For many of us, “Monday morning blues” simply refers to that mild sadness many of us feel when the weekend break is over. The prospect of a long week of the daily grind brings blue feelings. However, for many ministers, Monday means something different. Monday is often the beginning of our weekend. When I was at Stonebriar Community Church, Mondays were my day off. And they were dangerous days. Why? Well, the general principle goes like this: after great victories, there are great vulnerabilities. Having just completed my Sunday lessons which were bathed in prayer, hope, anticipation, and mental sweat (not to mention the acute pressure of the delivery), it was time to (ahem) let my hair down. Monday was my “free” day to relax and reflect. But, as with all relaxing, there was some risky business involved.
David Jeremiah (whose grace and transparency I am coming to appreciate more and more), on his program Turning Point, talked about depression today. He said that in his own ministry, he has learned to be careful after great times of success. He describes how, over the years, whenever his church successfully finished a grueling building campaign, he would get down and depressed. As he puts it, “the greater the wave, the greater the valley.” When we are riding the waves in our lives that call for great attention, bringing with them great pressure and anticipation, we have a remarkable ability to gird up our loins and run the race until it is complete. But it is during those times of rest after the race that we begin to pay our dues. Our muscles tighten, our arms go above our heads to allow the expansion of our lungs and, eventually, we collapse. This collapse, for many of us, is an open door to depression.
As many of you know, I am much more timid than I used to be about depression. I live with a greater degree of fear (respect?) for what our minds can do to us. I “collapsed” a few years ago. I think there was a marathon (or wave) in my life that lasted for many years. I got married, immediately went to seminary, finished my four-year trek in two and a half, had four children, went on pastoral staff at Stonebriar Community Church, and survived my sister’s depression and suicide in 2004 and my mother’s stroke in 2006. What I did not know at the time was that I was living on borrowed energy, emotion, and hope. Where was it borrowed from? The next five or six years. In exercise, there is a technical term for this. It is called “anaerobic” (without oxygen) exercise. It is where your body works at such an intensity that it has to perform without oxygen. We can have short bursts of strength that we pay for later. However, in exercise, we normally know when to quit. We know that “Monday” is coming when we won’t be able to move a muscle. We know that we will pay for it later. It is not so easy to sense this with our emotions. We project resiliency and stability during the “anaerobic” times of our lives, but telling ourselves that this is the way we are, we expect the resiliency and stability to last indefinitely. We believe we can handle it. This can be pride (especially for us men who often don’t have to deal with chronic emotional volatility the way women do), but it can also just be ignorance.
I see this in the life of Elijah. He had his greatest victory in ministry on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18. He comes out of hiding and places his life and reputation at stake, calling on Ahab, Jezebel, and 950 prophets of other gods to put his God to the test. When the game was on the line, his sermon was winsome, challenging, and definitive. His faith did not waver as he mocked the impotency of all the other gods. Sunday was good. The wave was high. The victory was sweet. Yet 1 Kings 18 turns into 1 Kings 19. There could hardly be a greater contrast. Even as the memory of the “Sunday” victory was fresh on his mind, he begins to feel the effect of the anaerobic exercise. That “Monday,” Elijah gets a simple message from Jezebel: “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them [the dead prophets of Baal] by tomorrow about this time” (1 Kings 19:2). Elijah’s response? RUN! (1 Kings 19:3). Not only this, but he wants to die! Listen to this:
“And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:3-4)
Here are his steps. 1. Run (3a). 2. Fire his servant since he believed the gig was up (3b). 3. Project his Monday morning emotions onto his entire life (4a). 4. Have suicidal thoughts (4b). 5 Compare his failures to the failures of evil men who had gone before him (4c).
I can relate. Irrational? Yes. Wings like eagles? No. But this situation is common to man. This is us. After the greatest victories, we can experience the greatest defeats which may bring us to thoughts of death. I have wanted to die a time or two in the last few years. I have wanted to “fire my servant,” cut all ties, project my current emotional well-being (or lack thereof) upon everything in my life, and then say, “I am no better than the most evil of all because I give up so easy. What am I worth to you, Lord?”
The solution? I don’t know that there is one. Yes, we have to pace ourselves. Yes, we should avoid getting too high on “Sundays.” But more than anything else, we have to accept the grace of God in our fallen condition. We often work “without oxygen.” But we cannot get down on ourselves for not being able to replenish ourselves. Spent spiritual energy can only be replenished by God. Looking to our own sufficiency will only make us want to die. The angels came and fed Elijah…twice (1 Kings 19:5-7). He eventually got over his exhaustion. He was able to hear the voice of God again. Depression can muffle everything, making truth and reality unrecognizable. It makes us unable to hear, see, smell, hope, plan, much less smile, laugh, or enjoy life. But I think the most important things we can realize are that 1) this is common to the Christian, and 2) God’s grace alone replenishes us, no questions asked.
If you are down and want to die right now, I am sorry. I know how you feel. But join me in being a beggar of God. You did not have a “Sunday” because you were worthy and you will not be replenished because of anything you deserve. You will have both only because you are loved of God.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]