I know, for most of us, this coronavirus malarkey is a massive headache. I assume, like me, your time has been spent navigating live streaming, video conferencing, thinking about how best to care for people you can’t see and the theological implications of trying to replicate what we normally do without actually being able to do it. On top of that, there are questions about evangelism and community. How do we maintain fellowship when we can’t see anyone? How do we reach out to our friends, neighbours and communities with the gospel when we can’t even leave our houses? All these things require thought. Long, hard, emotionally draining thought.
And more than a few people have raised concerns for those who are isolated at this time. What will this do to the depressed soul? How will those ridden with medical anxiety issues manage? These are real questions that warrant a credible answer.
As many of you will know already, I suffer from ongoing depression. Reality is, for me, it will probably always be with me. Most the time, it is controlled and doesn’t bother me. But it does nonetheless flare up from time to time. Some of you will also know that before this lock down kicked in, I was in the midst of a downer that still hasn’t gone away yet.
But, for me, this lock down was something of a blessing. In the midst of depression, whilst everybody who suffers is different, for me the social interaction is the most difficult. I just want to lock myself away. I don’t want to have to rehash how I’m feeling, I don’t want to have to pretend all is well and – without putting too fine a point on it – I feel too terrible to listen to all your problems (and then I feel guilty that, as a pastor, I feel that way at all!) When I’m in a dip, I just want to pull the duvet back over my head, pretend that the day isn’t happening and – in my worse moments – perhaps my life too. But, when it is only a mild downer, I know that I can’t do that. I have things that must be done, people who are counting on me. So, I get up, put on a brave face and get on with it such that, unless I told them, most people wouldn’t know anything about it at all.
The emotional fallout of doing that is not insignificant. Keeping up a front is always tiring. Pressure to perform is similarly draining. One does it because one feels one needs to do it. But the more it is done, the greater the fallout the next day. This is how the downward spiral tends to take hold.
I appreciate, up to here, this is probably dragging your on a downer with me. But here’s the thing: in the midst of all that I’ve just written, the Lord sent a government-enforced, worldwide shut down of everything. No meetings, no visitors, no gathering, no social contact. It is as though the Lord saw the thing causing me the biggest issue right now and ordered this all for me (sorry to the rest of you for whom this is nothing but a raging nightmare).
Don’t get me wrong, much of this enforced lockdown has made life harder in a bunch of ways. But the thing that was making my life hardest of all, the Lord has graciously put something in place to ease matters on that front for me. He knows my depressed mind will not take a break (for how could I?!) He knows I am not going to reduce my pressure because I view the things that I find hard in depression to be vital, God-given tasks that are necessary for the health of his church and the care of those he has given me to shepherd. He knows that, even in the face of people telling me it is OK to take a break from some of that my health’s sake, I will only sit at home feeling guilty I’m not doing it. So, the Lord has taken it all out of my hands. There is no choice. This is the way it is and there is nothing I, or anybody else, can do about it. The rest has been given regardless.
Of course, I know this hasn’t only been given for me. Any time we think about what the Lord might be doing, we have a tendency to view it from our extremely limited perch and typically assess what he might be doing in this for me. But any time the Lord does anything, he is doing an almost infinite number of things through it. If all things work together for the good of those that love him (and they do), he has given all of this for the good of every believer. It is also ultimately for the sake of his own glory (somehow), to which the good of his people is tied. And even then, our best guess at how these events may be serving those two ends is not guaranteed to be right.
What I do know, however, is one way this appears to be serving me right now. I’m sure there are lots of things we can all think of that have become harder and other things that have become easier for us in these times. But from my limited perch, despite the things that have gotten harder, it seems like the Lord has brought this about just for me.