“How are you?” For this seemingly innocuous question, there is an expected answer. Anything else is met with incredulity, followed by stunned silence, followed by avoidance. There may be a few perfunctory phrases in between, but the end result is almost always avoidance.
This is why we are so often shocked when a “happy” or “funny” person like Robin Williams exits this charade so tragically.
“I’m fine!” You had better be ready with this answer, because anything else is unacceptable in polite society. I say this almost in jest, although truly it is not funny.
If you are really not fine, there is another answer that is second-best, but can only be used sparingly, unless the subject is ready for the avoidance technique. “I’m getting better.” This is considered a borderline “I’m fine.” It still meets the criteria of making the polite inquirer feel good, or at least slightly good.
”You’re getting better, right?” This question also demands a “yes” answer; as it is usually a plea for the uncomfortable discussion to be throttled.
In the best gardens, plants that do not thrive are pulled up and tossed out. In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus even speaks about an unproductive fig tree that was slated for destruction. Most gardeners lack the patience to care for a “bad” plant.
Here is the reality for people with depression; society pulls away. You are treated as a pariah. You may get treated to a smile as someone bustles past you trying to look busy. They don’t want to be cruel or unfeeling, but they also don’t want to engage someone who might take a little work to figure out.
But that “work” is exactly what our Lord has called us to do. Here are a few tools for that work.
- Talk to people who are hurting. By allowing them to talk, they may work things out by themselves. No “solution” has to be provided by the listener. Simply giving people an opportunity to vent can allow them to see a light at the end of their tunnel. Even if they don’t, they will know that someone cared enough about them to listen. It can make an enormous difference in their day, their week, maybe their life.
- Be available. Do they need help with a few little things that seem insurmountable to them, and would take you only a few minutes? You might be surprised. A friend of mine told me that her pain was lessened when someone would play with her hair. I sang and stroked her hair for 30 minutes until she fell asleep — a sleep that had evaded her for days. Who would have known that would help? As I quietly shut the door of her apartment behind me, I thanked the Lord that she let me know that odd fact.
- Don’t be afraid of people who are hurt or sad. They will not steal your joy. Maybe it would help if we looked at pain or depression as if it were a physical characteristic, such as stature. You wouldn’t ask a short person to hand you your hat off of the shelf in the church foyer. Similarly, a person in emotional pain has some limitations that others are spared. It doesn’t mean they can’t be a tremendous force for good in God’s great plan for man.
Elijah certainly played a great role in Israel’s history, in spite of his deep depression. Jeremiah, the “Weeping Prophet,” was instrumental in bringing God’s word to the nation of Judah as the captivity began.
So, I’m fine. How are you?