Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God. Psalm 42:11
Many of you might have heard of the pastor in California that took his own life this week. Andrew Stoecklein, 30, lead pastor of the Inland Hills Church in Chino, about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, had recently returned to his church duties after time away to deal with depression and anxiety.
Chino police said they were called to the church last Friday after the pastor made a suicide attempt inside the church. The pastor eventually succeeded in taking his own life the next day.
There is a despair that is circumstantial in its source. You lose your job. Someone close to you dies or gets a terminal disease or you don’t have enough money. This type of despair or depression typically responds to prayer, scripture reading, encouragement from friends.
But then there is a despair that is organic in its source, like hypertension, diabetes, and a thyroid problem. All the bible study and prayer in the world will not help you win that battle. This type of despair or depression needs medical and professional attention. If you struggle with this version of despair—seek immediate help.
(National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255)
The Psalmist reminds us:
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:8)
One of my favorite experiences is early in the morning as my wife is preparing for work; fixing her hair, ironing her blouse, pouring our cereal—there is almost always one of those dreaded contemporary “7-11” praise songs on her lips. She is not even aware of the song. But as I am sipping coffee and reading from another room, I can hear her quietly singing praises to the Lord.
That is a reminder to me of the steadfast love of God in my life.
Then I will go on my walk with my prayer partners, Dexter Dog and Bella the Wonder Dog, and see an eagle on a tall snag watch me walk pass and I am reminded of the promise from Isaiah, “but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
You know I’ve discovered that much of overcoming despair is simply putting one foot in front of the other day-by-day with the Lord. As author Annie Dillard has said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Nineteen years ago, this October, my life imploded because of my sinful choices and I nearly lost everything that was nearest and dearest to me. My life was a shamble and I needed to step out of ministry for a season to work on restoring my marriage.
During those days all I had to cling to was the love of my wife, sons, family, a very few friends…and my faith.
I’ve walked with more than a few people in my thirty-seven years as a pastor who has battled cancer—some winning the battle, and some losing. I’ve never had a serious battle with physical cancer, personally. But I will tell you that for three years I fought darkness in my heart and soul that I never thought would lift. I would find myself sitting in unknown airports because of the secular job I had at the time, homesick, self-pity dripping from my pores like sweat on a July summer day—and tears flowing down my sad cheeks like rivulets of pain.
I went to counseling, I wrote in my journal, kept my repentance ever before me; and yet during all those early years of maintaining my integrity, doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with my God…often my heart was darker than black velvet.
But then that all changed.
If you would have come to me in those dim days and told me that one day a young pastor named Jason, would ask me to come be his executive pastor at a Church in Mukilteo, Washington; then when he left to pastor a Church in North Carolina, that Church would ask me to lead them and preach to them, and then there would come a time when ten young pastors might dare call me their pastor; then a beautiful church in the mountains of Colorado would unanimously invite me to come care for their souls…I would have laughed at you with a hellish laugh, “Not me! I’m finished. God has not forgotten me, but He certainly has no use for a broken-down retread like me.”
But sometime during those early days of pain, I started talking to God again and I began to remember His steadfast love.
The way he saved me at age seven, the way he called me to preach his Gospel at age nine, the way he restored my marriage and gave me place again in the Body of Christ. I remembered that my wife adores me, my sons respect me, and my grandchildren want to sit in my lap and let me tell them stories. I found a way up and out of my despair because I started talking to God again, and you can too.
This week I found these words particularly profound from a preacher named George Lorimer. Lorimer was born in Scotland in 1838 and had ambitions of becoming an actor in America. When he arrived here he converted to Christianity and began to study to be a minister. He eventually became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Chicago and had a successful ministry.
One of the temptations we face as care-givers and Christ-followers is to always be ready to give a plucky platitude and say many words to those who are suffering from despair. Often, we sound like Job’s friends—many words, but little comfort. Listen to these old words from pastor Lorimer:
“Believe me, it’s no time for words when the wounds are fresh and bleeding; no time for homilies when the lightning’s shaft has smitten, and the man lies stunned and stricken. Then let the comforter be silent; let him sustain by his presence, not by his preaching; by his sympathetic silence, not by his speech.”(George C. Lorimer)
When the dark days come may you be silent before your God and ache for him, listen for his divine whisper, and offer him your feeble praise and wait for the sun to shine again.