

    Hence vain deluding joys,
    The brood of folly without father bred,
    How little you bested,
    Or fill the fixed mind with all your toys;
    Dwell in some idle brain,
    And fancies fond with gaudy shapes possess,
    As thick and numberless
    As the gay motes that people the Sun Beams,
    Or likest hovering dreams
    The fickle Pensioners of Morpheus train.

    Or let my Lamp at midnight hour
    Be seen in some high lonely Tower,
    Where I may oft out-watch the Bear,
    With thrice great Hermes, or unsphere
    The spirit of Plato to unfold
    What Worlds, or what vast Regions hold
    The immortal mind that hath forsook
    Her mansion in this fleshly nook:

  6. From Pope Francis Installation: “Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!”

    Today here at IM there has been such a outpouring of genuine openness to others, genuine concern, love, tenderness. Thank-you jeff for starting this conversation and for having the strength & courage to share with us what you long for from the body of Christ.

    • Dan Crawford says:

      Authentic power is service. ….. Only those who serve with love are able to protect.
      Pope Francis

      Would that so many of us who play pastor could take those words to heart!

      • Rick Ro. says:

        I just posted that “authentic power” quote to Facebook. :)

        Nice humble statement. Good reminder for me, too. Jesus as the Servant-King.

  7. I struggle with anxiety but as I high pro-file figure in our church, I do receive the love and concern of more than 1 person.

    People are sinners Jeff, it is precisely because we do not love that we need Grace. Eugene Peterson in The Contemplative Pastor says

    The benefit to seeing people as sinners is that you are never disappointing when they act like it.

    I’ve maintained being a Christian and Pastor by never expecting anyone (including Christians) to be any more than sinners will always fall short.

    Yes it’s sad. Come quickly Lord Jesus. Kyrie Elesion

  8. Lisa Brahm says:

    I hear you brother. I got slaughtered by Christians last Christmas. I will never be the same. I’m so sorry for the pain in your life that makes breathing a chore and being upright a Herculean task. May God lift you up and bring more friends like Adam to be his human hands for you when you need some one to hold yours and tell you it’s going to be ok.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Christmas is especially bad for a depresso attack, especially because of the Constant Forced Cheerfulness surrounding you.

      “Hell hath no torment worse than Constant Forced Cheerfulness.”
      – G.K.Chesterton, “Three Tools of Death” (Father Brown Mystery)

      • Joni Mitchell [here insert increased heart rate and respiration] said it as eloquently as Chesterton. Instead of the bland “I always feel depressed around the holidays” she wrote,

        “It’s coming on Christmas,
        They’re cutting down trees,
        They’re putting up reindeer,
        And singing songs of joy and peace.
        Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”

        (“River” 1970)

  9. Dan LaRue says:

    I so understand what you’re all saying. I had this experience when tending for a parent with Alzheimer’s and wanted help from my church family, emotional support, there’s nothing really that they could have done otherwise, but nothing! And I did ask and I was there every Sunday and Wednesday p.m. and often with my ill mother. Also had asked prayer support for a struggle I was having with sin, not a great sin, but one that troubled me….I confessed it to several men of the church…Yes, they’d pray for me…but none ever followed up, not the pastors nor anyone else. When I asked myself what it would take for them to realize that I was hurting, if I needed to stand up in the servie and slit my wrists so they’d realize….I knew I had to make a change. In my case, I left for a liturgical, “high” Lutheran church where I got the support on both issues that I needed in the “evangelical” church where I had been a member. And the Lutheran doctrine of the Theology of the Cross helped me to make sense of both issues, that the struggles are not without meaning, but that God is with me.
    I could go on, but needed to make this brief as I write from a break at work. Dan L.

    • I’m glad you found a church where you can get support. I’m also not at all surprised that it was in a Lutheran church. I was raised Lutheran, then tried being Catholic because their theology seemed more logical to me. I left the Catholic church when I realized that most Catholics did not seem to get charity the way Lutherans do.

      I’m still not sure about the theology, but I do know that a church where love and gentleness to your fellow Christians is the way to show you love God is superior to a church where just praying on your knees indicates love of God.

  10. Jeff, this comes a little too close to home. I don’t know what to say without getting myself more depressed, but I will say that you are not alone in this, and the comments bear that out.

    There was some discussion about confession following Jennifer E’s comment at 8:07 am (greg r’s reply and Jennifer’s to him). I think we evangelicals are incompetent in the confession department, and our pastors have no training whatsoever in counseling and even less interest. Also, with the emphasis on soul-winning (Great Commission over the Great Commandment) individuals get thrown under the bus (HUG’s phrase).

    What to do?
    1) I find myself avoiding certain triggers. For example,
    –A ) I have avoided a certain person in our church for the past several months, largely by not going to a bible class that he attends. I found that I was there as a watchdog, trying to give balance to some of the law-and-obedience points that he’d make. And I’m tired of being a watchdog. Being around evangelicals during the election last fall was hard enough.
    –B) I don’t listen to Christian radio (although a Catholic channel I tuned into while driving was pretty good). I get depressed and angry with the evangelical/fundamentalist one in our area.
    –C. A little left of the spectrum, I stopped clicking on to huffingtonpost about six weeks ago and haven’t regretted it. Too negative, too judgmental, and way to much kardashian (what in hell is a kardashian, anyway?). But, to frustrate me, our local paper carried a story last week about a nearby pastor who held a “Second Amendment Sunday” service, during which flags were prominent and he carried a loaded 9mm Ruger semi-automatic pistol on his belt, just to make the point that government has gotten way out of control. He made his point, but also made the front page, and for all I know huffingtonpost has carried it. But it seems I can’t even read local news anymore without getting headache and sick to my stomach. On a brighter note, a different local pastor ended his weekly radio spot (about nature, and therefore not on Christian radio) with a Psalm, a proverb, then his own quip “Thou shalt not suffer the madman to bring a loaded gun into the sanctuary.”

    2). Get a cat. No, seriously. This works only if you’re a cat-lover, but a dog will do, or a mynah bird. There are times when I think that my only joy is sitting down in the sunny corner of the kitchen in the afternoon with a cup of coffee, a book, and Little Sal on my lap. Until she starts chewing on my wrist because it’s almost time for her dinner… But at least that doesn’t depress me, even though it reminds me of human nature.

    3) Listen to Tom Waits’ album “Small Change” or the equivalent. Now THERE’S a man with problems. Songs that tell of being “wasted and wounded” or having a “bad liver and a broken heart, and I’ve drunk me a river since you tore me apart…” or that “the piano has been drinking, not me” or about the guy who “got drunk and never even told her that he cared”. I feel great listening to Tom Waits.

    I don’t see how any of this could possibly help, Jeff, but I love you anyway and I hope you’ll understand.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And now for something completely different:

      But, to frustrate me, our local paper carried a story last week about a nearby pastor who held a “Second Amendment Sunday” service, during which flags were prominent and he carried a loaded 9mm Ruger semi-automatic pistol on his belt…

      Second Amendment Sunday at the First Church of Zardoz…

      • Not so different, HUG. The service I mentioned is online, and they showed several video clips, one of them the “Freedom Speech” from the movie Braveheart, where Mel Gibson, painted in blue, rallies the Scottish troops. “They may take our lives but they’ll never take our freedom!”

        Same thing as Zardoz, but with spears and swords instead of guns. Don’t tell the pastor about Zardoz or he’ll use that video next Sunday.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I’d actually like to see him do it. Shows how absurd things have gotten. Extra credit if he delivers the sermon wearing a Zardoz-head mask. Because…

          Sean Connery + red speedos + hooker boots + flying stone head + GUNS = WEIRD CITY.

          • He had applications on hand for concealed weapons permits. He had posters for the NRA. He had an “assault broom” on display (a broom with pistol-grip, magazine and scope, painted black, with a sign that read “We will SWEEP from office those who TREAD on our 2nd Amendment rights.”).

            Zardoz? Not a problem. They love videos in that church.

            And the mask would be just about right with the 2nd Amendment T-shirt that he wore.

            This is a very small church but also very influential in that the pastor (a retired car dealer) also controls and bankrolls the area’s only Christian school, grades K-12, where the congregation meets.

            Even scarier than the pastor/founder is the preacher whom they’ve chosen to succeed him. He preached the sermon that morning as a final round in his candidacy and later accepted the pastoral position. Flags and patriotism and the American Way, and Jesus too.

            To the former pastor/founder’s credit (the guy with the gun strapped on him), he at least behaved himself and preached a salvation message and didn’t make a huge deal of the gun. Except that it was strapped to him.

            I drive by there a lot and I fear the flags out front. The biggest American flag in the state, with smaller American flags on each side, just like on Calvary’s Hill.

    • Ted: love your list, whether unsolicited or not. Best takeaway: know your triggers, get a plan to deal with them. This often means knowing who/what to avoid. For me, this meant a church change, but it might not mean that for others. Love the pet and music angles, God has a way of meeting us in the most physical and ordinary of ways. Thanks for posting your list.

      • It helps to look for grace wherever you can get it, and for some reason Tom Waits’ drunken songs help. God does meet us in physical and ordinary ways, and they’ll differ for each of us.

    • Ted, your suggestions resonate!

      On a light note —

      (1) “Get a cat. No, seriously. This works only if you’re a cat-lover, but a dog will do, or a mynah bird. ”

      I have parrots. It works!

      Of course, it also gets you covered in bird poo… and gives you a giant mess of tossed food to clean up everyday. Oh and did I mention that parrots are at once insane and emotionally codependent? This can have its disadvantages.

      Then there’s the trusty dog. Guess what, quoth he, there is poo on your bed! Also, your pillow was delicious.

      But hey, it helps remove notions of being in control, right? In sum, I recommend pet ownership.

      • You know, I call Little Sal my parrot. She gets on my shoulder each morning waiting to lap the milk at the bottom of my cereal bowl. But no poop on the shoulder. Cats are pretty civilized.

  11. Jeff, my heart breaks for you, and I also know what you’re talking about. You ask if you put too much emphasis on love. Only if Jesus did. Love is the essential thing, and the church doesn’t know how to love. I believe with you that Jesus commands me to love my brothers and sisters, therefore I really have no choice.

    Please don’t give up loving others and expecting love from others. Be like the apostle John who continually preached love. There are some out there who do get it. My wife and I have found a community of faith where there is genuine love, after years of searching.

    Above all, rest in the love of Abba. Sometimes he is the only place to find love, but he is always there. I don’t know you, other than what I have read from you, but I am your brother and I love you. If you ever decide to move, come to Rock Hill, SC. :)

  12. I’m so sorry that you didn’t get the responses you were looking for from your fellow Christians. It’s true there is much room for growth in most gaggles of Gospel believers, but I think you could also be a bit more understanding. Most folks have no idea what to do for someone with depression. Your desire for them to just love you seems completely obvious from your standpoint but HOW they’re supposed to do that may not be at all clear to them. Let’s face it, most of us freeze up when presented with difficult and highly emotional situations. I once declared to the brother of a woman whose funeral I attended that “we just loved her to death”! A number of the folks you mentioned said they would pray. As a believer you can’t give a situation higher attention than that. But then you were looking for more practical expressions. We all need to be better prepared to help those around us who are in need, but all of us could also demonstrate a little grace toward each other.

    • @ Dave. I think I have to disagree slightly. I don’t think it’s that complicated.

      Most people in pain don’t need, want, or are not looking for quick solutions or advice. They want what Job in the Old Testament wanted: their friends to just sit silently by them as they suffer. Hold their hand while they cry or vent.

      As for practical help – for those with depression or in mourning, one problem I see all the time is that people say “call me if you need anything,” and I wonder how sincere they are about that. Most people who are in grief or who are depressed cannot pick up a phone and ask for anything, because they are too sad, it takes too much effort, and some feel too embarrassed or ashamed to ask someone else for help.

      I just don’t buy ignorance or awkwardness as an excuse anymore. Spend any time at all on forums for people in grief, or just google for something like, “how do I help my mourning friend or depressed friend,” and there are tips galore on what one can do (as far as practical help, show up to the person’s door with food in hand for them – just do it, do not say to the person, “call me if you want food,” and do not wait for them to ask, because nine times out of ten, they will not call you – which is what I think most people are counting on when they say “just call me if you need anything!”)

      I think what needs to be discussed is what Christians should NOT do or say to hurting people. As I mentioned in my earlier post on this page, Christians frequently give harmful, rude, critical, or judgmental comments to hurting people, or comments that diminish the pain the person is in. You would think it is common sense not to do that, but lots of them do it anyhow.

      Christians will usually sit there and blame you for your situation or pain, even if you are not to blame. They will quote Bible verses at you when you tell them you have depression (or anxiety, or whatever problem you’re going through), which is nothing more than “Christianese- cliche’- giving” and makes the recipient feel worse, not better.

      If Christians cannot be supportive, the very least they can do is refrain from causing more pain via insensitive comments.

  13. Jeff,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your struggle with severe depression. My hopes and thoughts are with you and that there are brighter days ahead.

    I’m not a Christian anymore so cannot comment on relationships within a Christian congregation but what I can say is that my experiences were at times somewhat similar.

    Some thoughts: accept love where it is freely offered regardless of religious predisposition, race, gender preference or any other classification system we sometimes apply to each other. A little love goes a long way and just a few people who truly care is enough to give you wings on those black days. Since coming to a place where certainty is a luxury and ambiguity and doubt are no longer threatening, relationships are more important than when care and concern were religious edicts or instruments to obtain an outcome. If all we have is each other then relationships are precious. I am no longer able to offload those cares and concerns hoping that Jesus / God will pick up the tab. Also, your experience may be different, but I found there is a world of difference if someone says “I care about you and am concerned” than someone saying “Jesus loves you.”

    Take care.

  14. Maybe someone else already said this, but I think those around us that we might think “don’t know Love” actually do know Love. They just don’t call Love by the same name we do.

  15. Jeff,

    I don’t suffer from depression – although I was pretty depressed during a really difficult time of hardship. I’ve experienced what you’ve stated here, and I believe the church in general has “lost it.” Worse than all the people who never cared were all the people who said they cared, made numerous promises to help, then broke all of those promises.

  16. I think people are too caught up in God’s Law. There are too many religious nuts and people trying to be the most knowledgeable ‘christian’. I feel blessed because I’m surrounded by a Loving youth group and loving family friends at my church. I think that the core message about God is his Love, Grace and Mercy and that’s something that my church and christian friends have been very good at demonstrating. I just wanted to let people know that I think younger generations are realizing this and it’s something that is starting to change and will dramatically spread soon :)

  17. Radagast says:

    Jeff,

    I am sorry to hear about what you are/have been going through.

    Part of this could be a Christian thing. People where masks and some Christians can put on a mask as well, as if they become someone else and go into Christian speak. Maybe they don’t want anyone to rain on their parade.

    But I think there are a couple of other things at work these days. The first is a certain inwardness, maybe narcisism that many people possess. Part of that is fueled by social media which has changed how we communicate in person. Some of that inwardness is us being too focused on ourselves to see or want to experience someone elses pain. Some are just too ‘busy’.

    Second is that there are some people that, because of their personality or shyness just can’t engage at that level. I would suspect that many here who offer words of encouragement through a blog, would find it a lot harder to do in person.

    Did you ever meet that person who you seemed to click with immediately? These folks are usually wired right to handle deeper connections. I have a pagan friend who is like that. I don’t even know him very well. But we can go deep quickly if needed. I can’t do that with everybody. I wish I could. And its not because he is pagan. He could be another Catholic or Muslim or secular….

    There are some who are very black and white. These folks tend to be more judgemental and aren’t usually open to others needs if they don’t fit into their created world quite correctly. Some of these folks live in the non-denom world and wear such thick masks that I know I’ll never get past the correct cliche response.

    To sum it up, I hope someone gives you a big hug, tells you they love you and sits down and listens without talking. That would be cool.

    Take care,

    Radagast

  18. Radagast says:

    One other thing….

    At this moment of my life I am a very busy person. Working two jobs (one is more like a vocation), coaching, family… I suspect once I slow down I could be very susceptible to depression (as a doctor once said… I wouldn’t give myself permission to be depressed even if I was). My wife says I am not really human anymore, thats a sad statement but I suspect she is right.

    I went on retreat this weekend, the kind Michael used to write about just to get grounded again and get in touch with God… and man did it help if even for a short time. So I suspect I may join you one day.

  19. Jeff, I haven’t taken the time to read all of the posts above, but a couple of things struck me…the reactions, or NON-reactions, you get from Christians most likely are due to fear. Fear that what you are going through may be due to some hidden sin, fear that what you are suffering just may not respond to their prayers in ways that they hoped it would, and fear in trying to deal with something that they have not the slightest idea of how to handle in others.

    On one dark level Christians really do not believe that prayer CAN do anything other than soothe their own conscience, therefor they don’t want to follow up with you because they don’t know how they can handle seeing you STILL in depression (why doesn’t he just get OVER it?). It would also plant the doubt in their mind that this whole faith enterprise is really some sort of self delusion and that if that were true then their whole profession of faith would be in vain.

    Jeff, as much as you are suffering, 99% of people just cannot relate, and those who DO show concern are part of a tiny minority who probably have that rare human gift called empathy. Despite all of the gifts of the spirit, that one attribute is NOT one of them.

    I hurt for you Jeff…

  20. I can relate. My issue was unemployment (my place of employment ceased to exist) and while people at my church gave me some obligatory sympathy, no one, and I mean no one gave me one bit of help with finding a job. There are several business owners in the congregation who surely have business connections and I know of one business owner who has hired friends of his children. Me? Nope. Not even a “Come over and we’ll talk” I applied for a job at the small business where a choir member works and never even got a phone call.

    Several church members told me just not to worry about it. God would provide (guess what? He didn’t).
    My view of the church community changed quite a bit after all this. Did I expect someone to hand me a job? No. But when I have unemployed friends, I keep my ears open and pass on connections and openings to them. I expected something more than a nod and a handshake and an admonition to trust God while they go off to their jobs….

    • I am so sorry Suzanne. That is lousy.

      But it seems to be very common among a lot of Christians, despite the fact the Bible tells Christians (is in the book of James?) to not just quote Bible verses or theology at a starving man, but give him a loaf of bread (meet his practical needs).

      A lot of Christians like to shake a hurting person’s hand, tell them, “I’m praying for you,” or quote a Bible verse or two at them, and do nothing more.

  21. br. thomas says:

    I wonder if the issue you refer to, Jeff, is one expression of love that you are not receiving.

    In my ministry, I realize more and more how important a “listening, attentive and welcoming presence” is to individuals, particularly those of us who struggle with darkness (whatever form that may be). I just do not encounter many Christian individuals who are truly present and attentive. Often we are so busy with our own agendas, plans, work, ministry, etc. that we hear people, but we do not offer them a safe place of hospitality by listening to them deeply.

    For me, this is an ongoing area of growth which requires me to empty myself in order to be truly present to another. The regular practice of silence or contemplative prayer (Centering Prayer is one that resonates with me) is beginning to nurture within me an attentive awareness in the present moment, where I can encounter, with open mind and open heart, God – others – and myself.

    I will pray for you and for the grace that you might encounter at least one such person.

    Shalom.

  22. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you!!

    We have lost our ability to do the hard work of 1) asking ‘what can I do’ or 2) taking the resposibility of going that extra step to address the needs we are aware of. We don’t know what to say to, for example, the grieving widow, so rather than just sit with her in silence, we avoid her all together. We are too busy thinking that being Godly is all about being happy.

    I’ve had similar experiences. My husband went to the other side of the world with the Army leaving me home with a one year old. Virtual silence from the church….unless they had a job they wanted me to volunteer for. But most recently was the hardest because it involved my now teenaged daughters: my nephew battled Leukemia for six years (you don’t want to know some of the inconsiderate things that were said to us over those years) and when he died last year, despite their youth group leader being aware, their Sunday school teachers being aware……the sound of silence.

    There is a Max Lucado quote I love “Dorothy wasn’t the only one to walk with the brainless, heartless and spineless”

    Thanks to people like you Jeff, who are open and honest with their experiences, I am finally, maybe, beginning to believe that perhaps its not ME. Maybe I’m not just invisible, maybe they are really bad at this community thing.

  23. Jeff and all of you who have been left along the road,

    In the story of the Good Samaritan, i must admit that i resemble the priest and the levite more than the Samaritan. I have known people who were hurting but instead chose to be preoccupied with church things that i thought were more important.

    It is an indictment on christians that we have our priorities so messed up and that those who do not claim to be Jesus followers exhibit more love.

    For this, i ask your forgiveness.
    Tom

  24. Matt Purdum says:

    Excellent post and discussion about as real as it gets. My experience is that it takes a lot of tragedy and suffering to make the everyday Christian into the kind of Christian that Jeff wishes we were. And just that, not to be codified into some “doctrine of suffering” or “sanctification.” The actual individual people in our lives really gotta be our priority over any program or institution or anything else. That’s all. That’s all we’re called to do. Really boring junk like taking an elderly person who can’t drive to the doctor or supermarket; writing to someone in prison and putting a few bucks into their “account”; passing along job leads and actually doing the go-between work to get someone hired; maybe just stepping back and giving someone space when they need it. Boring. No big stadium rallies or miraculous healings needed. Individual people are what matters, not programs or conferences or “doctrines” that are really just political positions. But again, it’s the suffering that makes the difference, I’m certain, and not how faithful you are to attend, or to have quiet time, or to memorize verses, or to “win” souls. The suffering. I know this is not profound or anything. I’ve written previously about a tragedy that happened in a church here last year, more than a year ago, it was really horrible, it changed the lives of everyone it touched in a really profound way more than any sermon series or morning devotions or stadium rally ever ever could. Doesn’t make us better or more sanctified. But I think we’re a little more sensitive to what really matters and what doesn’t.

  25. scrapiron says:

    My wife and I have noticed this same thing. Almost universally, our non-Christian friends are there for us and for each other when hard times hit. Also, almost universally, our Christian friends stay away like you have the plague if things aren’t going well and it becomes obvious.

    My theory is that in the fundagelical lifestyle, everyone is so close to the edge of maintaining this image of the victorious Christian life that it takes all their time and energy and there is just no margin left for friendships, let alone the kind of extraordinary love that Jesus commands. We saw it in our own lives. It took a lot of hard times to get us to see what needed to change. Now that we we no longer have professional jobs and we drive a single 15 year old car and live in a tiny tract home that almost never gets cleaned, we finally have free time to show some love.

    • Hey! I have a 15 year old car and lost my professional job as well! And no, I don’t often get around to cleaning my home either. And you’re right. I now have more time love others. I like it!

    • Danielle says:

      “My theory is that in the fundagelical lifestyle, everyone is so close to the edge of maintaining this image of the victorious Christian life that it takes all their time and energy and there is just no margin left for friendships, let alone the kind of extraordinary love that Jesus commands.”

      There is a lot of truth in this. When you are done worrying about getting your doctrine correct, and then following all the rules, and then feeling the way you are supposed to feel as a “spirit-filled” believer, and so on and so on, how much mental energy is left? This is an unintended consequence of seeing Christian life as faith –> personal relationship –> getting things right. To not have things right, this is not just embarrassing, it is terrifying because of the questions it raises about the one thing that is supposed to matter. Result? Unintended self-absorption. And fear of dealing with other people’s struggles and your own honestly? It is terrifying to confront depression, cancer, doubt, etc. not “have an answer.”

      Of course, theology and practice are not just to blame here; most people in any crowd would prefer to duck and hide. But it is a sad irony that the most religious are frequently the most distracted. We get so busy moving around the furniture of our interior lives, that it is actually harder–or at least no easier–to get over ourselves.

      I’m still thinking about the one line from Pope Francis the other day: Do not be afraid of tenderness. Not only do not be tender. But: Do not be *afraid* of being tender. So true.

      • Danielle says:

        Ack, sorry about all the typos. Typing on one’s phone is such a bother.

        The last line was esp. bad. I meant to write: I’m still thinking about the one line from Pope Francis the other day: Do not be afraid of tenderness. Not only “be tender.” But: Do not be *afraid* of being tender. So true.

  26. Samantha says:

    I am not religious and I just happened to stumble upon this article, but I’d like to offer my two cents. Maybe some people will be offended by this, but I honestly do not mean any hostility or offence, Just speaking my mind.
    The reason I think atheists and agnostics tend to openly care more is because they are not blindly trusting in a god or higher power to protect you. They are not holding you accountable for your happiness, or interpreting your unhappiness as a rejection of God, or an inability to let God and Jesus into your life to the extent you should. They are not going to assume your depression is born of a refusal to appreciate everything God gives you, good or bad. They are not going to try to reassure you with, “everything happens for a reason, God has a plan for us all”. Atheists and agnostics are more likely to think, “Life can be crap, and we need to look after each other, because there’s nothing to suggest God is doing it for us”. They are not going to feel that praying rather than acting will be of use to you. Plenty of atheists and agnostics know love and empathy… else how they could be “free with it” as you claim? People are either sensitive to other people’s needs, or they are not. People either actually read books and discuss the darker aspects of life with others, or they don’t. People either take the time to think about what it’s like to be another person, in a different, more difficult set of circumstances, or they don’t. It has nothing to do with whether or not you believe in God. It has to do with whether or not you are compassionate and at least semi-intelligent.

    • I believe that you are onto something, Samantha. Christians have too often been sold on the idea that they ought to be better than human instead of better humans, and in attempting/pretending to be that they are not free to embrace their weakness and the weaknesses of others fully.

      I have come more and more to the conclusion that people just suck and it just so happens that some of those people are christians. It does seem though, that there is a bit too much within churchianity that helps the suck factor of chritians to be so high.

      I am sorry for your stuggles with depression, Jeff. There is no real excuse and you should not lower the bar. I have struggled with similar issues with finding real family-esque fellowship within the church and am sadly resigned to finding out if my tribe dwells elsewhere.

  27. Jeff, Maybe the answer is that clinical depression is not a visible wound. Therefore, people in the Church don’t understand the overwhelming depts of pain, confusion and hopelessness this condition aflicts on a person. Unless you’re bleeding or in a hospital bed it’s hard for the non-initiated to appreciate how deep the suffering is. The brothers and sisters are not perfect and when you feel well enough you should forgive them. Your agnostic friend may be an answer. Go and find a group, like NAMI, and you will be with a crowd that understands and can support you. Also, get on the right medication. Difficult thing to do, because it’s trial and error, but you may be able to find the right one. I pray the Lord would lift this darkness from you and that you would get the support you need.

  28. I really empathize with this and I’ve been walking a similar path.

    My husband and I joined a church plant early last year and five months later, my mom passed away. She had been sick for some time and I shared about the struggles with that and asked for prayer on occasion. The group was very tight knit and I felt like an outsider most of the time, even though I knew many of the people from other contexts. After returning from the funeral and caring for my mom during her last week no one said a thing to me. We had also just moved into a new home and didn’t have a working kitchen due to some renovations. I had been hoping that some folks would see the need for some help and care but no one in the church did. My boss, who isn’t a Christian, on the other other hand, did and he and his wife brought over a meal and were sympathetic.

    Later, we spoke to our pastor about our disappointment and hope that things would have been different and he was grieved about it. The people of my church had blinders on. The pain of it all was real and our disappointment was justified, BUT, that being said, I had my own blinders on. As many others have pointed out, we’re Christians because we know we can’t meet God’s perfect standard on our own. We’re all going to fail one another.

    My takeaway from all of that was to be more gracious with my church family. Many of them are very young and have never experienced loss or even sickness. It’s hard to know how much a caring or helping hand can mean if you’ve never needed one yourself. Love covers a multitude of sins. If I expect love from them, the least I can do is hold myself to the same standard. Loves and empathy go hand in hand. So, when my mind wants to dwell on the ways other people fail to love me well, I hope to always remember the ways I fail to do the same thing.

    I still struggle with depression, with the loss of my mom, and now the impending loss of my step-dad who now lives with me. I still struggle every day with the lie that I’m not loved or valued because of x/y/z. As I’ve worked to get to know the people in my church better, I’ve learned that they too often feel isolated, on the outside, and unloved. Every single one of us struggles with these feelings and it’s time to be real with one another. None of us are alone in this. Those of us who, through hard circumstances have been shown the unmet needs of ourselves and others owe it to those around us to speak the truth in love. I want to love like Jesus and I pray that those in my church and those in other churches will be inspired, throughout their lives, to climb new heights of love as they seek to be more like their Savior.

    “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:…” 1 Peter 4:8-10

    • Sara, I am sorry for your loss. My mom, who I was quite close too, died a few years ago, and it was terrible. I either was ignored by family and friends who are Christians, or I received platitudes and judgment when I went to other Christians for comfort, so I know what that is like. (And some of these people had experienced the death of someone close to them, but this didn’t make them any more sensitive to my plight.)

      You said, “If I expect love from them, the least I can do is hold myself to the same standard. Loves and empathy go hand in hand. ”

      A lot of people feel too ashamed or shy about asking for help, and unfortunately, many Christians have been socialized to think from preachers that getting their needs met is selfish, so they don’t bother to ask.

      So I would encourage any Christian going thru a tough spell, clearly state to your church members, preacher, and Christian friends that you are going thru a tough time and spell out exactly what you need and want from them. I know that can be hard if you suffer from depression or are in grief, and I know Christians should be intelligent enough to help you without you asking point blank, but that is the way it is. If you don’t ask for the help you need and want you are most likely not going to receive it.

      Warning, though – even though I summoned up the courage and told several Christian family / friends what I needed in my time of grief, some of them still blew me off, while the rest of them judged/ lectured me. But it doesn’t hurt to try. You definitely will not get the help you want if you do not ask for it.

  29. Jeff, I told a Pastor in my church I was feeling suicidal when I was in a terrible time like you and he told me I would never do that all I needed to do was go home and clean my house. He had his secretary take me home and stay with me to help me clean…MY ALREADY CLEAN HOUSE!!!! Thankfully in that same church there were people who did just love me and came to me to show that love in so many ways. I would have never healed with out them. Now I have a chronic illness that forces me to be home most of the time and since we moved and are in another church, I get no phone calls, no cards or outreach. It used to hurt me emotionally but I have since realized it is not about me but the people in the church. I even met with the Pastor to talk about this and nothing has changed. I am so grateful to neighbors and family who are there for me and the Lord himself ministers to me in my need. I try to be the loving and gracious caring friend since I have learned in the hard places how precious others like this have been to me. Thanks for you honesty.

  30. This post reminds me of the man behind the blog I miss a whole bunch. Thanks Jeff, always appreciate your posts.

  31. A good, christian answer is that you not blessed in that area because you haven’t given it up to Jeezuz. And the next sermon series is all about how you too can give it all up and be all in! Chip Ingram calls this the ‘vending machine god’.

    Somewhere I recently read that one of the problems with our self-help christianity is that we are relying on the sinful nature to correct the sinful nature.

    More to the idea of christian love. At men’s group I mentioned that most christians I know are much more loving, more Christ-like, when they let their christian (guard) down. The response at my table was that Satan disguises himself in thngs that look good. I’m starting to think the ‘the greatest of these’ means that more words are used in stating it, not the meaning of the command. Seems Proverbs is more biblical than Christs words.

  32. Mr. Poet says:

    “Love each other. This is my command: Love each other. Not a suggestion, not a helpful thought. A command.”

    THOU SHALT LOVE ME!!!

    Wow. Well, then. I’ll get to that.

  33. I clicked on this from a friend’s page. I’m not a Christian, a monotheist, or even a theist at all. And still, I have some thoughts for you.

    First, I’m sorry you’re going through this. It’s got to be hard and I wish you the best.

    Second, I think “Christian” is an ineffective filter through which to look for help. I think you should be looking for good friends, not good Christians. Good friends are rare beasts, indeed, and I don’t think you’re more or less likely to find them in any one particular religion. Cultivate people who care about you and care about them in return. That’s really the only way to live in this world. Skip the Christian/not Christian dichotomy.

    Also, we live in a society where men in particular are taught, time and again, never to reveal their feelings, never to admit to weakness or need, or sadness or fear. This is sad, to me, because it cuts men off from their own rich emotional lives. You mention that you reached out to pastors, to Mike, to elders…. all the pronouns you use are male pronouns. Consider reaching out to women, instead. You may find The Good Men Project an interesting place to hang out and talk about the emotional lives of men.

    Finally, I noticed how often you had to point out that you meant platonic love instead of romantic love. Consider that you may be getting rejected because these men are terrified that they might be considered gay or homosexual to show affection or love, even platonic love, to another man. Consider how toxic this is and how it’s affecting your life. Consider, maybe, leaving a church that fosters such a toxic environment.

    I wish you the best and I’m sorry your church has failed you.

  34. A reader says:

    This is one of the truest things I’ve read in a long time. I have been through this EXACT scenario, only with double the experience, both in church and in the Christian ministry in which I work. I would give my eye teeth for a “young, tatted up agnostic” to hang out with, but my workplace would not dare hire one. The worst part is that when I was well and at my best, I made a point of going to extremes to help others at their low points: sitting through other people’s chemotherapy, watching them and taking them to lunch, sending cards, throwing them parties, etc. during their bouts of depression, listening to problems, you name it. In fact, the very person whose cancer saga I spent 4 years dealing with told me to “snap out of” my depression, and that I was doing it “just to get attention.” Ouch.

    I know the Bible talks about sowing and reaping and “if you want a friend, be a friend,” but I have definitely not reaped what I sowed. I wish someone somewhere could explain those verses. My brain knows they have to be true, but they don’t feel true.