Saturday, December 19, 2015

Advent - Rejoicing? But I Don't Feel Like It

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don't be anxious about anything:  rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (CEB)

When I see these verses, the old church canon rings in my head:  "Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, Rejoice!" It was almost a litany. I have that as part of a list of Sunday School songs that teach our children to conform to a certain way of thinking without acknowledging that we have other emotions.

There is the song, "I'm H-A-P-P-Y. I feel like I can fly." It's as if we are trying to tell our children that if they are not happy, there is something wrong with them.

It is my personal belief that this verse is one of the most misused verses in the Bible. Don't get me wrong. I believe there is truth in this verse, but we Christians tend to use this verse in the wrong way. People tend to use this verse to say that if we are not happy all the time, what is wrong with us? We are commanded to be happy. We're Christians! (I seriously wish I had a sarcasm font right now.)

Unfortunately, as with most Scripture that we have, it is easy to pervert it and use it to say something it didn't really mean. Often I hear the phrase, "The Bible is clear on this subject." No, that's wrong.

The Bible is rarely clear on many things. It is only one's interpretation of the Bible that is clear.

What are we to do with these verses then? First of all, let us look at them in context. Paul is giving some final words to the congregation in Philippi. When I read it, I get the impression that there were some problems going on in the Church there. People weren't getting along with each other. People were worried about so many different things going on with their lives.

So when I look at these verses, I see that Paul is telling them:  Look at who you are in the Lord! Look at God's favor and presence in you! See what God has done for you. There are reasons to rejoice and be glad! Notice what he doesn't tell them to do:  Stop being sad.

As someone who has suffered from depression, it was often a slap in the face to hear other people to stop moping around and to stop being so somber. I tend to be taciturn to begin with. I don't always express my emotions immediately unless it is something I am very passionate about.

However, there is a word of advice that Paul gives here which I can also recommend. He tells his readers to "bring up all your requests to God in your prayers and petitions." Sometimes we have a hard time telling others about our problems in our lives. We don't like to admit that things are going badly. We don't always like to complain to God, either, thinking that perhaps we are not being grateful enough. However, I believe God wants us to share all of our deepest concerns and thoughts.

During this past year of turmoil, one of the greatest things I have encountered is experience God in my friends and family. I have shared with them my worries, my fears, and my concerns. Do you know how difficult it is for me to open up? This past year was horrible. I yelled out to God. Since the vast majority of my officership (pastorate) was spent in Germany, I yelled out to God in German. It was cathartic. It was healing.

Something harder to do was to open up to my family and friends. I quickly learned who would listen and who would not (or could not). I do not fault the ones who couldn't. Some people are just not in the right place to be able to listen to our worries and concerns. I was going through the most horrendous time of my life. I had a few friends who actually took the initiative to call me up and make sure I was OK.

The verses that we have been reading in Advent have had a similar vein:  the Lord is near. Advent:  the Expectation, the Waiting, the Longing for Closeness. God is near.

This is something I experienced through this Valley of Shadow. I wasn't walking it alone. I was there with God. God sent people to me who stood alongside me when all seemed hopeless.

I am not out of the Valley of Shadow, but just to know that I am not alone has been helpful. Then, maybe someday, I will also be able to finally rejoice in the Lord.

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