People working in bookshops are like ducks. We might appear calm on the surface but often we’re “paddling like the dickens underneath.” The appearance of calm helps customers feel welcome in the shop. If we are noticeably frazzled, then customers tend to apologise for intruding and disappear through the front door just as quickly as they arrived.
In this season of COVID-19, being frazzled has been much easier. There was no-one walking in the shop door to notice. Another option is to hide in bed and watch Netflix. Or, like a poorly mixed cocktail, we might try a combination of both. For the anxious amongst us, the extra financial pressures and social isolation brought on by COVID-19 add to this dangerous cocktail. So, recently, between Netflix episodes and lying in bed sick, I read Chris Cipollone’s book Down Not Out: Depression, Anxiety and the Difference Jesus Makes.
People working in bookshops are like ducks. We might appear calm on the surface but often we’re ‘paddling like the dickens underneath.’
Sometimes the Wisest Answer is “All of the Above.”
There is much wisdom in Chris’s book and no trite answers. Chris has lived with anxiety and depression and is not promising any quick fixes. He reminds us of our gospel hope and applies it to the complexities of life in a nuanced fashion. I treasured this insight Chris gained from talking with a friend and psychologist:
I wonder if you have ever considered the power of the words “but” or “and”. If you’re like me, probably never. But consider the implication if I say, “The gospel provides hope but I feel hopeless”.
The use of the word “but” serves to negate the first part of the sentence. In other words my sense of hopelessness wins out over the hope that the gospel provides.
Now, what if I say, “The gospel provides hope and I feel hopeless”?
This changes things. Now I can feel hopeless and the hope of the gospel can still be true. The sun can be shining and I can feel low. My lowness does not stop the sun from shining. In the same way, the hopelessness we can feel does not have the power to stop the hope we have. God is bigger than that. (page 46)
I think this principle underpins much of the wisdom in Chris’s book. Throughout this book, Chris gives a holistic picture instead of being trapped by false dichotomies:
- Our struggles with anxiety and depression can have biological causes and be impacted by our own life-expectations and external pressures
- Sickness can be healed miraculously and it can be treated through professional medical support and often there is no cure
- People will continue to suffer from anxiety and depression now and one day there will be no more anxiety or depression when we are given resurrection bodies.
As we wrestle with the “why” questions of anxiety and depression, sometimes there are multiple reasons, multiple answers — and sometimes the answer is not (a), (b) or (c) but (d) “all of above”. Sometimes we won’t even know the answer and that’s okay too:
We may never find out this side of heaven why we experience depression and anxiety, but this doesn’t mean we have a God who does not care for us.” (page 30)
Anxiety, Idealism and Justice
I know that my anxiety is often driven by idealism. I have a strong desire to see justice now—right now! I want to see people treat each other fairly. I often try to fix things that are outside my control. I need to keep reminding myself that God is sovereign and that ultimate justice has already been achieved.
Jesus was righteous and blameless and he was sentenced and executed as though he was guilty. Even Pontius Pilate, the governor who sentenced Jesus to death, declared him innocent saying “I find no basis for a charge against him.” In that moment of injustice, the death of Jesus became the ultimate act of justice and mercy by God to encompass all other moments in time. Jesus offered Himself as a once-for-all sacrifice. He has dealt with the injustice of the world.
When we act unjustly, we should remember Jesus, then repent and enjoy the blessing of His mercy and forgiveness. When we see that the world is unjust, we should remember Jesus and then pray for God’s will to be done. When it’s appropriate for us to be peacemakers then we should pray and act—remembering to seek God’s will not our own.
Remembrance: In the Night My Hope Lives On…
There is a deep habit of remembrance throughout the Bible. The annual festivals established by God served to remind His people that He had rescued them and blessed them in the past. Through song, through stories, through re-enacting the Passover meal, God’s people found hope for the future by remembering what God had already done for them in the past.
Chris Cipollone also notes the importance of remembrance:
In all seasons of life, the sacrifice of Christ shows that God has not spared even his own Son in his loving pursuit of us. This is why we need to hold on to the promises we have, because if we were to leave it to our feelings alone, the darkness would become a reality that has no hope. But to be a Christian is to have an undeniable hope… When we doubt God’s goodness or even his existence, remembrance can be one of our most powerful allies (p. 30, emphasis added).
When I am struggling with anxiety I love listening to Andrew Peterson’s song, “In the night my hope lives on.” Peterson’s lyrics remind me of the many ways God has already forgiven, saved and blessed his people in the past. Remembering God’s faithfulness in the past is one of the reasons our “hope lives on” and one of the reasons we look forward with confidence to the return of Jesus.
We Don’t Have to be Happy All the Time
Life is full of surprises and many of them will not be pleasant. We can enjoy God’s blessings amidst the brokenness and we can acknowledge the brokenness in our world. Our emotions are real. Life is not always fair and life is not always happy. Again Chris writes:
When we are happy, we can thank God for that. But when we are not happy, as is often the case when we are depressed or anxious, we are not left at a loss. Our life is not defined by this single emotion. Rather, our call is to maturity — to worship God in all seasons for who he is and what he has done (p. 62).
We have reason to be sad and we have permission to be sad. Chris writes:
Pursuing maturity, rather than happiness, has changed the way I think about my life. It allows me room to fail. It allows me room to be disappointed. It allows me room to find life hard. And most importantly, it allows me room to find joy in the midst of all seasons. I hope it will do the same for you (pp. 62–63).
Some Australian churches have been rediscovering the Psalms of Lament (eg. Finding Lost Words), perhaps just in time for this season of increased sickness and death. As painful as this year might become, it’s not new. Even before COVID-19, people around the world faced financial pressures, even slavery — as well as hunger, sickness, and death. We can have hope and we can be sad and grieve, just as creation groans.
We are Loved in our Brokenness
With such strong reminders of our gospel hope, we might still feel guilty. Knowing we live for eternity might make us feel pressure to meet unreasonable or unrealistic expectations from people around us now. And sometimes the expectations we place on ourselves are the most unrealistic.
Chris writes as someone who knows his own brokenness and can empathise with our brokenness. His honesty about his own struggles, his own anxiety and depression, his own pain and disappointments, ensures that we don’t feel condemned. Chris finishes his book with an analogy based on the story of the poor widow who only had two coins to give but who was celebrated by Jesus:
Emotionally speaking, you may have just two copper coins to give on any given day. To everyone else, your life may look unimpressive. Others may wonder what’s happened to you. They may even pass judgment…You may spend your two coins by getting out of bed tomorrow morning and having a shower. You could spend them in five minutes of prayer. Or perhaps it’s making an appointment with a psychologist for the very first time. But know that even with two coins—especially with two coins–your opportunities to worship the one who loves you are significant… You are loved. (p. 135).
The certainty of our gospel-hope doesn’t condemn us to our brokenness, it comforts us in our brokenness. One day God will restore our broken bodies and our broken minds and, even now, God is with us by His Spirit. God is already with us while we suffer in this broken world. The restoration isn’t finished and the restoration has begun.
Available Online: Down Not Out