Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Case of Melancholia

I've a tendency to be depressed.  Although I think that word - depression -  is too strong.  I'd rather use the word, "melancholy".  However, when I looked up "melancholy" in an online dictionary, it seemed to connote even worse things rather than mere depression.  For depression we read things like "sadness; gloom; dejection."  For melancholy, "the condition of having too much black bile, considered in ancient and medieval medicine to cause gloominess and depression."  Even though this is an archaic meaning, bile!  Yucky!

Be that as it may, I'd still rather use the word "melancholy"; it's kind of soothing to say the word.  Besides, "depression" is used with so many negative connotations, too many to suit me...but then again, that's what melancholy is all about, being "negative" (or, so we think).

That's one of the reasons why I don't write too much on my blog concerning my personal life.  I think too much, my mind whirls with this and that in silent conversations with God all day long of things not inclined to being joyful.  If I were honest (and I hope I am being honest), most of my thoughts are complaints, questions, challenges to God.  Not that I nag God or I get into prayerful fisticuffs, but there's so much going on that is not the way it's supposed to be or, as the title of my daughter Sarah's blog suggests, "Not the Way I Planned It" (by the way, if any woman wants encouragement when things don't go exactly as expected, she should read Sarah's blog; it's gritty, funny, yet real, see:; but if you're of the melancholy sort, well, you can finish reading my blog here and check out Sarah's later).

My daughter's kind of laugh at my demonstrations of melancholia...

like reciting one of my favorite Bible verses: "It is better to go in the house of mourning rather than into the house of feasting"...

or, suggesting to my grandchildren, Josiah and Ella, a DVD to watch like "the Jim Elliot Story" or "The Perpetua Story" about Christian martyrs (these cartoon DVD's are excellent to teach children about the cost paid  by some for their faith in Christ, see:  Of course, let me not neglect to say that Josiah is 6 and Ella is 5 years old (a little to young to learn about persecution, you think?)...

or, how about the time when Sarah and Amy were little girls I walked them through a cemetery talking about death and how we will all someday die (of course, not long afterwards, Clare, their Mom, died).  And that wasn't the first time I talked to them about death...

or, how about just now when after receiving a phone call from Sarah who, visiting in New York, tells me she's driving by the house I grew up in, 106 Grattan St., in Brooklyn.  She explains how it now looks and I shared with her a few tidbits of when I was a child, like where stood the corner grocery store (the prices of each item we bought was added up on a brown paper bag - without a calculator) and the candy store where I bought all my comics (I once had all the #1's of Marvel comics like Spiderman, X-men, Hulk, Fantastic Four, Submariner, etc.).  After we hung up, I cried...literally cried...recalling childhood memories, especially of my parents (now both deceased).

How about a few examples of my melancholia in relation to my faith in God?

Sometimes I'll go to pray and feel like it's not worth the effort since I'm not really trusting God to answer and end up just sitting on my chair.  Other times, I'll go to read my Bible or books on theology and then just lay back on my chair and say to God, "What the heck am I doing?  Is this all relevant to me?"  I feel as if all I read has nothing to do with me.

God seems to have a hard time pleasing those who oftentimes succumb to melancholy moments. 

A few months ago I needed a job and prayed, 

"God, if you don't get me a job by the end of the month, I'm not going to have the finances necessary to pay the bills.  But even more important than that, I cannot give to ministries like Voice of Martyrs and Care-Net, two ministries that concern me the most.  Yet, if you want me to go without my needs being met, if you want me to eventually give my dogs to be put down, lose my home, and wander the streets, fail to take care of Celia, my wife, (who can always find someone else to live with), which would, nevertheless, be very embarrassing to a person who believes God shall 'supply all your needs according to his riches' (I realize You're not concerned about being embarrassed so I guess I'll need to learn humility via embarrassment on my own), well, I leave it up to you.  Whatever you think is best.  But, just so you know, you may look bad; not me.  It's your reputation at stake, not mine."

The very next day I received a call from an employment agency (note: I received maybe one or two calls for jobs too far away to take them in the 5 months prior to this one) for a job 12 minutes away and in the first Friday of the next month I started working.  God is the God of the Last Minute.

But, now I tell God, "Please, give me time to read and study your Word.  I come home so tired and things that need to be done get in the way.  This job is stealing all my time away."

Of course, when I do get the time, I waste it away watching a movie, or sitting at my desk wondering what I should read (too many books makes decision-making harder).  If I do start to read or go to pray, my eyes and body miraculously get heavy and I need to stop and rest and end up falling asleep.

So now I get into my "What's the Use?" mode and, too discouraged to do anything, I do nothing.

Through a google group I received an email that a member's newborn child is very sick and they're requesting prayer.  I email that I will pray.  Then, I go to pray in a "What's the Use?" mode.  My mind has no vision of the child recovering.  I cannot conjure up the faith to believe God will heal the child.  All my heart believes in is that the child will not make it.

I receive another email notifying me that the newborn has died...and I cry.  I cry because the child did not live, because the parents must be heartbroken, because neither child nor parent will have the opportunity to experience the joys of knowing each other like I know my daughters, Sarah and Amy.  I cry because God grieves over one's death.  And I cry because I failed to pray and to pray effectively with the faith that obtains the answer.

Whatever God is doing in the world, He's not doing it here and He seems to have counted me out.

I oftentimes remember an old Motown song, which lyrics are:

"I want to go outside in the rain.
It may sound crazy but
I want to go outside in the rain.
Once the rain starts falling on my face
No, you won't see a single trace
Of these tears I'm crying
Because of you I'm crying
Don't want you to see me cry;
Let me go, let me go, let me go,
Go outside in the rain."

So, with such a flimsy faith as I possess, the least I am able to do is rehearse the psalmist's line:
"Why are you cast down my soul,
     why disquieted within me?
Have hope in God;
     I will yet praise Him,
     my ever-present help, my God." 
It may not be exactly the kind of faith that stops the mouth's of lions, moves mountains, or heals the sick, but it's all I have; and if those past examples in Scripture of saints who trusted God experienced a faith that "against hope believed in hope", maybe...just maybe...if I lay out my heart to God just the way it is, without pretension - with all its melancholia - God might decide to grace me with the kind of faith Jesus possessed, that faith which obtained healing for others, His own resurrection from the dead, and in the end makes sorrow and sighing to flee away.

Psalm 42:12

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