At the beginning of the month, I accepted a position as a hospice chaplain. This seems to be a good fit for me, since I have the education and 15 years of experience in pastoral ministry. It does not have all the stressors of pastoring a church, and for someone who burned out on church work, it fits well.
If you know me personally, or you read my blog, then you know that I struggle with very severe depression and anxiety. This has caused some to wonder if I am going to be ok constantly dealing with death.
It is true that my work week is always surrounding death. I visit people who are not expected to live longer than 6 months. I also have the responsibility of visiting everyone for whom death is imminent. I attend as many as 3 funerals per week. I make phone calls to grieving families, and I am getting ready to begin a grief support group. It is true that I am surrounded by death.
People mean well when they ask me if this job is going to be ok. I know a lot of people worry about my depression and how I am doing as I deal with it. However, what I am finding is that being around sad things does not magnify depression. Granted, I need to keep it all in check. Being around sad things can make me feel sad, but that is different from depression.
There is a temptation to think that the best way to deal with depression is to avoid any sad or difficult aspect of life. This might be necessary in a crisis situation, but it is not a good way to approach depression. It is impossible to live life and not have to deal with anything sad or difficult. Thus, the only way to avoid such things is to withdraw from life, and that kind of thinking leads to addiction.
To truly overcome depression, I have to learn to deal with the things in life that are sad or difficult. In this regard, my new job has been a tremendous help to me. Every day, I have to face the fact that death and grief are real parts of life. There are healthy ways to grieve and there are unhealthy ways to grieve, but we will all grieve at some time or another.
This morning, my pastor spoke about a story in the gospel of John, chapter 6. The disciples had set out across the sea of Galilea. Halfway across, they encounter a severe storm. Then, in the midst of such fear and trial, they see what they believe is a ghost. It is not a ghost, however, it is Jesus, walking on the water. He tells them, “Do not be afraid, I am here.” However, the most literal translation from the original language is “Do not be afraid, the I am is here.”
Jesus refers to himself as ‘I am’ in other parts of scripture. The ‘I Am’ is not a reference to self, but to God. When Jesus called himself the I AM, he was using the name that God introduced himself to Moses with.
There is something else interesting about John’s telling of this story. He leaves out the part where Jesus calms the storm. It seems that the point John wants to make is this: To know Jesus and to know who He is antithetical to fear. I have no need to fear because Jesus is the great I am and He is with me.
Thinking back about how a person might struggle with depression but face everyday difficulties, it is important to note that Jesus need not calm every storm in my life. It is enough to know Him and to know that He is near. There is no need to hide, no need to withdraw. There is endless glory in facing the day with Jesus.
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower