Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress; He brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder. Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wonderful works to the sons of men! Psalm 107:13-15
The was a mini-series when I was a child entitled “Blood and Honor.” It was about the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany. In the story, there are two families, a German family and a Jewish family, living in a small town. News comes from the big cities that the Germans are persecuting the Jews. The Jewish mother says to her husband, “Let’s get out of this town and out of this country before something happens to us.” To which her husband replies, “It can’t happen here. We are a small town, we are all like family.” Later on in the movie, indeed the German family turns on their former Jewish friends.
This line, “It can’t happen here,” has always stuck with me. There are many people who think that just because we belong to a church, and are active in a church community, that somehow we are immune from all the problems in society that everyone else suffers from. The truth is, we are not. In many instances, we are batting the same average as the rest of society when it comes to smoking weed, or looking at porn. There are many Christian marriages end in divorce. Plenty of Christian spouses cheat. Drugs and suicide hit people in church communities as well. To think, and worse, to say, “it doesn’t happen here,” is simply an untruth. It does happen here.
In Tampa where I currently serve, there is an annual charity walk for suicide prevention, which has as its title “Coming out of the Dark.” The name comes from the idea that topics like suicide are kept in the dark. We don’t talk about them. We pretend they don’t happen in our communities. Except that they do.
Bringing issues from the “dark” of not being spoken about into the “light” where they are spoken of is very important. In the area of encouragement, if we are going to encourage certain behaviors, or just encourage in general, we have to be honest about the issues that discourage us, our peers and our children. We have to be willing to tackle the hard issues instead of running away from them or pretending they don’t happen in our communities, to our peers or to our children.
In this unit, we will discuss issues like mental illness, as well as how to create environments where people can feel safe to bring up things they struggle with. I do not pretend to be an expert on mental illness or suicide or any of the other societal problems. There are many people who are professionally trained in these areas and I encourage you to seek out a professional counselor as appropriate. What I do know how to do is listen, as well as encourage those who need help to get it, but more importantly, to encourage people who have any kind of problem or struggle, that you are not alone and you are not hopeless, nor is your situation hopeless.
It’s time that we come out of the dark and into the light with struggles that we have, so we can deal with them, so that we can overcome them.
I once heard it said that “If you are over age 40 and don’t wake up with a pain somewhere, you are dead.” That’s because virtually everyone over forty is struggling with some pain or ailment. The same is true for anyone who says “I don’t have problems.” That person is either dead, or lying. Everyone has some problem, some issue. Some problems we can solve on our own. Other problems may require medication. And other problems may be correctable through therapy. Thankfully there are some that just require us to be more careful, or to change a habit.
Every human being is “fallen” in several ways. Each of us is fallen spiritually, in that we all succumb to sin and temptation. But each of us carries some struggle. It may be something we are born with, like a health defect. It may be something we are prone to, i.e. depression tends to run in families. It may be something that comes from our life experience, i.e. a child is bit by a dog as a kid and has a life-long fear of dogs.
If we can turn a spotlight on issues we all have, we can all do a better job conquering the issues that can be conquered, and managing the issues that cannot. And we can all do a better job encouraging one another as we each struggle with our unique issues.
I had the opportunity to participate in the “Coming out of the Darkness” walk that was held in Tampa. I was there to support a friend whose son committed suicide. There were literally thousands of people who were there who had lost someone to suicide. Each person wore a different color of beads to represent the person they had lost—white was if it was someone’s son or daughter, blue if it was a friend, etc. It was sobering to see how many people know someone who has been lost to suicide. And yet, by and large, we stay quiet on this subject. From my work experience, I can tell everyone that it is coming up more and more often—people either doing it, or talking about doing it, or suffering from the struggles that lead to it. Clearly it is something we need to do a better job getting out into the light.
The next reflection will be specifically about mental illness, another issue that has come more into the light but still needs more attention. The point of this reflection is that we can’t tell ourselves “It (suicide, mental illness, struggle, etc.) doesn’t happen here (in our cultural group, our neighborhood or our town).” Because it does, it can, and it will.
As encouragers, we need to provide safe spaces to tackle the tough issues, and encourage one another, to keep struggling with whatever cross we are carrying.
Lord, each of us struggles with something. (Name some of your struggles) Help me in my fight against my struggles. Help others in their fight against theirs. Give me an eye to see others who are struggling and a heart that runs to help them. Be with all those who have lost someone to suicide, and give rest and mercy to those who have. Amen.
We can all do a better job of shining the light on struggles that have been kept in the dark too long, and supporting and encouraging one another in our unique struggles!
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.