Book Review: SPURGEON’S SORROWS Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression

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spurgeon's sorrows

Zack Eswine
Christian Focus Publications
2014

“There comes a time in most of our lives in which we no longer have the strength to lift ourselves out or to pretend ourselves strong. Sometimes our minds want to break because life stomped on us and God didn’t stop it.”

  • Christians should have the answers, shouldn’t they? Depression affects many people both personally and through the ones we love. Depression is not new though, indeed the “Prince of Preachers” C.H. Spurgeon struggled with depression and talked openly about it. Here Zack Eswine draws from Spurgeon’s experiences to encourage us. What Spurgeon found in his darkness can serve as a light in our own darkness. This is not a self-help guide, but rather “a handwritten note of one who wishes you well.”

When it comes to the subject of depression, it’s no secret that I’ve had a proverbial dog in this race for quite some time–I remember it first manifesting regularly when I was 9 years of age. After years of psychiatric therapy, it eventually turned out that the depression was a part of a bigger mental health condition, a chemical imbalance that I won’t go into detail here. This is just a book review, after all. I became a (for lack of a better term) born-again Christian when I was 15, and the long and short of it is that, at no point did I think that doing so would automatically negate the depression that came with my mental condition. Oh, there were plenty of other well-meaning Christians who were quick to tell me that this shouldn’t be, that I shouldn’t have this depression and have suicidal thoughts at times; that I obviously have some kind of secret sin that I need to confess and get right with God, or some kind of demon infesting my mind that needs to be cast out in faith, or the inevitable questioning the authenticity of my faith to begin with. Those are always amusing.

The point is, I’ve been a Christian for 30 years as of this writing, with depression and mental health issues being a part of my mortal life for over 35 of my 45 years of existence. During that time, I’ve come to three conclusions: 1) My depression is the medical result of the fallen nature of my physical body, and not a punishment for some secret sin or whatever, 2) my faith in the Lord has gotten stronger and deeper the more I confront my depression head-on, and 3) I really suck at trying to explain all this to my fellow Christians who don’t deal with clinical depression. Fortunately, there’s books like Spurgeon’s Sorrows to help put into words the very things that I can’t express goodly.

For the Obligatory History Lesson: Charles Spurgeon was an English Reformed Baptist preacher who lived in the 19th Century (between 1834 to 1892), and was nicknamed the “Prince of Preachers”, having influenced many Christians from many differing denominations throughout the years. The pastor at my church has been known to call me “Spurgeon” as a kind of term of endearment; I always thought it had to do with my beard and method of Bible study. Turns out, it had a lot to do with the fact that Spurgeon also struggled with depression as much as he upheld the faith.

In Spurgeon’s Sorrows, author Zack Eswine not only goes through the historical background and theological musings of Charles Spurgeon, but sheds the light and investigates his own struggle with depression and anxiety, and how the method of dealing with it ran contrary to the common response to depression and mental illness in Victorian times–namely, that Spurgeon saw it more as an opportunity to grow in his faith in Christ Jesus, rather than despair thinking that this somehow was a sign that God had rejected him. That, again, is an overly simplistic explanation for the purposes of the review; fortunately, Eswine does go a bit further here, presenting Spurgeon’s writings, Scripture references and, most of all, presenting hope that this goes deeper than the standard “maybe you have a secret sin that you’re not confessing”/”get right with God” type of answer that seems to be thrown around a lot without discernment.

Overall, for those Christians out there who are struggling with clinical depression, and are afraid to bring it up with others for fear of getting misunderstood and a pat “Just have faith and cheer up!” type answer, Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a must-read. It will help you to face depression for what it is, and do so in a way that will strengthen your faith rather than question it. Highly, highly recommended.

Confessions Of A Depressed Christian: DEPRESSION, CHRISTMAS, & STAR WARS

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charlie brown christmas depressedI will confess that, like many other children, I used to love the Christmas season. There was always something magical about the time, something in the air. The world just seemed to be brighter, shinier and lit up, somehow. I was probably what you would call a Spirit of Christmas Junkie, come to think of it. The build-up to the big day, Christmas Day, then the inevitable After Christmas Depression that would come over, a malaise that hits and stays with until after the first of January and everything gets back to the standard day-to-day mundane existence of it all.

I haven’t been excited about Christmas for years, now. I do recall the exact last time I was actually jazzed about celebrating the season: 2013, and that was because my betrothed at the time had an enthusiasm that was downright infectious. No need to retell the tale of how that ended up. Needless to say, it’s almost like the depression I suffer from has intensified since then, over five years ago as I write this.

Now, the act of gathering with what’s left of the family seems merely perfunctory, going-through-the-motions kind of celebrations. I still have times, often out of nowhere, where a wave of grief and sadness and shock will hit me. It’s the nature of the condition. And starting right after Halloween, the closer we get to Christmas, the more and more I can feel this dark time close in on me.

I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy. I simply want to share what I go through each Christmas, and despite the loneliness, the despair and darkness of the time, why I still celebrate Christmas. What Christmas really means to me.

First, it means that my pain and suffering are not unknown to God. Instead, they are shared by God. He is not the absent God of the deists, or the remote God of Aristotle. Nor is He only the moral/creator God of the Old Testament. He is a God who has chosen to walk among us, to get down into the messy, dirty and broken world of our humanity.

At the tomb of his friend, Jesus wept. Not perfunctory tears, but tears of great grief. Even though he knew before he got there that Lazarus was dead, he wept. Even though He knew he would in a few minutes raise Lazarus from the dead, he wept. Even though he knew that Mary and Martha’s tears of grief would soon turn to tears of joy and shouts of thanks, he wept. Even though he knew all would eventually be made right, Jesus wept.

The incarnation means to me, in a deeper way than I had experienced before, that God’s heart beats with love and sympathy for the losses of my life. But even more than this, Christmas is also precious to me because it tells me that the worst thing is not the last thing. Jesus came, not only to share our sorrows, but to redeem them. And to give the hope of the resurrection. The hope that pain and suffering and loss are not random, not pointless, not the hand of impersonal fate. And definitely not the end of the story.

Let’s pretend that there exists someone who only has seen one Star Wars movie: The Empire Strikes Back. For whatever reason, this is the only one they’ve seen, and are unaware that this is merely the second part of a continuous story that began with A New Hope and concluded with Return Of The Jedi*. This person would probably conclude that the story, although powerful and profound, is pessimistic and somewhat sad; so much is still wrong, so many sacrifices wasted on nothing, so much evil still holding sway.

This is where we are at right now. At this point, we are still living in the middle of a bigger story arc. But Jesus has come, and told us that the future volumes are already written, that evil and death and suffering are not the final word, that sacrifice is not in vain, that pain has a purpose. That death is not eternal. For the Author has stepped into the story, to make all things right, in their time.

This is what I believe. This is why I still hold Christmas as a time for hope and joy, despite of what my chemical imbalance and circumstances tell me. The hands of the King are hands of healing and redemption. Suffering and separation are not forever; pain is not the final word. Death itself will die, and resurrection will rule.

The worst thing is not the last thing. This is what Christmas means to me.

::END TRANSMISSION::

[*=I‘m only going with the Original Saga here, as an example; let’s not get pedantic with the comments, here]

T’was the Day After Xmas…

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boxing day
Gift Return Day. Known in the UK as Boxing Day. Time to take the things that we got and exchange them for the things we wanted, regardless of the thought that counts.

What follows is a post that a friend on Facebook made this mourning, and I felt it was good enough to steal for the blog:

Christmas is over. What difference did it make? Were you happy with what you got? Were the recipients of your gifts pleased? What difference does it make?

Is your life full today, as it felt yesterday? If not…then it made no difference.

If you are suffering from Post-Christmas Depression, maybe you forgot, didn’t know, or don’t believe in the reason for much of how the American Christmas tradition looks and feels. It means you haven’t gotten the greatest Christmas gift of all. The gift of God’s presence in your inmost being.

Christmas can truly be every day of the year, if you understand and accept the Gospel of Jesus, that he is God in the flesh, come to earth, died on a cross as atonement for your sin (for my sin as well), thta you might be forgiven, and know God intimately. That you might become a son or daughter of the King of all eternity.

Without Jesus, Christmas is, was, and will be little more than self-gratifying emptiness that leaves you void the next day.
::END TRANSMISSION::

Eastertide…

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NecRoSarX Chronicles Header
grave of the black sheep
So, here we are. Another Lent season, ending with Easter Sunday, has come and gone. For many, this was a holy time of reflection on their faith and what it means to them. For me…I have to be straightforward with everyone: I don’t really consider the holidays on the Christian calendar to be all that important.

Okay, okay, let me rephrase that: I don’t really consider the Big Two Christian holidays–those being Christmas and Easter–as special as any other day of the year.

Yeah, there’s just no way I can phrase this without sounding like some kind of curmudgeon. I assure you I’m not trying to rain on the celebrations of anyone observing the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. Jesus’ victory over sin and death is at the very crux of my faith (pun very much intended).

As I approach my third decade as being a servant of Christ Jesus (as I told the youth group last week, I became a Christian at the age of 15, and it’ll be nearly 30 years in August; do the math), I find myself less and less enamored of any perceived “holy days” and holidays as I once was.

The reason for this, first off, has nothing to do with being sick and tired of having to put up with so many Actual Lee* types who want to nit-pick how un-Christian Easter really is and sucking the fun out of everything for everyone (although I’d be lying if I said they didn’t annoy me); nor does it have anything to do with slowly losing my faith over time.

The truth is, I find that the longer I walk down this path that Father God, Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit has me on, the less I feel the need to celebrate Easter**. At least, not as all-out as many of my fellow brethren and sisteren do.

Here’s how I see it: Remembering the sacrificial death and consequent resurrection of the Son of God is very important. But, I think, equally important is to remember that we’ve all been living in the Eastertide, the period after His resurrection and ascension. The work is finished. We should be celebrating this every day out of the year.

Shouts of “He is Risen!” Well, He’s always been risen. Do we need reminding? Probably. We are a people that easily forgets what God has done for us. We go about the rest of the year seemingly stuck in the Saturday before Easter, like He’s still dead and our hope means nothing. An empty passion play.

::END TRANSMISSION::

[*= “Actual Lee”: a type of person who always wants to correct anyone about anything, interjecting their superior knowledge on any topic of discussion, often unsolicited, usually starting with the word “Actually” (“Actually, the Easter celebration has its roots in the pagan celebration of the spring equinox, and was absorbed by the Christian church to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.”) SOURCE]

[**=yes, I understand that some prefer calling it “Resurrection Day” due to not wanting to associate with the pagan roots of Easter. That’s fine, I have no qualms with that. I call it “Easter” myself, and that’s why I use it in this post.]

FAT TUESDAY UPDATE

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celtic crossGreetings and salutations, my wonderful freaks. I’m dropping a bit of an update here to mention that, in observance of Lent this year, I’m going to not be posting the usual movie / book reviews until after Easter. Instead, I’m probably going to be focusing more on some much-needed study of the Scriptures and maybe posting my thoughts and brain droppings on my faith, the liturgical season itself, and other things pertaining to it.

Mind you, I’m not going all Me So Holy on you all. I am still going to be scheduling the movie and book reviews (the music reviews and band interviews have been moved to the NECRO SHOCK RADIO blog, in case you were wondering), they’ll just be posting after Easter this year, or April 22 for those of you non-observant readers of this blog. There will still be the scheduled Session postings on NECRO SHOCK RADIO, and there are still the movies scheduled with the other members of the Exalted Geeks during this time, where we’ll record the pubcasts and posting on the Will Code For Beer blog.

But, for now, aside from the one last movie review for today, and this particular news update here, there’s nothing specific scheduled for posting for the next 40 days leading up to Easter. In case anyone shows up between then and wonder if I just dropped off the face of the earth…well, it’s not for the usual reason, like so many times before. Until then, I wish you all a blessed Lent season if you observe, and for those who don’t adhere to the Christian faith, enjoy the next couple of months. I remain, as always, your humble servant Uncle NecRo.

::END TRANSMISSION::

Suicide, I’ve already died, it’s just the funeral I’ve been waiting for…

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dark tunnelI wish I could talk about my struggles with depression and suicide openly without fear of misunderstood alienation.

Okay, let me rephrase that to be a bit more on point: I wish I could talk about my struggles with depression and suicide with my fellow Christians without fear of misunderstood alienation.

To quote an Aerosmith song, it’s the same old story, same old song and dance: whenever the topic of suicide comes up, whenever doing that “fellowship” thing with the brethren and sisteren in whatever setting it is, it’s always accompanied by statements of not understanding what would make anyone think that taking their own life was the only option.

Which, really, is a good question. Especially when you factor in the list of recent celebrity suicides, people who would have been the last persons anyone would expect to take their own lives. Even on a more personal level, people that have been known personally, whether family members, friends, or work acquaintances. The question lingers, what would drive someone to take their own life?

Unfortunately, we evangelical Christians seem to have a very simple answer to a very, very complicated issue. It’s trotted out every time it’s brought up: “If they only knew God, if they only gave their lives to Jesus, they never would have had suicidal thoughts any longer.”

That phrase runs a very close second despised Christianese phrases I’ve come across in my years as a Christian. The first being telling someone “God has a plan,” to someone who just buried their loved one. But, I digress.

I have one very strong word to say about that: Bullshit. There’s no other way to say it. Do you know why? It’s simple.

I struggle with suicidal thoughts to this day.

Now, if you’ve made it this far without clicking away and blowing me off as some kind of fake Christian at this point, good. Because maybe you understand that, regardless of Jesus being our Lord and Saviour, the Holy Spirit indwelling us and sanctifying our minds and bodies, and Father God declaring us righteous due to the work that Jesus did on the cross for us, and even knowing the many promises in the Bible where God said He would never leave us or forsake us, that even the full brunt force of the gates of Hades couldn’t loose His grip on us, we still have that bone-deep weariness that makes us physically not want to engage, to not get out of bed; a weariness that no amount of sleep or good thoughts or even coffee can relieve us of.

You understand the intense, shameful sense of self-hatred that can come, believing yourself toxic and harmful to those closest to you, and you understand how easy it is to begin thinking that, maybe if you were no longer around, everyone will be better for it.

You also understand that depression is far more complex than just being sad. There’s emptiness, a kind of void that is tangible, and sometimes a strong numb feeling, a disconnect with life and those around you.

You also may understand that, if you talk about any of it, you may be perceived as not having enough faith in God to heal you. Or, they may think you have some kind of unconfessed sin that’s causing this. Or, my personal favorite statement of ignorance, you may have a DEMON! and all you need is more prayer and Bible study and faith in God. Maybe there’s an Essential Oil that cures depression?

Sorry, I tend to wax pretty sarcastic with this. Anyway.

Can God heal me of my depression instantly? Yes. There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever. Have I prayed for God to take away my depression? You have no idea the many times over the decades where I’ve begged God to take away this suffering of mine, to make the darkness just go away. To let me be carefree, bubbly and happy, like I see others in the Body of Christ. But, for some reason I really cannot fathom with my puny human brain, God has seen fit to let me continue with this proverbial thorn in my side. As He told the apostle Paul, His grace is sufficient.

Maybe you’re reading this, not because you struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, but because of a genuine desire to understand why, without resorting to pat answers. We are called to be a light to the world, to reach out and comfort the broken and weary of living. But, how can we if we don’t understand the darkness that we endure?


::END TRANSMISSION::

Life Application Study: The MARKS of the TRUE GOSPEL and of FALSE GOSPELS

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The MARKS of the TRUE GOSPEL and of FALSE GOSPELS
The Book of Galatians

FALSE GOSPEL: Treats Christ’s death as meaningless
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! – Galatians 2:21

TRUE GOSPEL: Teaches that the source of the gospel is God
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. – Galatians 1:11-12

FALSE GOSPEL: Says people must obey the law in order to be saved
The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” – Galatians 3:12

TRUE GOSPEL: Knows that life is obtained through death; we trust in the Son of God (Jesus) who loved us and died for us so that we might die to sin and live for Him
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

FALSE GOSPEL: Tries to find favor with God by observing certain rituals
You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! – Galatians 4:10

TRUE GOSPEL: Explains that all believers have the Holy Spirit through faith
He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. – Galatians 3:14

FALSE GOSPEL: Counts on keeping laws to be right with God
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. – Galatians 5:4

TRUE GOSPEL: Declares that we cannot be saved by keeping laws; the only way of salvation is through faith in Christ, which is available to all
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. – Galatians 3:21-22

TRUE GOSPEL: Says that all believers are one in Christ, so there is no basis for discrimination of any kind
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:26-28

TRUE GOSPEL: Proclaims that we are free from the grip of sin and that the Holy Spirit’s power fills and guides us
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. – Galatians 5:24-25

[from the Life Application Study Bible, NIV; Tyndale House/Zondervan]

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