2nd Sunday After Epiphany: Getting Down And Discouraged
Being Human is accompanied by the basic fact that there will be problems in life. We have money problems at time, we have relationship problems, we have physical problems. For the most part, people take their problems in stride by simply solving and dealing with each problem and then going on to the next one. After awhile though, this can begin to weigh on you and get you down. There was a Peanuts strip in which Charlie Brown is complaining about losing yet another baseball game. Lucy comes over to try to cheer him up and says, “Remember, Charlie Brown, you learn more from your defeats than you do from your victories.” Charlie Brown replies, “That must make me the smartest man in the world.”
It can be enough of a strain to solve one problem after another, but when defeats come one after another, a person can become blue or even get depressed. It is at times like that when we most need someone to come alongside to encourage us. What do I mean encourage?
Well, there are a lot of answers to that question depending on to whom you are talking. The world has a variety of methods to try to give courage, provide comfort or assist someone who is down. But are the ways of the world truly encouraging? Do they really do any good?
One aspect of encouragement can be to bring comfort. I stopped at a Hallmark store and was looking at bereavement cards one day and took notice of how the world tries to bring comfort to those who are in sorrow. The cards generally fell into four categories. 1. The most common method could be described as, I hope the fact that I am thinking about you will bring you comfort. While the fact that you care is very nice, the problem is that your thinking about me does not alleviate my sorrow or help me deal with my emotions and turmoil. In fact, I already felt bad enough, but now that I know that you feel bad because I feel bad, I feel even worse because I am causing you sorrow and dragging you down with me. The second most common method of encouragement can be stated as: I hope that the good memories you have of your loved one will comfort you now that they are gone.
The problem with this is that part of the reason I am sad is because all I have left of that loved one are the memories and what I want is to have that loved one with me again. A third category of efforts to comfort can be summarized as follows: I hope that time will help heal the hurt. While I am glad for your wish for me to heal, the fact is that time cannot heal. Time only fades the memory and I don’t want to lose those memories. A final category of encouragement can be stated as follows: I have been through what you are going through, and I made it, so will you. The problem with this is that though you may have been through something similar, you have not been through the exact same thing I am going through, and while I appreciate your confidence that I will get through it, at the moment I am not so sure about it.
Consider the objective of the encouragement. Encouragement must be toward the right direction and decisions or the consequences can be tragic.
For example; A young man climbs out onto the ledge of a building. He is despondent. His girl friend just left him because he was a real jerk, and he just lost his job because he was incompetent. He sees no reason to continue life any longer. He is suicidal. How is the world supposed to encourage him? We would expect the goal would be to give him hope and a reason for living, and there is some fireman or policeman trying to do just that. However, we live in a perverse world and the crowd down below is also encouraging him with their own depraved desires. They are trying to inspire him with the courage to do what he went on the ledge to do. Who will be successful in spurring the man to action? The crowd to jump or the fireman to come back inside?
True encouragement must inspire and stimulate you in the right direction otherwise your end could be worse than your current condition. To be truly helpful, encouragement must also assist you in carrying out the right decisions.
Feeling "down" is like a thunderstorm that comes and goes, but depression is a lingering fog that takes the sunshine out of life. Hopelessness overshadows life. We think we may never recover. We wonder, "Will I ever know joy? Will I ever smile again?"
If this sounds familiar, you're in good company. Some of the most well known Saints found themselves there.
Moses got so depressed, he asked God to kill him. Jonah did the same. Elijah sat under a juniper tree and wished he might die. The apostle Paul talked of despairing even of life. John the Baptist's despair had him doubting for a moment that Jesus was the Messiah.
Flora of Beaulieu had a normal childhood, but when her parents began to look for a husband for her, she refused, and announced she was going to dedicate her life to God by entering a convent. This decision, made in the midst of a turbulent situation, set off an intense and prolonged period of depression, which affected her behavior so much that living with her was a trial, even for the other sisters. But with the grace of God, with time, and with the help of an understanding confessor, Flora made great spiritual progress precisely because of the challenge of depression, which she faced with strength of will.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits was also given to deep feelings of unrest and suffering. After his conversion, he had to fight against a period of intense scrupulosity, a term which, in Christian ascetics, refers to the temptation to feel oneself always in a state of grave sin for every tiny personal failing in fulfilling one’s duties in living the virtues. That trial was followed by a depression that was so serious, he even thought of suicide. Saint Augustine, had times of depression.
St. John Maria Vianney is one of the most beloved priests in the history of the Church. Despite all the good he did, he couldn’t manage to see his own relevance before God, and lived constantly with an intense inferiority complex, considering himself to be useless—a symptom of depression which would accompany him throughout his entire life. During times of difficulty, he would turn to the Lord and, despite his suffering, would renew his determination to persevere in his work with trust, faith, and love for God and neighbor.
And so did King David, a man after God's own heart. Betrayed by Absalom, a beloved son, David lost his wealth, home, power, and fled for his life. Absalom is killed and David weeps, "…would to God I had died for thee, Absalom."
On top of that, David had sinned against God and lost an infant child he loved. Things could not have looked worse when he penned Psalm 42 and 43.
But God has made provision. You don't have to be depressed. Psalm 42 and 43 gives you three things to do.
We find David encouraging himself. He is in the midst of a terrible situation, and yet he finds courage, comfort, inspiration and hope. This afternoon take the time to read and look at some of the elements of encouragement that you will find in these two Psalms.
Many scholars believe that these two Psalms are actually one Psalm which can be outlined as follows:
Joy Lost . . . 42:1-4
Chorus . . . . 42:5
Joy Rethought 42:6-10
Chorus . . . . 42:11
Joy Restored 43:1-4
Chorus . . . . 43:5
Some of the prayers at the foot of the altar comes from these two psalms:
P. I will go in unto the altar of God.
S. To God who giveth joy to my youth.
P. Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation which is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.
S. For Thou, O God, art my strength: why hast Thou cast me off? and why go I sorrowful whilst the enemy afflicteth me?
P. Send forth Thy light and Thy truth: they have conducted me and brought me unto Thy holy mount, and into Thy tabernacles.
S. And I will go into the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth.
P. To Thee, O God, my God, I will give praise upon the harp; why art thou sad, O my soul, and why dost thou disquiet me?
S. Hope in God, for I will still give praise to Him: the salvation of my countenance and my God.
P. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
S. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
P. I will go in unto the altar of God.
S. To God who giveth joy to my youth.
So God is teaching us to look. Look in different directions in our lives.
Look within - analyze your heart.
David began talking to himself - to his soul. "Why art thou sad, O my soul? and why dost thou trouble me " (Psalm 42:5). In very simplistic terms, the soul is the "you" that lives inside, your emotions, mind, and will.
Something inside - that un-redeemed flesh- is constantly talking to you, saying, "You have reason to feel sorry for yourself. You'll never make it. Life isn't worth living." This is where you must take control. Take your soul by the nape of the neck, look your soul straight in the eye and say, "Soul, why are you feeling this way?" That's what David did (v. 5).
Look upward - recognize your help.
You may have good reasons to be depressed. You may feel God has let you down - David felt that way. You may have a broken heart. Perhaps you're haunted by the ghost of guilt. But God has not forgotten. Pour your grief out to God. He knows, understands, and cares. He is your help even when you cannot understand. Life is not over for you.
“In the daytime the Lord hath commanded his mercy; and a canticle to him in the night. With me is prayer to the God of my life.” (v. 8)
David looks upward. "God, You are my help, my hope; You will command Your lovingkindness to me."
Look onward - realize your hope.
"…Hope thou in God, for I will still give praise to him: the salvation of my countenance, and my God." (v. 11)
You are here by God's appointment, in His keeping, under His training, for His time. No matter what is happening, it's not God's final plan. However bleak your circumstances, God is with you.
“For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of affliction, to give you an end and patience.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
And hope does not mean a vain wish. It is a definite assurance based in anticipation. Don't lose hope! God has a future filled with hope for you. God loves you and He's going to meet the deepest needs of your heart. He's going to turn your Calvary into an Easter and your heartache to a hallelujah.
So don't let Satan blow out the candle of hope in your life. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His notice. Though Christians are not immune to trials, tribulation, pain and suffering, take comfort in knowing God will see you through.