A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, July 22, 2012
Lamentations 3:1-25 NRSV
He was at the point of despair. His beloved city, Jerusalem, had been overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians. There was devastation, wide-spread hunger, pillage and rape, personal loss, and loss of self-esteem and self-confidence. The author of the communal lament that I have read from Lamentations felt backed into a dark corner with no way of escape. He felt like one obstacle after another was thrown into his path. He had become sour on life, unable to understand how God could let such a thing happen to Jerusalem and its people. He felt all alone in his suffering. He says, “against me alone God turns his hand” (3:3). Through the destruction of Jerusalem, he felt, God was punishing him personally. Things would never turn around, he figured. He expected the devastation to last forever, and feared that Jerusalem would never rise again, and that things would never be any better than they were at that moment. This unnamed poet and his people had sunk about as low as one can possibly sink. They were feeling so low they could barely hold up their heads.
Perhaps you can recall a time when, like the poet of Lamentations, you felt really low, so low that you could hardly hold up your head. So low that you despaired of life. So low that you were tempted to give up and call it quits. So low that you didn’t care if you lived or died. Maybe you, too, felt like you were backed into a dark corner with no way of escape. Maybe you turned sour on life, and maybe you even became angry with and lashed out at God, wondering how a loving God could let such a thing happen to you. Maybe you felt like you were in a deep, dark hole and could see not even the faintest hint of light from above.
One of the first things we are tempted to think when we are feeling really low is nobody loves me. Perhaps the poet of the Lamentations thought it too. When trouble strikes, we may also feel that we, like the poet, are all alone in our suffering; that we, as the psalmist put it in one place, are “like a lonely bird on the housetop” (Psalm 102:7).
Persons suffering a terminal illness or disease that carries social stigma especially feel isolated and alone. And that is why the human touch—a squeeze of the hand or a pat on the shoulder—is so important to one who is hospitalized, in the nursing home, or under Hospice care.
When we are feeling low we may be convinced in our mind that things will never get any better. I am reminded of a story in the gospel of Luke about two of the followers of Jesus who were walking down a dirt road on Sunday afternoon after Jesus’ crucifixion. They were sad, probably with their heads hanging low. Their beloved leader had been crucified. All their hopes had been dashed to the ground. They had heard that his body was missing from the tomb. They were finding it hard to believe that things could ever be better. Like those two downcast disciples, we may sometimes feel that things could not be any worse, that nobody knows what we are going through, and that we are left alone to deal with unsolvable problems.
But there are some things, if remembered, that can help us hold up our heads when we are feeling down.
The first thing is we are loved. Though we may not be able to see it because of the dark clouds that obscure the horizon, there are always people in our families, in our church, in our community who love us. In spite of his depression and discouragement, the writer of this lamentation was able to say, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (3:22). If, when we are feeling down, we can only remember that we are loved, we will have already begun the process of picking ourselves back up again.
A second thing to be remembered is we are not alone. There is always a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a pastor or a co-worker to stand beside us.
A third thing to remember is that things often seem worse than they really are. It is sometimes hard to believe that the sun will shine again when all we can see is a sky full of dark clouds. When we are feeling our worst we also tend to think the worst. But we do well to remember that things are not always as bad as they seem.
And a fourth thing to remember is there is always hope. “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:” the poet of Lamentations affirms, “[God’s] mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (3:21-23). Great is God’s faithfulness! You have heard the old saying that “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.” Often, just when we think our world cannot get any darker, we see the glow of light on the horizon. Morning comes. God often sends some sort of angel of hope to us to help us.
A few years ago, I read Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s biography of Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. I was surprised by some of the things I learned about Barton, but I must confess it was enlightening. I learned that Clara Barton, referred to as professional angel of the battlefield and organizer of the American Red Cross Society, was plagued with depression off and on throughout her life. A nervous breakdown incapacitated her for a two-year period. At another time she was so depressed that she despaired of life. During this dark time of depression Barton wrote in her diary, I “have done…with my efforts on behalf of others. I must take the little remnant of my life, that may remain to me, as my own special property, and appropriate it accordingly” (124). Later she confessed to her diary, “Have been sad all day. I cannot raise my spirits, the old temptation to go from all the world. I think it will come to that some day, it is a struggle to keep in society at all. I want to leave it all.” Her biographer states that Clara Barton at this point was considering suicide.
What I found to be so surprising about all this was that this dark period when Barton contemplated suicide occurred before she founded the American Red Cross. At this point in her life Barton felt there was no hope. Yet, her greatest work, her greatest happiness, and her greatest contribution to the world was yet to come with the establishment of the American Red Cross Society. There were many who loved her. Barton was not alone. Things probably seemed much worse to her than they really were. And the future held out for her much hope. There is in Barton’s life, I think, a lesson for us all.
Now, I don’t want in any way to trivialize the illness of depression. I know too much and have seen too much with close friends and family members to view deep depression lightly. I know it is a complex illness that requires skilled treatment, and therapy, and often medication to help balance chemical imbalances in the body. Nevertheless, the four principles I have mentioned are important for anyone who is suffering depression along with whatever therapy or treatment they may need. Regardless of the situation and degree of depression persons might be experiencing, it is absolutely imperative that they know they are not alone, that they are unconditionally loved, and that they have hope! And such is where each of us can be a support to someone who is down.
Unless you are some kind of super human, the time will come, no doubt, (if it hasn’t already) when you will feel as low as low can be. And if that time does come, you should not be ashamed. It is an experience common to all humanity. But if we can remember these four positive points, they will be a tremendous help. It might not be a bad idea to write them on an index card and tape them up somewhere, like our bathroom mirror, or on the refrigerator, or over our work station at the office.
May we try to remember when the world looks to be nothing but darkness that:
(1) I am loved
(2) I am not alone
(3) Things often seem worse than they really are
(4) And there is always hope!
Remembering these four points can help us hold up our heads when we are feeling down. Amen.