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Sky Links, 5-12-18

Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0

Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and became his nanny.
-Ruth 4:16


Don't Ask Moms to Stand in Church This Sunday
-Aaron Wilson

It’s not just infertile couples who may find it awkward to attend church on Mother’s Day. The list can also include:
  • Singles who desire to be married and have children.
  • Parents who’ve experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of a child.
  • Stepmoms helping to raise children who don’t value them.
  • Couples facing hurdles in the process of adoption.
  • Foster parents who’ve chosen to refrain from being called “mom” and “dad” for the emotional health of a child in their care.
  • Parents who’ve placed a child for adoption.
  • Mothers who’ve had an abortion (and fathers who encouraged them to do so).
  • Women with wayward, distant, or estranged grown children.

With so many emotions attached to the subject of motherhood, churches can find it difficult to know how to navigate Mother’s Day, which—like Father’s Day—always falls on a Sunday.

Here are a few ideas to help your church honor mothers from the pulpit while also being sensitive to challenges your congregation faces surrounding the subject of motherhood.

DON’T SINGLE OUT MOTHERS

Many churches seek to honor moms on Mother’s Day by asking them to stand and be acknowledged or by giving them gifts such as flowers, bookmarks, or gift cards during or after services.

“Superlative moms”—those who’ve been mothers the longest or ones with the most kids—sometimes get gifts as well.

But through such practices, churches may unintentionally be broadcasting some members’ private struggles by requiring them to sit while others stand or by creating scenarios where some women walk out of services empty-handed while others leave with physical tokens acknowledging their motherhood.

These practices can create confusion, awkwardness, and pain. For example:

  • Does the stepmother in a blended family stand or sit when mothers are asked to rise?
  • Should the woman waiting on adoption papers to clear raise her hand to receive a flower?
  • What about the visitor who’s had an abortion and is forced to sit while she watches other mothers rise to public applause?
  • Or the young woman who gets passed over for a Starbucks gift card because the usher doesn’t know she miscarried her baby two weeks ago?

Whether such women are first-time guests or established members, these encounters with the church can be perceived as insensitive and can open emotional wounds.

A better idea for honoring mothers is to acknowledge them collectively from the pulpit and to speak generally about what the Bible says about motherhood. This protects a pastor from dividing a congregation into unnecessary “who’s in” and “who’s out” categories when it comes to motherhood.

ALLOW MOTHERHOOD TO BE MESSY

Churches can also honor moms on Mother’s Day by recognizing real challenges from the pulpit.

Understand that before moms in your congregation ever listen to a word from the sermon, they’ve already received a message that morning from other mothers’ social media posts that are often curated to show doting children and a Proverbs 31 depiction of home life...


...This Mother’s Day, give parents the gift of acknowledging from the pulpit the fact that parenting is a hard and messy endeavor. People need to know the church is a place where those who feel inadequate for such challenges can gather.

Spend time on Sunday publicly praying for mothers, for those dealing with broken relationships with their kids or their own mothers, and for people struggling in some of the categories from the lists above.

Give your congregation permission to bring their anxious thoughts to Jesus and let them know how they can reach out to the church for love and help...

...Honor motherhood this Sunday, but don’t give the impression a woman’s worth is determined by her positioning with kids.

TREATING MOTHER’S DAY WITH CARE

With all the emotional baggage Mother’s Day brings, it can be a difficult Sunday for pastors and ministry leaders to navigate.

However, if approached with sensitivity, Mother’s Day can also be a great opportunity to show honor to moms while extending love and empathy to those who are struggling as a result of the occasion.


Old People Problems – Or Life Is Too Short For Cynicism And Contempt
-Fernando Gros

Live for a while and the world starts to change around you. In your younger years this can be exciting. Things are getting better, becoming more how you want them to be. People your own age start taking places of influence, especially in popular culture, and it feels like your moment to shine.

But as you get older, maybe as you go from being the same age as star athletes to being the same age as their coaches or managers, the flavour of change starts to taste a little different.


You notice it first in the generation above you. You suddenly become aware of how violently cynical they can be. I first noticed it in baby boomers’ attitudes to rap and hip-hop. Sure, a new(ish) genre going mainstream might not be to your taste. But is it dumb, stupid or non-musical? No; no way.

Then you notice it in your own generation – not just the cynicism, but the contempt. I feel it in my generation’s attitude to cosplay. OK, so you wouldn’t do it yourself. Fine. But being unable to see how it might be a fun hobby, or worse, to try and make out it’s some kind of generational moral and creative failure? Wow.

Cynicism and contempt are ways of expressing the fear of change, and especially of what change, new trends, new fashions, new ideas, new ways of doing things, what it all might say about us. We fear not being able to keep up. We fear not having influence. We fear being left behind.

Of course, it’s easier to make fun of social change, to criticise from a safe distance, than to change ourselves...

...“Misery loves company,” they say. Well, so do cynicism and contempt, and we’ll always find a listening ear if we indulge then, especially with a nice serving of nostalgia. But, we’ll also be assigning ourselves to an increasingly irrelevant place in society.

This isn’t a function of getting old. It’s a function of not playing the role that fits our age.

We look to our elders for their wisdom and experience, sure. But why? Because we want to believe we can make it too. We want to hear stories about overcoming adversity because we want to believe we can surpass our own challenges. The most attractive older people are always the ones who make us believe it’s possible, not just to survive, but to thrive.

Your ability to lead, or at least to stay relevant, will depend on being able to bring your wisdom and experience to the world as it is now, and to make life as it is today better, lighter, and more fulfilling.

The best way to overcome contempt and cynicism is to stay curious. The unfamiliar, the odd, the different, the new way of doing it, are all moments when we can choose to learn. Rather than look out and blame, look in and enquire, asking ourselves how we can grow in understanding and grace.




Luther and Depression
-Tony Headley

...How did Luther address the problem of depression? One finds in Luther a multi-faceted approach that matches its complex nature. For starters, Luther seemed to normalize the experience of depression: Luther helped sufferers to understand that they were not alone in this suffering. Depression was to some degree a universal occurrence afflicting even the people of God. [xxi]

The Use of Spiritual Disciplines

Earlier I spoke about the role of spiritual factors in depression. Namely, that depression was partly precipitated through thoughts instilled by Satan. Thus, one should not be surprised to find an emphasis on spiritual strategies for combating depression. That spiritual emphasis is apparent in every letter Luther wrote to depressed persons who sought his comfort. I highlight some of these strategies below.

· Remember Christ loves and esteems you

First and foremost, Luther assured his “clients” that Christ loved and esteemed them and was near to them. Christ not only cared but would help believers carry their burden. Believers must also trust in Christ’s atonement for sin as a buttress against Satan’s accusations.

· Make use of comforting scriptures and spiritual songs.

Luther recommended the use of a variety of spiritual disciplines: He counseled prayer and the use of scripture passages. Depressed persons should read or have read to them comforting words from scripture. Luther also knew that music had a soothing quality. Therefore, he advised believers to make use of spiritual songs. They should sing and play songs unto the Lord until their sad thoughts vanished.

· Listen as God Speaks through others

Luther emphasized God’s work through others. He saw that God used the words of others to strengthen and comfort struggling persons. [xxii] Depressed persons need to listen to such words. To one severely depressed person, Luther advised: “…cease relying on and pursuing your own thoughts. Listen to other people who are not subject to this temptation. Give the closest attention to what we say, and let our words penetrate to your heart. Thus God will strengthen and comfort you by means of our words.” [xxiii]

In this emphasis, Luther espoused a concept similar to one found in Larry Crabb and others. Crabb has used the concept of eldering. By this emphasis, he suggests that other godly believers have the capacity to help one another. He also believes that the church need to take the role of godly men and women more seriously. According to him, “They have a lot more power to deeply affect the souls of other people than they generally are given credit for.” [xxiv]b I agree. However, I do not think this discounts the role of professional counselors as some would suggest. However, it does suggest that there are multiple resources within the body of Christ to address the healing needs of his people.

Seek the Company of Others

Besides bringing comforting words, believers play an additional role in the lives of the depressed. They provide company to pull the depressed away from solitude. For Luther, solitude fostered depression. Thus, he constantly counseled the depressed to seek the company of others. It is evident from his words that Luther envisioned company with those who were not suffering from depression. For him, community with believers served several purposes in combating depression.

First, company afforded the depressed person an opportunity to receive a perspective on life different than their own. Second, company with believers was a necessary precaution against suicide. The reader would remember that this was Luther’s recommendation to Mrs. Jonas Von Stockhausen when her husband was severely depressed and thinking about suicide.

· Remember “merriment is not sin.”

Company with believers served a third purpose. It represented an opportunity for good, clean fun. Thus, Luther repeatedly recommended playing games, joking, jesting and other forms of merriment. To Mrs. Von Stockhausen Luther advised that she read or tell stories which lead to laughter and jesting. Luther especially insisted on pleasurable diversions to young persons like Jerome Weller and Prince Joachim of Anhalt. For example, to the youthful Jerome Weller he advised: “Seek out company of men, drink more, joke and jest and engage in some other forms of merriment.” [xxv]

One should not be surprised by this emphasis on merriment in Luther. He likely knew that the depressed tended to give up pleasurable activities. Thus they lived their lives in more and more confining limits. In a sense, they sapped the life, vigor and fun out of their lives. What else but depression can one expect when joy is sucked from one’s life?

But Luther emphasized merriment for another reason. Luther saw that some Christians avoided pleasurable activities because they saw these as sinful. It was their Christian scruples that posed a threat to defeating depression. For example, Luther saw the over-scrupulous Prince Joachim as “…reluctant to be merry, as if this were sinful.” You might remember from an earlier comment that this same Prince Joachim believed he had betrayed or crucified Christ. Luther further noted that “… proper and honorable pleasure with good and God-fearing people is pleasing to God.”[xxvi] Thus one should strive to be merry in two ways: First, one should rejoice inwardly in Christ. Second, one should take pleasure outwardly in God’s gifts and in the good things of life.

Dealing with Cognitive Distortions

Earlier I noted that Luther emphasized the role of cognition in depression. Therefore, one should not be surprised to find strategies designed to address these cognitive distortions. In Luther, one finds this problem addressed on at least four levels; grappling with one’s own cognitive biases; listening to the thoughts and words of others; disputation with and disregard for the devil; and through scripture’s promises. 
(emphasis mine) Much of these strategies are implicit in earlier statements.

******* Luther evidently believed that there are times we should not trust our own thoughts. This is especially true during depression when we tend to distort reality. It’s during these times that we need to rely on the others. Christian persons who are not depressed represent a reality check for the depressed. Their words and thoughts pull us away from our distortions and back to reality.

The reader might remember that Luther saw some depressive thoughts as proceeding from Satan. How is the believer to deal with this problem? Should the believer quickly capitulate? Certainly not! The believer must resist the devil. How does one do this? Sometimes believers must avoid disputation with the Devil. It seems Luther believed this was one method to avoid dwelling on the deadly thoughts from Satan. [xxvii]At other times Luther seemed to endorse some disputation with the devil. In one table talk, drawn from his personal experience, Luther noted: “I discovered that a person who is well fed is better fitted for disputation with the devil than a person who is fasting.”[xxviii]
(disputation = debate)

It would seem from these examples that Luther did not have a hard and fast rule about when to combat depressive thoughts from the enemy. From the latter statement one might surmise that the timing largely depended on personal factors. Thus, when one is fasting is not a good time to indulge in disputation. In general, one might conclude that disputation is unwise any time one is overly vulnerable, whether in body or mind. At those times, believers should draw strength from spiritual persons and from scripture.

Luther also emphasized the role of scripture in combating deadly thoughts. This makes sense since scripture presents the ultimate reality, an antidote to our distorted view of our circumstances. Scripture especially reminds us that God loves us, esteems us and is with us in the midst of our struggles. The very opposite of what Satan would have us believe; namely that we are unloved, worthless and abandoned.

See also: Wesley and Depression by Tony Headley




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