Calling Out For Help
We don't talk about it, other than to tell people to "get over it" or "cheer up". We don't address it in church, other than to remind people that they should just have faith.
These responses are inadequate, dangerous, and damaging.
And so, on Sunday, we tackled issues of stress, worry, depression and anxiety in connection with the reading from Matthew (14:22-33) and the story of Peter and the storm that almost sank him.
Today, we are reminded, once again, of how strong those storms that we face can be. Friends, if you are being battered by the storm, if you are sinking in the water...please know that you are loved, that you are not alone, and that help is available.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK.
This morning, I would like to share a story with you that a friend shared with me about a certain season in her life...of course, I have full permission to share her story here this morning as we enter into an important, yet often difficult (and mostly avoided) discussion in the life of the church.
Her story begins with an incident that happened in her life, a crisis moment, really, within her close circle of friends. She went into crisis mode, dealt with the situation at hand, and then went on her way once everything had calmed down.
She then continued on with her life. She took care of the business at hand. Took care of her work, loved ones, etc.
And she thought that she was doing well.
She thought that she was okay.
Until one day, probably six or so months later, she looked around, and realized that she was not okay. Nearly six months of mail was piled up on the dining room table...nothing important, she was making sure that the bills got paid, but it was six months worth of the stuff that she just didn’t have the energy or the drive to deal with or look at or sort through.
She realized that she had been, battling a bout of depression, possibly (and probably) triggered by the incident months before that she thought was done and taken care of.
She felt like she was sinking, that’s the way she describes it...sinking
Today, she realizes that she should have reached out and gotten help. But she didn’t, and instead kept it all inside, embarrassed about it for some reason she still can’t fully explain. She recognizes that that choice could have destroyed her.
I can’t help but think of my friend’s story this morning as we read the lectionary passage from the Gospel of Matthew this morning. About how Peter, a man with such great faith in Jesus stepped out and walked on water just because Jesus told him he could...about how Peter nearly drowned...
Much of the time, as we encounter this text, we often think this story is about how Peter lost faith. Spurred on by that one line that Jesus says, "you of little faith, why did you doubt?", and not diving into that any further, we talk about his doubt, and how he chose to allow his doubt to overwhelm him. How he was already walking on water...and just how stupid of him was it to suddenly be afraid that he couldn’t because of what? A little bit of wind?
We mention about how we think that he just didn’t have what it took to truly trust in Christ, and that was his real problem.
And when we talk about this passage in such a way, we encourage people that in order to avoid sinking, they just need to keep their eye on Jesus...Just keep going, just keep trusting, just keep the faith and don't doubt...And you won’t sink.
We tell people that they can choose to trust in Jesus or they can choose to be overwhelmed. We see and post beautiful pictures posted on facebook and read the accompanying text that reminds us that it's just that simple. We promote and purchase and display things from Christian bookstores that say things like "I'm too Blessed to be Stressed".
But that’s dangerous...the whole, “if your faith was just stronger....if you just believed more purely, more fully, more really” thing. It’s dangerous because we tell people, when they are in the midst of feeling as if they are sinking...when they are sinking...that it’s their fault and they should just choose to be happy, just choose to be calm, and if they would just trust in God more, then they wouldn’t feel that way, they wouldn't sink. We tell people that it's their fault because they just don't try hard enough, believe enough, and so on and so forth.
And so it happens in the church that we stigmatize the very real human experiences of fear, worry, depression, anxiety, and the like and deny people the very help, love and compassion that they need.
The reality is that we do face and live in the midst of storms that can batter us, toss us about, and cause us to sink in fear, sadness, and worry.
Look, we live in a world and in a society where, even on a good day the troubles can seem to be overwhelming and overpowering.
We live innundated with the news of all that is going on in the world. This week alone, merely turning on the evening news or signing onto the web causes us to learn about militants, missles, airstrikes, ebola...death, war, destruction...
We are surrounded by overwhelming messages that are constantly berating us, “You’re not good enough. You’re not thin enough. You’re not smart enough.
You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.”
38 Million American families are living paycheck to paycheck(1), one major financial blow (like an accident or getting laid off or a medical scare), and they lose all sense of financial security.
So there's external factors and external storms...and then there's the internal stuff.
According to the CDC, 1 in 10 Americans report experiencing depression in “the last two weeks”. (2) That means that, at any given point in time, 10 out of every hundred people are either in the midst of fighting depression, or have just come out on the other side.
Even more prevalent than depression are anxiety disorders, including general anxiety, panic attacks, ptsd, for example, with 18% of Americans suffering from one form or another. (3)
In some cases these are long term, in others they are seasonal or situational, or otherwise short term.
No matter what, the storms that we live in the midst of can seem so very...
We have faith. We do. We believe that God is calling to us, that God is with us, but the wind is so strong.
We have faith that Christ is out there, that he is calling to us, leading us in a way of life and a way of living that we yearn to follow...we know all of this in our heads, and intellectually we know that we have this promise that we are taken care of in God...and yet we are so filled with fear and pain and worry about all this other stuff.
No matter how much faith we have...those winds that toss us about can be overwhelming.
And we can start to sink.
And that is when we need to call out, like Peter did. Call out to God. Call out to Christ. Seek God’s salvation in the midst of the sinking. And allow God to pull you up out of the depths and bring you into the safety of the boat.
Because of this, I believe that the Gospel lesson speaks to us in the midst of the storms that we face in our lives. That it is that reminder that we sometimes need that, in the midst of the storms and the worries and the fears and the anxieties and the depression, Jesus is there. That he reaches out his hand and grabs us when we are sinking and pulls us up and reminds us that he is there and that we are not alone. That, when we call out to him for help, he brings us into safety.
Now, sisters and brothers, I want to be clear here...I am a firm believer in the idea that when we call out to God for help that God reaches out with both hands to give us what we need to pull us up out of the depths, out of the water in which we are sinking and that that can take many different forms. And, the truth is that sometimes, when we call out to God for help, when he grabs onto us and pulls us out of the depths, it is through other people: counselors, doctor, therapists. And sometimes, it is through medication or other treatments that are available to us today...and so there is no shame, and it is not a sign of a lack of faith in God’s healing abilities to seek that kind of professional help. In fact, I believe that God has given us these things as a gift to heal our hearts and our minds and our souls, much as we have been given the gift of medical treatments and medications and doctors for our bodies.
It is through the gifts of things like counseling, therapy, psychiatric care, and medication that God reaches out, grabs our hands, and pulls us up.
Now, as we are pulled up out of the water, as we are pulled away from that sinking feeling, the storms don’t always abate right away. They may still rage around us. They may still threaten to sink us again.
But the good news of the Gospel is this: Jesus is still there, even in the midst of all of that. Jesus reaches out, in the midst of the storms that rage around us, takes our hand, and brings up safely up out of our sinking and walks with us until the storms pass and we are safe again.
My prayer is that when you are sinking...if you are sinking now...when the storms rage around you and the wind seems so very strong, that you may call out for help, and know that you are not alone and that you are loved.