by Howard Glass
C. S. Lewis, in his classic The Screwtape Letters, mentions the long, dull, monotonous years of middle age as excellent weather for the devil's work. Many people know how difficult it can be to keep their love of life and love for God vibrant during this time.
Children grow up and leave the nest. Energy wanes with advancing years. Much that we delighted in when younger seems routine. The level of comfort we strove for in our youth has arrived but means little to us. When they don't relish life the way they once did many assume they are depressed.
Awareness of depression has increased in recent years for many reasons. Better health education has driven away stigma and given us greater openness about mental health. Many seek professional help for their listless "spirits." It is almost fashionable to do so. The pharmaceutical companies have tapped into this demand and market a variety of products.
But Christians might want to explore God-centered options before taking the pill route. After all, joy is a part of the Christian life no one should be denied.
Some help is found in John 15, where Jesus uses the vine to illustrate how we must abide in Him (vv. 4-10.) Here is what we need: the ability to not only remain in Christ but to thrive through the long dry season that may characterize our later years.
Abiding might seem a passive thing. It is not. A branch is constantly drawing nourishment from its life-giving vine, constantly trying to bear fruit. To abide requires actively resisting the downward pressure life puts on us, continually doing our best to bear fruit. We learn how as we read on.
Our Lord tells us to love one another. The phrase might seem worn, but if one sets his eyes on finding some needy soul (people are needy in a variety of ways) or some loving task to set his hand to, I guarantee he, or she, will find useful work. In fact, there may not be enough time and strength to do everything that comes to hand. Jesus did not love others passively. Neither should we.
Jesus points out in verse 18 that the world might hate us. But it has nothing to hate when we are mired in feelings of uselessness, right where the devil wants us. We can all be involved somehow in God's work.
Though depressed people often need medicine, they should first examine their whole life. There is no need to feel useless if that is part of the problem. Ministries can usually find a place for another volunteer. Good work goes undone everywhere for lack of hands, and many willing hands are overworked. Even the totally disabled can minister through prayer.
Being engaged in service leaves less room for things that contribute to depression; less opportunities for the devil. Fruitful branches are more valuable to God's Kingdom and therefore receive greater attention from the One who dresses the vine (vv.1-2).
Howard Glass is a freelance writer who currently attends the East Main Street Presbyterian Church
in Grove City, Penn., where he serves as a small group leader.