This article is based on my teaching notes from the ‘Helping us to help others’ equipping day at City Church
I’d like you to imagine four people, each struggling with their emotions.
The Anxious Business Man
The first is a member of your church: he is a successful middle aged man who in was the national manager for a multi national company. He experienced a very difficult time at work where he felt his CEO was bullying him and deliberately trying to get rid of him. He became increasingly more and more anxious, and eventually resigned through ill health. Currently he has completely withdrawn from public life and isn’t working. It seems obvious why he’s anxious, from the bullying he’s experienced. But maybe he had put too much of his identity in his job, to be affected so badly. You’d like to help, and maybe someone needs to be his friend, to pray with him. Maybe he needs to face the work situation, and have mediation.
The Grieving Mother
The second couldn’t be more a different : an older lady, a single mother who doesn’t have a career. She contacted the church to ask for help with funeral arrangements for her 25yr old son who recently died from a serious illness. She is clearly distraught, crying, unable to keep herself together, visually unkempt, and also suffering financially. Part of you think she’s reacting fairly normally to the situation, after all she’s grieving. But perhaps it’s deeper than that… And maybe she needs help in other areas, like her finance. Maybe she just needs to know Jesus.
The Angry Gifted Man
Number 3 is a confident, loud and very gifted man in your church. He has a quick temper and small things can escalate in to big issues. Recently in his anger over being teased about his receding hair line he said some incredibly hurtful things to some of the youth group. Now, it seems obvious that he needs to apologise. And deal with his anger issues. And probably some counselling to deal with the things underlying his anger issues.
Someone with Suicidal Thoughts
And our final person has been praying in secret to God to kill them as they would rather be dead. Which is terrifying. And if they ever told someone, maybe you’d tell him to get professional help – or maybe you wouldn’t know what to say at all.
Did you recognise anyone? Do you know someone like them, or who is dealing with similar things, or perhaps they remind you of people you once read about in the Bible.
Because our Anxious Business Man is a modern day David. David: shepherd boy who slayed a giant. David: King of Israel. David: psalmist and man after God’s own heart. David, who said once :
“Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan, because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.” (Psalm 55:1-8 ESV)
He knew what it was to run scared and end up all alone, jobless, friendless, persecuted, afraid.
Our Grieving Mother lived in Nain, in Israel, and had the privilege of meeting Jesus who offered her a solution I wouldn’t dream of: to raise her son from the dead. (Luke 7:12-15 ESV)
The older Gifted Angry Man was drawn from a rather unusual and unpleasant story about Elisha:
[Elisha] went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. (2 Kings 2:23, 24 ESV)
I don’t pretend to understand this tale, nor what it tells me other than even the best of us can struggle to manage our temper in constructive ways.
And finally, our Person with Suicidal Thoughts could have been a number of great men at a point in their lives: the prophet Elijah after his huge triumph at Mt Carmel suddenly had to run for his life and he ‘went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4 ESV)
Jonah prayed, again after an incredibly successful ministry : “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:3 ESV)
Job in all his sufferings said : “Oh that I might have my request, and that God would fulfill my hope, that it would please God to crush me, that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!” (Job 6:8, 9 ESV)
And Jeremiah cursed his own mothers womb: “Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you,” making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the Lord overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14-18 ESV)
It is uncomfortable and distressing, perhaps alarming, to hear people express suicidal thoughts – believe me, when it is happening in your own head it can be even more so. I take great comfort from knowing that these amazing men of God also came to points in their lives where they had these thoughts, and that they were not ashamed to say it aloud, nor to tell others they had them – as Elijah must have done for us to see it.
I’m not saying we all need to blog every dark thought. But it is important to say that these thoughts can come into the light and we needn’t be scared of them.
Let’s bring our worst thoughts and fears to God as so many of the men and women in the Bible did. And one day, maybe we could form a community where we can voice them to each other, and be heard with acceptance and love.
So from all of this I want to make 5 points:
- Experiencing emotions and a whole range of emotions is normal and part of who God has created us to be.
- Experiencing emotional distress isn’t sinful, just like experiencing physical ill health isn’t sinful. ( How we respond to our distress, and what we do with it can be, of course)
- We can be open and honest about our darkest thoughts
- It’s good to be willing to ask about and ready to listen to other’s thoughts and feelings.
- We don’t need to have answers nor solutions: it’s enough to come alongside alongside people in their particular journey, just as through their stories in the Bible Elijah,Elisha, David, Job, Jonah, Jeremiah, and the widow come alongside us in ours.