“If you had been here, my brother would not have died!” John 11:32, RSV
Anxiety and depression are common diseases in America. About 7 percent of us, of all ages, suffer depression in our country. Maybe more since the election since anxiety often leads to depression. About one third of our country’s mental health costs go for anxiety and depression. Women suffer twice as much as men while many children also struggle.
Depression increases with age! However, it tends to decrease after age 70, but us older folks with depression or anxiety are also less likely to get help. It’s safe to assume a good share of us experience some anxiety and depression and probably are not getting needed help or treatment. (http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics)
The biblical account of the raising of Lazarus tells a story about anxiety and depression. (John 11:1-45) It is not a story about literally raising someone from the dead whose name was “Lazarus.” The story links to a 5000-year-old one from ancient Egypt. Such discoveries, found through the 1799 discovered Rosetta Stone, revolutionized the understanding of many “miracles” from what we call the New Testament.
The word “Lazarus” begins with the divine “El.” “El” combined with “asar” is the divine name “Lord Asar.” Lord Asar has gone to sleep! The town’s name, “Bethany”, means “house of light.” But since the Lord went to sleep, the lights have gone out! The two sisters, Martha and Mary, are ancient Egyptian names for those considered divine teachers, “Meri and Merti.” The teachers and pastors have also lost hope. Jesus comes as the one who awakens the “Light.” He represents the outside messenger of hope, the Christ Bearer who had been lost. In ancient Egypt, his name was also known as “Usus.” (Tom Harpur, The Pagan Christ; Recovering the Lost Light, 2004, Thomas Allen Publishers.)
So how can we “awaken” from our moments, or days, weeks and years of anxiety and depression, our discouragement and inner loneliness? How can we awaken when it seems our God hope has left or forgotten us, when loved ones die, and 4000 churches close each year and 300 pastors and participants leave each month. (Latest Pew Foundation report.)
We could begin with the idea or theory that God, Christ, or Spirit is incarnated within each of our lives and bodies. It could be called “Spirit” or our “soul.” It is the “infinite within the finite.” How might we reclaim and experience this lost awareness, hope, and feeling?
We might begin by being aware of our negative feelings. We will not deny we might be aboard a sinking ship. But we will identify with these negative feelings as our True Self. We may feel like the scolded child taking a “time out” in the corner. We will sit and observe our anxiety or loneliness without judgment. We will still claim our “family name;” “I am not my body, I am not this anxiety or depression but I am happiness, hope, and positive.”
It’s sort of like driving a car. We can remain conscious of steering, accelerating, braking and stopping while at the same time having a conversation with a passenger. However, don’t text on your phone while doing this!
I once heard the late Tony De Mello describe this. He was both a certified counselor and ordained Jesuit priest. People often came to him with a serious problem. They would greet him with, “Hi Fr. De Mello! How are you doing?” He might answer saying, “Oh, I am having a bad day of anxiety but never mind, how can I help you?” Sounds nuts, doesn’t it??
It’s like an unmarried minister who lived with his mother. One Sunday he was very discouraged and tired. He said to his mother, “I am not going to church today. I am sorry we moved here, I’m discouraged, the people don’t like me and I don’t like them!” His mother looked him in the eyes and said, “Son, you are 40 years old, they have called you to be their pastor, and it is your duty to go. And remember, they pay you to do it!”
Somedays are like that. I have them. Our negativity or tiredness wants to take over. Still, we won’t identify with it. Just do it anyway along with your sadness, or whatever.
A minister once told he me coped with depression and anxiety by taking little naps! He would excuse himself at set times and just go someplace and take a 20-minute nap. He awoke feeling better. I have been known for the ability to do that. It’s good for body and mind!
We also can spend time each day in solitude and quiet. It can be called our quiet or devotional time. When I first joined the Baptist Church, they told me to spend time each day in “devotions.” In the 80’s I wrote a dissertation for San Francisco Seminary on the importance of practicing solitude. Jesus did it all the time. I still have favorite trails near our home on which I use to take prayer walks. My, dog now deceased, would go with me. I also have a special area in our home to sit mornings and evenings. I have it set up with a little altar, complete with a picture of wilderness with Buddhist prayer flags. I use a little electric candle since I once almost burned the house down! Psalm 46:10; “Be still and know I am God!” It works. It worked for Jesus, for Elijah of old, and it still works for us. “Be still,” in the Hebrew word means, “stop thinking, become dumb” (dumas) and you will know! Clear your mind, become “mindful” of the noise, and let it go.
To fight anxiety, loneliness and depression, we can also join together with another or others. Remember, you don’t need a church building to be a church. “The church is not the building, the church is not the steeple, the church is its people!” as the old Avery and Marsh song went. Gather in homes, read some scriptures, listen, meditate and pray for each other. Today, It’s a growing phenomenon. Continue as friends, even if they are few. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare, but he who has one enemy will meet him everywhere!”
Yes, sometimes relief doesn’t come instantly. We may need to make changes in our lives. We may need a few weeks or months of counseling or to learn more patience. We may need to suffer long enough so we truly decide, “I want to change!” In the gospel story, they complained Jesus took so long to come. “If you would have been here, he would not have died. Now he already stinks in the grave!” Sometimes must endure a waiting season. Quick fixes not always help. We need to take “time outs” and go sit and make new decisions and resolutions.
I heard a story about a man guiding his donkey who pulled a cart load of produce to the market. The donkey would suddenly stop and move no further. This behavior occurred several times and the man worried about arriving late to sell his goods. Finally, when the donkey balked again, the man got off his seat and taking a small stick, went up to the donkey and whacked him three times over the head! He climbed back on the seat, picked up the reins and continued. He wife asked, “Why did you do that, whacking the poor donkey three times?” The driver answered, “I needed to get his attention!”
Sometimes life makes us suffer long enough to finally get very sick of our behaviors and attitudes. We all want “quick fixes,” not a new orientation about life and where we are going. Some may need to spend a few weeks in a hospital, or find themselves without our family, or a spouse, or job, or a friend before they “wake up” and listen.
So, don’t spin your mind or wheels too long when in despair and depression, feeling discouraged and alone. Wake up to the Divine, the Christ of whom we are in our essence. Don’t wait for the complete bottom to fall out. Learn and practice to check your negative thought habits. Keep a journal and write your progress down. Make positive affirmations and go over them every day, morning and night. Begin taking actions toward what your heart tells you to do. And climb out of the graves of your life which are only barring you from the sweetness and hope Divine Peace which is yours, and within you.
Breathe on me breath of God, fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou does love, and do what Thou wouldst do.
– Edwin Hatch, 1886