OLD & GRAY

 "Forever young." We assign this label to anyone taken before their time, and it carries with it a mystique reserved for those who never grow old. A prime example would be Alexander the Great, who died of a mysterious ailment at the age of 32.

Alexander was unique in that he did not sport the Greek beard of his time. His father had a beard. His teacher had a beard. Nearly every Greek male grew a beard as he entered manhood — why not Alexander? Some have spread the myth that Alexander ordered his men to shave so that enemies couldn't grab their beards during battle, but there is no historical evidence to back up the claim.

The real reason: because Alexander was widely thought of as a demigod (it helps when you spread rumors about yourself). Though Philip II was acknowledged as his father, a myth persisted that Alexander's true father was Zeus, the king of all gods. Since the gods were immortal, they were forever young, usually depicted as eternally 18 years old — too young to grow a passable beard. This part of the Greek "heroic ideal." (read about this and more in Of Beards and Men)

Alexander shaved because he thought of himself as a god. He wanted to appear forever young.

Humanity has always had a problem with aging. Wrinkles begin to form on our foreheads, and we frown into the mirror. It becomes more difficult to drop weight; our metabolism fights against us the entire way. The hair either falls out or begins to gray. Joints creak, pop, and ache. Sentences begin with "Things were so much better when..."

PAY ATTENTION: the global anti-aging industry is worth $250 billion per year. Despite our differences, the nations of the world have at least two things in common: we place a premium on youth, and we seek to conceal age at any cost.

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.   ///   Proverbs 16:31

The glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of old men is their gray head.   ///   Proverbs 20:29

The elderly are routinely mocked. Their worldviews are considered antiquated — maybe even quaint. Their stories are met with a smirk and a knowing glance to peers: "If only they knew how the world actually works." Hollywood specializes in "coming of age" stories, in which the protagonist is an agonizing teen entering adulthood, surrounded by ignorant parents and corrupt authority figures. We place a premium on this occasion, yet seek to diminish the importance of actual wisdom.

Despite our admiration for the young and demonization of anyone who wears their belt a little too high, the steady march of time catches up with us all, so we often respond with panic. Snip this! Tuck this! Make me young again! PLEASE DON'T LET ME DIE!

Yet time and tide wait for no man.

As I write this blog post, the gray hair has begun popping up above my ears (especially on the right side, for some reason #nosymmetry). My knees pop each time I stand up. My ankles ache in cold weather, and I find myself looking around with a scowl on my face saying like, "Smells like rain! Mmm-hmm. Yep."

I'm in the middle of the transition into middle age, and I'm keenly aware of the process. When I was younger (15-25 or so), I treated elders with respect but felt myself patronize them at times. I didn't always understand their mindset, but I just nodded and played along. I felt that younger people "got" this world and how to live in it — how to make it better. I honored my elders, but I didn't fully trust their capacity to understand this rapidly changing culture.

But time has a way of altering perception. I see young people's frustration with the older generation, and I see the older generation's concern for the young. Though it feels unique, the story has remained the same throughout history — the idealism of youth clashes with the pragmatism of experience.

But what keeps the young from becoming less like Absalom hanging from a tree and more like Solomon dedicating the Temple? It must be reverence.

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”   ///   1 Peter 5:5

Young person, don't dismiss the voice of those who have watched the decades roll by, yet remain with us. Perhaps their pace havs slowed, but the years of experience grant them an understanding that cannot be replicated except by thousands of days lived and lessons learned.

Like Tell Sackett told the young gunslinger who challenged his friend, Cap Roundtree:

"Don't try ridin' herd over this man, boy. Those wrinkles are war maps. He's fought injuns, grizzly, and seen a hundred struttin' peacocks like you get takin' down hard."

The frustration and angst that permeates our society must not be allowed to destroy our reverence for the pillars that have established and supported not only our churches but also our world. Yes, some blemishes from our past (perhaps most obviously, racism) stain the pages of history, but many our elders are the ones who played vital roles in beginning to right these wrongs.

As they shake their heads and worry, "I don't know what this world is coming to," please do not dismiss their longing for a time that is no more. There was value in our collective innocence.

Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.   ///   Job 12:12

A culture obsessed with eternal youth idealizes those like Alexander the Great (32), James Dean (24), Kurt Cobain (27), Amy Winehouse (27), Tupac Shakur (25), and Heath Ledger (28). We look at their young faces in retrospective pieces and think, "Oh, to never grow old."

Yet the Word of God places a premium on the wisdom that comes with time. Alexander the Great wished to appear as a god by appearing younger, but we read a different story of a different God...

His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire.   ///   Revelation 1:14

It's not necessarily the experience of watching the world change over the years that establishes wisdom; it's the overcoming of thousands of genuine obstacles in life. They say that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. What better way to learn our history than through the voices of those can provide a first-hand account?

The first commandment in the Bible accompanied by a promise is that which tells us, "Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you." Let us make up our minds to honor our elders. Let us listen to them. Let us stop seeking out every fault and determine to focus on the principles that shaped those like the "Greatest Generation."

Remember:

That which appears weathereD
is that which has endured.


Additional Bible reading:

A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
Proverbs 13:1
Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days.
Proverbs 19:20
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:1-4
You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19:32
Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity.
1 Timothy 5:1-2
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.
1 Timothy 5:17

Nine Scriptures, No Context

Proverbs 16:5
Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished.

Proverbs 16:18-19
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Proverbs 29:11
A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.

Proverbs 29:20
Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Luke 6:45
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Galatians 5:22-26
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Ephesians 4:29-32
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

James 1:26
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.

James 4:6
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

(REPOST) Defeating Depression: My Story and Solutions

The following is a repost from April 9, 2011. It is from my old blog, and I've had several ask me for it, so I'm making it available again. Thanks for reading!

BLOG Defeating Depression.jpg

DEFEATING DEPRESSION: MY STORY & SOLUTIONS

(Warning – I discuss some slightly harsh topics in this post. If you are the squirmy, uptight, or cynical type, you might not want to proceed. Also, this post is thoroughly introspective, and I hope that it doesn’t come off as self-aggrandizing. If it does, that certainly was not my intention. If you are here solely because you want to read my own tips for defeating depression, please skip to the numbered points in the second half of the post.)

This post is not a plea for pity — I neither want it, nor require it. Actually, if anyone offers it, I am usually quick to dismiss it and become greatly embarrassed, even ashamed, by it. I am quite content in who I am, but only when viewed through the perspective of God’s grace. I have struggled with depression for many years, and I thought it might be beneficial to share my perspective and solutions with someone who might be struggling through similar circumstances. I’ve thought about writing this post for several years, and am finally getting around to it.

I am a depressive.

I can’t remember the first instance that I felt genuinely depressed, but it was almost certainly between the ages of 8 and 10-years-old. Understand that when I refer to depression, I’m not speaking of sadness or fleeting moments of helplessness. I’m speaking of depression in the clinical sense, defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “depression of sufficient severity to be brought to the attention of a physician and to require treatment.”

Let me be clear: if you have never experienced depression, please do not dismiss the claims or the emotional distress of those who struggle with it — it is real. It can even be annoying to be around a depressive, especially since so many who claim to be “depressed” are attention-seekers searching for a quick hug and reassuring nod. In reality, those who are truly depressed often keep their feelings underneath the surface. They don’t want for you to know.

At a very young age, I developed a harshly self-critical perception, and began focusing almost exclusively on my inadequacies. When I underperformed, whether at school, in basketball, in church, or one of my own personal endeavors, I beat myself up until there was little left in regards to ego. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I didn’t meet a goal: I was already well aware of it. I was a classic INFP (which I was unaware of until I was 25), and had higher ideals than I could hope to achieve. To put it simply, I was a mess. I altered my appearance, my vernacular, my, goals, and even my beliefs.

I had suicidal thoughts first in junior high school, and began discreetly making small cuts on my arms and legs, not because I found the process cathartic, but because I wanted to be able to imagine how badly it would hurt if I actually cut my wrists. I planned my suicide out, from little details like the video I would record to what music I would play as I committed my final act. In all honesty, there were two reasons that I never followed through: one, that it would hurt my family too much, and two, I was genuinely terrified of spending eternity in Hell, despite my reluctance to admit there definitely was a God (I identified myself as agnostic during this time period). I was hopeless, but not heartless. I was godless, but not without a fear of God.

Throughout high school, I struggled with the notion that I would never become what I was “supposed to be,” whatever that meant. Suicide remained in my thoughts, even during the good times. My friends knew that I wasn’t happy, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t know how bad it had become. I wanted out, and I didn’t know how to work up the courage to make it happen.

One night at our church, I stood in the fourth row of pews (not going to church wasn’t an option as long as I lived with my parents) and listened to a missionary couple from Malaysia sing and speak. Bro. Marshall and Sis. Vani would continue to play a significant role in my family’s lives, but the first role they played was that of the catalyst that would draw me back to God. Near the end of the altar service, Sis. Vani crawled on top of the pew in front of me and began to pray, close enough that I was the only one to hear it. She spoke of things that I had never told another person, and she spoke as if God had filled her in on all the necessary details of my life which had me bound since before adolescence. I cried, I prayed, and I turned around. My life was God’s, and I haven’t wavered since.

But my depression did not end with my repentance. One night in Alexandria, Louisiana, I felt something come over me during prayer, and I felt the depression leave my life. I was convinced that I was healed of it, but it came once again around six months later. I was praying, studying, fasting, and loving God with my whole heart, but I could not shake the self doubt and despair that might have originated from my borderline unhealthy idealism. I no longer dealt with thoughts of suicide, but depression was still present — it was just taking a slightly different form.

My perception of depression has been continually re-shaped. I noticed that my best writing and prayer seemed to take place during the more severe bouts. Many of what I consider my best sermons were studied for, written, and preached during those same times. After reading John Keats’ “Ode on Melancholy,” which asserts that one better understands the joys and beauty of life only after experiencing the bitter lows and darkness of it, I started thinking that my depression might even be a vital and even valuable part of my personality. I can’t say that’s entirely healthy or even correct, but there was some logic behind it.

Over the years, I have successfully combatted depression with understanding, determination, and prayer. It is a daily battle, but if you want to end depression, you have to be willing to fight it on every front.

In between all the rationalizing and confusion, I’ve actually stumbled across, studied about, or instinctively arrived at certain solutions to overcoming depression. I am personally opposed to medicinal solutions (for myself, not for everyone), so I’ve made an effort to remember these and practice them as often as possible:

1. Prayer

This might seem like an obvious inclusion, especially when coming from a student pastor, but prayer and a relationship with God are the two most important steps in overcoming crippling depression. There are temporary solutions, but I can honestly say that my battle with depression has never reached the severity that it had during the darkest times when I had excluded God’s power and authority from my life. Prayer works!

I have not yet fully defeated depression, but I daily fight against it, and most days…I win. But I don’t do it alone, and it’s when I’m most aware of that fact that I feel most at peace. God does not forsake me during the dark times, and He has reminded me of that time and time again. Thank God for His presence!

Prayer can bring comfort, but Godly living also brings consistency and contentment. Every significant character in the Word of God was deeply flawed, but each of them who turned to God and turned themselves over to Him prevailed. God cares about the broken, the underachieving, the lonely, the fearful, and the neglected. The first step towards defeating depression should always be the same, and it should always be toward God.

2. Family/Friends

The natural inclination of introverted depressives to to exclude themselves from social activity.Depression feeds on loneliness.

I couldn’t begin to count the number of times that my mood shifted from sour to joyful as the result of those close to me. After some of the most gruesome days, an evening spent with my wife, Shari, has lifted me up when my original desire was to stay home and read in a chair, completely alone. Dinner with family on Sunday mornings after church has been a long-standing routine for the Deans and Stanleys, but they’re also therapeutic for me. I love my family, my family loves me, and whether they know it or not, their very presence soothes me.

I’ve been blessed with a number of friends, but particularly so with a smaller number of close confidantes. They know what makes me laugh, and they seem to know exactly what to say or do to put me in a better mood. The funny thing is that they likely don’t even realize that they’re doing it. They might not even know that I’m down (as I said, chronic depressives become good at hiding it).

No matter what your mood tells you, spend time with other people! They’re a blessing from God, and they can help you. Since we’re so often victims of our own minds, it’s good to make sure we’re not allowed the source of the problem to be the only brain the in the room.

3. Read and Study

I can’t recommend a particular book for everyone, but a number of them have helped me. Among them are Unmasking Male Depression and Boundariesthe latter not really being a book about depression, but is currently helping alleviate me of some sources of stress, which is definitely a factor in depression.

You need to understand your problems. You need to know what makes happy, angry, sad, content, and depressed. There is still a certain stigma attached to depression and other disorders — we don’t want to be considered a victim. Well, if you don’t want to be a victim, then find out how not to be! There is a wealth of reading material on the subject, and you would be foolish to ignore it. Speak to a counselor for recommendations.

4. Ask for Help

This, like many other personal battles, is not one that you can win alone. I unashamedly admit to having been assisted by counselors over the years, and I would recommend it to absolutely anyone who has faces depressive tendencies. This should not be a source of shame!

Half a century ago, the field of psychology was still derided as something that only the kooks required. Only the mentally disturbed were thought to require psychological attention. Times have certainly changed, and while there are some things that only God can fix, there are many others that I believe He uses godly counselors to help solve. For many of them, helping people defeat their problems is their ministry. They are gifted by God, just as a preacher is gifted to preach the Word, and a music leader is gifted to lead in worship.

Do not be too fearful, skeptical, or ashamed to ask for help!

5. Retrain Your Mind

Depressives often follow a pattern. There are certain triggers that can alter a person’s state of mind for days. You can retrain your mind to react to circumstances. It takes dedication to make it work, but it is possible!

This is where reading and studying about your particular issues come into play. Combine that knowledge with the insights provided with therapy and prayer, and you have yourself a game plan. If you simply try to pray yourself out of it without taking an actions for yourself, you’re likely asking God for help with something for which He’s already provided a solution. Cognitive therapy is almost always successful when properly applied, but it must be applied. Don’t think depression will go away by itself.

This post might have been too forthcoming, but I hope that someone who battles these same issues might find something of value in it. Since my turning point at almost 19-years-old, I’ve continually felt a burden for those who battle depression, particularly young people who little to no idea of how to handle it.