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Category: Depression

Memories are like tree rings

Annual Rings / Jahresringe – Christian Schnettelker www.manoftaste.de

A few weeks ago my wife and I drove our sons to my parents so they could stay a few days while we attended a foster parent training. On the way, I decided to swing through my hometown and show the kids where we used to live, work, and play. We drove through the backroads where “The slow guy” would drive 15 mph, in his little Toyota pickup, often without a shirt, accompanied by his big black dog riding shotgun. We pointed out landmarks of our lives during their childhood, like Pheasant’s Orchard, and the field where we fed llamas.
No one knew it, but this was a big step for me. I was dipping my toes in healing waters. More than a few events took place there that haunt me today. I try to put them behind me, but my mind won’t let me. Each event is stored as a memory that can be recalled at the slightest trigger.

We had a wood stove in our basement meant to be used for heat. We never figured out how to use it without smoking the house out. But one year, in preparation for winter, we drove to our church camp to retrieve firewood. The campground had cut many trees to thin the forest and reduce the risk of fire.

One thing you notice when you look at the stump of a tree is rings that spread from the center to the edge. “How did they get there?” children ask when they first see them.
Tree rings are a record of events that take place in a year. One year might have excessive rain-fall while the next has a drought. Fire might ravage a forest this year and a plague of insects the next. Each event leaves a mark on the tree; a darker circle one year, and a lighter one the next. As long as the tree still lives, it will keeps growing, forming new rings recording the events of the new year.

Memories are a lot like tree rings. They mark in our mind events that happen from one season to the next. Some years are full of love and growth. Others include stagnation, trials, pain or heartbreak.

When I become fixated on troubling memories, I am learning to tell myself that they are only rings on a tree. Those events are part of me, just as rings are part of a tree. But if I fixate on them I am staring at a stump. That is not where life occurs. Like that tree, I am still growing, meeting new challenges. Life is to be lived now.

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Dealing with loneliness

We’ve all had times when we felt we were alone. The most dramatic memory for me is when I first went to 4-H camp. I don’t remember how old I was, but recalling my emotions while being there, I think I was too young to be away from my parents. Of course, I wasn’t alone. I had kids from my 4-H group in Ephrata with me. But I remember feeling very alone. Especially at night when the lights were out and I found myself lying there in a strange cabin away from my family.
However, within a few years, I started going to Tall Timber Presbyterian church camp. I didn’t feel the same loneliness. I don’t know if it was just because I was older, or because I was a more seasoned camper. But the most significant difference between the two camps was that at Tall Timber, I wasn’t alone spiritually. I was with other Christians. Doing Christian things.
It is part of God’s design that we should not live alone.
From Genesis to Revelation, Christianity is a social religion. God said “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
We need people. We are energized by our relationships. They give our life meaning. We realize that our life is not simply about us and our needs but it is about something bigger… life is about being in community. Sharing experiences in common.
As we continue the story of Elijah in 1Kings 19:13 we find Elijah feeling very alone.
As a consequence of his calling as a prophet Elijah felt very isolated. A prophet’s job is to call people to turn away from their indulgences back to serving Yahweh. Sometimes the prophet’s audience turns toward the message. But most often,  people turn away, leaving the prophet alone in the world.
If you have a Bible, turn to 1Kings 19:13
13 And Elijah pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.      Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
Elijah said: “Look God, I am the only one left! Everyone has abandoned you and started worshiping Baal. They broke the altars erected to you and now they’ve killed the prophets. It’s just me now, and I’m
lonely.”
When I preach in August, I’m going to talk about depression and how one of the Bible’s stories about Elijah describes some God-ordained means for dealing with depression. But for now, we are going to focus on one aspect of depression which is isolation.. Isolation can be a symptom of depression.
Depressed people often start believing the lie that their friends don’t care about them. As a result, they purposely keep to themselves and eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy, all alone.
In Elijah’s depression he had come to believe that the entire nation had turned away from God. Under this faulty assumption he hid himself away in a cave. Away from the very people who could have supported him.
But more often then not, we are never as alone as we believe we are. While most had turned from God, there was still a remnant. And so one of the ways that God ministers to us in our loneliness is to open our eyes to see that we are actually not alone.
Picking it up at verse 15 we read “The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
God told him “Look, Hazael, Jehu and Elisha… they are still faithful to me. And there are 7000 people out there whose knees have not bowed down to Baal. Not only that, I have someone special for you to meet. His name is Elisha and he is going to work alongside you. You will have the opportunity to mentor him so that when you are gone, there will be someone to carry on your work.
Today you might find yourself in the position I was at camp. Even though you are surrounded with people you still feel alone. Perhaps you wrestle with depression and isolate yourself away, making people prove their love for you by waiting for them to take the initiative.
You need to hear the words of God to Elijah. You aren’t alone. There is a community of believers here that are available to walk beside you in both the joys and trials that life brings you. We do not have to suffer in loneliness as Elijah did.
God collects His people into churches so that they can give each other mutual help, contribute each of their gifts, talents, and passions to produce a whole that is greater then the sum of its parts, and together benefit from a common reward.
Hebrews 10:25 instructs us to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.
God says it is not enough to have your morning devotions at home alone. You need to meet regularly with other believers or else you will find yourself like Elijah thinking “I am all alone.” This might mean meeting Sunday morning in a church service like ours. But you actually don’t need to meet in the traditional matter that we do with a set order of worship and building. You might be meeting in a house with 10 other Christians in the middle of the week. It might even just be two or three gathered together. No matter what the setting, we need to not give up meeting together. We need to be around each other or else we will feel all alone as Christians.
But not only are there are Christians in Menno to support you, there are also Christians in Ritzville and Moses Lake. Grant and Adams County.
My life has been enriched this year by a very unique church situation. When we moved back to Moses Lake I knew I wanted my family to be in a church inside the city limits of Moses Lake so that we would be living with and ministering to our neighbors and coworkers. Eventually I found Journey church which meets in the Fairchild Cinema. But I also knew that I wanted my family to grow up knowing you all because you have become an adopted family for us. And I have chosen to be a Mennonite regardless of the denomination of the congregation we worship and minister in weekly. But then I was hired to play for the worship service of Living word Lutheran church.
What I have experienced from this is that there are opportunities for community, to minister, and to be ministered to by fellowshipping with a broader group of Christians then those that we worship with on Sunday morning.
It is also important for us to remember that the church is not our only recourse against loneliness. Psalm 68:6 says God sets the lonely in families. Whether your family is Christian or not, God has ordained the family to be a place of love. For most people there is unconditional love from mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. From our extended families of grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. One of the hazards of living so far away from Deana’s and my families was that we didn’t have the immediate support available to us that we had when we lived in the same town. So when families are apart it is important to make use of the technology we have been blessed with, whether the phone, email, chat, or text. Brittany sends me pictures of my Grandson Luke on my cell phone. And I can video conference with Alexis on Skype.
Finally, while I’ve been talking about how we need to seek out others to avoid the loneliness that crippled Elijah each of us needs to also be challenged to be that loving person that others can go to. Some people have found their experience of churches to be toxic. Church hasn’t been a safe place for them. They’ve felt judged or found it’s members at war with each other. For these people maybe you need to be just the second person of two or three gathered so that someone who believes the church is toxic can have a community of believers to meet with. To encourage that person. To pray with them. To share a meaningful passage of the Bible with them. To listen to them. To be ministered to by them. We need to not only go to church, we need to be the church for those with a negative experience with the church.
Other people have grown up in toxic families. Their parents area either distant or abusive. Their siblings are unsupportive. I believe that when Psalm 68 says “God sets the lonely in families” I believe it is also an invitation to us to be a family to those without one. For better or worse, our home has always been open to children and teens with troubles in their family. Sometimes it has meant them living with us for a short or extended time. The first time it was a teen whose mom had died of cancer. Later it was children of a neglectful mother. In other cases it has just been providing a loving place for them to hang out during the day. But God has continued to give us the opportunity to minister to those whose families are not there for them 100%.
So, to combat loneliness we need to be sure and take the time to gather with other Christians. Take the time to be with your family. And don’t isolate yourself to just your church or family. Take the time to be the church for those without one and be a family for those without.

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