A Pepper Grinder Post

The Black Dog

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it on this blog, but I struggle with mild depression. For many years, I could not seem to help sliding into optimism, even if I wanted to be gloomy and feel sorry for myself. However, for the past six years or so, I've had bouts with what some have referred to as "the black dog."

black dogEarly in my Christian life, I was taught that emotion should not be the thing which controls us.  I vaguely remember some helpful analogy about a train.  I think faith was the engine, intellect might have been the coal car (?), and feeling was the caboose—it just kind of tagged along for the ride.  This is all well and good, but no one ever told me what to do if you had a defective caboose that kept going off the tracks.  Unhitch it and go on without it?  Just keep dragging it along even though it slows the whole train down and threatens to derail other cars?  Try to fix the caboose and get it back on the tracks, even though you have no clue how to do that?  Coat the train with a chemical that will make the whole thing go slower, but will also make the caboose less likely to derail?

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t feel miserable all the time.  I can go days feeling reasonably content or even happy.  Even on my worst days, I often have flashes of pleasure, like yesterday when God gave me the idea for this post.  I am sure that many people have much worse depression than mine.  My point is not to get anyone to feel sorry for me (though if anyone wants to pray for me, I certainly wouldn’t mind).  I just wanted to share the thought which I believe God put in my mind.

I was trying to think about someone in the Bible who had to struggle along in difficult circumstances, and the person who came to mind was Joseph.  He was the first son of Jacob’s favorite wife.  He was the favorite son, and he made no effort to hide this fact from his older brothers.  Finally the resentment his brothers had felt for years boiled over into violence.  They threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery, and led their father to believe that Joseph was dead.

CarsonThen Joseph served a stint in the house of a high Egyptian official.  With God’s help, he became a young, attractive equivalent of Carson, the butler in Downton Abbey, who was basically in charge of running the whole house.  After a while, the woman of the house falsely accused Joseph of trying to take advantage of her because he had refused to do exactly that.  Joseph was thrown into prison.

At this point, I want to think about what this young man has been through.  He has gone from being the favorite son in a large family to being a slave.  He served honestly and faithfully as a slave, and then he got thrown into prison.  This is worse than the story line of the most melancholy country song!  From riches to rags.

So what did Joseph do in prison?  Did he become demoralized and give up hope?  Did he say, “What’s the point of trying? I’ll just get slapped down again.”  As is true many times in Biblical narratives, we aren’t told what Joseph thought or felt, but just what happened.  Here is what we read in Genesis 39:20-23 (NET):

Joseph's master took him and threw him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. So he was there in the prison.  But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him kindness. He granted him favor in the sight of the prison warden.  The warden put all the prisoners under Joseph's care. He was in charge of whatever they were doing.  The warden did not concern himself with anything that was in Joseph's care because the LORD was with him and whatever he was doing the LORD was making successful.

tree on wallHowever Joseph was feeling, one thing is clear: Joseph did not stop using his gifts of wisdom and administration even in the sucky situation in which he now found himself.

Here is the lesson I take for myself from this: Even if God has, for reasons I do not understand, put me in an emotional prison, this does not mean I cannot serve him. 

Just yesterday, coming out of the library, I saw an interesting sight on the decrepit brick wall at the back of a Chinese restaurant.  A few feet up the wall was some kind of old electrical junction box.  I guess that a little dirt must have accumulated in the crack between the junction box and the wall, and in that dirt, a small tree was starting to grow!  That tree didn’t think about whether it would be able to survive in that spot when it got bigger.  It didn’t sit there and feel sorry for itself, or jealous of other trees that were planted in better places.  It could grow, so it grew.

Obviously, people aren’t trees.  I do sometimes feel sorry for myself and jealous of other people, and I don’t think I’m a total schmuck because of that.  But I would rather try to focus on what I can do.  Is my situation less than ideal?  Yes.  But are there still things that God has given me gifts to do and that I can do?  Yes.


*Picture of Carson from janeaustensworld.wordpress.com